The Big Dahlia Experiment

This year is my first year growing dahlias. Through looking at lots of stunning #dahlialove through six on Saturday blogs I decided this year I’d dip my toe in and try and grow some. I’ve got a few tubers hidden away for when the risk of frost has gone and I’m also trying the seed option as well. Dahlias are very tender to frosts so I’ve been trying to time this so they would be viable plants but not put out too early that they would shrivel in the cold.

Now there aren’t many dahlia options that come up reliably looking anything like what they claim to be but Sarah Raven’s Bishops children claim to be a good reliable option. They have dark foliage and then plum, orange or red flowers. While being quite ornamental and good for cut flowers they still have the RHS perfect for pollinators award satisfying my desire to provide for wildlife.

Dahlia seeds and Alice’s choice of passion flowers

I’m lacking space to grow seeds this year with building work going on so I’m restricted to a few propagators in the spare room. These were sown in a medium sized propagator a few cm apart. At a week in the seeds were going strong with almost 100% germination success. I didn’t expect them to germinate or grow so fast.

One week of growth

We are now a couple of weeks into growing and they’ve been ready to prick out into individual pots. They’ve gone into 10cm pots I found in the shed. While I am cutting the single plastic use down no sense in not using these when they are already there. As already said I am lacking space in the house and as almost every seed germinated I have a lot of dahlia seedlings now. So I am going to trail different options for the seedlings.

I have put a handful back in the propagator they came out of and they have gone back in the spare room with a few grow lights for company. These are not on all the time just a few hours in the evening when I am around to supplement the light. The lid is coming on and off to give them the chance to have air circulation. There is cappilary matting at the bottom to give them a water source.

Then another handful are also sharing the spare room in a really useful box. It was suggested on Twitter that these could be used for propagators and as cold frames. This box is a bit small but it will do to get them established in the 10cm pots.

Then I have a much larger really useful box that is going in and out on the warmer days. As it gets warmer and the risk of frosts at night lowers I may risk leaving them out and start to harden them off to cold.

Then as there were still a couple I had left they have gone in a spare plastic box upside down. As this is an effort to move these are staying outside on top of Alice’s mud kitchen which is currently in the middle of the lawn while building work goes on. I imagine they have lower chances of survival but currently, the weather forecast is good for the next week so we’ll have to see.

So, watch this space to see how the really useful box cold frame works out. If even a handful of these make it to full size I’m going to have a good display of dahlias so fingers crossed. Any advice is greatly received. I’m going back to read Naomi Slade’s wonderful book for what to do next.

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Grow wild free seed

It’s the start of the year so Grow Wild seed kit applications are open. Grow wild have been running a campaign for several years to transform local areas with native, pollinator friendly wildflowers. The seed mixes weren’t just generic shop mixes. They were made for different areas of the country to promote flowers that would have grown in each region originally.

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I’ve had the seed kits in 2016 and I grew them in a pot. That little pot attracted in a mass number of insects particularly bees. The goldfinches loved sitting on them too. Not all applications will be successful, but well worth supporting if you can. If successful I have an area at school in mind to assign as meadow. With the fruit trees and garden area I’ve started it will bring in a god variety of insects.

In other news the Nature Book Swap has its first expressions of interest. If you fancy some nature books take a look here.

Bay walk

The second day at the bay we got out for a walk along the sea front with Alice’s aunt, uncle, cousin and granddad.

Max had an explore down the tunnel.

Alice had a brief walk on the sand. She didn’t like the water very much so ended up back in the howdah pretty quick.

Alice’s Uncle Rich and cousin Max explored rock pools finding a decent sized crab.

Pecking through the distant rock pools for molluscs we saw the oyster catchers.

And a few butterflies on the way back up the cliff.

Back at the house we had a sit down in the rather beautiful garden for a cuppa. Alice had a good explore.

Photo challenge

The photo challenge I’ve been taking part in had been focussing on flowers and petals this week. So I’ve been playing with aperture.

So here is the same flower at different apertures. This affects the background focus. Generally for flowers people aim to have the flower in focus, then the background in soft focus isolating the main subject of the flower.

1/6 sec. f/36 50 mm

This gives some focus to the background leaves, which here isn’t quite as nice as the soft focus.

1/200 sec. f/5.6 50 mm

1/200 sec. f/6.3 42 mm

The higher f-number giving a nicer shot in my opinion. The subject flower is shot showing the colours nicely with the background as a soft blur.

And a few other shots from the garden.

Alice has enjoyed having her cousin around.

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30 days of wild: Day 22-Great British Wildflower Hunt

To see a world in a grain of sand

And heaven in a wild flower

Hold infinity in the palms of your hand

And eternity in an hour.

William Blake

 

Naturalists love a survey and plantlife have launched their effort, The Great British Wildflower Survey. People have less contact with wildlflowers and know less about them. This survey aims to find out numbers in order to make sure they are still there for future generations.

In my area the police are doing census stops. They pull people over at random and ask questions and do a quick check over of the car. As I had gone through two census points and traffic was slow I stopped in a lay by for a minute to do a count of species spotted. I can identify a small handful of wildflowers, so I’m always happy for projects like this that will teach me more.

There was no shortage of cow parsley.

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Then patches of common ragwort.

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A few tufts of common knapweed covered in pollen beetles.

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Patches of herb robert sticking out here and there. This one complete with hoverfly.

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And plenty of white clover, thistles and nettles.

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On my commute I am still enjoying listening to Watership Downs. Nothing too tragic has happened to the main characters, but I feel it’s all about to go downhill for them. Here are some rabbits spotted today. You can just make them out as little dots as I only had my ipad and phone to hand for a photo.

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And a chaffinch that was singing away merrily. Again, sorry for the poor image quality.

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Then back home I’ve seen the goldfinches out lots. They’ve gone from being totally absent to everywhere.

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My results for the Great British Wildlfower Hunt are submitted, so I’ve done my bit for conservation today. Hopefully I’ll pick up the names of a few more species as I go on.

30 days of wild: day 19-meditate in the wild

Today was another scorching hot day, so took the chance to eat dinner outside at work in the shade of the trees. It was a pleasant temperature with the breeze rustling through the leaves. It’s good to have a break in the day, a moment of calm when dealing with 80 children through the morning.

I then completed the wild act meditate outside. This years 30 days has linked the benefits of nature loving to mental health. Taking a chance to go out and have a breather did me wonders before going to sit in a stuffy meeting.

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The meeting was just over the road from school. On the way I admired the wild planting outside one of the health centres. It’s good to see a decent 30 metre stretch put over to these in the middle of a built up city area. Between this and the trees in our school ground we do quite well for wildlife.

 

30 days wild 2017: snap a blue photo

Today I was rushed for time, so thought I’d do one of the random acts cards. I choose shoot something blue thinking it would be easy.

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It’s been a glorious day with bright blue sky. A sky ELO could sing about. However when I got out after tea it wasn’t playing ball. It was more 50 shades of grey.

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Despite the song, lavenders blue dilly dilly, mine is not. I have purple, lilac and white, but no blue. Normally there are spectacular blue dragonflies in the garden, but it was too late on. I couldn’t even find a blue bottle. So in the end I settled on my cornflowers, while some are fading there are still some looking good.

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I didn’t find some interesting similes for blue while composing this blog.

Blue like the sea of a dream.
Joseph Conrad

A sky as blue as the enamel on the statuettes of Osiris.
—Théphile Gautier 


Blue like a corpse.
—Nikolai V. Gogol 


Blue as lips of death.
—Eugene Lee-Hamilton Gautier

Blue
And beautiful, like skies seen through
The sleeping wave.
—Thomas Moore

 

A hidden gem

Today has been wet and miserable, so we decided to head out to the garden centre to do a quick run out for compost. However we never made it. We’d forgotten garden centres are where people go for bank holidays, so we turned round in the car park and came back the way we’d come. We didn’t head home though we made the decision to go to Wassand Hall.

Wassand Hall is a regency house just outside Hornsea. The mere where we visit regularly is part of its estates, but neither of us have ever been to the hall and gardens. But I’m glad we decided to today. The hall hosts an amazing arboretum with some enormous specimens of trees that have the feel of a Canadian wilderness.

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There was a vintage car display on, although neither of us has any interest in cars we were amused by what classes as vintage.

We didn’t pay the extra for entry as it didn’t look great for pram manoeuvring. But it has the look of a setting for a MR James or Caranaki ghost finder story.

The walled garden were restored in 1997 and contain a series of courtyards. They follow standard country house layouts, but done with style. The first courtyard is square shaped with the standard fountain and laburnum arches in the corners, nothing to rival Bodnant Gardens but pretty nonetheless.

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The outer wall was covered in honeysuckle. If it had been a sunnier day I imagine this would have been awash with insect life, but the drizzle was keeping it subdued.

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The other courtyards comprise a pond, a herb and vegetable patch and the cafe. The greenhouse apparently contains a succulent collection, but didn’t notice this.

 

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After finishing in the walled gardens we went back round to the vintage cars to enjoy a Mr Moos ice cream. I had a rhubarb and ginger, while Amy and Alice enjoyed a raspberry ice cream. Being Mr Moos it was top notch.

Across the field were some of the cows I assume make up chestnut dairies herd, who supply our local milk.

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Refreshed with ice cream we left the halls garden to walk along a bridal way away from the hall.

We saw lots of bee activity on the wild flowers.

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The pram was going to struggle going any further so we got Alice out to practise her newly discovered skill of walking.

 

 

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On the way back to the car I spotted a still orange form in the cow field we’d passed on the way to the buttercup field. It was so still we weren’t sure if it wasn’t a sculpture, but as we got closer we saw flickers of movement. I was very excited to see the fox. While I knew they were in the area since moving to Hornsea I haven’t seen any of these lovely creatures. It seems appropriate that on the day people marched in London to keep the ban I’d spot a fox.

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We saw it disappear back into the bushes as we went on, but then up ahead further excitement as I spotted a rabbit. A bit too far for a decent photo.

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But as went along the path I caught sight again amongst the trees.

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An excellent end to a tremendous walk on a day we weren’t sure we’d go out. Wassand Hall was a wonderful hidden gem and I’m sure we’ll revisit.

Garden update

Having updated on the school garden yesterday I thought I’d update on my own garden as a few flowers have come into bloom. Last year entering the 30 days of wild we were living in our previous house. The garden was nice, but we were surrounded by paved over gardens and little wildlife of any sort came in. The new house is surrounded by other gardens containing trees and flowers bringing a greater biodiversity. The big garden birdwatch saw double figures of species. The newly relaunched Great British Bee Hunt is seeing a greater variety of bees in my garden. I’ve made good steps towards making the garden welcoming to wildlife.

In the last few days the first cornflower has bloomed.

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I have the fist daisy flowering in the border amongst the forget me nots. I believe it’s camomile, although I do have oxeye daisies as well. I’ve already seen a few butterflies coming down to settle on it. Just one flowering daisy already making the difference.

The foxgloves are set to flower. I love foxgloves, so I’m keen to get them established and then hopefully they’ll reseed. Great for the bees and very pretty at he back of the border. Mine have been chewed a lot, but I’ve tried to remain spray free to encourage all life.

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The lavender has come back strong. I cut it back a lot at he end of Autumn as advised and it’s flowering well this year.

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My alliums are looking good. I’ve seen quite a bit of alliums over the last week on the Chelsea Flower Show coverage. There clearly a bit of a trend at the moment. Mine I believe are Turkish onion.

The first of the roses to flower has done so spectacularly. It was a bit limp last year, but after a harsh pruning it has come back surrounding the butterfly house beautifully.

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So this year I’ll be starting the 30 days wild with my own little wildlife space looking much stronger than last year. Only a few days to go until the big month. I managed one wild act every day last year. I’ll have to see if I do as well this year.

Two wildlife surveys

Last year I took part in the Great British Bee Count for friends of the earth. This survey allowed you to either log how many bees you saw in a set time or to log sightings of species. I loved the app. It was simple to use. Take a photo of the bee on your phone, then it gave an identification sheet. I became a bit obsessed chasing bees. The hunt returns 19th May.

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The Woodland Trust have another survey, The Big Bluebell Watch. Over half the worlds bluebell population are in the UK, so the Woodland Trust want to know where you have sighted bluebells and if their native and non-native. Bluebells are traditionally a sign of ancient woodland and offer an early source of pollen to many insects. So the Woodland Trust wants to make sure they don’t disappear.

I’ve sighted lots along the old Hornsea Railway way and made my submission.

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National Gardening Week

This Easter weekend marks National Gardening Week. As its been the school holiday for me I’ve made some good steps forward with sorting out the garden. I’ve had a bit of help from parents over the week.

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My dad has been working on greening the lawn and it’s now looking a lot better for it. WhenI moved in last Summer it was a sea of dandelions. While I appreciate that dandelions make a great early food source for bees they aren’t nice to walk on. We also have a path behind the garden where I’ve left them to grow. There also appears to be some wild bluebells emerging.


Some of the flowers put in earlier in the year are doing well. The patch of forget me nots I planted in Autumn are doing well and a few have seeded in other spots.

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The foxgloves and hollyhocks are doing well. They got eaten to pieces initially but are now growing better.


These bulbs I planted in Autumn are shooting up. I can’t remember what they were, but lovely leaves. Be a nice surprise seeing what flowers.


My mum turned the apple tree after we cut it back to encourage shaping and growth. It had been a bit neglected but seems to be doing well now.

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We got in two varieties of rosemary and silver mist lavender in the back. With some gravel in the soil for drainage I’m hopeful they’ll take well. A few gardens along the street have good patches of rosemary and lavender, so hopefully do well. There good for both bees and butterflies, which I’d like to attract in. I’ve got quite a lot of plants for bees, but less for butterflies.

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My parents bought me two hardy fuschias which should look nice when flowering.

On the patio I’ve knocked out one of the unused stone wall planters. Now we’ve got the log burning stove fitted we want to turn this into a seating area and wood store.


The daffodils in the pots on the patio are up to dead heading point so looking to plant up a few other pots with some Summer flowers. I’ve got some night scented flowers recommended for moths and to attract bats. Some poppy seed has gone in the flowerbed.


The seed packet that came from grow wild had grown beyond its pot so my mum split them over the flowerbeds in the front and back garden. There is also some more lavender in the front garden.


The RHS guide to urban gardens was a kindle deal of the day earlier in the week so possibly get some more ideas for the patio there.

And I’ll finish with a few wildlife visitors over the last week.

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I’ve moved a bird feeder to the front garden which is seeing plenty of visitors.

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