Six on Saturday: 4.7.20

It’s been a wet, grey week here on the North East Coast. I’ve not needed to do much watering all week, which is nice but it’s been too wet to do many other jobs. I’m working through clearing one corner of the garden ready for a second shed. Alice is reaching the age where she has lots of outdoor bits that need storage. So the second shed is just going to be a small one for some of her bits. The lilac has had a good prune this week and a few other things need pruning now they’ve flowered. I had some good news earlier in the week. We had entered a competition for Grow Your Own for Welfare Week and we heard back to say we have won £500 worth of vouchers for woodblocx. I think we’re going to use it for a bench with a planter built-in.

1. Sweet peas

I didn’t grow sweet peas last year as I was limited for seed growing with building work and I regretted it through the summer seeing everyone else’s photos. I got two types on the go back in February. One was a Johnson’s mixed bag, the others were air warden. They are a bit of a mess growing up the obelisk but lots of blooms are coming.

I’ve been able to start cutting for small vases inside.

2. Sutton’s Dwarf Broad Beans

The broad beans are coming along well in the veg patch and I should be able to start harvesting. They’ve been an easy grow with minimal fuss.

3. Sambucus racemosa ‘Sutherland Gold’

I’ve dug out a dogwood that hasn’t been doing much for a while. It didn’t quite fit with what was going on around it and the stems weren’t the most exciting for the winter interest they can give. To replace it I have got a Sambucus Racemosa. Bought from my local peat-free supplier it’s a bargain as they offer free delivery so I was able to restock on Dalefoot compost as well. I have a Sambucus nigra opposite and it has grown well. They offer nice foliage, pretty flowers and they are tolerant of my sea winds. This is going to be going between two Acers, ‘Osakazuki and ‘going green‘ and I think the colour will look good amongst the other two. It’s only small currently but they shoot up fast. I’m going to be planting up the undergrowth with some of the patio pots to clear it ready for the builders. So it will probably end up with a few hostas and heuchera surrounding it. Large rounded foliage to contrast against its jagged leaves.

4. Dahlia-charity purchase

This dahlia was for sale in a charity box outside someone’s house round the corner. It was labelled as pink dec. I don’t know any by that name but it’s a very nice vibrant colour.

The flowers seem to be more of a double variety without the open centre for wildlife like my favoured bishops but it is looking pretty on the patio where we can see it out of the window.

5. Fuschia-Trudi Davro

I took cuttings of this Fuschia a few months back. The parent plant suffered during drought but this one has gone onto flower quite happily. It’s a trailing Fuschia designed for hanging baskets or for the edge of large pots. I haven’t got anywhere in mind for it right now but it’s looking nice currently.

6. Hydrangea runaway bride

I’ve moved my two runaway brides into the pots either side of the front door. They were in pots on the patio but as mentioned the patio needs clearing ready for builders. The plants in these were looking a bit tired so I’ve moved the hydrangeas in. I reckon I’ll probably only be able to grow them on in these for a year or two but it’s a pretty addition to the step.

Unlike other hydrangeas, these were bred to flower along the stems so they can produce more flowers that many varieties.

Lots of work to get on with around the borders. The area the Sambucus is going into needs some work. The climbing roses need a bit of training in. They’ve flowered beautifully this year but need a bit of training to ensure they do again next year. I’m going to be trying to get the garden in order as much as I can before the builders return to minimise damage.

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Propagating heuchera

I had posted on Twitter to say my heuchera cuttings were coming along well and  I was asked how I had grown them. I started these a few months back and they are starting to root. Heuchera are super foliage plants and make up a good part of the permanent foliage tapestry in my front garden. The leaves are usually evergreen and normally manage to stay looking good through winter. They work well in pots on their own or as part of pot displays. However, after a few years, they can get a bit woody and leggy so it is useful to keep a supply on the way as it can be costly to replace some varieties. Heuchera are also vulnerable to vine weevil. So if your plants are attacked it can be a way to provide insurance for their survival.

1. Propagate by division

The easiest way has to be by division. If you have a nice big clump that has been growing a few years you can dig around it and lever it out. Then slice the root ball into several parts. I favour doing this in spring so the divided plants have time to put down roots before the next winter. Once you’ve dug out a section you can either dig the divided parts back in around the border or grow them on in pots. Either way, I aim to keep the root ball slightly above the soil surface to avoid rotting. I generally divide leaving a big section in the space it came out of and then pot up the smaller sections in pots. This way I can make sure they remain moist while they put on roots. I like to water in trays so the soil gets to soak up the water but without getting waterlogged. This is probably one of the easiest and most reliable methods for dividing but you will only get a few extra plants a year. So it is quite slow. For most people, this won’t be an issue as you probably only want a small number of extra or ones to replace leggy ones.

I divided this heuchera marmalade in early spring. It had claimed a good section of the border and I wanted to clear the space for another plant. Rather than waste it, I divided it leaving a section of the heuchera in the border.

Then the divided section has been grown in a pot where I can keep an eye on it to ensure it isn’t drying out while it forms roots.

2. Propagate by seed

If you are looking for a mass of heuchera you can grow from seed. You can get hold of seed either by collecting seed from your plants or you can buy seed. If you collect seed they generally won’t come true from seed, so the offspring may not look like the parent. Palace purple is one of the exceptions that I have found self-seeds from time to time. If you want to buy seeds Chiltern Seeds offer a few varieties in several colours and I’ve generally found reliable. To grow the seed they need a free-draining seed mix. The seeds themselves just need to go on the surface, a light watering and then a tray lid on. They normally take around 10 days to germinate. If they don’t you can place them into a colder space for 4-6 weeks before returning to warmth. While it may take a year or so to get plants up to size this gives you the option to grow a large number of plants. However, there isn’t the selection of buying from a nursery.

3. Propagate by cuttings

I have been growing my heuchera cuttings in a really useful box. I mixed a compost using a peat-free multipurpose, a little bit of grit, and some perlite to help water retention. The compost mix goes in the bottom of the tub and the lid seals in the moisture. I watered before taking cuttings so the cuttings were going into moist but not waterlogged compost. I took cuttings in spring. Some sources recommend autumn after flowering. However, I prefer spring as the cuttings then have the warmer period of the year to put on roots. I only take cuttings from plants that have plenty of growth on that can spare a few stems. I take cuttings from the younger growth choosing smaller leaves. These won’t lose as much water and the juvenile growth seems to root better. I make holes in the compost mix with a small skewer. The cuttings are dipped into rooting powder and then placed into the holes. I try to position them almost on the soil. Leaving just a small gap so they aren’t resting on the compost to avoid rotting. The box lid can go on and then the box needs to go somewhere shaded. This went under my plant display table and has been left there for a few months. Every so often I’ve lifted the lid just to check they are ok and removed the ones which have shrivelled. The majority of the cuttings seem to have taken and I can see roots three months on. These will be grown on until I can either see they have a decent root structure or that they are putting on new growth.

I hope that’s helpful to those of you who asked. Heuchera are great foliage plants. As I said already, they are great for pots and for winter interest. They work well in shade and are great for wildlife. There is lots to like about them and they come in a whole kaleidoscope of colours. If you are looking to buy some I would wholeheartedly recommend Plantsagogo. Vicky and Richard offer an amazing range and they hold the National Collections for heuchera, heucheralla and tiarellas. An impressive feat for a very wide-ranging species. And they are always very helpful in offering advice. They are very useful plants and I wouldn’t want to be without them.

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30 Days Wild: Day 30-We’re going on a bear hunt

Alice has been asking about going on a bear hunt for a few days. We started our preparations with bear biscuits and carried them on today. It seems appropriate that we started this years 30 Days Wild with a Teddy Bear’s picnic and we are finishing with bears again.

Alice was concerned we might get lost so she wanted to make maps in case anyone got lost.

Her map shows her route through swishy grass, splashing through rivers, squelching through mud, stumbling through the forest, through the snowstorm, and tiptoeing to the cave.

We had a read of the wonderful Jackie Morris something about a bear book.

The book shows different bears but finishes with the best bear of all. Your teddy bear. It’s beautifully illustrated and Alice talked through what she liked about each.

At the end, it has a little bit of information about the different bears around the world.

Alice’s cousins came round and helped her bear hunt in the garden. They swished through the grass and splashed through rivers and squelched through mud.

They stumbled through forests and whirled through snowstorms and finally tiptoed through the cave where they found the bear!

And they locked the bear out. Poor bear!

Then they took turns at being a bear.

Before settling in for a snack of bear biscuits.

And so we are on the last day of 30 Days Wild. It’s always a pleasure to take part. We live our life with high engagement in nature but it’s nice to make the record of what we’ve got up to. But it is a lot of work recording it every day and blogging each day so it’s nice to ease off. Alice is at a lovely age where she is taking so much in and keen to learn about everything. I’ve had some lovely comments over the month from readers of the blog. I mainly write it as a diary to look back on but it is nice to hear other people have enjoyed our adventures in nature. High points include being a guest author for the Wildlife Trust, having schools feature the blog for their home learning, and being asked onto a podcast. If you want to read back on what we’ve been up to over the month you can check the contents page. 30 Days wild is organized by the Wildlife Trusts. One of the best ways you can carry on 30 Days wild is by supporting them by becoming a member, visiting reserves as they reopen or volunteering. And from there you can make your 30 days 365 days wild. I hope you’ve enjoyed our 30 days adventures. We will be continuing as ever but the daily blogs will be stopping for a while.

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30 Days Wild: Day 29-Bear hunt prep

I’ve been promising Alice a trip out for a bear hunt. The weather wasn’t looking too hopeful so we looked at preparing provisions with some bear biscuits. We need a supply of snacks for adventures.

Starting with the weighing.

And some muscles coming out for the mixing.

The dough had a little time in the fridge before rolling out to cut bear heads and full bears.

Alice looking for a spoon to lick.

A good batch with a good biscuit crack to them when snapped.

Set for an adventure tomorrow.

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30 Days Wild: Day 28 pirate beach

After an evening of thunder and rain, it wasn’t looking too hopeful. I got out early for a jog while there was just a light drizzle. We are looking to live in a place where we can run under trees, alongside fields and along the seafront. As the weather was pretty miserable we figured we would be safe enough to go to the beach without experiencing Bournemouth style crowds. The Floral Hall gardeners have been back at work and doing a good job. The asters and dianthus looking particularly fine.

Though Alice was most excited for the poppies.

On the beach, Alice decided it was a pirate beach and we needed to look for treasure.

And jump along the edge.

The tide was right out today and the sky filled with ominous clouds.

We walked back around and through the memorial gardens.

And we got a bit of rain so Alice got a chance to use her umbrella. She’s been desperate for chances to use it.

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30 Days Wild: Day 27-Butterflies and wild art

Yesterday was an exciting day for deliveries. First, we had the delivery of a new sunhat from my aunty for Alice. A reversible hat with bees on one side and ladybirds on the other.

The second delivery was from insect lore. I’d ordered in one of the butterfly kits. However, due to Corona, they didn’t have the one we ordered so we got an upgrade and got a few extras in our set.

We’ve got two insect feeding stations to try. These are just dishes essentially with sponges to put the butterfly food on. Sugar water will attract butterflies and other insects if you fancy trying it, just like our bee dish.

In previous years I’ve seen people criticize these kits as cruel and reducing a live animal to the level of a toy. I think this is an unfair claim. It is only reduced to the level of a toy that the children look at and then move on if you treat it as such. This was very much an exciting event the caterpillars arriving. She watched them carefully and they’ve been handled carefully. I think it’s worth keeping in mind that most of my nations favourite naturalists, people like David Attenborough and Chris Packham, will have been egg collectors or used the killing jar to collect butterflies. While these aren’t practises we would do anymore it was this hands-on experience that gave these people their knowledge of the natural world. And from there they have helped countless species. The caterpillars included are painted ladies. These migrate north and south. When I’ve bought these sets I’ve tried to time it so they will be released as the butterflies would be migrating through our country so they aren’t just released into the cold to die. Last year was a bumper year for them so we’ll see how many come through this year.

It also came with a mechanical toy butterfly. You wind it up with the elastic band and then release it to flap. Alice was fascinated by it. That was probably an hours worth of entertainment her working out the mechanism and seeing how to make it fly best.

And that was enough time inside. Thunderstorms had been predicted on the weather forecast so I wanted to get her out for a bit in case we were stuck in. The National Children’s Gardening Week Facebook account had set a competition to create wild art. I gave Alice the brief and left a few bits out and then left her to it.

Lots of grass for hair.

She made a face complete with a bow made from the red leaves, a hair clip from the petals and lipstick made with rose petals.

Then we tried the first of our long-awaited strawberries. Alice has been checking on these daily to see how they’ve been coming on. They’ve been getting redder over the week and I thought it was time to try before the birds take a fancy to them. We haven’t got many but they were very nice. All the better for having been grown by her.

A bit of a lazy day staying at home but we’ve had quite a few good walks out this week. We’re almost at the end of this years 30 days so I’ll be trying to make them exciting ones before we slow the pace down to our normal nature involvement.

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Six on Saturday: 27.6.20-Joys of Summer

A week of rain followed by a week of the sun has led to lots of plants opening their first blooms of the year.  So much so that it was hard to choose just six, but six is the rules. So let’s get on with these absolute delights.

1. Dutch iris

The first of the Dutch irises are out. So far they’ve come out blue and white. I loved my Reticulata is spring so I’ve been looking to expand my irises. These were a cheap Tesco purchase and they seem happy in the border growing out of ferns and hardy geraniums.

2. Early potatoes

We had our first harvest of early potatoes. These were Duke of York. They’ve grown to a reasonable size. We used the small ones to go with a chicken pie and got some larger ones left for another meal. There are two more bags still growing so we’ll have some more in a few weeks. They were quite a tasty variety. I’d grow them again. This pot I earthed up as we went. One of the others I filled completely at the start to see if it makes a difference.

3. Container pond

I bought a little container pond set from Thompson & Morgan when they were on offer. The kit came with a plastic bowl, planting basket, aquatic compost, and gravel to go on the top. It has come with 3 bare root pond plants. Acorus calamus ‘Argenteostriatus’, Iris pseudacorus, and Pontederia cordata. The bulbs are starting to poke through. I’m not sure how healthy the bulbs were so I’m not sure they will all come up. The hope is to get some dragonflies in. The water is getting a bit of algal growth so I’m having to scoop it off while it sorts its equilibrium.

I’ve used driftwood around the outside to cover part of the plastic and form a slope up to it.

4. Cornflowers ‘black ball’

At the start of lockdown, I gave Alice lots of the seed packets that had come free with magazines that could be sown direct. She scattered them all over leading to a mass of marigolds this year. These were a cornflower that I think wablack ball. The flowers are quite pretty little black fluffy things.

The stems are pretty ugly with a wispy white look that looks pretty diseased. Alice must have emptied these into quite a small space as they are all coming up together, so I’ve rigged up a support of driftwood, again, along the edge of the border with string to tidy it up a bit.

Despite the ruffles the bees still seem interested.

5. Passionflowers

The passionflowers have all clumped together on one bit of fence. I’ve spread the growth out a bit so it can gradually turn the whole section green. We have the first flowers which are a lot earlier than last year.

6. Hosta Bressingham Blue

This is one of my largest hostas grown in a very large pot. It has large blue leaves making it slightly less appealing to slugs. It is coming into flower with its large white blooms.

Some people cut the flower stalks off as they want the plant purely for foliage, but I think they are rather nice.

The garden is looking lovely right now but we’ve had the news that we are going to have to have more building work as the render was applied wrong. This means I’m going to have to clear the patio again at some point in the future. With this in mind, I’m going to be looking at whether any of the patio plants can be potted into the border. A lot of the current pots are temporary like the veg pots and the dahlias but have to see if I can find spots for some of the hostas and heucheras as I don’t fancy them all sat on the lawn again. I’m also adding a second shed so I’ve got the dumping area to clear ready.

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30 Days Wild: Day 26-Simple pleasures in the park

Alice got a number of different ball games for her birthday but not really used them that much in the garden as Alice likes a run-up of the whole of the length of the garden before she places it on the sticky pad. So we headed to the park to get rid of some excess energy. With the warmer weather, the beach is now rammed with the fish and chip shops doing a roaring trade. Good for the town but not to nice for taking a small child out. It’s not the level of Bournemouth beach but it still feels a bit weird after a month with the beach to ourselves. I don’t begrudge them wanting to come but it would be nice if they took their litter. If they can carry it to the beach they can carry it off. But the park is still staying pretty quiet.

Alice preparing for self for a long run-up before placing it on my pad.

Football is a winner for lazy parenting as she never passes so I get a few minutes rest while she chases the ball.

And a bit of hide and seek.

Though the squirrels are much better at this game than us.

And a good bit of fun rolling down the slope. Simple pleasures.

There were lots of small tortoiseshell butterflies on the grass today and quite a few hoverflies.

We stopped for a snack under the trees and watched some of the wildlife. Alice still insists on using her binoculars the wrong way round but I think this is because she hasn’t got the idea of the focussing.

We are starting to see dragonflies again and lots of the small blue damselflies.

Alice has found a new den spot after the other one was knocked down. As this one is largely tree it hopefully will survive.

A nice stroll out to get some of her energy out of her system. A few wildlife sightings and she came back home happier if a little hot.

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30 Days Wild: Day 25-Princess Poppy saves the bees

Today I left a surprise for Alice to find by the front door.

I’ve been meaning to get Alice this book for a while as she has a number of the Princess Poppy picture books. I’d seen Janey Louise Jones had written several Poppy stories with an environmental theme to them and 30 Days Wild seems like a perfect time to get hold of one of them for her.

The book tells the story of how Princess Poppy learns about the disappearance of the bees. It explains a few differences between honey bees and bumblebees. Then it goes into detail of a few things the girls in the story can do to help. The girls arrange to dress as bees for the Summer fair to let people know how they could help bees. It’s an ideal story for using in schools to teach a few basic facts about bees or introduce a science topic. or as a story to enjoy with a child at home. Alice sat and listened well and had lots of interesting questions and observations as we went through it.

One of the suggestions of how to help is to make a bee bath. A shallow tray of water can give thirsty insects a spot to drink without drowning. Then a few stones ensure they have places they can crawl in if they get stuck.

We set it up on the bench near the borage where lots of the bees are visiting.

Then Alice went looking for bees and trying to snap them.

Amy has borrowed one of the more high powered cameras from school to see how much of a difference it makes to the photos having something higher spec. It really did improve the quality of what we could achieve but we can’t afford a swisher camera yet, so just enjoy for a few days.

My camera is a Nikon D3100 which is a decade old. I can manage reasonable photos but nothing too impressive.

And a photo to make Princess Poppy smile.

And a few taken on the fancier camera.

A hoverfly on the lychnis.

Alice went on to tell Amy different bits she’s learnt from the book and she was telling me the bees in the park were bumblebees. And she asked for her new book at bedtime. There is another environmental-themed Poppy story on ‘no plastic‘. We normally do a beach clean as part of our 30 Days Wild. However, with lockdown, we haven’t been going to the beach as much. At the start of lockdown, there wasn’t any rubbish with few visitors whereas now there is a mass of rubbish. But we don’t Alice touching things handled by other people so we’ll have to leave this activity until it’s a bit safer. For now, we’ll concentrate on making our garden a paradise for wildlife.

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30 Days Wild: Day 24-Forest School

It is getting towards the end of the year where schools ask for feedback on your child’s year. We were asked about Alice’s experiences in Nursery over the last year and I felt compelled to write beyond the parent’s Facebook group. Alice attended Forest School as part of her nursery provision. Her nursery has a small woodland area attached to the main nursery. She spent the mornings in Forest school and then in the afternoons she accessed the more mainstream nursery setting, giving her the best of both worlds.

I was keen for Alice to attend Forest School when we found out it was an option at the nursery. Having worked as a teacher in Early Years for a decade I know how little time the children will get outside as they move up through school. Which is a great pity as the benefits of outdoor play have been discussed again and again. Here in the UK, we start formal education very early, while many other countries hold off until 7 years old and achieve better results. In Finland, the children regularly top education league tables, yet they are one of the countries that spend less time in the classroom. Forest school offers this outdoor time for our children’s education.

For Alice, Forst School has given her the time outside that clearly matters to me. Amy was worried about how hardy she’d be, whether she’d cope with the seasons changing. But this is part of the setup. They build resilience and adaptability. Some days they can’t do what they want to do, but they will still do something enjoyable. Alice is very particular about doing things outside of school as a result. She is happy playing with mud and going out in bad weather so long as we have the right kit on.

As a society, we do not let our children play out in the same way as when I was young. We had large periods of unstructured outdoor play with minimal supervision. I climbed trees, I made dens, I made a mess. We learned how to manage our own risk. You realised your limits of how far you could climb a tree. Whereas many children now don’t develop this positive attitude of being able to give things a go as they don’t have the opportunity. Through Forest School, the children get the chance to engage in potentially dangerous activities, but they are supervised and they learn about the risks involved. Alice knows the correct way to move around the outside of a campfire. She has used tools. She’s had that chance to learn how to use these things safely managed by excellent staff. I’ve seen too many children who reach KS1 and have no tool ability. If you give them a pair of scissors they look ready to cry. Whereas Alice can use tools efficiently and safely.

The forest area makes for a wonderful environment to play in. As well as the obvious benefits of learning about the natural world it is a fantastic spot for the imagination. If you think of how many fairy tale adventures take place in the forest the forest school gives a background for fairies and witches and all sorts of adventures. Alice has developed a wonderful imagination over the last few years drawing on her experiences with friends in forest school and her knowledge of stories.

She’s had the chance to engage in lots of craft activities. She’s made tie-die from natural materials in the woodland. She’s painted, chalked and created things from wood. They’ve regularly cooked on the campfire encouraging her to eat new things. She’s a fussy eater but she’ll now eat sausages, which might not seem amazing to many parents but when you’ve spent 4 years fighting every tea time any food she’ll eat is a victory.

Many parents will currently be nervous about sending their children to nurseries while Corona Virus hangs over our heads, but the outdoor setting is potentially less dangerous for the spread. Many schools are looking into alternative outdoor provision as a result. We haven’t currently put Alice back in as we don’t need to, but if you are needing to put your child back in education or childcare I would encourage you to look at places providing Forest School or alternative outdoor education.

I know many parents worry that all this time outside will stifle their education, hold them back from developing the skills they need for the rest of school. So I’m going to give you an example of what Alice did today. Alice has been waking up during the night and wanting to come in with us. We’ve discussed why she keeps wanting to as we are knackered. She keeps blaming the owls outside waking her up. There are no owls outside her window, in the garden or doing any waking up. It’s an excuse, but one we’ve gone along with as we’re concerned about how lockdown has affected her. She decided that to sort this out she needed to make a sign. She got a sheet of paper and told me she needed to draw an owl with a cross through it so the owls know not to hoot. I asked if she wanted to look at how to draw an owl first. She confidently told me she knew how. She drew her picture explaining it needed wings and a beak and she then needed to draw a baby owl so they know not to hoot too.

She then asked if I could write “no owls” for her to copy. While she did copy she could name each of the letters as she went and has very good pencil control for a child who has just turned 4. Then she found tape to put it up in her window so the owls can see it at night.

So, for any parent worried their child won’t achieve through Forest School you can see Alice is capable of achieving just fine. She shows confidence and independence in creating the sign, fine-motor in the drawing, knowledge of the world and a good vocabulary talking about the owls and reading skills naming the letters. Plus on top of all of this a wonderful imagination in coming up with this plan to help her sleep. I’m sure the wonderful education she received through the nursery and forest school have all contributed to this.

If you are interested in learning more about Forest School Stuart Jackson did a great interview on the Skinny Jeans Gardener’s podcast a few weeks back. Or have a look at the Forset School Association for a more in-depth look. Alice had a wonderful time through Forest School and her nursery and we are thankful she had these chances.

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