The big sunflower project

This week in school I planted sunflowers with the children. We are growing sunflowers for The Big Sunflower Project for Centronuclear and Myotubular Myopathy. Centronuclear and Myotubular Myopathy are rare forms of neuromuscular disorders that cause defects in the cell structures of muscles leading to low muscle tone. This can cause many physical problems from walking to breathing and speech. It can affect walking and other every day tasks.

For the big sunflower project we are growing the sunflowers to raise awareness of the condition. They ere chosen for their cheery look and their ability to soar to high heights. They aren’t held back.


We are growing two varieties of sunflower: Russian Giants and velvet queens.

We started some off in the propagator and some in the pots.

Please check out the links to read more on the project. My class enjoyed planting their seeds. Hopefully ours will tower to make the project proud.

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Wildflower Hour-Lesser Celandine

This weeks wildflower contribution was lesser celandine (rannunculus ficaria). I found a patch growing in the shaded passageway behinf my garden, similar in nature to its natural habitat. This is a pretty common perenial growing in open woodland and along hedgerows. It is an early food source for bees flowering from March to May. while it grows in shaded spots it requires sun for the flowers to open.

As a part of the rannunculus genus this places it as a relative to varieties of buttercups, spearwort and crowfoot. It is quite low, forming clumps to a height of 25cm. The heart shaped leaves and small yellow flowers make it quite a pleasant sight at this poiny of the year when little is in bloom.

Poisonous if eaten raw it can cause livestock issues. It is native to Europe, but banned in some US states due to its toxic nature.

The poet William Wordsworth loved them enough to write three poems about them. When he died it was proposed a lesser celandine should be carved on his gravestone. However a greater celandine was carved by mistake.

Edward Thomas also used the lesser celandine as the subject of this poem.

Thinking of her had saddened me at first,
Until I saw the sun on the celandines lie
Redoubled, and she stood up like a flame,
A living thing, not what before I nursed,
The shadow I was growing to love almost,
The phantom, not the creature with bright eye
That I had thought never to see, once lost.

She found the celandines of February
Always before us all. Her nature and name
Were like those flowers, and now immediately
For a short swift eternity back she came,
Beautiful, happy, simply as when she wore
Her brightest bloom among the winter hues
Of all the world; and I was happy too,
Seeing the blossoms and the maiden who
Had seen them with me Februarys before,
Bending to them as in and out she trod
And laughed, with locks sweeping the mossy sod.
But this was a dream; the flowers were not true,
Until I stooped to pluck from the grass there
One of five petals and I smelt the juice
Which made me sigh, remembering she was no more,
Gone like a never perfectly recalled air.

While a common wildflower I hope you’ve enjoyed learning a little more on the subject.

School Garden Update

Today the sun was shining. We had one class out of the three in F2 out. So I took this perfect opportunity to get children into the garden.

The garden area of my outdoor provision is split into essentially three allotment plots. The end plot I designated for a pear tree.  It has a dwarf apple tree, then a pear tree that will grow to a larger spread. So this plot I’m just giving the tree space to grow and under planting with a few flowers to bring in the pollinators. Apart from the potential for a fruit crop I just wanted a few trees that would have blossom for the children to build their seasonal knowledge. We have an apple tree planted outside of the garden area in addition to the pear. In the corner the mini pond has seen a few birds using for drinks. The children helped dig in a plastic planter within a tyre. We then filled around the edge with gravel and soil and heaped wood around the edge to create ramps. I doubt it will attract the frogs the children would like for a while, but the log pile and water will provide many insects a home.

Within the plot at the other end the children helped mix a rich soil mix using the leaf mulch from last year with compost to fill three of the tyres. Into these we planted two Glen Moy Raspberry bushes. I’ll need to add in supports for them to grow along, but I’ve got a lot of suitable material for making a frame in the shed, so should be possible. The raspberries are meant to be ready for June or July. One of the issues with growing for a school garden is many of the veg or fruit we might harvest would be during the school holiday or the children don’t see the culmination of their work as they have moved up a year. That said I have planted some red champagne rhubarb which will need at least a year to settle in, so my current children won’t see any results from this any time soon, but if it establishes it will keep going and going.

The middle plot the children planted up with daffodils in Autumn. I’m not a massive fan of daffodils, but wanted something to fill the space after I cleared the head height thistles.

As the garden won’t get as much of a water over Summer I’ve chosen drought tolerant plants. The rosemary is developing into a good thicket.

Then we have a number of mini hebes. I’ve gone with a number of evergreen options along the back portion of the plot to keep some greenery through the year. Between lavender, conifers, hebes and rosemary we’ve got a mix of foliage colour and leaves.

Before I started there was a willow tunnel. However much of this had been damaged by children to a point where there was one solid arch. I took cuttings last year that have been sat in the water butt developing roots. The children helped plant them in. This will hopefully gradually extend the arch back to a tunnel. I’ll have to see if they get a chance to root or whether the temptation to pull them is too much for the children.

Two visitors to the outdoor classroom.

I’ve registered for the RHS school gardening awards and hopefully will work through some of the levels to gain a few rewards. Even if I only complete the first few I think the children will enjoy seeing a certificate for their work. The garden may not look like very much, but I’ve tried to do as many jobs as possible with the children. This slows progress down. But they enjoy it immensely and are learning a mass amount of scientific knowledge. They are developing better grasps on plant biology and as the year goes on the seasons. Then as the garden develops we are seeing more wildlife visitors. From where I started last year with head high thistles across all three plots I feel immense progress has been made.

Kindle gardening deals

This month sees many deals for gardening books on kindle. Kindle obviously thinks it’s time to get back out in the garden. While some are photo heavy that I don’t think will work on kindle. But some good pickings to be had.

Garden design a book of ideas

This gets quite favourable reviews, though I think it may be photo heavy so may be better in a hard format.

RHS small garden handbook

This one has come up on the sales before. It has some good ideas for small spaces. Presentation is good. A quick read to get ideas for a small garden or a small space within the garden.

RHS big ideas small spaces

This covers some common ground with the small garden handbook and goes onto give projects for your garden. These vary in terms of skill and equipment required.

RHS gardening for mindfulness

I bought this one a while back and only just got round to reading it. It’s quite a nice introduction to concepts of mindfulness, but it does get a bit repetitive. I’m not a massive fan of the trend for secular mindfulness books. Removed from the Buddhist eightfold path it loses much of its power to help people. However if you want a quick cheap read about relaxing in your garden it is an alright read. Wouldn’t recommend full price.

RHS the little book of bonsai

I kept a bonsai in my classroom until Alice was born. It had been managing well, but during my paternity it was killed off with neglect. It sacrificed its life for Alice, which I feel a little guilt over. I may have to purchase this book and get another on the go.

James Wong’s homegrown revolution

I’m not massively keen on James Wong’s presenting style when he comes on TV, but he does come off as knowledgeable. We are growing more veg at school. I only have limited experience of veg growing so may get this one to support.
The Golden Age of the Garden: A Miscellany

I quite like a miscellany I can dip in and out of, but might be nicer as a hard copy. Cheap enough though to take a chance on.
RHS Practical Latin for Gardeners: More than 1,500 Essential Plant Names and the Secrets They Contain

RHS Latin for Gardeners: Over 3,000 Plant Names Explained and Explored

These two could be really interesting or dry as old bones. The Latin names give you clues as to where a plant will be happiest, what foliage it may have and much more. It could be useful information.
RHS Miniature Garden Grower: Terrariums & Other Tiny Gardens to Grow Indoors & Out

Terrariums seem to be quite trendy at the moment. Amy likes plants for the windowsill in the kitchen, but I dislike the majority of common houseplants so might be useful to have some more ideas.
Weeds and What They Tell Us

I mainly garden for wildlife, so the term weeds gets criticism. Weeds are wildflowers in an unwanted space. That said weeds aren’t a massive issue in my garden as it’s a relatively small space. I just fight a battle with herb robert, trying to prevent it smothering other plants.
The Garden in the Clouds: From Derelict Smallholding to Mountain Paradise

Looks to be an interesting memoir of developing a garden in a difficult situation.
A Wood of One’s Own

Another memoir with many positive reviews.
RHS How Do Worms Work?: A Gardener’s Collection of Curious Questions and Astonishing Answers

A collection of questions answered. I saw this one on a lot of peoples Christmas lists and seem to remember many other bloggers enjoying.
RHS Botany for Gardeners: The Art and Science of Gardening Explained & Explored

I’ve purchased this one. One of my teachers at school was a keen botanist. While at the time I didn’t appreciate her teaching us about propagation it has come in use as a gardener. Look forward to reading.
RHS Red Hot Chilli Grower: The complete guide to planting, picking and preserving chillies

Chilli growing is very popular currently, though probably not used in our cooking enough currently with cooking for Alice.
Tomatoes: A Gardener’s Guide

Title tells you all.
How to Grow: A guide for gardeners who can’t garden yet

A basic introduction.
Grow Your Own Drugs: A Year With James Wong

A guide to providing herbal remedies through the year.
The Balcony Gardener: Creative ideas for small spaces

Not one for me with no balconies or window boxes. Our outside walls are about to be rendered afresh so will be giving this one a miss.
Creative Vegetable Gardening

Positively reviewed veg guide.
The Sceptical Gardener: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Good Gardening

Not as cheap as the others, but coming from well respected writer. Though being the Torygraph puts me off.
Greenhouse Gardening: Step-by-Step to Growing Success (Crowood Gardening Guides)

Might be of interest to some of you. However I am lacking a greenhouse.
The People’s Gardener

A memoir from a RHS judge.
Teeny Tiny Gardening: 35 step-by-step projects and inspirational ideas for gardening in tiny spaces

Another guide for small projects.
Writing the Garden: A Literary Conversation Across Two Centuries

Some positive reviews for this one.
The Gardens That Mended a Marriage

Looks to be a short read of love and gardening.
Companion Plants and How to Use Them

Not much info on this one. Looks to be short, but is cheap currently.
Grow Your Own Vegetables in Pots: 35 ideas for growing vegetables, fruits and herbs in containers

Another guide for veg growing.

If any of you already own any of these please comment below adding your thoughts.

Cold warnings

With warnings of more cold weather on the way I’ve wanted to ensure I leave a supply of food out for the birds during this vital period. Currently birds will be building up reserves ready for the breeding season. Already I’ve seen a few birds investigating my nesting material. But with the temperature dropping they will be needing high energy, high fat sources of food.The ground is frozen making many natural food sources hard to get.

I have several seed feeders, but these get drained in two or three days. So if I have a busy week at work I don’t always get out on an evening to restock them. The suet feeders and fat balls usually take longer to get through ensuring even when the seed runs out the birds still have food supplies in my garden.

As I was low on suet I went on Haith’s website to see what they had going and found a good value suet starter pack for £14.82. Haith’s have previously given me freebies to review, but this was not. I use Haith’s as the quality I do believe is better and when buying in a reasonable quantity it isn’t badly priced. In this starter pack I received suet fat balls and feeder, pellets, suet block, a coconut feeder, and a bird cake.

Getting out to put it out though meant separating Alice from her new Gruffalo costume, courtesy of the charity shop for £1.50. She has also been spoilt by her granddad with a set of binoculars after a previous blog. Though she hasn’t quite got used to which end to look through.

She had a few phone calls to make on her chocolate phone.

Now Alice was ready we got out to put out the new fat ball feeder and restock the feeders.

The coconut feeder has string on just to put up on a branch.

The cake, block and other pellets went up at the far end of the garden.

Alice was excited by a fir cone she found in the bug hotel.

My snowdrops seem to be running behind the schedule of other locally.

Blue bells and tulips are poking through further with each week.

Now I can sit back inside to do my school work watching the birds enjoy their feast.

Nest box week

A quick shout out for the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) National Nest Box week. My local area currently has a good supply of natural nest spots. But with new housing estates destroying many of these I’m aware the birds may be short of nest spots in years to come.

Traditional advice is to place between 1 and 3 metres. Some species do have specific height requirements, so check if you have your heart set on particular species.

Open fronted nest boxes should have a bit of cover around them. Mine has a lilac tree in front and honey suckle growing over the fence. These open fronted nest boxes are favoured by robins, pied wagtails and wrens.

Nest boxes shouldn’t be placed too close to feeders as these may make an area too busy putting off nesting birds. This is tricky in a small garden like mine, as I can’t put either too close to the house, so I’ve tried to place the feeders and nest boxes with what distance I can apart. Birds need clear flight paths into the nest, but it helps fledglings if there are branches they can get out onto near the nest box.

If you have predators in the area ensure cats can’t get to the boxes. Metal plates can be used around the holes to stop squirrels and some other birds attacking the eggs.

In addition to the nest boxes I have nest lining materials in the garden. Natural wool in a hanging store and straw are available to be claimed. As this is only my second year in the house I’m not relocating nest boxes yet, but if in another year none of have been used I may try different spots.

Follow on twitter to see if I have any nesting success.

Alice is eagerly waiting to see if anything comes, imitating my binoculars with her popoids. I can see I’ll need to get her set.

Alice binoculars

Hawk Walk

Today saw me out with my dad and nephews at South Cave Falconry. We previously visited to see one of my nephews fly a hawk at the end of the Summer. For Christmas we booked a hawk walk for my dad with space for one other to share the experience. The hawk walk takes you from the centre through the woods with one the centres handlers.

As you go the hawk leaves your arm to explore the branches and returns to your arm for food. My dad had his turn on the way out.

The hawk explores the trees, stumps and the ground. On the way out we were heading uphill, so the hawk mainly stuck to short flights between branches and back.

Then on the return walk I took my turn with the glove and the hawk did slightly longer glides as we headed back down hill.

We had a Harris’s Hawk for our experience. These are beautiful birds found through South Western United States to Chile, Argentina and Brazil. They are sometimes found in Britain, where they have in all likelihood escaped from falconry centres. They live in woodland habitats as well as semi-desert. So the woods around the centre are not a million miles away from their natural habitat. They exist on a diet of small birds, mammals and lizards. Within the woods today the hawk found the remnants of a few unidentified mammals distracting him from the walk. Harris’s hawk is unusual in that it will hunt in packs, where as most raptors are fairly solitary. They will hunt in family groups giving them the chance to catch larger prey than they otherwise could on their own.  They are popular amongst falconry centres for the comparative ease to train in comparison to something like owls, which take much longer if they can be trained at all. Harry Potter has a lot to answer for with people thinking owls will make god pets.

Truly a magnificent bird. A wonderful shared experience I would recommend treating someone to.