allotments garden wildlife natural pest control wildlife

The insect hotels in our garden

We recently made a new insect hotel and revamped one of the older ones, so I thought I would share them with you. This post is particularly for the follower who asked about insect hotels and adding green roofs to them. Apologies for not getting back to you sooner and more personally – no excuse except a bad memory.

This is the first one we built in our garden and it has proved very successful with plenty of minibeast visitors but it also gave us some surprises! Last year a Dunnock nested on one of the layers and at the end of the year we discovered that a Goldcrest had nested in one of the holes in a brick.


We then built a second hotel for our garden critters in our Spring Border and this one was created from an old wooden vegetable box. This one had a surprise for us too as at the end of last summer we found an old nest of a Dunnock.


We next made a smaller insect hotel from a wine box and placed it in the Crescent Garden. So far no bird has nested in it but there are lots of “minibeasts” especially Ladybirds living in it and hibernating there through the colder months. Sitting on top of it though is one of our pieces of sculpture, a thoughtful young girl.

winchester-8 winchester-7

And then this spring we added yet another insect hotel, this time we constructed it in our Freda Garden and placed two small log piles on each side of it to attract Violet Ground Beetles who we hope will eat the slug eggs in the ground.

winchester-2  winchester-3 winchester-4-1

On our allotment we made an insect home with a green roof to add further interest and another habitat. We grow succulents, Sedums and Sempervivums on top of our insect hotel as they have tiny flowers loved by insects especially bees. The secret is to make a tray which sits on top and supported by 4 posts banged into the ground at each corner of the hotel. This means the posts support the green roof rather than putting weight on the insect hotel itself.

winchester-2-2 winchester-1-2

Each spring on warm, calm days we enjoy seeing the Ladybirds emerging and resting on the driftwood pieces to absorb the warmth of the sun.


allotments bird watching birds community gardening conservation diy garden buildings garden photography garden ponds garden pools garden wildlife gardening gardens irises log piles natural pest control recycling renovation Shropshire trees

The wildlife pond and hide at BAC – part one

When Bowbrook Allotment Community first opened we had a old farm pond on our boundary fence but it was fenced off and we had no access to it. After a few years though as the site was extended on the pond side it was integrated into our gardens and the town council put a low security fence around it with a lockable gate. We then had to wait for it to be released into our care which finally happened early in the winter of 2014. This is the story of what we have done to it so far and about our plans for its future.

Diggers came in and scooped out all sorts of rubbish thrown into the pond by the farmer over the years, rusted coils of barbed wire, rotting fence posts, old metal fences, branches and boughs of trees. The old puddled clay layer was exposed and smoothed off. The aroma was disgusting! Sadly there was little sign of plant or animal life in the pond. At least all this disturbance didn’t upset the wildlife, the birds soon returned to the trees.

2015 03 04_9790

As a community garden determined to increase the biodiversity in our 6 acres there was no question that it would become a wildlife pond. To begin with we had to recontour the area between the pond itself and the fence to make passage around it easier and safer. It was hard graft and took a lot of volunteer hours to get it done.This will enable us to keep a path mown all the way around the pond for maintenance and enjoyment. But first we must rotavate the pathway to prepare it for grass seed sowing as soon as the weather allows.

You can see from the group of photos below the area we have to work with and the work we have done so far, the lopping of the trees, the path leveling and the preparation of the bog garden. The pond itself is about 20 x 10 metres and the marshy patch about 8 x 7 metres so pretty impressive! And then there is a margin area varying in width between just over a metre to about 4 metres. W have set ourselves a mammoth task! But we have allowed ourselves a year to get it right. So far things are moving along much more quickly than anticipated as opportunities have come our way.

2015 01 18_9352-1

The next photo shows the bog area at the end of the pond where the drainage pipes from adjacent farm land brought the water into the pond. This was a steep sided marsh area with a tiny stream meadering through it. We have piped the water below the area now and re-contoured the sides to make it safer. This area will be planted with native and other wildlife attracting plants such as King Cup, Liatris, Yellow Flag and Flowering Rush.

2015 01 18_9353-1

We have recently started the planting and will soon be adding far more. Some we will get as donations from our members and neighbours but others we will get from local nurseries once they have got their stocks out. So far we have planted different sorts of Irises, Water Mint, Water Forget-me-Not, Bog Beans and oxygenators. The first pair of pics shows Jude collecting plants from our pond at home and the second pair shows Sherlie planting some in the new pond.

2015 03 17_0035 2015 03 17_0034

2015 03 16_9942 2015 03 16_0007

Several mature Ash trees surround the pond so some surgery was required to let more light in and help plants grow healthily. The bough below was slowly collapsing right over the water across to the far bank so caused us great concern. We had to cut it before it fell! We need to look after the health and safety of our members. I shall show this work in part two.

2015 03 16_9993

We have put up nest boxes, created a bird feeding station and are creating lots of mini-beast and amphibian habitats. Several are up in the group of Ashes that border one end of the pond.

2015 02 26_9670 2015 03 16_9991 2015 03 16_99852015 03 16_99862015 03 16_9995

We have created extra wildlife habitats and shelters along the perimeter fence creating them from recycled items and natural materials. 2015 03 16_99872015 03 16_9988 2015 03 16_9989          Probably one of the most exciting elements of the whole project has been the creation of a bird hide for the children to use. This began as a battered old shed donated to us by a plot holder and transformed into a rather fine hide complete with a noticeboard for recording,some identification charts and a small library of identification books. Two plotholders, Sean and his dad Vince volunteered to carry out the conversion and soon other family members joined in. The finished hide was way beyond our expectations as they managed to fit a kneeling bench down the one side to enable children to look through the hatches they had constructed. For wet days when the hatches need to stay closed they added a perspex window. All this from my very simple plans and drawings!

Here we are moving the old shed from one side of the site to the other in true Roman style, rolling it along on round stakes. It proved a great adventure as it kept trying to change shape and the door constantly flew open.

2014 12 08_8466 2014 12 08_8468

And here is the shed now transformed into a hide, just like the ugly duckling turning into a swan. The rest of the story of how the transformation came about will be in part two.

2015 03 16_0004  2015 03 16_0005

Wherever the pathway gets close to the bank we have planted a low boundary hedge from willows harvested on site and have woven whips of different coloured willows from the brightest yellow to the darkest black  through it. Similarly at the outlet end where water drains to prevent flooding, we have a steep area bank which we have given a similar low willow fence and we are slowly planting up the slopes with small ground covering shrubs that also attract bees, butterflies and hoverflies.

2015 03 16_9998 2015 03 16_00022015 03 16_0000 2015 03 16_9983


We stored the willow prunings we had after coppicing and pollarding our “Withy Bed”. The photo shows these awaiting action and illustrate just how many colours of willow we have to play with

2015 02 26_9667 2015 02 26_96682015 02 26_9669

A recent job was to make barley straw pouches to drop in the water to help keep down the growth of algae and blanket weed – a good organic solution. Look closely at the picture below to see if you can spot one.

2015 03 09_9802

We know there are some critters who are looking forward to us finishing or at least being somewhere near a livable place for them. the resident group of Weasels, our Mallard families and the site’s frogs. We must pamper to their needs as they entertain us and do much of our pest controlling.

2014 11 28_7933 2014 12 08_85932015 02 28_9789_edited-1 20150207_141312

The bird in the fourth of the above photos though arrived amid mixed feelings from us all. Our Grey Heron is most definitely a handsome bird but he is a threat to our fish. We have a small population of native Rudd in the pond brought in as eggs on the feet of the ducks. Sadly until we get some plant cover for them to seek refuge beneath they will soon be wiped out by the Heron. The photo was taken on a member’s mobile phone through our green fence.

In part two we will look at details of how the hide ended up, some of our tree surgery work and the adventures we had putting in our duck tube.





colours garden design garden photography garden wildlife gardening gardens hardy perennials ornamental grasses ornamental trees and shrubs outdoor sculpture sculpture Shropshire shrubs succulents village gardens

Aiming for a year round garden – our garden in August.

This series aims to check out if we have been successful in creating a garden for all seasons with interest throughout the year. In this post we look at our Avocet garden here in Plealey in the first week in August, a time when summer is going off a bit and autumn is trying to sneak in by the back door. The wild carrot below is beginning to set its seeds in our wildlife strip behind the lavender hedge alongside the lane.

2014 08 19_3880 2014 08 19_3881

We have one more garden group yet to visit us which happens in about a fortnight so this post as well as checking on how well we are achieving our aim of a year round garden will also be a way of checking out how it will look to our next visitors.

The” Beth Chatto Garden” still has plenty of interest but sadly the strange weather this year has meant that we have already had to cut down the Eophorbia griffithii Dixter which normally we can rely on for colourful winter stems of the brightest ruby red.

2014 08 19_3883 2014 08 19_3884 2014 08 19_3885 2014 08 19_3886 2014 08 19_3887 2014 08 19_3882

The other front garden borders still have patches of colour with the Perovskia’s pale blue flower spires looking good in a patch dominated by the white barked silver birches and purple leaves of Cercis Forest Pansy, Sambucus nigra Black Lace and Physocarpus Diablo.

2014 08 19_3888 2014 08 19_3889

Our new sculptural piece is looking good starring with the flowers of Leucanthemum “Shaggy”, several Asters (sorry but I can’t yet accept their new botanical names!), Salvia uliginosa, Gaura linheimeri and various annuals that Jude the Undergardener grows from seed.

2014 08 19_3890 2014 08 19_3891

2014 08 19_3892 2014 08 19_3894

2014 08 19_3895 2014 08 19_3898

The photos below show two very different looking plants which are in fact both Lobelias, the one on the left a cardinalis and the one on the right Lobelia tupa.

2014 08 19_3901 2014 08 19_3904

It is good to see the wildlife busy on the blooms every time the sun shines.

2014 08 19_3893 2014 08 19_3899

The ferns border developed earlier this year is looking better as the ferns get more established. From there you can look back along the Shade Garden through the archway towards the Hot Garden.

2014 08 19_3905 2014 08 19_3906

The Dahlias in the vintage galvanised containers along the house wall are still flowering but having a bit of a rest before hopefully producing more flower buds to delight the eye in a few weeks time.



2014 08 19_3907 2014 08 19_3908


Opposite them the” Freda Border” is looking cheerful with oranges and yellows and the odd white highlight of this honey-scented Buddleja.

2014 08 19_3913 2014 08 19_3914 2014 08 19_3915


The Tulbaghias continue to produce their delicate pale lilac flowers on their wiry stems. Close by the insect hotel snuggles within the” Pollinator Border”. Here the brightest flower of all must be the annual Leonotis leonora, which has become a real favourite in the garden this year. Opposite the heavy cropping grape vine continues to produce “water shoots” which need regular pruning to let the sun access the fruit to ripen it. The harvest is looking hopeful!




2014 08 19_3916 2014 08 19_3917 2014 08 19_3918 2014 08 19_3920


The pathway I take to feed the hens is full of plants that stop me on my way. Eryngium Miss Wilmott’s Ghost is turning from silver to biscuit and Geranium “Rosanne” clambers through any close plant. A real star of this pathway is the Bergena ciliata, a hairy leaved Bergenia with bronze colouring to the reverse of each leaf. I turn a leaf over each time I pass. It has big arching sprays of pale pink flowers in spring too! A great plant but rarely grown.

2014 08 19_3919 2014 08 19_3922 2014 08 19_3923 2014 08 19_3924

On the other side of this path we have the” Spring Garden” where the palmate leaves of the Acer japonica and Tetrapanax papyfer “Rex” sit close to each other. The Acer partners a couple of purple-leaved Lysimachia “Firecracker” and the deep green leaves of our thornless blackberry. The Tetrapanax is thowing up new leaves which are glossy but turn matt with the passing of time.



2014 08 19_3925 2014 08 19_3926

The Tropical Garden which was one of this year’s projects is looking particularly good at the moment. It is so full of contrasts. Contrasts in flower colour, leaf shapes, textures and colour.

2014 08 19_3929 2014 08 19_3930 2014 08 19_3931 2014 08 19_3932 2014 08 19_3933 2014 08 19_3934 2014 08 19_3935 2014 08 19_3936

The pale blue fish continue to swim through the Seaside Garden. Behind the chimenia a bright yellow flowered crocosmia seems to glow beneath the standard holly.


2014 08 19_3937 2014 08 19_3938

The Shed Bed has bright splashes of colour provided by Ricinus, Verbascum and Crocosmia.



2014 08 19_3927 2014 08 19_3928


In the Rill Garden the Aeoniums are all doing well showing great leaf colour but best of all must be Aeonium arboreum” Schwarzkopf” which is tree like in form with the blackest glossiest leaves possible.

2014 08 19_3939 2014 08 19_3940 2014 08 19_3941

If we move further into back garden now we can look through the arches down the central path. Off this path to the left are the “Crescent Bed”, “L Bed” and the “Long Border”.



2014 08 19_3942 2014 08 19_3943 2014 08 19_3945 2014 08 19_3946 2014 08 19_3947 2014 08 19_3948 2014 08 19_3949


2014 08 19_3950 2014 08 19_3951

If we cross the grass path at the far end of this patch we enter the” Japanese Garden” with the” Prairie Garden” to the right, which features two of our sculptures, the Copper Leaves made by our daughter Jo and the dancing figure of “Amber” created by a local artist.



2014 08 19_3952 2014 08 19_3954 2014 08 19_3955 2014 08 19_3956 2014 08 19_3957 2014 08 19_3958


And finally across the central path again to the” Chicken Garden” and the” Secret Garden” which are still looking very colourful. The first photo is of our everlasting sweetpea which although perennial so easier to grow than the annuals it is sadly without scent. The red poker shaped flowers in the second photo are Persicaria amplexicaulis “Firetail” which is so long flowering and attractive to wildlife as a bonus.


2014 08 19_3959 2014 08 19_3960 2014 08 19_3961 2014 08 19_3962 2014 08 19_3963 2014 08 19_3964 2014 08 19_3965 2014 08 19_3966 2014 08 19_3967 2014 08 19_3968


So that is the study of our garden in August, hopefully still confirming that it is an all season garden. Next month we will probably be seeing the first signs of autumn colour and seedheads beginning to take on more importance.



garden design garden photography garden pools garden seating gardening gardens gardens open to the public grasses hardy perennials light light quality meadows natural pest control ornamental grasses outdoor sculpture trees water in the garden Winter Gardening winter gardens

A Garden in January – Trentham – Part Two

Welcome back to Trentham in January where we find ourselves in the part of the garden featuring the Italian Garden re-designed by Tom Stuart-Smith.

2014 01 07_5867_edited-1

From the raised terraces of the Italian Parterre we can see how symmetrical and rigid the structure is. Tom Stuart-Smith has designed a brilliant garden within this structure using grasses and perennials similar to those used by Piet Oudolf. If anything the planting is more varied. The impressive thing about his design is the way soft flowing plant combinations can look so good in a formal setting.

2014 01 07_5835 2014 01 07_5836 2014 01 07_5837 2014 01 07_5838 2014 01 07_5839

I always particularly like these corner beds with their plantings of low grasses, sedum, phlomis, marjoram and knautia. The little box edging is a most effective foil for the softness of the planting.

2014 01 07_5840 2014 01 07_5841

2014 01 07_5847_edited-1 2014 01 07_5848_edited-1 2014 01 07_5849_edited-1 2014 01 07_5850_edited-1

2014 01 07_5865_edited-1

Our walk around Tom Stuart-Smiths plantings was interrupted by a shower of freezing rain accompanied by cold winds. We sheltered in the loggia conveniently located nearby. This afforded us a good view over much of this area.

2014 01 07_5842_edited-1 2014 01 07_5851_edited-1

We managed another five minutes exploration of this garden when the heavens opened once again. Conveniently by this time we were close to the coffee shop which is always our half way stopping point so we retreated to enjoy a welcomed beverage and slice of something sweet. The cafe is housed in a beautifully designed modern building based on a semi-circle. It sits snuggly within a clump of trees. The seating fits all around the floor to ceiling windows giving great views over the Tom S-S gardens.

2014 01 07_5862_edited-1

The wind was moving the grasses around and skewing the water in the fountains. It illustrated how important grasses can be in any garden, as even the slightest breeze sets them waving.

2014 01 07_5864_edited-1  2014 01 07_5873_edited-1

2014 01 07_5877_edited-1

Within the grasses the seedheads of the perennials were the stars of the show.

2014 01 07_5866_edited-1 2014 01 07_5872_edited-1

2014 01 07_5869_edited-1 2014 01 07_5870_edited-1 2014 01 07_5871_edited-1   2014 01 07_5874_edited-1 2014 01 07_5876_edited-1

The garden team were busy cutting down the perennials in the beds which had been worst effected by the winter weather. If you look carefully you may spot the one gardener’s amusing headgear! When she bent over it looked as if it was Yogi Bear doing the work!

2014 01 07_5868_edited-1

We made a diversion into the area beyond the cafe and tall trees where the show gardens are. We found a few new gardens including a “Stumpery” (a favourite garden feature of Mrs Greenbench) and this row of colourful dogwoods, Cornus Midwinter Fire.

2014 01 07_5854_edited-1 2014 01 07_5852_edited-1

The glass panels in one of the gardens looked brilliant alongside the russet coloured grasses.

2014 01 07_5855_edited-1

Close to the cafe is an area for children’s play with climbing frames, a maze, a bare foot walk, road ways for sit-on toys and these superb sandpits. Because of the poor weather they were sadly deserted today but they are usually very popular. It is so good to see children absorbed in play that does not involve screens or batteries!

2014 01 07_5861_edited-1

As we neared the end of our wander we walked beneath the metal archways of the “Trellis Walk” running alongside the David Roses border. Here there were roses still trying to bloom and others with hips on. The gardens are maintained organically so within these borders we found lovely insect shelters and clumps of Phacelia plants both designed to bring in beneficial insects. Four beautiful relief panels were spread out along the border depicting different garden movements  from the past. We could see through the trellis walkway back to the “River of Grasses” and in the ever-darkening late afternoon light the grasses really seemed to glow. We now look forward to re-visiting in February to see what is going on.

2014 01 07_5878_edited-1 2014 01 07_5880_edited-1 2014 01 07_5882_edited-1 2014 01 07_5884_edited-1

allotments birds community gardening fruit and veg garden photography garden wildlife gardening gardens grasses grow your own hardy perennials kitchen gardens light light quality meadows natural pest control ornamental grasses ornamental trees and shrubs photography roses spring bulbs wildlife Winter Gardening

What’s on the Plots? An end of year wander around the allotments.

Mid-December often sees the allotment site under snow or at least coated in frost, but not this year. We wandered around today with camera in hand and we were appreciative of the bright clear blue sky overhead. The midday sun cast long sharp shadows and it had enough strength in it for us to feel its warmth.

Having checked the post box for messages, and left a few magazines in the communal hut for others to enjoy, we started our tour at Wendy’s lovely plot. There is always something of interest to see and new things going on. We were not to be disappointed today. The sun caught the bright fiery colours of the willow hedge surrounding her compost heap.

2013 12 17_5480 2013 12 17_5481

On an obelisk where the soft bark paths cross the striped flag glowed alongside a sparkling glitterball, while this character decorated her shed door. A cranky old monk? Brother Cadfael perhaps when he was dropped by the BBC.

2013 12 17_5482 2013 12 17_5483

We next moved to the Autumn Garden and our newly planted section alongside our young fedge. The tree here is a Crataegus prunifolia which gives rich red autumn colour and deep red berries which is underplanted with bulbs. The border is planted up with sedum, asters, ferns, some perennial native flora and small shrubs. The cones and catkins of alders are beginning to get their purple hue. Cotoneaster leaves are as red as their berries.

2013 12 17_5486 2013 12 17_5487

2013 12 17_5489

On many plots old crops sit forgotten in places whilst others await being picked throughout the winter. The sprouts will grace a plot holder’s Christmas dinner spread.

2013 12 17_5484 2013 12 17_5485

Chard leaves on a sunny day are delightful. The reds, yellows and purples of their leaves and stems glow with the sun behind them.

2013 12 17_5488  2013 12 17_5502

2013 12 17_5495 2013 12 17_5535

Further along the borders of the Autumn Garden we passed Trevor’s plot where there is always an interesting development to find. Today we discovered his new shed number. He must have problems remembering his plot number or needs to arrange to visit an optician.

In the final section of the Autumn Garden the grass Calamagrostis acutifolia “Overdam” stand tall and to attention and gentle honey scents flow from the lemon flowered Mahonia.

2013 12 17_5490 2013 12 17_5491 2013 12 17_5492

On the shed roof of Plot 68 the massive scarecrow is looking worse for wear after our recent weather featuring heavy rains and strong winds. In the summer he won our annual scarecrow competition. It is hard to believe how he wowed our visitors on our Open Day.

2013 12 17_5493

In the first orchard the last fruit hangs on, a golden crab apple. Fennel is already sporting new foliage on Alan’s plot and the last of the Raspberry fruits sit awaiting a hungry Blackbird. Close by in the first Buddleja Border a Shistsotylus bravely blooms on with an early Primula.

2013 12 17_5494  2013 12 17_5497

2013 12 17_5501

2013 12 17_5498 2013 12 17_5499

The Globe Artichoke in the second Buddleja Border will soon burst and finches will flock in to feed off them, especially Goldfinches and Linnets.

2013 12 17_5500

We then took a detour to see what is happening on our own plot, Number 37. The last of the flowers in our wildflower mini-meadow are bravely hanging on and a few of our parsnips have gone to flower producing chartreuse umbrella heads. A few autumn raspberries provide welcome food for Blackbirds.

2013 12 17_5503 2013 12 17_5504 2013 12 17_5505 2013 12 17_5506 2013 12 17_5507 2013 12 17_5508

We moved on towards our old oak tree past plots where winter grown crops await Christmas dinners in members homes, leeks with their glaucous strappy leaves and sprouts behind netting protected against marauding Wood Pigeons.

2013 12 17_5509  2013 12 17_5552

2013 12 17_5511

2013 12 17_5510  2013 12 17_5512

This little scarecrow bravely guards overwintering alliums.

2013 12 17_5513

The Oak invariably looks wonderfully majestic but on a winter’s afternoon it excels with its long sharp shadows and silhouette of bare branches. In the spring Garden nearby the first bulbs are coming into flower, a pale Muscari, pushing their way through fallen oak leaves.

2013 12 17_5514 2013 12 17_5515 2013 12 17_5516 2013 12 17_5517 2013 12 17_5518

On Sharon’s plot her frog thermometer shows it is mild for December and near by a lone apple hangs waiting to give sustenance to the Blackbirds.

2013 12 17_5519 2013 12 17_5520

Glyn’s plot is well covered in a mat of green manures, so no heavy rain is going to leach away the goodness from the soil. Now that is good gardening!

2013 12 17_5521

In the Sensory Garden the rose hips sparkle away in the winter sun which glows through the last of the rose bush’s foliage. Grasses here always look good but add extra movement in the gentlest of breezes.

2013 12 17_5522 2013 12 17_5523 2013 12 17_5524

In the big meadow the last of the Red Campion and the Honesty are gamely flowering still. A lone bloom of Rosa Shropshire Lad casts a beautiful fruity scent across the picnic area.

2013 12 17_5526 2013 12 17_5527 2013 12 17_5528

The bunting on Brian’s shed looks faded now but still adds cheer. The sunlight beams through the Dedge and intensifies the flat plate flower heads of the late Achillea.

2013 12 17_5529 2013 12 17_5530 2013 12 17_5531

The Winter Garden is beginning to come into its own with peeling bark, powdery white stems and fluffy grass seed heads.

2013 12 17_5532 2013 12 17_5533 2013 12 17_5534

Moving on into the site extension we find our newest insect hotel still standing after recent strong winds. As usual I have string and my Opinel garden knife in my pocket so tie it back to the fence. The bamboo looks settled in its new home at the end of the proposed Garden of Contemplation. From here we can see the mass of “keys” adorning every branch of our ancient Ash tree.

2013 12 17_5536 2013 12 17_5537 2013 12 17_5538

Our long shadows look out across the site.

2013 12 17_5539

In the second orchard the crab apples still have much fruit left on and these give bright patches of colour visible from all over the site.

2013 12 17_5540 2013 12 17_5541 2013 12 17_5542

The stems of the coppiced willows in the Withy Bed shine as they start to show their late winter colour. This is something we are looking forward to. We have 17 different willow here in every colour possible.

2013 12 17_5543 2013 12 17_5544

We are just beginning to prepare the ground for our new Prairie Garden which we shall make in the new year. This big patch of bare ground promises to become a riot of year round colour. We can’t wait to get started. On nearby plots we spot a patch of another green manure, Grazing Ryegrass and another lone apple on a tree.

2013 12 17_5545 2013 12 17_5546 2013 12 17_5547

On Ian’s plot a big pile of farmyard manure waits the time when he digs it into the soil to add nutrients, humus and structure. It won’t take him long – he is a strong chap.

2013 12 17_5548

Returning to the communal hut along the wide path we spot this old beer can acting as a cane top rattling away by the old sweetcorn stalks. On Mandy’s plot this little insect home will be looking after hibernating friendly critters who will emerge in the spring to eat pests such as aphids. Dave’s flags hang sadly atop their poles.

2013 12 17_5549 2013 12 17_5550 2013 12 17_5551

As we returned to the car we noticed the first signs of growth on our spring bulbs. The first leaves of the daffodils have just made their way through the bark mulch. A promise of golden flowers to come. Our wheelbarrows give a big splash of colour in low sunlight.

2013 12 17_5554 2013 12 17_5553

2013 12 17_5555

bird watching birds canals conservation countryside landscapes nature reserves Norfolk wildlife

The Wonders of Wicken

I am not a fan of flat land, I love hills and mountains and views. The fens are just too flat for me. But we discovered a wonderful wildlife reserve a few years ago run by the National Trust, Wicken Fen. We were in the area again this September so we couldn’t resist a return visit. Last time we were there it was warm but wet. This time it was cold and wet.

We followed the boardwalk out into the fen and were amazed by the variety of wildflowers we could spot from the walkway.

2013 08 26_3205 2013 08 26_3188

2013 08 26_3187   2013 08 26_3190 2013 08 26_3191 2013 08 26_3192 2013 08 26_3193 2013 08 26_3194 2013 08 26_3195 2013 08 26_3196 2013 08 26_3197    2013 08 26_3201 2013 08 26_3203 2013 08 26_3204

We enjoyed a few moments watching this spider attempting to build its web in the wet weather. He was most persistent and crafted a fine web.

2013 08 26_3200

Stopping off for a coffee in a hide overlooking a pool with a bird feeding station close to the viewing windows gave us opportunities to watch common and less common birds busily feeding. Tree Sparrows were a delight to spot as they are becoming very scarce now due to habitat degradation and loss, as were a pair of Turtle Doves which are real rarities now. The biggest surprise here though was the Muntjac Deer which crept through the shrubbery knocked the feeders with its head and then ate the spilled food off the ground. It then disappeared just as quickly and quietly as it has arrived. It skulked away very quietly.

2013 08 26_3198 2013 08 26_3199

We moved on through the fens along damp pathways and boardwalks where the ground was even wetter. We enjoyed the variety of flora that need these unusual conditions to thrive. This little plant, possibly a Water Mint, crept across the boards themselves so we had to watch where we put our boots.

2013 08 26_3211

2013 08 26_3205 2013 08 26_3208

2013 08 26_3207

2013 08 26_3201 2013 08 26_3202  2013 08 26_3204 2013 08 26_3206   2013 08 26_3209 2013 08 26_3210  2013 08 26_3212

The water levels in the fens here are carefully controlled to create and maintain the different habitat types. This increases the variety of plants, insects, invertebates, mammals, fish and birds that set up home here. Windmills power the pumps. They stand tall and rigid above the low level of the herbage below.

2013 08 26_3213 2013 08 26_3214 2013 08 26_3215 2013 08 26_3216 2013 08 26_3219

To help manage some areas some unusual lawnmowers are being used, these handsome Highland Cattle.

2013 08 26_3217 2013 08 26_3218

The two critters below, later identified as a Greenbench and a Mrs Greenbench, tried many ways of hiding from the photography!

2013 08 26_3220 2013 08 26_3221

allotments autumn community gardening conservation fruit and veg garden wildlife gardening grow your own hedgerows natural pest control spring bulbs trees wildlife

The Big Planting – a new hedge and more bulbs for the allotments.

In mid-November we held another working party on our allotment site, Bowbrook Allotment Community. This will be the last one this year and our aim was to plant a new hedge along the bare green fence that serves as the boundary to our site extension. We hoped also to plant the thousands of bulbs donated by our members. The green security fencing looks so bare at the moment so we can’t wait for our new hedge to hide it.

2013 11 10_5030

Recently we have been trying to involve whole families in our working parties and we hoped some youngsters would turn up to our hedge planting day as it was a rare opportunity for them. These days few children get the chance to plant a native tree.

We were awarded a pack of 460 native trees to plant by the Woodland Trust and had been given others by members and locals so we had well over 500 to plant. They were seedlings of hawthorn, blackthorn, hazel, rowan, birch, oak and all about 18 inches tall. We had guelder rose, dogwood and dogroses to add from elsewhere on the site. The Woodland Trust were able to give many sites like ours packs of trees because of the generosity of Biffa, Ikea and Nicky’s.

The trees, canes and tubes arrived at our house a few days before and the boxes were mighty heavy to deliver up to the lotties.

2013 11 10_5028 2013 11 10_5029

The day before the working party we mixed the plants up to make sure the planting looked random and natural. We placed a selection of little trees, canes and protection tubing alongside each section of hedge ready for a quick start in the morning.

2013 11 10_5031 2013 11 10_5032

2013 11 10_5035 2013 11 10_5033

2013 11 10_5034

With heads down and bottoms up Pete and I busily made our way along the stretch of fencing – we did need some time out around noon to straighten out, rest our backs and refresh ourselves with coffee and biscuits.

2013 11 10_5036 2013 11 10_5038

Twenty five members of all ages turned up to help us plant our new hedge including children, their parents and grandparents. Several were started way before our planned starting time. It was heartening to see them all sharing the experience together. We were amazed how the children all managed to find little creatures as they busily planted away, such as worms, beetles, slugs and spiders. Little hands carefully held them like precious jewels as they were all studied in great detail.

20131109_101429 20131109_101439

Jude, our community secretary and my “better half”, caught up on all the children’s news since we last met with the two little girls from our neighbouring plot. She heard all about the birthday party they held on the allotments using the picnic benches under the old oak tree and enjoyed following the trail and doing the quizzes with their friends.

2013 11 10_4998

Three generations, Syd, his daughter and granddaughters, helped each other to plant the little plants, but progress was slowed every time a mini-beast was discovered as granddad had to move them to safety, even a big slug!

2013 11 10_4991 2013 11 10_4992

Within half an hour of our ten o’clock start members were heads down hard at work along the whole length of fence.

20131109_101459 20131109_104747

Below Margaret is enjoying her first ever Bowbrook Allotment Community working party having started on her plot in the spring, while close by Anne and Charlie work in top gear to get as much done as possible before they have to go elsewhere for a family gathering in the afternoon.

20131109_104757 2013 11 10_4993

2013 11 10_5003 2013 11 10_4994

2013 11 10_4995

The day started off chilly but before the end of the morning jackets were discarded and hung up on the fence. Sherlie and Pete in the photo below had been hard at work since 8:30 so straightening up afterwards was a bit of a struggle.

2013 11 10_4997

There were some stunning wellies on display.

2013 11 10_5001 2013 11 10_5000

Amazingly all the plants were snug in their new homes within an hour and a half. It goes without saying that we had earned our lunch break. The children went off at lunchtime as they all had other activities to attend in the afternoon such as dance lessons. We hoped they were not too tired to enjoy their afternoon activities. Those who stayed for the afternoon creaked more than a little when they returned to new tasks.

20131109_115705 20131109_115723

After a good rest with chatter and laughter we moved on to plant thousands of bulbs. Tulips, Daffodils, Muscari, Alliums, Camassias, Crocus, Iris and Fritillaries. We already have planted thousands of flowering bulbs, both spring and summer flowering over the four autumns we have been in existence. This year we intended to add to those already in the two orchards, the car park borders and under the mature oak and sycamore trees. In late winter and early spring these flowering bulbs will appear to brighten us up and provide our pollinator friends and our natural pest controllers with some vital nutrition.

20131109_120820 20131109_121514 20131109_122004 20131109_124125

20131109_125513 20131109_125519

To finish the day off a few of us stayed to move some hedging plants from elsewhere on the site.

2013 11 10_5005 2013 11 10_5004

A busy, successful and most fruitful day, which displayed just what a true community of gardeners can achieve by working together. We hope these activity days help to ensure we encourage and nurture interest in our naturalists and gardeners of the future.

autumn gardens wildlife

Mating Dragonflies

It is always a delight to see dragonflies or damselflies. We have them in our garden and often see them laying eggs on stems under the water’s surface and later see them emerge back up the stems where they wait in the sunshine for their wings to dry out in readiness for a short life on the wing. When cleaning out some of the debris from the bottom of the pond to stop it getting too thick, we often come across the larvae of dragonflies. These larvae are ferocious hunters with dragon like heads.

When walking through a garden in Herefordshire recently we came across a mating pair on the leaf of a tree just at eye level. It gave me a rare opportunity to photograph them. I hope you enjoy my efforts. Unfortunately I did not have my close up lens with me or I could have experimented more.

2013 10 24_4531 2013 10 24_4530 2013 10 24_4529 2013 10 24_4526 2013 10 24_4525 2013 10 24_4528

allotments autumn community gardening diy garden buildings garden wildlife gardening gardens Land Art natural pest control recycling Shrewsbury wildlife

Pumpkins, a BBQ and Homes for Wildlife

At the end of October we held our first ever family oriented working party social day at our allotments, Bowbrook Allotment Community. It was a great success even though the whole day was spent in wellies and waterproofs. The ground beneath our feet was saturated and occasional showers got us from above, but neither distracted us from our aims of the day.

We started just after one o’clock when a photographer from the local newspaper came to take some shots of families working together on our “Homes for Wildlife” projects and one of our most recent award, the RHS Britain in Bloom “National Award of Distinction” which we were awarded for our community involvement.

First task was to make some birdboxes and Wren Pouches. All the materials were collected together by one of our picnic benches and tools readied.  It was heartening to see children, their parents and grandparents working together creating these nest boxes. Three generations together!

2013 10 27_4572 2013 10 27_4580

2013 10 27_4590 2013 10 27_4598

2013 10 27_4622 2013 10 27_4599

We made some hanging bug shelters too, created from broken flower pots, driftwood and bits of bark.

2013 10 27_4579

We wished also to make a couple of bug hotels, a small one along the fenceline and our most ambitious yet a 6 ft high creepy crawly cottage both based on recycled wooden pallets. We began with a stack of pallets and a collection of natural objects collected by allotment holders, sticks, old garden canes, stones, fir cones etc.

2013 10 27_4565 2013 10 27_4567 2013 10 27_4569

The “cottage” soon began to take shape as pallets were stacked and fixed together to give the basic structure.

2013 10 27_4571  2013 10 27_4577

2013 10 27_4581 2013 10 27_4584

2013 10 27_4585 2013 10 27_4586

2013 10 27_4587 2013 10 27_4589

2013 10 27_4588   2013 10 27_4591

2013 10 27_4594 2013 10 27_4593

2013 10 27_4597

All we have to do now is choose a name for our new insect home. We have challenged the youngsters from the allotments, our Roots and Shoots group, to choose a suitable one. So far we have a few ideas – “Minibeast Manor”, “Bugtique Hotel” and “Minibeast Metropolis”. The difficulty will be how to decide!

The smaller insect hotel was made from five pallets and again filled with objects that would provide shelter for wildlife. We finished it off with a stone pile, the perfect home for beetles.

2013 10 27_4582 2013 10 27_4583

2013 10 27_4595 2013 10 27_4596

2013 10 27_4578

The final jobs before our BBQ was to plant lots of acorns, sweet chestnuts and hazel nuts to grow on and plant in our hedgerows and to plant up a whole sack of daffodil bulbs alongside the paths in our meadows.

2013 10 27_4600 2013 10 27_4616

The BBQ brought us all back together and once darkness fell we lit our pumpkin lanterns. And we even found time for Jude to do some face painting.

2013 10 27_4618 2013 10 27_4619 2013 10 27_4617 2013 10 27_4627 2013 10 27_4628

As we enjoyed the BBQ the light disappeared and we prepared ourselves for the Twilight Walk, when we wandered around the site with lit pumpkins to light our way in search of sheds decorated as Spooky Sheds.

2013 10 27_4624   2013 10 27_4626 2013 10 27_4623

2013 10 27_4615 2013 10 27_4613 2013 10 27_4612 2013 10 27_4611 2013 10 27_4610 2013 10 27_4609 2013 10 27_4608 2013 10 27_4607 2013 10 27_4606 2013 10 27_4605 2013 10 27_4604 2013 10 27_4602

And as the night fell we disappeared into the gloom with our pumpkins to guide our way.

2013 10 27_4629 2013 10 27_4630

garden design garden photography garden wildlife gardening gardens open to the public grasses hardy perennials meadows natural pest control ornamental trees and shrubs recycling walled gardens wildlife

Boughton House – The Gardens

Back to Boughton as promised and this time we are off to the more intimate gardens closer to the house. These contrast strongly with the large scale landscaping with the huge land forms.

Refreshed with a good coffee and a slice of lemon drizzle cake from the restaurant in the stableyard we wandered off to the walled garden.

On the way we passed through a couple of old gates, presenting an odd juxtaposition with one so grand and one rather normal. Finding an old orchard was an unexpected pleasure. The old apple trees are being sensitively renewed through careful and very skillful pruning.

2013 08 23_3052 2013 08 23_3054 2013 08 23_3055 2013 08 23_3056

The gateway that led to the walled garden was most welcoming and we accepted readily its generous invitation to enter.

2013 08 23_3057

And what a sight met our eyes! The area enclosed by the old honey-coloured stone walls was far larger than we expected and contained a sensory garden, a wildlife garden, herbaceous borders and old greenhouses surrounded by interesting plantings in a selection of eclectic containers.

2013 08 23_3061 2013 08 23_3062 2013 08 23_3063

2013 08 23_3071 2013 08 23_3070 2013 08 23_3069 2013 08 23_3068 2013 08 23_3067

The garden designed to attract wildlife contained some interesting insect shelters and great plants for beneficial “critters”. We were most impressed by the insect home called “Creepy Crawly Cottage and the impressive bird bath.

2013 08 23_3075 2013 08 23_3076 2013 08 23_3077 2013 08 23_3078 2013 08 23_3079 2013 08 23_3080 2013 08 23_3081 2013 08 23_3082 2013 08 23_3084 2013 08 23_3085 2013 08 23_3086 2013 08 23_3087

The old gardeners’ bothy was full of character. I loved the bell!

2013 08 23_3090 2013 08 23_3089 2013 08 23_3088

At the far end of the walled garden the sensory garden satisfied our noses with sweet herby scents.

2013 08 23_3091 2013 08 23_3092 2013 08 23_3093 2013 08 23_3094 2013 08 23_3095

I shall finish this report on Boughton with a couple of interesting features that caught my eye throughout the garden.

2013 08 23_3104 2013 08 23_3103 2013 08 23_3102 2013 08 23_3101 2013 08 23_3100 2013 08 23_3099 2013 08 23_3097 2013 08 23_3095 2013 08 23_3083 2013 08 23_3060 2013 08 23_3059 2013 08 23_3058