Posts Tagged ‘Garden Wildlife’


Tree Fern

Tree Fern – Dicksonia Antarctica

Hi all my gardening friends.

I just had to tell you about my absolute favourite plant at the moment, my gorgeous Tree Fern or Dicksonia Antarctica as it’s often called.

Tania bought it for me on my 50th birthday when it was about 18 inches high. Now, 7 years later it’s grown into this wonderful specimen!

What I love so much about tree ferns is the wonderful contrast between the rich almost lime green leaves and the hairy, almost weird looking trunk!  Tucked away in a slightly humid (when the sun shines) shady part of the garden, next to the stream, it just seems to love it.

It’s taken me a while to find the perfect growing conditions. Originally planted in a big clay pot I think it didn’t like the occasional dry conditions.

If you’re thinking about growing your own Dicksonia, my advice is take your time and find a spot with the perfect growing conditions. At upwards of £100 a go for a medium sized tree it can be an expensive mistake if you get it wrong.

I prepared the ground really well with loads of organic matter and removed as much as the chalky soil as I could. (One of the challenges of gardening in this part of Hampshire)

I keep it well watered, especially the crown of the plant where the fronds grow. I remove a few dead fronds each summer and it’s none the worse for it.

New Zealand Tree Fern

I don’t overfeed … every 2-3 weeks it gets a watering can of regular soluble plant food and apart from watering in dry conditions it pretty much looks after itself. What a plant!

For the last 2 winters it’s lived outside with little protection, other than what it gets from the hedge that is.

It really is the most wonderful addition to the garden. Oh, and make sure you buy from a reputable garden center as they have to be certified for sale in the UK.

It never ceases to amaze me how nature just seems to know what it’s doing. Give a plant the right growing conditions and it will give back many times over.

I feel sure you’ll agree the Tree Fern is a wonderful addition to the garden. Now all I need to do is save up for another one! 🙂

Hope you enjoy these pictures I took earlier today.

Tree Fern Dicksonia Antarctica

tree-fern-4

tree-fern-5

Back soon!

Best wishes,

signature

 

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Birds-in-garden

 

Not sure about you .. but I love to see our native wildlife in the garden and in particular, our beautiful native birds. It’s at this time of the year, they need our help more than ever. It’s cold and there isn’t much in the way of seeds around in February.

I know we live in the countryside .. but we have all manner of beautiful birds in the garden which I believe is because we put food and water out on a regular basis.

By putting out a little food and water, the birds are more likely to use what limited energy they have at this time of the year to stop off at your place for a feed. So make it easy for them and your garden will be alive with the sounds and movement of wild birds.

We have a male pheasant stop by most mornings to pick up any corn that we’ve dropped on the way to feeding the chickens. He visits most days and I feel privileged he’s chosen our garden to stop off. Mind you he is a little nervous .. and as soon we try to approach him he takes off … straight up and over the hedge into the farmers fields!

Another charming bird is the Robin red breast. If you want him in the garden simply turn over your compost heap from time to time, and I promise you within 15 minutes he’ll be in there with you!

Of course the most important thing you can do is build a simple bird table and put out some regular old wild bird mix. You can pick it pretty much anywhere, but watch out as it can be expensive.

JAN7TH
The cheapest way is to buy a large bag and decant a cup full every other day … never let it go stale.  If you don’t have  a Bird Table they’re simple to make.
A couple of years ago I posted what has become the most popular post on the site which explains how to make a simple bird table.
Using feeders is another good idea as it keeps the food away from the squirrels and stops it from spilling onto the floor which attracts rats.
goldfinch

Our native Goldfinch – A welcome visitor to the garden.

If you’re feeling adventurous you could make your own fat balls. Really easy to make … and cheap! (I’ve included a recipe at the foot of this post)

I know for a fact the birds will be grateful for anything you can put out  and who doesn’t like to see our beautiful native birds in the garden?

Back soon.

Best wishes
John And Tania The Rural Gardeners

 

A simple Fat Cake recipe

You’re going to need:

  1. 1-2 Packets of Lard.
  2. A Bag of Wild bird Seed.
  3. An Apple or English Grapes when they are in season.
  4. Stout String (candle string is ideal)
  5. So used yogurt pots.
  • Melt the lard in a deep pan, then let it cool slightly before adding the seeds and fruit. A word of caution here, melting lard gets verrrrrrry hot, so keep the heat low and just wait a bit longer for it to melt. Above all stay safe!
  • Before the fatty mix starts to set pour it into a mould,   not too big (old yogurt pots will do just fine or Yorkshire pudding trays work just as well).
  • Before the lard starts to set take a 3-4″ piece of string and drop it into the mix keeping about 2″ outside the mould.
  • Leave the moulds to set  for a couple of hours and then place in the fridge overnight to set nice and hard.
  • The next day remove the fat cake from the mould and tie the string to the hooks around the outside of your new bird table.

 

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English Apples

I just checked my stats for the blog and realised its been over 2 months since I last posted … Lazy or what!  So I’ll put that right and I must apologise for such a large gap since my last post.

As I was sat in the garden thinking about what I might share I suddenly realised just how lucky we are. Our climate is almost perfect for growing our own food, our soil is capable of growing almost anthing we ask it providing we look after it and I constantly marvel at the range of wildlife we have living around us.

The butterfly walk

We like to attract as many insects to the garden as we can .. and no better way than with a butterfly bush walk.

insects

Last Sunday we had a peregrine falcon sitting on the front fence gazing longingly at the row of pigeons on my neighbours roof. Fantastic … Our own pigeons scarer. They still managed to pinch all my greens this year. I can’t be bothered to use nets … Far too fiddly, so next year I’m not going to bother. Not overly keen on greens anyway other than purple sprouting which happens to be the pidgeons absolute favourite. I suppose I could shoot the pigeons but then I think they haven’t done me any harm and forget the idea.

It’s the second time I’ve seen the Peregrine this year and what a fantastic site. Sleek and majestic looking. In fact it’s the fourth raptor we have seen in the garden this year. We occasionally have a Kestrel call by and the buzzards are always squeaking away high in the sky above the surrounding fields. I think they are eyeing up the chickens to be honest. The other hawk we see from time to time is a red kite. They seem to be everywhere since they were reintroduced to the UK in the 1980’s. Easy to spot as they have a forked tail and a distinctive flight as they dive bomb the local mouse population.

But my favourite visitor has to be the barn owl that gets into my neighbours corn barns. I usually see him skirting across the fields about 4 feet above the ground. Occasionally he comes to rest on a post and I simply stop and marvel at this most magnificent bird.

It’s been a good year for vegetables but I’m especially pleased with my celeriac. I can’t believe they start out as the tiniest of seeds. Only 3 months later and they are already starting to look like baby celeriac! They should be perfect by late November early December but they will need earthing up from time to time and an occasional general liquid feed. It’s the only way to get a decent sized crop.

The polytunnel continues to provide us with an endless supply of salads and tomatoes. I don’t worry about them running to seed as I simply repeat sow every 4 weeks up until the end of October. I find if I sow any later they tend not to germinate quite as well. Also I’ve just about had enough salad by November anyway.

This autumns major project is to move the polytunnel. Pain really as we moved it last year but its just in the wrong place.

My Polytunnel
Since we built the workshop last year we’ve reorganised the bottom of the plot to make space for a couple of parking spots so visitors can access our little plant nursery and the polytunnel needs to be closer for practical purposes.

Also it’s right in the eye line as you look from the house out to the garden. Don’t get me wrong I love my polytunnel but it’s not the most beautiful structure in the garden and it blocks the view down to the workshop which is an altogether better looking structure.

workshop

I have to say I think there is a great business opportunity for someone if they can design a cool looking polytunnel. I think you’d be on to a winner!

It’s been a great year for fruit … The orchard is heaving and raspberry’s have been plentiful. We moved them last autumn and although they have suffered slightly from the move they’ve given us a few tasty treats.

Anyway .. I think that’s enough for one day and I promise to post more very soon.

Best wishes

John And Tania The Rural Gardeners

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recycle2

I don’t know about you but it’s about his time of the year I start thinking about cutting the hedges. I was brought up in the country and I remember my dad used to take a lot of advice from a farmer friend when it came to hedge cutting. “When you see the farmer out with his tractor and hedge cutter then its time to cut the hedges” he used to say.

Well last weekend the farmer in the back field was out bright and early trimming the hedgerows  so I thought I’d get the step ladder out and start tidying up our mixed hedge. It’s about 60 meters of mixed hedge in total and has pretty much everything in it from lleylandi to hazel with the odd walnut sapling thrown in for good measure.

The hedge was here when we moved in and as each year goes with careful management it just gets better. Although it isn’t perhaps the most beautiful hedge you’ll find but it does host a variety of native birds and flora so it’s always best to wait until the birds have stopped breeding before cutting.

Every year I have the challenge of finding something to do with the waste material. Well this year a friend of mine gave us a small electric shredder. It doesn’t actually shred the waste, more like grinds the branches into submission!

recycle5

Having said that it is a great little machine and I’m immensely grateful for it, not least as it enables us to create a by-product from the hedge trimmings which serves several purposes.mulchFirstly it makes a great surface for around the entrance to the nursery which is soft under foot and when its had a chance to break down it turns into the most amazing springy compost material.

The great thing is its cheap to produce and lasts for several seasons and you can throw it onto the compost heap or simply lay it on top of the beds and wait for nature to do its stuff.

Last year we started to scatter the trimmings on the paths in the kitchen garden to create a more natural feel.  One year on and its turned into the most amazing mulch which is soft under foot and can be used for mulching the flower beds.  I simply spade it onto the beds and work it into the soil and worms do the rest!

If you’re thinking of buying a shredder then the bigger you can afford the better is my advice. I love my little shredder but do sometimes wish I had a little extra power.

Here are my tips for trouble free shredding!

  • Read and follow the instructions that come with your shredder.
  • Be patient and avoid stuffing too much green material in at once especially Leylandii as it has a tendency to clog the machine.
  • Resist stuffing large branches in or you’ll likely burn out the motor. My little shredder will comfortably take branches up to an inch in diameter. Anything larger gets stripped of its branches and either used for poles in the garden or for winter firewood.

Like most of the green waste in the garden hedge trimmings can be a pain to get rid of  but if you’re able to invest in a modest little shredder I’d say go for it as the by-product is can easily be recycled.

I didn’t manage to finish the job this weekend so will be shredding some more next weekend.

Best wishes

John And Tania The Rural Gardeners

 

 

Still living the dream …

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Learn How To Create A Wildlife Friendly Garden With The Rural Gardener

My bat box I put up last year in the beech tree is home to at least two bats.

Ever since I came to Blackbirds I wanted to create a wildlife friendly garden and having been gardening this way for nearly 5 years now I must say we don’t seem to have half as many problems with pests and diseases.

That is apart from the cabbage white caterpillars which are the pain of my life, so much so that I’m thinking of ditching brassica altogether! I won’t spray and don’t much fancy spending an hour each day collecting the little buggers.

Oh and the cheeky pheasants that sneak into the garden looking for any stray corn the chickens may have left behind, lovely to look at, but the males give out the loudest shrieking noise … usually when you least expect it.

The secret is to create balance in your garden between the planting and the creatures.
I’ve found the best way to encourage wildlife into the garden is to achieve a balance between the more orderly parts of the garden and the more natural spaces.

When you get the balance right, then you will significantly increase the bird, amphibian and insect population in your garden, which in turn will help you to deal with your pest problems. It’s like magic, I can’t explain how it works, it just does.

Take the dreaded cabbage white caterpillars as a point in case. I encourage the robins and blue tits by putting up next boxes in the hedge close to the vegetable patch next to the compost heap.

They help me with my caterpillar population and in exchange they have a ready made takeaway practically outside their front door

I understand robins are quite territorial so it’s unlikely you’ll attract more than a single pair, but my garden just wouldn’t be the same without my little companion.

That’s basically what encouraging wildlife is all about,  creating a balance, a harmony between the gardener and the natural world that isn’t always obvious, but rather creeps up on you the longer you garden in this way.

Take the humble Hostas as a point in case. Such a majestic looking plant, but I used to have problems with slugs and snails eating the fresh shoots in early summer.

Then a  a couple of years ago we built a small wildlife pond, and since then we’ve had no slug problem!  I suspect the frogs were attracted by the water, and in turn have taken care of the slug population.

Poor slugs …  lucky frogs!

Out of the chaos we have order
I don’t know about you but I’ve always tried to maintain a tidy garden but since I’ve adopted a more ‘organic’ approach to my garden I’ve begun to make changes and it’s producing tangible results.

For example,  I no longer close mow all of the grass, instead I leave some areas to grow long. As a result  wildflowers have seeded in the grass and are now well established attracting loads of bees, which in turn pollinate the fruit trees. A simple principle and very effective.

I purposely leave piles of logs and branches around the place to help bring in the insects for the birds to feed on. Wood piles are particularly effective around the pond as they provide habitat for the frogs and toads, especially when it’s sunny and they need to shelter from the sun.

Learn How To Create A Wildlife Friendly Garden With The Rural Gardener

This is were Dave and Trigger my adopted frogs live!

If you’re  planning to start a wildlife garden of your own, or perhaps you just want to try out a few ideas here are a few of the changes we’ve made at Blackbirds that we feel have  made a real difference.

1. Build a pond, or water feature.
Having water in the garden will always encourage all manner of new visitors into the  garden, but if you really want to score highly with the local amphibian population running water is even better!

How To Create A Wildlife Friendly Garden

Water will bring in all sorts of wonderful creatures and insects.

Try to leave at least one side of the pond to grow away undisturbed. A tidy pond is better than no pond at all, but if you want to encourage slow worms, newts  and frogs, then natural is best! If you’d like to see an example of a wildlife friendly pond I’ve posted a short video on YouTube.

2. Plant a hedge.
I like to grow hazel hedges  for the foliage in the summer, nuts in the Autumn and we coppice the hazel every other year. The poles are really handy for all manor of things. Hazel is probably my most favourite tree of all, its just so versatile.

Another favourite of mine is willow. Really easy to grow and you can so much with it. I’m going to have a go at creating an arch next year.

Learn How To Create A Wildlife Friendly Garden With The Rural Gardener

Willow makes a perfect lush green screen

3. Build a compost heap.
Really easy to build your own compost heap and can be built out of pretty much anything. Try to keep it open on one side so the robins can get at the worms and they’ll repay you many times over.

4. Grow plenty of scented plants.
Grow lots of scented plants, the bees will love you for it and the smell is intoxicating late in the evening when the sun has warmed the flowers. In turn the bees will pollinate your fruit and veg. This year we planted a small cut flower garden and the amount of insects that came to visit was unbelievable.

Learn How To Create A Wildlife Friendly Garden With The Rural Gardener

Next year I’m planning to plant more cut flowers, so easy and so little maintenance required and the house had flowers pretty much from June onwards.

5. Don’t be too tidy.
Leave a few upturned clay pots around the garden for the toads to shelter and the odd brick pile. Position them anywhere you have a slug problem and the toads will come in to shelter and clean up your slug problem.

6. Keep a few chickens.
Chickens can be quite destructive but they will seek out bugs and grubs in the garden and dispatch them with consummate ease. The other good thing about the chickens is they will provide ready made feed in the form of droppings.

The girls enjoying their favourite passtime, having a dust bath!

The girls enjoying their favourite pass time, having a dust bath!

Just remember to put them away in the evening, or you may attract an unwelcome fox into your garden. I love foxes, but not if they plan to dine out on my girls!

7. Grow a tree …  better still grow lots of trees!
If for no other reason than they are just the most majestic of plants. We have a mature Walnut and a Beech and they are home to so many creatures, like bats and owls.

We put up a bat box last year and I’m pleased to report the bats have taken up residence.

I like to encourage bats in our garden to keep the midges under control. We like to have family BBQ’s in the summer without fear of being bitten by the little buggers! so we’re doing all we can to encourage the most interesting of our native mammals.

If your garden is too small for a tree, never fear, then try a small espalier fruit tree in a pot and get the best of both worlds, gorgeous fresh fruit in late summer and gorgeous blossom in the Spring. The bees will love you for it!

8. Mediterranean herbs.
Great for attracting pollinating insects … Plant thyme, marjoram and lavender near to your fruit trees and tomato plants. The bees will do there stuff and you can look forward to the sweetest tasting autumn puddings.

Learn How To Create A Wildlife Friendly Garden With The Rural Gardener

My herb bed is a tad overgrown now, but the bees just love the flowering marjoram and thyme.

9. Wood piles.
Build a few wood piles around the garden, mainly for the insects and creepy crawlers which the wrens and hedge birds tend to feed on, but also they make great shelters for the frogs and toads.

10. Bricks and Tiles.
We have a few bricks and roof tiles left over from the build chucked into redundant corner of the garden. I’ve noticed frogs and toads use the pile to hide from the direct sunlight.

Learn How To Create A Wildlife Friendly Garden With The Rural Gardener

Nice and cool for small mammals to hide in.

In the last 5 years that we’ve been living at Blackbirds I’ve found the secret to attracting wildlife is not one particular measure but essentially a combination of lots of different things that together produce a balance with nature.

Yeah, not everything will work for you but if you get the balance right, then you’ll notice a difference in the way you garden. Pest control will be managed by nature and you’ll have the most wonderful natural space, and all just outside your back door.

If you have any other suggestions for how we can make our garden more wildlife friendly we’d love to hear them.

Best wishes

Rural Gardener

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I hope you don’t mind but I thought I’d share a few of my favourite pictures from last year which certainly restore my faith in this wonderful English climate.

Click the picture for a large version.

10 Pictures To Restore Your Faith In The English Weather

10 Pictures To Restore Your Faith In The English Weather

10 Pictures To Restore Your Faith In The English Weather

10 Pictures To Restore Your Faith In The English Weather

10 Pictures To Restore Your Faith In The English Weather

10 Pictures To Restore Your Faith In The English Weather

10 Pictures To Restore Your Faith In The English Weather

10 Pictures To Restore Your Faith In The English Weather

10 Pictures To Restore Your Faith In The English Weather

10 Pictures To Restore Your Faith In The English Weather

Best Wishes,

rural-gardeners

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Made a start on the soft fruit garden over the weekend

Firstly apologies for not posting for a while but it’s a really busy time at Blackbirds. We have a few projects on the go at the moment, one of which is the Soft Fruit Garden.

What a fantastic weekend! I managed to clear the last of the rubbish from the bottom of our plot and made a start on the second phase of the kitchen garden.

Believe it or not this will be our soft fruit garden

Believe it or not this will be our soft fruit garden

We’re now approaching our third season at Blackbirds and we have some fun projects lined up for the summer.  Ruby and the rest of the girls (our 6 free range chickens) have been moved to a new spot so we can finish off the kitchen garden, although I have to say they seem to spend more time exploring the surrounding fields than anything else.

I’ve decided to divide the left side of the kitchen garden in half, with the front half dedicated to fruit, and  the other half for a modest back garden nursery for growing and selling a few plants. It’s an idea I’ve been working on for a while now, but it’s not happening quite as quickly as I’d hoped.

I spent most of the weekend preparing the fruit patch, marking out a couple of beds approximately 20ft long by 5ft wide. I tend to make my fruit and veg beds fairly narrow to make them easier to manage.

Having first  removed the turfs, I forked over the ground mixing in a good helping of compost, along with a few handfuls of fish blood and bone. This should help get the  seeds and plants off to a good start and as  there has been nothing but grass growing before, the soil should be in pretty good shape.

The Fruit Garden at Blackbirds

My lovely son James helping me out with the heavy digging.

I plan to move  my raspberry canes that I’ve had since we moved in, but I’m not sure if they will provide any fruit this year if I do? Alongside the raspberries I’m going to plant a couple of red currants and blackcurrant bushes, along with a gooseberry and blueberry bush that I was given as a birthday present.  After planting them I’ll add a dressing of potash as I’ve read that fruit bushes respond well to a dose of potash.

I might also plant a few strawberries, but I tend to find they do so much better in the polytunnel. On the subject of the polytunnel John has agreed to install a small solar photovoltaic panel on the roof of my potting shed just powerful enough to  provide electricity to power a couple of lights. That way I’ll be able to stretch the days out a little further and spend even more time in the garden 🙂

Id like to grow a few more exotic fruits but I don’t have much experience with them, so  if you can think of any that will grow in our Hampshire climate do let me know.

Best wishes

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