Six on Saturday: 28.11.20

Alice has still been off school part of this week so the garden has largely been neglected but the small time we’ve had on garden jobs has been enjoyable.

1. Breakfast birdwatch

On Wednesday we had Alice’s last day of home-schooling before her year group reopened. It has been closed after another child tested positive. But they’ve had their isolation period and she can return. I posted last week that we have been doing breakfast birdwatches but I wanted to post about it again as she drew such lovely pictures.

We have found a lot of feathers through the week on the lawn. I need to set up the trail camera to see what is responsible. It may just be birds scrapping or it could be the neighbour’s cat or the sparrowhawk.

And a mouse fallen victim. As we have remains left I suspect the cat as the sparrowhawk would have taken it.

2. Sparrowhawk

I did spy the sparrowhawk catch a sparrow last week. It zoomed in and snatched one and was out. I just managed a picture through the window before it was off. But I’m not sure it’s responsible for all the damage.

3. Sprouts

The sprouts were devastated by caterpillars earlier in the year but wasps then devoured them all and they have recovered. I’m not sure if we’ll have a crop for Christmas but it would be nice.

4. Front garden lights

Friday would have been the Christmas light turn on in my town. But they haven’t had the chance to raise the money this year so they are lower key. So, there has been a community push to place lights outside peoples own homes. In the front garden, I have used some solar-powered wire LEDs. They have a backup battery for dull days. I have stuck to the white lights in the front garden.

5. Back garden lights

In the back garden, we have lots of battery-operated coloured lights. I’m using rechargeable batteries as they do need recharging a few times over the month they are up.

6. Iris unguicularis ‘Walter Butt’

This is an Algerian Iris that normally flowers January to February time. I’d bought two varieties earlier in the year as I’d been taken by other peoples. It’s nice to have a flower in that winter window where little else is flowering. But this seems to have got started early.  These are flowering at the base of the stems so I don’t know if I’ll get some larger ones in future years.

We will be going out of lockdown next week and into Tier 3 lockdown so there won’t be any changes for us. But seeing as we are both still working, Alice is at school and the garden centre is still open it doesn’t really affect my life much. I hope you are all keeping well.

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Six on Saturday: 21.11.20

We have had another week of balancing work and homeschooling. Alice’s year group was closed due to a positive Covid case. Amy and I are tag-teaming on the homeschooling. I teach Alice for the morning then Amy comes back to take over and I’ve headed into work. This hasn’t left much time for gardening. We planted up a few tulips in pots and emptied a few of the dahlia pots for storage. But largely the garden has been neglected. That said, there is still lots looking good out there.

Geranium oxonianum

I believe this is a form of geranium oxonianum though I don’t know which. It was passed on by one of my aunts. There are little pockets of these flowers dotted along the borders. A reliable no-fuss plant.

2. Dahlias

We have had a few chillier nights and the dahlias are starting to show the strain. I was hoping for dahlias in December but they are looking to be giving up now.

3. Euphorbia characias subsp wulfenii

I picked this up just before lockdown reduced as it will soon shrivel up. It’s a nice variegated form of spurge that should give spectacular lime green flowers next year. It’ll need to be in a pot to give it the dry conditions it needs.

4. Ox-eye daisies

A few tatty daisies are in flower here and there. While they aren’t providing any sort of decent display the few pollinators still active will appreciate them.

5. Charity hydrangea

I picked this up from outside a house during our daily exercise walk in the first lockdown. They were outside a house and just asking for a donation. They seem to open quite green before quickly shifting to pink.

6. Breakfast birdwatch

I have largely stuck to teaching Alice traditional school lessons to keep her ticking over while she’s off school. A big focus on her phonics, reading and writing but I have included a little burst of nature contact with taking part in the breakfast birdwatch. We aren’t getting much variety currently but we are getting large numbers of sparrows and various pigeons. The sparrowhawk has come through a few times sending everything scattering but the crows usually turn up to mob it. I find I take more bird photos in winter as with the trees bare it becomes easier to get shots.

Alice goes back to school at the end of next week so going to be playing catchup on jobs after that. I am currently working through my RHS unit on pests and diseases so I am seeing signs of damage everywhere that would normally be neglected. I have enjoyed having the extra time with Alice but it has been tough balancing both our jobs and home life. Hope you are all keeping well and finding some solace in gardens and the outside world.

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Six on Saturday: 15.8.20-Bay wildlife

We have returned from a trip the in-laws before we potentially end up in another partial lockdown. They have a fantastic garden with several tiers as it goes down to a cliff edge. The garden is in good order with drifts of verbena, the hydrangeas at their peak and the sedums ready to bloom. The agapanthus are doing very well. But, I thought I’d make a focus of the wildlife in the garden this week as we had a few exciting sightings. Their garden is a good example of how, with a variety of habitats, you can have a wide range of wildlife while still having a garden that looks prim and tidy.

1. Dragonfly-Southern Hawker

The wildlife pond at the bottom of the garden is doing well. The grasses and flowers are attracting in many bees and a few other pollinators. Plenty of food for dragonflies. The weather was a bit grey so I didn’t see that many dragonflies but I did spot what I think is a southern hawker. This is different from the ones visiting my garden so nice to see something different.

2. Newts

The pond is also home to newts. The in-laws I think would prefer the frogs for the slug defences but it’s glorious to watch these amphibians that were common in my childhood but rare now. If you have newts they eat the tadpoles so you generally don’t get many living together. I think it’s a smooth newt. These are the commonest in the UK but still protected by law. It is illegal to sell or trade them. Whereas Northern Ireland has better protection: no killing, injuring, capturing, disturbance, possession or trade. Newts will still manage to thwart Boris in Northern Ireland

3. Hoverflies on buddleja

As I said, the weather was a bit gray so not many butterflies on the bushes famous for enticing them in. But, there was still lots of hoverflies enjoying them.

4. Robin

I saw lots of birds on the feeders: tits, bullfinches, goldfinches, sparrows and wrens. But, I didn’t manage any decent photos of them with the exception of the robin which was a bit more sociable.

5. Martha

A bit less wild, this is Martha. This was Amy’s cat before she went to live in Indonesia. She hasn’t taken it back as it is settled well here and I’m allergic. So my birds are safe. She was sat down by the pond and bird feeders for a lot of our visit. She likes people but not sure about small children. So, Alice was given a wide berth.

6. Badger

The compost heap has been getting dugout. The in-laws have been concerned that it might be rats so we left the trail camera set up to check. A little bigger than a rat. They have had the badgers before but they thought they’d fenced up the entry points.

We tried to narrow down where they are coming in but only really know which end of the garden they are entering.

It’s been great visiting them and wonderful to see so much wildlife within their garden. Don’t forget to check out the other six on Saturday posts. I now need to get on with getting my own garden jobs done. The seagulls have been throwing the compost out of pots and lots of plants are still very dry. Enjoy your weekends whatever you are up to.

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Saving pollinators

This week a new label for plant sales has been launched by the National Botanic Garden of Wales to help protect pollinators from plants containing insecticides. The story has been picked up on nationally though I think the significance of the story may be lost on some.

Currently, many plants are sold as being beneficial for pollinators. If you go shopping at a garden centre or nursery you may see labels with the RHS Plants for pollinators badge on. This is a very useful resource listing plants the RHS have deemed to be useful for pollinators. The lists are very useful. They list plants by season that are beneficial. This allows you to plan your garden to have plants in flower through the year to help the pollinators in your garden. Which is all great!

However, many of the plants sold with the RHS ‘plants for pollinators’ label may have been grown using pesticides. This will mean that the plants you are buying to help may actually be harming the wildlife. The road to hell is paved with good intentions and all that. In tests where plants bought with the perfect for pollinator label, 76% contained at least one insecticide and 38% contained two or more insecticides. The RHS has been discussing changing the label since 2017 but has shown little leadership in making the change. I imagine it would ruffle too many feathers withing the Horticulture Trade Association and the RHS sponsors. But it is a change that needs to come so consumers can buy without engaging in a Russian Roulette of whether they potentially harm the insects they are trying to help.

The plants containing pesticides causes harm to the pollinators and has been linked to colony collapse disorder. But it can also affect food up the food chain. Birds and mammals such as hedgehogs can be affected by eating these poisoned pollinators. It has been hypothesised that eating the infected insects may lead to the birds becoming denourished. It has also been shown that birds eating the neonicotinoids directly may lead to bird deaths. You would have thought we would learn from our past mistakes where the pesticide Organochlorine led to a decline in birds of prey as the eggshells ended up thinner but we obviously haven’t. On top of the decline of birds, many of these pesticides have been strongly linked to cancer in humans. While glyphosate was banned here in the UK companies like Bayer have just developed alternatives that are likely to be as harmful.

So having painted a rather gloomy picture there I hope you can see why the Botanic Gardens new ‘saving pollinators’ logo on plant sales is so significant. The label will indicate that these plants have been grown without any pesticides whatsoever. This will give consumers peace of mind that the plants they are buying are beneficial for pollinators and they don’t have any hidden surprises. Currently, the new label is being taken on by a series of Welsh nurseries but it would be great to see this go national.

In the meantime what can you do to ensure the health of your plants for pollinators? You can buy direct from several nurseries. More and more nurseries are advertising the fact that they are pesticide-free and peat-free. Alternatively, you can grow from seed. While some seeds sold are coated in pesticides this is used more in agriculture than horticulture. But again, companies advertising their eco-credentials. A number of the nurseries on Dog Wood Days Peat-free list state that they don’t use pesticides. The RHS plants for pollinators lists are still a valuable resource for planning for wildlife gardening but the label isn’t a guarantee of safety. Hopefully, in time, we can see the Welsh saving pollinators badge adopted nationwide.

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Further reading

https://botanicgarden.wales/press/science-fact-fuels-campaign-to-stamp-out-pollinator-friendly-fiction/

http://www.sussex.ac.uk/lifesci/goulsonlab/blog/bee-friendly-flowers

30 Days Wild: Day 23-Bird feast

Today for 30 days wild I thought we’d help the birds. A lot of the focus this year has been led by Alice which has led to a lot of time on butterflies and ladybirds but I fancied a change today.

We set up some log cuts on the lawn as plates and then Alice pretended to make meals for them. So we’ve got a plate of ‘sausages and chips’ and a plate of ‘cakes’ for pudding.

She didn’t have the patience to wait today and see what was going to visit. So off she went to dance around.

I had saved some of the Bishop’s Children tubers I grew from seed last year and these have been the first of the larger dahlias to flower. She was happy it had come out in her favourite colour.

The seagull chick has been looking pretty sorry for itself. The parents haven’t been feeding it. Local rescue centres aren’t equipped to deal with it. As one wing looked to be broken I was advised to get it to the vets to have it put down. The RPSCA took details to ring me back. It’s been attacked by some of the gulls and has a few patchy areas now that the flies are attracted to.

While I was waiting, the seagulls came to attack it again, so armed with gauntlets I moved it to safety. The RPSCA came along to collect it to take to the vets. I don’t hold out high hopes but at least they might be able to stop it suffering for longer.

And we got a few visitors after the chick drama for Alice’s feast.

Then taking a few plants round to the front garden later we spotted another seagull chick out of the nest in our neighbours front garden. This one looks in a better state so hopefully, the parents will look after it. So, it all starts again.

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30 Days Wild: Day 22-The Great Yorkshire Creature Count day 2

Today was the second part of the Yorkshire creature count. It continued until dinner time and we managed a few more sightings. As it had been very wet overnight the insect life was low but still a few birds.

And the seagull enjoying a morning drink.

It was also Father’s Day. Alice had made me a card with a rainbow flower and butterflies on she had drawn. She said she thought I’d like them. Then for a present, I was bought some Bluetooth headphones. We sat and watched Disney’s, Christopher Robin. This came out a few years ago. It tells the story of Christopher Robin growing up and forgetting his old friends. Winnie arrives back in his life and reminds him of the importance of family. It’s a nice gentle watch with different bits for different ages.

Then I got out for a run with my new headphones. I’ve started on couch to 5K. This gradually builds up how much you run. I ran before Alice was born but haven’t done any since so it seems like a good time to get started again. I headed out of town along one of the bridleways. This took me along the edge of the bean fields with lots of small tortoiseshells flying up in my wake. A nice run through the greenery.

Back at home, I was treated with a good cooked breakfast. Then I was able to get on with a few garden jobs. The planters by the front door have been attacked by slugs, so I’ve removed the Hosta blue mouse ears to go in plant hospital for a bit. The patio has got a bit cluttered with seedlings over lockdown so I’m gradually getting things potted on and in the ground. The mix of sun and rain has really brought on the garden. We had the first of the Dutch irises out. A pleasure to see.

Then in the evening, the skies opened with hailstones and thunder and lightning. It was only brief but gave everything a good drenching. So it seemed a good time to get some Nemaslug down to control the growing slug population. Nematodes act as a biological control only affecting the slugs rather than pellets killing animals up the food chain.

A fairly relaxed 30 days wild day, but don’t like heading out at the weekend as it ends up much busier around us. But nice to have a quiet day.

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30 Days Wild: Day 20-Broomsticks

Following on from our magic days earlier in the week Alice had requested a broom for her beat baby cuddly toy to go with her wand. I did most of the construction today but once she’s been shown how to do something she’ll usually give it a go later in the week. So between downpours we managed a quick craft job in the garden. These are easy to make and you can make them on the go if you carry a bit string.

I collected up one thicker stick and a pile of thinner sticks and cut to the same length. I then wrapped it in florist wire to keep it secure.

Then to neaten it up and keep the look of a broom I wrapped it with twine.

Then the two of them went flying back and forth around the garden. She did lots of ‘flights’ jumping off the slide.

Then she helped out as the feeders were looking empty.

Though we moved off fast as we were looking to be swarmed.

I hope you enjoyed our simple craft for today. A good little bit of stick play for the imagination.

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Six on Saturday: 20.6.20

It’s been a week of on and off rain. We’ve got through a few jobs. There has been lots of thinning to do. The forget-me-nots are going over and the ox-eye daisies are growing a bit thick. We are now into dead-heading time as the first roses are going over. The old roses won’t flower again so they can be left to form rose buds but the others can repeat flower. The marigolds are all over after I let Alice scatter seed, so plenty to deadhead. Alice is joining in, though whether they actually need deadheading varies

1. Dahlia potting on

The Bishop’s Children dahlias have been in need of potting on for a few weeks but not got round to it. I’ve moved them from the tray into pots. They are a bit behind the others as a result but I’ve got two big Bishop’s children nice and bushy from the tubers saved last year. The cactus from seed are a bit further ahead and my other tubers are set to flower soon. The aphids are all over several this year but I’ve found a few ladybird and larvae on them so that should help.

2. Climbing hydrangea

The climbing hydrangea is one of my favourite climbers in the garden. This one isn’t massively noticeable as it is hidden behind the black cherry and the lilac. But it is flowering happily away. I planted two last year opposite that are working their way up the fence. They are slow to establish but once they do they have lush green foliage and these stunning white florets. I noticed Tesco had a lot for sale this week if you are tempted.

I’ve also added a different variety ‘silver lining’ which has the variegated leaves. Gradually the fence is getting claimed by the different climbers as I’d prefer to have it completely green. This gives the other plants a better background but it’s also better for the wildlife.

3. Seagull chick

The seagull chick is still hanging around. It has been rained on lots. I don’t think the parents are feeding it so I have put out a bit of food. However, I’m not sure it recognises it as food so it may slowly fade.

4. Geranium Rozanne

Geranium Rozanne was added earlier in the year. It’s a very popular choice that I’ve never bothered with. But I fancied adding a different colour into the mix as currently, the hardy geraniums are mainly pink or white.

5. Foxglove

I haven’t got many foxgloves this year but I’ve got lots on the go from seed ready for next year. I’m also trying Digitalis lutea to add a perennial variety to get around the biennial aspect of planning for the next year.

6. Hanging cage

I renovated the front garden’s hanging cage as it was looking a bit tatty. I’ve dug out one of the self-seeded nasturtiums. Initially, it seems to have taken a hit for being dugout. But it is still providing plenty of flowers so that’s fine. I think this variety was self-seeded from milkmaid.

And that wraps it up for this week. The weather looks to be wet tomorrow but then it should just be grey for a week so we’ll hopefully be able to get out and get on with some jobs.

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30 Days Wild: Day 19-Animal rescue

Well, yesterday was National Picnic Day but the weather was horrible so I’m glad we went out the day before. So we’ve had a wet day inside. Alce was kindly gifted a new kids kindle by her granddad. Part of the deal is you get kids unlimited in the first year giving you access to lots of children’s books. We’ve read through lots of the National Geographic kids books. Alice particularly liked the underwater ones while I liked the one on bees. She’s taken some of it in as she was telling me later how some bees are social and some are solitary. Though struggling to say solitary.

Then it seems to have been a day of animal rescue. The bees are very washed out so needing a sugar water boost.

We have had a seagull chick fall out of the nest. This happens pretty much every year. They are not about to win parenting awards. The advice is to put back on a roof if possible and see if the parents are feeding them. I’m not sure this one will be long for this world but we’ll see. Alice is excited to check in on it.

During lockdown, the environment bill is being discussed. It is looking to be pretty weak on any long term commitment to the environment. The RSPB have set up a form to message your local MP. My local MP Graham Stuart has never responded to me in several years of messaging him about various issues. But I figure more and more people are becoming environmentally aware so any pressure placed on MPs will let them now they need to prioritise.

https://e-activist.com/page/61937/action/1?ea.tracking.id=nvt

It just takes a minute to complete and the more people who do it the more of a message it sends.

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Six on Saturday: 13.6.20-Soggy week

Well, it’s been a busy week of 30 Days Wild activities and a wet one. It has rained most of the week. So between rain and homeschooling, I’ve only really done a bit of weeding this week. The lilac needs a prune once the last flowers go over as it’s growing beyond its allotted space. I’ve started the process of pulling out the spring self-seeders. The forget-me-nots and aquilegias are coming out by the handful now. But the dahlias and verbena are almost ready to go in to replace them.

1. Purple clematis

This was established in the garden when I moved in but had got very leggy so I pruned it right back the year before last and it is doing much better. However, it is growing through the Clematis montana ‘Marjorie’ which doesn’t need pruning as often so I may face issues here. Just the one flower currently but a few more dotted around.

2. Goldfinches

The goldfinches have been visiting more often currently as they now have their young coming in with them. I want to encourage them so I’ve got some more sunflower seeds from Haith’s bird food. It was nice to see they’d got rid of their plastic packaging and it came delivered within a sturdy card bag. It’s done the job. As soon as I put it out I had several blue tits, the goldfinches, and a chaffinch in. I hadn’t seen the chaffinches in a while so that was a pleasant sight.

3. Lychnis coronaria

My lychnis started as one small plant and has since self-seeded around.  I like the furry silver leaves as it contrasts well against many of my favoured foliage plants and the hardy geraniums. The small flowers are as vibrant as anything in the garden but looking a bit sorry for themselves at the moment. They get a bit leggy and woody after a few years and look better for being pulled out and letting the new ones take over.

4 Pot combination

This pot combination has been together for a while now and is filling out nicely. The fern is Athyrium niponicum var. pictum metallic, the Japanese painted fern. The hosta lakeside is a small variety growing just 15cm or so. Then the black ophiopogon is evergreen and stays all year.

5. Yellow rose

This yellow rose grows up through the Choisya ternata. I’d quite like to take out the Choisya as it suffers too much during winter and spends the rest of the year recovering but I don’t think I can remove one and not the other. Choisya’s little white flowers are popular with bees. The yellow rose came with the garden. It shoots straight up for light out of the Choisya and forms bright orange flame buds. The roses bright yellow and fade to cream. While I probably wouldn’t have picked a yellow rose it is probably my favourite in the garden.

6. Charles DeMills

Charles DeMills was bought with vouchers I won a few years ago. It did a few flowers in its first year, none last year and looks to have a few more this year. It’s an old rose so I will only get the one burst of flowers each year, but they are rather grand. Large ruffles with a strange flat top.

The rain looks set to continue for a few more days over next week so I’m probably not going to get a mass chance to garden over the next week. But I’ve got a couple of garden books to read and try to get out in the few bursts I can. Don’t forget to check the Propagator’s guide to taking part in Six on Saturday if you fancy taking part and check his blog today to see more links on the comments. Enjoy your weekends.

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