Wordless Wednesday – Good Bones

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The winter pruning of the fruit trees in the Walled Garden at Wimpole is finished

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Free-standing apple and pear espalier and fans surround each quadrant

 

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Cordon, fans and espalier adorn each wall with fruit to suit each aspect.

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They are trained to a number of appropriate heights: ~1m, ~2m and ~3m

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Maintenance and remedial pruning is carried out as necessary

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And the reward is abundant blossom, fruit and beauty

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Wildlife Wednesday – Searching for the last juicy morsels

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Vole (field I think) under the bird feeders

It has got to the time of year when our natural hedgerow larders are nearly running empty and wildlife is looking for alternatives. Over the last month I’ve noticed occasional scurrying around the olive tree pots under our pergola. Mostly it has been corner of the eye spotting, but I finally got a good look at who is creeping around under the feeders and it is a field vole. I am fairly certain this is the same chap who has been running around the back of the greenhouse eating all of the tulips from my pots. If only he had made use of the dropped nuts earlier!

Talking of tulips, when I set out to do a spot of cutting back today, I noticed that all the lovely new growth from the tulips in pots of the patio has been leveled. Someone did their own cutting back. I am heart-broken. All the species tulips in clay pots are gone too. 😦

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I am laying the blame for this devastation on the Muntjac deer. There were two under the walnut the other day consuming every leaf on the ivy covering the bank. They must have wandered closer to the house under cover of dark!

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Pheasant checking out the nut deluge too

Another creature taking advantage of the messy eaters using the feeders on the pergola was this splendid looking pheasant. We don’t see pheasants all that often in the garden, but when we do it is usually at this time of year, before the fields are lush and their edges bursting with green weeds.

On the other hand, squirrels are normally a given, but this is the first I’ve seen on the patio this winter. He made no attempt to reach the nuts either, just rushed round on the ground.

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Grey squirrel hunting for tidbits from the feeders

Elsewhere, along side the driveway, the crab apple tree has sadly run out of apples. The blackbirds have stripped it bare. No more hilarious acrobatics reaching for the remote fruit at the ends of thin branches.

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Blackbird with one of the last of the year’s crab apples

While I was watching the blackbirds contort themselves more and more I happened to spot a tiny wren rooting around at the back of the border. The light was very murky by that point, so I’ve had to stretch contrast in the image considerably, but I rather like the resulting soft tones.

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Jenny* wren, (Troglodytes troglodytes) Jan 2019

*As I was writing that caption I wondered where the Jenny comes from in the bird name.  So I looked it up and discovered that in the middle ages there was a tendency to call birds after people: Robin, Martin, Jay. Some of these personal names became added to existing names, hence there are JACKdaws, MAGpies and JENNY wrens.

I thought that I should let you know how I got on in the Big Garden Bird Watch 2019 at the end of January. Well, it was pretty average in terms of species and numbers. Zero sightings of things like house sparrows and starlings that I grew up seeing in abundance. Those are fairly well established trends though.

It’s hard to know when (in the day) to start the count, i.e. for most activity and interest, but as a rule of thumb, if the long-tailed tits have swirled in, then the tit flock is on tea break and you can guarantee at least some additional blue tits and great tits will turn up, with a few chaffinches and blackbirds on the ground eating crumbs. So when this fellow arrived …

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Long-tailed tits usually herald an influx of hungry birds

my hour started and I began counting.

And the winner of the most numerous species in our garden during the hour was … the blue tit. I counted a reliable seven in the wisteria at one time, but with all their hopping around there might have been more.

Blue tits have taken to bathing together in the little waterfall to the pond on the patio. Again timing is everything, but I managed to snap four of them together:

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Blue tits bathing in the waterfall

They are looking intensely blue just now,

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presumably colouring up in preparation for pairing up.

Had you ever noticed that blue tits have blue feet? They are really quite beautiful.

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Blue tit holding a sunflower seed between its blue talons

I’d like some nail varnish that colour!

I am linking up with Tina@mygardenersays again for her monthly reporting of backyard wildlife. Don’t forget to follow the comments on her post to take a peek into other people’s wildlife roundups.

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In a Vase on Monday – So this is when Vincas look good!

The garden has turned distinctly mushy over the last couple of days. Lots of plants and seed heads have lost their backbone. Our patio archway, which is covered in acres of green passionflower vine is now looking like it’s had a very bad hair day. Very emo. The snow, ice and wind have done a good job of wiping the slate clean for a new year’s growth. Even the ground has lost its structure. Walking down the alleys is akin to wading through a slush-puppy spillage. So, even though I had a hankering to pull together a vase for Cathy’s popular Monday meme, there was not much to choose from … until I spotted a patch of Vinca major.

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Did Vinca ever look so wonderful? How very lovely those whirling blue windmill flowers are against the glossy, tear-drop leaves. So reader, I cut them all and used them for today’s posy. Indeed, it seems strange to get so much joy from a few stems of Vinca when I spend my time pulling it out of the border whenever I see it. Good job it’s intractable!

Here is the vase, looking quite fresh, in spite of a number of dead bits and bobs I added:

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I really like the appearance of wet hypericum seed pods. Wrinkled, but shiny, like medjool dates. Especially set against some russet oak leaves.

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My pennisetum macrourum is mostly stripped of its fluffy seed now, but there are a few spikes almost complete. It is a grass with great winter form. I’ve added a few of the best bits to the bunch.

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Then there a couple of copper-coloured twigs from a salix that was coppiced at Wimpole (possibly S. britzensis). These are debris from the twisted rings I’ve woven into plant supports for the border, but they still radiate that wonderful colour.

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Then I’ve added some stems of my stalwart winter honeysuckle, plus a couple of pieces of Senecio greyi to fill out the vase.

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Well, that has ended up being is a surprisingly pleasing vase from very little anticipated material. Cathy is right that there is near always something to be gathered for a floral display, be it twigs, leaves or seed heads. And if there are fresh flowers, well, the options are endless.

Why don’t you head over to Cathy’s blog @ramblinginthegarden to enjoy a variety of pretty posies and arrangements inspired by her meme.

 

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Wordless Wednesday – Ladies of the Lake

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I always find myself stopping to stare at the beautiful swamp cypress at Cambridge Botanics. The shape and colour spectrum of the ‘knees’ often put me in mind of something other … this time it was exotic ladies wearing wedding hijab.

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Ladies of the Lake. What do you see?

Posted in Trees, Whimsy, Wordless | Tagged , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Big Garden Birdwatch 2019

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The sunflower seed feeder is full and ready for visitors … well it was full 5 minutes ago!

This weekend is the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch 2019 (26th-28th January, i.e. it includes Monday, which is an allowance for busy weekends, bad weather and possibly easy school participation I think). Many of us take part in this every year so that we can see for ourselves which bird species are thriving or failing in our local area.

There’s power in numbers. The more people who take part the better the statistics, so if you get a chance, why not join in? It takes just an hour and is great fun, whether you participate on your own, as a family or in a group. In fact we don’t have to restrict ourselves to just birds because, as of 2014, the survey includes observations of other animals (squirrels, badgers, snakes, hedgehogs etc) so that a broader snapshot of the state of our wildlife can be made. And since the BirdWatch has been happening for 40 years there is a decent timeline for looking at trends and correlating with other environmental data.

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Squirrel in the feeder!

So I’ve filled the birdbaths, stocked up on sunflower seeds, fat balls and peanuts and the feeders have been filled ready for the weekend. Someone pointed that I should remember to put some food on the ground for the more earth-based feeders. Fair point! I don’t usually do it for fear of encouraging rats, which have been a problem in the past (and I know live in the compost heap). However, I will go out tomorrow morning to buy some mealy worms to get that covered, plus I might try putting some oats out in a dish too to see what that attracts. Maybe one of these:

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Pheasant checking for food

 

Are you ready to a break, sit down with a cup of tea, look out the window and count?

#BigGardenBirdWatch

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Wordless Wednesday – Bright Thoughts

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Blast from the past: Wayside weeds in Breña Alta, La Palma, Islas Canarias

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A colourful stroll into town passed the small farmed plots

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I am feeling more cheerful now. Hope that you are!!

 

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Six on Saturday – Promise

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It’s been a funny old week, with nothing playing out as normal. Of course it has turned distinctly chilly. So I’ve had to fleece the plants in the cold greenhouse twice so far and brought in one pot of rooted salvia cuttings as an insurance. Road closures and huge traffic delays meant I couldn’t get south to visit my parents before taking Sadie, the dog, in for an operation to remove a couple of lumps on her head. She’s come out of the experience with one of those dreadful (but useful) stiff plastic cones round her head. Two days down the line and she still doesn’t appreciated that her turning circle has increased dramatically, that she must centre her approach to doorways and that she can’t stuff her nose in things on the ground. Unhappily,  the surgery on her eye is proving a bit touchy, with a possible infection starting. We’ve been back to the vets and she is now on antibiotics. We’ve been asked to return on Monday and Friday. Fingers-crossed meantime.

Anyhow, this has meant that I’ve been wandering around the garden with her instead of going for long walks. So I’ve been able to notice some nice things showing a lot of spring promise.

One: Hazel catkins and flowers

Yes, the catkins have unfurled already (truthfully some trees have been shaking out their tails for at least a couple of weeks), but this week I’ve started to see the tiny little red female flowers emerge. I’ve not coppiced the trees at the back of the vegetable plot this winter yet and I hate doing it with the flowers out, so I might skip it this year. Luckily I had a good clear out of old stems last year in any case.

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Hazel catkins and flowers

Two: Dwarf Comfrey

We have a big patch of dwarf/creeping comfrey (Symphytum grandiflorum) in front of our oil tank where it provides good ground coverage, but can’t spread any further. Since I’d been checking levels this week I noticed that this plant is already in coming into flower. This is a great plant for early emerging bees who make good use of its nectar. It’s where I usually see the first bumblebees of the year and it looks as if it will be ready for them very soon.

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Dwarf Comfrey is already budding up

Three: Mini Orchids

I was given a pair of tiny pots containing what I was told were mini orchids a couple of years ago. I’d never heard of mini orchids before and I just assumed that they were babies sold early as a gimmick next to cashier tills. I’ve watered them occasionally and they’ve put out larger new leaves, but otherwise I’ve ignored them. Well apparently they are a real thing and like to be less watered and fertilized than their standard-sized cousins. Great! Possibly that is why this week I noticed that they are rewarding me with flowers, so I will get to see what kind of orchid they actually are (from the leaves I suspect phalaenopsis). Any guesses?

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My mini Orchid is about to flower for the first time

Four: Primroses

I know that primroses can be in flower from December onwards, but this whole dome of pink is looking well advanced. Unfortunately it is growing in the gravel driveway, where an awful lot of my self-seedlings preferentially choose to grow. It will need to be moved. I usually move primroses to the wild meadow area, but since this one is pink, which I avoid there, it will have to be the front garden.

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Pretty in Pink primroses

Five: Tomatillos

Down in the vegetable plot there is quite a lot of clearance to be done still. Last week I noticed that each corner of the raised beds has accumulated a stash of skeletonized tomatillos husks. Each pod contains a rattling clump of seed. So I won’t need to buy any new seed, because these will germinate by themselves once the soil warms enough.

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Six: Acrobatic blackbirds

The crab apple tree on our driveway remains a popular destination with the thrushes, pigeons and blackbirds throughout winter. But it is the blackbirds that have entertained me most of late, because as the number of apples has dwindled and the access to what is left has become more difficult, they have been demonstrating amazing feats of balance and gymnastics to reach their prizes. In contrast the wood pigeons seem to manage just by plonking themselves down and gorging.

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So those are my Six for today, joining The Propagator who has an amazingly diverse selection of Gardening Things attached to his meme this Saturday. Take a look here.

Meanwhile, wrap up warm, get your tools for there is plenty to be done … Have fun.

P.S. If you get a chance on Sunday night (early Monday morning really) look out for the Super Blood Wolf Moon!! This will be the last total lunar eclipse viewable from Britain for the next ten years. It also coincides with a full moon with the moon on one of its closer orbits, so the moon face should look marginally bigger/clearer … and certainly red from passing through the earth’s shadow.

Posted in Flowers, Six on Saturday | Tagged , , , , , , | 20 Comments