It’s a beautiful day and I can’t stop myself from smiling …

We’ve had some fantastic weather these last few days, with frosty starts and sunny, clear skies. I’ve started my Front Garden project and have been pruning some of the largest trees and grinding them down.


Already it is feeling brighter out there. But since it is the weekend I couldn’t help myself suggesting that we nip over to Anglesey Abbey, the week before the snowdrop festival starts, to skip round the wonderful Winter Walk (OK, so I’ve been listening to the Michael Bublé song of the title, hence the need to skip).


Start of the Winter Walk at Anglesey Abbey (heading counter-clockwise)

Unlike last year, when they actually moved the festival forward because the aconites, snowdrops, irises and hellebores were out so early, there were very few flowering bulbs in evidence, just a small scattering of snowdrops. However, when the sun is shining that doesn’t matter, because the walk is really more about seeing marvellous colour and textures from the barks (cherries, acers, cornus, rubus and salix), grasses (miscanthus, carex, ophiopogon) and evergreens (euonymus, ruscus, mahonia and garrya), as well as experiencing tantalising scents (viburnum, sarcococca, hamamelis, chimonanthus etc.) and discovering revealed structures (sculptures, architecture and hard-landscaping).

I know that I’ve  written about the Winter Walk and it’s development before, so I thought that I would simply offer up some of the frosty photos that I took this morning instead.

Hope that you enjoy them!


Frosted witchhazel


Bridge at the end of the mill race


The famous birch grove


Quirky chimney furniture


Frosted grasses and brambles


A green medley as you approach the birch grove


The Bamboo Tensegrity Wheel, downstream from Lode water mill


Henry Cromwell’s Biggin House door (moved to Anglesey Abbey in 1935 via Ramsey Abbey)


A blizzard of texture and colour: Rubus, cornus and prunus


The quarry pond next to the Lode mill race


Frosted viburnum


Poplars reflected in the mill race


Pan statues outside the rose garden


Frosted leaves


Winter Garden, Anglesey Abbey


Espalier pear on the East side of the house

Posted in Out and about, Walks, Winter | Tagged , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Wordless Wednesday – The Usual Suspect

The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he did not exist.

And like that… he is gone.”


Black Squirrel on the scrounge



I see you!

Posted in Nature, Wildlife, Wordless | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

In a Vase on Monday – Entanglement Theory

The garden is currently a soggy mess of collapsing, tangled stems and leaves. (I WILL get out there this week to clear the stage for the snowdrops and crocuses to shine in the front garden.) However, with a sparkling new vase from my son for Christmas to fill, I was keen to finally get outside to look for some fresh material to use.


A tangle of contorted hazel, silver birch twigs, erysimum ‘Bowles’s Mauve’, dianthus ‘Green Trick’ and winter honeysuckle

What I found was a strange mixture of old and new.

I started with some pieces of contorted hazel and added some blown-down silver birch twigs to form the frame for the arrangement.

Some things are still flowering from last season: ‘Bowles’s Mauve’ perennial wallflowers are twisting outwards on ever-extending racemes; Dianthus ‘Green Trick’ fell over in the trough months ago, but has continued to grow upwards, so when picked and held upright the moss-like balls cascade downwards in growth that looks a bit like knitted hats.

The fresh elements I used were some unfurling arum leaves with beautiful marbling and some lovely scented winter honeysuckle.


Sweetly scented Winter Honeysuckle, Lonicera fragrantissima

Lonicera fragrantissima is one of the classic sources of winter scent in the garden, so I was pleased to bring a little inside to enjoy. Early bees are usually happy to find it in flower now too.


Indoor lighting ups the colours in the arrangement

So this is a simple first vase of the year for Cathy’s IAVOM meme. I warn you that sinister things are afoot on her blog, so go check it out!

Posted in Flowers, The home garden | Tagged , , , , , | 16 Comments

Confessions of a coffee drinker

We are a coffee loving family, although some of us are more fussy about the taste than others. Our coffee machines have gone through any number of incarnations and are in fairly continuous use. I particularly liked the version that used the equivalent of teabags, especially since they were completely compostable. No mess, no waste. I hung on to that machine as long as possible. However, when it broke down for the nth time and the choice of flavours was reduced to only one kind, it became clear that the next purchase would most likely use coffee pods. Reluctantly I welcomed the new machine into our home. It makes good coffee, but I resent buying the sealed plastic pods that feed it. So I recycle as much as possible, collecting the used pods and then laboriously cutting them open to tip out the coffee grounds. The grounds are then emptied into the compost heap.


Extraction of coffee grounds from the capsules

A few years ago, when I commuted daily into Cambridge, I use to regularly pick up a bag of used coffee grounds from Starbucks. They ran a scheme called Grounds for Your Garden (started in 1995) which I made good use of. Their website still mentions the project, but makes it clear that availability is store dependent. More recently (2015) Costa Coffee seem to be running a similar ‘Grounds for Grounds’ deal. I wonder how many people know about or use these schemes? They seem like such a good idea.

Using Coffee Grounds:

There are a number of claims about how fantastic the grounds are as a soil improver. Used grounds are pH neutral. They release nitrogen, calcium, magnesium slowly and add organic matter, improving soil structure.

In terms of composting, coffee grounds have a C:N (Carbon/Nitrogen) ratio of 20:1. This is the same ratio as general food waste and close to the ideal ratio of ~25:1 for the quick production of a good, sweet-smelling compost.

There are (unsubstantiated) claims that coffee grounds are a slug repellent, but I would say that a barrier of coffee grounds was completely ineffective after last year’s sunflower protection experiments! 😦

There is also some evidence that coffee grounds applied directly to soil may actually lead to reduced growth in plants.

However, I will continue to add our grounds to the compost heap and some areas of heavy clay in the garden.

As evidence for the effectiveness of using coffee grounds in a garden, my mother-in-law has a lush-looking backyard at her home in Deal, which she attributes almost exclusively to her use of tea and coffee grounds. She had been struggling to grow anything in the garden until she started emptying her cafetiere and teapots outside.


Growing a jungle on coffee

On a related, but different use for coffee grounds, my son was given a mushroom growing kit for Christmas, which is based on a block of composted expresso grounds.

We opened the box and started the growing process on 3rd January.


After a few days of staring at these funny little pink blobs on the surface of the block, some exotic pink mushrooms (oyster I think) actually started to grow:


Growth by Day 3 – recognisable oyster mushrooms


Day 6  – Ready for harvesting


Ready for cooking

The exotic ‘Hot Pink’ mushrooms were delicious and apparently, if we rest the box for 10 days, we can start the whole process again. It seems like magic!



Posted in Drinks, Food, Nature | Tagged , , , , , | 11 Comments

Wordless Wednesday – January’s Tentacles: Parrotia persica


The startling red winter flowers of the Persian Ironwood tree (Parrotia Persica) – emerging on 09/01/2017 – looking variously like little: tongues, tentacles, spiders or fingers


The wonderful Parrotia persica ‘Vanessa’ grows into a small tree with interesting flaking bark, these very early tiny red flowers and stunning autumn foliage.


‘Vanessa’ was named after the Vanessa butterfly genus (Red Admirals, Painted Ladies etc) to highlight its colourful, flame-like autumn leaves

Posted in Flowers, Trees, Winter | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

Wildlife Wednesday – Messy Eaters!

At the beginning of December the crab apple tree beside the driveway was a magnificently laden affair. Whenever there was a touch of sunshine it became a glowing, amber symbol of abundance. And then the blackbirds moved in …


Female blackbird sizing up the harvest

Now, when I leave the house, I disturb at least 6 birds in the tree, sometimes as many as 10, gorging on soft, sweet apple pulp. Blackbirds are unashamedly messy eaters, as these photos show:

There is as much fruit on the ground as has been consumed and slowly but surely the branches are being laid bare. At this rate I expect that the apples will all be gone in the next few days. Then there will be more disappointed faces like this one!


When she got there … The cupboard was bare

However, watching the tree being stripped clean is one of the great pleasures of the winter. Some years, there are more exotic migrants, like fieldfares and redwings, joining in with the feasting, but strangely not this year, even though we see them using the fountain.

This is my favourite blackbird shot from the apple frenzy: A bright eyed example, with glossy, plaid feathers and the shadow of yet more apples across its breast.


With crab apple shadows on the chest

Sunlight makes such a dramatic difference to the colours and patterns on their plumage. For instance, this is a greenfinch waiting in the wisteria for a go on the peanut feeder. Many of the photos I’ve taken over the last week or two look like this: some nice bokeh, but dull colours.


Greenfinch on a dull day

But look at him in the sunshine! Isn’t he glorious


Greenfinch in sunshine

Our feeders have been out for about a month now and they have rapidly been incorporated into the sunflower trawl that the finches carry out daily. Only three or four birds can use a feeder at one time, but the local goldfinch charm is a constantly changing, swirling cloud with individuals making a dive for gaps as the opportunities arise.


Goldfinch on the wisteria

The other large tribe of birds arriving in the garden for the feeders, both morning and afternoon, are the tits. I never fail to be entertained by the acrobatics of the long-tailed tits in particular. Here is one showing how dextrous it can be with its legs. It looks rather like he is acting in Hamlet!


Long-tailed tit … holding on with one leg whilst eating a peanut crumb from the other!

And this one is shaking his tail feathers:


Long-tailed tit showing its tail feathers

The last of the line of feeders across the  front of the pergola contains peanuts and is open to squirrel attack. (The rest are double layered to prevent that as much as possible.)


Black squirrel making for the hills

However, the last one is deliberately hung for the larger birds. A pair of jays have adopted it, using it constantly in tandem while it dispenses nuts. The problem is that they have hacked a hole into it at the bottom and they now retrieve whole nuts in quick succession, so it is depleted in the blink of an eye.


Jay … mouth full of whole peanuts

Beneath the nuts there is a whole different community, of cleaners: collared doves, chaffinches and dunnocks …


Dunnock looking for crumbs

And as of last week there is also a little mouse darting out to gather scraps. I am no good at mouse IDs unfortunately, but his white tummy makes him a field or wood mouse rather than a house mouse. Let’s hope he stays outside too.


I thought I would end this post with our first sighting of the little owl at Wimpole since spring. He was enjoying basking in the sunshine on his oak tree on Monday when we went for our traditional New Year’s Day walk (OK, it rained on Sunday). I ran back to take better photos, but he was gone. 😦


Little Owl – soaking up the rays

I am once again linking up with Tina @mygardenersays for Wildlife Wednesday and if you’ve never seen a Cooper’s hawk or Mockingbird you should definitely clink on the link to see her beautiful photos of them.

Posted in birds, Nature, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , | 34 Comments

2017 … Coming, ready or not!

Happy New Year! 2017 has begun. Are you ready to start new resolutions, projects and adventures? I am hoping that this year is filled with peace and accord and many wonderful moments, successes and kindnesses.


A quiet moment over the holidays visiting family and getting some fresh sea air (Deal, Kent)

Over the last week or two I’ve been mulling over various garden projects and I have decided that the main focus this year will be to get the front garden in order. The front garden is a bit of a mess to be quite honest and by announcing the plan to the world, I am hoping that I am more likely to stick to it.

In fact, over the years I have already had a couple of goes at it. The first time was during the year after we moved in and I cleared a bramble/privet/lonicera nitida thicket from the whole area so that I could plant the front hedge (hornbeam). Then a few years later I had another go when I installed a twisted rope edge to a bark ‘woodland’ path that I meandered through the central area. But the garden is still full of some nasty perennial weeds (largely bind-weed, ground elder and brambles) which I have been removing in a cursory way in blitzes twice a year. This time however, I am going to be more systematic and thorough. I am also resolved to improve the dreadful clay soil there and deal with the excessive root systems of the surrounding trees. This will probably mean getting ruthless in some way with several inherited trees and shrubs (a massive field maple, a white lilac, a purple lilac and some large wayfayer shrubs). I think that I will have to set some target dates for work in different areas, so that I can measure (and hopefully be encouraged by) progress. Once I have decided where to start, I will begin by documenting what is where currently and sharing in a post. Then I will be definitely committed to the project!

Have you got any changes for your garden planned for this year?


A charm of goldfinches

Just before Christmas we re-instituted bird feeders along front edge of the pergola. It is always great fun to watch the birds from the kitchen window whilst cooking the holiday fare. So far we have stuck to filling them with traditional peanuts and sunflower hearts. At first there was very little traffic to the food, but that has quickly changed and we are now seeing all our favourites. I love to see the goldfinches on the sunfower hearts and this winter there seem to be an impressive number of goldfinches around. The photo above is fairly typical: A charm of them waiting on our back hawthorn hedge, deciding which feeder to visit next. (Our neighbours both have comprehensive, year-round feeding stations set up.)

On New Year’s Eve we also found ourselves enjoying the hospitality of our neighbours, but to take some of the pressure off our hosts each guest contributed a dish for the evening. We took the starters and when I was deciding what to make I remembered a fun penguin canapé I’d tried from photo a few years ago. These penguins are so cute and easy that I thought I would pass them on:-

Cocktail Stick Penguins


Could you eat these cute penguins?

The little penguins are constructed from:

  • Sliced carrot  (cut across the length into circles with little triangles removed) to form the webbed feet.
  • Pitted black olives (I used tinned olives stored in brine) for the black of the body and heads
  • Either triangular wedges of a hard cheese (e.g. cheddar or guyere) or cream cheese stuffed into a front cut, to make their tummies
  • Small isosceles triangles of sweet pepper/capsicum, poked through the pit hole to form their beaks

Enjoy and best wishes for 2017!

Posted in Food, Recipes, The home garden | Tagged , , , , , , , | 13 Comments