Categories
flowering bulbs garden photography garden ponds garden pools garden wildlife gardening grasses hardy perennials light light quality ornamental grasses ornamental trees and shrubs Shropshire shrubs spring bulbs water in the garden Winter Gardening winter gardens

My Garden Journal 2016 – February

Back with the second post sharing my 2016 Garden Journal, we will look at what it holds for February.

2016 02 13_8659_edited-1

On the first page for the month I mention the changing light values that occurs during February.

2016 02 24_9066_edited-1

“This is the month when light values really start to improve. We also get longer days when the weather allows. This change in light coupled with slowly rising temperatures encourages birds to change their songs and calls. The Great Tit is the master of calls with its huge repertoire. Luckily they are very frequent visitors to our garden. They are great entertainers! Their song in February is a “see-sawing ditty with mechanical overtones.” (Collins Bird Guide)

I added my gouache painting of a pair of Great Tits.

2014 12 21_8971_edited-1

On the opposite page I carried on talking about our continued development of our greenhouse.

Having completed the construction of our new heated propagation bench last month we then sorted out our pots, trays, pans and cells ready for the new sowing and growing season. We ensured we have plenty of labels as well as sowing compost and horticultural grit. Jude finished putting up insulation bubble wrap.”

2016 02 02_8119-1 2016 02 02_8120-12016 02 02_8121-1 2016 02 02_8131-1 2016 02 02_8122-1

From greenhouse gardening to pond gardening, my next page features two photos of Jude the Undergardener in her waders playing in our wildlife pond.

2016 02 24_9069_edited-1

“Mid to late February is the time each year when our Common Frogs come to sing, mate and then leave balls of spawn in our wildlife pond. Thus early this month Jude donned her chest waders and cleaned up the pond. She removed Duckweed, Blanket Weed and fallen leaves, then thinned out the water plants.

2016 01 26_8057-1 2016 01 26_8056-1

We tidied up the narrow border that edges the pond, pulling a few hardy weeds and taking up seedlings of our Cornus “Midwinter Fire”. It was heartening to discover how workable our soil was, this being the result of a decade of improving it with the addition of our own garden compost and the regular mulching deeply with organic matter.”

I continued onto the next page discussing the welcome appearance of sunshine in the February.

“Sunshine is not often in evidence this February but when it does make an appearance its effects are magical. It highlights the peeling bark of our trees and directs a spotlight on blossom and glossy foliage.”

2016 01 22_8035_edited-1 2016 01 22_8034_edited-12016 02 02_81162016 01 22_8024 2016 01 22_8008 2016 01 22_8009-1 2016 01 22_8018

As I turn the page I see that I have written about cold temperatures and on the opposite page and on the following double page spread I share the amazing number of plants in flower on one day in February.

2016 02 24_9070_edited-12016 02 24_9073_edited-1

“A sudden overnight plunge in temperature can have drastic looking effects on our early flowering plants. The flowering stem of this Bergenia can be standing to attention during the day but cold at night can make it droop, with the flowers almost touching the cold soil”.

2016 01 17_7930-1 2016 01 08_7763

“The following day when the sun has driven away any frost and added a degree or two to the temperature, the Bergenia flower slowly rises again and returns to its former pink glory.”

February flowers are celebrated over the next three pages. I hope you enjoy sharing this selection of plants that keep us cheerful and the garden colourful.

2016 02 18_8904_edited-1 2016 02 18_8901_edited-12016 02 18_8891_edited-1 2016 02 18_8878_edited-12016 02 18_8872_edited-1 2016 02 18_8879_edited-12016 02 18_8867_edited-1 2016 02 18_8847_edited-1 2016 02 18_8869_edited-1 2016 02 18_8863_edited-12016 02 18_8913_edited-1 2016 02 18_8871_edited-12016 02 18_8912_edited-1 2016 02 18_8866_edited-1 2016 02 18_8854_edited-1 2016 02 18_8853    2016 02 18_8887_edited-1 2016 02 18_8873_edited-1  2016 02 18_8902_edited-1 2016 02 18_8855_edited-1

These pictures certainly illustrate how colourful and interesting the garden can still be in the depths of winter. From flowers I moved on to foliage, as on my next double page spread I celebrate Phormiums and how important they are to the winter garden.

2016 02 24_9074_edited-1

“Form, texture and foliage colours are so important in the garden in winter, so we are lucky to have discovered and planted Phormiums as they give us all three. They move beautifully too, swaying in the slightest breeze.”

2016 02 13_8632 2016 02 13_8640 2016 02 13_8651

 

For some of our Phormium I took a shot of the whole plant and then one of the top surface of their leaves and finally the final surface. Their two surfaces are usually very different.

“I love plants that hide some facet of their beauty from us”.

2016 02 13_8633 2016 02 13_8634 2016 02 13_86352016 02 13_8630 2016 02 13_8639 2016 02 13_8638

2016 02 13_8655 2016 02 13_86532016 02 13_8654

2016 02 13_8631 2016 02 13_8637 2016 02 13_8636

In the final pages of my February entries in my Garden Journal I wrote about coloured stems and look back at my first garden journal to see what I had put for my February entry.  I discovered that I was writing about grass and grasses.

2016 02 24_9077_edited-1

“It is in the dull times of February that we appreciate the brightly coloured stems of our Cornus, Salix and Acers. Once their leaves drop the colours, yellows, oranges and reds begin to intensify. I then shared a watercolour painting of a selection of these stems from our garden alongside a trio of photos.”

2016 02 24_9078_edited-1 2016 02 18_88972016 02 18_8874 2016 02 18_8898

Looking back at my original Garden Journal, I notice that I had commented “14th February and the grass gets its first cut. As the North wind died out the strength of the winter sun meant a good day could be had doing general maintenance work.” This year our grassed areas are wet and slimy and definitely too slippery to get a mower on. But the grass has continued to grow slowly so it is in need of its first cut. Meanwhile our ornamental grasses continue to delight.”

2016 01 22_8033 2016 01 22_8032     2016 01 22_7998-1 2016 01 22_7999-1

So that is it for another month. Next time we make a visit to my Garden Journal we will be in March and maybe we shall be seeing signs of spring.

 

Categories
birds fruit and veg garden photography garden ponds garden pools garden wildlife gardens National Trust natural pest control NGS ornamental trees and shrubs Shrewsbury shrubs spring gardening The National Gardening Scheme" water in the garden wildlife Yellow Book Gardens

My Garden Journal – April

Back to my garden journal where we can see what was interesting me in our garden at Avocet during the month of April. My journal for April begins “As March gave way to April the weather responded with the sun making regular appearances and for the first time this year daytime temperatures made double figures. The garden celebrates!”

It celebrated with bright colours of spring flowers such as Celendines, Pulmonarias and early chartreuse flower s and bracts of Euphorbias.

My quote from Jenny Joseph’s book “Led by the Nose – A Garden of Smells” speaks of the delicate scents of the garden and in the countryside that are so important in spring.

The flowers that had come out in the sheltered places on banks and in woods – violets and primroses kept fresh by the rain at the beginning of the month – had been too shy and careful to part with much of their scent. Now they opened to the sun, and woods and walks began to have a lighter sweeter air. The air began to be a mingling of fragrances.”

2015 05 07_1425_edited-1

As the water in the wildlife pond warmed up we thought we would have our first dip with our net to see what wildlife was in evidence beneath the surface. In the journal I wrote “What fun as we reverted to childhood!”We were surprised by just how many different creatures had already stirred into life. I chose to paint the nymphs of Dragonflies and Dameslflies and a Backswimmer. The Damselfly Nymph will hatch out into an Azure Damsel and the two Dragonfly Nymphs into a Hawker Dragonfly and a Darter Dragonfly. They were quite a challenge to paint in their subtle earthy hues.

2015 05 07_1427_edited-1 2015 05 07_1426_edited-1

Continuing on the watery theme on the next page of my garden journal I wrote “Jude gets excited each time she catches a newt when she is on her regular pond maintenance forays. The first this year appeared in early April. Such excitement at Avocet!”  We were so pleased to find so many newts out and about and so active this early in the year. As well as enjoying seeing them using our pond we are even more pleased to know that they are helping us with out pest control out in the borders. They spend much of their time out of water and are partial to slugs. Welcome visitors indeed!

2015 05 07_1428_edited-1

Now these little critters were even more of a challenge to paint than the other pond creatures! Anyway here are the results.

2015 05 07_1430_edited-1

On my next page I wrote, “During Easter Weekend, usually associated with cold and rain, the sky turned the deepest, clearest blue. Temperatures suddenly doubled and the garden buzzed and hummed with the arrival of bees and hoverflies. The most popular of all plants is the flowering currant, Ribes sanguineum.” 

2015 05 07_1429_edited-1

April is the busiest month of the year in the greenhouse. We raise vegetable plants for our allotment plot and annual plants for our garden, but a lot of space is taken up with Jude growing hardy perennials to sell on our open days.

2015 05 07_1431_edited-1 

Towards the middle of the month the ponds were getting livelier with Water Boatmen, Pond Skaters and Water Beetles in evidence whenever the sun shone on the water. We set up our live moth trap for the first time this year to see what was about when darkness fell on the garden. Moths have such wonderful names, mostly given to them by English country clerics with far too much time on their hands. We found Small Brindled Beauties, Muslin Moths, Common Quakers and Early Greys.

2015 05 07_1432_edited-1

I next wrote “Goldfinches are searching the uppermost branches of our trees for the best nest site. We have at least one pair nest every year”. I then got out my watercolour paints and pens and attempted a painting of a Goldfinch.

2015 05 07_1433_edited-1

My final page in my journal entries for April featured two colourful beetles which we found in our garden in that month. “A tiny and very welcome visitor, a 14-Spot Ladybird came to our garden on our first Open Day of the year. A tiny but very unwelcome visitor to our garden also appeared on our first Open Day, a Lily Beetle. We welcome the 14-Spot as he eats aphids but we hate the Lily Beetle as it devours our lily leaves.”

 

2015 05 07_1435_edited-1

Categories
allotments bird watching birds community gardening conservation diy garden buildings garden ponds garden pools garden wildlife gardening irises log piles natural pest control recycling renovation Shrewsbury Shropshire trees water garden water in the garden wildlife

The wildlife pond and hide at BAC – part two

As promised we make a return visit to see the work we have been doing on the development of our pond and hide at our allotment site, Bowbrook Allotment Community. In this part we shall look at our hide, some tree surgery and our new duck tube.

So first let us return to our new hide. If you remember those pictures of us rolling the battered and rather shaky old shed you will be surprised by the photos of it finished. So how about a before and after pair of pics? We made the hide for our allotment youngsters, our Roots and Shoots group, to give them the chance to secretly and quietly watch the life of our pond. With this in mind we set to work on our renovation which took an amazingly large number of volunteer hours.

2014 12 08_8466 2015 03 16_0004

Whenever we go by the pond we can’t help but smile at the transformation! As you can see the old hide was firstly repainted outside by my young apprentice Thomas before we handed it over to two volunteer helpers Sean and his Dad Vince. They are great carpenters so brilliant volunteer helpers to have on board. They put fresh felt on the roof and fabricated a strong framework inside the shed. They made a concrete and slab base and placed the newly strengthen shed on a framework of wooden struts.

20150207_162506-1 sean 3-1

Thomas returned to give the shed another coat of wood preserver and I added a sign I created from wooden letters. It began to look the part from the outside but even more so once the two men added a new sheet of perspex to the window and added two hatches for clear viewing on dry days. These can be seen in the photo below.

2015 03 16_0005

Within a few weeks Sean and Vince with extra help from Sean’s children had put up a noticeboard, made a kneeling bench and shelf for leaning on when the children used the hatches and window. The pictures below show first the bench and secondly the view the children get from the hatch.

2015 03 16_0018 2015 03 16_0016

This is the view our Roots and Shoots youngsters will get as they open the hide door. You will see that Jude and I have added identification charts for birds and dragonflies and damselflies and a poster displaying the life on and under the surface of a pond. We also made a little bookcase from a vegetable crate and placed in it some wildlife books for youngsters. We also mounted a whiteboard on which we are inviting the children to note their observations. The final touches are a pair of binoculars a notebook for children to jot down their nature notes.

2015 03 16_0019 2015 03 16_00142015 03 16_0015  2015 03 16_0017

Last job of course was a celebratory cup of coffee perching on the children’s bench and admiring everyone’s handiwork and great efforts.

2015 03 16_9952

Now let us enjoy a bit of tree surgery carried out so professionally by some more of our volunteers, Pete and Mike. As mentioned in part one we have a few elderly Ash trees around the pond which for safety sake need remedial work. Earlier on we managed to pull down broken branches that had rotted but got tangled in the lower branches as they fell, but this day was a day for the chain saw attachment on our strimmer head to get in the action. One large branch hung right over the pond to the far bank and was slowly splitting so getting lower and lower. The final cut shows the weakness.

2015 03 16_9993

First Mike and Pete looked and stared and studied! They needed a strategy!!

2015 03 16_9925 2015 03 16_9926

This strategy involved rope thrown up and over a much higher and stronger upper bough, with which they could keep control of the branch once it was sawn through.

2015 03 16_9932 2015 03 16_9928 2015 03 16_9929

Attachment attached and they were off!

2015 03 16_9933 2015 03 16_9934 2015 03 16_9936

The cut bough hanging obediently could then be pulled in and dealt with on dry land. It will soon be seating for the youngsters, edging for borders and parts of insect homes and log piles and brash heaps to help attract ads shelter wildlife. We discovered an awful lot of rot within the bough so it was great relief to see it down. Trouble is there are a few more going the same way.

2015 03 16_9937 2015 03 16_9938 2015 03 16_9939

Finally we need to look at our duck tube! The photo below shows why we need one! A pair of Mallards patiently waiting!

20150217_100524

Just follow the picture sequence below and watch Mike’s adventure. Before we made the dam and changed the drainage around it to gain depth for wildlfie the pond was rarely more than 6 inches or so deep!

2015 03 16_9930 2015 03 16_9940 2015 03 16_9941  2015 03 16_9944 2015 03 16_9945 2015 03 16_9946 2015 03 16_9947 2015 03 16_9948 2015 03 16_9949 2015 03 16_9950 2015 03 16_9951 2015 03 16_9994

He is a good chap is Mike! What would we do without him? And below the duck tube in pride of place in the pond in a position where the children can watch activity from their new hide. Brilliant!

2015 03 16_9954

We still have further work on the pond mostly planting but we have a plan for a floating island to give wildlife somewhere to find safety and shade. Pete and Mike have a plan as you might have guessed! But of course that may be the subject of a future post visiting our super wildlife pond! One piece of info I have not mentioned are the dimensions of the area, useful I think to put things in perspective and to emphasise the size of the project. The pool is 22 yards long by 11 yards at its widest point, and the marsh area at the one end is 9 yards by 7 yards at the widest point. Around the pool and marsh between the pond and the fence, the walk around together with the planted areas vary from 3 yards to 5 yards. Quite a size!

Categories
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.

 

 

 

 

Categories
bird watching birds garden design garden photography garden wildlife gardening natural pest control photography Shropshire shrubs village gardens wildlife

Summer house revamp

After ten years our summer-house, our little quiet place of escape at the bottom of the garden, was beginning to look worse for wear. The back wall faces directly south so gets harsh sun on it in the summer months and as our garden is at the bottom of a hill temperature inversion in the winter means that the poor summer-house feels the full effect of  the cold frosty air as it rolls down the hill to hit our summer-house first. The first two pics show the summer-house as we began work, with the original interior on the left and the first stages of cladding the walls on the right.

DSC_0041 DSC_0040
We decided to re-clad it inside and out and then repaint both the inside and outside. A job that ended up taking us a long time as we fitted it in between more interesting gardening tasks.
But at last we have finished! A big sigh of relief can be heard all over the garden!

So, first let us share with you what it looks like now.

DSC_0001-22 DSC_0002 DSC_0003-22 DSC_0004

The summer-house is our little secret place where we hide at the bottom of the garden and ignore the telephone and doorbell, pretend that television and computers don’t exist and believe there is no lane passing our house.

It catches the evening sun in the last few hours before it sets, so is a great place to end the day. We sit and listen and we can appreciate a different view of our garden. We listen to the calls and songs of our garden birds and those passing over our heads. We can share the intimacy of their bathing as they come to freshen up in the shallow end of our wildlife pool. A square of decking sits in front of the summer-house and hangs over the pool.

Please share the view from our summer-house seat.

DSC_0001-21 DSC_0002

DSC_0003

To give you an idea of some of the special things we can see right now from our little house I have taken a few shots with a long zoom on my camera.

DSC_0008 DSC_0007

DSC_0009 DSC_0010

DSC_0011

As we enjoyed a coffee in the summer house today, a female blackbird came to bathe almost splashing our feet. She must have been enjoying a few moments off the nest, a few moments to herself. A house sparrow also came to bathe when the blackbird returned to the nest. On the nearby bird feeders a nuthatch noisily bashed away at the peanuts with its long powerful beak and took small bits back to its young in a hole in a nearby tree. It soon returned for more and we heard its beak tapping on the metal mesh of the feeder.

A blue tit couple are rearing young in a nest box fixed to the summer-house and we watched as they appeared with beaks full of wriggling caterpillars. We could hear the fledglings begging as they open their yellow wide gapes to beg for their share of the wrigglers.

In the pond itself life lives on the film of water and secretly below the surface. Pond skaters dominate the surface but they are frequently joined by sub-surface dwellers in need of a gulp of air, newts, water boatmen and water beetles. Below the surface we can watch tadpoles of frogs and toads feeding and fattening themselves up.

The pond is home to many of our pest controllers such as newts, toads and frogs who all breed here at our feet.

But as we look out and appreciate our garden and its life, one nosey bird looks in to see what we are up to. A robin comes close, perches on the nearby malus and watches us with head cocked to one side as if bemused.

As we rest in our little summer-house world the garden and its wildlife busily carry on close by.

Categories
conservation garden wildlife gardening natural pest control wildlife winter gardens

Frog Chorus – it’s frog time in the garden.

We have been gardening with wildlife in mind now for four decades.We have endeavoured to include a wildlife pond in each of our 4 gardens in that time. Each year the frogs attracted to the ponds gather together towards the end of February to croak loudly day and night, to mate and leave piles of spawn. They have been so consistent up till now – whatever the weather the spawn appears in the same weeks of the year. If there is snow on the ground or if a mild spell gives bonus sunshine and blue skies they still perform in late February.

But this year they have waited until the first few days of March! I wonder why? We can’t complain about their lateness though as all this spawn will provide lots more frogs to live in the garden and act as natural pest controllers.