Six on Saturday – 22/01/2022

Well, there’s definitely noticeable extra daylight in the afternoons now. You can still see what you are doing outside at ~4:30pm. It makes you feel like getting on with a few projects. So we made a start on some work in the vegetable plot today.

1)  Replacing the wood for the raised beds

All of flooring timber used to make the middle four beds needs to be replaced. In the worst case (on the left), you can see that the wood has rotted away so much that it is no longer actually retaining any soil.

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We’ve bitten the bullet and paid out for sleepers, because the boards didn’t seem to last that long (~5yrs). I’m slightly sad about it as I’ll miss the purple paint and fancy post finials, but I am already very happy with the look of the sleepers.

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One down, three more to go!

2) Pretty Petticoats!

I have a wooden trough that sits on the pebbles in shade, next to my developing ‘fernery’. (Once again the wood involved is deteriorating to such an extent that it will need replace shortly). However, last year’s narcissus and iris bulbs don’t care about the state of the container and are re-appearing enthusiastically. In fact, the Narcissus bulbocodium ‘Arctic Bells’, also known as “Hoop Petticoats”, are already beginning to flower. Hurray!

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3) Clematis urophylla

Last year I realised that our garden needed some clematis, most especially a winter flowering variety for early bees. We don’t have much vertical surface to play with though. However, a newly screened bin area gave us the opportunity to plant two clematis, one for winter, one for summer. This is the early flowering one: Clematis urophylla ‘Winter Beauty’. It put on a lot of growth through the autumn and winter and started flowering in November. I like to admire its glossy evergreen foliage as much as its delicate ivory bells. It’s already reached the top of the 2m trellis though, so I am going to have to start to encourage it across the fence.

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4) A surprise!

Next weekend it is the RSPB Big Bird Count and with the increasing numbers of tit visitors we seem to be getting I have been wondering how best to go about counting them. When a flock swirls in, there are roughly a dozen each of long tailed tits, blue tits and great tits. Since they hop around all the time, it is hard to keep track of them, so I was experimenting with taking photos covering all the feeders at once. (The only problem is that at any one time there is probably the same number again eating seeds in the wisteria above.) Anyhow, whilst snapping away I suddenly noticed a flash of red on the furthest pergola support. Can you spot it showing just below the peanut feeder?

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So I zoomed in and watched a Greater Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) enjoy sampling both peanuts and fat balls.

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He probably won’t appear next week of course!

5) Mini greenhouse damage – A mystery

I was shocked to see a rather large hole had appeared in the top of one of my mini greenhouses. They are not that old and stand next to the neighbours’ fence. I imagine some creature jumped down onto it and fell through. I can’t believe a squirrel would be heavy enough to break through the top, so I am blaming cats. I suppose that with claws out for the jump, they tore through the plastic on the way down. I can’t help hoping that the cat was as shocked as I was by the structural collapse! Currently the hole is covered by a taped-on sandwich bag, but I am obviously going to have to replace the cover … if I can find a match. Yes, it turns out to be a funny size!

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6) Lighting up the room

This is the last Canna plant standing, at least from the seeds that I collected on our return visit to La Palma in the Canary Islands a few years ago. In fact, it’s a plant I gave to my Mum, but it got too big for her, so I retrieved it and am keeping it going. I nearly killed it last year when it got red spider mite that I couldn’t shake for ages. However, after a complete chop and a summer outside, it is once again doing OK. I brought it in for winter and this happened …

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So bright and wonderful isn’t it?

Well, those are my Six garden things for Saturday. Hope you are managing some outside, quality gardening time too!

Six on Saturday is hosted by Jonathon, an inveterate propagator … and also runner. Check out his post and comment links for tons more gardening nuggets.

 

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Wordless Wednesday – Ah! Winter Heliotrope

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Winter Heliotrope, Petasites fragrans (also known as scented coltsfoot) has been sticking it deliciously scented, pale pink flower spikes above ground since the beginning of December around Cambridge. The plant hails from North Africa/southern Europe, but has naturalized in Britain. Interestingly, the RHS report that only male plants are found here.

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The flowers smell of vanilla, with a hint of cherry. There’s a patch by the bus stop at the end of the road that I visit every January to cheer myself up.

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Too much of an invasive plant to put in the garden, it can nevertheless be enjoyed creeping round the country at the foot of hedges and on the sides of ditches. You may get muddy knees smelling it though!

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A walk round RSPB Fowlmere Nature Reserve, Cambridgeshire

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Our local RSPB reserve at Fowlmere, has been created on a site containing natural chalk springs, pools and streams. For many years (from 1890s) the area was used to grow watercress.

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This is one of the old watercress beds. If you look closely at the patterns on the water surface you can see where the natural springs flow into the pool (most obviously near the short stick breaking the surface on the left of the photo).

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Reed Hide is the largest of the three hides at Fowlmere. It’s height allows good views over the reed beds to open water and a selection of water fowl.

Fowlmere reserve

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There’s a fair amount of maintenance required to keep the diverse habitats and open water stretches. Here you can see a section of reed clearance and, in the distance, smoke from scrub clearance.

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A 3km circular path around the reserve takes you alongside crystal-clear chalk streams. I spotted a trout swim by this spot (too quick for a photo), also caught the blue flash of a kingfisher flying along it’s length (also too quick for me – you’ll have to take my word for it!!).

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The path continues through dense reed beds and along a lovely, meandering boardwalk. Didn’t spot any dinosaurs though, sadly!

Boardwalk, Fowlmere RSPB reserve

The boardwalk section weaves right through the reed beds. All in all, a lovely walk!

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Six on Saturday – Mush, murk and muck!

I am sure that from my title you can tell I’ve been reading posts from some other SIXers on this wet, dismal day. I’ve not even been out for my daily walk, let alone thinking of running, because I can’t face slipping through all the muck and mud round here. I’ve also sadly missed a tree planting session with Cambridge Nature Network near Madingley, because none of my waterproofs would have stood up to this morning’s deluge.

Anyhow, if you want to join the general sharing of mush, murk … and magic, head for Jonathon’s Six-on-Saturday meme by just clicking on the link.

For my first Six of the year I thought I’d stay mostly inside and report on some of my house plants and windowsill residents. 😉

First up, my sansevieria is flowering. This came as a surprise as I didn’t realise that they did that. OK, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but for all their ubiquity, I’ve never seen one in flower before. It’s an underwhelming sight to be sure. However, since we’ve been wallowing in all the afore-mentioned mush, murk and mud, I am taking this as an optimistic sign for the New Year. (I just hope the plant doesn’t die on me now!) This mother-in-law’s tongue was a don’t-worry-we’ll-get-through-this-lockdown gift from my husband’s company in 2020. Last year I split it and gave my son half. It seems to have appreciated the change of soil and pot!

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Sansevieria in flower

Next thing to share is my new lemon tree. It was a Christmas present. Now, until a year ago I had a grown-from-seed, 2m tall, occasionally-fruiting lemon tree in the lounge. However, after a long battle with scale, spider mites etc. and several aggressive pruning sessions to limit affected areas needing treatment (I tried hand cleaning, neem oil, washing-up liquid, white spirit) I finally gave up and threw the tree on the compost. Well, this lemon tree currently stands at about a ruler (30cm) high and is loaded with 5 decent-sized lemons!!! Amazing isn’t it. I suppose it’s the magic of grafting.

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My lovely, prolific new lemon bush!

Third thing to talk about is one of the surprises resulting from growing Chiltern Seeds’ exotic Mac’s mix last year. The mixture is a fun idea, but at the end of the experiment I still have several plants whose identity remain a mystery. I’ve been through the catalogue trying to ID them, but I have been stumped by one or two. Happily, I think that just before Christmas I finally managed to match this one to a name:

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Any ideas?

The swollen stem persuaded me trying to shoehorn it into some kind of Baobab tree catagory, but no, it never matched. The stem has had several large tear-shaped leaves emerge from the top, but these have fallen off with the winter. In fact, the leaf shape confused the identification for me. I’m guessing they are still a juvenile form.

OK, I tell you what I believe it to be … Jatropha podagrica or the Buddha Belly plant. so now I am looking forward to new leaves and ultimately lovely orange flowers.

If I’ve got this wrong and you think it is something else, please let me know!!!

The next Six is from outside in the wet, but is looking lovely nevertheless. It is a cyclamen:

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I bought 4 together, 3 were bright red and were to cheer up an area in front of the potting shed. This last one pink was to brighten a spot under the bird bath. Well, the red ones were all chomped by the muntjac, but the pink one survived and is therefore a doubly welcome sight.

The 5th of Six is a fern.

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Dryopteris cristata

I’ve started a fern corner, because I’m filling a shady spot and I’ve been trying to come to grips with the different ferns that I can grow. I’m on heavy alkaline clay. So far so good, but I must say that I am struggling with the subtle differences in forms and if I didn’t have the labels, I wouldn’t be able to tell you what they are. Anyhow, this one was IDed as Dryopteris affinis ‘Cristata The King’ also known as the golden male fern. I love it’s crest frond tips.

And finally, I planted some freshly collect seeds of Calycanthus occidentalis, (often called spice bush or sweetshrub) and put them out for cold, moist stratification a couple of months back. Today I was checking our mini-greenhouse when I noticed that they’ve started to germinate already.

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Maybe they’ve reacted to our blistering New Year’s day temperatures, but I think I will move them to the bubble-wrapped greenhouse to give them a bit more protection.

So, those are my six. It’s been a bit odd without Six on Saturday over the Christmas break. It’s nice to get stuck in to things again.

Have a great weekend! I even might make it outside tomorrow 😉

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Wordless Wednesday – Will this be a useful Christmas present?

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This rascal was spotted today on the wisteria above our bird feeders. I think Anne Wareham (the author of this book) has visited our garden!! 🤣🤣🤣

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Wishing you health, peace and a very Merry Christmas

 

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Help Wanted by Timothy Tocher

Santa needs new reindeer.
The first bunch has grown old.
Dasher has arthritis;
Comet hates the cold.
Prancer’s sick of staring
at Dancer’s big behind.
Cupid married Blitzen
and Donder lost his mind.
Dancer’s mad at Vixen
for stepping on his toes.
Vixen’s being thrown out—
she laughed at Rudolph’s nose.
If you are a reindeer
we hope you will apply.
There is just one tricky part:
You must know how to fly.

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A frosty morning walk at RSPB Fen Drayton Lakes

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Elney Lake, one of several managed lakes at RSPB reserve, Fen Drayton Lakes

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Teasel-filled meadow next to Holywell Lake

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View of Ferry Lagoon, Fen Drayton Lakes

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Holywell Lake, Fen Drayton Lakes RSPB reserve

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Looking along the Great Ouse river from the west bank, opposite Holywell

RSPB* Fen Drayton Lakes

* The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds is a wildlife conservation charity. Initially, the Society  (without the Royal) was an all-women movement created in 1889 by Emily Williamson to fight a fashion for feathers and exotic plumes that was driving a number of birds towards extinction. The RSPB is also part of the BirdLife International partnership.

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Six on Saturday – Cometh the day of longest shadows

Next Tuesday marks the Winter solstice for us northern hemisphere dwellers. No cattle will be slaughtered here to save on winter feeding (we’re veggie in any case 🤣). The Sun will nevertheless follow its lowest arc in the sky and, if there is any sunshine, our shadows will be at their longest. The ‘day’ will last a short 7 hours 49 minutes and 42 seconds in London apparently, but from then on there will be increasing daylight … all the way to summer. I’m sure all northern gardeners will be breathing a sigh of relief!

I’m joining Mr Propagator’s Six on Saturday meme today, along side many other tweeters and bloggers. Check out Jonathon’s blog and browse the links in the comment section to see more Six selections … and not just from the northern hemisphere of course!

Here are my Six:

1) A ‘free’ crop of Oca tubers

I seem to be as bad at removing all the ocas that I’ve grown from the ground as I am at clearing potatoes. This year I forgot to plant out my saved tubers until way too late. When I open the storage bag there were so many etiolated shoots that it looked like a bag of spaghetti. I threw those away, but the little pieces that I failed to collected from the ground last December stealthily pushed up their own new shoots and started the next cycle anyway. I dug up a couple of clumps today and it looks like there will be sufficient tubers for a couple of meals. Maybe more, if I end up being the only one eating them again!

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2)  Sunny Pot Marigolds

Calendula ‘Neon’ continues to flower in the borders. In spite of their overall tatty appearance, I can’t bring myself to clear them. They looks so darn cheerful.

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3) Witch Hazel ‘Jelena’

Way back in July my parents ordered this shrub for me for my birthday. They finally received the plant at the very end of November. It was a small, bagged-up, bare-rooted specimen. (I don’t think they knew this when they ordered it for me.) Anyhow, it looked a healthy plant and, despite its overall size, it had some flower buds on. I potted it up immediately and plonked it in the shelter of the greenhouse. This week I noticed that some of the flowers were beginning to open and today, it looks like this:

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4) Greenhouse Insulation

For the first time in a long while I’ve completely insulated my greenhouse with bubble-wrap. This time I used proper fixings (rather than paperclips) and I have to say it has made a huge difference in the effectiveness of the job. Being a cheapskate only gets you so far, clearly! I’ve made the task one of my six as I need advice on how to fix the stuff to the doors. I’ve got double doors and it would be a large area to leave unprotected, but there are no grooves on the doors to use the fixings on. I’ve resorted to sticking the wrap down with packing tape. The problem is that moisture gradually reduces it’s stickiness and I end up with loose, flapping wrap that catches in the doors and gets tangled up in the sliding space. What do others do to insulate their greenhouse doors?

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5) Tulips and Garlic

In the end I didn’t manage to entirely hold out against buy a tulips in the sales, in spite of my avowal that with all our resident mice, squirrels and voles, it would be a pointless purchase. So I’ve been potting up some lovely Tulipa whittalii bulbs and covering the pots with chicken mesh, but in addition I’ve planted several actively growing cloves of garlic in each pot, which I am hoping will put the critters off completely. I can cut them down or pull them once the tulips are well through. We will see how successful the ploy is, but so far so good.

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6) Melianthus major

Melianthus is a lovely plant, but gets knocked back badly here each winter. However this year, we’ve not been hit with enough cold to ruin it, so I am currently enjoying its unusually large, lush stature. Everything about the plant is attractive, isn’t it? Those fan leaves, the pronounced serration, its slightly frosty, mint-green colour. Plus, I adore the look of rain or drizzle on it’s leaves. Now, if only I could get it to flower! 

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Well, that’s our last Six of the year. See you on the other side, when the days will be getting longer and we’ll be already anticipating swathes of spring bulbs.

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A Life of Walks – Sadie (2007 – 2021)

There’s a dog-sized hole in my heart.

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Our lovely, crazy labradoodle, Sadie, had to be taken to the vet last Friday with sudden hip failure and there was only one option to take.

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We are still coming to terms with her absence and probably will be, for the foreseeable future.

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I was in the house on my own yesterday. That’s not been the case for over 14 years.

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She was my shadow, sometimes admittedly due to her fondness for food, but mostly we were her pack and she liked to keep a watchful eye on as many of us as possible at all times. Doorways and staircases were frequent haunts.

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I miss our walks already.

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I find myself deliberately taking Sadie-approved routes round the village. (She’d become very particular over the last year!)

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Nevertheless, we had some great hikes during Lockdown. They definitely helped keep me sane!

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Rest in peace, Sadie girl

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❤️❤️❤️

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A Week of Flowers #Day7 – Flowers and Friends

Since the beginning of December Cathy at Words and Herbs has been running ‘A Week of Flowers‘ to cheer and brighten our lives. It’s been an absolutely delight to dip into so many people’s passions and favourites. I’ve loved it!

I’ve dithered over what to share for a finale. Should it have an over-arching theme? What would work best? Going through the colours of the rainbow, months of the year etc? (If I’d started on day one I might have achieved the first, of course). However, I’ve opted for a random selection, which just so happens to cover most of the colours of the rainbow, but also includes what I love most about growing and admiring flowers … each bloom is being enjoyed by one or more pollinator. Flowers look best that way, I think!

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Hope you enjoy them too!

Check out Cathy’s blog for more uplifting flower posts.

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