A veritable feast!

06:23  Tuesday 30 June 2020

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bumble bee feeding on hebe flowers in the potager border

As the crops mature and the flowers bloom, our gardens have become a feast for us all, including the birds and bees – a feast for the eyes as well!

I’ve harvested enough oregano to last me all winter, hanging it in bunches and stuffing it into the wine rack.  I’ll be able to give the surplus to friends & family, not that my daughter will need any: she’s been harvesting & drying her own, using the spreading-on-paper method.

I’ve no room to dry the golden marjoram – which is another version of oregano in any case – so I’ll leave it to flower for the bees!  The flowers will be pale pink: very pretty!

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As well as busily drying herbs, my daughter has been saving up lolly sticks for me to recycle as labels, so when I saw Monty Don sowing Florence fennel seeds on Gardeners’ World I got out a half-used packet and sowed two rows myself in potager bed 4, putting a couple of the ‘labels’ to good use.

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I had weeded the bed, leaving a Welsh poppy and a couple of nasturtiums (all self-sown) and the sage, trimmed back now that its flowers were over.

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sage flowering in the potager last week

I’ve been doing quite a lot of snipping & trimming this week.  June is the month our woodland path gets mown, the spring bulb foliage having had plenty of time to die back and feed the bulbs, so when I got out the Flymo to cut the grass I did a quick once up and down through the woodland to form the path.  Sawdust that had been generated by the tree surgeons was blown about by the mower, serendipitously covering the path!

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The tortoise in the centre of the lawn is a fake, used to cover the hole for my rotary clothes line – it is very difficult to find when covered with autumn leaves unless I use a marker and the tortoise does very well!

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The new bronze fronds of the autumn fern, named because of its colour, were unfurling so I trimmed back the tattered old green stems.  I did the same with my tree fern, the slow-growing dicksonia antarctica, bought in 2016, and revealed a pleasing stretch of trunk.

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It survives the winters in the fence border with a ‘duvet’ of autumn leaves and these blow away in due course.

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David’s trachycarpus fortunei has had those ‘fans’ in danger of being burnt by next door’s patio heater cut off at the trunk, thanks to my son-in-law who noticed the potential damage!

I have washed and replenished the bird feeders in a drop of washing up liquid & a glug of white vinegar, composting the tops of the tall nettles so I didn’t sting myself as I retrieved them once dry.  I grow stinging nettles because they are the food plants of so many butterflies.

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A goldfinch made the most of the fresh niger seed while a pair of dunnocks and a robin chick mopped up the fallen seeds below.

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The baby robin is well camouflaged to the right of the fake rabbit!

I was delighted to see the flower photos from Helen’s garden in Scotland: snapdragons, lilies and clematis: another feast for the eyes!

“Thought you’d like them,” she said.

I, too, have been feasting my eyes on the latest blooms to open in the garden this week:

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the first fragrant jasmine flowers,

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the white-flowered campanula bells

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and Queen Elizabeth roses (the pink ones at the right), which I’ve been picking like mad, along with the orange Just Joeys and white Margaret Merrils, before the rain could smatter them to pieces. My tatty old bucket minus its handle has been recycled as a florist’s bucket for picking and conditioning the stems in water before arranging them in vases – in this case, a recycled coffee jar which was just the right size for these three Queen Elizabeths!

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The garlic harvest

05:51  Tuesday 23 June 2020

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It was the longest day on Saturday: time to harvest the garlic planted in December on the shortest day!

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Surprisingly, those planted in potager bed 1, which I’d kept weeded,  were smaller than the few left over that I’d planted in beds 3 and 4 which were crammed with herbs and weeds.

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“Obv garlic likes company,” texted my son-in-law, who was delighted with his garlic which he’d harvested the day before from a tub in our kitchen garden.

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Left in the tub were some opium poppies so I moved it to the front garden, amongst geranium magnificum and stachys byzantina (or lamb’s ears) to flower and seed around.

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Potager bed 1, left with a winter savory, was sown with coriander and cosmos Dazzler and protected by recycled mini greenhouse shelving.

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Bed 3, with its fennel and another opium poppy, was used to plant out my tomato seedlings (Red Cherry) sown at the same time as Monty Don who was planting his (Gardener’s Delight) in a raised bed this week.

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I’ve never grown tomatoes in the ground before but I shall have a go.

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The companiable tagetes, one per tomato,  put in to keep the white fly off, had been ravaged by slugs or snails so I sprayed them with garlic wash and hoped for the best!

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Not having had much success germinating my old runner bean seeds, I used the primary school method of jam jar and damp kitchen paper and got three good seedlings to pot up.

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They aren’t ready for the ground yet but I’m hardening them off on the patio steps.

The lettuces have done us proud this year!  I’m making sure I don’t have a gap in our supplies, though, and on Saturday, I pricked out the six biggest Iceberg seedlings, leaving the others to grow a bit before I prick them out too (a Monty Don tip) and sowed more Little Gems.

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While bustling about in kitchen garden and potager, the rest of the garden has gone into hullaballoo mode so I’m gradually sorting it out in my half- to one-hour sessions.

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Behind the arbour bench the choisya and rosa glauca were infested with weeds, mainly bindweed.

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I pulled out the bench and set to work to make it more pleasing, weeding the border and the paving.

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Next door’s fine crop of bindweed will now flower prettily without strangling my plants!  I tackled two other areas this week:

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the bed by the palings at the bottom of the garden, full of slimy, spent spring bulb foliage, and the path to the secret corner which was choked with weeds and very prickly holly leaves as well as the fronds of a huge self-sown fern which obscured the step up to my rainwater butts.

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It’s clear now and not so dangerous!  The rest of the time I’ve been sauntering about with my camera  artistically snapping the newcomers to the chorus of colour!

Here are philadelphus in the fence border; a double opium poppy, self-sown in a courtyard pot; love-in-a-mist in the meadow; hogweed and allium roseum in the woodland garden.

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My daughter also took a creative snap: “Lacy spider with sharp little shadow, “ she texted.

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The sedum acre (or biting stonecrop) planted in the wellies that my great great nieces gave me when they were small, is in flower.  There is another clump growing on next door’s extension roof!

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The house sparrows’ chirping is with us constantly (Hurrah!  And to think I used to take this little bird for granted!) . . .

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. . . and the goldfinches, with a flash of their yellow wing-stripes, keep flying into the front garden  and to the feeding station at the back.  Sometimes they sit in the trees and serenade us with their beautiful trilling, liquid song.

Yesterday I watched a great tit chick and a long-tailed tit at the feeding station.

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The sun is blazing down again this morning and it’s set to be very warm.  I shall take my book and loll under the parasols!

The scent of cordyline flowers

06:08  Tuesday 16 June 2020

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The courtyard is filled with the lily-like fragrance of the cordyline flowers and the bees love them!

They also seem to like the heuchera flowers in the long border.

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The first lily has opened and so its long tom pot has been brought into the courtyard from its winter quarters in the kitchen garden.

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This variety has no perfume, however, just a bright colour!

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coal tit at courtyard feeding station November 2017

I had a mind to relocate the courtyard arch to the point where the long path meets the woodland garden.  It wasn’t doing anything much in the courtyard: between October and January it became the birds’ feeding station and the rest of the time it held a hanging basket of white-flowered periwinkle.

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vinca minor alba February 2019

It had originally been erected to support a clematis which had long since died.  I wondered if I’d be able to prise it up without its breaking but it was quite easy to do that.  The tricky bit was carrying it down the long path and I had to lift a paving slab before I could push the legs into the ground.

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view through the arch to the woodland garden
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view back up the long path to the courtyard

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I had a rooted honeysuckle cutting so I planted it at the foot of the newly-relocated arch and now I have a scented gateway to look forward to!  The periwinkle has been hung from the cypress tree where it won’t object to its shadier position.

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I said I would cut down the laburnum before it fell down and yesterday, its flower chains having faded, I did just that, removing the superstructure with my pruning saw first and then the thicker trunk with an ordinary saw.

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The chunky logs have been added to one of my log piles and most of the rest crammed into the garden waste wheelie bin – collection on Thursday so the remaining prunings will go in after it has been emptied.  The laburnum was the birds’ summer feeding station so I moved the feeders’ pole from the meadow to accommodate them and it wasn’t long before a robin came to check it out!

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The other red blob in the photograph is my posh oriental poppy, Beauty of Livermere, with its blue pollen.

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The opium poppies have also begun to bloom with this fine self-sown specimen in the courtyard.

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My daughter has been watering her window boxes where there is a fine display of “creeping campanula, feverfew, lobelia, rock geranium, all attracting bees.

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” – seems to be some grass and creeping buttercup too! ” she says.  My campanulas are in flower, too, by the corner of the house, the tall persicifolias with the bigger flowers (to the right of the photo) as well as the creeping ones: these make good ground-cover even in shade and they will creep upwards if they meet a vertical surface.

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When I was watering the house plants I found a tiny echeveria seedling growing in the gravel in the coral cactus’s cache pot!

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If an echeveria leaf drops off and the conditions are right it will form a little plant at its base.  I potted it up to grow on.

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While David and I sat in the courtyard yesterday, enjoying a relaxing afternoon, a pair of collared doves flew to the cotoneaster tree – first time I’ve seen one this year!

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We’ve seen a robin chick pottering about . . .

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. . . and several fat baby blackbirds.  This one decided to take a bath in the front garden.

I sneaked a few snaps through the blinds.  Meanwhile the roses are all coming out at the front:

the fuchsia-pink moss rose, the paler Harlow Carr, the orange patio rose, Little Woman, the white Margaret Merril and a dog rose and the highly fragrant Deep Secret, also known as Mildred Scheel.  Though the buds are covered in aphids I don’t have to bother: my mini pest controllers are on the job.

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This female house sparrow was being pretty thorough on Wednesday and I’ve since seen goldfinches and blue tits pecking away.

Pops of colour . . .

06:35  Tuesday 9 June 2020

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. . . to borrow the hackneyed phrase of the interior design copy writer!  In the garden it is the green foliage that does the job of resting the eye, whereas indoors it the neutrals.

After the sunniest spring on record the weather broke on Wednesday, giving us rain, wind and low temperatures.  When it hasn’t been raining I have been snapping all the colourful flowers in the garden before the weather could destroy their delicate petals.  It’s time for poppies and there is a mass of orientals in the long border (above).

Last year’s field poppy, in the front garden, has seeded itself on the pavement side of the wall to join some self-sown opium popppies yet to flower.  I must save some of its seed for further scatterings.

Also in the front garden, the orange hawkweed and the Just Joey rose have both begun to bloom while the osteospermum Compact Burgundy has been giving ‘pops’ of colour for a while; I must dead-head the plant to keep it going.

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All along the wall that separates our drive from our neighbour’s higher one, my nectar bar is at its best: full of red valerian in red, pink and white, purple toadflax, red campion and ox-eye daisies.

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This side return contains my kitchen garden and joining these self-sowns are the pale yellow flowers in a tub of gone-to-seed purple-sprouting broccoli.

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I am hoping to see plenty of butterflies here when the weather warms up a bit.

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I love the way the red potentilla peeps through the neighbouring pot of montbretia foliage in the courtyard garden; the potentilla’s own foliage looks like silvery strawberry leaves.

I doubt if I would ever use a combination of reddish pink and orange with purple in an interior setting but I love the effect of a pot of snapdragons against the Bowles’ Mauve wallflowers in the courtyard border.

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Indoors, white is a neutral but against a sea of green in the garden it can ‘pop’ with the best of them, especially at dusk when white flowers become almost luminous.  This zantedeschia aethiopica Crowborough, in a courtyard pot, has a startlingly white spathe and yellow spadix.

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Its common name is calla lily or arum lily and in the bouldery another, paler, arum has also come into flower amongst the ivy leaves: the arum italicum pictum.

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In the fence border the hardy fuchsia is coming out, like so many tiny ballerinas . . .

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. . . and in the meadow the creeping buttercup is creeping and flowering.

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In my daughter’s garden the rosa glauca cutting I gave her a few years ago has produced a dainty pink flower.  She Whatsapp’d the photo.

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Jill sent me a photo of her brightly-coloured, two-toned aquilegia. “Have you seen this colour?” she asked.

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“I have just one like this.”

I had a similar one from my son-in-law but it has died out now, unfortunately.  This photo was taken in May 2009.

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I didn’t know the variety but used to refer to it as my ‘rhubarb-and-custard’ aquilegia.

Another pop of colour is about to vanish from the garden, going out with a bang rather than a pop!  Just look at my laburnum!

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We’re expecting it to topple over any day now and if it hasn’t gone by the time the yellow chains fade, I shall get out my saw!  I already have a replacement in mind: the little pomegranate tree I grew from seed when my daughter gave me a fruit in October 2015.

I washed the flesh off some of the seeds to sow and saved the others to add to fruit salads and green salads.

My little tree will never bear fruit in this temperate climate but it has lived outside now for the best part of five years so it is hardy enough to make a pretty little tree for the garden – eventually – and we gardeners are nothing if not patient!

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A closer look

06:17  Tuesday 2 June 2020

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Do you ever take your garden for granted?  It’s sometimes worth taking a closer look and these days we have more time to do so!  I was snipping some of the buddleia back in the courtyard: it was obscuring our view of the water forget-me-not in the old lion fountain, which, when I looked closely I found had been used by a mud dauber wasp for its nest.

The following day I watched as the wasp sealed the chamber, having apparently laid its egg.

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What was that strange inflorescence in among the trachycarpus fortunei foliage?

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The tree is in flower for the first time since we bought it.  How tropical it makes the courtyard look!

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Another exotic touch is provided by the cordylines.  The lower leaves die, turning yellow, then brown and finally drop off as they are replaced by fresh green ones at the top but decaying leaves look a mess so I tug them off when they turn yellow, each lowest one in turn to reveal more trunk.

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This cordyline looks neater now and is also about to flower.

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The weather has been glorious this week and I’ve been sitting outside a lot watching the birds.

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A blackbird has been feeding its chick from the suet cake feeder hanging from the laburnum.  The empty hook held a peanut feeder, knocked down by a squirrel, I expect.

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When the more nimble house sparrow moved in, the chick learnt from its parent how to feed itself from the dropped suet crumbs.

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Dan D Lion rarely sees birds in his courtyard garden but spotted this house sparrow on Friday picking insects off a rose.

He has marked his photos because it is hard to see the little bird.  On Sunday a small bird landed on the cut trunk of the pussy willow tree in our garden but it wasn’t until I downloaded the photograph that I found it to be a wren!  You can tell by its pert tail.

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Whenever I’ve had a planting or weeding session a robin has followed me about hoping I will uncover a tasty morsel.

My sister wrote in her letter ” . . . Something we have seen loads of this year is cow parsley – this is a patch just along from us:  

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And it’s everywhere, almost as if it’s been planted!  Do you remember it from our childhood – we called it keck, although we also knew that it was cow parsley . . . and would you believe, Monty Don showed us the cow parsley growing in his garden on the very next Gardeners’ World! “

I do remember it in the verges and fields of Lincolnshire, where it was indeed known as keck!  It’s posh name is anthriscus sylvestris and a dark-foliaged variety, called Ravenswing, was all the rage with garden designers a few years back.  There is nothing like the common, wild version though with its fresh ferny green leaves.

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It meanders frothily through my own woodland garden at this time of year (I copied Monty Don!).  It self-sows and I leave it until it’s over when I cut it down but it will have spread its seeds for next year.

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In between lazing in the tropical courtyard I’ve been picking a lot of salad.  This bowl contains Little Gem lettuce, rocket, pak choi, red orach, radishes, fennel, spring onion, parsley and lemon balm.  I made a bacon bits salad for lunch by adding chopped cooked bacon, coleslaw and spicy croutons.

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I’ve been pleased with the radishes again this year and I’ve sown more in a recycled tool caddy which you can see on the third shelf of my seeds and cuttings rack made from a mini greenhouse without the plastic cover.

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I’ve cleared the weeds from the access path and clipped back the lilac so I can check my seed trays more easily.

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Having eaten all the lettuces in the trough leaning against the garage wall I replaced the compost and planted out the latest batch of Little Gem, putting them back on the wrought iron panel, out of the way of slugs and snails, so I can pick the leaves on a cut-and-come-again basis.

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I also sowed more lettuce seeds, Iceberg this time, for a continuation of salad.  I have learnt the hard way to keep lettuces up high, never planting them in the ground.

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I must admit though, however closely I look, I’ve hardly seen a snail: it must be all this dry weather!

 

A floral bonanza

05:42  Tuesday 26 May 2020

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The lilac is flowering in the meadow; it is a common double (syringa vulgaris) but the repeat-flowering, highly fragrant syringa Josee next to my seeds & cutting rack is filling the garden with its perfume.

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When I go out through the French windows into the sunshine I can smell lilac and thyme, a heady mixture.

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The shrubby thyme is also in bloom in the potager garden.  I’m pleased to see my roses coming out and I picked the first of the season, For Your Eyes Only.

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The wisteria is looking splendid on its arch and I found a cuckoo flower in the woodland garden.

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In the courtyard the first foxglove has opened, a lovely creamy pink with maroon blotches inside each ‘glove’.

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My daughter’s window box has been brightened by this delightful bloody cranesbill or geranium sanguineaum, if you prefer!

geranium sanguineum in window box jec may20 (375x500) (2)

The original came years ago from Nancy, an old lady down our road, and I shared it with my daughter.  Nancy called it a rock geranium.  It is totally hardy, has a long tap root and needs full sun.

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The laburnum is almost flowering but the one that Lisa passes on her morning walk is in all its glory already; she sent me a photo.

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The forget-me-nots are going over  to be replaced by the water version.  There is a clump in the lion fountain and another in the faux lead tank where the goldfish babies live.

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There is also a flag iris (iris pseudacorus) in there with its first flower.

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Jill’s garden, being on the warmer side of the country, is already full of flag irises in bloom.

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“I have a lot of those flags you can see in the foreground,” she says. There are also blue irises in her photo with roses, ivy, buddleia and honeysuckle growing behind, against the fence; an ornamental conifer to the left, rescued from the tip a few years back, and two metal arches bought online.  Jill was horrified to find they were in about 100 pieces when they arrived!  “Ordinarily,” she says, “I would have been reaching for the nearest bloke I’m ashamed to say but as we were in lockdown by then I just had to do it myself.”   And she found she could!

The going over of the forget-me-nots gives me a nudge to start weeding the borders as I pull out the mildewed greyish clumps, giving them a good shake to release the seeds for nest year’s display.

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I have started on the front garden taking great care not to wreck the sole allium Purple Sensation.

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As I weed the courtyard pots, I am finding those with top-dressings of pebbles or gravel are retaining the moisture far better than those without.  If I come across a self-sown red orach seedling I save it to add to our salads.

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My lilies, in their long-tom pots, are in bud and I was alarmed to find a lily beetle on one of them.  I picked it off but before I could do anything with it it flew off!

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It has been warm enough to sit out in the courtyard after dinner and on Wednesday this beautiful goldfinch came to drink.

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A grey squirrel provides the cabaret!

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Having dug up and devoured all his peanut supplies, he sought to replenish his larder before digging more holes in the lawn to hide them away for later!

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By Friday the wind had picked up.  There wasn’t much damage, just bits of leaves, twigs, blossom everywhere: all over the lawn, paving and the tops of the ponds; the plastic cloche over the pak choi blew away but only as far as underneath the bench in the front garden.  I’m still clearing up but I’m pleased to say the foxglove by the patio steps is still upright!

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Appreciating the countryside

05:24  Tuesday 19 May 2020

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house sparrows in the Chinese windmill palm (trachycarpus fortunei)

Without so much traffic we can hear the birds more clearly and because life has slowed down we can appreciate the countryside, be it our own garden patches or the wider areas.  Lisa walks her dog through her local glen early in the morning when she can be sure that not many people will be about.  “I love walking through there whatever the weather; it is beautiful with the trees, birds and squirrels,” she texted, when sending me her stunning photographs taken on Saturday morning.

Meanwhile, Jim has been appreciating the aquilegias in his own garden.  He texted, Hi folks just back from Sainsbury’s so took this pic of granny bonnets.  A bit of a squeeze in my drive!”

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This is a photo of my own beautiful yellow aquilegia, now it all its glory . . .

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. . . grown from seeds sent by Jill whose originals are blooming away in the Lancashire sunshine!

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She also sent a photo of her gorgeous clematis which frames her garden beautifully.

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As we sit in the courtyard on sunny days we are surrounded by the chirrup of house sparrows: quite like old times!

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One little bird likes to sit and chirp from the corner of our roof.  Others have been seen pecking greenfly off the roses in the front garden, having a dust bath in the  potager

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and splashing about in the bird bath,

as have the starlings.

We’ve seen great tits, goldfinches and robins at the laburnum tree feeding station

and the chicks of house sparrows and dunnocks (shown below) and robins.   

It hasn’t all been sitting about and appreciating, though.  The traditional time for hedge-cutting is after Derby Day, which has been postponed this year, of course, but when it clouded over on Saturday (best weather for the job so that the cut edges of the leaves don’t scorch) I clipped the shrubby honeysuckle (lonicera nitida) in the secret corner.

lonicera hedge clipped may20 (500x369) (2)

I’ve earthed up the potato tubs with grass clippings and pricked out more crops: pak choi, cornflowers, beetroot and (I hope) godetia – it’s hard to tell when you grow seeds in your own weed-filled compost but I picked six seedlings that looked the same but unlike any weed I was familiar with!

The hawthorn, or May, is flowering in our garden: one of the spring markers for the phenologist.

hawthorn blossom may20 (500x332) (2)

So are the strawberries: white-flowered, pink-flowered and the tiny alpines from my sister’s garden.

It will be ironic if they’re ready in time for Wimbledon when there isn’t any tennis this year!  I’ll just have to force them down – but it won’t be the same!  I know!  I’ll watch my DVD of Wimbledon – the film, starring Paul Betony and Kirsten Dunst.

wimbledon

My Watson Special will be a great accompaniment to that: butter a toasted crumpet, add a dollop of raspberry jam, a dollop of natural yogurt and top with a strawberry.

Watson Special jul18 (486x500)

Delicious!

Don’t be afraid . . .

06:17  Tuesday 12 May 2020

wisteria flower buds may20 (3) (500x413)

. . . to break a few gardening rules!  According to the books, wisteria pruning should be undertaken to a rigid twice-yearly regime – I can’t remember the details because I’ve never obeyed this command but it involves a certain amount of bud counting.  My son (who’s much taller than me) hacks back as much of the plant as he can reach, once a year and some time after the flowers are over, to keep it from becoming too heavy for its supporting arch.  He’s not afraid!  Gardening should be fun, not tedious, and just look at the flowers about to burst on my wisteria!

wisteria flower buds may20 (2) (500x413)

Dave-next-door gave me a successfully-layered shoot of his profusely-flowering wisteria so I knew my clone would flower well too.

bluebells j&c may20 (500x373) (2)

Jim & Chris emailed a photo of their bluebells.  “Looks like these bluebell type plants are spreading, they have been here for a few years now.  Some of those near the drain cover are pink,” said Jim.  We are told to grow our native bluebell (hyacinthoides non-scripta) but anyone who has moved into a house where there are existing Spanish bluebells (hyacinthoides hispanica) in the garden will know how impossible this is!  You will never get rid of the Spanish bluebells and if you plant natives they will soon be hybridised with the Spaniards and disappear completely.  The solution is to learn to love the interlopers and what’s not to love?

bluebells may20 (500x347) (2)

They are sturdy, look well in the vase and don’t be fooled by the garden copy writers who say they have no fragrance!  They do: a strong hyacinth-like perfume that can fill a room.

bluebell vase may20 (2) (357x500)

My stock has increased without much help from me, apart from moving them from the borders to the woodland garden (they are still in the borders!) and in the woodland garden they mingle with evergreen alkanet and meet Dave-next-door’s sea of blue!

bluebells massed may20 (500x332) (2)

Like Jim, I too have the odd pink variety (I must remove that bindweed!) and also some white ones.

bluebells pink may20 (500x332) (2)

bluebells white may20 (500x332) (2)

“Granny’s bonnets are starting to appear further up the drive,” continues Jim.

aquilegia dusty pink may20 (500x389)

‘Granny’s bonnet’ is such a good name for an aquilegia flower as you can see; it is also called columbine and is a very pretty, delicate-looking, though tough, hardy herbaceous perennial that is a pleasure to behold as it pops up between other plantings in the borders.  This dusty pink one came from my son’s back yard.

aquilegia Jill's yellow may20 (500x374)

The seeds that Jill sent me two years ago, after I’d admired her bright yellow flowers, have produced paler blooms this year for the first time and with the long spurs that so many aquilegias have.  I’m delighted with them.  I also have deep purples from Margaret & Tom’s garden.

aquilegia Margaret's Purple may20 (500x332) (2)

It has been a pleasure to sit in the sunny courtyard this week, where I’ve been hardening off more pelargoniums including my Bargain Pink.

On two occasions I’ve seen, but not been quick enough to snap, the female orange tip butterfly.   I took a photo of the female in May 2015 when it alighted on an aubretia flower.

orange tip female may15 (500x340)

Unlike the male it has no orange wing tips, but black tips and a black wing spot.  It looks very much like a cabbage white until it settles long enough for you to see the fine white dotted edging along the black rim and the undersides of its lower wings with, like the male’s, a mottled pattern of green, yellow and white.    I see this butterfly thanks to Tom, who indulgently let me take jack-by-the-hedge (the orange tip’s food plant) and stinging nettles (the food plant of many other butterflies) from his garden during a weeding session!

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Yes, I’ve been enjoying the sunshine this week!  Yesterday, however, I found myself hanging out the washing in a hailstorm!  The imagination kicked in and I pretended I was in the Hebrides where, according to Lillian Beckwith’s books, the washing is left out for ages being alternately softened by the rain and bleached by the sun!

VE day celebrations may20 (1) (281x500)

On Friday, though, it stayed glorious for our stay-at-home street party VE Day celebrations.  I stuck a Union Jack in my agave urn and joined in, at a distance, rather over-doing the cake-eating part!  My granddaughter reminded me, by phone, of the digestive benefits of peppermint tea – before the lockdown we would often share such a beverage on a hot day in the garden.  Last October I had dried some peppermint so that I could have peppermint tea after the mint had disappeared for the winter.   I remembered my little jar of dried – and it worked!

home-grown peppermint tea may20 (500x481)

Not only that, but the next morning I found the kitchen still fragrant with peppermint.  Could I have discovered an ecological air freshener?  I shall certainly dry more this year: the shoots are just beginning to peep through in a kitchen garden tub.

peppermint shoots may20 (466x500) (2)

Entertainment during lockdown

05:54  Tuesday 5 May 2020

rainwater butts may20 (500x375) (2)

We can’t complain about the lack of rainfall this week!  In the secret corner my three rainwater butts are full and the two watering tubs in the garden are also full of rainwater but the tree surgeons, who were back at work after looking at the current advice for outdoor workers, managed to find a decent window with the weather they needed (dry, not windy) for their 3-day job on the pussy willow tree.

salix caprea apr20 (375x500) (2)
pussy willow (salix caprea) before the chop

It was an entertaining spectacle for me, as I sat in the fake conservatory, and it compensated for the fact that I had to stay out of the garden for the duration!

tree surgery2 ap320 (375x500) (2)

The forward-thrusting trunk was in danger of splitting off and falling so although it was expensive I’m relieved that the work is done.

tree surgery1 apr20 (500x332) (2)

When I cut back a shrub in my garden I’m always amazed at the mountain of prunings I find behind me but that is as nothing compared to the piles of pussy willow logs.

logs apr20 (499x500) (2)

I wondered how they would get the branches down without damaging anything and noticed that each branch was tied off before cutting and then lowered down on to a pile of previously-cut foliage to avoid big dents in the lawn.

chipper apr20 (500x245) (2)

All was cleared away including the tons of sawdust.

salix caprea after surgery may20 (375x500) (2)
salix caprea after surgery

There’s always a little colateral damage so the woodland glade is a bit trampled down and I’ll have to wait for next year to see camassias in flower there but in the meantime I have the one in the long border that I inadvertently planted a rosa rugosa over the top!

camassia through rosa rugosa may20 (307x500) (2)

My Honky Tonk tulips are still there but I can’t find my stinking hellebore . . .

tulipa Honky Tonl may18 (2) (500x375)

Goldfinches came to the niger seed feeder and I managed to get a snap.

goldfinches at niger seeds apr20 (2) (500x333)

The orange blob in the background is a rather beautiful and fragrant wallflower (erysimum cheiri) growing with some forget-me-nots in the fence border.

erysimus cheiri apr20 (500x332) (2)

A strikingly-marked male chaffinch also visited the feeding station but I didn’t get a photo, unfortunately, so I’ve resorted to an old one I took in April 2011.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We used to see flocks of chaffinches, as this detail from a photo of a grey squirrel, taken in January 2013, testifies but until yesterday I hadn’t recorded any sightings of a chaffinch since 2018.

chaffinches & squirrel jan13 (500x202)

The robin is always with us, however, and as I walked up the long path I noticed how near to me this one was, perched on a wooden toadstool.  He stayed put as I took my phone out of my pocket to take a photograph.  Such a good model!

robin on toadstool may20 (375x500) (2)

Pam has also been photographing the birdlife in her village whilst taking her permitted daily exercise and she managed to capture this mallard with her chicks:

mallard & chicks apr20 (500x348) (2)

Mum and 15 chicks including a yellow one trying to keep up at the rear, she said.

This week I’ve sown more seeds: cosmos, both Dazzler and Polidor . . .

. . .  and pak choi in an effort to grow at least one as lush as the one my daughter is growing.

pak choi sown apr20 (500x375) (2)

Her veggie box delivery contained the pak choi and celery whose stumps have provided the potential for more salad leaves.  After getting them to shoot in water she has planted them out in her own home-made compost.

How pleasing: nothing is wasted, even food containers!

tomato seeds sown may20 (375x500) (2)

Monty Don was sowing tomato seeds on this week’s Gardeners’ World (BBC2); I wasn’t going to bother until I found that my ‘old’ packet of Red Cherry tomato seeds, free with a gardening magazine in 2017, was still in date (sow by 2021)!  I found that the lid of a yogurt tub made a cloche of the right size for the plant pot.  It will be removed once the seeds have germinated.

runner bean seedling may20 (500x332) (2)

Another runner bean has germinated so when it gets to a reasonable size I shall harden it off and plant it with the other two which have so far escaped the ravages of molluscs!

swallowtail caterpilar by jan burgers may20 (391x500) (2)

My son forwarded Jan Burgers’ photo of a Swallowtail caterpillar that he’d seen on facebook so I countered with the toy caterpillar I’d found in the fence border three years ago!

caterpillar fake may20 (281x500) (2)

It is now harmlessly gracing the yellow alyssum in one of the meadowgate troughs and is the nearest I’ll get to seeing a Swallowtail in my garden: it is the UK’s largest and rarest butterfly, only found in the Norfolk Broads.  My garden is full of whimsical items.  I could probably devise a treasure hunt of fake creatures once lockdown is lifted!

April weather

06:08  Tuesday 28 April 2020

seafret dpc apr20 (5)

We sometimes get a sea fret or haar – a cold sea fog on the east coast of England or Scotland – and though it rarely reaches our garden we may still feel the chill of it.

seafret dpc apr20 (7)

David snapped just such a sea fret rolling in while he was taking his permitted exercise on Friday.

seafret dpc apr20 (6)

Brrr!  Meanwhile our garden was bathed in sunshine albeit with a chilly easterly.

We expect April showers but this month it rained on the 6th and not again until Sunday night, but with enough garage roof run-off to half fill the rainwater butt, thank goodness!  We’ve had plenty of sunshine this week and have made the most of it by sitting with our alfresco cuppas on the courtyard bench where it is relatively sheltered from the chilly easterly wind and from where David took this shot.

garden by david apr20 (375x500) (2)

People continue to report unusual wildlife sightings, probably less to do with the weather than the lack of human interference caused by the lockdown.  As my daughter says: “. . wildlife has been reclaiming the planet now that noisy humans are less in evidence!”

hoopoe local sighting apr20

A hoopoe had been seen locally and three members of my family forwarded the web page notification to me!  I always associate this exotic bird with Cyprus and Fuerteventura where my only two sightings had been.  I managed to snap this one whilst on holiday in the Canary Islands in October 2007.

hoopoe fuerteventura oct07 (22) (500x198)

I have never seen a treecreeper but Dave-next-door saw one climbing up a tree in his garden this week; at first he thought it was a mouse but when he realized it was a bird he looked it up.  He didn’t get a photo but here is an illustration from my Ladybird set of three bird books, kept from childhood [British Birds and their nests by Brian Vesey-Fitzgerald.  Wills & Hepworth 1955].

treecreeper

I saw a house sparrow with a feather in its beak the other morning, a sure indication of nesting, and as I’ve pottered about between borders and compost heap I’ve been followed about by a robin looking for food for its brood; it is extremely brave, coming very close to me and I was able to snap it with its beak full of grubs as I was sieving compost.

robin by compost heaps apr20 (2) (500x361)

Here is the front garden with its triangular bed, its nonsense bed, where I lifted a wonky paving slab, and its crazy paving.  Doesn’t the osteospermum make a good splash of colour at the entrance to the right of the picture?

front garden apr20(500x257) (2)

This one is Compact Burgundy bought by David last April.

osteospermum Compact Burgundy apr20 (500x429) (2)

There isn’t a dandelion to be seen! David hates our ‘National Flower’ so I weeded them all out of beds and paving.  I won’t have got the tap roots but David will be pleased for a while and I must say he doesn’t expect me to get rid of the ones in the back garden where this one is growing in the bouldery.

dandelion apr20 (500x332) (2)

May I just say, however, that dandelions have bright yellow flowers that hold nectar from early in the year for our insect life; draw water up through their taproots so that neighbouring plants may benefit and they grow anywhere without our help, thanks to their ‘dandelion clock’ seed heads, beloved by children who blow them while counting the hours – or they did when I was young.  The plant has been used medicinally, its leaves may be eaten in salads or boiled as a vegetable (apparently) and who hasn’t enjoyed a refreshing glass of fizzy dandelion & burdock?  In short, a dandelion is a cheery, useful, low-maintenance plant.  So there!

runner beans planted apr20 (500x338) (2)

The runner beans have been hardened off and are now planted – only two germinated (note the dandelions!).  It’s a little early to plant out the beans but with all this toiling in the fields, I’m getting a bit too eager!

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I’ve also neatened the lawn edges, straightening the edge of David’s alpine garden while I was about it.

How pleasing it is to look down from the bedroom window and admire my handiwork!

lawn edging3 apr20 (375x500) (2)

The first perennial cornflower (centaurea montana Sweet Sultan) has appeared in the courtyard border . . .

centaurea montana Sweet Sultan apr20 (500x422) (3)

. . . and the Little Beauty tulips are flowering in the long border.

tulipa Little Beauty apr20 (500x332) (2)

I’ve spotted the first of the half-dozen or so dainty little yellow Honky Tonk tulips in the woodland garden but they are hard to find and I no sooner see one than I lose track of it, probably because this area is so wild and woolly but I’ve no intention of licking the woodland into the same shape as the lawn!

tylipa Honky Tonk2 apr20 (500x332)

I am perfectly happy with my meandering stream of grape hyacinths (muscari) whose blue ‘grapes’ arrive with the daffodils, following the snowdrops and crocuses and preceding the bluebells and cow parsley.

grape hyacinths in woodland apr20 (500x332) (2)

But how is this for a river of muscari?  My son forwarded this ‘river’ in the Keukenhof Gardens in the Netherlands from a facebook page.

muscari river apr20 (358x500)

And while on the subject of muscari, my sister sent a photo to show that the pale blue ones I gave her last year are thriving in her patch . . .

 

. . . just as mine are in a pot; they are less robust than the usual bright blue ones but we like them for their rarity value!