Category: beneficial insects

Post-Storm Inspiration – out and about enjoyment

plum tree storm damage Post-storm inspiration

Storm damage to our plum tree caused by exceptionally strong winds.

Thinking of one’s garden may be far from the minds of many readers who have been affected by gales and flooding. Personally, I turn for post-storm inspiration to gardens of the National Trust, knowing I will find beauty that will lift the spirit wherever I visit – on the page, or for real.

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Progress of one sort and another

The protected Potager is doing well

The protected Potager is doing well

I don’t know what it has been like this last week in gardens and allotments all over the country, but here we are still feeling the tail of Winter and yet a third of the way between Spring and Summer! Still those bitter easterly winds; and whilst we can wrap up warm, seeds and young plants are having to be coddled. At least I have my ‘courtyard potager’ under control; with its protective shrubbery surround, it is the warmest part of the whole garden (or was until my husband decided to rip out part of it.) But the canes are in place for climbing French beans, and for growing trailing squash vertically. The new herb bed (top right) is now well-established, and the bulbs are a continual delight and are now undersown with insect-attracting flowering annuals.

Mixed lettuce and leaf beet have germinated quickly despite the cold

Mixed lettuce and leaf beet have germinated quickly despite the cold

Seeds are being raised in the greenhouse; all safely covered to prevent mice from destroying them – and living near a farm, we have had worse. I am using an old wormery to harden off the seedlings which germinated very quickly with the added protection. All spare ground in the courgette bed will be filled with cut-and-come again salad – mostly rocket, lamb’s lettuce, mixed salad leaves and radish. Some have been sown direct and are now protected with seedbox covers in lieu of cloches – stops cats, sparrows and blackbirds from interfering, as well as providing warmth to aid germinations. The bean bed is destined to provide extra greenery for the hens: perpetual spinach (leaf beet) and rhubarb chard to add a touch of colour – bright red with this variety.

A sorry state of affairs

A sorry state of affairs

There’s so much reclamation needed in my other two plots (I’m ashamed to show this image of my once beautiful and productive ‘physic’ garden. But that’s what happens when one is away for much of the year and ill for most of the rest; and as old age creeps upon us unawares, something suffers. I’ve already cut back a lot of the bramble thicket, which has revealed that the six raised beds are now past their best (created around 1999), the structure is rotting and to remove all the bramble roots and dig out wanted plants will be quite a task. My mind is black as to how I want to redevelop this 18ft x 18ft plot, which is south-facing and was once described by one of my editors as being ‘inspirational’. Clearly it now needs some t.l.c.

D-Dob blackbird copy

We have been fortunate with our acre of garden and orchard in being able to deliberately encourage wildlife, planting to encourage beneficial insects, birds, bees, frogs and toads and anything that will mean we can remain eco-friendly in an area that is rural but becoming increasingly suburban. This blackbird will not leave us alone! Waiting by the backdoor for us, feeding from the table on the terrace whilst we are there and quite happy to sit with a beak full of worms whilst I fetch my camera.

 

 

This 'shambles' is deliberate

This ‘shambles’ is deliberate

Some corners are deliberately left ‘wild’ – not the wilderness needing attention, but what to most people would be classed as ‘untidy’. Much more as you would find if you walked along a woodland hedgerow, or old yard, where nature is left to do it’s own thing. Pots are planted with wildings that encourage bees (invasive if left to their own devices) – deadnettle red and white, stinging nettle (food for peacock butterflies caterpillars, herb mounds in a former planter, a heap of stones under which toads can hide, and old tree root which will be beloved by beetles, field mice, a hazel self-sown in a pot; and all jostling with the rhubarb which will swamp it come summer, but bare ground is avoided in the winter.

Some invasive plants and weeds are useful if kept under control

Some invasive plants and weeds are useful if kept under control

I am a great believer in avoiding bare ground, utilising plants that are decorative as well as helpful to the gardener, such as the comfrey above, which is invasive if left unchecked, but all the leaves go onto the compost heap). Ground cover of any sort discourages weeds, and whereas many are useful (hens love the docks you can see bottom left) others are a pain. They can be composted if they haven’t set seed, unless they have roots that grow into new plants if left to their own devices (burn these – cow parsley, ground elder, dock and dandelion, though the blanched leaves of the latter is useful in moderation in the kitchen, or their flowers to make wine). As we could do with our patch of cowslips just coming into flower in the orchard (photograph next week). We began with one purchased plant four years ago, and did not mow until it has shed its seed. Now we have dozens of little plants; though they would irritate anyone who desires a bowling-green lawn. Like wise with violets that have crept beyond the confines of the fruit border. Patience has paid dividends.

PGJ-fc

Despite the cold winds, I have been filling the pages of my new little garden notebook – held in my hand it is sturdy and easy to write on the smooth paper. I paint the sketches in the evening; but its joy for me is being able to walk around either the flourishing beds or the wilderness and know that there is always something that will be a delight, and a place in which to record what I see.

 

 

 

Meanwhile, do keep your own notes, and  Visit Dobies’ website for all your gardening needs and requirements.

You may particularly like: vegetable seedsvegetable plants, flower seeds, flower plants, herbs, fruit and equipment. And don’t forget their regular mailings and special offers online. Just keep visiting so you don’t miss anything special.
Next week, I will be blogging live at the Malvern Spring Gardening Show – and I know how much there will be to write about, for I have been previewing the Show over the last few weeks, on their official blog.

False Spring?

species crocus, with visiting honeybees

species crocus, with visiting honeybees

Here in the north Cotswolds it has been remarkably warm this last week; so much so, we were able to eat lunch outside one day in our sheltered ‘Courtyard Potager’. Could we be fooled into thinking that spring has sprung early? Crocuses opened their delicate floral goblets wide in the sunshine and were a mass of honey bees. Remarkable, that; we usually see bumbles long before hive bees. But bumbles actually prefer wild flowers (weeds). If you have none in your garden, it pays to cultivate some! For without bees – of any sort – you will lessen the chance of a damson crop, or other early-flowering tree fruits. If the thoughts of weeds (wildlings) in your garden is anathema to you, plant up a few pots, and keep down self-setters such as annual red-deadnettle, and creepers like the perennial white variety, and the violet-scented but insidious winter heliotrope. All three are in flower now, and serve their purpose at this time of year in attracting bees.

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Kitchen Garden Update

Cold and snowy, but the birds are feasting

Cold and snowy, but the birds are feasting

Not much has been happening in my mini kitchen garden of late here in the north Cotswolds – not so much the covering of snow but the fact the raised beds are all frozen. And I omitted to follow my own advice and forgot to protect the self-set rocket with fleece; it’s looking distinctly sorry for itself! Can’t wait for the purple sprouting to ‘sprout’ (really the emerging flower spikes). I turned my attention instead to feeding the birds, checking that the feeders were filled with seed, nuts and suet fat balls, which seem to be the most popular in times of hard weather. Water dishes had to be thawed each morning (I even spotted birds eating snow), but what brought unusual species down into this little patch was a feast of apples – bought specially as an experiment in what we could attract.

female blackcap

female blackcap

Apart from the usual tits, finches and blackbirds we were visited by the female blackcap, female greater spotted woodpecker, a pair of mistle thrushes, yellowhammers, long-tailed tits, and fieldfares, but not the male pheasant who was a constant visitor last year; I fear he may have fallen prey to a wandering fox. Seeing birds so close to the kitchen window was quite amazing – you do not appreciate the size or beautiful plumage of birds normally seen at a distance. The blackcap is fiercer than she looks!

 

My 'Red Love' apple growing in a pot

My ‘Red Love’ apple
growing in a pot (the
ribbons prevent
accidental pruning

It wasn’t just the food that brought them into the garden but the close proximity of the shrubs that surround this little plot – the one I call my ‘Dobies Potager’ in which I trial new varieties, not just vegetables and salads but flowers to attract pollinating insects, plus a potted apple tree and, heeled in ready to plant when the weather is fit, Mirabelle de Nancy – a mouth-watering plum-like fruit which has been cultivated in France since the 15th Century. (Read more about it in my Christmas Day post, here.)

 

 

 

 

Personal pages from my garden journal

Personal pages from my garden journal (double-click if you want to read my jottings)

Time to review my 2012 garden plans, at present just so many notes on scraps of paper, and even more ideas running through my head. I’m running out of space in the Dobies Potager, but have other areas – each a mini-garden, too; one where I trial other varieties of fruit, the other a mix of herbs and annual flowers – and both in need of care and attention. Out this morning as I write comes my suede-covered garden diary; more a journal of jottings with scribbled diagrams and sketches. Good to refresh the memory and assess progress over the last two years of success, and failure; and somewhere to pull together what I want, and need, to do.

Dandelion leaves make a delicious wine

Dandelion leaves can be used in salads, hens love them; the flowers make a delicious wine

I am reminded, not so much of the weedy state of most of my beds, but of the importance of many weeds in attracting early pollinating insects; and chickweed is much appreciated by hens. Some, such as the dandelion, are edible and will provide an early addition to a salad; simply cover a plant with a flower-pot to blanch the leaves (and thus remove a little of the bitterness) and serve with an oil and vinegar dressing.

If you’ve stumbled upon this post by accident, or from one of my other blogs, and would like a copy of the 2012 Dobies catalogue, easy to use, full of good things and very well set out, then click here to request a copy.

Fly the flag for insects and creepy-crawlies

Royal Show (Stoneleigh)

spotted at the last Royal Show (Stoneleigh)
double-click on the image
to see how it is put together

We are apt to forget that some of the smallest creatures to inhabit our gardens are as useful to its biodiversity as birds and mammals. Yet we often overlook them; or kill them without realising that by so doing we destroy the very allies that exist as our ‘little garden helpers’. Insects are one of the most successful of living organisms, and roughly half of all species on earth are insects. They have six legs and millennia ago developed the ability to fly; even beetles – watch a ladybird open its wing cases and ‘fly away home’ – or hopefully into your veg plot or flower patch to devour greenfly.

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