Garden Watch Week Eleven

If I were to paint our garden at the moment, I know that my palette would be predominantly green. The intermittent showery weather is effectively watering the garden and producing a healthy, rich aspect. Full foliage gives a depth of colour with a range of light and dark shades. This is contrasted in places by the presence of rich reds and silvery, grey leaves. Amongst this abundant foliage, some fruits are lurking!

One of our newer ‘fruits’ is actually a nut; a cobnut to be precise. I had not come across this name until recently, as I had called them hazelnuts. It seems that they are one and the same thing but cobnuts is the name used for the nuts when they are sold fresh (not dried ones). Apparently, they were cultivated as far back as Tudor times and, later, were planted in large numbers by the Victorians. A natural and nutritious food, cobnuts are delicious fresh, eaten by themselves with a little salt, or in salads. Roasted nuts have a fuller flavour and can be used in many recipes from pasta to cakes. Filberts are a variety of cobnut but have a different husk which covers the fruit entirely.

Whatever the name, these nuts are very popular with squirrels so it won't be long before we see the grey squirrels busy collecting and hiding them around the garden ready for winter!

Our other fruits are still doing well (no blight on the pears – yet!). The courgettes have been abundant and are a regular feature in our meals, cooked in a variety of ways. They do not have much flavour when steamed or boiled, but are delicious roasted or fried in garlic butter!!

We were beginning to think there would be no tomatoes but the plants in the greenhouse are beginning to bear fruit at last. Sophie, our dog, has taken a liking to the plums but too many may not have a good result.

The magpie family is still visiting and the young seem to be beginning to find their own food. They still squabble like naughty children though.

We also seem to have our mole back. Heaps of dark soil are appearing round by the path. Not a welcome visitor!

Inevitably, the weeds are also abundant so there has had to be some work in the flowerbeds. The grass is growing even as we watch it seems. Still, it is good to be out in the fresh air and very rewarding to have a neat and tidy garden.

Garden Watch Week Ten

We have turned the corner into July and, typically, summer seems to have left us for a while. On the plus side, the garden has been enjoying the benefits of more rain and everything is growing profusely.

The flower beds are full of a variety of colours and the patio pots are blooming. Some things are beginning to go over but there is still beauty in the seed heads of plants like aliums and poppies.

The apple and plum trees are groaning with fruit to the extent that we worry that branches will break with the weight. I am not sure what kind of plums they are, but they are certainly prolific in number if not in variety name! Last year all our pears suffered from a black spot blight but this year, touch wood, they seem to be doing well.

A recent addition to our garden is an armillary sphere. This is a model of objects in the sky, consisting of a framework of rings centred on the earth. It is used, allegedly, to demonstrate the motion of the stars around the Earth. We haven't really fathomed out quite how it works but it is aesthetically pleasing and adds an interesting feature to the garden.

We haven't been seeing swallows or house-martins this year (see Countryfile July e─Ćition to distinguish swift/swallow/house-martin). Apparently, numbers have been declining over the past two years. Other people have also commented on the absence of these birds, particularly when they have been habitual visitors/residents to gardens before.

A night visitor to our garden until recently has been a hedgehog. Unfortunately our dog is fascinated by this poor creature and has been bringing it into the house. Needless to say, we return it to the garden and, surprisingly, neither dog or hedgehog seem to have suffered. The hedgehog does seem to have had enough though and has moved on.

There is still plenty to see in the garden and the promise of better weather will encourage us to venture out there again. Plenty of weeding needs to be done but on the bright side, we will, hopefully, be able to enjoy our evening aperitif in some more evening sunshine. Cheers!

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Garden Watch Week Nine

At last we have had some rain which has had a significant effect on the garden. We now have a green lawn once more!

Over the past week, we have been raided by dozens of thieves in the shape of jackdaws, magpies, pigeons and starlings all feasting on our cherries. We did have a fine crop of cherries, albeit smaller than usual, but nevertheless lovely and sweet. The foliage seemed to have suffered from the lack of rain but we have never had actual bunches of cherries before (like bunches of grapes ). The birds began stripping them out from the top but there were so many bunches less accessible lower down, that we managed to rescue several kilos. Today the tree is stripped bare. A final raid by starlings has left it cherryless!

We seem to have a lot of purple in the garden just now. The lavender has continued to fill out and is a deeper purple. Lavender is very popular as an ingredient in cosmetics and is supposed to have all kinds of benefits for the skin. It is also recommended to spray on your pillow to help you sleep.

The clematis which we were given a few years ago is thriving with large purple blooms and the patio pots are full of purple pansies. The colour purple is in fashion this summer so we have a very fashionable garden!

A family of magpies – parents and three young ones – are  noisily inhabiting the garden. They are particularly vociferous in the morning! They are loving the water features as a source of drinking water and for bathing.

It was interesting to watch the jackdaws pecking the poor worms out of the lawn after the rain. It obviously gave them a lovely breakfast but you had to feel sorry for the worms.

One of the benefits (?) of Lockdown is that the garden has been receiving far more attention than usual and, as a result, is looking very good. However, the shrubs and hedges that were recently trimmed already need a tidying up.

Many of you will be enjoying eating outdoors in the good weather. Barbecues are a good way to get together with friends and family while socially distanced. It would also seem that many gardens have sprouted new children's play equipment. Some gardens have actually been turned into a playground! It is good that children are able to be outside in the fresh air and lovely to hear the laughter from neighbouring gardens.

It is also lovely place to be able to sit and read or just soak up the sun while relaxing from chores and other demands on our time.

Fortunately, we have continued to have more beautiful mornings and summer evenings perfect for drinks outside. Whatever the size or shape of a garden, it is a great asset – an  extra outdoor room with lots of potential! Keep enjoying.

Gardenwatch  Week Eight

One thing about looking at your garden more closely is it makes you appreciate things more! Having started off with a brand new empty garden 34 years ago, it is amazing to see it in its maturity now. Everything in it (apart from the weeds!) has been planted by us but many things have been given as presents too. From a patch of brown earth, we now have lawns, bushes, trees (some huge!), flowers,  hedges and more.

There are memories attached to some of these plants, like the miniature rose in a pot which just keeps flowering. It was received as a birthday present a few years ago and its name is ‘love’. There are plenty more examples given by friends and family which have contributed to the beauty and character of the garden. Only last week, we acquired a lovely yellow canna, an escallonia and a tradescantia as gifts for a special birthday. It will be lovely to see them grow and remind us of a special day.

Many of our plants and trees (if they survived) are now well-established and are supplemented each year with bedding plants. We have an abundance of marigolds and antirrhinums. The peonies are beginning to go over but there is still plenty of colour out there and the foxgloves are even better! The lavender has now filled out and is keeping the bees busy too.

Potentially, we have a good crop of cherries coming but already the birds are stealing them at every opportunity. It is quite likely that this will be another year when we don't get to eat any ourselves! At least we have the promise of apples and pears for later in the year. Sadly, our fig tree has not done well and we love fresh figs. It may need to be relocated.

One surprising visitor yesterday on our patio was a beautiful baby greenfinch (I think that's what it was). It appeared by itself from nowhere, looking very pathetic and cheeping away. We were anxious that it might be attacked by a magpie or some other large bird. After some discussion, I went to pick it up so that we could then decide what to do. This presented a photo opportunity which was not to be missed. It posed beautifully, then after a few moments it flew off safely to a nearby tree. Hopefully it was rescued by its mother.

A very colourful caterpillar decided to hitch a ride on a jumper and ended up in the house. It was a bright yellow, hairy creature with large white spots down its back, not one I had seen before. Apparently the colour and markings are meant to make it seem poisonous to predators. Judging by the amount of nibbled foliage in our garden, there must be plenty more out there! It is amazing that caterpillars metamorphose into beautiful butterflies and moths. Butterflies used to be regarded as a symbol for the human soul in ancient times and in Christian tradition were a metaphor for being ‘born again’. Although I searched, I could not find this particular caterpillar but it seems likely that it is a moth caterpillar because of its hairiness.

Since last week we have a had a few showers but not the rain the garden needs. The lawn is looking decidedly parched. At least it doesn’t need much cutting at the moment and the buttercups and daisies are still surviving! Everything else is managing to flourish and the garden is looking very good.

We are already more than a week into June. The days are getting even longer, nights shorter but there is still plenty happening all the time. It is lovely that we can share our gardens  with family and friends now, even if there have to be rules about how we do this.

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Gardenwatch week seven

It is excellent news this week that we are allowed to go out more and meet up with friends and family in open spaces. Our gardens, I am sure, will be one of those places where families will come together. It is good then that many of us have been catching up with gardening tasks and improving the quality of our gardens.

Our garden is looking smarter after some ground works and alterations involving water features. We also have some new blasts of colour from the beautiful peonies- now in full bloom- and the foxgloves.

Foxgloves are interesting plants. They have lovely bell-like flowers and are very attractive to bees. Because they grow so tall, they look like colourful fireworks exploding. Foxgloves come from the genus ‘digitalis'. Their scientific name means ‘fingerlike' which refers to the fact that a flower can be fitted over a fingertip.

The first plant was recorded in 1542 by Leonhard Fuchs. Fuchs is the German word for fox so this together with ‘digitalis' gave it the common name of foxglove. Digitalis is used in drug preparations (digoxin) which is used to treat heart conditions and control the heart rate. So it is not only an attractive plant but very useful!

Some new visitors to the garden are a pair of chaffinches and some starlings. The male chaffinch has nice pinkish underparts whereas the female is a drabber brown. You often see large flocks of starlings in the evening before roosting. They have a musical whistling sound but can also imitate the songs of other birds.

We have been amused by the antics of the magpie and jackdaws on the bird-feeder. They are too heavy to sit on it but have come up with the solution of either balancing on a nearby branch and sweeping the seed to the floor with their wings or by performing some amazing acrobatic moves to access the feeder itself. My attempts to record this with my camera have failed miserably but I will keep trying!

A rather surprising visitor last week was a mole. They don't usually surface and we haven't any molehills just now. Check ‘Countryfile'- June issue- for some surprising facts about moles!

Although we don't have a vegetable patch, we do grow tomato plants in the greenhouse and courgettes outside. Both these are doing well with the help of much watering. Fortunately, one of our household seems to find watering the garden a very therapeutic pastime!

A surprise just now was a spotted woodpecker heading straight for the patio doors. It veered off at the last minute otherwise it would have joined me in the kitchen!

May has had the most sunshine hours since records began. This wonderful weather is continuing for now and we, like many others, look forward to welcoming some family and friends into our garden this week. It is strange that this garden space has become so important over the past weeks and can now be used to meet others, but socially distanced of course. At least I won't have to worry about doing the dusting before our visitors arrive!

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Gardenwatch week six

After an overnight shower, the garden is not looking very refreshed. The continued good weather and high temperatures have been lovely for us, but the garden is beginning to look in definite need of some rain. The lawn is continuing to grow but since its recent cut, it is developing brown, parched patches. The daisies, however, have put in a return appearance!!

There seem to be a lot of hungry creatures out there as many of the plants and trees show signs of  being eaten. It is difficult to know what is causing this in many cases. Slugs and caterpillars can eat their way through significant amounts of foliage and petals but it is easy to recognise where they have feasted.

It is interesting if you look at the backs of leaves to see what is lurking there. I found what looked like a cross between a large mosquito and a crane fly (or flying daddy long legs to use its familiar name). It would appear to be a limonia which is one of the crane fly family (known as tupilids). It can be recognised by the fact it folds its wings along its body unlike other crane flies that hold them open. Crane flies can be quite disconcerting if they blunder into the house but they are quite harmless. In fact, their main purpose in life is to mate and reproduce. Sadly they only live for 10-15 days.

In contrast to this harmless creature is the rather nasty horsefly. Its bite can result in a very painful lump. They are very stealthy and light so that you are not aware of them landing on you until they have taken a bite.

There are, of course, literally hundreds (thousands??) of insects and bugs in our gardens. Many hide themselves under stones or on the underside of leaves. It is always interesting to lift a stone or old piece of wood and see what lies beneath.

Our bird population is still variable. A few blue tits have appeared and some house sparrows are making regular visits to the bird feeder. We had four very large jackdaws out looking for worms this morning after the rain, strutting around arrogantly. Our song thrush is still around with its mate and we have some very noisy pigeons flapping away in the trees!

The poppies have taken a battering today in the wind and we have a scattering of large, red petals across the lawn. They are beautiful flowers but, unfortunately, only short-lived. However, their seed heads are very attractive in their own way after the petals have gone .

The pot plants are beginning to fill out and we have some tomato seedlings which are doing well. Everything needs to be watered daily now to make sure they will survive.

It is beginning to feel as though we are moving towards Summer but it is still only May. The weather has been so good but this is England and a Bank Holiday is looming. Rain would be welcome for the gardens and we often have a wet weekend when we don't want it! This Bank Holiday will be another strange one so who knows what will happen?? Whatever the weather, hopefully most of you will enjoy your weekend, particularly since it is now possible to go out as long as rules are adhered to. There will still be many for whom the garden is still their only outdoor escape from the house, so let’s hope it is a dry one  for their sake.

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Gardenwatch week Five

Over the past week we have had a light frost on a few mornings. This has meant some beautiful, sunny starts to the day but also, sadly, some plant damage. The cooler weather also seems to have delayed the flowering of some plants.

As predicted, the poppies are now literally popping out! They are fascinating to watch if you can catch them when the bud case splits. As the flower unfolds, the case looks like a hat perched on the top. Sometimes, if you are lucky, you will see the final twitch as the last remnant of the case falls to the floor. This year some of the poppies seem to look more crinkled, as if in need of an ironing! They are always a beautiful addition to the garden with their vivid red.

We have noticed a few loud knocking noises on the windows some evenings. These are usually May bugs which, while looking quite intimidating, are really harmless. Their real name is a cockchafer meaning big beetle! They are big too, 2.5-3 cm long. May bugs can appear in April if the weather is warm but adults only live for 5-6 weeks.

Another resident in our garden who has put in an appearance is a common toad. These are brown and warty so not the most attractive creatures. Toads walk rather than hop and live in shallow furrows away from water, except when mating. They can secrete an irritant substance from the skin to deter predators. Our toad was disturbed during a weeding session and brought to me by my husband with great delight! He is now safely back in his habitat where he will, hopefully continue to live (lifespan 10-12 years!).

We still don't seem to be getting as many birds as we would expect by now. We have even bought some seed for the bird feeders but not had many customers. I wonder if this is the same elsewhere? A pair of blackbirds appear to have built a nest in our garage and can be seen flying in and out of there. We now have to make sure the door at the back is left open to allow them continued access! It is interesting that the male blackbird is very black but the female is a browny colour.

We did have a song thrush serenading us (or perhaps its mate!) for 15 minutes or so the other evening while we enjoyed drinks in the garden. It produces a beautiful range of very joyful notes. A real privilege to hear this.

The foxgloves are continuing to grow taller but, so far, have not produced their firework display of flowers. The peonies, too, seem to be biding their time.

The grass is now growing enthusiastically and the daisies appearing optimistically. Sadly their lives will soon be cut short by the mower so best to appreciate their dainty presence while we can.

The forecast for the next week is looking good with warm, dry days. This may mean more watering for the plants but also the chance to be out there in the garden just enjoying it. I hope you are all making the most of your gardens too.

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Gardenwatch Week Four

There would appear to be much activity going on in gardens everywhere during this lockdown. With time to spare, good weather and the opportunity to purchase plants, many people are directing their energy into improving their gardens. Our own garden has been subjected to a lot of overdue maintenance as well as some changes. Our very old gazebo that was mostly held up by an equally old honeysuckle plant, has been dismantled and a new shrubbery is being constructed in its place. This has opened up an area of the garden but, sadly, at the expense of some mature, established  plants.

The aliums are now in flower with their delicate pom-pom heads and, nearby, the peonies are poised to burst open. The poppies are also bearing big, fat buds and are growing taller by the day. The hosta bed is filling up with several different varieties, all with beautiful full leaves. Hostas like the shade so are also thriving in pots where there is little sun. Later, many of them will also produce attractive flowers on tall stems.

Unfortunately, slugs also like hostas so steps have to be taken to protect them. Slugs are from the snail family but without the shells. Last week I showed a picture of some fine snails climbing a wall. They are interesting creatures known as gastropods because their locomotive organ is their abdomen. Their name is sometimes used in a derogatory way. We talk about ‘snail mail ‘ as opposed to faster email. ‘Snails pace’ is used for something slow and inefficient and, in Christian culture, the snail has been used as a symbol of sloth. However, some particular types of snail are used in the manufacture of cosmetics to reduce the appearance of wrinkles and scars so do have their uses! Perhaps, rather surprisingly, slugs are at an advantage not having a shell, as they can hide more easily from predators.

We don't seem to have many varieties of birds visiting yet. The occasional jackdaw appears (looks like a crow but with a grey cap). We used to have them building nests in our chimney until we put a cowl over the top. They seem to have relocated elsewhere now! Magpies visit the garden regularly. These are magnificent looking birds but will frighten off smaller birds and sometimes attack nests. We have also seen a couple of goldfinches (red face with yellow and black wing bars). They are very pretty. A flock of goldfinches is called a ‘charm'. Our first house martin also put in an appearance this evening.

The bees are increasing in number and are being very industrious around the ceanothus. The air is often full of gnats in the evening. The term gnat is used for tiny flying creatures and includes black fly and biting midges. It seems that some people are particularly attractive to biting midges!

By next week, we are hoping to see more flowers appearing. Apart from the poppies, the foxgloves in the hosta bed are already demonstrating their rocket-type growth and will burst into beautiful flowers later.

With this unusual spell of warm weather in April, I would be interested to know if anyone else has noted changes in timings of plants or bird arrivals.

Meanwhile, I will continue to keep an eye on all creatures great and small that either live in or visit our garden.

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Gardenwatch Week Three

As I write this, we are having our first wet day for some time. April has been a beautiful month weather wise and it has helped to keep our spirits up in this difficult time. The garden is continuing to grow and this dose of rain is very welcome for the plants.

Since last week, the trees have filled out and are now fully clothed with their different foliage. There are many variations of green and leaf shapes which distinguish each species.

More shrubs have come into flower. The lilac blossom is emerging slowly, likewise the ceanothus. We have two ceanothus bushes – one has light  blue flowers and the other is a really rich blue (see the photograph!). Both are very attractive to bees and in the next few weeks will be buzzing with them.

The ferns are unfurling their leaves and there are big fat buds on the peonies. The alliums have seemed to spring from nowhere but are not yet in flower. The poppies are growing by the day but are also still only fat buds. They are all on their way!

Bees are beginning to appear slowly, particularly bumble bees at the moment. Did you know that there are 250 species of bee in the U.K.? We mostly see honey bees (slim, sandy thorax and black abdomen with golden/amber bands) and bumble bees. Even the large bumble bee with its very distinctive furry body has 24 different species! The most common ones are the tree bumble bee, red tailed or white tailed and the common carder bee. This last one is quite small with brownish colouring and no white tail. Bumble bees are splendid looking creatures and are really quite harmless as long as they are allowed to get on with their job of pollinating the flowers.

We have had some new visitors from the bird kingdom. A green woodpecker has been busy grubbing in the lawn and we will probably be seeing the black and white spotted one too. Other birds have been busying themselves collecting materials for nests. A beautiful song thrush has been putting in an appearance, making use of our water feature and singing to us from the hedges. The thrush is easily recognised by its speckled breast. We also now have a pair of very friendly robins hopping around the place.

Another addition is the brimstone butterfly. This is a yellow butterfly which can be bright, rich yellow (male) or very pale yellow (female).

We have heard our first cuckoo and, although they do not visit our garden, we have buzzards circling lazily overhead, riding the thermals.

There is never a dull moment out there and it is still only April. We have even more to look forward to over the coming weeks. Keep watching and do, please, share what you can see in your gardens.

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Gardenwatch Week Two

There are already many changes happening in our gardens. The beautiful spell of warm weather has encouraged more blossoms and the new green leaves are unfurling. What were bare silhouettes are now clothed in all shades of green.

In our garden, the cherry blossom seemed to explode overnight and has produced luscious, full white blossoms. This looks beautiful against the blue sky. Hopefully, this may mean a good crop of cherries, although the birds often benefit from these rather than us!

Everywhere is looking greener and we are having more visitors to the garden, including birds and butterflies.

One of our prettiest birds is the blue-tit. This is very distinctive with its blue cap, wings and tail. This is sometimes confused with the  great tit which has a black cap, greenish upperparts and yellow underparts. It is larger than the blue-tit, hence its name. Both birds are frequent visitors, particularly if there is a bird feeder around.

Our water feature has already become a bathing pool for the blackbirds and pigeons. The blackbirds, in particular, seem to enjoy ducking their heads under the showering water!

Butterflies, too, have been appearing over the week. So far we have seen the small tortoise shell (reddish orange with black and yellow markings on forewings and ring of blue spots around edge of wings), holly blue (pretty small, blue butterfly), orange tip (white with bold orange patches on forewings – males only) and the common cabbage white.

Butterflies love flowers with nectar such as buddleia, daisies, forget-me-nots, lavender and primroses.

There is an increasing level of bird song, now throughout the day, and the hum of bees discovering the budding flowers.

The camelias are looking lovely and the lilac has miniature sprays emerging. Lots is happening!

Over the coming week I will be looking out for more new arrivals in our garden. There is always plenty to see and enjoy. I hope you are all keeping watch too and will be sharing what you can see.

N.B. Don't forget you can check out birds, butterflies etc on the internet if you don't know what they are.



Garden Watch

Since we are all having to spend more time in our homes and gardens, this is a good time to take a closer look out there.

The Spring flowers are already beginning to die back but will soon be replaced with our later garden flowers and shrubs. The blossom is coming  in waves-plum, apple, cherry and pear will all arrive over the coming weeks. Magnolias in their different varieties provide stunning flowers.

We have many residents in our gardens in the shape of birds, insects, animals and mini-beasts.

Some birds have been with us throughout the Winter, others will be joining us later as the weather warms. Sparrows, although not our most attractive birds, fill the garden with their cheerful chirping. Robins have been with us and the dainty Jenny wren hopping about. Blackbirds are becoming particularly vocal again and seem to enjoy serenading us from their treetop or chimney-pot perches. Pigeons are evident in town or countryside, often in pairs at this time of year. Their courting antics can be very amusing! Other birds are exhibiting similar behaviour while looking for a mate.

You will also hear a variety of bird song both in the morning and the evening. The dawn chorus is beginning to increase in volume already.

Over the coming weeks, we will be looking at and identifying the range of wildlife we can see.

While they are at home, younger members of the family might like to start their own GARDENWATCH diary to record what they see and, possibly, illustrate it themselves. The grown-ups are also welcome to join in!

There is plenty to see out there and sometimes, there are surprises!

It would be lovely to hear about the things you can see in your gardens via the form below or email:

Tell us what you have seen . . .


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