Posted in Environment, Gardens, Nature

Early signs of spring in 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.

Lungwort

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/
Posted in Environment, Gardens, Nature

Learning about Trees and Shrubs: Mahonia (Oregon Grape)

My mahonia – pictured in January!

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 aย 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:

  1. It’s also known as the Oregon Grape and comes from the Berberidaceae family.
  2. It’s an evergreen, upright shrub.
  3. 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).
  4. 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.
  5. The plant is originally from Asia and America.

Posted in Gardens, Pets, Self-sufficiency

Guinea pigs try out the great parsley experiment

Tim and Tom sample the parsley

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.

Parsley
Going…
Going…
Gone

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.

https://cosycottageandthequestforthegoodlife.wordpress.com/2021/10/29/going-going-gone-guinea-pigs-tom-and-tim-volunteer-for-the-great-basil-experiment/

Posted in Gardens, Pets, Self-sufficiency

Going… Going…. Gone – Guinea pigs Tom and Tim volunteer for the great basil experiment

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!)

Posted in Chickens, Gardens

Snapshots of my July garden

My title was going to be Snapshots of my June Garden – then I realised it was actually July. How quickly time flies! I bought a lot of plants earlier this year, planted them, then forgot about them. Until they decided to remind me with their presence…

Patio Corner – can you spot Dottie?
The Pond Garden
The Gravel Patch and Goldenrod Corner. The spare chicken house is essential, awkward to place elsewhere and not particularly attractive, so flowers have been planted around it
Mabel vandalises Goldenrod Corner
Roses in the Chickens’ Garden
Posted in Gardens

The littlest sunflower

Flowering!

Once upon a time there were five seeds who each had the potential to grow up to become tall and handsome sunflowers. This was during a pandemic and a time when an entire nation was locked down; its population was getting weary and worried. But these five sunflower seeds had power. They had the golden opportunity to grow … And grow smiles on admirers’ faces.

So beginneth the tale of the Littlest Sunflower.

Back in April 2020, my friend Emma held a sunflower competition via a WhatsApp group called Battle of the Plants. We were all sent five sunflower seeds (I received mine on May 1) and a recording form and we took it from there.

There were ‘spot’ awards throughout the growing period and prizes for the tallest plants. Photographic evidence and vital statistics were needed. There was no entrance fee but a donation to our chosen charity. I met Emma while volunteering at The Monkey Sanctuary in Cornwall – a charity which would be desperately needing funds at this time – so I donated to them.

Contestants came from all over, Lancashire, Somerset, Devon, Wales, Portsmouth, near Heathrow. Romania was the furthest. There was humorous banter about the judges. Unfortunately Mr Titchmarsh declined the opportunity to join the judging panel but Charlie Dimmock’s brother Charles, along with Monica Don and Tom Attorney, joined the judging panel! ๐Ÿ˜‰๐Ÿ˜‚

One contestant started her sunflower’s life in a yogurt pot. Another had a M&S egg carton for hers. Then there was a milk carton, cut in half. I lovingly sowed mine in five colourful pots, trying to make sure I used proper compost so there would be no intruding weeds.

Sunflower pots

The first prize was for a seedling at least four inches tall. Some contestants’ seeds were doing well, with most sprouting. Others were still waiting for their first seedling. Like me.

Tips were given to fellow members such as: “I think mine were a bit dry and cold, have given them extra water and warmth and it seems to have done the trick.”

Some contestants got quite technical – and it paid off. The first spot prize went to “the lady who is using ‘aquaphonics and channelling the power of the super moon”.

There were disasters and near-disasters. Fellow contestant Linda told us: “I had to repot ours as we had a cat disaster. I carry them in from the conservatory at night when it’s chilly and put them on the kitchen window sill. Agatha our cat knocked them all down (on purpose I think). There were shoots everywhere and mud. I managed to find nine shoots from the carnage and repotted”.

And one day, lo and behold, I got seedlings! I happily sent a photo but was told that, alas, those pesky weeds had sneaked in after all and were busy posing as sunflowers. But these imposters were found out – their stems were too weedy to be sunflowers.

It was disappointing but I learnt a tip and that was to move the seeds further up, nearer to the top, so they wouldn’t drown.

But there was one seed which had promise, for this one had become a true sunflower albeit a tiny, feeble one.

All my hopes were on this guy now.

Other contestants boasted of great heights, already! Their seedlings were already growing up and getting moved out into the garden. Mine was a mere baby, still needing to be mollycoddled and even then ….

And even then a major disaster in June – my one hope, my only hope had snapped, breaking in two.

That was me out then. But kind Emma gave me another chance and I received five more sunflower seeds. Will these do any better?

Measuring time

While my five seeds started to sprout and grow, there was drama aplenty with the other flowers.

Some were murdered by slugs (Mr Dimmock recommends broken egg shells, cut hair or coffee grounds), others pelted by rain or blown by the wind. Mine were still indoors, carefully propped up in their pots with mini stakes.

My tallest was now 14cm. Then, like its predecessor, it snapped but its nearest sibling was now at 13cm. The smallest withered away but one continued to grow…

And then one day in the middle of October the little sunflower, the last one remaining of his siblings, woke up and started to flower.

Will it flower?

A late bloomer indeed! Not long after, I received a certificate to celebrate my little sunflower!

A late bloomer!
My certificate!
Posted in Gardens

The hebe jeebies…

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A few weeks ago, after a visit to a garden centre, I came back with this delightful plant – a purple shamrock hebe. I like the colour purple, shamrocks and hebes so what’s not to like? And even better, my garden co-sharers love hebes too.

Who do I share my garden with? Well, a whole host of birds, butterflies, bees, other insects….

So here’s a few facts I have learnt about my new container plant, thanks to the very informative label which came with it.

1. It’s compact and hardy with variegated leaves.

2. It was discovered by Doug Thomson in Ireland. (I imagine that’s where the name ‘shamrock’ comes from). This variety may be from Ireland, but most hebes originally come from New Zealand.

3. In summer, there are occasional blue flowers.

4. In winter, the evergreen foliage turns purple.

5. It likes moist, well-drained soil.

According to Wildlife Gardening by Christine and Michael Lavelle, the hebe is popular with ‘bees and butterflies seeking nectar’. So a good choice for wildlife-friendly gardens. ๐Ÿฆ‹๐Ÿฆ‹๐Ÿฆ‹

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Posted in Gardens

A hint of California in my garden

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I received my ceanothus (Californian Lilac) as a present when I first moved into my house some eight years ago in 2011 (goodness, it doesn’t feel so long ago!)

It was at a time when, although I loved gardens and plants, I was very ignorant about such matters. (Although I still am, I was even more so at that time).

When it stopped flowering after the first year, I thought it had died!

Eight years ago, it was much, much smaller. I remember walking past a front garden which boasted a much older ceanothus. It looked much bigger, colourful and more flamboyant than my little one with its few weedy buds.

Roll on eight years and my ceanothus is looking grand and beautiful.

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And it has survived the chickens, even Mabel (who always seems to be appraising the plants in the garden)…

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And the bees love it too…

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Note: This post is a flashback to a couple of weeks ago, when the ceanothus was still looking its best.

Facts of the Day

1. The ceanothus thyrsiflorus is an evergreen shrub that can grow to 6m/20ft high. It has ‘glossy mid-green leaves and, in spring, bears pale to dark blue flowers in large panicles’. There are other types of ceanothus though, including deciduous varieties.ย 

2. It is valuable for wildlife, providing pollen for bees. Its leaves are also eaten by caterpillars of various butterflies and moths.

3. The roots ‘favour fertile, well-drained soil’ and it is suggested it should be grown ‘in full sun in a sheltered location, protected from cold winter winds’.

Information courtesy of The Illustrated Practical Guide To Wildlife Gardening by Christine and Michael Lavelle

Posted in Gardens, Gardens, lifestyle, self-sufficiency, environmental issues, adventure

Too many babies *

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Aloe veras at Cosy Cottage

* Aloe Vera ‘babies’ that is.

I remember a nursery rhyme from my childhood, the first couple of lines read:

There was an old lady who lived in a shoe, she had so many children, she didn’t know what to do.ย 

And so it is at Cosy Cottage, okay, this is a little house and not a shoe (Thank goodness as I don’t think even the guinea pigs could fit in one).

And, yes, okay, these are not human youngsters.

They are plant ‘babies’. Aloe veras to be precise.

Aloe veras reproduce like rabbits.

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Aloe veras

My first aloe vera, given me by Simon, ironically died. Even more ironically as he claimed I couldn’t kill this plant as they didn’t need much watering.

But he persevered, giving me another. I now realise this wasn’t of the goodness of his heart but because he had a surplus of the fleshy succulents which needed rehoming.

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Aloe veras

And this aloe vera thrived, maybe a little too much as she decided to have a ‘baby’, and then another, and another.

There appears to be no ‘father’ but there are plenty of young aloe veras, and now I have lost count of how many there now are and they all need new homes.

New pots at any rate.

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Aloe veras at Cosy Cottage

Facts of the Day

1. Aloe Vera is a succulent and an evergreen perennial. Its leaves are fleshy and thick.

2. It is found in products such as skin lotion, tissues, traditional medicine (as a skin treatment), drinks, ointments and cosmetics. It is used as a moisturiser.

3. There are records of the use of aloe vera from the 16th century BC (Ebers Papyrus).