As the snow was melting a flock of fieldfare’s descended

Fieldfare

About three of four days ago, I came home and picked up my camera to take my daily photo for the 365 page (see link top left). On the fir tree were some birds which at first I mistook for thrushes, but on closer inspection it was a bird I didn’t recognise – the same speckled chest, but it had in addition a yellow glow on it’s tummy and a handsome grey head. I quickly looked it up online, for some reason the name fieldfare popped into my mind, so perhaps my dad many years ago had pointed this out to me, as it turned out my intuition was right.

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So I quickly took some photos, there was a flock of about ten behaving in a funny way in my opinion…they would settled on branches of various trees and fences and on the floor, then would be startled suddenly and fly off in a flock in a circle before coming back down again. They repeated this behaviour a few more times while I watched, it was lovely to observe a bird I knew little about.

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Having done some brief research, I have found out the birds are migratory, so these I saw had probably flown south to us from northern Europe, for a milder winter climate. They are omnivores, and enjoy insects, worms and in winter berries. Here you can see some of the flock enjoying some berries in my neighbour’s garden.

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Snow on the coast

Snow has been much anticipated in my house the past few days, with three children under 6 you can imagine the excitement! Actually we didn’t receive as much as forecast, much to the little ones’ disappointment. It didn’t stop them scraping together as much as possible to make the obligatory snowman though…

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We are forecast a bit more tonight and tomorrow, so I’m hoping I’ll be able to get a few more fluffy pictures of the garden before it all melts away for another year

Vegetable patch, 2012 – 2013 and something a bit different

Needless to say 2012 was a bit of a washout for all us veggie growers. None of the usual principles of vegetable growing applied, so it really was an ad-hoc experience. The dry spring heralded a dry summer, but as we are fast learning, nature has a way of readjusting and compensating for itself. The previous year had been pretty dry all winter and most of the summer, so I guess the rain of 2013 was making up for that. It was my first year watching my new garden. Most of the experts recommend you should leave an inherited garden for a whole round of seasons to see what grows (or doesn’t in my case!) I will talk more about that in my posts on the beds and borders, but there was no veggie plot to speak of here.

Back in March I marked out four squares in a grid intersected by paths. There were already remnants of flowers beds down each side of the garden, which I thought I could use to grow perennial veg such as strawberries, rhubarb and trained fruit bushes. I also had my compost area and comfrey bushes here.

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I managed to lift the turf and prepared three of the veg beds, all but the top right corner one (the one marked with diagonal stripes) The beds on the left are a good friable soil, black and workable while the ones on the right are heavy clay and will need years of improvement. I did manage to grow beans and peas though this year, but they took a while to get going because of the clay. I grew potatoes later in the year to break the soil up a bit and it’s definitely helped. Interestingly my soil test came back as neutral, but my no.1 weed is doc, which normally prefers acid soil.

The bed at the top right houses my asparagus (at the top) which I transplanted from my allotment. I also planted some young new varieties bought at the garden centre, and I also planted the white asparagus I grew from seed. I left them all alone last year, just mulched and weeded, but am hoping to have some success from the older crowns this year if they haven’t been too stressed. Lower down this bed I grew carrots and parsnips pretty successfully as the soil suits roots here. I also tried summer calabrese which was fabulous all summer, so will definitely try that again.

March -veg beds

March -veg beds

 

Veg garden in it's glory

Veg garden in it’s glory

In November and December we had floods that pretty much decimated my vegetable patch, ruining the soil, leaving a green slime and sodden ground that I could not touch. Since this has happened, I have learned there is a dried up stream beneath our garden that floods in heavy rain. Having sited my veg patch here was not the best idea. There really isn’t a suitable place to move it to, so I have decided to raise the beds and add topsoil in the hope it will avoid the worst of flooding if it happens again. I have bought some old scaffold boards which I’ll gradually use to build the beds over the year, which does mean I may constrained on what I can grow early on this year.

The beds down the side also flooded so they will need raising too, I will use these for salads and nursery beds eventually.

This year I’m planning to grow some unusual varieties and grains to supplement the larder next winter. We cook a lot of soups and stews, so the addition of grains, dried peas and beans would really be welcome. I’ve ordered Quinoa and a Latvian soup pea for starters, and I recently picked up a packet of dwarf berlotti beans from Jamie Oliver’s range called ‘Berlotto’. I’ve always had more success with dwarf beans than the climbing varieties.

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As for the other unusual things, here’s a quick list of new plants I’m going to try:

Beetroot Choggia – striped pink and white concentric circles inside

Jaune obtuse du doubs – carrot that’s yellow inside

Melothrie – small cylindrical climbing cucumber

Tomato Black Russian – Black plum variety

Other new things I’m trying this year are Kale, Chard (white variety) and Chicory. I’m also growing two types of chilli after a year off chillis.

Here’s to a fabulous summer growing season!

Shrubs for winter colour and scent

Having recently looked from my window out at the gloomy garden, I feel the poor thing desperately needs some form and colour for winter. In fact, many of the surrounding gardens are the same and there is nothing to hold you interest at all. I must remedy this this year! I’ve been looking around for ideas and have come across some beautiful shrubs that would not only provide colour but exquisite scent too. I have included two links at the end of this post for further reading. One being the RHS’s recommendations for shrubs with winter interest, the other a lovely post about a winter walk through the gardens at Anglesey Abbey which are breathtaking.

Euonymus Europaeus ‘Red Cascade’

Euonymus europaeus ‘Red Cascade’2

A relatively ordinary shrub in the summer, it’s true glory is revealed  in autumn and winter when the leaves turn a shocking pink. The branches also hold onto the orange flowers which turn to vibrant seed heads. I think it would look stunning against yellow grasses or the steel blue of euphorbia. More detail here.

Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’

viburnum

This is a hard working shrub that has many qualities I’m looking for winter scent, coloured foliage and blooms. The viburnum flowers from October to March with little frost damage. The foliage turns bronze in autumn. Would work well next to a witch hazel or Euonymus fortunei ‘Emerald Gaiety’ . Read more here.

Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’ and Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Ruby Glow’

What prettier Christmas decoration for the garden could you have? Like shredded golden and red paper hanging candidly from bare stems, it’s almost rude in it’s showiness! The witch hazel has a stunning scent too.

HamamelisArnoldPromiseArnold Promise

120px-Hamamelis_RUBY_GLOWRuby Glow

A tour through Anglesey Abbey’s Winter walk garden

RHS Winter Interest Shrubs

Taking Stock Part 1, trees, shrubs and climbers

Here are some of the plants I planted in 2012

Climbing Hydrangea, planted on the left fence, halfway down the garden, before the plum trees

climbing hydrangea

 

Clematis Triteanata Rubromarginata – trained up a plum tree to the right side halfway down the garden (gorgeous almond scent)

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Paul’s Himalayan Musk, rambling rose – trained up a plum tree to the right fence, hoping it will ramble over that too!

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Sorbus Hupenhensis Pink Pagoda, tree planted right at the bottom of the garden against the south facing brick wall

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Catalpa bignonioides aurea, or Indian Bean Tree, this is halfway down the garden to the right, which will one day be next to my summerhouse, surrounded by prairie plants

Catalpa big Aurea

 

Prunus Chocolate Ice, next to the Catalpa

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Climbing Rose Compassion, on the right west facing brick wall

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Physocarpus summer wine, in my ‘white’ border on the right side near the decking, it’s doing really well!

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Climbing Rosa Gloire de Dijon – on the right fence, near the decking under the pear tree

Gloire de dijon

Planning ahead, January musings

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When we moved in here a year ago, the garden was a landing strip of grass, a blank canvas. Although I have to say the grass was more weed in content, so not really worth keeping! After a year of contemplation, I have been gradually dividing the garden up in my mind into the kind of space I could really enjoy. As I have a family I have to take them into consideration of course, so areas have been thought out for the children too.

My main aim at the moment is just to break up the space and work in a little privacy as we are a bit exposed. I’m also keen to grow a variety of plants, from traditional cottage garden to natural species you would find by the coast (as we are a stones throw from the beach) On the left side of the garden is a light loam, well drained while the other to the right is heavy clay so I have to take this into account.

I’m keen to have an area that mimics the beach foreshore, with brick paths and gravel/shingle  beds holding grasses and succulents. You can see my Pinterest board for a clearer idea of the planting. I think this would feel quite mediterranean when we finally get the weather to match! I have to say I’m quite confused how to plant at the moment as a few years ago all the advise was to switch to drought resistant plants, but after this year who knows!

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I have already done some of the ‘hard planting’ for this area, including a fig tree, and a magnolia stellata. Beyond this coastal chillout zone, I think I will plant a yew hedge, which will have a wavey silhouette. Behind this would be some ornamental trees (prunus chocolate ice, my silver birch and my new catalpa aurea bignonioides (indian bean tree) which would be underplanted with grasses, prairie meadow plants and shrubs. This middle zone would lead you through to the patch of lawn for the children, and vegetable patch at the bottom.

So there is my initial plan which I have been formulating for the past year. I’m not sure how long it will take to implement as there is quite a bit of hard landscaping to be done. I have already planted many of the trees, shrubs and climbers as I wanted them to get established quickly, I just need to fill in the patches!

I’m still trying to decide which will be my next step towards this garden, I think at the moment it may be the yew hedge…

 

Last Red Cabbage

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I’ve just picked the last of my red cabbage, tell a small lie, I had one tiny one left, but to be honest I’ve left it for the slugs as it’s so pot-holed. I’m really pleased with my cabbage crop! This is the first year I’ve tried to grow winter veg and I’ve had a few successes and failures. Strangely my chard and cavalo nero never really took off, but we had quite a few swedes and yellow beet, albeit small ones.

Right, off to make some coleslaw…