It’s very pleasing to see that my budding camellia a couple of weeks ago has blossomed into the above beautiful flower. It was a housewarming present and I’ve had it since 2012 – it’s celebrating its 10th anniversary this year! For the first few years, it did not flower but its glossy dark green leaves indicated that it was healthy. Then a couple of years ago, it presented its first flower and has never looked back. A lovely splash of colour at the bottom of my garden.
Although there is still greenery in my garden, it lacks colour (except for my vibrant sun-yellow mahonia) at this time of year. But I have noticed a few early signs of spring. My perennial lungwort has started to flower, as it does about this time every year. I have found the plant to be as popular with bees as humans.
My primroses can also always be relied upon to provide a splash of colour at this time of year.
This time of year (start of February) is a turning point in the Celtic calendar with its festival Imbolc marking the beginning of spring, halfway between the winter equinox and the spring equinox. Looks like my garden agrees and I look forward to seeing more glimpses of spring awakening from my currently sleeping perennials over the next few weeks.
The plant got its common name because its leaves are shaped like lungs, and lungwort was indeed once used medicinally to treat lung ailments.https://www.thespruce.com/
Just after telling another blogger that I haven’t seen any snow this year, along came Eunice. Or Storm Eunice to give it its full name.
Simon’s parents had to find somewhere else to stay as their Cheshire hotel had a power cut. A slate fell off my parents’ house because of the wind. Trees were blown down and people even died.
The wind did little damage to my gardens thankfully, apart from the compost bin losing its lid (it was found elsewhere in the garden). But the next day was Eunice’s encore – a sleet shower which turned into snow.
The Big Garden Birdwatch is on this weekend in Britain and nature lovers are being invited to watch our feathered friends for an hour, count the numbers of each species and then tell the RSPB our results. The bird watch can be in your garden, but if you don’t have one, the local park or other green space will suffice. I’m not a big ‘twitcher’ but I do like watching birds going about their business.
I have a regular robin visitor who seems to follow me around, looking for mealworms and sunflower seeds. Recently I have even seen two robins in my garden. Robins are not great fans of robins so I assume they are a pair or maybe relatives – a mother and daughter or father and son, perhaps?
Last weekend I enjoyed a close-up view of a bullfinch eating seeds in Simon’s Lincolnshire garden. I hadn’t realised how colourful bullfinches were. The below photo wasn’t taken by me but it illustrates how vivid Simon’s visitor was in its colouring.
If you’re not in the UK, maybe you could do your own informal bird watch? For more info on the birdwatch and the RSPB, visit https://www.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/activities/birdwatch/
And if you want to attract birds to your garden, here’s an idea for a recycled bird feeder…
First, we need an empty plastic milk bottle, two branches, an empty tray – in this case it’s a plastic one, two pieces of twine or string, a scoring tool and a pen knife.
Score or cut four holes into the milk bottle and slide in the branches – this is for wild birds to stand on while feeding. Cut two holes near the top and slide the twine in as seen below. This is to hang up the bottle in your garden. Cut holes above the branches as an opening so the birds can access and eat the seeds.
Then fill the bottle with bird seed. The seed will scatter onto the tray rather than the ground, providing less opportunity for rats. Once the feeder is finished, the same thing can be done again meaning it will be more hygienic, especially when there are cases of bird flu in the area.
Looking at the size and shape of a bird’s bill provides a good clue to its diet. Starlings, blackbirds and gulls have ‘general purpose’ bills that enable them to take advantage of a wide variety of foods.RSPB Birdfeeder Handbook, Robert Burton
When I moved into my house 10 years ago (I can’t believe it was that long ago!), my garden was very sparsely planted indeed. A bamboo on the left (which Simon very kindly volunteered to take it out, a difficult task), a laburnum further down, a rhododendron on the right…
The bamboo and rhododendron may be long gone but the bold and dramatic mahonia – a spiky looking shrub with large dark green leaves, displaying yellow flowers in winter and blue-black berries to follow in spring – is still here and I hope for a long time yet. I believe it is a mahonia japonica as it’s about 7ft in height and doesn’t look like it will grow much more. When I was reading about this particular species, it was described as a very hardy shrub (just right for me) and will grow well in most soil types including heavy clay. Heavy clay? I have plenty of that in my garden!
When I learnt about the benefits of the mahonia to me (as well as being a striking plant, it provides plenty of colour in winter) and to wildlife (offering berries, flowers and shelter), I was pleased that this complementary gift came with the house. I noted my parents liked it too, so one Christmas a few years ago I bought them one. It’s not as big as mine yet but it’s growing healthy and strong.
The genus name, Mahonia, derives from Bernard McMahon, one of the stewards of the plant collections from the Lewis and Clark expedition (USA expedition from August 31, 1803, to September 25, 1806, to cross the newly acquired western portion of the country)Wikipedia
Here are five facts about this dramatic looking tree:
- It’s also known as the Oregon Grape and comes from the Berberidaceae family.
- It’s an evergreen, upright shrub.
- There are around 70 species of Mahonia. The charity variety can grow to 10ft while the Mahonia aquifolium only grows to 100-200cm tall (3-6ft).
- As well as being a striking, colourful beauty in the garden, it’s a productive shrub. Its flowers provides nectar to bees; its berries can be eaten by birds; and its evergreen leaves can shelter birds, especially in winter.
- The plant is originally from Asia and America.
Last year I grew herbs in my kitchen – basil, parsley and chive. This was a success so I tried again using more parsley seeds which I already had. Happily, the parsley grew and my guinea pigs were, once again, eager to take part in another experiment.
According to Rosemary Hemphill (an apt name!), in her book Herbs for All Seasons, parsley is originally from Sardinia and is a biennial which often lasts for two years in the garden. Despite this, she says it is best treated as an annual, with seed being sown each year.
She adds: “All parts of the herb contain medicinal substances; the root, leaves and seeds are sources of apiol, which is beneficial for the kidneys. The leaves are rich in vitamins A, B and C, and in iron, and assist in the assimilation of food. Parsley tea made from the leaves is good for rheumatism, kidneys and gall bladder, assists digestion and encourages circulation.”
Maybe I should have asked Tom and Tim to leave me some parsley although it looks like I was too late…
- I started having a look on the internet about the benefits of parsley and it looks like there might be possible side-effects too if too much is eaten. So like everything, moderation is key.
Thanks to free basil seeds handed out by a kindly group of Network Rail staff, I grew three seedlings. (I’m not sure what the connection was between a safety campaign of ‘Don’t trespass on the tracks’ and a goody bag of basil seeds among other freebies, but I never asked and was certainly very grateful for the basil seeds). Two of my seedlings were too weak but I was pleased with how my last one was progressing (see above photo).
One morning, I decided it was time to test out the basil. Now, who will volunteer to be my ‘guinea pigs ‘ in this experiment? Aha, Tom and Tim, eager volunteers who would give me an honest review.
Well, that was a quick experiment. Anyway, a thumbs up by Tom and Tim and a polite request for more homegrown local produce.
Thankfully I have more basil seeds…
(Note on photos: Tom and Tim don’t really have red eyes, it’s just my not-particularly high-tech camera!)
Why is the buddleia also called the butterfly bush? Answer? Well, see the above photo of a buddleia in my garden – butterflies love it! I have four of these, two in my back garden, one in my side (the chickens’ territory) and the fourth in my driveway.
This summer, the same as every year, butterflies were drawn to every buddleia I have. If you want to attract these beautiful insects to your garden, this hardy shrub is a must-have.
The type I have is the fragrant and popular buddleia davidii which can have white, mauve or purple flowers. It can grow to 8ft or more if not pruned and ‘bears tiny honey-scented flowers in cone-shaped spikes’ (Dr D G Hessayon, The Tree and Shrub Expert). It flowers between July to September so a very welcome flowering hotspot for butterflies during summer. According to Dr Hessayon, buddleias prefer sunny locations and well-drained soil. Not sure how well-drained my soil is but none of the four shrubs seem to mind and flower each year.
Other varieties include buddleia alternifolia and buddleia globosa.
The buddleia is actually originally from China (and named after an English botanist called Rev Adam Buddle). It’s often found in the wild in Britain, on derelict sites and along railway lines. It could be classed as ‘invasive’ which usually has negative connotations for nature but in this case it looks like the benefits outweigh the drawbacks to this useful and beautiful plant.
The butterflies certainly seem to appreciate it anyway.
I have written previously about my goal to be able to recognise and name trees. So I thought I would start close to home, from my driveway to be precise. My driveway was once a barren spot, fit only to park a car, but over the last few years it has become a mini wild area. And one of the residents of my ‘wild driveway’ is a rowan tree. Back in 2014 or thereabouts, I joined the Woodland Trust for the first time. I kept seeing their sign whenever I walked in one of their woods and I realised that it was thanks to The Woodland Trust that there were so many beautiful and accessible woodlands near me (and possibly near you too if you live in Britain).
And yes, the thought of a free gift also enticed me. This free gift was a rowan tree sapling. Rowan trees, also know as the mountain ash, are slender, with silver-brown bark. They’re excellent for wildlife as they have white spring flowers and red berries in autumn. So win-win for insects and birds alike. They are deciduous so lost their leaves in winter.
The Woodland Trust says the rowan tree – which can grow to an average height of 8 to 15 metres – can live for 200 years so hopefully my tree will long outlast me, providing pollen and nectar for pollinating insects (including bees) and berry food for birds such as song thrushes and waxwings. Of course, like all trees, my rowan also absorbs carbon and purifies the air. So even my tiny driveway is doing its bit for climate change too.
And as an added extra, it looks great too!
In the wild the rowan grows higher (1,000m) than any other tree hence its other name, the mountain ash. There’s a lot of folklore connected to the rowan – it was seen as a magical protector and planted outside houses to keep witches away.The Woodland Trust
This spring the chickens have had several day trips to Buttercup Meadow, aka my back garden.
Buttercup Meadow’s main arena is fenced off to avoid escapes but that didn’t deter Dottie who kept insisting she wanted to dig for worms outside. The fact that I may not have wanted holes in that part of the lawn didn’t enter her head.
Mabel somehow managed to sneak out, the grass being greener on the other side, being her motto. In particular the goldenrod she spotted en route …
And Little Ava, a former teacher’s pet, usually so quiet and meek, was surprisingly the worst for squeezing through the hole of the fence. She didn’t like Buttercup Meadow. Oh yes, she loved the delicious food it offered, but not the confines. She was, she said, happier to be on the outside, mooching about the flower beds, nibbling away at the grass. She wouldn’t go far, she promised. And Ava being a good girl, I believed her.
Jemima was often the last one to leave despite being leader. It must have irked her to see her usually good flock doing their own thing and not following her, as always, excellent example.
Once they sampled the delights of Buttercup Meadow on lazy hot summer days, they presumed they would be able to enter this chickens’ theme park at any time of their choosing. They would make their way confidently from their garden, through their gate, towards Buttercup Meadow.
“But ladies,” I would explain, “the grass is wet, it’s been raining, you’ll be covered with mud…”
“It’s alright, we will keep ourselves as clean as we can,” Mabel would cluck distractedly as she would veer away from Buttercup Meadow towards Goldenrod Corner, the tall plants beckoning her over each and every time.