Things I quite like at the moment

Iris Provencal with I Katie Koo in the background
Iris Provencal with I Katie Koo in the background

Apart from magpies, moles, squirrels, capsid bugs, chlorosis and various fungal blights and diseases.

The magpies are stealing the chicken eggs. One or other of a pair hop up to the little ramp into the chicken house, cock one eye towards the opening,  if there’s an egg it’s in and gashing at it to empty it enough to get it away to a place of safety to finish it off.

Luckily it’s raining at the moment and the chickens are in the hen house, but I can hear the magpies chakking and skreaking close by, just watching, (as are the jackdaws and less often the rather magnificent Carrion Crows). Is someone molesting the Goldcrest nest (magpie/squirrel)? I’ve found mossy nest remnants over the last two weeks under the tree they are active in.

The mole is running rings round plants and dehydrating them. On the River Dart in Devon last week a dead mole gently floated by,  its large white paddle paws raised to the sky.

I’ve enjoyed a number of the iris for the first time this year, I bought some a while back which languished in pots during the move. Madame Chereau has been good value, the white flowers have strong blue plicate edges and are smaller than “normal”, held on elegant candelabra. She’s been in flower for a good few weeks, just coming to an end now. Nassak has pale blue standards and white falls with blue plicate markings, it is beautifully scented like English Cottage, and like EC was toppled by heavy rain. Katie Koo is a smaller I germanica, earlier flowering with purple-blue flowers, a good sturdy do’er and strongly scented. The picture above shows Provencal which along with Patina will be relocated to the south facing garden, with their odd colouring they don’t fit in the cream/blue getting more pinky mauve (oh no!) border. Ya gotta be disciplined with this colour scheme thing,  it ain’t happening for me yet. Iris suppliers Woottens and Cayeux

Allium schubertii with Carex buchananii
Allium schubertii with Carex buchananii
Thalictrum Elin with Pimpinella major Rosea
Pimpinella major Rosea with foliage of Thalictrum Elin
Clematis Lasurstern with elder
Clematis Lasurstern and a dark leaved elder
Allium christophii viola Louisa
Allium christophii with viola Louisa

I like this mad explosion of the allium with the swirling Carex. The pinky russet tones complement each other.

Bees like alliums too.





This picture doesn’t capture the metallic glaucous gorgeousness of Thalictrum Elin’s foliage (the flowerheads are another few feet up in the air). The pointillist panicles of the pimpinella airily float around it. The pimpinella flowers are a light crushed blueberry and cream sort of pink.




This clematis had been left by the previous owner on a south facing wall and I relocated it. I’m guessing it’s Lasurstern which is described as having dinner plate sized flowers. I’ll keep the elder clipped fairly tight, this year it caught up with the clematis. Later on Morning Glory Heavenly Blue will become intertwined for a late summer/autumn contrast show (slugs permitting).


Who’d have thought these starry alliums would have a sweet scent? Weeding has its bonuses when you get down and personal with the soil. Viola Louisa from Elizabeth McGregor’s nursery is also a good do’er, long flowering and scented. Rosa Chapeau de Napoleon is struggling to get a look in in the mix at the moment, the crested buds are in the middle of the picture.

Written in March (really)

frosty-morningSmall clouds are sailing,
Blue sky prevailing;
The rain is over and gone!

From Written in March, William Wordsworth, 1802

Sadly the rain hasn’t gone, but here we are, it’s March! Yesterday dawned frosty, sparkly and sunny. Today grey and windy, another dose of rain is on the way.

Yesterday everything had that extra glamour spring sun brings,  flickers of soft sheened rooks and crows lazily taking off and landing as they poked about in the fields. The calling of Buzzards as they wound higher and higher in the warming air. And in the conservatory it got to 31C, huge temperature swings, the Eryngium ebracteatum has started to germinate but it’s not a great environment for seedlings with these swings.

Outside Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’ is still pumping out scent from pale pink flowers. Pink new growth the colour of young rhubarb and the buds on the Paeonia rockii look horribly vulnerable, yesterday bowed down to the ground by the frost, today perky but wind battered.

Some of the seeds sown a couple of weeks ago in the unheated greenhouse are already up, and all the sweetpeas are now showing. Some of the umbel seedlings outside particularly Laser Trilobum are coming up now too. A shy and retiring umbel from Marina Christopher at Phoenix Plants, Jellito lists seeds, apparently it’s called Horse Caraway (horse in a plant name normally denoting it’s not worth much), but apparently it possesses some sort of beneficial essential oil.

The Sparrowhawk is active, last week it came round a low hedge a foot away from me at waist height, then up and over the lean-to shed homing in with speed and stealth on the bird feeders. Sometimes it sits in the bird feeder tree just looking around. Yesterday while I was out it had struck lucky I think,  I came back to a scattering of fresh small black feathers on the lawn, not sure who bought it yesterday!

scoot-housemk2The mole has been horribly busy working the ground we moved the chickens off, running just under the surface lifting the chicken grazed turf in lines, loops and dead ends. It’s odd to think that pesky little creature can heave it’s way so easily through such packed earth.

This is Scoot House Mark 2 it’s just missing a flag on a wavy pole. As the new chickens don’t care much for nest boxes and prefer to make nests by tearing up newspaper and rearranging the wood shavings, its just flat inside. The idea is that we can move them round the garden more easily whilst keeping the electric fence on. The fox (or a fox) still shows up sporadically on the wildlife cam.

I’ve just looked up the Wordsworth poem after I wrote the above – this website quotes from Dorothy Wordsworth’s journal. Apparently the poem was written on Good Friday, 16th April 1802 (not March) as William and Dorothy walked from Ullswater to Ambleside over Kirkstone pass…

“The view above Ambleside very beautiful. There we sate, and looked down on the green vale. We watched the crows at a little distance from us become white as silver, as they flew in the sunshine; and, when they went still farther, they looked like shapes of water passing over the green fields.”

Some things change little.

Feeling the lows

Chrysosplenium macrophyllum
Chrysosplenium macrophyllum

Feeble old continental high can’t push out the Atlantic lows, rain, gales, rain, more rain and guess what more rain = flooding. I saw the sun and a snippet of blue sky about an hour ago and now more driving rain. The groundwater is way up to the top of the holes we bored in the ground.  I feel very sorry for people who have been flooded by both sea and fresh water. On a sort of plus side the temperatures aren’t too bad.

The wildlife cam has confirmed the fox is still around. I also saw what looked like landing prints in the mud by the stream. At the moment we only catch him or her on camera at night. The chickens are still behind electric fencing, sadly the free ranging days are over.  These chickens seem to graze more than the previous lot and the grass is getting bald on the main patch. We’re looking at building a house on wheels (a scoot house) we can move around the garden.  The garden is in better shape though. Gawky chicken got out last week and wreaked a trail of destruction Bergenia ciliata took a battering and is a shadow of its former self.

And although its somewhat early,  the mild weather is bringing plants on and I’ve made a start on clearing and mulching the main borders. I may yet be rewarded for my efforts  with a cold snap.

The bullfinches all tricked out in fresh attire have been dominating the seed feeder fighting the tits various off for over a week. The Long Tailed tits seem to prefer peanuts anyway as does the Spotted Woodpecker. A Blackcap has been grazing on honeysuckle berries.

Poking around in the woodbed, Hellebores various are out or lifting their heads including H purpurascens and I was surprised by the posies of the Chrysosplenium’s flowers, very dainty (from Pan Global Plants).

An expensive Christmas dinner

Greedy Beak or Queenie
Greedy Beak or Queenie

The sorry tale started on Monday. I’d dropped piece of clothing from the washing line which was out on the lawn overnight,  in the morning  I retrieved it and went to open the chickens up and noticed a strong foxy smell. The piece of clothing also had a muddy pawprint on it and a stench of fox. Finally we had been found out,  12 months fox free, but no more.

The old Black Rock


Yesterday battling the outcome of the torrential rain we ran out of time and tried our best to shore up the chickens as we were away overnight. Today we came back at 1:00PM to puffs of feathers scattered down the garden. As we approached the henhouse there was a lone worble. Percy the witless had somehow survived. Wibble the old Black Rock and the two Speckledys are no more. This appeared not to be a wanton destruction but a take and stash somewhere. We know the culprit,  the wildlife cam picked foxy up at 2:00AM this morning then at 5:00AM,  at 6:10AM something triggered the camera but the slaughter wasn’t captured. Poor chicky girls.

Hanging by a thread

Thunbergia shoot hanging by a spider thread
Thunbergia shoot hanging by a spider thread

This Thunbergia shoot suspended in mid air is supporting, or being supported by, an anchoring thread from a spiders web just outside the living room window.

Last weekend I went to tidy the garden of a house we’re selling. I haven’t been in the garden for a number of months. It’s been progressing through the summer unwatched and unnoted. The Buddlejas have come and gone. The un picked sweet peas are over. Rosa Eugénie Guinoiseau was a mass of browned and shriveled flower heads. Did the flowers ball in the hot weather or is she just bad at shucking off her petals as she fades – I can’t remember. Last year’s dahlias survived the winter in a fashion and the fig is starting to make itself known more emphatically. The water lily in a bucket, Texas Dawn,  is just hanging on as her quarters have become somewhat shaded and as yet I have nowhere to move her to.

Kiss me over the garden gate the first flower buds are at the top. Oddly it needs germinating in the cold in spring and then moving into warmth as the first seedlings appear.
Kiss me over the garden gate the first flower buds are at the top. Oddly it needs germinating in the cold in spring and then moving into warmth as the first seedlings appear.

Here the “Kiss me over the garden gate” (Polygonum orientale) is at least 10 feet tall and just starting to flower at the very top. The squash is romping up a tree. The heron may have visited in the week, one of the new and most active fish “Pyjamas” seems to be no more, and the other two fish are staying well out of sight. We saw the heron last week sitting on the electricity wires,  an odd sight to see this gawky bird perched so precariously. I’ve also heard it having a stand-off with a crow in the oak trees near the garden.

The new Chicky Girls,  two Speckledys and a Bluebell
The new Chicky Girls, two Speckledys and a Bluebell

One of the last two surviving Black Rock chicky girls died in front of me last week, (she was about 8 years old). She’d looked a bit wan for a couple of days. I found her wedged under the chicken hut with just her head out, she looked at me blearily, shuddered once and stilled, the first green bottle flies started to land.

Now we have three new ladies, two Speckledys and a Bluebell, both types apparently Maran x Rhode Island Reds. They’ve had a few contretemps with “Wibble”the old surviving Black Rock, it seems to be settling, and the Speckledy queen in waiting has already made herself known. Sadly the new trio also find my wood bed the most charming scratching, bathing and lounging area, I came home to rooted out and squashed plants yesterday evening.

I made plum jam last week from the abundance of Victoria Plums, but had to do a re-boil (tipping all the pots out into the pan), and as one allotment forum suggested, that was a pot worth lost of extra boiling that was needed.

I’m sorry to hark on about the compost issues I’ve had but it bugs me;

  1. I’ve wasted time and money
  2. I hate to see the plants looking so miserable
  3. Any newer gardeners would be thinking its their fault and be put off

I tipped out the poorest faring of the bad compost tomatoes yesterday, there was no root growth at all outside the original rootball that was put in (yes I did break up the compacted compost before I planted the tomato seedlings in May).

Futile search for glow worms

Eschscholzia Butter Bush
Eschscholzia Butter Bush

Well there’s no reason why there wouldn’t be any glow worms in the garden, or any reason why there would be.  They prefer chalk, we are near chalk,  and last year there were sightings along the canal a mile or so away at Seend and also on 6th July this year (UK Glow Worm sightings website). Last night I paced the weedy bits by the stream and poked into the nettley thickets as it grew dark, faithful cat plodding 10 paces behind – nothing. I did see a toad who was nearly stepped on,  once identified she rustled on her way in the dark. I heard the owls and odd plops in the stream.

Yesterday on my way to work just out of the village before Norney Bridge a little shape was dancing in the middle of the road, I slowed down, it zig-zagged back and forth in front of me then was off with a whisk of its black tipped tail, back into the hedgerow. A feisty Stoat. Which prompted me to look up some of the stories about the gangs of Stoats that can have the unaware traveller. So if you ever hear a mass chittering and a scrattling of tiny paws,  it’s the Stoats – run for your life. Fortean Times report

I had forgotten what summer could be like, hot, clammy and sunny – odd that. The flowers are blowing at an alarming rate, set seed, set seed is the clarion call. I’m inside until it cools down a bit. The windows are wide open and the heady scent of Honeysuckle (Lonicera Japonica Halliana) is wafting in on the warm air.

Courgette Lungo Bianco (pale green not quite white)
Courgette Lungo Bianco (pale green not quite white)

The tomatoes in one of the grow bag brands continue to sulk horribly. Outside in the old horse dung / turf bed the first courgettes are coming to fruition, Lungo Bianco from Seeds of Italy.

Today flower wise I am liking the Eschscholzia californica Butter Bush. Lower growing with more glaucous foliage than the Mission Bells I also grew from seed (which are flopping) and they’re a rich Jersey Cream colour (the picture at the top doesn’t really capture the colour).

I’m also liking the penstemons today,  Andenken an Frieidrich Hahn,  fine foliage and thin ruby bells, it’s not too overblown. The dahlias have also started into flower, the first was dwarf reddy purple Purpinca, a little cutie. The second was Tsuki Yorine Shisha (I think), I bought it last year from The National Dahlia Collection. The tubers were left over winter in an unheated greenhouse. It is a white cactus dahlia, the petal ends are split so it looks extra frilly and rather pleased with itself.

mullein-moth-caterpillarWho’s been eating my buddleja? A fine Mullein Moth caterpillar, so far it hasn’t caused much damage so I’ll leave it and any brethren alone for now. The butterflies at the moment are mainly brown one’s, I guess Meadow Browns, also a smattering of Tortoiseshells, Whites and a Skipper which moved way too fast to identify.

Have returned to this after an interruption, the chickens were ripping apart the woodbed AGAIN! They’re now confined to the back garden until I go out again – very bad chicky girls! (they actually produce a fine tilth with their rakings however the damage to plants somewhat outweighs this benefit).