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.

Find me on Twitter.

Find me on Instagram.

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.

Find me on Twitter.

Find me on Instagram.

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.

Find me on Twitter.

Find me on Instagram.

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.

Find me on Twitter.

Six on Saturday: 30.1.21

Well, this week has been spent at home. I tested positive for Covid at the start of the week. I didn’t show a lot of the common symptoms but I had a splitting headache and I was very achey. I seem to have been let off lighter than many others. My head is still hurting but I have still been able to move within the confines of our house. Sadly, this means I haven’t got to teach beetles this week. It has meant I’ve been home schooling Alice again but she is happy with this situation. This weekend is the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch. I’ve wanted to involve Alice each year and tried to make it an event so even though we are stuck isolating at home we can still create happy memories. The birdwatch helps keep Alice interested in the garden and help teach her care for our world.

1. Robin gingerbread

We can’t do a birdwatch without snacks. I picked up a reduced Christmas baking kit a few weeks back but these would be easy enough to make without. The kit contained a gingerbread mix that you just added golden syrup and butter too. You cut a circle for the robin and a smaller circle for the breast. A hardboiled sweet went in the hole and this melted when baked to fill the circle.

The sweet didn’t come out that red, but I think they are quite cute.

2. Fat candles

Before we went into isolation I brought some lard back from work. We have an eco pantry where we get donated food the supermarkets know they won’t sell and we ended up with an abundance of lard. Fat candles are dead simple to make. Melt lard or suet in the microwave. About a minute will do. Mix in seed, raisins, grated cheese, seed, whatever you have available. Put a piece of sting in a cup and spoon the mix in around it. Put it in the fridge to set and then you can pull it out once set. This is easier with paper cups where you can cut them off. We didn;t have any in so I had to scrape it out a bit.

Off all the different home made bird feeders I’ve made over the years these are the most popular. The Cheerio feeders are largely left, the bottle feeders swing around too much. But I carry on making them with Alice as they help to engage her with the garden and the birds.

3. Bird hide

We used Alice’s den kit she got for Christmas to make a bird hide. It is not the most subtle with the red sheets but it was what we have spare.

4. I spy

I bought Alice the I spy birds book for the occasion. These are published on many themes to suit different children’s interests. You tick off as you see the birds. They each have a score. When they have reached set scores they can send them in for a certificate and a badge.

5. A robin reward

I’ve wanted to try to make the bird watch a memorable experience. While on lockdown we don’t get the chance to go out and visit places but we can still make lasting happy memories at home. So I ordered this fused glass robin to give Alice as a souvenir, something to remember it by, for when we’ve finished our birdwatch.

6. More snacks

We’ve made more chocolate nests following on from nest work. These are particular decadent with milky bar cookie chocolate and honey nut cornflakes. I’m not a big eater of chocolate preferring savoury options but these are particularly good.

The birdwatch results will follow. I’m expecting a dip from previous years due several circumstances. Lockdown means we have more seagulls in the garden as they are lacking fish and chips. These scare off many of the other birds. Also, our next door but one neighbours have had one of the tallest trees cut down. This was a perch many of the birds used before coming down onto our feeders. So, I’m expecting good numbers of gulls and pigeons but I have less expectations for the smaller birds. But we’ll see. I’ve got most of next week in isolation to recover. Hopefully get my head back to a point where it doesn’t hurt. My concentration is pretty low so sorry if I’m not reading your posts. I’m pretty restless. In the meantime, I am planning activities for children who are off home schooling. Next week’s topic is rainbows. Alice is very excited for this topic whereas I have less enthusiasm for it. They look pretty but serve no purpose so I’m looking for some hook to engage me. I hope you are all keeping well and staying safe. Enjoy your weekends.

Find me on Twitter.

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.

Find me on Twitter.

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.

Find me on Twitter.

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.

Find me on Twitter.

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.

Find me on Twitter.

 

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.

Find me on Twitter.