Thursday, 31 May 2012

Horizontal Hold

Except I'm growing it vertically.

This is Cotoneaster horizontalis, planted by nature, not by me. She planted this one at the bottom of a rose arch, shortly after I had removed the old rose. These plants normally grow horizontally, hence the name, but if planted against a wall or arch, they will grow upwards. I first became aware of this plant's versatility several years ago, when I discovered it planted in the car park of a shopping centre. It was planted between the car parking bays, and was regularly clipped. This made the shrubs quite dense, much to the delight of several dunnocks who had made their home there.

My plant isn't dense enough for any nests yet, but in the autumn it is regularly visited by blackbirds who adore the berries. And at this time of year, it really is a bee magnet. Oh, and it attracts other pollinators too like this one:

Are you impressed ?  This is the first time I've ever had a holly blue stay still long enough to have its photo taken. Actually, I think it was drunk, it stayed there quite a while before it flew off. And others have been feeding in the garden too:

Look at the expression on the young blackbird's face. It's as if he's saying to his dad, 'what sort of food do you call this ?'  Never satisfied, these young uns.

By the way, it's recently been announced that putting up bird feeders acts as good pest control. Scientists have carried out experiments that show that gardens with bird feeders have better pest control than those without. Apparently, whilst the birds are waiting to use the feeders, they will eat the pests on your plants. It's a bit like putting sweets near the checkouts at the supermarkets. Except these 'sweets' are good for the birds. Mind you, I don't think putting broccoli spears near the supermarket checkout would have the same effect as sweets, do you ?

Sunday, 27 May 2012

A Little Bit Corny

No it's not a corny joke.
As if.

This is Centaurea montana, a perennial cornflower. We used to have these growing under the front window when I was a child. I used to think it was a weed. It never needed any watering, you see, so that's why I presumed it was a weed. This particular plant was purchased earlier this year from Claire Austin Hardy Plants. Apparently, the cornflower regularly escapes from gardens. Now doesn't that make it a weed ?  I've planted it near the front of a sunny border, so we'll see how it behaves.

Yet another hot, sunny day today. And whilst I sat in the shade, others did a bit of sunbathing:

This is his favourite spot, on top of the greenhouse. He sits here regularly in the afternoon, and then goes for a drink:

And what about the blue tits ?  Well, I last saw Orville on Thursday night. He was still under the apple tree, but he was looking stronger and healthier. The following day, he was gone. There were no tell-tale signs of any struggle, you know, feathers. So, hopefully, he managed to fly. The parents are still feeding their young in neighbouring gardens, and I really hope that Orville is amongst them.

The weathermen are predicting one more fine day before the storms arrive. That'll be fun.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Lunch At The Ritz

Who says there is no such thing as a free meal.

I noticed a blue tit sat atop the fat balls in this feeder. It just sat there, and occasionally had a little nibble and then had a rest. They say that if a bird is very lethargic around a bird feeder, it is probably ill. So I decided to investigate and guess what I found. It was a young blue tit. Don't think if it was one of Orville's siblings, because this one could fly quite well. Later in the day it came back and did the same again, until the sun shone directly on the feeder, which must have made it uncomfortable.

You can't blame the young blue tit though; a seat at a table, no-one to disturb you, and plenty of food. What more could you ask for ?

And Orville ?   Well he's made his way to the secluded area under the apple tree, and his parents are still feeding him. He's getting louder, so he must be growing, and his siblings are still in the hedges and shrubs around the garden.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Wish I Could Fly

Way up to the sky, but I can't.

I'm thinking of calling him Orville. Do you remember that duck, and that song ?  Yes, it's been another traumatic day with the blue tit chicks today.

I went out into the garden this morning, hoping that the youngsters had moved to safety, when one of them tumbled onto the lawn. I found another one in the apple tree, and Orville was still on the ground. At least he'd managed to travel the full length of the patio. The other siblings had made it to relative safety, they were tweeting in the shrubs. Not on their mobile phones, come on, they're not old enough for that just yet.

Full credit to the parents, who continued to feed Orville throughout the day, and he was getting quite vocal too. They could easily have abandoned him, but they didn't.

In previous years, when the blue tits left the nestbox, they flew into the hawthorns at the bottom of the garden, and went into hiding for a couple of weeks. Re-emerging as 'teenagers' demonstrating their acrobatic skills. But not this year, oh no, the entire family are still very close to the house.

As a result I couldn't sit out in the garden or do any gardening, apart from watering the plants in the greenhouse; they were very thirsty. Oh well, there's always tomorrow.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

The Great Escape

Or how the best laid plans don't always work.

With the gorgeous weather we've had today, I decided to sit out on the lawn with my dog, Joey. I positioned my chair so that I could watch the blue tits, but was far enough away from the nestbox so as not to disturb them. I soon noticed that something wasn't right again. They were going to the box but not feeding anything, just like last Sunday. On that occasion, I found a small dead baby blue tit under the nestbox that night.

I presumed that all the chicks would be of the same size, and not ready to leave the nest yet. Wrong. As we were sat there on the lawn, a fully fledged young blue tit tumbled out of the flower border and landed on the lawn. I grabbed hold of Joey and took him indoors. Then I decided to observe a while from the kitchen window. It soon became clear that the youngsters were all over the place at ground level. Think they had left the nest a little bit too soon, probably because of the warm sunshine blazing onto the nestbox.

And when I did venture outside again, I found the little chap above, had fallen into a large trug. He was much smaller than his siblings, and unable to get out of the trug. So I laid the trug on its side, and he scrambled out into the undergrowth. Unfortunately, his parents couldn't find him. They kept flying to the trug and then to the nestbox.

So I went back outside, and found him huddled in the plants where I'd left him. As his parents had been looking for him in the nestbox, I reluctantly decided to return him there. Normally young birds are best left for the parents to find them, but this one wasn't safe where he was. His parents found him in the box, but he came out again later, and I decided to leave him this time.

I'm now unable to water my greenhouse plants or mow the lawn, as the blue tits are still feeding their young on the ground. Hopefully, by tomorrow, the youngsters will have scrambled up into the shrubs, and relative safety.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Come What May

Yes, the May tree is now in full bloom.

This is Crataegus monogyna, my that rolls off the tongue doesn't it ?  Fortunately, it is more commonly known as Hawthorn. It is a native plant which usually grows as a shrub. I have a hawthorn hedge at the bottom of the garden. It was planted, probably by a farmer, to separate gardens from his field. It was a substantial hedge, having been double planted, in two rows. Unfortunately, when the bulldozers moved in, prior to houses being built on the field, they removed one row of the hedging. Sad to say, the remaining hedge is really struggling; now competing with a leylandii hedge that the new house owners have planted on their side of the boundary.

This photo though, is of the hawthorn tree that also grows at the bottom of the garden. Hawthorn is an excellent plant for wildlife. It attracts a large number of insects, over 150 different species, who in turn attract many birds. I have a wren currently nesting in a hole in the tree. In late summer, blackbirds and fieldfares eat the berries. It is said that waxwings are also partial to the haws, but I have not had any waxwings in the garden, at least not yet anyway. But I have had a visit from a very noisy family:

Yes, a family of starlings have discovered the garden. The youngsters, and there are lots of them, are very greedy. But they do look cute too. And the blue tits ?

Strange goings on today. This morning, one of the parents was flying back and forth from the box with food in its beak, but not appearing to feed anyone in the box. I've seen this behaviour before, when the parents are trying to entice the young out of the box, but I don't think these youngsters are anywhere near ready yet. Glad to report that normal service resumed later in the morning, with both parents feeding and removing white sacs too.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - May 2012

It's that time of the month again.
You know, when the flowers become quite shy.

Self-sown Forget-Me-Nots, in various shades of blue and pink.

Solomon's Seal, a gift from a friend of mine many years ago, thriving in dry shade under a tree. The plant that is, not my friend.

Paeony-flowered Tulips, the yellow and red ones have gone over now, but these are continuing the display.

Iris Eramosa Skies, a dwarf bearded iris, purchased last year from Claire Austin Hardy Plants.

Cymbalaria muralis, commonly known as the Kenilworth Ivy. It can become a bit of a weed if left to its own devices, but it is easily kept under control.

Strawberry Buddy, bought this year from Thompson & Morgan, and the first of my strawberries to flower this year.

Iris Eyebright, another dwarf bearded iris from Claire Austin. Lovely flower.

Bluebells, Spanish ones though, wish I had known that they were so invasive before I bought them. Too late now, my English Bluebells have disappeared.

Clematis, variety unknown, flowering at the top of an apple tree.

Lobelia erinus Superstar, stuck in the greenhouse, eagerly awaiting their escape into hanging baskets. I grew this last year as well, and highly recommend it, blooms all summer.

Lewisia hybrid, also in the greenhouse, but quite happy in there.

Lilac, flowering in my neighbour's garden. What do you mean that's cheating ? No it's not. You see, it may be flowering over the hedge, but it is actually growing in my garden. I had the shrub pruned last year because it had grown too large, but as you can see, one branch escaped.

Thanks to Carol at May Dreams Gardens for hosting the Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day. Why not pop over and see what is blooming in gardens all over the world in this month.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Take A Giant Step


This is my step-over apple tree, although I think you'd need to be a giant to step over it. Perhaps I should explain. Have you ever done something that seemed to be a good idea at the time ?  Then circumstances change, and that good idea turns into a disaster. I decided to grow a step-over apple tree after watching a TV programme many years ago. You can buy step-over apple trees, but they are very expensive. It is quite easy to produce your own. It is, really, mine didn't always look like this.

First of all, you need a one year old apple tree with two strong branches low down the stem. Plant the tree, and train the two branches along a horizontal wire. Remove the leader and any other branches. There you are, job done. You should now have a T-shaped apple tree. As the tree grows, you should continue to train the branches along the horizontal wire, and prune as if growing a cordon tree.

So what did I do wrong, you may ask. As I had started with such a young tree, it took a few years to produce its first fruit, but eventually it did. And this coincided with the arrival of our first puppy, a golden retriever named Benji. Although he was quite small, those apples looked just like a ball to him, and one by one he leapt up and pulled them off the tree.

The following year, Benji was older and wiser. No longer did he have to jump to reach the fruit, they were now at eye-level. So from then on, ever year he would watch the apples grow, and pick them when he thought they were ripe enough to eat. And the dogs that followed Benji continued his apple harvesting technique. So that is why I abandoned the step-over bit and allowed the tree to grow upwards. Although, as you can see, there will still be plenty of apples for Joey this year.

And finally, the blue tits are constantly in and out of the nestbox these days, feeding their young, and occasionally departing with little white sacs in their beaks. I won't go into too much detail, but suffice to say, what goes in must come out.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

A Bunch Of Grapes

In a manner of speaking.

This is Iris Grapelet, a miniature dwarf bearded iris. Bred by J.T.Aitken and introduced in 1989. It normally grows to about 5 inches tall, but with the highest April rainfall for 130 years, I suppose we can forgive it for growing a little higher this year. I grow it in a trough on the patio, where it gets good drainage and sunshine. This year, the leaves have been nibbled by slugs and snails. Normally not a problem in the trough, where it is usually quite dry, but this year isn't normal, is it ?

Those lovely people at Trehane have sent me another e-mail about caring for my blueberries. Apparently, now is the time to feed them. So that's a job for this weekend I think. Trehane really do take customer care to a new level. Maybe other specialist nurseries could take note, and inform their customers when it is time to feed and prune their plants. Just a thought.

I planted a Magnolia stellata this afternoon, a much-appreciated gift from my workmates. I dug the hole, put all the good stuff in, like you do, and planted it. The only job I didn't do, was water it in. As you know, I like to garden with Nature, and as she is about to dump over one inch of rain here tonight, I decided to leave the watering to her. She's better at it than I am.

And finally, a bit of good news; the hawthorn is blooming. Remember the saying:

'Never cast a clout,
Before May is out.'

I have found this to be a very reliable saying, as once the May blossom is out, we shouldn't get any more frosts. But do allow for any frost pockets in your area. The hawthorn hedges, in the fields where I walk the dog, have been in bloom for over a week, but they are at the top of a south-facing hill. The tree in my garden has only just started opening its blooms today.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Fine And Dandy

Or the lion's tooth.

This is Taraxacum officinale, a herbaceous perennial, sometimes grown as a medicinal herb. What ?  What do you mean, it's a weed ?

And here it is growing with Honesty. Oh alright then, I suppose some people would call it a weed. In fact, everybody calls it a weed. Yes, it's the humble dandelion, named from the French phrase 'dent de lion' meaning lion's tooth, a reference to its jagged leaves. Much has been written about its medicinal and culinary properties, but I intend to concentrate on its advantages to the garden. Yes, there are advantages. Really.

Firstly, one thing to bear in mind if you do decide to allow a few to grow in your garden; one plant can produce 5,000 seeds in one year. So on no account allow it to go to seed. And now for the benefits; it attracts pollinating insects. So do a lot of cultivated flowers, I hear you say. Hang on, I haven't finished yet. It releases ethylene gas that encourages fruit setting and ripening. So does a banana, I know, but there's more; its deep taproot brings nutrients and minerals to the surface, enriching the soil especially for shallow-rooted plants.

So believe it or not, and you probably don't, but I do allow a few dandelions to grow amongst the fruit trees on purpose. I always pull off the spent blooms before they seed, and occasionally I pull off some leaves for the compost bin. I bet you feel better about the dandelions in your lawn now, don't you ?

The full moon this morning has been described as a 'supermoon.'  It looked 14% larger and 30% brighter than normal, because it was so close to the earth. Hope you all remembered to plant and sow 48 hours before the full moon. I didn't. Forgot. Whoops.

And finally, the blue tits. Yesterday I saw a delightful and disturbing sight; the male blue tit enticed the female out of the nestbox with a big juicy grub. The disturbing bit ? He got the grub from the tree at the bottom of the garden. I walk under that tree. Today both birds are in and out of the nestbox, looks like the eggs are hatching.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Seeing Red

The lily beetles are here.

If you find one of these in your garden, especially on your lilies, don't panic. Oh go on then, panic. The lily beetle is not native to the UK or the USA, so yes you've guessed it, no natural predators. The birds won't eat them, they squeak when attacked, yes they do. Would you tuck into your dinner if it squeaked as your fork approached the plate ?

I first noticed these beetles earlier this year in the summer, sorry I mean March. The lilies were only just poking through the soil, so the beetles didn't have much to eat. Needless to say, I disposed of them, but now they're back again. And love is in the air:

As you can see, they had been nibbling the lily leaves before they got amorous. If I had left them, the female would have laid her eggs on the underside of the lily leaves. The resultant larvae cover themselves in their own excrement, so that they look like bird droppings. But you don't find bird droppings underneath leaves, unless the birds in your garden think they are Red Arrow pilots and like to do aerobatics. Come to think of it, but that's another story.

So how do you control them?  In parts of Europe, the beetle is kept under control by parasitic wasps, but in the UK only two species of these wasps have been discovered, and certainly not in sufficient numbers to have any effect. So at the moment, the solution is to pick them off the plants and destroy them. The adults are easy to see, although a little tough to squash, they have harder shells than vine weevils. Look under the leaves for larvae and eggs, and remove them also. And if all else fails, don't grow lilies or fritillarias.

On a happier note, the blue tits did manage to evict the bee from their nestbox. They are very discreetly coming in and out of the box. Looks like the eggs have been laid, but no activity yet to suggest any have hatched yet.

And the final April rainfall figures for Sheffield have just been announced. We had 177mm, that's just a smidgen under 7 inches in real money. Wonder what May will have in store for us.