31 January 2016

Dorset Garden Diary - Digging, Sowing and RSPB Birdwatch


Well, it's been another week of storms - storm Jonas and storm Gertrude hit our shores. Did anyone else see Winterwatch on BBC2 this week? Amazing footage of the diverse weather we are having, plus spectacular wildlife shots from the Cairngorms. Here in Dorset it's been cold, frosty, windy, mild, wet and sunny.

Monday - the day started with another pink and orange sunrise but clouded over during the morning. Very warm though, temperature up to 14 degrees. I dug over the two vegetable beds and removed all the weeds. Last year the soil was clumpy and heavy but the green manure I planted in September and dug in late autumn has improved it immensely; it is now rich, soft and full of earthworms. When I planted the green manure I left a section free for the carrots as they prefer poor soil. I fed the fish as they were on the surface - and hungry. I then went shopping as I had a voucher for a free pack of seed potatoes, but of course, it doesn't stop there! Besides my free potatoes (Maris Piper second early)  I also came away with a pack of Pentland Javelin first early, a pack of mixed onions and a pack of shallots. And...(not finished yet) packs of seeds: spinach beet, pak choi, gherkins, fennel, celeriac, kaleidoscope beetroot, runner beans (desiree) and peas (hurst green shaft). That should keep me busy.

Tuesday - today started with a blood red sky. The saying 'red sky in the morning shepherd's warning' certainly applied today. We were on the periphery of storm Jonas and the weather was atrocious, strong gale force winds and lashing rain. So I took the opportunity to order some seeds online - Okahijiki (Chinese leaves) and rock samphire, both tasty in stir fries, salads and with seafood.

Wednesday - I moved the freesias and garlic back into the greenhouse as a frost was forecast overnight. I was in the dining room and could hear seagulls squawking and see them circling overhead before taking it in turns to dive so I went upstairs for a better look and on the roof of the back shed stood the heron, majestic and unperturbed by the dive bombing seagulls. I took a couple of quick pics with my phone but by the time I got the camera out it had flown away, yet again.


In the afternoon I prepared some food for the birds. Firstly the fat balls, melting the lard then adding seeds, bread and dried fruit. Once it had cooled I put it in yogurt pots in the fridge to set. And from the RSPB site I made and hung out an apple studded with black sunflower seeds and made a ring of bread, chunks of cheese and apricots threaded with garden wire.
That should keep the birds well fed.

Saturday - I was unable to get out in the garden the last couple of days. Today was forecast rain but...it didn't. It was a lovely sunny day, albeit cold and windy, possibly the remnants of storm Gertrude. I cleaned the bird table and replenished the food. The apple and the fruit ring have not been touched which is surprising as blackbirds and the song thrush eat fruit and we have those visiting the garden. I covered the vegetables beds with plastic to a) keep any cats off, b) stop the weeds growing and c) keep the soil warm for planting in the spring.

I checked the seeds I'd sown last weekend and the radish and micro radish have put on a spurt.

Nothing else coming through yet. I sowed some broccoli, parsnips and kale and was going to sow leeks but the packet was empty so I'll just have to go shopping again! I put the seed potatoes in egg boxes to chit.

Checked the greenhouse and watered where necessary. The seeds I ordered on Tuesday arrived today.

Sunday - rain overnight then started to clear slowly. I did my RSPB birdwatch between 9 and 10 this morning. Now normally the garden has birds flitting in and out of it...but not this morning. Typical. I know they're around because the food is being eaten. It could be because it was windy, but all that came into the garden was one magpie, one wood pigeon, one jackdaw and one blue tit. I recorded the results on their website and advised them of the birds that normally visit. It was very peaceful, sat for an hour watching the garden. I potted up the radishes and put them in the greenhouse. And it appears the micro radishes I'm growing have been mislabelled, they are actually triffids in training...they've grown nearly an inch since yesterday evening!
The next job was to move the bird bath away from the bird table as a magpie had worked out that if it jumped onto the bird bath it could then get onto the bird table. It can't now! Him indoors will not be impressed when he finds out I've moved it as it's heavy, but I was careful and rolled it into position.
Well the weather forecast isn't brilliant for the week ahead...storm Henry is rolling in. Hopefully there'll be an opportunity for some gardening. Have a good week and catch up next Sunday.

24 January 2016

Dorset Garden Diary - The First Seeds Sown and Bird Activity

Evening everyone,

After our brief spell of winter over the past week we are now back to milder conditions. The temperature today is over ten degrees higher than it was at the beginning of the week.

Monday - there was no frost but it was bitterly cold in the wind. I was in the dining room getting ready to go out when something caught my eye in the garden. I looked out to see a heron land on one of the side fences. I grabbed my phone and took a quick picture then went into the conservatory to get a closer shot but it flew away. I don't think it will be catching any fish in this weather, they're all in the warmer water at the bottom of the pond...hopefully! Amazing to see it though, they are beautiful, graceful birds...just a shame they eat fish! I hope you can make it out just above the washing line - it does blend in so well with the surroundings.
It was too cold to get out in the garden so I went shopping (of course). I bought a feeding station for the birds which I will attempt to erect tomorrow. I also bought some materials for making nesting material balls for the birds and some bird food, well, quite a bit of bird food actually. I also bought some lard and I'm going to make my own fat blocks for the birds.

Tuesday - a frosty start, another cold day and another stunning sunrise. I was sat in the conservatory having breakfast when it occurred to me that the winter jasmine isn't in flower - the trellis should be covered in yellow flowers. So...it appears that the plants that are supposed to be flowering aren't and the plants that aren't supposed to be flowering are!

The pond was frozen again this morning so I gently poured a little hot water on to melt some of the ice. The pigeons were eating the robin food so I have put an upturned, empty hanging basket over it. Unfortunately the pigeons could still get to the food, so him indoors has raised it up on a block so the robin's can feed but the pigeons can't.

I assembled the new feeder station without too much difficulty, put it in the garden and hung suet blocks and a seed feeder on it.
 I was watched by some interested sparrows:

A friend came over and we sat in the conservatory having tea and cake. We not only saw a blue tit on the suet blocks but another one spent about 10 minutes checking out the nesting box near the greenhouse. I hope it's the same pair that have come back again. I then made the nesting material balls and hung them around the garden...they look like aliens!

Wednesday - crystal clear sky, amazing sunrise and a hard frost. The pond was frozen over again so I went out with the kettle and the hot water just ran over the top of the ice without penetrating it. First thing there were no birds in the garden, not even the pigeons, then a bit later four blackbirds were flitting about for a while. A pigeon came down late morning and headed for the robin feeder and walked round it, trying to get to the food. I had some small salad potatoes left over from Christmas that had started to sprout so I have put them in an empty egg box in the shed for chitting (this is where the knobbly roots develop so they will grow quicker once in the soil). No idea what type they are but I hope they take and grow.

Thursday - slightly warmer today but cloudy. We bought a lovely bird table which looks great in the garden. I put sunflower hearts, black sunflower seeds, mixed bird seed and mealworm suet nibbles on it...will be interesting to see what it attracts. That was all we had time for today.

Friday - I fed the fish this morning as the weather is getting warmer. They didn't appear immediately, but later in the day I noticed that the food had gone. Also, the netting over the pond had dipped into the pond...I'm hoping it was just from the torrential rain we had overnight.  Him indoors put quite a bit of composting material in the bin at the back of the garden which is now full up, so is the one by the top shed and the tumbler composter isn't far off. He also moved both the bird feeding station and the bird table to better positions. The food is being eaten which is a good sign. He then re-sited the robin box as it appears we had it in the wrong position. It is now much lower and partly hidden by vegetation. We were serenaded with birdsong whilst we worked.

Saturday - the day started bright and sunny then cloud began to develop late morning and the wind picked up. I didn't get much done in the garden but I did sort through my packets of seeds to make sure they were all in date then sorted them into sowing order. I also made notes on what to do in the garden next month. I watered the greenhouse plants - the sweet peas have finally stopped mimicking triffids. The pots of cuttings are coming along nicely.

Sunday - there were no birds in the garden for a while again this morning...strange. As I said earlier, the temperature has risen steeply so fed the fish again and they were straight on it. In fact, I fed them twice today as they were on the surface - here's two of them...there was a larger fish on the other side but it dived before I could take a pic.

There are a lot of fishlings and it didn't take them long to devour the food. There were quite a few midges flying around late morning. I then retrieved the propagator from the greenhouse and cleaned it (every time I walk by I get a faint whiff of curry from the curry plant!) Whilst I was pottering about, a robin and a sparrow were feeding from the feeder. I have sown:- micro radish, garden radish, chives, basil, red and green chillies, hot red chillies, razzmatazz peppers, sweet mini peppers, cucumber, 2 types of tomato, cerinthe, antirrhinum and some laburnum seeds. I then moved a few things about in the kitchen and set up my seed crèche again:

And finally I planted up the hypericum I bought during the week, I will plant this out in the garden in the Spring:
Well that's about it, it's been a busy and satisfying week. I have a list of things to do this coming week so I'm hoping the weather will be kind...although it looks like Tuesday and Wednesday could be washouts. Have a good week, stay warm and dry...

17 January 2016

Dorset Garden Diary - Brrrr...And Now It's Here

Hi all,

I hope you've had a good week and stayed warm and dry. Here in Dorset the weather continued to be wet and windy for a couple of days then the temperature dropped, the rain stopped and the wind blew itself out. But no snow. I was away Monday and Tuesday, but when I looked out the window Monday morning before I left, a grey squirrel was 'passing through', bounding along the top of the back fence en-route to another garden. I've finally caught on to his antics and the bird feed is more difficult for him to get to in the my garden now.

Wednesday - the cold weather arrived swiftly but with it came a crystal clear sky and a sunrise that bathed everything in liquid gold. I didn't feed the fish today as it's too cold. I checked the bird food - the gammon rind is being eaten, not much left now and the same with the suet balls. The robin feeder was empty so I filled it up again...still not sure that it's the robins that are eating it. I picked a couple of small fennel bulbs that have sprouted up over the past few weeks and some of the cos lettuce that are still growing and made them into soup with the baby leeks I picked the other day, celery and carrots...very tasty! Stunning sunset.

Thursday - another incredible sunrise (think I'm going to run out of adjectives). It was cold plus the wind picked up which made it feel even colder. I jotted down all the things I need to be doing in January (thank you Gardeners' World magazine). I checked around the garden - put the freesia pot in the greenhouse and also the garlic trough as not sure how frost hardy they are. The rescued carrots are doing well,

I pruned the buddleia;

and the rose (most of the flowers were wilting and there were no new buds)
and the wild basil:

I also trimmed back the fuchsias and salix. I found a large container to put over the rhubarb to force it (needs to be kept in the dark to encourage quicker growth). The thing is, it didn't grow much last year and died back quickly. I, stupidly, didn't mark where it is, so I've put the container over where I think it is...but it might not be! In the cottage garden the verbascum (arctic summer) are coming on well which I'm pleased about because I've grown them from seed

and this grass is enjoying the winter sun, delicate and pretty

I met a friend for lunch and we sat in a warm café on the seafront looking out over the sea. With the palm trees swaying in the wind beneath a cloudless sky you could be forgiven into thinking it was summer. Ah...summer! Amazing sunset this evening.

Friday - and stunning sunrise. I sat in the conservatory having breakfast, the crows and what I thought were pigeons (but on consulting my bird book him indoors bought me for Christmas are actually collared doves) were nibbling at the lawn then one of the doves started on the robin food so I stood up and waved my hands about to scare it off. It's for the robins! Then I saw movement by the greenhouse - it was a robin. It hopped and fluttered towards the house then flew onto the washing line before coming down to eat from the ground feeder. Yessss!!! Later in the morning I went out and topped up the ground feeder plus put some feed on a saucer in the gravel garden near the house which hopefully the larger birds can't get to. Next door's passion flower shrub is still thriving. Last year it died back in the winter but look at it this year hanging over the fence like it's summer.

Saturday - heavy frost last night and yes, I have to say it, amazing sunrise this morning. The pond was frozen over, think you can just about see the ice. The plastic saucer we have in the water to stop the water freezing over totally (and allow oxygen into the pond) was frozen to the surface so I gently wiggled it until it broke free, hopefully not disturbing the fish.

The water in the container by the drainpipe had frozen - looks like it's covered in cling film!

And there was a light frost on the lawn - which, as you can see, needs cutting.

I had to work today and it was my turn to cook so I made a chicken and leek pie, and yes, it tasted as good as it looks!

And one last thing. Him indoors has been away for a couple of days...what was the point of buying me a 'ring for wine' bell if, when I ring it, no-one brings me wine!

That's about it for this week. No frost this morning (Sunday) but still very cold. Snowing in some parts of the country but sadly not here...maybe one day. Have a good week and let's hope the weather allows some gardening time. Catch up next Sunday.



10 January 2016

Dorset Garden Diary - Winter is on it's way

Evening everyone,

Well it's back into the swing of things again and plenty to do in the garden as it's not only the flowers that are thriving in the warm, wet weather...the weeds love it as well! Apparently, December has been a record breaker for warmth and, in some places, rain.

For most of the week the garden has been a no-go area due to the heavy rain and high winds. Tuesday started dry and four degrees colder than it has been recently. I watched an unusual amount of sparrow activity early morning whilst having breakfast in the conservatory. They were flitting about all over the place..hasn't happened any other day this week.

Wednesday and Thursday were a washout. Friday started dry and cold but soon warmed up. I had a recce of the estate; the rose is still budding and flowering as are the echinacea, daffodils, campanula, viburnum and clematis. The alliums are springing up all over the place. New leaves are appearing on the lupin:

one of next door's trees has come into flower:

my hebe cutting is thriving:

 the borage I planted late autumn is also thriving:

 and...the one lemon on my lemon tree in the greenhouse has turned from green to yellow yay!!

The sweet peas appear healthy and have stopped growing for the time being.

Saturday -and the day started with a glorious muted sunrise that bathed everything in a pale liquid gold glow. It was surreal and I tried to take a picture but unfortunately it didn't do the colours justice. I walked into town this morning, passing a garden that has a magnificent magnolia tree in the front garden. Not only does this now have large buds on it but also a couple of flowers - way too early! When I came back I watered the greenhouse and intended to spend some time tidying up the garden but yep, you've guessed it, it started raining. And not just normal rain but torrential heavy rain that made big splats in the puddles on the patio. So I abandoned the gardening and had to resort to leafing (no pun intended) through the seed and plant catalogues that have been falling through my letterbox with regularity these past few weeks. I wasn't intending to, as I don't need much for the garden this year as I've collected seeds from everything I want to propagate, but I did, and yes, I have found some plants and shrubs that I simply have to have in the garden!

Sunday - the morning started bright, dry and cold although the sunrise was not a patch on yesterday's. I fed the fish - I won't be able to call the young ones fishlings soon as they are growing rapidly. I checked the gammon fat I hung out couple weeks ago and the birds have been eating it which is good. As the weather seems to be getting colder this week I also hung out a couple of fat balls (balls of fat!) and some peanuts. I was in two minds about putting the robin food out as I'm sure the squirrels had it last time (I am going to buy a squirrel-proof feeder) but in the end I decided to give it another try - I've raised it off the ground this time. On the packet it says that the seeds can be scattered on the ground but I don't want to encourage rats. I turned the rotating composting drums then added more material. Some of the apples I've stored have gone to mush so I put them in. The leeks I dug up in December and stored in the garden under soil had rotted because we've had so much rain but I can't compost them as the leaves have rust disease and I don't want to contaminate the existing compost. I pulled up some of the baby leeks that were late growers and I will freeze them. There are a few more to pick then that is the last of the crops from last year. I think I can say that, on the whole, last year's gardening was a success. By lunchtime the dry, sunny weather had morphed into cloud and early afternoon we were treated to a shower of hail and sleet. The sun then came out again and tonight we are forecast thunder storms.

The indoor plants are also thriving apart from the winter jasmine, I may have watered it too much. I planted the amaryllis (Lady Jane) I received for Christmas - let's hope this produces a stalk and flowers.

 The existing one is still healthy and still all leaves and no stalk. The longest leaf is now over 30" long!

 The cyclamen is putting on another good show, I've had this for over five years:

And this plant usually sits in the lounge but I moved it to make room for the xmas decs. It's loving it in the conservatory so I think I'll leave it there.
Watched Countryfile this evening and the weather is set to get colder this week, a real touch of winter with snow, ice and frost. There is a plastic disc (like a small frisbee) floating on the pond. If the surface of the pond freezes the water under the disc won't and the fish still get oxygen apparently. Let's hope it doesn't get that cold.
Have a good week, stay warm and you never know, there could be a pic of a snow scene and snowman on next week's blog.

4 January 2016

Dorset Garden Diary - Happy New Year

Happy New Year and welcome to 2016. I hope you all had a great time and the hangovers have gone. We had quite a busy social time, and there appears to be a few more pounds of me since my pre-Christmas blog. Never mind, a spot of gardening will soon rectify that.

Weather-wise, here in Dorset the year has started exactly as the old one finished

although it is getting a tad colder. The fish have been quite active over the Christmas and New Year break and have been eating well. At least the warmer weather saves on the heating bills but I think we could do with a bit of a cold spell...anyone remember what snow looks like?? Haven't seen that here for a few years. Him indoors cleaned and oiled the garden tools ready for this year. New Year's Eve started dry (note 'started' dry, heavy rain came in late morning) so we decided to make a start on the new rockery out the front. I dug up the plants I wanted to keep and put them in holding pots out the back for the time being. Him indoors cut and laid the weed-proofing material and weighted it down with some of the rockery stones. In the Spring we will build it up then I can begin the planting. An exciting project to look forward to.
Other than that there hasn't been much opportunity for gardening, but I have taken some pics of various flowerings over the past couple of weeks.

This is the first time this clematis has flowered by the greenhouse:

Arabis by the pond

Daffodils in the top garden

Not only is this viburnum flowering well but on Boxing Day there was a bee on it - unfortunately it didn't linger long enough for it's photo to be taken.
I've had this azalea for nearly six years and this is the first time it's flowered before the Spring
Him indoors has been wanting to buy me a pair of green wellies for quite a while now. I have resisted as I like the flowery pair that I already have. Anyway, he sort of got his own way at Christmas and bought me this. I think it's a great compromise and I will find something apt to plant in it.

He also bought me a sign for my pottering shed...no comment!
And finally, have you ever bought a present that seemed like a good idea at the time but then realised that maybe it wasn't such a good idea after all?
Him indoors did...such fun!!
Well that's it for this week. I hope 2016 is a good year for you all (the year of communication, thanks to Mercury) and a good gardening year for everyone. Back to Sunday evenings from next week so see you then. Have a good week and try and stay dry.