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Saturday, January 31, 2009

D'you think I'm overfeeding our birds?

Lol, no it's not a giant blue-tit, but a gift given to me by my husband and daughter a few years ago. I couldn't resist taking this photograph. :)

Well, apparently the U.K. is in for a 'big freeze' over the next few days and the way the weather has been of late, I don't think the 'weathermen' (oooooops, weatherpeople!) are telling porkies this time. It was dry and bright today so I spent a few hours in the garden, catching up on jobs that should have been done but couldn't get done because of the rain. It was great! I love it whe
n I can get outside and get on with things. I managed to get the rest of the rocks (from the wall I dismantled weeks ago) down to the bottom of the garden and I have to say, I sincerely hope that the person who invented the wheelbarrow was given a knighthood or something. I've borrowed our neighbour's and decided that a wheelbarrow is definitely a necessity!

The plants in the greenhouse were re-organised. It was supposed to make things more efficient, but there's less floorspace than ever now...... then again, I did pot up some more plants. I potted up some rhubarb and asparagus. Really they could just have been put straight into the garden, but ours are going into pots until they're big enough to withs
tand the onslaught of being trodden on by our three dogs!

The rest of the time was spent what I call pottering...... hoeing round the plants and filling up the bird feeders, etc., anything I can think of to do so I don't have to go back indoors. Alas, dusk arrived and I had no choice. I must follow up my husband's idea of getting a helmet with a lamp on it. :D

Peek-a-boo! Can't see me, can you!

Friday, January 30, 2009

Gardening in Babysteps ~ Part 1

Do you admire other peoples' gardens and think, "Aww, wish I could do that." Many people never try gardening because they think there is some special talent or mysterious magic needed to be able to grow beautiful flowers and vegetables. I can tell you now that no one need be excluded from gardening and the only magic needed is provided by Mother Nature herself. You will never know if you can grow things unless you try...... I expect even Alan Titchmarsh and Charlie Dimmock were beginners at some point in their lives. Alan didn't just step outdoors and grow the perfect border on his first attempt and I bet it took Charlie some time to get her first water feature just right! Anyway, come on..... time to give it a go. Rather than growing in the open garden, for a first attempt grow some seeds in a large container. There are plenty to choose from; perhaps a plain and simple one like this.
........ or an ornate one like this. You can choose any pot you want.... it's your garden and you are the designer.

Next you will need a bag of multipurpose potting compost which you can buy from garden centres and diy stores. Fill your container with the compost to within about two or three inches from the top and water gently so that it is just damp and not sodden. Using a watering can with the rose/sprinkler attachment will make it easier.

Now you want to think about which flowers you'd like to grow. Try something really easy first, seeds that will germinate readily and quickly. By trying something that needs more attention, you could be setting yourself up for possible disappointment.

Here's a pretty annual I would recommend. By 'annual' I mean that it is sown, flowers and dies all in one year. It wont appear again unless you plant more seeds the following Spring. The good thing about annuals is that they are so easy to grow, just what we want, and they put on a bright and colourful display. This one is called Nasturtium (pronounced nastursh-eeum). They come in shades of red, orange, peach and cream. The seeds are about the size of a pea so they are easy to plant. All you have to do is push the seed about half-an-inch (1.5cm) below the surface of the compost. In a container the size of the ones shown, you will be able to grow three nasturtium plants. Keep the soil damp and don't let it dry out. It's best to wait until the weather is brighter and warmer before planting your seeds. Mid to late Spring is best and you will see your 'baby' seedlings push their way through the soil in about fourteen to twenty-one days.

This is another annual called 'Love-in-a-Mist' or to give it its latin name, Nigella damascena. The blue-purple is gorgeous and there is another variety called Nigella Persian Jewells, the flowers being various shades of pink, lilac, blue and white. Very pretty. Follow the instructions I gave for the nasturtiums, filling your container with the compost and watering it just enough to make the compost damp. Nigella seeds are much smaller so instead of pushing them below the surface of the soil, just sprinkle them on the surface. You can mix a little silver sand in with your seeds to make it easier to see where they are being sown. That way you will get a more even sowing. All you have to do now is sprinkle a fine covering of compost over them and keep the compost damp as before. Your little Nigella seedlings will make an appearance in about eight to fifteen days. Put your pots of flowers in sun or part-shade and they will bring some welcome colour to your garden or patio all Summer long.

Other easy to grow annuals are Cosmos, Bells of Ireland, Larkspur, Sweet Pea and Marigold.

Finally, there are no rules when it comes to gardening. If you like a certain colour combination or the way certain plants look together, that is all that matters. Personally, I think Dandelions look great with Purple Honesty. :)

Sunday, January 25, 2009

My first seedlings of 2009.

From the trays of seeds I sowed on January 1st, only one is sporting newly germinated seedlings. This photograph was taken about a week ago, so it took them roughly 18 days to germinate. The seedlings are Sweet Alyssum, an annual that has many uses. It's mostly used for edging paths and borders and is also a good filler plant in containers and hanging baskets. It's not a showy plant but is wonderfully sweet-scented. I've often walked down the garden on a still Summer's day and wondered what the beautiful scent was that filled the air. Looking for something exotic, only the little alyssum was present. It's humble appearance belies its sweet perfume.


As usual I was being over optimistic in setting so many seeds away early in January. Although we have a paraffin heater in the greenhouse, it is only enough to keep it frost-free. It's still really cold, suited only to the hardiest of plants. However, perhaps February will see signs of life appear in the remaining seed trays.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

My garden box of memories.....

What do you do with all the little plant labels you get with the plants you buy? I'm not a hoarder so it's quite possibly some kind of idiosyncrasy, but I cannot throw them away. It would be like discarding a part of my friends! The plants I have collected over the years are special and I like to hold on to the labels. I keep them in the box you can see in the photo and every now and then, I enjoy sifting through them. There are all sorts in there. Just to list a few:
  • French Lavender
  • Lobelia
  • Geranium
  • Foxglove
  • Petunia
  • Aubretia
  • Primula
  • Pansy
  • Verbena
  • Thyme
Every one of these labels represents a lovely day out somewhere, either to the garden centre or to some well-known garden. Most of the plants are thriving in my garden, some I've given away and, unfortunately, some haven't survived. Well, I never said I was another Percy Thrower! But the labels remain to remind me of sunny days (and some not so sunny) pottering around shelves of plants, choosing which ones would be coming home with me.

A few I wouldn't be without.

This is Mimulus or Monkey Musk. It's an incredibly easy to grow perennial and will self-seed itself, though not invasively. When you look at the flower up close, it looks just like a small orchid. It grows to a height of about 8ins (20.5cm), in clumps producing many flowers. It's well-known for growing round ponds, but I have it growing in the borders and between rocks. Mimulus is also very easy to grow from seed.

Here's the Alpine Strawberry, another plant that is easily grown from seed. I have this growing in the wildlife part of our garden...... the mice and birds need something to eat, don't they! :) It is low-growing and spreads and looks pretty alongside the blue Speedwell. The tiny white flowers are adorable, as are the small jewel-like fruits. You could eat the little strawberries if you wanted to...... they're quite tasty, but tiny!

This plant literally caused me to gaze in awe when the first buds bloomed. It's the Fuchsia, 'Trailing Millenium'. Fuchsias are amongst my favourite flowers and if you've seen this one, you'll understand why. The sepals are a carmine pink and the corolla (the part we think of as the petals) is the darkest of purple. To look at it you would swear it was made of velvet. With a name like 'Trailing Millenium' you'll guess that it's ideal to grow in hanging baskets which is fabulous because you can then situate them somewhere at eye level and gaze at them for ages and ages! :D

Lamium 'Beacon Silver' is a member of the Nettle family but, don't worry, it doesn't sting. In fact, it's one of the prettiest plants you could ever have in your garden. The pink flowers contrast beautifully with the silver and mint green leaves. Not only that, but it flowers all the year round! Admitedly more profuse in the Spring, Summer and Autumn, but there are still a few flowers on our plant today in January. This hardy spreading plant seems able to grow anywhere. I have it in the borders in full sun and growing in semi-shade under a weeping Birch tree. It will also provide a welcome source of food for the bees in your garden.

Ah well, better tidy up and put all the labels back in their box...... wonder which ones will be joining them this year!

Monday, January 19, 2009

More Photos of Whitworth Hall, County Durham

This is part of the Woodland Glade. It's an absolute paradise for birds and other wildlife....... and pretty good for people too. :)

There's a photo of the old Water Wheel in my previous post. This is it taken from a different angle. What a gorgeous piece of Victorian machinery! There's a lovely atmosphere round about it as it's now clothed in all sorts of greenery, which makes it look even prettier.

This is the pet cemetery where household pets from the old manor were buried. It's a pleasant little corner and not at all scary like the one in Stephen King's novel!

This is the Hall itself. It's now a hotel and a popular venue for weddings. You can imagine the beautiful wedding photographs that are taken in the grounds.

Here he is, stag of the manor! Whitworth Hall keep herds of deer, some of which will feed from the hands of visitors, albeit timidly. Bags of special food can be bought for that purpose. I was lucky to be able to take this photo as the stag is very rarely seen.

These photographs were all taken last year and, as the Spring approaches, I'm so looking forward to more visits.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Whitworth Hall, County Durham, U.K.

One of the gardens my family likes to visit on a regular basis is at Whitworth Hall, County Durham. It's only a few miles from our house. Whitworth Hall was the family home of the Shafto family. Remember that old nursery rhyme:

Bobby Shafto's gone to sea,
Silver buckles on his knee;
He'll come back and marry me,
Bonny Bobby Shafto!
Well, this was Bonny Bobby's garden! :) Robert Shafto was a British Member of Parliament and was born at Whitworth in 1732. The house is no longer a stately home and is now a hotel. The extensive gardens are open to the public, where there is a beautiful walled garden. It once supplied all the fruit and vegetables for the family of the manor and it is still well-maintained, providing food for the hotel kitchens.

Beyond the house there is a woodland walk where you can see the old water wheel that used to generate electricity for the house in the 19th Century. Just over the wall is the private church where the family worshipped. It is still very much in service (excuse the pun!) and serves parishioners from nearby villages. Near the house there is even a small pet cemetery. It's quite moving to see the little crosses with the names of various budgies, cats and dogs that the family had over the years.

But it's the walled garden that I like best with its apple, peach and plum trees, grape vines and a wonderful variety of scented flowers such as roses, lavender and lilies.

Taken from inside the Walled Garden, looking out of one of the side gates.

The old water wheel in the woodland glade below the manor house.

The Gazebo with the house in the background.

Wouldn't you just love a greenhouse like this?! Inside the Walled Garden.

Whitworth Hall with its beautiful surroundings, is one of County Durham's jewels. I am so lucky to have it practically on my doorstep.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Hubby's custom-built greenhouse. :)

I spent about an hour today in the greenhouse potting on young plants, happily ignorant of the raging wind and next-door's wind chime! lol It might only be early January and while images of sunny days and lazing on the lawn might seem far away, this is a busy time for gardeners. A lot of my plants need potting on and baby plants that were set away in the Autumn are needing to be pricked out into their own pots. Even the Fuchsias, though still protected by a covering of shredded paper, are beginning to show signs of new growth. The greenhouse must be working!

It was during weather like this that our first greenhouse was blown down by the wind. I got up in the morning to find it strewn all round the garden. It wasn't a repair job...... but a bin job! Mind you, I have to say that it was a flimsy affair, but all we could afford at the time....... turned out to be false economy. I would advise anyone wanting a greenhouse to be patient and save for the best one you can get.

Anyway, not wanting to see me sad ('cos he's good like that), hubby built me a new one. He got some double-glazed windows from a builder who was gutting a house down the street and, though he's no expert diy man, I think he made a lovely job of it. It's certainly custom built. :)

From one side......

........ and from the other.

These photos were taken not long after it was built, at the end of last Summer. It's the best present I've ever had!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Thar's sumptin naaaaaasty in the potting shed!

Actually it's not nasty at all. :) These bottles once held my favourite wine, Mateus Rose (oh, is that advertising?!). Every fortnight the bottles go in the recycling bin, but I'd like to know what to do with the corks. No rude answers please!

I was thinking of carrying out an experiment by putting some at the bottom of the plant pots beneath the compost. Hopefully, they will absorb and hold water therefore cutting down on time spent watering. I'll let you know how well it works, if it works at all. Does anyone have any other ideas for possible uses?

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Who stole my crystal?!

In the garden, in full view of the sitting room, grows a Rowan tree (also known as Mountain Ash) on which I like to hang crystals. It's lovely to watch the sunlight reflecting off them...... and I find them more soothing than wind chimes. :)

A couple of months ago I noticed one of the crystals was missing and guessed that it had been blown down during some stormy weather we'd been having. However on searching for the crystal, it was nowhere to be found. Every so often I'd search that particular area diligently but still couldn't find it and, eventually, I gave it up as a mystery.

Yesterday, the mystery was solved...... I think. On dismantling our rock garden, I was amazed and delighted to find the crystal along with a collection of nuts (the metal kind), screws and biscuit wrappers! No way could the crystal have rolled there because this little batch of treasure was hidden right under where the wall of rocks had been.

We have lots of field mice in our garden and my hubby told me that mice are attracted to shiny objects and it would have been they who were responsible for 'stealing' my crystal and adding it to their stash of goodies! :)

I'm aware that certain birds, such as Magpies and Jackdaws, like to collect shiny items, but I had no idea that mice did likewise. Has anyone else heard of this happening?

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Oh no! I've just evicted a whole family!

Last June I was building a rock garden when I had a nasty accident, resulting in a crushed and broken finger..... it was horrible, there was blood and stuff hanging out my finger and..... ahem, yes well anyway, the job was abandoned and I couldn't even think about working with rocks in the garden for months. Hubby did his best to finish it for me and I was glad to let him take over the work but, I never did tell him until today, that I hadn't been entirely happy with it. (I know, I'm horrible!)

So, today the sun was shining, and I thought it was the perfect day to start dismantling the rocks, because I had plans on building it in another part of the garden. I really wish I hadn't. No, I didn't have another crush injury...... it was far worse than that! I discovered a family of frogs, all cosily huddled together where they must have been all Winter until I disturbed them. There was a great big fat one, the daddy I suppose, two medium sized ones and a very young one. I'd already torn down their shelter so much that I didn't think I could build it up safely enough for them again. What to do?! I decided to transport them to a safe part of the garden. I wasn't too happy at having to lift big daddy..... thank goodness he was sleepy with it being Winter! I put them in a cardboard box and put the box down at the bottom of the garden where there's an area we leave neglected, especially for sheltering creatures. There are lots of leaves and tree branches.....hopefully, the ideal place for a family of frogs. Opening the lid of the box, I pushed it under some branches and left them alone. I know they wont be very happy with being disturbed and I hope, by now, they will have got settled down again.

Having gardened as long as I have, I thought I was a sensible gardener but I learned today never to do major landscape jobs in the garden during the Winter in case the residents get disturbed from their hibernation. From now on I will leave well alone and jobs like this can wait till Spring.

Here's a froggy link. :)

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Day 1 ~ Setting off the seeds

Here they are, the first seed plantings of the year....... Alysum, Lobelia, Alchemilla mollis, Tomato (red cherry), Garlic Chives and Petunia. I also had Campanula but when I opened the packet, there was only a few seeds in it. The rest must have slipped through and are probably lying in a little pile at the bottom of the seed container.

I'm going to make an attempt at being methodical this year and keep a record of when they germinate, etc...... I was going to say 'when they hatch' because our cockateil is laying eggs and it's on my mind. lol

So anyway, this is Day 1, the setting away of the seeds. And here they are. :) (except for one other tray which is in another part of the greenhouse where I had to squeeze them in)