Posts Tagged ‘Natural Ponds’


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,

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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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Wahoooooo! … It’s finally finished!

I’m actually ready to share my first free gardening eBook with the world. I’m calling it my ‘Introduction To Frugal Gardening’.

Download Your Free Copy

It’s basically a collection of suggestions, strategies and money saving tips that I’ve pulled together from the last few years.

At 25 pages it’s crammed full of useful information for anyone looking to create their own garden paradise, without spending a small fortune along the way!

It did take a fair bit of work to prepare and may not be perfect first time round, but I would really value any feedback you’re prepared to offer as I want to write more stuff so others may benefit.

If you’d prefer not to then that also fine, in which case please enjoy the  content with our best wishes.

Oh, and we’ve also been recording a few videos over the weekend you might be interested in.

Part 1 explains in some detail how to take softwood cuttings, and how you improve your chances of success.
http://youtu.be/h_8IGFa_pzs

Part 2 introduces the idea of a sand box.
http://youtu.be/XKboJNgBZis

NOW TAKE ME TO WHERE I CAN DOWNLOAD MY FREE COPY OF  ‘AN INTRODUCTION TO FRUGAL GARDENING’

Hope you enjoy the read!

Best wishes,

signatures

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Easter in the 2013 gardening calendar is going to be exciting one for us in so many ways and if the weather is kind it’s certainly going to be a busy one!.

They’re predicting cold in most parts of the UK over the weekend so if you’re planning to head into the garden like me it looks like we’re going to need those extra layers.

Here are five jobs we’ll be doing in the garden this Easter weekend.

Job 1. Winter Prune The Grape vine, (Phoenix Vitis vinifera)

I’ve had a grape vine (Phoenix, Vitis vinifera) for 3 years and it always seems to do well, which I think is down to our thin chalky soil.

winter-prune-grape-vine

When it comes to looking after a grape vine I’ve learned over the years to treat em mean and keep em keen.  In other words don’t be afraid to prune your grape vine, unless you have a rambling vine in which case just let it do it’s own thing and thin out the growth later in the year. In my experience the harder you prune a grape vine the more it seems to want to respond.

I train mine as a cordon (I think it’s called the Guyot system) keeping the vine down to 2 main laterals which I run left and right on wires. I keep these laterals to around 10-12 buds max and keep them tied into wires using soft garden string.

winter-prune-grape-vine3

As the buds break and grow away I train them up to the wires until there are around 4 nodes or buds per stem.  I then trim the subsequent growth to a minimum of 4 bunches per stem, which ensures all the energy goes into making loads of delicious grapes and not into growing more vine.

Job 2. Put Up Support For The Rasberrys

A couple of weeks ago I transplanted my raspberry  canes into a redundant part of the veg patch in the garden. I usually plant fruit canes in January, but given the cold weather the canes are still dormant, so they should survive the move.

If you don’t want your raspberry canes falling all over the place you’ll need to provide adequate support.  Don’t skimp in this area is my advice if you want an easy life later in the summer. I’ve learnt the hard way and used all sorts of methods from a piece of string tied between bamboo canes, too individually staking each cane (yes I really did stake every single cane).

The best solution I find is to take two or three 8 foot 4 x 4 inch square posts and cement them in a hole at least 18″ deep. Not cheap I know, but it will last much longer.  Then head to the local hardware shop and buy a few screw in wire connectors and some reasonable heavy gauge wire.

raspberry-ties

Fix the connectors to the inside of each post approximately 2 feet apart and run a length of the wire through the connectors and twist the ends to make a fixing. The secret is to make sure they are nice and tight.

If you’re planning to plant a few canes (or any soft fruit bushes) then my advice is prepare a trench in advice of planting if possible.  I usually dig a trench about a spades width across and a spades depth deep. You don’t need a massive trench as raspberries take up moisture through the fibrous roots that sit just below the surface, so avoid planting them too deep. Also the roots need oxygen so bury them too deep and they are less likely to survive. Bit like us really!

Into the trench goes a barrow load of compost which I fork into the soil.  I then plant the canes until the roots are completely covered. Throw in a sprinkle of fish blood and bone around the roots and heal them in nice and firm. Finally give them a good drink and they’ll do you proud.

Job 3. Pot On Last Years Softwood Cuttings.

For the last 3 years I’ve been learning how to raise plants from cuttings with varying degrees of success. Last year was my best year yet and I’m pleased to say 99% of the cuttings I managed to root have survived (so far) through a cold winter. Always amazes me just how resilient plants really are.

It’s really easy to raise plants from cuttings and anyone that reads my blog on a regular basis will know it’s become a bit of passion of mine. Last year I even managed to sell a few plants which brought in a little extra cash into the household budget.

Softwood Cutings

These are just a few of the plants I raised in 2012 just before they were going to the customer.

You can grow plants like these from softwood cuttings

You can grow plants like these from softwood cuttings

This weekend I’ll be potting up last years cuttings into larger pots so they can grow into great little plants, just as soon as the weather warms up that is!

Job 4. Spring Clean The Wildlife Pond.

If you want your wildlife pond to look like this …

wildlife-pond-algae2

and not like this …

Spring Clean The Wildlife Pond

… then it’s going to need a Spring clean.

I’ve noticed we already have frog spawn in the pond, so probably best to collect it all up in a bucket first and return it when you’re finished.

Basically all I do in the Spring is thin out the oxygenating plants (elodium) and remove as many of the fallen leaves and decaying plants as I can.  It’s important to remove leaves from a pond or they will eventually decompose and give off noxious gasses which will discourage the wildlife from coming to the pond.

I find the best tool for the job is a Spring rake just as long as you take care not to puncture the liner! Alternatively it’s on with the wellies or waders and be prepared to get wet! 🙂

Job 5. Tidy Up The Herbaceous Borders.

One of the most satisfying jobs in the garden at this time of the year in my view is clearing and preparing the herbaceous borders ready for the summer ahead. Nothing too strenuous of course, just a little light pruning on the roses and removing the dead or decaying growth from last years gems. The Lupins have already started which is a sign of great things to come.

Lupins

One task I have to perform every year (and for most of the season come to that) is to remove as many of the large stones and flints that rise to surface each year. The borders seem to suffer the most as we are on chalk, on top of which is a layer of large flints and stone in this part of Hampshire. Great for trout rivers they tell me, but pain in the bum in the garden.

After I’ve cleared the beds of all debris I mulch with a good layer of well rotted garden compost. Always amazes me where it all goes, but sure enough by the end of the season it will all be consumed by the worms and other insect life and put back in to the soil. Nature is a truly wonderful thing.

Well that’s my weekend in the garden sorted.

I wonder what jobs you’re planning in the garden this Easter weekend?

Have a lovely Easter,

Best wishes,

Tania.

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I managed to capture a pic of this little fella over the weekend as I was sitting by the pond, and thought I must share it with you. I think it is a form of dragon fly, but not really sure what sort?

Dragon Fly Captured By The Wildlife Pond By The Rural Gardener

Click for large image

We’re having hours of relaxation sitting by the pond watching the wildlife during this gorgeous weather.

Back soon,

Rural Gardener

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In May of last year I planted a Beech Hedge, (Hornbeam to be precise) against the fence at the front of Blackbirds.

After 12 months of growth I have to say I am a little disappointed how long it’s taken these plants to get going.  I used bare rooted plants, incorporated lots of compost in the planting hole and have been diligent with my watering.

I have read Beech and Hornbeam in particular is slow to grow away so I’m still hopeful we will have a half decent hedge in the next 5 – 10 years.

Unfortunately about 30% of the original plants have failed which I guess could be down to the extreme winter we had and the lack of any serious rainfall in Hampshire this year.

Anyway I’ve decided to plant a few Laurel plants in-between to try and fill the hedge out in the short term.

My neighbors all grow them very successfully, which must be down to the abundance of lime in our soil.

I grew them from cuttings which my neighbor very kindly let me have last summer. They grew really well and only 10% failed, so I’m going to have another go at growing a few more this summer.

Now I’m off to do a rain dance in a bid to help my vegetables through this terrible drought we’re experiencing in Hampshire.

Best wishes,

Rural Gardener

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Something brown and snake like spotted by the pond this morning!

I just spotted this little fella this morning by the pond. So exciting as I’ve never seen anything like it before in the garden. He’s approximately  30cm in length and has the cutest little face.

Slow Worm spotted at Blackbirds

Slow Worm spotted by our new Wildlife Pond

As soon as I spotted him on the lawn I rushed inside and grabbed my camera and fortunately he was still there, so I managed to grab a few pics before he slithered away into the long grass.

Legless Lizard - A Slow Worm spotted by the pond

Legless Lizard – A Slow Worm spotted by the pond

Slow worm spotted by the pond at Blackbirds

He popped his head up to take in some of our Spring sunshine.

At first I thought it was one of our native snakes, but after researching on the web I think it’s a Slow worm, which isn’t a snake, but is actually a legless lizard.

Either way it’s a real find and I hope he makes himself at home alongside our new wildlife pond.

Best wishes,

Rural Gardener

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