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First walk for months! Part 1

After not being allowed out of our own property because of the coronavirus once we heard I was allowed a little freedom we immediately went out for a walk around the village. We set off down our lane which goes through the village and soon turned left into Well Lane where we soon found the footpath we were after.

We were delighted to see a puddle, the first we had seen for weeks.

It was good to see that Mother Nature has continued her good work during lock down and we enjoyed seeing wildflowers, grasses and seeds on trees. This earl stretch of our walk took us along an ancient drovers’ road with hedges both sides. Occasional glimpses though gaps show crops growing sadly regularly covered in chemical sprays. We were to discover the bad effects of this later on our walk.


Sadly there were signs that plants were suffering from the long spell of hot dry weather.

After walking for half an hour or so we reached an old beautiful manor house where our path turned at right angles skirting the lake. Alongside the lake was a beautiful extremely wildlife friendly wide verge of wild flowers with annuals added for extra insect food. Below is a short gallery of photos taken of this feature. As usual click on the first photo then navigate using the arrows. Enjoy.

After enjoying the wildlife border and its wildlife we walked on a little way to a place where three fields met and stopped for a break. (See part 2)

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My Garden Journal 2017 – November

The penultimate visit to my garden journal for 2017 is here – hope you enjoy it. I began by referring back to a development we started in the garden back in September which we finished off in November. We are very pleased with how it has turned out and look forward to seeing the new plants flourish.

“October continued with damaging winds and days with brown skies and orange sun as we received the effects f Hurricane Ophelia, downgraded to Storm Ophelia as it hit our shores. The last few weeks of October and the early days of November, saw us busy continuing develop our “Oil Tank Garden”.


“We screened the ugly tank with panels of beautiful diamond latticed panels and soon got on with the planting. Always the exciting bit!”

Over the page I continue to describe our development of this border and wrote “Behind the tank we have planted two trees, the Heptacodium mentioned in September and a stunning Sorbus called Joseph Rock with yellow berries in stark contrast to its deepest red autumn foliage.


“Hundreds of miniature daffodils were planted with crocus, Anemone blanda and other small bulbs.”

“A new solitary bee home was sited in the new garden. We gave it a miniature green roof!”

“We soon had a selection of climbers planted to clothe the trellis panels, Roses, Clematis, Honeysuckle and a Coronilla”.


“Behind the tank we planted for wildlife and hedgehogs in particular. We placed a nestbox for hedgehogs among dense planting of ferns and Euphorbias. We added stone piles, leaf piles and log piles.”

Turning over another page I featured some words by Dan Pearson and looked at some autumn flowering plants.

“Taking a look at Dan Pearson’s writings about Autumn in his “Natural Selections” book he wrote,

I want to invite the seasons into the garden, vividly and in layers. I use asters, autumn crocus and gentians at ground level, and shrubs that perform for this season to take the eye up and away, to straighten the back. I weave berrying trees and shrubs into the garden as much for their jewel-like fruit as for the birds which flock down to gorge when the fruit is ready for feasting upon.”

We aim to do exactly the same in our Avocet patch. Below are a few of our Asters which feature in our “Shrub Border”,  a border that brings Autumn in.”


“Another herbaceous perennial that features strongly in our November garden are the Salvias. We leave a few to over-winter in the garden but most will be brought into the cool greenhouse.”


Turning over again I take a look at succulents, plants rarely mentioned in the context of the autumn garden.

“When considering Autumn colour, succulents are rarely mentioned, but just check out the photos below of some of our succulents taken in November


Below are my paintings/drawings of two multi-coloured succulent stems which I created with water soluble pencil crayons.

“Taking succulent cuttings.”


“Final pots of succulents waiting to go into their winter home.”


The final page of my November entries in the Garden Journal celebrates my “Plant of the Month”, which is one of only two Irises native to the UK, Iris foetidissima.


The next visit to look at my Garden Journal in 2017 will be the last one for the year, December.

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Hide’n’squeak in the allotments!

We are developing ever closer links with our county’s wildlife trust, the Shropshire Wildlife Trust and our allotment community gardens at Bowbrook. (see website and This year on the day of our NGS Yellow Book Gardens Open Day we planned a mini-bioblitz in the morning before the public arrived to share the community gardens in the afternoon. The Shropshire Mammal Group came along to lead the first session where we opened live mammal traps which had been set in baited areas around the wildlife areas of the site. The mammals were identified, weighed and recorded. The local children and their families enjoyed the chance of seeing these experts at work and were afforded the rare chance of close up views of some of our small mammals.

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We had been spotting a weasel close to our Herb Garden recently and we had good, extremely close-up views of him as he was so confident. Some members watched the spectacle of him catching a vole – a bit gory but very exciting – the reality of life in the wild! The SWT and Mammal Group members gathered and set up their gazebo, before we all trouped off to find the first of the 30 live mammal traps set in our green spaces. The areas around the traps were baited with peanuts and peanut butter. Every mammal finds it hard to resist peanut butter!

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The critters were held up for all to see – a rare opportunity for the youngsters of our allotment site to see these creatures close up. They were help by the scruff of he neck just as a mother mammal would carry its young, which is totally harmless. This handsome fellow is a Wood Mouse. We were to catch several more of these.

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The second trap was a repeat of the first. We were delighted to see that it had been tripped as the normal success rate is about 3 captures out of 30 traps. We looked set for a successful day!

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We encouraged the children to get involved. We hope these will not only be the gardeners of the future but also the naturalists and almost certainly wildlife gardeners. We moved emptying successfully tripped traps and recorded many more Wood Mice as well as Voles.

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The picnic site under the oak tree became an activity centre for the day giving youngsters the opportunity to get involved in nature related craft activities.

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As we moved on from the oak tree we discovered several traps tripped by the tiniest mammals of all, the shrews.

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But as we neared the end of our expedition we found the stars of the show, The Yellow Necked Mice. These are much more of a rarity than any other creatures we caught and for many a completely unknown one. Not many people seem to know of their existence so were delighted to find we had a colony living alongside us here on the allotments. It certainly justified all the hard work we have put in creating our wildlife areas.

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In the end we were amazed by how successful the trapping had been with 27 of the 30 traps fired. We now know our green spaces are working for wildlife.   Back at the Communal Hut we opened up the tunnels put down to record the tracks of mammals passing through. These were covered in little foot prints.

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The Mammal Society stayed on through the afternoon into our NGS Open Day and provided entertainment and information. They were kept very busy.

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What a great day! It is amazing how fascinating such little creatures can be.

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A Morning at the Allotments – Checking the Bird Boxes

We usually check out the bird boxes around the allotment site in late autumn but as the autumn and early winter were so wet and windy we didn’t fancy using the ladder on the soft, waterlogged ground. Eventually in mid-January we got it done.

Pete and I wandered around the site with step ladders and trug and of course both wearing a good pair of gloves to avoid any little nips from the nest mites that may still be in residence. They would normally have been killed off by now if we had had cold spells but with the milder than usual temperatures we were taking no chances.

As usual all the holed boxes had been nested in by Blue Tits and Great Tits so we removed the old nest materials of fine grasses, horse hair mosses etc. and put them on the communal compost heaps to rot down.

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A bonus find was a Dunnock nest at the bottom of a cotoneaster shrub in the Autumn Garden, built just 9 inches from the ground. These secretive little songsters are normally very shy, spending much of their time skulking in hedge bottoms searching for insects and invertebrates. This pair were confident enough to build their nest right alongside a pathway, just a couple of feet from where people regularly pass following our “Interest Trail”.  The nest is hard to see but try to spot it in these photos.

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Completely different in character to the Dunnocks Great Tits are far more brazen. A pair had nested in this nest box fixed to the Communal Hut 2, one of the busiest places on the site. They gave hours of entertainment for members who could watch them taking nesting materials in, then the male bird feeding the female as she incubated the eggs and then the busiest time of all when both parents fed their hungry youngsters. Free entertainment when we enjoyed our tea breaks.

The nest boxes and bird feeding stations around the site afford members, their families, friends and our many visitors with plenty of entertainment and of course for the children they have an important educational role to play.

Of course being an all organic site we rely on our feathered friends to help us with our pest control. When feeding their nestlings the adult birds catch thousands of aphids and caterpillars.

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None of the open fronted boxes were used last nesting season so we are hoping for success this year. We have tried moving a few to more secluded places where the birds may feel more confident to try them out. As our extension opened in the spring this year we have more nest boxes to go up – a job for the next week or two.

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Our First Woodland Walk of the Autumn – Part Three

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We begin part three just as we draw close to the lake itself. The trees dripped with more moss and the fungi seemed to get more colourful.

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We reached the lakeside where we found the calm surface created the clearest of reflections.

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Our return journey along the woodland path afforded us glimpses of the hills that surround the lake and its wooded fringes.

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So our memories of this lovely woodland walk have helped us escape the wild, wet and windy days of January. Now we can look forward to a warmer and brighter spring leading to an even warmer and even brighter summer!

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Our First Woodland Walk for Autumn – Part One

When the winter weather gets a bit grim for too many days in a row it is good to look back and remember good days out.

We look forward to our woodland walks each autumn. This year we started early as we enjoyed a great day wandering the woodlands around Lake Vyrnwy in mid-Wales. We made this foray early because we had a specific reason for going. We were in search of cones and bits of bark to use on our “Homes for Wildlife” day up on our allotments later in October when we intended to make lots of extra insect shelters and a big insect hotel.

We chose to walk in a section of tall statuesque conifers all with tall straight trunks and dark green glossy needles clothing their stems.

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It was a warm bright day so the woodland was pierced with sharp rays of sunshine, highlighting fungi amongst the ferns and brambles at the base of the trees and adding magic to the fresh new colours of autumn.

Fungi are the stars of the autumn woodland. We usually start looking out for them in September but with the seasons being a good four weeks behind this year we found our first here at Vyrnwy.

We stopped off in a clearing in the woods around the lake, a favourite place for our walks. A clear, fast-running mountain stream passes alongside and we always look to see what the floods from recent storms have brought down. A beautiful gnarled stump with delicate ferns on top sats close to our bank. A little further along a big branch pulled from a bankside tree was lodged in the middle of the stream caught in the overhanging branches of a tall tree.

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We hadn’t been many yards wandering down the narrow path with its surface softened by pine needles, when we realised that fungi time was here! We looked forward to seeking out specimens along the way. They turned up mostly at the base of trees or growing on old rotting tree stumps.

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With the fungi we found juicy Blackberries growing, their berries glowing in any shaft of light that found its way through the canopy.

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As we moved further into the wood we found more and more fungi of varying oranges, yellows and browns.

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Tree trunks themselves had areas of colour upon them, algae, mosses, lichen and seeping resins.

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Little did we know that we had the biggest surprise of all awaiting for us as we walked around the next corner. But that story is in my next post, “Our First Woodland Walk for Autumn – Part Two”.

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New Wildlife Pictures for the Allotments

We have an interest trail on our allotment site with accompanying trail guide and also several quizzes for different ages of children. For one quiz we challenge the children to follow our trail keeping an eye out for the pictures of several creatures who live in the wildlife friendly green spaces. The pictures are found in the sort of habitat where each creature would live. The pics are just photocopies of pictures which are laminated so have a short life span. We seem forever to be having to replace them so decided to try a more permanent solution.

I have just finished creating paintings of the creatures onto marine plywood and varnished them so that they will last a long time. So here they are for you to look at. It seems a while since I included any of my paintings on a post so I shall have to try to include more this year. Being destined for the outdoors the signs needed to be waterproof and able to stand up to our open site. I decided my usual watercolours would bot suffice so I retuned to a medium that I had not used for decades, Acrylics. Once I started using them though the skills all came back – just like riding a bike!

The Greater Spotted Woodpecker and the Peacock Butterfly. I start with these two as they were the cause of strange happenings as I was painting them. As I finished the picture of the Woodpecker I held it up to show Jude and a real one flew across the garden and landed on a feeder where he proceeded to devour peanuts for a long while. This seemed a little coincidental but the Butterfly picture caused a similar happening. As I finished the painting again I held it up and as I did so a real Peacock Butterfly flew down and fluttered around me. Amazing! We can only presume it was hibernating in the roof of the conservatory where I was painting and for some reason woke up. I caught it gently and placed it carefully in the garage where we hope it has found another snug winter hibernation home.

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The Grasshopper and the Bumble Bee.

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The Grass Snake and the Soldier Beetle.

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The Bat and the Seven Spot Ladybird.

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For my next batch I will try to depict a Damsel Fly, Dragonfly, Field Vole, some moths, more butterflies and some more birds especially birds of prey which have become a bit of a hallmark for our site.

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Dorothy’s Delights – The Dorothy Clive Garden

Whenever we have friends and family staying with us we take them to our favourite places, usually gardens, arboreta or special patches of countryside and of course to our favourite coffee shop with the biggest most luscious cakes. If it is late summer or early autumn then we often share with them the delights of the Dorothy Clive Garden. So in September we took my brother, Graham and sister-in-law Vicky to share in the box of delights.

The garden began as a woodland garden set in a deep dell, but as the years went on it spread outwards so now much of the garden is on a gentle slope down from the dell. The dell features huge mature trees and below them plants typical of shaded places rhododendrons, azaleas and ferns.

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After half an hour in the tea shop our first port of call was the sheltered area close by, sheltered enough to allow the gardeners to take brave decisions and grow Tetrapanax, amongst other plants grown for their interesting foliage. The gardeners at this garden are masters at the art of “right plant right place”. The enclosed space here was so sheltered that tender plants thrived, including one of my favourite plants Tetrapanax. We can’t risk it in our garden with its cold wet winters. I love the texture and colour of the stems – softly furry and gingery orange – and the shape and texture of the huge palmate rough leaves.

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Another of the big leaved plants growing here in the damper areas are the Rogersias, with several different varieties thriving in the shade.

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We left the sheltered garden taking a path beneath a tunnel featuring some delicate sculpture and neatly trimmed box balls.

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As we left the covered walkway we discovered another large-leaved architectural plant, the Onopordum, with silvery jagged leaves and stems with spikes all along their edges adorned atop by similarly spiky flowers. The Goldfinches will love them when they burst!

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A new feature in this old favourite garden was an edible woodland garden. We were excited about seeing it and our anticipation was rewarded. This little shaded area under mature trees was full of atmosphere and interesting features.

We were impressed by the great insect hotels and the amazing wooden fencing found within the plants of the edible garden.

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After this we wandered off along the meandering soft grass paths around the mixed borders. Enjoy them with us.

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Part of the way round our border wanderings I spotted these lovely old chestnut gates and fences at the entrance to the kitchen garden.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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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