Six on Saturday: 10.4.21

It’s been a funny old week. We had a glorious weekend last week followed by a week of cold weather. I have got a few jobs done during my school holiday though not as much as I’d like. But, I have completed my next RHS assignment on design. Not feeling great about this one as I think I may have misinterpreted the questions. We’ll see when I get feedback.

Fun in the sun

So last weekend was Easter Sunday so we had our Easter egg hunt. Normally we would see see family but it’s not a possibility this year. Alice still had a good hunt. The Easter Bunny may have gone overboard on the eggs, so I didn’t put them all out and she still had a very full basket by the end.

Taking stock of her hunt.

Sun lounger

Amy bought herself a new sun lounger which was immediately claimed by Alice. You can see the difference in the weather to now. Dress, no sleeves, no hat, no multiple layers.

Dancing

Alice relocated a ribbon stick she made last year and had a good dance around the garden.

Random seeds

I gave Alice some of the seeds from the draw that can be direct sown to scatter. This fills gaps in the border and gave me some interesting surprises last year. The blackball cornflowers were quite pretty last year so hopefully they’ll do well again.

Ballerina tulips

The tulips are going strong now. I think these are ballerina tulips though the photo makes them look redder than they really are. There are patches of these coming along the border. It seems to have come back strongly.

Snow

And from glorious sun to snow. It came down pretty quickly for a period on Tuesday, though it didn’t settle. The wind was pretty strong and the garden is all looking very dry now. We haven’t had any of the forecast rain this week and the garden could probably do with a good shower. There is some forecast but I think I’m going to need to start watering the front again. I’ve been watering some of the more tender plants as it helps protect them from the frost a bit. When the leaves have a fine layer of water it provides a bit of insulation and slows the thawing a bit. Don’t know how much truth there is in this but can’t see it’ll do much harm.

Hope your week has been good. I return to work next week and I’m taking on a few more hours. So, a little less garden time but a bit more time to make use of the nursery polytunnel.

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Six on Saturday: 3.4.21

The weather has been nice for the first week of the holiday though meant to be chiller next week. I have had to use the new blog editor so I have no idea what will show. You may just have to imagine six beautiful photos as I have no idea if it will work.

  1. Ladybird Loveliness I have been happy to see several ladybird in the garden. We had a lot of aphids last year with the veg patch so an army of ladybirds would be useful.

2. Sealing wax daffodil

This is one of the few daffodils I know the name of as it was Amy’s choice of the bulbs from the discount bin two years back. Almost all the other daffodils are cheap mixed bags.

3.Prunus incisa Kojo-no-mai

I moved the small prunus into the ground in autumn and it is looking grand. It is only about half a metre but every cm is covered in blossom. Should look spectacular as it grows. It grows to about 3m and should fill the space beautifully.

The bees are loving it anyway.

4. Narcissus Elka

I put these little daffs in the hanging pot back in autumn. They came as a cheap add onto another order but they are rather pretty in the pot.

5. Beefly

We have had quite a few of these visiting the garden. It’s a beefly. Not an actual bee, but a fly that disguises itself as a bee. They have the very distinctive long proboscis sticking out in front. A great wonder in the garden.

6. Robin

We’ve seen a good few different birds in the last week but I was happy to manage this photo of the robin mid song. It’s been back and forth from the feeder to the ivy so nice to get a shot.

Hope the photos have showed as I feel I got some good photos this week. Hope you’re all keeping well and enjoyed the slight relaxation of the Covid restrictions.

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Six on Saturday: 19.03.21 pruning hydrangeas

It’s been a busy week at work. Just one more week to go until the holiday and then I’m doing a few more hours after the holiday. But I’ll at least have some time to catch up on garden jobs. Last weekend I tackled two of the hydrangeas. These are Hydrangea Macrophylla, generally referred to as mopheads.

1. Sophie Conran topiary shears

I bought these a while back as a reward for my RHS exam. They are beautiful to use. They are a bit bigger than secateurs. But they can still be used in one hand like scissors making them perfect for jobs like the hydrangea where I want to move branches with one hand and cut with the other.

2. Flowerheads

The aim of the pruning is to cut back the flowerhead. I’m aiming to go back from the flowerhead to a new set of leaves. The flowerheads stay on over winter to offer some frost protection but cutting them off frees up space and encourages more flowering stems.

3. Cut out dead growth

When you look into the crown there are usually some dead branches with no new buds forming. I also prune out some of the overlaps where it is too heavily congested. This encourages a bit of airflow to reduce some of the diseases, mainly fungal that can affect the hydrangeas. Doing this each year with the older stems encourages continual fresh growth from the base of the plant.

 

4. Closer look

Not the best pic, but here you can see the blurry mophead. If you look along the stem you can see the new leaves are quite far back so the pruning goes back to this point. This is lower down on the plant where I also try to keep a bit of space around the ground. There are two hydrangeas opposite each other on either side of the path so I try to keep them roughly symmetrical.

5. Wayward branches

Then there are some branches growing out on their own that ruin the shape of the plant, cover the path or the patio have to go. I often do the job and come back a few days later to check where I’ve missed. If you do have one that has grown too big for its space you can cut back hard and they will come back but you may lose a year of flowering.

The Iris reticulata ‘George’ from last week sneaking in again in the background of the last photo. They are now in full bloom and making a good impact.


6. Lawn crocus

Most of the crocus in the lawn are single colours but this one has some stripes making it stand out.

Hope you found today’s blog useful. I still have the Hydrangea paniculata to do which are slightly different in that they can be harder pruned. Enjoy your weekends.

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Six on Saturday: 13.3.21

Well, I made it out into the garden a few times last week. Got a few jobs done. The front garden is largely weeded so now need to do a bit more work on the back garden. Lots coming up now.

1. Science week

This week in the nursery the topic has been flowers. I’ve done a few activities with the kids, sowing some seeds, sketches and we tried food colouring in the carnations water. Red and yellow didn’t take, but the blue has given them some edging.

2. Bleeding heart

Or Lamprocapnos spectabilis for those of you who remember the new name. I like the fresh growth of these. They come up as strange bony fingers and spread. The leaf colour stands out amongst the darker heuchera and ophiopogon.

3. Crocus Joan of Arc

I had doubted their existence a few weeks back. It didn’t look like many of these were coming back in the front garden. But I’m glad to say many of them are poking up now. The first bees have been coming in to enjoy.

4. Snowdrop planting

The lack of signs of crocus at the start of the month had led to me ordering more snowdrops from Gee-Tee bulbs as they snowdrops were coming up stronger. We got 100 nivalis into the ground last weekend. It sounds like a lot but it isn’t really when you put a few to a hole. Alice helped plant them and then we gave them a good water as it had been dry for a few weeks. This has, of course, meant it has rained all week since.

5. Mud kitchen

And we got to play in the mud kitchen for the first time in a few months. Despite her face in the photo she was actually enjoying herself.

6. Iris reticulata ‘George’

I think this has been one of my favourite of the early irises. The dark colouring and patterning is gorgeous. I planted these in pots and in the planters at work, so these are on display as the hundreds of parents and kids come around the site. Pretty little morning treat for those who notice.

Forecast is pretty grim for today with rain and wind. The rain I can stand but the wind is a hazard for sorting roses. So may give that a miss today. We are looking at frogs next week at work so I’m preparing the activities while Alice trials playing with it all. I went in the garden at night earlier in the week and could hear them all croaking away. I hope you all have good weekends whatever you are up to.

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Six in Saturday: 6.3.21

Hello all, lacking a bit in garden motivation currently but also lacked for time with sorting things for Alice. But got some jobs we need to get on with so looking to get out today. The garden is looking alright but it is in need of some weeding. I’m not planting much currently for reasons I’ll go into later.

1. Alice’s birdwatch prizes

Alice won prizes from Nest Friends and Learning Resources for her efforts in the Big Garden Birdwatch. She won a series of prizes including a wildlife camera that shows photos of animals from around the world. Last weekend I set them up as a tray around Australia and the pilot Amy Johnson (my wife became Amy Johnson when we married) as one of the camera locations is Australia. My continuing efforts to interest Alice in animals remains part of the plan for engaging her in wildlife and the garden.

The camera was the main prize and it shows animal photos and then tells you facts about them. Pretty cool though probably not something I’d think of buying so nice to win.

2. Seagulls

The seagulls are causing damage again. They have tipped over a pot of tulips. I’ve pushed them back in but too late for some. They’ve been shredded. The battle with the seagulls has been ongoing through the last year as they’ve become more destructive through lockdowns while they’ve had less fish and chips. I won’t be planting much for a while as they are trying to pull things out.

3. Red Riding Hood tulips

I always remark on them but Red Riding Hood tulips are mainly remarkable for their foliage. While they’ve been chewed on they are great.

4. Sedum, that isn’t sedum anymore

This changed name but that’s irrelevant. It will be known as sedum for a good while. I like the tight rosettes of the leaves. Normally these get the Chelsea chop but that is going to be confusing with Chelsea moving to the Autumn.

5. Daffodils

The first of the daffodils are out. Most of my daffs are cheap mixed bags and are nameless.

6. Fake flowers

Alice wanted to buy a flower arranging craft kit from Amazon. She has saved up some money but the set she wanted looked like things we could make easily. So a burst with the glue gun, die-cut flowers and some garden wire and we have a set of fake flowers.

She rearranged it a couple of times and it looks pretty enough. It’ll do for an occasional activity alongside doing the real thing.

I’ve had a delivery of snowdrops in the green so whether the seagulls are being destructive or not I’m going to need to get on with planting them. Wish me luck.

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Six on Saturday: 27.2.21 Spring approaches

Well, this week has seen a big shift in the weather. I’ve seen my first butterfly of this year. Lots of signs of returning life.

1. Frogs

The first isn’t from my garden. It is from the local park. There is a sea of frogs across the waterlogged grass. Truly spectacular.

2. Primulas

We now have a decent mass of primulas. I will probably divide these later in the year as they are getting nice and thick.

3. Primula victoriana gold lace

From one patch of these they have been divided twice now and they are getting to a decent point.

4. Second nature

I’ve been reading this the last few weeks and it’s been quite interesting seeing an American view on gardening. Particularly the open front lawns. Pollan gradually finds his balance with nature while conforming to socities norms. He isn’t quite ready to remove all the lawn.

5. Alice’s bird house

Alice finished her bird house last week. She decided she wanted a picture of clouds in the shape or robins on it. As you do.

6. Iris reticulata ‘Katherine’s gold’

This is coming up in a planter in the front garden. It’s an absolute beauty. I could go for more of these.

A short one this week, but lots going on to enjoy. Hopeful I may get out to do a few jobs in the garden this week. Hope you’re all keeping well.

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Nature Schooling: Butterflies

Next weeks topic in the nursery is butterflies. As ever I’m looking at the topic with Alice before the lessons in the nursery. I’ve covered butterflies quite a few times with Alice so it’s getting harder finding new ways to cover the same information. Her knowledge has gone up and she is naming specific butterflies now. But she knows about the lifecycle and many details like the body parts now. So I’ve done a bit of extra research to find some different ways to engage her. Obviously, this time of year is a bit useless for going outside looking for butterflies so it has mainly been outdoor activities. I’m going to start by recapping two previous ideas.

Butterfly life cycle

We made this life cycle as part of 30 days wild. It was a simple piece of craft but one she has kept on the notice board and still talks about regularly.

 

Butterfly printing

Butterfly printing is a nice activity to look at colour, pattern and symmetry. It’s a nice activity even with younger kids as the child will usually end up with something that looks good so they come up away with a sense of achievement.

The very hungry caterpillar stage show

So, returning to look at butterflies again I wanted to find something different. Any topic on butterflies in education inevitably makes use of the very hungry caterpillar. It’s a great story with many opportunities for art, maths, music and science. The very hungry caterpillar stage show is currently available to stream. It is a bit pricey for what is essentially a rental but Alice enjoyed it a lot. It’s not like we are getting out to the theatre currently. The show features several Eric Carle stories. The puppetry is great and Alice sat engrossed.

To make it more of an occasion I made a set of tickets and put them in an envelope for Alice to find. We set up the front room as a theatre with the curtains shut and the lights down. We had watched the snail and the whale as a live stream a few months back so Alice is getting used to theatre this way. I had bought a cheap set of butterfly wings for the event thinking Alice would enjoy dancing and twirling in them. She loved them and spent several days after as a new superhero ‘butterfly girl’.

She obviously enjoyed it as I got a few days of her performing her own shows and her drawing pictures.

And she linked to the previous rainbow topic asking to make a rainbow of butterflies with the Sizzix machine.

Baker Ross crafts

Looking back through the blogs gives the impression that we largely do very close-ended craft when in reality Alice has access to lots of art materials and usually decides what she wants to make. Pictures like her very hungry caterpillar above and her rainbow of butterflies. However, I saw two Baker Ross sets I thought she would like on offer so I ordered them. The first was a butterfly mobile. I like this one as it has the pulling mechanism setting it apart from previous models we’ve made. She made the decision to use felt tip as we’d painted a lot of wood recently and she didn’t want to wait between coats or have to paint multiple coats. She focused very well and it took a good section of an afternoon.

The finished effort hanging in her bedroom.

The Baker Ross kits often come in threes which suits us perfectly as a family as we each get to make one. Here is my effort.

The second kit was for a hanging feeding station for bees and butterflies. I’m not convinced most of these ever get used by the intended species but I enjoy involving her in the garden and I believe wildlife is one of the best hooks for getting children gardening. It’s still a bit cold for hanging them but we have them ready for as the weather warms up.

Maria Merian

Recently, I have been trying to find decent role models for Alice to look back on. Her current interest is art and for many months now she has been telling us she wants to be an artist when she grows up. The story of Maria Merian is one I stumbled upon but I have become quite fascinated by her life. She challenged the accepted belief in the 1600s that butterflies came from ‘spontaneous generation’. They believed butterflies sprang from the mud. Insects were seen as evil. As a child, Maria had studied caterpillars first hand and linked many caterpillars to the butterflies they became. Her incredibly detailed botanical illustrations laid out her observations on metamorphosis. David Attenborough has commented on her being one of the most significant entomologists in history. His series Natural Wonders has an interesting episode in series 2. We’ve watched a few different kids videos together on her life and I found one book written for children about her life. It’s been interesting looking at with Alice as it has presented the idea that people previously believed something that was wrong. It’s also shown Alice an artist who painted the natural world which is what Alice often chooses to paint pictures of.

Loose parts

I made a few butterfly outlines from cardboard and left with a few different items for Alice to find.

Once found she set about decorating them. She is becoming very precise in her artistic endeavours insisting on exact symmetry and pattern.

She went back to it a few times over the day. I’ll probably use this in the nursery for a settling activity and then leave it out for child-initiated time.


Book recomendations

There is no shortage of butterfly books for children and books are as ever one of our most useful teaching resources, particularly at this time of year when it will be harder to find butterflies except the odd overwintering one in the sheds. The hungry caterpillar is obviously popular, though I don’t like to focus too much on the story as it is one they often have at home. A butterfly is patient is beautiful, though has no plot to speak of and the text isn’t that engaging with the very young. Its value is looking through and discussing. What’s the difference between a moth and a butterfly is great for getting across key facts in an accessible way. Summer birds tells the story of Maria Merian for kids.

Butterflies are always a nice topic and the kids should be fresh after the half-term break. Looking forward to teaching it with them. I’ll leave you with a video made for the children home learning. Hope you enjoy it.

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Six on Saturday: 20.2.21

I know a lot of people find this time of year depressing as they wait for spring to return. Garden literature often bad mouths February but I think there is actually quite a lot to enjoy currently. The snowdrops are still out and the crocus emerging. Daffodils will be following soon. The spread of irises coming into flower is breathtaking. The hellebores are looking tatty but still giving a few blooms. Mahonia are in flower around town. There is lots to enjoy and finding six things in the garden is becoming easier again. I actually had to choose between options rather than scraping the barrel. If you fancy taking part check the founder’s blog. I’ve not really read through everyone else’s the last few weeks while suffering with Covid but getting my concentration back.

1. Galanthus, possibly nivalis pleniflorus Flore Pleno

I’m going to upset all the galanthophiles with this possibly incorrect identification. I only have a handful of different varieties of snowdrops so I should really know. I think is my only double. I know I have Galthus woronowii and elwesii kicking about but they are both singles I think. I shouldn’t really upset the snowdrop lovers as I know they can be a bit fanatical, so sorry if I’m wrong here. It is pretty but apart from being bigger than my others it doesn’t look much different unless lifted to inspect.

2. Crocus

This is the first crocus I’ve spotted in flower. I mainly have yellow and purple in the back garden and white in the front. They are looking a bit bedraggled after the snow but glad to see some returning and some in the lawn. I live in the hope they will spread to give the early bees a food supply.

3. Sunrise

We have had a good run of stunning sunrises over the garden this week. And having a four-year-old I have been awake for all of them despite it being our holiday. No sleeping in for us.

4. National nest box week

It is the BTO’s national nest box week. I haven’t added any new boxes this year as previous ones are still in good condition, look clean and haven’t been used. I have seen a few birds, mainly tits, inspecting. But, I don’t think any are moving in. Alice has got another build a nest box kit to do, which I’m aiming to get done today with her.

5. Nesting material

I have put out some nesting material. We have been crafting lots this half term and had little scraps of felting and yarn. I don’t know if they will use it but if they do we’ll have some colourful nests.

6. Iris reticulata ‘harmony’

Or it could be rhapsody. They were cheap Tesco purchases a few years ago. As with last weeks, they are in pots with the hostas. Iris flowers and shrivels and then the hosta comes up. They seem to be co-existing harmoniously anyway. The first to open came out in the rain and looked a bit weighed down.

But as they’ve all opened they are looking very pretty.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my six. Lots more to come over the next few weeks. We’ve got many more Irises to enjoy. Crocus coming out. Daffodils on the way. Lots to take pleasure in. I’m going to enjoy my weekend off before the return to work. Hope you are all keeping well.

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Six on Saturday: 13.2.21 fun in the snow

It will come as no surprise why today’s six theme is. Last week it appeared everywhere in the UK was snow covered but us but it came eventually. Not as thick as elsewhere. Being coastal it doesn’t tend to last long.

1. Snow

The snow started light but it got heavier over a few days. The front garden is north facing and thus shaded so it isn’t melting away there.

2. Snowdrops in the snow

These nivalis are looking particularly pretty with the Ophiopogon behind. The snowdrops seem to be doing well in the clay soil with lots returning. I’m not sure as many crocus will come back as not seeing as many coming through.

3. Birds in the snow

The birds have been in lots this week with me keeping the feeders well stocked.

4. Snowman

We didn’t have very long for making a snowman. All we managed was this little lump before school. But it put some of my sprouts to use.

Alice was happy anyway.

5. Iris reticulata Katherine Hodgson

The first of the Iris reticulata are in flower. This is one of my favourites. It grows in one of the hosta pots. These flower and shrivel and the hosta then comes up for summer. The feathery pattern is particularly beautiful.

6. Birdwatch competition

We had some nice news that Alice was picked by nest friends to win a bundle of prizes from learning resources UK for her birdwatching efforts in the big garden birdwatch. She is now asking when they’ll be delivered.

The snow is gradually melting away but for a day or two the pavements will be lethal as it changes to ice. We are on half term now so will probably shelter inside for a day or two while it melts away. Snow is fun, ice less so. My chest is gradually feeling better after Covid. Still a background headache but all manageable day to day.

I hope you’re all keeping well. The weather and lockdown not causing too much disruption for you all.

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Six on Saturday: 6.2.21-Garden Birdwatch results

Last week we carried out our Big Garden Birdwatch for the RSPB. As expected I didn’t end up with all the birds we have visiting. With several trees having been taken out next door but one it has affected how many birds are coming in. It was also a very windy wet weekend so I think some of the birds will have been sheltering. But I still like to keep the log each year to give me a long term record of how the garden is doing. For the week after we’ve had far bigger numbers visiting but that is how the birdwatch goes. I reckon every school locally set the birdwatch as part of their home learning so the birds have been well. I took a few photos along the way. They aren’t my best as I was shooting through the glass as I didn’t want to disturb the birds. But they illustrate which we see a lot of.

1. House sparrows

Normally, I get both dunnocks and house sparrows but only the house sparrows came in during our watch so that was all I included. These enjoy the ivy hedge that runs behind our garden. It provides plenty of thick cover to flit in and out of.

2. Blackbirds

We are getting many blackbirds in currently. They mainly feed from seed left out in the ground feeders and from the apple tree in a neighbours garden. But they will also dig around in the borders for food.

3. Collared dove

We have seen a lot of the collared doves and wood pigeons dominating the feeders currently. At times they can become a bit of a deterrent for some of the smaller birds which is part of why I keep some feeders in the mass of lilac where they can’t fly.

4. Blue tit

The blue tits had been in and out in the run-up to the birdwatch but were absent when it came to the count. The great tit did show, however.

5. Wren

The wrens have been visiting a lot and coming along the honeysuckle on the fence right up to the house. However, they are very speedy hopping around so I’m struggling to get a photo in focus. Here it is hiding behind a plant label.

6. Gulls

We get gulls in most days, usually sitting on the shed. At the moment they are not getting as much fish and chips so they are being a bit aggressive and have broken a few feeders shredding them open.

I’m hoping my number continues to grow as the garden establishes. The climbers are gradually taking over the fence giving birds more cover. I have a number of plants that provide food for birds. So with any luck, my garden should be able to counter the loss of trees along the street. I have finished my isolation period after recovering from Covid. I’m still a bit tight of breath but I am feeling a lot better. Not planning much gardening right now but should get back into it soon. For now, I’ve got 10 more plant profiles to write up for my RHS. It’s been a bit rushed finishing the current propagation assignment after covid. But almost all done. Hope you are all keeping well.

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