Big garden no bird watch

Today was the RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch day. I’ve counting the birds in my garden at the end of January for over twenty years and have found that the birds vary enormously from one year to the next. One of the variables has been the change in garden. My old garden attracted the usual sparrows and blue tits, blackbirds and robins but also starlings.  In this garden, where I’ve now been counting birds for nearly ten years, there is a wider variety, including magpies and wrens, but I’ve never seen a starling.  The other variables include the weather, the time of day but, most of all, whether or not I put out bird food. I used to feed the birds and took great pleasure in watching them but a few years ago I noticed that the bird food also attracted mice, squirrels, and at least one rat. The mice I can live with, the squirrels, I thought were harmless and the rat, I have only seen once when polite guests were visiting and we all looked out into the garden. ‘Oh what’s that?’ ‘There’s some kind of animal in your garden’. Cue ‘how about some more tea? let’s go into the kitchen’. I’ve never seen it since.  I  quite liked the squirrels.

Squirrel

They were fun and acrobatic but my sympathy for them disappeared the year that they broke into our roof space, ate their way through our electric wiring and built a nest above the bathroom ceiling. It’s a long story but the bathroom and the lights in the upstairs landing were out of action for months (pressure from my fellow residents meant that we had to wait until the baby squirrels had grown up before we could attend to them*) and getting all the repairs done cost a small fortune. So I stopped feeding the birds and the squirrels and the birds stopped coming into my garden in such great numbers. The squirrels also took the hint and have, so far, gone elsewhere to cause chaos in someone else’s house.

I still try to support the wildlife by gardening organically, leaving a lot of wild stuff, weeds, berries, seeds and what not in the undergrowth and providing a water supply with the pond. I’ve also got a bird bath in the front garden for any passing wildlife there.

For today’s bird watch I went into the garden, suitably dressed with several layers of thermal clothing (thanks to my lovely Norwegian friend who sends us thermal underwear every Christmas), a woolly hat, fingerless gloves and a big cup of coffee. I sat patiently for nearly an hour (until it started to rain). I heard lots of birds and I saw several seagulls, pigeons and crows soaring overhead but the only birds to land in the garden were one blackbird, one pigeon and a tiny bluetit in a tree. A pretty dismal collection this year. While I waited for the non-existent birds, I looked at my garden,  and made several plans for its development. While I was waiting for the birds, I noticed this ridiculous sweet pea, which is growing away bravely despite some recent very cold weather:

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Then I came inside and did my annual seed census from my trusty seed box:

Seed box

I did a little fantasising about this year’s peas and tomatoes, sweet peas and marrows but it seems I have nearly all the seeds I need for this year’s vegetables. I’ll just have to be patient before I can start sowing them.

In the mean time, I spotted a fox in the garden earlier in the week, when we had a heavy frost:

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So we may not have so many birds but we do have foxes and some silly sweet peas.

*no squirrels were harmed in the eviction – we just chased them away before destroying the nest and getting the ceiling rebuilt.

Christmas at the allotment

Family commitments caused me to fall a little behind with the advent calendar but here are the last three photos. On the 22nd of December I spotted this Wintersweet’s tiny flowers in the sunshine. This shrub has only every flowered once, last year, when it produced one flower. This year it seems to have finally matured

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Only two flowers in this photo but there are at least a dozen on the plant.

On the 23rd I spent the whole day doing my ‘annual’ housework and didn’t get out until after dark, so the photo for that day was rather enigmatic. There was a bit of light in the sky and it was rather beautiful but hard to capture.

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Christmas Eve brought a beautiful frost,  showing up the loveliness of these self-seeded teasels. Much nicer than anything that you spray with silver paint:

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I was fortunate to get out to the allotment to harvest my long-awaited Brussels sprouts, the single plant to have survived from my seed sowing earlier in the year:

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The allotment was lovely and frosty and I was joined by the resident robin, posing festively on the apple tree:

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So we had home grown sprouts on Christmas Day. Other home grown offerings included the holly on the Christmas pudding:

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rosemary and thyme in the roast potatoes, and a specially made Christmas smoothie. A few days earlier I had found a prodigal apple, lurking in the undergrowth in the garden. It survived the winter and was untouched by vermin or slugs so was added to the Christmas smoothie:20181222_145224But the stars of the show were the award winning autumn raspberries, which I had been keeping for the occasion:

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Belated Happy Christmas to all my readers.

Advent Calendar Days 15-20

Today I’ve been at home in daylight and even done some gardening.  I forgot to take any photos in the garden  but here’s a wee update on the wild and wonderful Advent Calendar this week. On Saturday the 15th, snow and hail and all sorts of wintriness was forecast. I spent the day delivering mince pies to my mother and helping her to eat them, while sorting out her Christmas card list. By the time I got round to thinking about the advent calendar, it was dark and it was hailing. So here is a picture of the pond in the hail:

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On Sunday the 16th the sun came out and it felt quite springlike. I went for a walk in the park and watched people feeding the birds in a rather bigger pond than mine:

20181216_113535[1]I got along to the allotment in the afternoon to do some weeding and harvest some beetroot and check that the Brussels sprouts were doing ok. We only succeeded in growing one plant but I’m hoping it will provide enough for Christmas dinner. A friendly robin joined me and became my advent window for the 17th

20181216_184438On the 18th I was stuck at work all day and never saw daylight. I got home very late but Bella was able to inspire me with her feline ability to concentrate on her own concerns and show no interest in my woes:

20181218_214111Yesterday I walked past the writers’ museum in Edinburgh on my way to work and noticed the inscriptions on the flagstones in the courtyard. I thought this one from John Muir seemed apt for day 19:

20181212_093003And today, I finally was able to take a day off, mooch round some charity shops, go swimming and appreciate the little garden outside the swimming pool, and the birds chirping in the trees for day 20:

When I got home it was still light and I did some much needed tidying up and weeding in the front garden. This year has been very busy and lots of garden duties have been neglected but it was good to feel my hands in the soil and notice some tiny signs of new growth appearing on some of the shrubs. I also spotted some bulbs pushing up to bring us hope of spring. Tomorrow is the winter solstice, then the days will start slowly to lengthen again and spring will come.

Advent calendar update

It’s been a bit of a long week but keeping my eyes open for snatches of winter joy has helped me get through. So here’s an update:

Day 8 – I was walking along the street, not feeling very festive, when I heard workmen singing Christmas carols as they worked. This prompted me to photograph some festive holly:

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Day 9 – tiny signs of spring. Snowdrops peeking through the soil outside my mother’s new flat

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Day 10 – frosted oak leaf lying among the frosted clover in my lawn

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Day 11 Chelsea sitting under a broccoli plant

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Day 12 Lovely morning light

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Day 13 – glorious sunrise – one of the small advantages of the short December days

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Day 14 I walked to work and heard birds singing in the trees. In this picture there is one fat pigeon but also lots of tiny sparrows, cheering me on my way

20181214_090843So, another week with no gardening but some tiny glimpses of joy in nature around us. I am constantly surprised by these beauties. Some days it has taken a real effort but there is always something if you look.

Autumn tidying

Today was a garden day, it seemed like the first in months. The garden has been doing its best producing wonderful fruit and vegetables, especially plums, apples and tomatoes but, what with the allotment, and the musicians, various other family and work things, a wee trip to Norway and the small matter of the cracked bone in my arm, it is beginning to look seriously neglected.  So today I dug over one of the tomato beds, filled it with garden compost and sowed some broad beans. That sounds like it should have taken, maybe half an hour? But it took much longer because I had to do my annual compost bin turning in order to extract the compost. I have three bins – all plastic cone types and the system is very simple: pile stuff in bin 1, then when it is full, empty it into bin 2, then when that is full, empty that into bin 3. It works, more or less though there’s often a lot of soggy stuff in the process and inevitably a whole lot of uncomposted egg shells, sticks, ‘compostable packaging’, the nasty bits of plastic that come with tea bags and unidentifiable yucky things.  Today,  I found something much more exciting:

WP_20181006_11_42_30_Pro[1]This rather sad thing is a very nifty gadget for holding the tea leaves in a tea pot. It is much loved, particularly by my senior assistant gardener, who doesn’t like to find bits of leaf in his tea. It is very useful because you can use it in any teapot, meaning we don’t need to use the teabags with the nasty plastic in them. It’s been missing for a couple of months, ever since the musicians invaded. We assumed it was hidden under a piece of furniture or in a cello case or something and expected it to appear when they all moved out a couple of weeks ago. But here it is – in the compost bin, no doubt thrown in along with its cargo of tea leaves by someone not paying attention at the time. Sadly, even if we were prepared to clean it up, it is unusable now because I stuck my garden fork through it. At least we now know what happened to it and don’t need to worry about finding it, full of quietly rotting tea leaves under the piano.

In other news, I harvested another ton of green tomatoes and probably the last of the cucumbers: WP_20181006_17_24_43_Pro[1]

I’ve left a cloche over the plant just in case it wants to produce any more. My experiment with the cucumber frame has been an astounding success, with cucumbers lasting all summer. I’ll definitely do that again.  All this gardening seems to be evidence that my arm is more or less back to normal, though I still have the odd twinge when wielding the garden fork to clear out the compost bins.

It’s been a lovely day, the sun was shining, there were lovely orange clouds late in the afternoon

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And I saw a wren in the neighbours’ apple tree.

Hedging my bets

The privet hedge at the front of the house has been having a growth spurt. I gave it a ritual hack back this afternoon but I had to stop when a nervous sparrow flitted in and out several times. It seems to have a nest in there so I stopped cutting, refilled the bird bath and left it in peace.

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Meanwhile the privet hedge at the back of the garden is just beginning to rejuvenate after the removal of the conifers which blocked the light from it, but it’s going to be a little slow:

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I’ve showed it the picture from the from the front garden to show it what it should be doing.  In the mean time I have stuck all my various hedge-improving cuttings of honeysuckle, winter jasmine and wild roses along the hedgeline to see what survives. And I moved a whole bunch of self-seeded campion which had invaded my raised beds to cheer up the barren hedge area.

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The last remains of the conifers have finally gone. Professional tree cutters carefully removed the actual trees a couple of months ago and a kindly stump removal person has now ground the stumps down to sawdust.  I’ve used some of the sawdust to mulch the roses and other shrubby things in the front garden and there are piles and bags of it lying around everywhere for future use.  But, the main point is, I can now get on with the plans for re-designing the back garden.  I’m still procrastinating a little. What’s it to be? Greenhouse? Fruit trees? More vegetable growing space? A rose covered arbour? The neighbours think I should build a summer house. A sculpture – but ‘not a reconstituted concrete thing from a garden centre’ – has also been suggested but slightly retracted when I suggested making one myself from found objects.  I think I’ll put some temporary raised beds over the area and put the tomatoes out there for the summer and then decide what to do more permanently in the autumn (still tempted by the fruit trees and that would be a good time).

And, just to let you see how my vegetables are doing, here are my broad beans, the ones planted through the cardboard in the autumn, now flowering away:

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Pigeon 1: Broccoli 0

 

Remember that lovely new raised bed that I made a couple of weeks ago?

WP_20180415_19_05_59_ProWell I put it in place round last year’s broccoli patch, in the process, removing the netting that was keeping the pigeons off. The broccoli has been coming back to life in the last couple of weeks, so I was reluctant to dig it out. But Ms or Mr pigeon spotted the lack of netting and moved in, munching their way through all the remaining florets:

WP_20180503_08_34_12_ProHint taken: time to dig up the broccoli and prepare the bed for this year’s runner beans. For how to do this, see here:

WP_20180506_13_19_13_ProIf you look carefully, you’ll see that I left a tiny broccoli plant (bottom left), which hasn’t flowered yet and may still produce some useable vegetables before the beans grow up.  In the top right hand corner there is also a broad bean, left over from last year I think and looking reasonably happy. So I left it too.  Meanwhile I sowed my runner bean seeds in pots, with the plan that they will be ready to plant out in a few weeks, once the trenches have settled.  And then I went and did the same for a runner bean bed at the allotment. That should provide more than enough runner beans in the summer!

In the picture with the pigeon, you can still see the stumps from the removed conifers. A stump removal person is coming this week to take them away, allowing my plans for the back of the garden to develop. Meanwhile, I will continue to indulge in some fantasy gardening for that space ……..

Autumn joys

I’ve been away at the weekend, visiting my mother.  We went to the wildlife reserve at Caerlaverock, in search of migrating geese.  The geese migrate to Svalbard in the summer and come back to Scotland in the winter.  We were a little too early, though I did see my first skein of geese in the sky, a sight and sound I always find uplifting.  While we watched for geese, we also enjoyed the other wildlife, including these bees gorging on a sedum plant:

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I was so impressed that I succumbed to buying a sedum in the garden centre.  Otherwise I was doing some tidying up in my mother’s garden, helping to harvest some of her magnificent apples:
WP_20170916_17_15_17_Pro[1]I thought it might help if I targetted the highest up ones.  I’ve seen fancy gadgets in catalogues for harvesting apples but I improvised my own apple grabber from a thing I found in the shed, I think designed for citronella candles:

WP_20170916_17_07_44_Pro[1]Grab the apple in the baskety thing, give it a little twist and it comes off neatly enclosed. Perfect.  The only drawback is the great pile of apples that I’ll have to cook or do something with soon:

WP_20170916_17_14_58_Pro[1]I also did a little weeding and hacking back of my mother’s overgrown garden, worrying a little that I had been overenthusiastic in my hacking back of roses earlier in the year.  There is a lovely rose growing over a pergola that my father made for their golden wedding a few years ago.  The pergola is terribly overgrown with enthusiastic honeysuckle and thorny rose shoots. He would be horrified at the lack of order but I hope he would love the flowers:

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More than pots on the patio

Following on from my post on pots of flowers in my mother’s garden, here are some results from my trip to the garden centre:

But just in case you thought my mother’s garden was all patio and pots, she also has a humungous apple tree, just coming into blossom now:

with promise of lots to come in the autumn, if last year is anything to go by. Only she could have strawberries growing in the steps:

strawberries on the stepThe garden is full of birds, including a blackbird nest hiding in an overgrown shrub in a wall:

blackbird nestYou probably can’t see the bird, but I can assure you she’s there, sitting in the nest and flitting in and out along with her mate. We were alerted to this wonder by my mother’s observant cat.  Not a good combination but we’re crossing our fingers that the birds survive her attentions.  We’re hoping the sun keeps shining to keep her occupied with other pleasures.

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Christmas dinner and a Boxing Day Treat

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There were no garden sprouts for Christmas dinner this year. I’m not sure why. I think I forgot to grow any.  Never mind though.  We had the appropriately named broccoli ‘Rudolph’ instead.  This broccoli has been magnificent this year, especially in the late November frost. wp_20161205_001

I didn’t realise it would be so productive in December.  I suppose the clue is in the name.

And for Boxing Day, we had this:

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We didn’t eat it.  But this glorious beast wandered into our garden on Boxing Day morning.  I’ve no idea where it came from, or where it went.  Pheasants don’t usually wander around urban gardens.  There were lots of jokes.  ‘You should have shot it and had it for dinner’  ‘Maybe it escaped from someone’s dinner table’ .    Maybe it was after the broccoli.  To be honest, I wouldn’t mind if it was.  It would have been worth it. Oh, and I didn’t manage to get a photograph, so you’ll have to make do with the drawing and believe that it was true.  I do have witnesses.  I don’t suppose it will come back but what a lovely treat it was to see.