Sunday, 29 April 2012

Taking The Lid Off Things

Or how to break-in to a squirrel-proof feeder.

Here's the culprit having a drink from a plant container full of rainwater. Fortunately, the container didn't have a plant in it. Although aquatic plants would be quite happy in there at the moment.

And after having a drink, he decided to check out a large plant pot, looking for food.

But eventually he found the bird feeders. These are all squirrel-proof, supposedly.

And at first, he did struggle a bit. That looks painful.

But then he decided to just remove the lid. Easy peasy.

These photos were taken yesterday, because it's raining again today. My camera's not waterproof, and neither am I for that matter. Now I know that rain is not a 'once in a lifetime' event, even though Sheffield had broken its 130 year old record for April rainfall with 153.4mm (that's 6 inches in real money) by Friday. Hang on a minute, that is a 'once in a lifetime' event isn't it ?

Will be interesting to see what the final April rainfall total for Sheffield will be. And would you believe, they are forecasting a heatwave for tomorrow ?  Yes, they are. Really.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

The Good, The Bad And

The not so ugly.
In fact, it's not ugly at all.

This is Berberis darwinii, an evergreen shrub discovered in South America by Charles Darwin in 1835. That is, if you ignore the fact that prehistoric man was eating the berries many years earlier. However, being as prehistoric man wasn't into the naming of plants, probably too busy running away from mammoths, the shrub was named after Darwin.

My plant was grown by Nature, not by me. It really is an excellent wildlife plant. At this time of year, it is in full bloom, a real bee magnet. When the flowers have finished, the birds move in and nest in the prickly branches. The foliage is like small holly leaves. If you're wondering why the birds aren't nesting here now, well would you want to live with the constant hum of bees ? No, thought not. Later in the season, the shrub produces berries that are quickly devoured by the birds.

And the good and the bad bit ? Well, here in the UK, Berberis darwinii has been given the Award Of Garden Merit, a sort of plant Oscar, by the Royal Horticultural Society. But in New Zealand it has escaped into the wild, and is considered to be a plant pest. It's not often that a plant attracts such opposite views, dependent on where you live.

You may recall, in my last post I mentioned that I had been nominated for the Versatile Blogger award by Mary at Going Native, and that I needed to put my thinking cap on before responding to the rules. Well job done, so here goes:
Firstly, I have to list seven things about myself. You have my permission to log off now if you wish.

1. I'm a plantaholic. I have to attend those meetings, now what are they called ?  Oh yes, plant fairs.

2. My favourite colour is blue, the colour of the sky and the sea and I could go on. I usually do.

3. My favourite band is The Ukulele Orchestra Of Great Britain. If you've never heard of them, and you probably haven't, check them out on YouTube.

4. I love quirky, unusual gadgets, like the window vac. Yes, I vacuum my greenhouse, doesn't everyone ?

5. My blogger name was inspired by a variety of lettuce; Little Gem. Now I know that a crystal isn't actually a gem, but we can't let facts get in the way of a good story.

6. I'm a musician and a songwriter, and had one of my songs banned by the BBC. It wasn't rude, by the way.

7. I'm not getting any younger, but thanks to the government, I'm not getting any nearer to retirement age either.

As for the bit about nominating 15 blogs, this is where I break the rules. My blog list contains far more than 15 blogs, many of them already have this award, and some are award free blogs. So to solve this predicament, I'll just say if you want to read some really great blogs, check out my blog list for starters.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

The Story Of Beetlemania

The life story of the fab four in the UK.
No, not John, George, Paul and Ringo. I'll explain later.

This is Apple Red Valentine, another columnar apple tree, but this one is a little different. I purchased it last year. It bloomed but didn't produce any fruit, which was a good thing, because it allowed it to get established. It's growing on one of the new dwarf root stocks and is planted in a large pot on the patio. As you can see the blossom is a lovely pink colour, but would you believe, the fruit will be deep red, and the flesh will be red also. The flavour is supposed to resemble strawberries. Can't wait. I'll let you know if that's true later in the year.

Now then, the beatles, sorry I mean beetles. May I introduce to you; Violet, Black, Rugged and Short-Neck. Yes, the original fab four, known as oil beetles. They are very rare, and the subject of a wildlife survey organised by Buglife. My reason for introducing them to you, is the amazing story of their life cycle that I read about recently. Are you sitting comfortably ?

Female oil beetles are quite large, flightless beetles who tend to live in grassland areas. They only live for a few months, and spend their time eating grasses and searching for a mate. Once they have mated, they grow even larger, and dig a burrow in which to lay their eggs. The eggs hatch, and the resultant larvae clamber up into flowers, awaiting the arrival of a solitary bee. Now I've got two questions here; how do they know which flowers attract bees, and how do they recognise a solitary bee ?

On with the story. When a solitary bee arrives, they jump onto it, Indiana Jones style I would imagine, and hitch a ride to its nest. Here they feed on the collected nectar and pollen and the bee's eggs. Then they pupate and overwinter in the bee's nest, emerging in the spring as fully grown adults. Apparently, oil beetles are in decline, good news for the solitary bees though. Isn't nature amazing ?

And finally a big thank you to Mary at Going Native who has nominated me for The Versatile Blogger award. In accepting the award, I have to tell you 7 things about myself, and nominate 15 other bloggers for the award. So thinking cap on, I'll see what I can come up with in my next post.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

An Apple A Day

Is the codling moth way.
Well I hope not.

This is a Ballerina apple tree, the variety is Bolero. It is a columnar apple tree, developed in the UK and introduced in 1976. I purchased this many years ago along with two other Ballerina varieties. One of the trees was removed after a few years; it was planted in the wrong place and didn't perform well either; you know, no fruit. So now I just have Bolero, and Polka which seems to be biennial fruiting. Bolero produces tons of fruit, well quite a lot anyway. The apples are quite large, but don't taste as nice as Polka.

When I bought these trees, columnar apples were a relatively new trend. They were advertised as being suitable for small gardens, not taking up much space. Unfortunately, the dwarf root stocks then, were not as good as they are today, and the trees just leapt for the sky. I have had them pruned twice already, and will be having them pruned again next winter.

I was quite late in growing apple trees. My grandfather grew them, he had Cox's Orange Pippin among others. I was put off growing apples by the TV programmes of the day who all advocated spraying and spraying and ........well you get the idea. I asked my grandfather if he sprayed his apples, and he said he did. Although he later admitted that he hadn't done it for years.

Then, many years later, Geoff Hamilton took over presenting Gardener's World on TV, and he recommended growing apple trees organically. In fact, I still remember the episode where he demonstrated microwaving a shop-bought apple and an organically grown apple. Put me off shop-bought apples for life. Strangely enough, up until then, I had never really thought about farmers and growers spraying their produce with chemicals.

And so I began growing apples organically. Oh, and the codling moths ?  Fortunately, I haven't had a problem with them. I used to put codling moth traps up, when I first started growing apples, but I haven't bothered in recent years. Needless to say, should I ever find a maggot in one of my apples, the traps will return.

And finally, what about the weather then ?  We've had 22mm of rain here in the last 24 hours. Don't ask me what that is in real money, but it's a lot anyway. It's a good job we're in a drought, imagine what it would be like if we were in a rainy season. Or are we now ?

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - April 2012

Yes, it's that time again, so here we go:

Erythronium White Beauty, blooms just starting to open.

Gold Lace Polyanthus, now giving an amazing display.

Vinca minor, commonly known as the Lesser Periwinkle.

Corydalis lutea, just starting to bloom, which probably explains why half of the flowers are out of focus. Well that's my excuse anyway.

Viola odorata, otherwise known as the lovely Sweet Violet.

Blueberry Elizabeth, yes I'm pleased to report that all the blueberries are either full of buds or flowering. The pruning worked!

Berberis darwinii, a real bee magnet.

Apple blossom, only just opening fortunately, as sharp frosts have been forecast, and it's been so cold today that the bees have all gone home.

Myosotis Sylva, better known as Forget-Me-Not. These are seedlings from plants bought two years ago.

And this is the white form of Myosotis Sylva.

Paeony-flowered Tulips, planted last autumn.

Dicentra spectabilis, also known as Bleeding Heart. This is the first Dicentra that I ever grew.

And this is a white form, Dicentra aurora.

Not to mention Dicentra King Of Hearts.

Pansy Matrix, flowering for the first time this spring.

And finally Primula Rosebud, producing its second flush of flowers this year.

The Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day is hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens. Why not pop over and view what's blooming in gardens all over the world today.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

The Lion Sleeps Tonight

Or is it a leopard ?

This is Doronicum Little Leo, commonly known as Leopard's Bane. I first came across Doronicum in a friend's garden. It was flowering in shade, which was ideal for my garden, as I have more shade than sunny areas. My friend dug up some plants for me, but with the plants in full bloom, it was obviously not the correct time to transplant, as they all died.

Several years later I came across this dwarf variety. The first year that they flowered, they looked just like dandelions. In fact, I thought my borders had been invaded by dandelions, until I noticed the leaves. Fortunately, in subsequent years, the flowers look more like large yellow daisies than weeds. By the way, the thin strap-like foliage in the photo are daffodils, the doronicum has kidney-shaped leaves.

Look what I found feeding in the garden, a female bullfinch. Shortly afterwards, it was joined by its mate who refused to face the camera. Must be shy.

I rarely see bullfinches in the garden. Probably because shortly after this photo was taken, the blue tits chased them off. They seem to chase off any newcomers to the garden, but tolerate the regulars like the goldfinches. Mind you, they made no attempt to chase off a bird that flew over last night. I first saw it from a distance, it looked like a pterodactyl. No it did, really. Well it was a long way off, and it was getting dark. And then it turned round and headed my way. As it flew over the garden, I realised it was a heron. Never had a heron any way near the garden before. But a pterodactyl would have been even more impressive, albeit impossible. Never satisfied, me.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

A Taste Of Honey

In a manner of speaking.

These are Lonicera caerulea plants, otherwise known as Honeyberries. I bought the plants three years ago from Thompson & Morgan. A male and a female variety are required to produce fruit. In the first year, no flowers appeared. Last year only one plant flowered, so no fruit. But this year both plants are flowering, and as you can see a bee appeared and flittered between the male and female flowers. Isn't nature wonderful ?

So you would think that I would be eagerly awaiting the first fruits, wouldn't you ? Well, I would have been, but a few months ago, Which? Gardening magazine published an article about growing unusual fruit. You know what's coming here don't you?  Yes, amongst the fruit they tested were Honeyberries, and they weren't very impressed with them. Basically, the fruit didn't taste very nice. Foiled again. Oh well, I'll just have to wait and see. If they don't taste nice, I think I'll still keep the plants for the birds. Maybe they'll eat the honeyberries instead of the blueberries, or is that just wishful thinking ?

These Wood Pigeons decided to spend Easter looking for furniture. After having a bath, they spent the afternoon trying to pull branches off the hawthorn hedge, not very successfully.

But this Collared Dove went to a furniture shop instead, see the twig in its beak. It spent the afternoon taking twigs to its nest in the conifer tree.

And those blue tits? Well, yesterday both of them went into the nest box, so maybe the bee has moved out. We shall see.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Honesty Is The Best Policy

And a lovely plant too.

This is Lunaria annua, commonly known as Honesty, so named because of its transparent seed heads. Definitely a plant before its time. I mean, it was named using current buzz word 'transparency'. I hate buzz words by the way, avoid them like the plague. When I went for job interviews, where you scored points for using them, I would go all around the houses to make sure I didn't say one. Usually resulted in the interviewer saying the word instead, out of sheer frustration I suppose.

Anyway, back to the plant. This was originally planted by Nature in my garden. One of these days I will feature something I've planted, honest. I do help a little with this one though. The seeds are very easy to collect, so I scatter them where I want them to grow.

The reason I've featured this plant today is because of the weather. Today we have had the heaviest April snowfall for thirty years. I remember the first time I had scattered honesty seed. I had plants about three foot tall in full bloom when the April snow came. All the plants were bent over by the weight of the snow. And when the snow melted, they grew upwards again, but they didn't straighten up first. Believe me, 'S' shaped honesty plants do not make a very nice display. Fortunately, this year, despite last week's lovely weather, only a few honesty plants are in bloom at the moment, and they're not very tall, so today's snow has not damaged them.

Today is also 48 hours before the full moon. Obviously the exception that proves the rule, because the weather was dreadful, not suitable for planting at all. Maybe it has something to do with the full moon occurring on Good Friday, which is traditionally not a good day for planting.

And finally, a bit of bad news about the blue tits; they've got squatters. Yes, a bumble bee has moved into their nest box. They are not very happy, as you can imagine, but they haven't deserted the garden just yet.