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.

Reclaiming Paradise awards 2018

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As the old year rolls on and we venture into 2019, it’s award season at Reclaiming Paradise. In a year of weather extremes and personal complications, we celebrate all that is great, good or frankly unsuccessful in my garden and allotment. This year I  cracked a bone in my arm, helped my mother move house, acquired a second cat and was overcome with day job commitments. But the garden, the allotment and the blog bring me joy, and the Reclaiming Paradise awards help me to celebrate that with you. Here are the award categories:

Most impressive garden developments; Most unlikely collection of sporting equipment found in a hedge; Most extreme weather; Most successful vegetables; Most unsuccessful vegetables; Most promising, but ultimately disappointing, fruit; Most unsuccessful recipe; Best use of garden produce; Most colourful vegetable;  Most awe-inspiring wildlife; Best cats.

Scroll down to find the winners:

Most impressive garden developments

This was the year that I finally got round to having the conifers and the giant sycamore removed from the garden. This was done, not by me, but by professional tree surgeons and a professional stump remover. It was expensive but necessary. The space left behind enabled me to have a go at creating a garden bench and several raised beds:

of which the bench was fun at best and hopeless at worst while the raised beds produced bumper cucumber and tomato crops. I still have plans to do more with the space left by the conifers but they were thwarted by the broken bone and other commitments.

The winner in this category, however, is the allotment, for which I got a key in February, moved my wellies and gardening gloves into the shed, observed flooding in April, found a use for my 25 year old hoe and entered a bumper crop of vegetables into the allotment show, winning a few prizes but it was the growing that mattered, not the winning:

Most unlikely collection of sporting equipment found in a hedge

This award goes to the footballs and other useful items which emerged during the giant conifer hedge removal:

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Most extreme weather

For 2018 we must reinstate the most extreme weather award, with the Beast from the East providing Bella with many photo opportunities:

and an unexpected use for a cow shaped boot scraper as a ‘cowometer’ to allow me to see the increasing depth of snow on the pond:

The impressive snow was followed by equally impressive ice on the pond in early April:

Most successful vegetables

Reclaiming Paradise is all about growing vegetables. As always there were several contenders, including courgettes and marrows:

which were very impressive, even though not enough to win any prizes at the allotment show. The peas were beautiful and very productive both in the garden and the allotment:

but they will qualify for another award, as we will see.

The amazingly hot summer certainly helped the cucumbers to flourish in their newly built raised bed/cucumber frame:

But the outright winners have to be the tomatoes:

which started slowly but then flourished in the hot sun and continued into November. They provided enough surplus to make soup which we were still enjoying in December.

Most unsuccessful vegetables

You may be beginning to believe that my fingers are so green that everything flourishes in my garden. Not so. My biggest disappointments this year were the onions, which I sowed in newspaper tubes in early spring and transported to the allotment:

They succumbed to the drought. A few of them made it but most did not. These, I admit, were meant to be autumn sown and I was taking a chance with them. We were compensated by a very successful crop of ordinary spring sown onions in the bed beside them. I learned something about how not to sow onions.

Most promising, but ultimately disappointing, fruit

The fig tree produced some fruit for the first time ever:

WP_20180804_09_42_56_Pro[1]I suppose I knew they would never get any bigger than peas but a gardener is ever hopeful. A close contender for this award was the cherry, of which there was only one, and it got snaffled by a passing bird between this photograph and going back to pick it:

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Most unsuccessful recipe

While dwelling on the year’s failures, I think the rhubarb curry was probably the least successful of my cooking experiments. On the other hand, the rhubarb did win a prize at the allotment show, and was very successful in cakes, crumbles and jam:

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Best use of garden produce

The summer gluts nearly overwhelmed us but we were assisted by visiting musicians, who moved in for the summer and helped to cook and eat a wide variety of fruit and vegetables. We made cakes and stews, soups, jam, chutney, pickle:

We made a wonderful Christmas Day smoothie, lemon curd (although not from the garden), a very successful summer pudding:

but the winner, out of these many, has to be the musicians’ giant stuffed marrow, so huge that it overflowed the serving dish and had to go in the oven at an angle :

giant marrow

Most colourful vegetables

The Reclaiming Paradise awards always include a most colourful vegetable prize. The purple radishes again produced lovely flowers but no radishes and the Swiss chard continued to provide rainbows:

For the third year running, however, the award goes to the peas:

with which I am now so besotted that I have saved the seed of the salmon pink and may need to venture into other varieties as well next year.

Most awe-inspiring wildlife

The annual awards cannot pass without an award for wildlife in the garden and allotment. This year we have outright winners. As well as the bees, robins, snails, foxes, ladybirds and other creatures, we had a multitude of frogs, congregating in the pond during the heatwave:

and bringing us joy.

Best cats

Finally, 2018 brought a second cat into the garden. Chelsea helped to build a pond in my mother’s garden but then moved in with us, leaving the pond to new owners and new cats. I won’t let her and Bella compete for this award as they have enough to fight about already. So the best cats award goes to them both for being awesome and in the hope that they will learn to share in 2019:

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So that’s the awards for this year. Much has been missed off but it is nice to look back and see what has happened in the garden and allotment over the year. Happy and productive gardening and best wishes for peace and happiness to all my followers for 2019.

Sheds

After a little twitter discussion on #gardenshour the other night, which ended up with more information about deceased vermin that I really wanted, I got to thinking about sheds and their contents. I had commented blythely that I had spent the weekend clearing out a shed (part of my mother’s moving house project) . The shed contained joys of all sorts of other kinds, including: enough plastic pots to keep any gardener going for at least 50 years, the stand for my now 21 year old baby’s Moses basket, several trowels in a range of states of usefulness and decay, several broken bird feeders, some random bags and jars of plant food, bird food and cleaning products, string, cardboard, newspaper, useful plastic thingies, useless plastic thingies, useful wooden thingies, useless wooden thingies, a chimenea, a box of partly rotten cooking apples, a wasps nest, more garden tools in various states of decay, more plastic plant pots, a few rather nice clay pots…

but actually not any dead mice. Someone on twitter asked if there had been any dead mice in the shed. I confess that my twitter response was a tiny white lie – the dead mouse was in the house. Sorry to remind you dear sister but these joys are side effects of cat ownership and I’ve got used to it over the years.

Anyway, it was a lovely sunny day and we made good progress, if not entirely finishing the job. We really have to admire my parents’ generation’s ability to keep things on the grounds that they might come in handy one day. Most (if not quite all) of the things in the shed did have potential uses. Sadly, quite a lot of it had to go to the ‘recycling centre’, a modern euphemism for the dump, but some has been spared to pass on to new homes and I’ve brought one of the better trowels to pass on to my mother so that she can do some midnight gardening in the grounds of her new flat. She’s worried that it’s not really allowed so intends to plant bulbs in the dark.

Back to musing about the shed though, and the deceased vermin. I remembered the project that I carried out with my grown up 21 and 19 year olds when they were about 4 or 5, when we painted murals on the inside of our garden shed to make it into a sort of play house.  I asked them what should be included.  Their interests in those days included dinosaurs, dogs, flowers and butterflies:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASea creatures:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGiraffes:

pb280296.jpgflamingoes and peacocks:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAour then cat, Roxy:

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and a tiny mouse, to commemorate, the inevitable deceased one which we had found when clearing it out (sorry no photo of the mouse painting) – it’s a thing, deceased vermin in sheds.

Allotment harvest

I was along at the allotment this afternoon to bring home a harvest. Up until now, I’ve tended to bring home a few vegetables at a time but today it felt like a real harvest. In preparation, I took my bike along. I still can’t actually cycle though the arm is improving every day but I knew that I could walk with the bike and it would act as a handy pack horse.  As usual, I forgot to take any photographs of the vegetables but we collected up a huge pile of potatoes, almost all of the onions, two huge bags of apples (a branch had collapsed off one of the trees – they are not quite ripe but should be cookable), three more marrows, six courgettes, six white turnips some runner beans and a handful of autumn fruiting raspberries.  Here are a couple of photos of the allotment from a few weeks ago when the peas and beans and potatoes were in full growth:

We shared our spoils between us. My share fitted nicely in the panniers of my bike:WP_20180819_17_14_50_Pro (1).jpgenabling me to get a very heavy load home.  We had the turnips in white sauce for tea. I’m going to have to organise a jam and pickle making session for the marrows and apples soon but haven’t quite found the time.

At the allotment, I had leant my bike against the compost bin – it has to go somewhere – and while my back was turned, a family of ladybirds moved onto the bag I had brought for the potatoes – along with some less pleasant blackfly:

WP_20180819_17_02_03_Pro.jpgI was tempted to bring the ladybirds home, but moved them all onto the marrow plants instead to continue their blackfly munching.  We also spotted a huge frog in the compost bin. Something rather larger – we don’t really want to know what – has been helping itself to some of our broad beans and leaving plum stones lying about but it is good to know that there is at least some helpful wildlife on the plot.

Frog and bee paradise

This weekend has been all about the frogs and the bees.  We’ve always had frogs in the garden, even before we built the pond and we were delighted when they moved into the water.  We don’t see them very often as they are, rightly a little shy, what with cats prowling about.  This weekend though they have been sitting in the pond, poking their little noses in the air, catching flies or other delicacies.  Last night I counted six, tonight there were nine. Don’t you just love them?

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WP_20180624_15_27_32_Pro (1)There was even one at the allotment this evening

wp_20180624_19_27_31_pro.jpgYesterday I spent the whole day in the garden, planting, weeding, generally tidying up and, while I was there, noted down all the flowers that were attracting bees.  I came up with the following list: campion, clover, foxglove, raspberry, radish, thyme, sage, escallonia, cotoneaster, borage, daisy. Bees are much harder to photograph than frogs as they don’t stay still for long. I managed to catch this one on a beautiful red scabiousWP_20180623_14_04_00_Pro.jpg

Watching the frogs and bees has been part of my #30days wild challenge. They have certainly repaid my patience. Maybe it’s because I took the time to really look, or maybe it’s the warm weather. Either way, I’m delighted.

 

 

 

Going wild

Heart hands @Dani Cox

It’s June, time for Thirty Days Wild, a month of exploring, discovering and celebrating wildlife. This year my wildness will be rather urban again. I’ll be trying to find wildness in the city. There’s plenty in my own garden:

WP_20171008_13_00_20_Pro[1]And at the allotment:

WP_20180524_19_18_14_ProOccasionally I may get out into the countryside but it’s a busy month ahead so I’ll try and find more urban wildlife on my way to and from work and as I go about my non-gardening business in the city.

Last year, I had a great time, spotting all sorts of unexpected wild things:

sunsets, bees, wild roses, wild flowers.

Some days it was a challenge. I’d been stuck in the office all day. I was tired. But just going outside, looking at the sunset, or one evening, the flowers in the darkness: WP_20170614_22_39_45_Pro

just so that I could post something for the #30dayswild hashtag on twitter, really cheered me up. So I may not be going into the forest, or scuba diving or doing anything very adventurous but I’m looking forward to another wild month. I’ll report back here from time to time but I’ll try and tweet every day – see my twitter account for updates.

Allotment wildlife

I had a little post-work wander down the allotment this evening. It’s been very dry, although a little cold and we were worried that the newly planted brassicas and peas might have succumbed to drought, or beasts of some kind. I am pleased to report that they have all survived, so far. They are well protected from rabbits and pigeons, and maybe slugs:
WP_20180524_18_57_19_Pro.jpgI gave them a good soak and hope they will hang on until they are a bit bigger and able to withstand whatever they need to withstand. There are two purple Brussels sprouts and four purple sprouting broccoli plants under those plastic covers.

I checked on the pea seedlings, which also seem to be withstanding the drought, rabbits and slugs. The seeds did not all germinate but I planted a few extra seedlings from the garden to encourage them along a bit. The allotment peas are Carouby de Maussane and the heritage pink pea – pictures here to remind you what they will look like in a month or so and to encourage the seedlings:

Then I watered a bit more round the plot, did a bit of weeding and found this beautiful ladybird, enjoying the weeds:

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On my way home, I saw the resident allotment fox. Apparently she also has cubs but I didn’t see them.

Mice and frogs

After a longish day at work, I went into the garden for some calm and to check if it was going to rain or not. There are big dark clouds in the sky but I suspect they are going to pass without emptying their goodness on the garden. Pity.  I had a little wander round and noticed the mouse plant has bloomed.  It keeps its little mice hidden under the leaves but it always cheers me up:

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It’s full name is Arisarum Proboscideum but we call it the mouse plant. For the full story of how it arrived in my garden, see here

Then I did some mild weeding, checking under the cat protection to see how the peas were doing:

WP_20180428_18_18_08_ProI lifted up the plastic bread box thingy that keeps Bella off the seedlings and a frog jumped out:

WP_20180518_19_47_37_Pro.jpgIt seems the cat deterrent provides shelter for this little friend. I hope it’s been working hard keeping the slugs off the peas.

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 ……..

Muddy puddle

After the excitement of the pond in the snow – here’s a wee reminder of how exciting that was:WP_20180301_16_06_02_Pro

– I could no longer ignore the fact that water level in the pond has been falling slowly.  I had lots of explanations: It’s just evaporation (in March in Scotland, I don’t think so), the cat drinks from the pond (well yes she does but surely not that much), the birds splash about in it and splash water out (maybe, but again surely not as much as that).  I checked my various gardening books and they all seemed to suggest the possibility of a leak.  We first made the pond on a wet February weekend seven years ago. Robbie, our old cat, helped to make it:

It has served us very well, bringing flowers and wildlife and causing endless joy to Bella:

But we had used a relatively cheap pvc liner, which all the good books say is not as good as a rubber one.  So perhaps it had failed, or a bird, cat or something had punctured it somewhere.  Time to replace it I thought. I acquired a new, rather expensive, rubber liner and set about emptying the pond and putting the new one in.  Again, I checked the good books, which advised to keep as much of the old pond water as possible so as not to lose any tiny creatures lurking in the mud and undergrowth.  So I donned my waterproof gardening gloves and waterproof trousers, regretting somewhat leaving my wellies at the allotment, and set too with buckets to bail it out.

It wasn’t as difficult as I anticipated. The main problem was the huge amount of grass, moss and plants that were choking the pond all round the edge. I put these in a couple of buckets, to protect any wildlife:

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Then I removed the plants that I wanted to keep. The waterlily in the middle had grown gigantic, so I divided it up a bit:

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There were two frogs and a whole family of newts lurking in the mud. They went into another big container along with the plants.  Fortunately there were no dead rats or anything really disgusting at the bottom of the pond. In fact, it all looked a bit too tidy;

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Now to add the a new liner, and start the laborious process of refilling it with all the water I had taken out:

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Which involved a lot of mud and trundling backwards and forwards to the water butt, as somehow there wasn’t enough of the original water in all my buckets and containers.  But now here is the pond, more or less reinstated, if a little muddy.

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In the process of dismantling and remantling the edges, I discovered the remains of a frog house that we had built with the original pond.  It was completely covered in moss and grass and the ‘house’, made out of a clay pot, had collapsed. So I made a new one, with a new pot, some new logs and covered up again with moss:

WP_20180316_16_10_58_ProI also relaid the ‘wildlife beach’, necessary to let small creatures get in and out of the pond safely.

WP_20180316_16_11_36_ProI tidied up our giant Mexican frog, cleaning up some of the moss which had covered her and giving her a new wallflower to welcome the spring:

wp_20180316_16_11_11_pro.jpgI made sure that the frogs and newts in my bucket went back safely into the pond.  Then I let Bella come out to inspect:

WP_20180316_15_56_40_ProI think she approved.  It is a little muddy but I’m hoping that I’ve solved the leak problem and got rid of a lot of overgrown grass and moss, so that it will all look lovely again once spring finally arrives.