Six on Saturday- A Walk Around My Garden and Back Fields- 9th Nov 2019

It’s a cold, misty start to today’s walk around my garden and back fields. Peering through the gap in the hedge, the old oak tree looks golden. We see a fox crossing the field, so brazen in the morning light. Fox and field blend into one. All autumnal tones merge today. The fox heads for the ditch, sending a pheasant flying into the next field. In the hedge where I’m standing, blackbirds and robin start up their alarm call. I think it must be the fox causing the upset. But then a buzzard glides low overhead- silent at first, then making a plaintive mewing cry. I shiver. Magnificent. Deadly. Owning the sky.

We walk along the ridgeway path. It’s been a slow start to autumn here. Field maples usually yellow-up by mid to end of October. Suddenly today, as temperatures dip below zero, the hedgerow takes on a golden hue. It reminds me of a patchwork quilt. ‘Squares’ of black dogwood stitched together with patches of golden maple. Such a pretty view. I gaze at it, and hold it in my memory. A few autumn gales and the magic will be gone. A whole year before we see such sights again.

Blackberries. The bane of my life this year. They have taken over my garden and this winter there will be serious chopping back. Meanwhile, leaves glow a glorious red. Quite pretty, if they were not so determined to take over the world.

It’s been wet here. So far this month there’s been 42mm of rain. In October we had 146mm, and in September, 118mm. The ground is waterlogged, ditches overflowing. We follow a path where horses have trod. The ground is so soft there’s deep hoof prints, full of water. It’s calming following footprints, the sky reflected in the little pools of water.

A dip in the hedge reveals our trees on the left. I can hardly believe we planted them, all those years ago, when I was in my 20s. They’ve been a source of joy ever since. On the right in the distance stands Polly’s Wood. I have a dream to join the two woods together- a corridor for wildlife. One day, perhaps. We shall see. Dreams do sometimes come true.

Back through the garden gate, on our boundary, there’s a green corridor running down past the pond to the summerhouse beyond. Autumn and spring are my favourite times for this part of the garden. In spring, the lime green new shoots are bright and cheerful. At this time of the year, field maples and cherry trees create a golden tunnel.

If you look carefully, you can just see our 1930s summerhouse, hidden amongst the trees.

Thank you for all your kind words last week, following our cousin’s funeral. It’s seems I am not alone in turning to nature as a balm when there are sorrows. Perhaps we all find solace and hope in nature all around us. And gardening is something we all turn to in moments of need. This week after walking for miles, and gardening all hours, I feel restored and ready to face whatever life brings. No doubt there will be many more ups and downs to deal with. Nothing stands still in life, or in gardening, for that matter. Does it.

Links : More about buzzards and listen to their call :https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/buzzard/

Field Maples : https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/trees-woods-and-wildlife/british-trees/a-z-of-british-trees/field-maple/

Nest Boxes and Bird Feeders for the Garden

#BigGardenBirdWatch – My survey results.

Looking out of my potting shed window, I can see plenty of pigeons and a few robins. But where have all the song birds gone? Last weekend I took part in the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, and I was shocked by the results. Hardly any birds in my garden.

The Big Garden Birdwatch is in its 40th year, starting out in 1979. Over half a million people take part; it’s the world’s largest garden wildlife survey. But what it has shown over the years is a downward trend, a drastic decline in the number of thrushes, starlings and sparrows.

Results show:

  • Song thrushes down 75 percent
  • Starlings down 80 percent
  • Blackbirds down 41 percent
  • House sparrows down 57 percent
  • Greenfinches down 57 percent
  • Robins down 31 percent

Birds on the increase are

  • Wood pigeons up 950 percent
  • Collard doves up 307 percent.

In my one hour survey I spotted:

1 great tit

3 blackbirds

2 robins

1 wren

1 pheasant

1 chaffinch

5 pigeons

It’s about five years since we heard the tap- tapping of a song thrush breaking open a snail shell on the garden path. And I can’t remember the last time we spotted a sparrow. It must be 10 years at least.

So, with plummeting numbers, what can we do to help. One positive action is to put up a nest box. Loss of habitat might be a factor in the decline of the sparrow. We are all keeping our homes in better repair, meaning there are fewer gaps under the tiles where sparrows like to nest.

I asked Shropshire company CJ Wildlife for advice on buying and siting a nest box and here’s some hints and tips I’ve gathered.

Each bird has its preference for a particular nest box. The entrance opening is a determining factor.

  • 28mm hole- suitable for blue tit, coal, great, crested, marsh and willow tits, pied flycatcher and tree sparrow
  • 32mm – house sparrow, tree sparrow, great tit, crested tit, nuthatch
  • Oval entrance hole – house sparrow, nuthatch and redstart.
  • Open fronted box- well hidden in foliage- robin, wren, spotted flycatcher, redstart, black redstart, pied and grey wagtail, song birds.

Buying a bird box

  • Choose one made from high quality wood, up to 18mm thick, for insulation.
  • Look for an FSC label – certified products contain wood in accordance with Forest Stewardship Council regulations. The council promotes responsible forest management
  • Birds will often return year after year to the same box, choose one that is going to last. WoodStone is a mix of wood and concrete which has good insulating properties and a long life. A 10 year guarantee is given.
  • Metal or some ceramic nests might not be suitable, as they could have low insulation properties.
  • The best bird boxes come with a metal plate protecting the entrance hole from predators. These plates can also be purchased for a few pounds to protect existing boxes that don’t have this feature.

Maintenance of bird boxes

Bird boxes should be emptied every year between the end of October and January 31st. This will help to prevent parasites building up. Wear gloves and a dust mask. Wash the bird box in hot soapy water, or use bird-safe cleaners. Leave to dry for a few days in a garage or shed, and return the bird box to its original position.

Bird boxes can be painted, outside only, with non-toxic water- based paint.

Siting a bird box

  • Chose a north or east- facing position, as bright sunshine will overheat and possibly kill young birds
  • If mounting bird box on a tree, use the dry side and avoid the side where water rushes down in heavy rainfall.
  • Choose a secluded place, away from patios and barbecues
  • Site near vegetation so that young birds making their first flight will have some cover
  • Protect open nest boxes with thorny vegetation around them
  • The best height for bird boxes is between 1.5m and 5.5m
  • A clear flight path into the box is needed
  • Avoid sites such as the top of a fence, where predators can easily access the bird box.

In my garden, I’ve started off with boxes for robins, sparrows and great tits. And I’m hoping to attract a nuthatch or two. I’ll keep you posted on how I get on. I’m saving up for one that has a camera inside. I’d love to watch nesting birds in action.

Many thanks to CJ Wildlife for supplying bird food, and feeders, which I’ll talk about next time, and substantial, high quality nest boxes. I’m looking forward to attracting more birds to my plot, and doing my bit towards reversing the downward trend in garden bird numbers.

Here are some links you might find useful.

BTO https://www.bto.org/volunteer-surveys/gbw

Woodland Trust https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/visiting-woods/trees-woods-and-wildlife/animals/birds/

CJ Wildlife https://www.birdfood.co.uk/bird-feeders.html

CJ Wildlife nest boxes https://www.birdfood.co.uk/nest-boxes.html

Big Garden Birdwatch https://www.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/activities/birdwatch/

 

 

Please leave a comment below to be included in a prize draw for a Jupiter feeder and 1k suet pack, currently on sale for £18.99. Names will be randomly selected and there’s no cash alternative. Sorry, UK entries only. CJ Wildlife decision is final.

Photos of birds credit :CJ Wildlife.

Don’t forget to use the hashtag #BigGardenBirdWatch and #Winterwatch on social media to share your findings and stories from your weekend survey. And please feel free to share this blog piece on any social media platform. It all helps. Thank you.

Product Trial : Hopes Grove Nurseries- Hedge-in-a-Box Kit

Photo: Prunus blossom from my hedgerow.

Visitors to my garden sometimes look surprised when they see the state of my hedges. They don’t often know what to say. Or they launch into a lecture offering kindly advice which usually involves grubbing out the rampant species and cutting everything back. I say nothing.

Truth is, I know the hedges are untidy. But I love them that way. There are gaps – but they allow ramblers on the lane to view the snowdrops. And me to watch the barn owls glide silently by at dusk. Yes, there are tangles of wild clematis, ivy and honeysuckle. Bees love the ivy flowers and birds love the berries. It’s a living tapestry of colour all year round.

Even the scruffiest, wild and untamed hedge provides nesting and cover for birds. A home for insects and small mammals. A microclimate, baffling the wind. Far better than any fence or wall, allowing frost to filter through and creating shelter.

Being a fan of all kinds of hedges, I made a beeline for Hopes Grove Nurseries at a recent garden trade fair in London. Hopes Grove are launching new themed hedging kits. I asked if they could design a florists’ hedge for me, and three days later my hedge-in-a-box arrived on the doorstep.

My new hedging kit contains a mixture of plants to give colourful stems, flowers and evergreen foliage. There’s a mixture of bare-rooted stock and potted plants including deutzia, escallonia, ribes, forsythia, hydrangea, mock orange, spirea. A lavender has been included as a sample of what the nursery sells. I think I’ll plant that in my herb garden. For glossy evergreen leaves there’s griselinia littoralis and osmanthus burkwoodii. And for winter colour there’s dogwoods with black, yellow, red and orange stems. My wild and untamed hawthorn hedge marks the boundary of my acre plot, but nearer the house and around the veg plot I’m going to plant a new mixed hedge, one I can harvest for my flower arrangements.

The plants, well packed, arrive in cardboard boxes. Boxes and paper packaging are all recyclable.

You wouldn’t know they have been packed in a box and been on a journey. The plants are really well grown and fresh. There are plenty of new buds on the Hydrangea Annabelle, and the osmanthus is just about to flower.

Bare- rooted plants are also substantial, well grown stock. We’ve heeled them in to the veg plot temporarily, until the ground is less waterlogged for planting. Each week I join in with the IAVOM (In a Vase on Monday) meme. I post a photo of what I’ve grown and harvested from my garden and take a look to see what other people all around the world are growing for their flower and foliage arrangements. Have a look at Cathy’s site to learn more.

Another new hedge-in-a-box kit is the Gin Makers’ Hedgerow, with fruit and berries for alcoholic infusions. There’s wild pear, crab apple, plum, and cherry amongst the long list of suggestions. And I noticed dog roses too, which grow freely in my garden.

Of course, my wild informal hedge might not be everyone’s cup of tea. It’s important to say that Hopes Grove supplies plants for more structured hedges such as yew, privet, box and beech. Plant sizes vary from economical one year old cuttings, bare rooted transplants, 2- 4 year old feathered whips, right up to 25ltr pots and troughs of well grown plants for instant effect. There are hundreds of plants listed in the catalogue.

Hopes Grove send out a well-written site preparation, planting and aftercare guide. Morris Hankinson is the founder of Hopes Grove and grew up in the tiny oast house on the small family farm that is now in the centre of the nursery site. Morris has grown the business from a “one-man-band planting, growing and selling hedging” to a nursery covering 50 acres and employing 18 local staff.

Contact Details: Hopes Grove Farm, Smallhythe Road, Tenterden, Kent, TN30 7LT. Tel: 01580 765600. E-mail : morrish@hopesgrovenurseries.co.uk. http://www.hopesgrovenurseries.co.uk. Click Here to visit the website. These are not affiliate links.

I’m delighted that Hopes Grove have asked me to trial this hedge-in-a-box kit. I love to hear of innovative ways of growing and selling plants. I’m very happy to wholeheartedly recommend their hedging plants and I’m grateful for the chance to give my honest opinion.

Hopes Grove won the Bob Maker Memorial Award for the best stand at the trade fair, the Garden Press Event in London.

Photo. Wild flowers – stitchwort- growing in the hedge at home.

My Garden Right Now and End of the Month View – Dec 3rd 2017

I’m joining in with Michelle with #my-garden-right-now and Steve Glebe House #End-of-month-view. Enjoy a slideshow of photos from my garden today. There’s still plenty of colour thanks to the alstroemerias and chrysanthemums in the open-ended ploy tunnel. Keeping the rain off the flowers helps to make them last until Christmas.

I talked about mouldable fairy lights Here. You can listen in to BBC Radio Leicester Down to Earth programme here http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05mf51m where we talk about my cut flowers, grown all the year round for friends and family.

The alstroemerias from Viv Marsh postal Plants grow in 40cm pots and flower nearly 12 months of the year. Choose the long stem varieties if you are growing for cut flowers.

White Stallion chrysanthemums came from Chrysanthemums Direct Nursery as cuttings at the RHS Malvern show last autumn. The yellow chrysanthemums are cuttings from my father in law and have been grown in the family since the 1950s. Originally they came from an Aunty Doris. It’s lovely to keep up the tradition of growing these cheerful plants.

The mouldable lights came from Wilco Christmas range and cost £3.50 including the batteries. I’ve wound them around the lemon trees And plant pots to give a cheerful glow.

Just two weeks ago, the view from the greenhouse and potting shed was this :

Now the golden beech trees are bare and the view from the potting bench -where I’m planting up hyacinth bowls for Christmas and putting amaryllis bulbs in terracotta pots -looks like this:

Luckily there’s some early hellebores in flower to brighten things up. This one is called Jacob.

And still on the white theme, this beautiful rose Pearl Drift is in flower today. What a star. It blooms all summer and is free of black spot. I can highly recommend this easy modern shrub rose. It is delicately scented too.

I’m keeping an eye on these huge red rose hips for my Christmas decorations. Rosa Scarlet Fire is another disease resistant variety with large open single red roses and hips the size of marbles. Birds don’t seem to bother with them, probably due to their enormous size.

Something that is also in flower now- and not waiting until Christmas- are these Paperwhite narcissi. I wrote about planting them in jam jars and tall glass vases a few weeks back. Well, November has been so mild with above average temperatures that forced bulbs like these are weeks ahead of schedule. The scent is truly glorious.

This week I also appeared on the Ben Jackson radio show talking about making Christmas presents from items collected from the garden. Here’s my succulent /cacti in a jam jar idea. I used pea gravel, a recycled jam jar and an offset from one of my plants to make this simple display.

Pimpernel Press sent me this award-winning book to review. Head Gardeners by Ambra Edwards would make an ideal Christmas present. It’s full of behind-the-scenes tips and glorious photos. An inspiring insight into what motivates head gardeners at some of the country’s most beautiful gardens. Photos are by Charlie Hopkinson and the book won Inspirational Book of the Year at the recent Garden Media Guild Awards. I rarely sit down and read a book cover to cover- but I just couldn’t put this one down. It is fascinating to hear the voices of the head gardeners. I kept nodding agreement, and scribbling down notes. It’s one of my favourites this year. Easy to see why it is a winner.

To be honest, it was dark by the time I stepped out of the potting shed.

Just in time to see the tawny owls that hatched in our garden this summer. What a wonderful end to a beautiful winter’s day.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this tour of my garden in December. Go over to Michelle at Vegplotting to see what others are posting for #my-garden-right-now. And also Steve at glebehouse for the #end-of-month-view. It would be great to see what you are getting up to on your plot just now.

The view today

It’s been torrential rain here all morning. The ditch has overflowed and resembles a fast flowing stream, and my veg plot is half under water.

I’ve been watching a young buzzard, sitting on our hedge. Every now and again, it shakes itself and raindrops go flying. 

Suddenly the downpour halts. The buzzard looks about and stretches its wings to dry them. And then it’s off. With only three flaps of its wings it is gliding over the hawthorn hedge. Such power. By the time I get to the gate post to watch, the buzzard is only a tiny speck high up in the sky. But we can hear the cat-like mewing sound.  And now there are three. The young buzzard has been joined by its parents. 

We’ve been watching these buzzards for the past few years. They’ve made a nest in a small wood in the fields at the back of our house. Last year there were two pairs nesting, and they each produced two chicks. 


We will take a walk there later to see if we can spot their nests-without getting too close to bother them.

Anyway, the sun’s come out now, and suddenly there’s activity all round. There’s bees buzzing in the cotoneaster around the office window, the fledgling swallows are making wobbly flights past. We hold our breath, in case they crash. They just miss, by inches. The busy, twittering sound they make reminds me that I must get going too. I must dash off to work, before the next deluge. 

I hope you’ve enjoyed this quick glimpse into my morning here in my garden. It’s our wildlife haven. 

Wild geranium,tiny but Jewel like. White clover, buttercup and grasses. Perfect for bees, butterflies and insects.


Pink-tinged  cow parsley. As pretty as any cultivated flower. 


Wild geranium maculatum, like crinkled silk. Also known as cranesbill because of its seeds. As beautiful as garden form.