Nature Schooling: Beetles

Next weeks topic I am working on at the nursery is beetles. I have been quite excited for beetles week as it is one of my favourite topics to look at with children. Beetles vary massively. It is one of the most diverse families. Estimates suggest if you lined up al the plants and animals one in four species would be a beetle. As normal, lesson ideas have been trialled on Alice this weekend.

Beetle books

There are some amazing books to support teaching beetles as a topic. The beetle book and a beetle is shy show the amazing range of beetles with gorgeous illustrations. Billy’s beetle and what the ladybird heard series are great stories featuring beetles. For older children MG Leonard’s beetle boy series are great.

Beetle maths

I have shared my ladybird double song before and craft ideas here. Alice wanted to make a new set of ladybirds ready for the topic.

And I have recorded the song ready for the children who are home learning.  I don’t think I’ll be shifting to vlogger anytime soon as I don’t like listening back to my own voice. But we’re all adapting to teaching and involving parents in different ways.

Beetle stones

For another simple craft activity, we have made beetle stones. We have painted them in a whole load of different colours and patterns to show the extensive variation. I will probably just use them in a small world tray but also for the maths.

I also made some counting frames. It’s just a piece of cloth with the boxes drawn on. They’ve been recommended in a number of early years and forest school books as a good open-ended number resource. I gave it to Alice to see what she’d do. She started with counting objects into each space. Then she moved onto working out her number bonds to 10. Placing objects in spaces and then counting the gaps left. I thought it might be a bit basic for her but she got a lot out of it.

Raising mealworms

I have bought mealworms to show the children the lifecycle of a beetle. Mealworms are normally sold as food for birds. It is the larval stage which is sold as worms. They are incredibly easy to care for. They need a layer of bran to eat and dig in and then they get their water from the moisture in veg or fruit peelings. Alternatively, ladybird rearing kits are available if you fancy a cuter option for looking at a different beetle lifecycle. But by and large, ladybirds are quite easy to find in the wild if you have a decent patch of nettles.

I know some people object to the use of live animals in classrooms but I don’t think you can beat the hands-on experience for teaching children to care for their world. If you take a look at many of the countries most popular naturalists people like Attenborough and Chris Packham they spent childhoods killing many insects with the killing jar and through trying to care for insects. But this gave them a knowledge of these creatures. I’m not suggesting we return to using the killing jar to collect butterflies but a toy model is no substitute for seeing the real thing. Mealworms by Adrienne Mason is a great book for using alongside teaching about beetles.

Beetle bucket

I don’t know if we’ll have time for this activity in the nursery this week but I’d like to add one at some point to add to our habitats. It’s a very basic activity that shouldn’t take too long. A bucket or plastic container needs holes making in it and then it is buried under the surface. The bucket has some large stones placed at the bottom and then it is filled with bark chippings. I’m not sure of the wisdom of burying the plastic bucket with the plastic degrading which is part of why I’ve held off making one so far. We have several log and stick piles around the garden to serve as homes. But it is recommended by a number of key conservation societies. They are supposed to help the endangered stag beetles, the largest of the UK’s beetles. However, these are currently only found in the south so won’t be found in my locality.

https://www.rspb.org.uk/globalassets/downloads/kids–schools/teaching-resources/make-a-beetle-bucket.pdf

Click to access make-a-beetle-bucket.pdf

Nature table

We set up a nature table of the beetle resources we have set up at home with Alice. These are the main resources I will be using over the week with the class. The beetle box contains postcards with photos of different beetles to show the amazing variety. The acrylic blocks contain actual beetles. We have the lifecycle of a stag beetle and the lifecycle of a ladybird beetle. Then a number of the best beetle books.

We’ve been playing quite a few beetle games while we’ve thought about our topic. Alice has been keen to play bug bingo this week and keeps picking me bingo sheets with lots of beetles on as she knows I like them. She is favouring the butterflies. She is naming a lot of the bugs without me having to read as we’ve played enough now. I quite fancy the bird edition but I might wait until we’ve exhausted interest in this one. We have also been playing build a beetle. It’s a basic Orchard game where you spin to gain parts. It’s a nice quick game for number recognition, turn-taking and learning the basic body parts of beetles that they have the body, head and six legs.

I hope the kids at the nursery are as enthused by the beetle topic as I am. Usually, if I’m enthusiastic enough they’ll indulge me. They enjoyed last week’s nest work though it has been a very muddy week so we haven’t covered everything I wanted to. We did get some solid trail camera footage of the magpies and pigeons that rule the forest school when the kids are gone. I have finished each of my nature schooling blogs with a playlist but beetles it seems are not a popular choice for songs and the internet just wants to correct all my searches to the fab four, The Beatles. I’ve enjoyed looking at beetles with Alice. We’ve learnt lots about them along with some great craft, number work and pattern work.

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Six on Saturday: 23.1.21-Winter Flowers

Today’s six is coming a bit later. I normally pre-write the six before the weekend but I’ve been busy at work covering extra shifts all week. This has also meant little time for gardening but to be fair the garden isn’t in too bad a state. As ever, check out the founders six on Saturday guide if you fancy joining in the fun.

1. Iris unguilaris-Mary Barnard

I have two varieties of this Iris in pots to give some winter interest. This is the first flower for Mary. It’s a stunner. Hopefully, we’ll get many more over the next month or so. The photo doesn’t quite reflect the purple colour accurately.

2. Iris unguicularis-Walter Butt

Walter featured last month but it is worth featuring again.

3. Iris pallida

A new Iris addition. This will flower May/June time. There is a nice variegated version with stripy leaves. I’m not sure if this or not but we have signs of growth.

4. Athyrium filix-femina ‘Frizelliae’

This came with the Iris above. It has lovely frizzy fronds. While the individual leaves are lace-like. It doesn’t look like much but I think it should be a winner in a pot.

5. Frost

This morning is very frosty. All the birdbaths have been frozen solid. This was one our plot on a plate from last year that has been dismantled and left for the birds to drink from. But the fairy is frozen in place.

6. Galanthus nivalis-snowdrop

The first of the snowdrops are out. I don’t have many varieties of snowdrops. They are mainly nivalis. It’s a simple beauty. I’d like these to gradually bulk out and form patches.

Lots to enjoy today. It’s starting to get lighter each day so I should start to see a bit of the garden in the evening when I get home from work. Next weeks topic at school is beetles which I’ve been looking forward to. Fascinating creatures. I hope you are all having good weekends.

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Six on Saturday: 16.1.21

It has felt like a busy week at work. I’ve enjoyed the work I’ve done about the moon. I’ve still got a few ideas I didn’t use but I can save them for another year or if we revisit the topic. We managed a few quick jobs in the garden last weekend and then I’ve barely been out except to top up the bird feeders and crack the ice on the water bath.

1. Birdhouse

We completed assembling Alice’s birdhouse from a few weeks back and found a spot to hang it in the lilac. I’m not sure the birds will settle in a spinning house but we’ll see.

2. Narcissus elka

We planted up last week’s hanging pot with some Narcissus elka. These came as a cheap addition to the juniper. They are a miniature daffodil with white flowers with a creamy central trumpet.

It looks good with a bit of gravel on the top. It is quite late onto plant these but I’ve got them and not really got anything else to plant in their right now.

3. Garden birds calendar

Alice has been asking constantly about when events are coming up so we got her a cheap calendar to put her dates on. She wanted one with a robin on. They feature in a good few months of this calendar. Believe it or not, she was happy with the calendar and this was a happy face.

4. Birdfeeder

I bought a new metal feeder as the seagulls have pulled my main seed feeder off and broken it. They have become more desperate for food during each lockdown. Without the constant fish and chips, there isn’t enough to go around. This one isn’t really big enough but I wanted a metal one that was easy to clean. When we get through lockdown I’ll have a look for a better choice.

5. Primula elatior

Last week’s National Gardening teatowel got a good few comments so here is another gardening related teatowel. This one is from the charity Plantlife and features an oxlip, Primula elatior.

6. The bub expert

A house around the corner had a box left outside it on their wall with a sign free books. I found this gem in it. Hessayon is usually worth a read. While his use of chemicals is out of step with current times his knowledge of plants was clearly immense. The books are always clearly illustrated and diagrams are usually good where they are needed. Plus it was free. Lovely neighbourhood.

It’s looking to be another busy week at work next week so I doubt I’ll find much time for gardening but you never know. I’m working on my next RHS assignment on propagation which will be completed for next month just in time for starting the first seed sowings. Hope you are all doing well and managing in these strange times.

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Six on Saturday: 9.1.21

Welcome back to lockdown gardening. Not that for my family we can see that much difference day today. Alice is still in school as the child of two critical workers. Amy is still teaching the same amount of lessons, but remotely. And Boris Johnson decreed Early Years education would stay open so I am still teaching. But, I’ve had a good week back with the kids and I particularly enjoyed our work around the rain. The group really enjoyed making their bottle shakers far more than I expected. 12 days wild came to an end but we carry on with our nature involvement all year. I just don’t do the daily blogging. I’ve also found a little bit of time this week to plant the last few bulbs. They may be a bit late but they were very cheap so no great loss if they are weak this year I reckon they’ll return the year after.

1. Lilium ‘Passion Moon’

Today’s bulbs are the last to be planted. These are possibly a bit late but they were half price from Sarah Raven, taking them down to normal prices. I would have put them in the ground but when I got round to it the ground was a bit frozen. So they’ve just gone in pots for now. They are described as raspberry and cream. My lilies did much better last year when I moved them to a shadier spot. The lily beetles were much lower in number.

2. Nectaroscordium siculum

I bought a few more of these in my Sarah Raven order. I had planted a few in the front garden already taking a chance on the shaded conditions. They are bee magnets and with the multiple tubular flowers they can cater for many.

3. Terracotta pot

I also got this hanging pot a while back but I haven’t decided what to put in it. It will probably only fit one plant so this may just be a little seasonal display. It’s got a nice rustic rough surface to it.

4. Solar lights

I bought these little solar lights for Amy to replace the Christmas lights. They are only tiny little solar candles so they don’t create too much light pollution for the nightlife in the garden but add a few twinkles around the log store.

5. Juniper communis ‘green carpet’

I added this little juniper around the base of an Acer. It forms a nice carpet of green as the name suggests. Juniper berries (which aren’t really berries) are great for a handful of birds that migrate to the UK in winter. Plant life are running an appeal to raise money to plant junipers in areas of the country where they would be native. There are a number of gardens locally that have patches of thriving dwarf juniper varieties like this so I thought I would give it a go. I don’t have much in the way of conifers and pines and I fancy having that little extra for a bit more variety to my foliage. Also, being evergreen it keeps a bit more greenery through winter so the garden doesn’t look too stark.

It isn’t really that exciting a plant to look at but once it spreads a bit more it should look good in combination with the Acer and ferns to the sides. The grounds had a bit of a mulch which always improves the look of things.

6. National Gardening Scheme tea towel

I like a tea towel and the NGS have been unable to do a lot of their usual fundraising for other charities over the last year. So, I bought this rather cheerful teatowel before Christmas. I’m of an age where I quite like practical objects like a good quality tea towel with a nice design. If tea towels aren’t of interest to you the NGS lecture was excellent viewing.

I hope you are all coping well. I know lockdown has been a blow for many but I feel safer seeing more measures being put in place to tackle problems. My RHS exam is cancelled. Not really a surprise. But, it will give me more time to revise and work on the next assignment on propagation. I’ve got 14 plant profiles to complete. These are getting harder to complete as we go along as I’ve used many of my favourite plants from my garden and we are a bit limited for visiting other gardens currently. But I’ll work something out. Though I don’t think I can get away with 14 new purchases. Amy might notice that many slipping in. Enjoy your weekends.

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Six on Saturday: 2.1.21-Vine weevil

Happy New Year! I should really start a new year of six on Saturday posts with something inspirational and uplifting but I’ve been meaning to write about this subject for a while, so this is what you are getting. But gardening isn’t all positive and we roll with punches. We have ups and downs and by sharing the negatives I may help someone else in future.

1. RHS pests and diseases

I have started the process of revising for my next RHS exams. In the next round of exams, I am taking two exams. The first on soil and composting, the second on plant health, pests and diseases. I purchased the RHS pests and diseases in preparation for my revision and I have found myself browsing it in odd moments for the many ways our plants can be attacked. The book is a good guide to promoting plant health and while it does list chemical solutions it largely pushes more nature-friendly methods of promoting plant health. My current garden concern is vine weevil which I will spend the rest of my six looking at in more detail.

2. Vine weevil

Vine weevil are a fairly common pest. They are more of an issue for plants in pots which I think is where my problem started. I had two pots of heuchera that I discovered a few months back were infested. I disposed of these pots but there have been signs that they are in the ground too. So far the problem seems to be just in the front garden and the back seems to be unaffected. I could dig up the plants affected but this may mean removing almost everything and even then any new additions could still be attacked again. So I am trying several approaches to tackling them.

Vine weevil are a beetle Otiorhynchus sulcatus. The larvae are plump, white, legless grubs with brown heads that can be found around the roots of plants. While I have an interest in most aspects of nature you will find few positive odes to the vine weevil grub. Most people would describe them as repulsive. Knowing what they are they are not a welcome sight. They live in the soil where they nibble through the roots of your plants. In some cases, this will just stunt growth. In more extreme infestations they will cause the death of the plant.

I knew I had vine weevil when moving a pot I moved the plant and it came away in my hand. The larvae had eaten the whole of the stem and roots detaching the crown. It is possible to clean these off and re-pot but I didn’t want to take the risk so I disposed of the plants in pots. If you would like to read how to clean off infested plants read Plantsagogo advice. They attack a wide range of plants but heuchera are a particular favourite with hostas, hydrangea and cyclamen being on the list of vine weevil diet. Pretty much the list of what I grow in the front garden.

The larvae mainly cause damage through autumn and spring. The adults emerge late spring and summer. They are about 9mm long with dull black bodies and antennae that form a right angle. They are slow-moving and eat notches out of the leaves. They are flightless so you can set up barriers around your pots. If you grow plants in pots you can keep them in a saucer of water as the vine weevil don’t swim. The adults will lay many hundreds of eggs over a couple of months.

3.Non-chemical control-nematodes and predators

There are a handful of chemical controls for vine weevil but many of these pesticides are unsuitable to infestations in the ground. The pesticides can be applied as a compost drench but all the products I have looked at involve neonicotinoids which will kill more than just the vine weevils. Instead, I have used nematodes. These are natural predators that will attack the vine weevil larvae. They are delivered as a powder that you mix into a solution that you add to a watering can to water over the area. I gave the front garden a treatment in autumn and then again late on.

I have also encouraged natural predators of vine weevil to try and control the numbers further. The front garden does get frogs visiting despite no pond. There are a number of dark damp spots such as under the water butt where they can hide. I have been intending to look at making a mini-pond for the front garden to encourage them further but this is probably a job for spring now. I have also put a fat ball feeder in the front garden to encourage a few more birds in. I feed the birds with many different feeders in the back garden but I don’t really bother in the front as there isn’t much cover around for them. Once we get to late spring I will start to check the plants in the evening to see if I can remove any of the adults myself.

4. Encouraging healthy plants

The nematodes may not prove effective enough though as they don’t work as well as the temperature gets colder. They stop working at temperatures below 5 degrees. I applied the last dose about 2 weeks before the temperature dropped to this point. So I have taken a dual approach of looking at biological controls but also looking at promoting the health of the plant. Back in autumn, I gave the front garden plants a scattering of bone meal. Bone meal is a good autumn feed as it encourages plants to toughen up for winter and root well. As vine weevil mainly cause issues with roots I want the plants to be in as good health as possible. The bone meal is sprinkled on the surface and lightly forked in.

5. Mycorrhizal fungi

Mycorrhizal fungi are beneficial fungal that form associations between roots and plants to give the plants better access to nutrients. The RHS profile page partly dismisses them as the use of lots of fungicide and other fertilisers can disrupt the process. However, as we learn more about the effect these fungi the more gardeners are seeing the benefit of using this funghi. We still know relatively little about how these relationships work but they are truly astounding. I am reading Merlin Sheldrake’s entangled life and it is fascinating reading all the things fungi are capable of doing. Empathy sells many different mycorrhizal products for the gardener aimed at many different functions. They have products aimed at acid lovers, roses, evergreens but I went with the general rootgrow product. This is ideally spread on the roots when planted but as I have already got the front garden planted up the plants received a sprinkling around and it was forked in around some. So this will, hopefully, allow the plants attacked by vine weevil manage to grow back strong enough to survive any future attacks.

6. Mulching

Mulching may not seem to have much to do with vine weevil but let me explain how this may potentially help. The front garden is heavy clay. So heavy you can sculpt with it. Bricks were made locally from it. I have discussed my efforts to improve the soil previously here. Nematodes do not work as effectively on heavy soil in part because the temperature drops colder. So in order to make sure I get the most from the nematodes I need to improve the soil. I am using a no-dig approach of applying top dressings. The soil organisms will gradually take it into the soil improving the structure of the soil. I have used Dalefoot clay buster which I can get delivered free locally. This is a lovely product for enriching the soil. Not cheap, but it feels and looks beautiful. Most gardeners will appreciate this while any of the non-gardeners reading this will think I’m crazy. As well as improving the conditions for nematodes, the mulch can also help improve the drainage while also helping water retention which may seem contradictory. It also provides the plants with some additional nutrition. Clay soil is rich in nutrients but it is not always accessible to plants. All of this should improve the health of the plants to make them more resilient to vine weevil and other problems.

I hope you have found some of this of interest. We’ll see next month if vine weevil come up on my exam. If they do I feel pretty prepared for answering a question on them. The one time I’ll actually be wanting vine weevil to appear.

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12 Days Wild: Day 6 late finish and early start

Last night was the last full moon of this year. A ‘cold moon’. The evening started very cloudy and it wasn’t looking very hopeful for taking a decent photograph so I played with shadows.

But about 15 minutes later the cloud cover had blown over and I got a clear shot. Well worth going out for a few minutes in the cold.

Then I had an early start with a run along the seafront. It was very cold this morning but the seafront paths don’t freeze as easily with the salt spray. The cold weather isn’t so much of an issue as you get up to heat quickly enough once running. The sunrise was stunning over Mappleton in the distance. I started running again during lockdown but I sprained my ankle when I got to the last week of couch to 5K so I left running while it recovered. I’m starting slow again.

And then at the end of my run over the fields at the other end of town.

Later on in the day, I took a little time to watch the bird feeders. I have set up the extra bird feeding station for winter. I put this up during the winter months the birds need it more. The rest of the year I just keep two feeder poles and a few extra in the trees.

Through the day I’ve had the reminder of why I don’t bother with these stations most of the year. They are shorter than the others so the seagulls attack them. They have shredded metal feeders in the past. They can become very destructive and it puts the other birds off.

But as the day has gone on I’ve seen a few other birds use it with tits and starlings visiting lots. The sparrows are pretty much a constant garden presence.

After the initial run it has been a peaceful day of resting and revising for my RHS exam. I’ve just about got all my revision notes in order and been recapping all the details. There is a lot to take in and I’m taking 2 exams next time so I don’t know that I’ll manage the commendation again. But we’ll see. Still a month to go before I sit it.

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Six on Saturday: 26.12.20 Staying positive

I hope you have all had a good Christmas even with tier restrictions. We had a super day, even without visitors. We very slowly opened presents. Alice had a lovely day with many fabulous presents from friends and family. I got a few gifts for my outside lifestyle but nothing so much on the gardening front. But I hadn’t asked for anything so didn’t expect to. Alice received a few gardening gifts. Mainly craft activities: paint your own birdhouses and fairy gardens. So, I’m sure they will feature over the next few weeks.

It seems like the last few weeks there have been many of the six on Saturday posts mentioning how they are struggling for motivation to garden. Then with the news on changes to tiers in the UK, I know many people’s mental health has spiralled further down. This combined with many people suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is leaving many people across social media stating that they are struggling. So, for this weeks six I am looking at six things which have helped me recently.

1. Get outside

Getting outside has been shown to improve mental wellbeing again and again. Ideally during daylight hours but even getting outside at night in a semi-natural setting has been shown in some studies to help. If you don’t have access to an outside space a windowbox or houseplants have been shown to have some mood-lifting capability but I don’t really think it’s a substitute for getting out properly. It can be an effort to drag yourself out currently but having the right clothing helps keep you out once you get out. I keep a set of cheap waterproof trousers by the back door which are more than adequate for most gardening jobs. The Gold Leaf dry touch gloves are my go-to in winter as my clay soil can become pretty horrible this time of year. Buffs for neck warmth and a hat are more convenient for warmth than a big scarf. But once you get doing most jobs outside you warm up quickly enough.

2. Aim low

It helps to aim for just getting small manageable jobs done on each trip out in the garden. If you’re trying to get out and do everything your mood will end up lower. But if you go out with just the aim of planting say 10 bulbs, pruning one plant, you have more chance of succeeding and coming away feeling satisfied. I aimed to get my Iris reticulata planted a few weeks back. It took about ten minutes. They were all bunged in pots but I came away feeling better for having gone outside with a small definite aim in mind that was achieved.

3. Don’t be hard on yourself

If you don’t get jobs done it doesn’t really matter. Worst-case scenarios for most gardening jobs is a slightly less impressive display of something the year after. So long as the job being left isn’t endangering anyone there is no need to place pressure on yourself. It is unlikely our gardens are going to be enjoyed by anyone much beyond our own households anytime soon. So, there is no need to beat yourself up if jobs don’t get done. I have alliums that have been sat in a cupboard for a good while. They have been left while other jobs have been completed. I will get them in the ground probably in the next week. It may be too late it may not be. Doesn’t matter. These irises were meant to be going around the hostas in pots but I haven’t got around to it so they just went in small pots. I haven’t even bothered to tip them out of their plastic pot. They’ll still give some flowers.

4. Celebrate what is there

I have tried to plan the garden to ensure there is something in flower throughout the year. Currently, the stars are the cyclamen. The hellebores should be stunning but they’ve been nibbled quite a bit. There are a few Irises that will be flowering over the next month. But if you look there will be something worth celebrating even if it is just frost on leaves or the stark beauty of bare branches against a winter sky. Celebrate what is going on.

5. Grow evergreen

To avoid the garden looking too stark over winter I have quite a lot of pockets of evergreen planting hidden around the garden. For much of the year, it isn’t visible but as the herbaceous perennials die back the ferns and heuchera are revealed. The hollies come into their own. The evergreen shrubs provide structure over the winter. It just keeps the garden looking that bit lusher over the darker months so you don’t find yourself looking at a full garden in decay. This shaded corner is filled with evergreen ferns and heuchera. They have browned off a bit but they still provide a solid block of green to lift the spirit.

On a side note, as this is the time of year people go for nostalgic posts, the 3 large ferns at the back were amongst the first plants I planted when we moved in. They were tiny little things, maybe 20-30cm big. Now well over a metre.

6. Enjoy the wildlife

With many of the trees bare the birds become much more visible in winter. This combined with food sources gradually dwindling bird feeders become more important. If you do provide feeders keep them clean as a disease can be spread easily in winter and make sure you keep them stocked. If they are empty birds waste energy visiting. Watching the birds in winter provides endless joy. I usually increase my feeders at this time of year in preparation for the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch. By providing a variety of food and water sources I get to enjoy many different birds coming into the garden.

If you fancy reading more on gardening for improving mental health check out these two books:

The well gardened mind.

RHS: your wellbeing garden

If you fancy some gentle viewing watch the National Gardening scheme lecture with Tom & Sue Stuart-Smith. It supports a wonderful charity that then gives onto many worthy causes.

NGS lecture.

It is also day 2 of the Wildlife Trust initiative ‘12 days wild‘. This aims to get people to appreciate nature in these dark months to improve mood. Well worth signing up and looking through their ideas. Check out yesterday’s blog.

We have another day of rest ahead for boxing day. We’ll be taking it slow. I hope you all enjoy your weekend whatever you are doing.

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Six on Saturday: 19.12.20

So, made it to the end of my first term in my new nursery. I’m still enjoying my time there immensely but it is time for a break. We have been getting into the festive mood at home with some garden craft. I received my last RHS assignment back and got almost full marks, so that was a nice little boost mid-week.

1. Christmas wreath

After Amy’s success with her autumn wreath she has gone onto do a lovely Christmas one. She bought it as a kit with choices over the colour scheme. By next year we might have enough foliage from our own garden to do one.

2. Hanging basket

Amy had done such a good job of the wreath I felt I needed to update the hanging basket. I had filled it with fuchsia grown from cuttings. These had gone past their best now. I made use of one of the discount heuchera from a few weeks back, a cyclamen that was hiding under a shrub and some self-seeded ivy from the back. Hanging baskets don’t do too well with our sea winds but it will bring a temporary burst of cheer. Then the plants can be taken out to recover in the border.

The cyclamen is a nice festive red.

The ivy is a lightly veined type. Looking at it together I probably could have done with one of the plants having darker foliage but it is looking alright.

3. Pyracantha ‘orange glow’

I’ve added a pyracantha to grow up the fence. It’s a spiky plant with evergreen leaves. Its main purpose is to provide berries for the birds. There won’t be any this year but it should provide some next year. The berries are bright orange and are particularly popular with finches. I’m trying to provide more natural food sources to supplement the bird feeders I already put out. The honeysuckle is well established and gets picked over. I have cotoneaster that is still quite small but should contribute eventually. The holly golden king has provided a few berries this year but it will be many years before that provides any serious bounty for the birds. Whereas, the pyracantha will look attractive and provide relatively quickly.

Quite a thorny plant but it is at the back of the border out of harm’s way.

4. David Austin rose ‘Peter Pan’

This is the last of my treats for my exam result and completing my last assignment. I need to include more roses within the plant profiles I write for my RHS level 2 so I decided I would get a David Austin rose. I settled for Peter Pan, a small dark red flower with dark leaves. It doesn’t look like much now but hopefully, this will be a good repeat flowering rose for the patio. It was bought bare rooted. Roses are easier to transplant in winter when dormant. You find there is a better range available and they are usually slightly cheaper.

5. Ilex x meserveae ‘Blue Angel’

This is a perfect little holly. While many hollies are sold on the fact that they are spineless or low on spines that isn’t really the holly you want in the festive season. It is a cross between English Ilex Aquifolium and Japanese Ilex Rugosa The leaves have a lovely dark green colour with a good shine. It is fairly compact growing up to about 4m but this will take quite a long time. It can be pruned into hedges or topiary. It has the RHS perfect for pollinators award and it forms berries for the birds. A great little wildlife addition. This isn’t in the ground but may replace the camellia. I don’t really like the double blooms of the camellia. The camellia doesn’t really offer many benefits to wildlife and that was part of what got me into gardening. This also suits the conditions of my garden better.

6. Ilex x Meserveae ‘Blue Prince’

However, ‘blue angel’ is no good on its own as hollies are dioecious. They have a gender. Blue angel is a female holly so in order to get the berries a male needs to be nearby. That is where ‘Blue Prince’ comes in. This is a male holly which will form the flowers, to fertilise ‘blue angel’, but not the berries. Some descriptions of the plant online say it will form berries, but I believe these are inaccurate. It has an award from the European boxwood and topiary society. They are both tolerant of sea winds and clay soil making them good choices for me in theory. This has been planted near the shed replacing a patch of thuggish hardy geranium that was getting out of control. It should form a nice block of evergreen foliage that blocks line of sight to the bare back fence. It will also act to some degree as a windbreak for some of the surrounding plants.

I have managed a few garden jobs this week. A few more bulbs have made it in the ground but I still have more to go. Hopefully, now I am off work I’ll be able to get back on top of the garden jobs. The garden isn’t looking too bad but it could do with some attention to get it back on track. I leave a lot of the perennials over winter for wildlife to shelter in but a few are in need of a cut back as there are other plants coming through for winter that are hidden by the dying growth. I have Lou Nicholls talk on auriculars to enjoy this weekend. This may leave me with a desire for auriculas.

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Six on Saturday-12.12.20-cold and frosty morning

This week we had the first proper burst of frost. This week’s six are almost all plants that have featured regularly but they take on a different appearance with the frost.

1. Hydrangea paniculata ‘Little lime’

This has retained its colour for a long time. It’s a smaller version of limelight and I have it growing in a pot currently. Hydrangea flowerheads look great with frost on and the combination of lime green with the icy edging is an attractive one.

2. Heuchera purple palace

The heuchera often stand out in the frost with the veining becoming more pronounced. Here purple palace was looking very nice with the frost along the stems.

3. Sea holly

This sea holly has held onto its colour beautifully this year. It was quite late to flower but it must have been on the go for about 2 or 3 months now. The flowerheads were starting to drip when I got out.

4. Dryopteris sieboldii

I really like the fronds of this fern. It forms single leaves spaced alternatively along the stem. Similar to the holly ferns but with a more spreading growth pattern rather than upright.

5. Dryopteris possibly filix-mas

This fern was dug out of my parents front garden when they were having their drive way changed. It was a beast and hard work getting out with my mums blunt spade. I haven’t had the chance to take a file to her spade with Covid but it is more of a bludgeoning tool than the cutting tool it’s meant to be. I’m pretty sure it is a form of Dryopteris but not certain of which. Possibly filix-mas, possibly affinis. Either way it’s a nice a big fern filling out a space to the side of the lillac. It gets sun first thing in the morning and then is in increasing shade through the rest of the day. I like the way the frost settles on the edges of the fronds.

6. Hydrangea macrophyla

This is one of two hydrangeas that frame the steps down to the garden. These have lost their colour, fading from pink to brown. They are lovely even as they fade. They always look good with a layer of frost on. These will be cut back in late winter to encourage more flower buds, along with cutting out dead growth.

We have Alice’s ballet lessons starting again today. I did consider going back past the garden centre then remembered it’s Christmas and it will be hell on earth. So we’ll give that a miss. I am finishing off replanting the hanging basket. The fuschias were looking a bit tired. I’ve got a few winter plants to replace them with. Hopefully look a bit better. Hope you enjoy your weekends.

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Six on Saturday: 5.12.20

So this week I got my results from my first RHS level 2 exam. I passed with flying colours receiving a commendation. It will be hard to carry that through on all the exams as I had plenty of time to revise for this first one with the first lockdown but I am quite determined to try.

This week has been a pretty miserable week weather-wise with lots of rain. I don’t really want to step on the lawn currently if I can avoid it. Yorkshire Water has been down the street pumping out drains so hopefully, we won’t get any flooding as a few areas nearby were starting to pool. We are on higher ground so things usually drain away from us but still not much fun walking to work through rivers so hopefully, they’ll keep on top of clearing the drains. It does mean many of this week’s photos are very overcast.

1. Sophie Conran topiary shears

Following on from the success of my first RHS exam I felt I deserved to treat myself. I’ve had my eye on these Burgon & Ball shears for a while. I don’t have masses of topiary to prune but I do have plenty of shrubs where they will prove useful. They feel beautiful, with a nice smooth cutting motion. The fact that they can be used one-handed will be useful on a number of shrubs I own where I want to be precise.

2. Bargain heuchera

Tesco was clearing out many perennials and small shrubs. I was tempted with a few but I don’t think I could fit that many. I imagine they are making room for poinsettias that will be killed off on the journeys home as soon as they encounter cold. I did buy a few heucheras. A couple of dark red and a veined green. I lost a few potted ones to vine weevil. I’m not sure whether these will go in pots or the ground but at just over a pound for them it seemed rude not to rescue them.

3. Dahlia lifting

The dahlias have largely been frosted. I finished lifting the dahlias in pots. These will go up in the loft for storage and then come back down after Easter when I put the Easter decorations back up. There are a few in the ground I want to dig up as they are too close together but it has been too wet the last few days.

4. Log delivery

Last weekend we had a delivery of wood for the log burner. The 2 patio log stores are now full for winter. The wheelbarrow was put to good use carting it around.

5. Helleborus niger

The Christmas rose hellebores are starting to flower. I find the first ones are usually damaged. I think it is slug damage but then the usually improve. The damage doesn’t really show from the house. You can see little patches of white flowers in the shaded corner under the black cherry.

6. Helleborous orientalis

This hasn’t suffered from slugs but suffers from the usual problem with hellebores. They have stunning flowers but they facedown so you don’t see the beautiful speckling.

This weekend, I have the plant profiles to complete for my next RHS assignment. Then I need to begin the process of revision for the next two exams. I have to cover a variety of plants over the course. So many trees, so many shrubs, so many perennials and so on. I haven’t covered many trees yet as I don’t really have that many within my small garden so I am trying to readdress the balance and write more profiles of trees with this assignment. The most recent assignment covered pests and diseases. This has been quite interesting and made me look at how I can ensure the best health of my plants. Hope you all have good weekends and are keeping well.

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