In a Vase on Monday – Snippets between showers


Stormy view across Well House Meadow on the afternoon walk

I’ve been dodging rain showers all day. This afternoon it came down to a decision between nipping out to look for a few flowers or going for an immediate dog walk round the village (I couldn’t face a second deep-mud onslaught across the fields today) to miss the rain. Ah, poor dog!

In the meantime I managed to find these floral snippets:


Snippets in an inkpot

A little bit of beauty: A pristine snowdrop


A little bit out-of-season: Limonium suworowii spikes and the mexican daisies


A little whiff of perfume: Winter honeysuckle and viburnum bodnantense


Winter honeysuckle

A whole lot of cheerfulness: Smiling violas and in-your-face polyanthus ‘Firecracker’


And a handful of fresh green: Dianthus ‘Green Trick’


Luckily, the dog and I missed the downpour shortly afterwards, but only just.


Thanks to Cathy at Rambling in the garden for hosting the motivating In a Vase on Monday meme. Why not use the link to pop across to her blog and explore the beautiful vases around the globe.

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Wordless Wednesday – Wintersweet, Lily, Lily, Rose

Wintersweet Sargent

The flowers on the Wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox) at Anglesey Abbey are prolific this year. En masse they put me in mind of the John Singer Sargent painting: Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose (1886), so here we have a bit of fusion fun.

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Farewell, My Lovely


Horse chestnut, Nov 2012. One of the area’s landmark trees.


Sadly, the giant was felled by Storm Eleanor on 2nd/3rd January 2018


This is the earliest photo of the beautiful Horse Chestnut, on the banks of the River Rhee, that I can find. It dates from Nov 2008. It marks the start of many a walk/run/amble.


Here is the broken tree after Storm Eleanor. I wonder if anyone heard it fall? Did it make a sound?


Break point


The tree must have been completely rotten. It shattered into hundreds of pieces on impact.


The tree was obviously in decline. There was die-back at the top and bracket fungus (one of my Alternative Stories) remains on the stump (see photo2)


The Horse Chestnut was a dramatic ghostly presence in fog, November 2011. Its silhouette was particularly notable in the Rhee’s flood-plain environment.

The Horse Chestnut will be sorely missed by locals, walkers and wildlife enthusiasts (it was a favourite roost for the local Barn Owls). Over the last few years the tree has been throwing out new growth at ground level, so it should live on in another form for a few more years, but the giant has gone.

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December Wildlife Roundup: Watching the Watchers

I know that at this time of year I spend a lot of ‘indoors’ time peering out: at the garden, the moon, the weather and the wildlife, but recently I feel like nature is turning the tables. I am being watched. The wood pigeon is definitely giving me the eye whenever he sits on the archway to the patio:


Wood pigeon on archway … watching

There seems to be something distinctly odd about his eye and I think that it is because the pupil is egg-shaped, not round.


Up in the ash trees by the alley, the brotherhood of the Rooks is looking pretty sinister and is definitely watching the proceedings at ground level. They are also probably eyeing up nesting spots too. In fact, these trees hosted several nests a couple of years ago, until the new residents of the house had the trees lopped and topped. The branches now have plenty of new growth and the rooks are back. Let’s hope they don’t harbour any resentment!


Rooks in ash … watching

On our driveway the birds waiting for a chance at the crab apple tree are ever alert for movement, but they have become quite complacent about my comings and goings, so long as they are facing me. I am still observed very closely, but they don’t shift or fly away as much.


Fieldfare watching from the birch on the driveway

December’s weather has been exceedingly changeable, with snow, ice, rain and sunshine. Temperatures have changed by almost 20 degrees day to day, swinging between -6 and 13 degrees Centrigrade here in Cambs. The penultimate day of 2017 was very mild and I was out doing a spot of late bulb planting (don’t judge!) when I heard a loud, deep buzzing. I tracked the sound back to this rather magnificent, pollen-laden buff-tailed bumblebee on some winter honeysuckle.


Buff-tailed bumblebee on winter honeysuckle

Happily, she has obviously found a good few flowers around. Buff-tailed bumblebees (Bombus terrestris) are often the earliest to be seen in the year. Did you also know that Bombus terrestris is one of the main species used in greenhouse pollination, so it is a species found around the globe, even where it is non-native?

I was tidying up soggy fallen leaves the week before Christmas when I found this curled, ginger-haired caterpillar in the pile. I don’t know what kind of moth it would turn into (possibly a Buff Ermine – but that is a guess) and I am not sure what it’s chances of survival are now that I have disturbed it.   😦


Disturbed caterpillar

The fight for the crab apple crop continues, but a pair of mistle thrushes are dominating its branches.


Mistle thrush: King of the crab apple tree

I’ve watched them chase off all kinds of competitors, even meak and small birds like chaffinches and blue tits.


Close-up of mistle thrush

Squirrels are becoming more of a nuisance on the feeders, because their numbers are growing. This fat grey is responsible for chewing through all my solar lights around the pergola.


OK, I may have put on a bit of weight over Christmas, but this is my best side

But he now has competition from a pair of black squirrels. The three of them regularly crawl all over the wisteria, birch and pergola looking for opportunities. This last month we’ve been forced to change the final peanut feeder to a squirrel-proof version, due to the number of times they have thrown it on the ground and damaged it … beyond repair now.


Zut alors, this lid seems to be heavy and twisted on firmly!

Even so they still seem to systematically try each feeder every day looking for weaknesses. Today I watched the grey one attempt to pull off the new feeder’s lid several times.


Maybe I can approach those delicious fat balls from this angle?’


Clever black squirrel climbing the wisteria (which winds its way all over the pergola and to each feeder)

Although the squirrels scare off the birds when they are checking around the feeders, the regulars are back on the nuts in no time. Here’s a selection longtailed tits, blue tits, great tits and a chaffinch shortly after a squirrel patrol:


Assorted birds on feeders

Birds seem to spend long intervals eating at the peanut feeders, but they only visit the sunflower feeders to grab a seed and then fly off to eat it on the wisteria. The sunflower seed levels drop very quickly as a result.

I was interested to see a dunnock (below) up on the sunflower dispenser, because they are usually ground dwellers, eating the dropped pieces. I’ve never seen one brave the cage before. He seems to be crowing about it too!


Dunnock on the sunflower feeder

Goldfinches aren’t as plentiful now as in the autumn, but they continue to visit the garden. Especially when the sunflower feeders are full. They are a favourite of mine. (Shame all these birds look like convicts as a result of us squirrel proofing the nuts).


Goldfinch eating sunflower seeds

I’ll finish with a shot of our resident robin.


Happy New Year

After all, it wouldn’t be December without a robin!

This is my contribution to Wildlife Wednesday, a monthly meme hosted by Tina at mygardenersays. There is a good selection of possums to see this month if you head over to her blog.


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Border Review 2017

If you’ve been following my blog for a bit, you will know that I am a volunteer gardener at Wimpole Estate and that I look after the long borders that run across the middle of the Walled Garden.


This is looking along the west borders in full summer

I’ve been doing this for roughly the last 4 years and at Christmas time I make a collage poster from photographs that record our work, the changes we’ve made and the plants/combinations that we’ve enjoyed best. With the New Year on the doorstep I thought that it would be interesting to share a few of these vignettes.

The year in the borders really begins with tulips. There are snowdrops, crocuses etc before that, but tulips are the first things to add substantial colour. In 2017 we used a three-way colour combination of Negrita, Generaal de Wet and Couleur Cardinal this year and they shone like stained glass windows when the sun was out. It’s definitely a mix of colours I’d go for again.


East borders, backed by espalier apple and pears in blossom – April

Another combination, of shining silvers and purples, that worked quite well was: Cotton thistle (Onopordum acanthium), Drumstick allium (Allium sphearocephalon), Artemisia ludoviciana, Salvia turkestanica and Lambs ears (Stachys byzantina). As an added bonus, the bees love nearly all of these flowers and the onopordum is particularly great at attracting hoverflies in their droves.


Shame that Onopordum is such a prickly character. Cutting it down is a tricky business!

As the season progresses the colours in the borders hot up. This mixture of yellow, orange and purple is repeated using various plants along the path, but I especially liked this combination of dahlias, sunflowers, cannas and lychnis.


Perennial sunflower backed by Dahlias ‘David Howard’ and ‘Nuit d’Eté’ and deep maroon hollyhocks

Here are some other blends that I liked:

And some views from the back of the borders:

I love agapathus, but this patch (below) has become too big and needs to be divided again. It is a job that I enjoy and feels very rewarding (all those extra plants – just wonderful). Roll on 2018!


Agapanthus, anthemis, lychnis backed by artemisia and leucanthemum

The size of the borders gives me a chance to try out new plants every year. These are typically grown from seed to produce the volume required and keep costs low. My favourites this year were Tagetes ‘Cinnabar’, Tithonia ‘Torch’ (very prolific this year) and Nicotiana mutabilis. They have been cover in earlier posts since I was pleased with them, so I’ll not repeat that here. However, I’ve also been enchanted with the american pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) that was started last year. It didn’t get big enough to flower then, but this year came good.


American Pokeweed growing with asters and verbena

I decided that I wanted to try this plant when I saw it at the Tropical Gardens in Abbotsbury. It was used as a dramatic screen around the restaurant balcony (it’s toxic though!). What fantastic colour and structure and I love the little, white whiskers against the black fruit. Hopefully, they will come back even stronger next season.

Also flowering for the first time in the borders were a pair of Euphorbia stygiana. They are beautiful, honey-scented domes at the entrance to the east borders. Self-seeds from elsewhere in the garden, we’d chopped them down the previous autumn because they became too big for our space. They’ve bounced back and gifted us with delicious smelling flowers.


The sticky, curious, honey-scented flowers of Euphorbia stygiana

The main disappointment grown from seed this year was the Staircase plant or wild dagga (Leonotris leonurus). I planted them out in a prominent position and they grew well, but didn’t start budding up to flower until mid-November when the frosts struck. The plan had been for them to emerge as orange towers through a sea of blue clary sage. It was a bit of a lesson in trialling things where they don’t matter first. If anybody has any hints on getting this to flower earlier I’d be glad to hear.


Leonotris leonurus in the autumn

Black Friday allowed me to indulge in purchasing a few things to try in 2018. So I am looking forward to trying Hibiscus sabdariffa, Agastache aurantiaca and Gypsophila elegans ‘Kermesina’. What plans do you have?

Happy New Year folks and have fun in your gardens!


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Wordless Wednesday – Alternative stories

Sometimes it is hard to choose which photo should be posted on Wednesday each week. Here is a small selection of unseen, alternative monthly stories for 2017 Wordless Wednesday posts:


Long-tailed tit on dogwood – January


Bracket fungus on an old Horse Chestnut tree – February


Other lifeforms! Lichen – March


Collected jewel-like Clerodendron seeds ready to sow – April


Cephalaria gigantea ready to explode – May



Shades of Shirley poppies – June


Developing seed pods of the bee orchids growing in the garden – July


Home grown lemon – August


A bumper crop of Red Walnuts – September


Comparing fruits from the ornamental silver pear with a Conference pear – October


Autumn’s confetti – November


Drying seeds of Cobaea scandens – December

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Happy Christmas!

At Wimpole Hall, near Cambridge, the Reindeer Road is once again set up to welcome visitors to the gardens. If you take a walk along the winding bark-chip path through the Pleasure Grounds down to the Walled Garden and Home Farm and you will find herds of wooden deer grazing amongst the shrubbery. They are shy of course, but remarkably tolerant of humans spying on them, counting their number and even making lots of noise. The deer are glad that the snow has cleared, because they can once again find lush grass to eat.

christ2 (2).jpg

For the last few weeks the gardens have been providing seeds and berries to a surprising number of hawfinches. Apparently these birds are arriving in large numbers in Britain following crop failures in Romania and Germany. Indeed, as you arrive at the carpark you will see birders lined up with their large telephoto lenses pointed at the tops of the trees in the Pleasure gardens. The Cambridgeshire Bird Club website is full of hawfinch sightings, many from Wimpole (e.g. look at these beauties photographed by Geoff Harries). I am disappointed to say that I have not spotted any yet.

Down in the Walled Garden you will easily spot what has become a typical symbol of Christmas: robins. Watch any of the gardeners working there and you will see that they nearly all have their own flittering red companion hovering close by, on the espalier fruit trees or the box hedges or the wheelbarrows, waiting for tasty worms and insects to be revealed.


There is a story that they became a classic Christmas card feature by association with the red uniform worn by the first postmen, who were also know as ‘robins’.

Anyhow, sadly we won’t be seeing snow here again in East Anglia over the next few days, so it is not going to be a fairytale white Christmas. Therefore, I am also taking inspiration for my Christmas card from our friendly robin red breasts. The one featured below was caught on camera while diligently watching my progress tidying the borders this week.


Wishing you all a happy and peaceful Christmas


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