Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Murder She Wrote

There's nothing like a murder mystery,
But first let me set the scene:

This is a ceanothus shrub. I'm not sure of its full name, but I do remember it ended in 'nana' which is Latin for small. Unfortunately, my little shrub couldn't read Latin, or the bit about only growing to 3ft. tall. I planted it in front of the kitchen window where I could enjoy its flowers, but still be able to see the garden beyond. At first all was well, but after a few years it just grew and grew, until it was about 10ft. tall, completely obliterating the view from the kitchen window. And so I moved it to the far end of the lawn. Having read that fully grown ceanothus resent being moved, I also took some cuttings. It survived for about a year in its new position, and was then replaced by one its offspring. Yes, those cuttings came in handy.

But what about the murder, you may ask ?  Ah yes well, the ceanothus bush was the scene of the crime. During one of the recent severe winters I was lucky enough to attract a pair of long tailed tits into the garden. They stayed throughout the winter, feeding on fat squares that were hanging near the ceanothus bush. As winter turned to spring, I noticed that they spent a lot of time in the bush. At first I thought they were after the insects, but then I discovered that they had built a domed nest in the top branches of the bush.

Over the next few weeks I watched them as they discreetly flew back and forth from the nest. But then, one day their behaviour changed. Instead of leaving the nest from below, they were flying up out of the bush, and sort of pirouetting as they flew upwards. I presumed that the eggs had hatched, but I was very concerned that they were attracting attention to the nest.

Sure enough, I came home one day to find the top of the nest had been ripped off, and the ceanothus was covered in feathers. Sadly, only one adult seemed to have survived the attack. And the prime suspects ? Could it have been the squirrel who was building a nest in a nearby holly tree ?  Or was it the magpies who had nested in a nearby hawthorn tree ?

This week the squirrel and the magpies are back rebuilding their nests, which reminded me of this story. And the long tailed tits ?  Well after a long absence, they do visit the garden, but I don't think they'll be nesting here again.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Up With The Lark

No I don't mean the bird.
This time it's a flower.

This is Corydalis solida Beth Evans. I bought this plant about eight years ago from Jacques Amand.
I hadn't realised until today just how early in spring it flowers. It's a beautiful, unassuming little plant, growing to about 4 to 6 inches high. Once it has flowered, it disappears underground until the next year. It is a tuberous plant requiring good drainage, but it doesn't like to be baked in summer, and much prefers dappled shade. As do I.

Corydalis is from the Greek word korydalis meaning crested lark. You see, that's where the lark came from. This particular variety was named after the wife of Alf Evans, who was assistant curator at Edinburgh's Royal Botanic Garden, and it is believed that it was a seedling that originated from there. Unfortunately, if it sets seed, the plants are not true to type.

I started tidying the garden up a bit today, because we've been promised some spring-like weather next week. Yippee!  I even uncovered some crocus hiding among the dead stems, so the squirrels didn't get all of them then.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Arcade Games

Well not quite.
Just wanted to get your attention there.

This is Gerbera Arcadia, a member of the Landscape series introduced a few years ago. It has a beautiful double white flower. Hang on a minute. That's not white. It's growing on a sunny windowsill at the moment. Think it may have been the sunlight shining through it's petals that make it look, well sort of yellow. We've got no sunshine at the moment, and it is definitely looking whiter now. Hopefully, when it goes outside for the summer, it will behave itself.

Today is the start of Lent, and yes there is a saying that goes with it:

'A dry lent means a fertile year.'

Well it's raining at the moment, so that's a good start isn't it ? But then again, Lent lasts until 7 April, so we've plenty of time yet to get a dry spell.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Winter Warmers

Look what's flowering in Sheffield right now:

I'm growing a strelitzia. Not this particular one though. Mine is just like this....without the flower.

And these are flowering too. Yes they are. Today. Really.

And I found an orchid too. I kid you not.

And an aloe too.

Yes, these are all flowering in Sheffield City Centre in February. But in case you're thinking that we've suddenly developed a tropical climate, I'd better explain. They are all growing in The Winter Garden in the heart of the city. So if you ever come to Sheffield, check it out. It's a little oasis in the middle of the concrete jungle.

And now back to what's really happening outside. Well, the goldfinches aren't roosting here anymore, so it must be warmer in the nearby woods. And I've not seen those siskins for a few days. Ooh, I wonder if spring is just around the corner.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - February 2012

Woops, forgot to tell the plants.
Now the flowers are playing hide and seek.

Helleborus argutifolius, bowing its head in shame after the recent frosts.

Bacopa Double White, this really should not be flowering in February.

Primula Fruelo, struggling to bloom after the frosts.

Helleborus orientalis, only just beginning to bloom. Their flowers are still facing the ground, so I had to photograph them upside down, with the camera that is, not me.

And finally, Galanthus Sam Arnott, the only plants who were more than willing to be photographed today.

Well, that wasn't easy. Didn't realise how much the recent wintry weather had set the plants back. The Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day is a meme hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens, where gardeners from around the world, link their posts showing plants flowering in their gardens on the 15th of each month.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Big Flower

Or should I say Bunga Raya
As it is called in Malaysia.

And as we get even deeper into winter, I thought I'd introduce you to another plant from years ago. This is Hibiscus rosa sinensis. I first came across this plant whilst on holiday in the Mediterranean, huge shrubs they were, full of flowers. When I got back home, I bought one. Unfortunately, at the time, I was very new to growing plants, and hadn't really got a clue with this one. Somehow I managed to keep it growing for about three years, and it nearly grew to a foot high, wow!

The photo above is of a plant I grew a few years afterwards, bought from a supermarket, and as I found out later, treated with chemicals to keep its growth stunted. Not what I wanted at all. So that one didn't last long either. You can't win them all, as they say.

Hibiscus rosa sinensis is an evergreen shrub from tropical Asia, growing to a height of up to 30 feet in its natural habitat. It is also the state flower of Hawaii and the national flower of Malaysia. And one day I might grow another one.

A few weeks ago I remarked on the siskins that had arrived just in time for the RSPB Birdwatch. That's one of them above. I forgot to mention that in previous years, their arrival coincided with the start of severe winter weather, and they remained until the weather improved. Just to let you know, they are still here.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Charmed I'm Sure

Yes really.
Let me explain:

We have had a flock, or should I say a charm of about 30 or 40 goldfinches in the area for quite a while now. And occasionally, I have been lucky enough to have the charm visit the garden to feed. But for the last few days they have been arriving at dusk. They land in the hawthorn tree, (that's some of them in the photo above), and then they move down into the holly tree. And do you know what they do next ?  They go to sleep.

Yes they do. They come here to roost. It's like having a little pot of gold at the bottom of the garden every night. It must be too cold for them at the moment in the nearby woods, so they have come here instead. I feel really honoured that they have chosen my garden. They make a lot of noise as they are settling down in the evening, but their departure in the morning is virtually silent.

By the way, if you're enjoying the later sunsets, here's a saying to put a damper on it:

'As the days lengthen,
So the cold strengthens.'

And I have to say, that is certainly true this year.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

It's Snowing At Last

And about time too.

I thought I would feature this Clivia miniata to brighten things up a bit in the depths of winter. It's not flowering at the moment. In fact, it won't be flowering at all this year. Don't worry, it's still alive and well, but it's still recovering from the last two severe winters. I purchased it many, many years ago. It flowered every spring in a cold conservatory, and even set seed. I grew on several seedlings, and several of them flowered too. And then disaster struck; two very severe winters put paid to the seedlings, and badly damaged the mother plant. I managed to remove and pot on a small clump before the mother plant died. It's now growing quite happily indoors. Don't you just love a happy ending ?

Clivia were introduced to England in the 1800s from South Africa. They were named after Lady Charlotte Clive, the Duchess of Northumberland, who was the first person to grow them in England. And in Victorian times they became very popular as indoor plants. No, I don't remember that far back, by the way. In recent times, hybrids have been introduced of many different colours, some fetching quite high prices. I won't be buying one of those anytime soon then.

As the snow is falling quite heavily here, I came across this saying on t'internet:

'If February brings drifts of snow,
There will be good summer crops to hoe.'

I've not heard this saying before, so I can't comment on how reliable it is, but I hope it's right.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

It's Hedgehog Day

Yes it is, really.
I'll explain shortly.

Firstly, I'd like to thank Shirl at Shirls Gardenwatch for allowing me to use the above photo to promote the Hedgehog survey. Full details of the survey can be found here. I'm hoping to take part, although I haven't seen a hedgehog for over a year, but maybe I wasn't looking hard enough.

Today is Groundhog Day in the United States and Canada. Folklore states that if today is cloudy when the groundhog emerges, then spring will come early. But if it is sunny and the groundhog sees its shadow, it will return to its burrow, and there will be six more weeks of winter. Good luck with that one then.

Apparently, this piece of folklore was brought over to the U.S.  by German settlers. However, in Germany there are no Groundhogs, and it is believed that originally the prediction related to badgers or hedgehogs. Hedgehogs ? Yes, hedgehogs, you can see where I'm going here can't you ?

Well actually, I'm going back to Ancient Rome where the Romans used a very similar prediction. The main difference being the hedgehog seeing its shadow in moonlight not sunlight. That's not bad going for a prediction that has survived for over two thousand years and gone global. So you see it really is Hedgehog Day today.

But what about here in the UK ?  Today is also Candlemas Day, and we've got a saying about that:

'If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Winter will have another flight,
But if Candlemas Day be clouds and rain,
Winter is gone and will not come again.'

It's a glorious sunny day today.
Oh no !