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A Garden Bouquet for December

Already we are almost at the end of the year so here is my December bouquet from our garden,the final chapter in 2013.

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It is only mid-December and while in the garden we are treated to the beautiful repetitive piping call of a Song Thrush, already making his territorial proclamation. He must have found a mighty fine territory which he is making sure no-one else can take possession of.

The skies seem full of passing flocks of Redwing and their larger noisier cousins the Fieldfare on migration, escaping their cold food-less summer homes in central Europe. Below them exploring the trees and shrubs of our garden mixed foraging flocks of finches seek out the last of the seeds and berries while amongst them groups of Titmice, Great, Blue, Long-tailed and Coal arrive in hurried flight to explore every nook and cranny of dried stems, tree bark and shrub branches for insects especially spiders.

A few delicate looking soft coloured flowers still hang on determined to be the final blooms of the year. It seems amazing but the odd big bumbling Queen Bumble Bee appears to feed on them.

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Berries on shrubs and small trees add extra sparkles of colour but the resident Mistle Thrushes guard them from the migrant thrushes. They are the larder for the colder days to come. The red fruit of the Cotoneasters, Hollies and Rowans will be eaten first and most will have been devoured by the thrushes and Blackbirds before the month is out. The creamy-yellow berries of the Cotoneaster rothschildiana will stay longer being mere second choices. The last to go without fail will be the white berries of the Sorbus, so we can get to enjoy them against dark winter storm clouds before the birds eat them.

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At this time of year we can enjoy the dessicated seed heads and old flower heads that have managed to survive the wet times that autumn invariably brings. This year has been so wet that we seem to have fewer still standing than ever before. But a few are putting on a display for us and when covered in a frosty layer or when donning a hat made of snow will look even better. Within them are the remnant autumn leaves as yet to be blown from their branches by blasts of wind.

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Signs of next year’s growth are already in evidence like this adventurous bud found on a clematis snuggled between stem and petioles.

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Patterns become important in winter as they emerge from seasons hidden away behind plants. So that is the end of my year of garden bouquets for 2013. Perhaps they will return for 2014.

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A Day on the Lottie – mini-meadows and brassicas.

Yesterday we spent the day up at our allotment, with the aim of sowing mini-meadows and planting out Brassica plants. But firstly the grass paths separating the plot into its four beds needed a good cut. That done we prepared two narrow borders along one edge of the plot, raking the soil finely but adding no fertilisers or organic matter, for this is where we were creating our mini-meadows.

We sowed a mixture of 3 packets, a white cornflower called “Snowman” a native cornfield mixture and a Californian wildflower mixture. It seemed so strange to feel how light the seeds felt in my hand – a meadow in the palm of my hand.

We hope that our little strips of meadow will look good for us and fellow plotholders to enjoy, attract beneficial insects and bring in attractive butterflies. We particularly want bees to arrive to help with crop pollination. And of course they all entertain us while we are gardening.

After a quick coffee we scattered chicken muck pellets and fish, blood and bone fertiliser onto our brassica bed and raked them in well. I then trod over the area to firm the ground  and raked again. Brassicas enjoy firm soil and they are less likely to bolt and help them fill out better.

We decided to plant the Brassica plants in trenches with raised sides to act as min-dikes. With all the talk of drought and possible hose pipe bans we are trying out ways of watering wisely. These trenches should ensure that any rain is directed towards the plants.

We packed away our tools and locked up the shed after a busy, productive couple of hours. Back to the community hut to collect one of the site mowers and the grass strimmer, and we were off to mow the grass around the community meadow area and the turf spiral. But we wandered around the site first and found three real little gems.

This first gem we found was a native fritillary growing in a batch in the first of the community orchards and the second, a more unusual fritillary, in a small patch in the Hazel Grove.

The third gem was a hatched shell near one of the native hedgerows. This little sky blue beauty is the egg of a Song Thrush, so we were delighted to find it. Thrushes are becoming more frequent on the site as our community wildlife areas are becoming more established. We often see them feeding under the feeding stations or rummaging in the leaf litter beneath the hedges.

We mowed and trimmed for a couple of hours before our backs shouted “Enough! Enough!”