Archive for the ‘Wild About Gardening’ Category
Catherine Burgess tells us about the bird life in her garden.
‘I have just woken up to a crisp and frosty early Decmber morning and had a stunning winter walk with the dog.
Just turning the corner on my return back to our end of terrace house I was greeted by an unfamiliar sound in the roadside cotoneaster.
In and amongst a mixed flock of redwing, mistle thrush and fieldfare were three waxwings.
I had been keeping my eye out as I had heard that flocks were moving westward. Waxwings are absolutely beautiful with silky smooth plumage – they are about the size of a small starling. When the weather turns cold in their wintering grounds of western and northern Europe there are literally too many birds outstripping the food supply, they head west – these irregular movements I’m told are called irruptions! Our gardens are a haven for hungry fruit eating waxwings. The wide range of plants we have selected for their winter berry colour are perfect – formal planting and landscaping around business parks often include swathes of cotoneaster or pyracantha – the planting isn’t often very inspiring but the flowers and berries are fantastic for wildlife. The best places to see waxwings are in fact supermarket car parks – the last waxwings I saw were at the M5 services in Exeter!
Some species of cotoneaster have escaped and pose a real threat in the countryside – so take care when selecting a plant for the garden – why not try planting rowan (ornamental varieties are great for wildlife) or a hawthorn – great winter colour and also fantastic for hungry thrushes and maybe you’ll be lucky enough to spot a waxwing on its travels. ‘
Find out more about Wildlife Gardening
Catherine Burgess talks about creating a wildflower patch:
Since last summer we’ve been trying to create a wildflower meadow. A meadow maybe a bit grand a term – wildflower patch is more appropriate for our 5 x 5 metre plot. So far we’ve succeeded in growing Oxeye daisies, Black knapweed, a single Devil’s bit scabious and lots of yarrow from the occasional seedhead collected locally on walks.
As the grass is still quite dominant we thought we’d try and establish some yellow rattle to take advantage of this little annual plant ‘ s ability to parasitize on grasses. We’re hoping that yellow rattle will reduce the grass in favour of wildflowers and have the added benefit of reduc ing the amount of grass cutting.
This weekend we raked and scarified the plot to create areas of bare ground on which to sow our seeds – about 50% bare ground is ideal . I must confess to being a bit worried about the timing as you would usually sow in late summer or autumn, not the first week of December! However, I have been told that this late sow is generally okay because what is important is that the seeds must experience 3 months of cold winter temperatures to break its dormancy. Yellow rattle can take up to three years to properly establish so it maybe a while until I find out whether our late sowing has worked.
Catherine Burgess talks about her visit to Rosemoor and their wildflower meadows:
‘I just thought I’d share some photos of the wildflower meadows that have been created at RHS Rosemoor near Torrington. We visited the gardens in late July during one of the only hot and sunny days of the school summer holidays. Rosemoor is not far from my parents and as my mother is an RHS member we make the most of her membership and visit with the children on a regular basis. This visit I was keen to see how the wildflower meadows were developing as every year they just get better and better. I think they were sown only fairly recently (within the last five years?), but despite this short-time scale they look absolutely stunning.
As the pictures show the meadows were full of knapweed and betony, with yellow rattle throughout. The rattle was making an obvious impact on suppressing the grass growth and benefiting the wildflowers. It was great to see and hear other visitors enjoying the meadows, which on a scorching July day was positively vibrating with the buzz and bustle of insect life and the murmurings of approval from visitors. It is great to see the RHS embracing ‘wild’ gardening and showing their expertise at both conservation and formal gardening to a really appreciative audience.
I’ve also posted a couple of pictures of my favourite themed gardens the ‘hot garden’ and the ‘cottage garden’ which were also looking fabulous.’
In Devon Wildlife Trust’s wildlife gardening blog Kath Burgess explains how to bring a little natural colour to your own green space…
This was our first year of our annual flower bed. We decided last year to give up on our small wildflower meadow because the soil had been so enriched by the previous owners activities – chickens, bonfires and general dumping ground, meant that none of our carefully sown perennial wildflowers thrived – but the grasses and nettles did! The area was also cast in shade for much of the day due to a large hedgerow oak - in hindsight not an ideal spot!
So we have now moved our own chickens onto the most shaded patch and have created an annual border in the sunnier spot. We cultivated the area in early spring and sowed seeds derived from annual wildflower seed mixes and seed carefully harvested in the wild with help from our children last summer.
The first flowers to appear and rapidly take over the border were the brilliantly pink corn cockle. Next year I’ll weed out more of these as they do tend to dominate, they are also the tallest and most prolific flower alongside the less invasive oxeye daisy. Second to show were cornflowers in shades of mauve, pink, white and blue, they germinated brilliantly, looked fantastic and don’t crowd out other plants. Also growing, but less frequent, are corn marigold, corn chamomile, rough poppy and a pink catchfly (we haven’t yet been able to identify this species – it certainly wasn’t in the seed mix!), a most attractive but singular plant in our busy border. We also sowed dwarf sunflowers, annual salvias and cosmos. Apart from the cosmos they have all appeared but are rather stunted. Now about to make an appearance is the delicate flowers of love in the mist but again a stunted form!
One of my favourites has been a variety of poppy called Ladybird which I discovered at last year’s Hampton Court flower show. It is a small poppy, at least in our garden it is, with a single black spot within each brilliant red petal – so not very taxing to name!
The annual seeds have been complimented with some plugs, teasel for the finches, borage, echium and bergamot for the insects. Too really enhance bee habitat I have planted a Hidcote lavender border to the bed. I grew these lavenders on from plugs and so I am hoping that this wet weather hasn’t hindered their establishment and fingers crossed they’ll flower next year.
I’d recommend growing an annual border as it is cheap to establish, requires minimal maintenance (pulling a few undesired plants), and will provide a continual source of seed and flower provided you collect and allow seeds to fall within an annual harrowed bed. It is fascinating to see which flowers pop up and discover which are the most popular with bees and other insects. I’ve also found the bed to be an endless source of cut flowers for the house.
Our annual flower bed is set to be a permanent feature in our garden and I’m looking forward to seeing how it develops.
For more gardening tips visit DWT’s Wildlife Gardening webpages
by Jessica Gowing, Cricklepit Garden Volunteer
It has been a busy few weeks leading up to Christmas!
Saturday 3 December was DWT’s very first Christmas event at Cricklepit. I was a volunteer for the morning; handing out fun paper quizzes to do in the garden and helping children make pine cone bird feeders to hang on the Christmas tree in the middle of the labyrinth. The birds got a real treat after the large amount of food they received from everyone! I saw a lot of the action during the event – and it certainly got very busy at times with over 350 people attending! I hope everyone who attended enjoyed themselves.
There was a great selection of DWT cakes and Christmas cards on sale. I wish I had bought my DWT cards earlier this year as many of them were completely sold out! I really enjoyed helping out and preparing the quiz for the event so much I will definitely be involved in helping out with another quiz and future events!
My last task before I finish my placement has been focussed on creating a natural woodland glade in the garden towards the third wheel. In garden group this week we planted some bluebell bulbs purchased from St Bridgets Nurseries. I am really excited about seeing them pop up in the spring as they are so beautiful and one of my favourite flowers! I have some more ideas for other woodland plants and would like to add wild garlic, primroses, fox gloves and ferns to the area as well. I hear from recent sightings the Cricklepit otter is also fond of the woodland area!
I finish my placement at Devon Wildlife Trust next week, where I will be coordinating the last Cricklepit garden group of 2011 and finishing off the management plan for the garden. However I will definitely be continuing to volunteer in DWT’s garden because it is great work experience and fun to do!
Jessica Gowing, Cricklepit garden volunteer, writes about her last two weeks in the garden:
The weather has been very mild for November!! I am interested in learning about the effects of our mild autumn on wildlife and would like to get some ideas on how we can help our garden species cope with this and maybe design a few features for the garden.
In Garden Group last Wednesday we hard pruned the buddleia in the rain (which I found surprisingly satisfying), however looking across the leat I find myself missing the buddleia purely because of the attractiveness of them! I know next year, though, we can expect lots of wonderful new shoots of buddleia popping up in spring which will be very exciting! I am looking forward to seeing all the insects and butterflies frolicking on the flowers again in the sunshine!! Lets hope the frost doesn’t get to them over the winter. We cut up the larger buddleia branches and made a small covered habitat pile behind the cottage bed to encourage a home for frogs and other wildlife in the spring or maybe hedgehogs in the autumn… and made a brush pile with the rest next to the wormery/compost heap. The group also did another small task making a sand border around the ponds (to make it look nice – and to prevent anyone putting their foot in there!).
When the weather has been very wet I have been in the office compiling a plant photo ID of the habitat beds in the garden. There are five themed beds, which are coast, Culm grassland, woodland, moorland and cottage. I will start weeding them next week, but some of the beds will be more difficult because a lot of the plants look like weeds! I also noticed some big unripe strawberries in the cottage themed bed which means it really is a strangely mild autumn so far!
I have some ideas for the labyrinth too, and would like to prepare something exciting for the Christmas at Cricklepit event on Saturday 3rd December.
Read Jess’s blog next week for further updates on Cricklepit Garden.
Hello! I’m Jess and I have been very lucky to start an eight week work experience placement with Devon Wildlife Trust at their Cricklepit Mill HQ based near the Quay in Exeter. I am currently training with BTCV to receive my horticulture qualification and will be writing a weekly blog about my work at DWT.
My role is to maintain the garden and its features and come up with a management plan, and also to research new ideas for new wildlife features! I will also be coordinating the volunteer garden group (see below for details). Despite its urban setting the garden is a wildlife haven with otters, kingfishers, butterflies and dippers visiting regularly. I hope to develop more habitats to encourage other wildlife inhabitants to the garden. Some of the tasks I have lined up in the next few weeks are maintenance of the labyrinth, buddleia management, management plans for the woodland ‘island’, development of a garden trail and creation of more wildlife friendly features. I am passionate about conservation and preserving our wonderful wildlife so I am looking forward to getting stuck into this role. The idea of creating a range of habitats and wildlife features at Cricklepit is very exciting. The wildlife here is fascinating and maintaining the garden with the volunteers is going to be challenging but very rewarding!
Cricklepit Garden Group
If you would like to get involved in the Wednesday garden group at Cricklepit Mill click here for more information. The group always welcome new members; you don’t need to be a garden expert!
If like me, you’re slightly averse to those chilly winter temperatures, it’s during March that my mind finally lets go of winter and starts to welcome the approach of summer. I almost feel like I have the energy of the March hare, keen to get out and get busy in the garden.
Hopefully between the few remaining cold snaps, this month will see the air fill with all those familiar signs of spring that we all seem to have forgotten about since last year. For me it’s seeing lesser celandine and primroses appearing among Devon hedgebanks, and the glimpse of a bumble bee or red admiral butterfly, maybe even a hawthorn bud towards the end of the month if we’re lucky.
Frog spawn appeared in the pond last month, but I’m still awaiting the return of the toads which are always a couple of weeks behind. However before their return, and before their strings of toad spawn encircle pond plants, I’m going to use the warmer weather as encouragement to get my hands dirty and get my pond into shape. Apart from the usual removal of a few leaves, at the end of last year the marsh marigolds and water mint were starting to spread, so I’ve been meaning to reduce, providing the pond with a little bit more breathing space. Like many marginal plants the marsh marigolds can simply be divided by separating the root clump; you can even remove the plant completely and use a fork if it seems tough going. Keep the fresher looking specimens, discarding the remainder. Water mint tends to creep, so pull up a good proportion of the root stock from the area you’re working on. Once removed these root sections will also take again quite easily; these new plants may be transferred to any bare marginal patches or passed to neighbouring pond owners?
This month sees birds shift gear ready for the task of parenthood ahead. Magpies are often the first birds I see collecting nesting material and they seem to chatter amongst themselves with a bit more authority lately. You may have also heard the frolicking song of skylark if you’ve been out in the countryside. I’m going to be keeping my eye out for my gardening companion, the robin, who I’ve already seen twice popping back and forth into an old pile of pots. I’ve been meaning to plant those pots up for a couple of years, but at least I’ve got an excuse for leaving them alone for a while yet!
In order to give nesting birds a helping hand I’ve begun to add bits of moss, leaves and small twigs to the bird table. I’ve also left the brushings from a neighbour’s dog after a a grooming session. Dog hair will provide great nest insulation keeping eggs warm and safe!
If you have a greenhouse, covered stand or even a bit of space on the kitchen windowsill, you may want to consider sowing the seeds of less hardy annuals to make sure you get the most out of them through the summer months. Growing from seed can also be a great way to make your money go further. Annuals such as heliotrope, petunia and tobacco plant produce nectar rich flowers which are guaranteed to cause a buzz in your garden this summer!
Winter hit particularly early and hard this year, with December being the coldest since 1910. Periods of freezing temperatures, ice and frost can make life tough for the wildlife in your garden. However, there are a few things we can all do to help.
A prolonged cold spell may see a cover of ice form over the surface of your pond. It’s not essential to remove ice from ponds; the ice will insulate the water and any animals below, and aquatic plants will continue to provide oxygen (although you may need to brush off any deep snow to allow sunlight to penetrate). However, if you are concerned, you can create an opening by holding a pan of very hot water on the surface of the ice until it melts. Another option is to leave a ball floating in the pond overnight when a cold snap is forecast. Both these methods are preferable to smashing the ice, as this can send shock waves through the water harming the animals below.
During the cold weather birds flock towards villages, towns and cities which may be a degree or so higher than surrounding countryside. These visitors may include species not normally associated with residential areas, such as redpoll, brambling and yellowhammer. In addition to warmth, the birds will be seeking important sources of food and water, so keep an eye on any feeders and top them up as required. Food sources high in fat can be particular important through the winter (see December’s blog for recipes and instructions). Additionally, try to keep bird baths clear of ice and topped up with water. Not only do clean feathers mean better insulation, but birds and other animals will be able to take a much needed drink. Birds often become accustomed to their favourite feeding spots, and with a good supply of food and water you’re likely to attract some repeat visitors.
Another regular winter job is turning your compost heap. This lets oxygen into the pile and aids the decomposition process; however please remember that you may have lodgers in your heap attempting to sleep off the worst of the winter. If the weather is severe, spare a thought for those amphibians, reptiles and hedgehog and put off the task for another month or so.
Despite all the talk of wintery weather, signs that spring is on its way are starting to appear. Days are becoming longer, primroses are starting to pepper the hedgebanks and you may have seen your first clumps of frog spawn! Visit the Nature’s Calendar web site at www.naturescalendar.org.uk to track the signs of spring, and record who or what you’ve seen in your garden!