Saturday, 31 December 2011

The Way We Were

Remember this ?

This was my back garden in December 2010.
I know that at this time of year it is traditional to look back over the past year, but on this unseasonably mild December day, I thought I would look back at December last year.
Wow, what a difference a year makes. The only digging I did then was shifting the snow to get out of the house. But after I had tunnelled my way to the front gate, there were even more snow drifts to get to the road, or at least where the road used to be.

Well, that was then and this is now. Today I decided to check out my worm compost bins. Whoa, I think I've lost a few squeamish readers there. Sorry.
For those of you still here, I have three worm bins; one for filling, one for emptying and one where they just do their own thing. And boy do they like to do their own thing, they certainly put rabbits to shame.
The emptying and filling bins didn't seem to have many worms in them, so I will replenish the stock in spring. The pleasure palace bin was a hive of activity though, I felt like I was intruding on their privacy. So I'll leave them to their own devices until spring when I will be able to harvest some fresh compost and in return I can start feeding them again with kitchen scraps etc.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Bear's Breeches

Now that conjures up some weird and wonderful images, doesn't it ?
It's actually the common name of this plant:

This is Acanthus mollis. It's displaying a glorious mound of foliage at the moment, quite unusual for late December. Acanthus mollis was originally introduced to Britain by the Romans, but was then lost to cultivation and reintroduced in 1548. I was introduced to it many years ago whilst watching Geoff Hamilton on TV. The programme was about his move to Barnsdale, and how he intended to remove all the existing plants in his new garden, to start afresh. But there was one plant that he intended to keep. Yes, you've guessed it, it was an acanthus.

I grew several plants from seed, and dotted them about the garden, all in shady areas. They took years to grow, but one by one, most of them produced flowers, although not every year. I have since discovered that they flower best in full sun. Oh well, back to the drawing board.

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Seasons Greetings

To one and all.

Look !  Look what I've done !  I've managed to get my Christmas Cactus to flower on Christmas Day. Are you impressed ?  You know how professional gardeners take years to master the technique of making plants flower at a certain time, well, truth be told, this was just a bit of a fluke. But for a minute there, you were impressed, weren't you ?

This is a Schlumbergera, more commonly known as a Christmas Cactus. It lives on the kitchen windowsill, and is growing in Seramis granules. A few weeks ago, I noticed that it was looking a bit sorry for itself, so I started watering it a bit more than usual, (usual being not at all.) Hence the flowers.

The sun came out this afternoon, which leads me nicely into the saying:

"Sun through the apple trees on Christmas Day,
Means a fine crop is on the way."

If the prediction comes true, we should have a frost-free May, because frost would damage the apple blossom, and a fine autumn to harvest the fruit.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

The Longest Night

And the shortest day.

These are the blooms of succulent Echeveria Black Prince bred by Frank Reinelt in California. It is a cross between Echeveria affinis and Echeveria shaviana. Well, that's got the Latin out of the way. Phew !  I purchased it as a young plant this summer, and really didn't expect it to bloom this year, but here it is in December. It spent the summer in the greenhouse, and was moved to a windowsill just a few weeks ago. Seems to appreciate the move.

Today is the Winter Solstice, when the sun turns round and heads back towards the northern hemisphere. It is also known, in some circles, as the start of winter. Although if today's weather is anything to go by, that's no bad thing. It was a beautiful day today; took the dog for a long walk, and refilled some summer baskets with winter pansies and primroses. I'm trying a new method this year; re-using last summer's compost and feeding with slow-release granules. I read about it in an article in Which? Gardening, so we'll see what happens next spring.

Could have done with more daylight today, but then again, it is the shortest day. From now on it starts getting lighter at night. Yippee ! But did you know that it continues to get darker in the morning for a week or so ?  Not that you will notice, as at this time of year, it's usually dull and cloudy.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Sleepy Eyes

Ah, isn't he cute ?

He probably got tired of trying to get to the fat balls, so he just fell asleep, like you do. We have flocks of collared doves in the area, so I try not to entice them into the garden too much. They do come for a drink though, but only in ones and twos, not the entire flock.

This feeder is supposed to attract the blue tits and the long-tailed tits. They come occasionally, but at the moment a family of sparrows spend many a happy hour here. They treat it like their local McDonald's.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Didn't See That Coming !

Neither did the weather forecasters

Or the local council who decided to lightly grit the roads. Sheffield was gridlocked for about two hours this morning in the south of the city. Glad I don't have to negotiate rush hour traffic anymore. The first snow of the winter may have arrived unexpectedly, but at least it wasn't as severe as last year.

There were two crows in the garden again this morning. See, I told you they were in love. They certainly weren't predicting a fine day today.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Something To Crow About

Or a right carrion.
Geddit ?

We had two crows in the hawthorn tree today, taking a lot of interest in a partially built magpie nest. The magpies were nearby but kept their distance. With no eggs or young in the nest, there was no need for them to protect it, not yet anyway. And here's a saying about crows that I found on the internet:

"Expect the weather to be fair,
When crows fly in pairs."

There was me thinking that they were flying in pairs because they were in love. Must admit "let's go out together because it's a nice day" isn't the most romantic chat-up line I've heard, but then again, I've heard worse. Oh, and the weather; it wasn't too bad I suppose, quite a bit of sunshine and no rain.

Did a bit of time travelling in my Tardis yesterday; the clock in my car is still on British Summer Time. And just to enrich the experience, so is my watch. There's nothing quite like arriving at your destination before you've set off. Warning !  Don't try this if you've got an appointment. It can get rather confusing.

Friday, 9 December 2011

A Right Royal Rose

Born to rule.

This is Rose Queen Elizabeth blooming in December. How dare it ? Took this picture today because tonight's frost might put an end to it's display. The rose has been in the top 10 of roses for the last 40 years, and was introduced in 1954. It was the first rose that I purchased. I bought it many, many years ago, can't remember where from. No, I didn't buy it in 1954, I didn't mean that many years. Must admit, it really has been neglected. It's planted at the bottom of the garden on a bank, shaded by trees and bushes. Well I was a novice gardener when I bought it. In those days, it was a matter of digging a hole and putting a plant in it. Nowadays, I put plants in situations that suit them, and do you know, they seem to appreciate it. Funny that ! Last spring I pruned a number of shrubs around the rose, which allowed a lot more light in, and I pruned the rose back by half. Seems to have done the trick.

Looks like it's payback time with the weather. Let's see, November was mild, dry and calm. So winter should be cold, wet and windy. Mmm. You know, it's a pity that the financial institutions don't take a leaf out of nature's book, when it comes to repaying debts.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

No Flies On Me

As long as I stay indoors that is.

Look at this; a cloud of midges flying above the privet hedge. Don't they know it's December ?
And where were all the birds ? Ah well, they were all on the feeders, because there's no point in looking for insects in December, is there ?

Noticed a halo around the moon tonight, which links nicely to this saying:

"If a circle forms around the moon,
It will rain soon."

We shall see. Whilst on the subject of the moon, there will be a full moon on Saturday. According to the lunar calendar, 48 hours before the full moon is the ideal time to plant. Well it is if you like planting in the rain, because that's what the weather forecasters are predicting for Thursday. If you do have anything to plant, don't do it this weekend. There is a lunar eclipse on Saturday, so it will not be a good time to do any gardening.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Some Like It Hot

Especially on a cold, wet and windy day like today.

This is Salvia microphylla Hot Lips. Where do they get the names from ?  Apparently, it was discovered in Mexico, growing outside the rooms of a deeply spiritual maid. I bet she was well impressed when they named the plant 'Hot Lips'. I purchased this plant from  Hayloft Plants a couple of years ago. It spent last winter in a cold greenhouse, and I will be putting it back in there in the next few days because it is a half-hardy perennial.

Noticed a number of rainbows this morning whilst I was out walking the dog. Reminded me of the old saying:

"A rainbow at night,
Fair weather in sight.
A rainbow at morn,
Fair weather all gone."

How true it was, as the day wore on, it just got wetter and wetter.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Take A Bow

A Tafetta Bow to be precise.

This is Fuchsia Tafetta Bow blooming at the end of November. It is a tender variety, hybridized in the U.S.A. and introduced in 1974. I purchased it for the first time this year and grew it in a hanging basket. Thanks to the poor summer, it has only recently started flowering. The first severe frosts will not only put an end to the display, but will also kill the plant unless it is brought indoors. I have grown fuchsias for many years, and to be honest, I don't think it's worth going to all the trouble of trying to overwinter them. Much better to buy new young plants next spring. If you have fuchsias that you really want to keep for another year, then bring them indoors into the warmth. They won't survive in a cold greenhouse or porch, not this winter anyway.

Been a bit nippy today, too cold for gardening. Glad I planted my new rose bushes the other day. The recent rain has given them a good watering in, and more rain is forecast for the weekend. I must admit I'm a great believer in working with nature. Much better to have plants watered in by rainfall than by a bucket of water in a dry spell.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

A Little Ray Of Sunshine

On this blustery, rainy day.

This is a Lampranthus, a sun-loving succulent plant. Very unusual for it to be flowering in November. I know it looks like it's a houseplant. Well it is now, but a couple of days ago, it was still outside in a hanging basket. I potted it up and brought it indoors, because it wasn't getting enough sunlight to open up its flower buds. As you can see, now that it's on a sunny windowsill, it's in full bloom. I will keep it indoors now until next spring. It won't go outside again until all danger of frost has passed. That's a long time then.

Nearly at the end of November, and the weather is still quite mild. In fact, many predict it could turn out to be the mildest November on record. So what, you may say. Well the current warmest November on record was in 1994. And the winter that followed ?  Well, would you believe that the winter of 1994/5 was the wettest winter on record. I think you can see where I'm coming from with this. Time will tell.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Pigeon Hole

Well, not so much a hole.
More of a perch, really.

Our hawthorn tree attracted five wood pigeons yesterday in that glorious, sunny weather. The tree is very popular with wood pigeons. Last year, they built a nest and produced two broods. This year they built another nest quite late, but still managed to raise two chicks. I always wondered why you never see little, baby pigeons. You know, like you do with ducks and ducklings. Well, last year I found out why. They don't leave the nest until they are fully grown, and even then, they don't stray far from the nest for a week or so. What distinguishes them most from adult birds are their thin, hook-shaped beaks.

Another mild day today, but rather cloudy. So the first two weeks of November are over. Nature has built up quite a debt, and the picture of the first half of winter is beginning to take shape. Such as very cold, very wet, and very windy. On the plus side, we should get quite a bit of sunshine between the showers. A lot of forecasters are predicting a bad winter, but not as bad as last year they say. Of course not, just colder and wetter, maybe ?

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Acers High

Well it is an acer,
But it's not very high.

It's hard to believe that less than a week ago, this plant had green leaves. I purchased this many years ago as a sprouted seed. This was long before the days of plug plants or trays of seedlings. In those days, all you could buy was mature plants. It was meant to be grown in a pot, but I planted it in the ground. Big mistake ! When the leaves have fallen, I always prune it back to keep it in check. Acers shouldn't really be treated this way, but this one doesn't seem to mind.

I noticed a heavy dew on the grass yesterday morning. Reminded me of the old adage:

"When the dew is on the grass,
Rain will never come to pass."

And it didn't rain !

Monday, 14 November 2011

A Dollar For Your Thoughts

Hasn't quite got the same ring to it as a penny, has it ?
So why a dollar, you may ask ?

This is Fuchsia Dollar Princess. Ah, that's where the dollar comes from.
Not only is it flowering in November, but it also survived last year's severe winter. It was planted a few years ago, so it has had plenty of time to get established, and it is growing near to a house wall which gives it extra protection. On the subject of plants surviving last winter, have you noticed how all the cordylines that were badly damaged, have recently sent up new shoots from the base ?   What ? You dug yours up. Oops !

So, what about "St. Martins Little Summer" then ? I know it was a day late, but it came, none the less. Who would have thought, in the middle of all these dull and dreary days, that we would have such a glorious one. I must admit I was pleasantly surprised. I must make a note in next year's calendar, to see if it happens again.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Who Ate All The Peanuts ?

Isn't he a sweetie ?
Love the way he looks straight at camera.
What a poser !

We have only recently started getting squirrels in the garden. Years ago, our garden backed onto a field with resident foxes. Now we back onto a new housing estate, the foxes have gone, and the squirrels have moved in. To the gardens that is, not the houses. At least, not yet.

It's been another dull and dreary day again, hasn't it ?
According to ancient weather lore, tomorrow is a very special day. For tomorrow is St. Martin's Day, also known as "St. Martin's Little Summer." St. Martin is the patron saint of reformed drunks, so the connection with forecasting a summer's day is..........erm ?

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Shades Of Grey

What a dull, miserable day. It's just like November.
Oh wait a minute, it is November.

This is Aster frikartii Monch. What a mouthful. It's also known as a Michaelmas Daisy. I grow this particular variety because it isn't prone to mildew. I bought it this year, to replace the one I had that succumbed to the recent winters. It's growing in a pot at present. I think I'll overwinter it in the greenhouse and plant it out next spring. Strangely enough, the ordinary Michaelmas Daisies in the border have done very well this year with very little mildew, probably the dry weather had something to do with it.

Despite the dull weather, it has been a little warmer today. If it hadn't been for the damp and the drizzle, it might have been quite pleasant, but it wasn't was it ?

Monday, 7 November 2011

And So Ends The First Week

So that's my first week of blogging completed.
Not too painful, was it ?

Hung this fat square up to attract long-tailed tits, but as you can see, a Starling got there first.
Then he decided to tell his brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins. And before long, about 30 starlings descended on the garden. When the fat is gone, I won't replace it for a while, because I don't want to encourage a flock of starlings to spend the winter here. They would just take over the entire garden. Although our resident robin did chase them off the bird bath.

So the first week of November started mild, then turned colder. It has also been quite wet and cloudy with only 2 days of sunshine. If the old adage about Nature paying her debts is correct, then the beginning of Winter should be very cold, mainly dry and sunny. Snow ? Well who knows, it only needs one heavy snow shower to cause chaos. Only time will tell.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Turned Out Nice Again

Another nice November day with glorious sunshine,
But it's a bit nippy when you step outside.

This is Dahlia Happy Princess, but she's not been very happy this summer. In fact, now it's November, she's only just got a smile on her face, or should I say a flower. I'll wait until the frost blackens the leaves, you know, in about a couple of weeks, and then I'll dry it off and store under cover until next year. And. hopefully she'll have a happier time next summer.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Remember, Remember

the fifth of November. Because ?
Oh yes, the gunpowder plot.
That's where we English celebrate the anniversary of a plan that was a complete and utter failure.

This cyclamen was a gift from my neighbour, and it's been flowering its socks off for the past few weeks. Not that it had any socks. When it finishes flowering, or just before severe frost (whichever comes first) I will be bringing it under cover until next spring. Cyclamen come in two distinct types; the hardy ones that are planted in the garden, and the florist types like this one that require winter protection.

A little cooler today, but still quite pleasant despite being dull and cloudy. The sparrows were making a lot of noise in the garden today. Know not why.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Birthday Boy !

My dad is 90 years young today. What a trooper.

He was really chuffed when these flowers were delivered this morning.
Thanks Pat.

According to the Biodynamic Calendar, today and tomorrow are the ideal time to plant flower bulbs.
Biodynamics is the study of the link between the moon and stars, and their effect on sowing, planting, pruning, beekeeping etc. The link has been scientifically proved, so it's not just a 'pie in the sky' idea.

Did you notice the halo around the moon last night ? Reminded me of the old adage:

'Near ring, far rain.
Far ring, near rain.'

And sure enough, it rained afterwards.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

A Pot Of Gold

Well its more a flock of Goldfinches really.

A flock of about 20 goldfinches landed in the hawthorn tree this morning. Such exotic looking birds you would expect to find in more warmer climes, but here they are in soggy Sheffield. When I was a child, the only place you would see them was in pet shops. Our gardens were full of sparrows in those days. Now the goldfinches are as regular visitors as the sparrows once were. I first enticed them into the garden several years ago with niger seed, because that's what was recommended at the time. I now feed them sunflower hearts which they absolutely adore.

Another very mild day today, but at least we're getting buckets of rain, so when Nature pays her debts it should be with very cold, dry weather. Hopefully.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

A Rose Among Thorns

Well it's a rose among apple trees actually.

This is Rose Graham Thomas that I purchased several years ago. It is an English Rose bred by David Austin. English Roses have been specially bred to produce blooms like the old shrub roses, but unlike old roses they are repeat-flowering.

This rose had been competing with a nearby apple tree that I had removed this summer.
The apple tree was always lacking in something. Now what was it ?  Oh, I know.  Apples.
And now, as you see, the rose is thriving. Not a bad display for November.

Weather not as nice as yesterday, but it's still a bit mild for this time of year.
Looks like we'll be having a cold snap in a couple of weeks then.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

In The Beginning

....And so it begins, my first ever blog entry.
So here I am, on this world-wide-webby thingy with a potential audience of 7 billion, and nobody is taking a blind bit of notice.
Story of my life !

Any road up, are you all enjoying this rather unseasonable mild weather ?
Well I'd like to remind you all of a very old saying:

"Be it dry or be it wet,
The weather will always pay its debt."

The one thing I have learned, above all else in my years of observing the weather, is that the above saying is extremely accurate. Just look at November 2010, the first week was extremely mild and the last week was extremely cold with heavy snow. Oh it's November again now isn't it ? Oops !