Blackbirds

Sticky

Morning has broken, blackbird has spoken…..

Oh how I love their singing. One was just singing his socks off out in the garden, which has inspired todays blog.

Penstemon Blackbird

I have only recently discovered the large family of Penstemons. How did I missed them? Why are they so good?

  1. They seem to be resistent to slug and snail attack.
  2. They are perennial plants, which means they come up every year. Although the narrower the leaf the more hardy they are. However they do become tired after a few years, but see point 5 and it’s not an issue.
  3. They don’t need staking, just put up spires of flowers, which if you pick encourage the plant to create even more.
  4. Flower from June until the first frosts.
  5. Really easy to grow from cuttings – see the picture on the right – In the spring when I cut the plant back to encourage it to grow new stems, I simply took some of the compost destined waste, cut the leaves down by a half, slid them down the edge of the square pots. Six weeks later I have 16 new plants to put into the garden. I’ll let you know if they flower!
  6. Finally, with varieties called, blackbird, raven, white swan, which already adorn my bird themed garden I am now on the search for firebird, osprey, whitethroat, flamingo and woodpecker to add even more species of these easy going generous plants.

With the weather set to be glorious, and Chelsea on TV this is the season to enjoy your garden. Go and Hygge your garden.

 

 

 

 

Spread your wings – Kestrel potatoes

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Kestrel potato

Lovely, big, muddy, Kestrel potatoes.

I planted these potatoes almost 5 months to the day. With the dry spring and summer,the plants were very small and I wasn’t expecting very much, but, surprise, surprise I have proper big main crop potatoes.

I bought kestrel potatoes from Wilkinsons, because of my desire to plant my garden with either bird names or family names, but having looked at the reviews they are:-

  1. Resistance to slug damage – I agree with this.

  2. Great taste – bursting with flavour, and very good roasted.

  3. Consistently large potatoes – for me, I am very pleased, yes, there were a few tiddlers, but I have heavy clay soil and had a very dry few months.

Without feather ado here are a few tantalizing facts about these wonderful birds.

The kestrel is one of our smallest and most common birds of prey. It is the master of stationary flight and can often be seen hovering above road verges, either beating its wings rapidly or using the wind for its support.

 

The main prey of kestrels are field voles, mice, shrews, moles, rats, and frogs.

 

They need to eat 4 – 8 voles per day, they often catch their food, and shroud it or store it so that they don’t go to bed on an empty tummy.

 

Kestrels can also see ultra-violet light. This is useful in locating voles because they leave a trail of urine wherever they go and the urine glows in ultra-violet light.

The life span of a wild kestrel is around 10 years.

 

Just off to roost my potatoes, in the meantime enjoy your garden.

 

 

 

 

 

Did you know?

A Night at the Opera

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Thompson and Morgan, Opera french beans were planted with high hopes, and they have now reached their crescendo. My daughter, Jenny Rust  is an up and coming opera singer, and I chose these beans because of the link to her. ( I haven’t found any bird named beans yet!)

I was thrilled to see how quickly them germinated, but a rainy May night gave the slugs a Night to remember at the Opera. Most of the first leaves (cotyledons) were eaten. There is nothing you can do- so I left them, and interestingly some did manage to struggle on, but I popped in some spare seeds in the longer gaps and now I have a reasonable row of beans. 

Beautiful long green slender pods – just like the ones from the supermarket, beautifully uniform – but SO much fresher tasting. Next year I will plant them in the last week of June so that I can enter them into the village show. At the moment I just love eating them lightly steamed, but for a delicious gardeners lunch try adding them to a pot of boiling Orzo pasta, draining it, stirring through some parmesan cheese, parsley, salt and pepper. My mouth is watering already.

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When the red, red robin comes

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When the red, red robin comes bob bobbing along – it’s Linum Red Robin – an annual that you grow from seed. Mine were from Sutton seeds. I somehow imagined them to look like a small jam packed red lobelia that you put in hanging baskets and plant alternatively with Alyssum to create those very patriotic borders of blue and white. Well Linum Red Robin isn’t like that, I should have realised, the name, Linum, it is a red flax. Flax (Linum usitatissimum) is the plant that we use to make linen. Red Robin would look good planted behind the blue and white, but it needs to be amongst slightly taller plants as it is about 15 inches tall and acts a little like Astantia which I spoke about last week, adding dots of colour rather than a definite punchy show. So put it with wildflower mixes, poppies, cornflowers, or just drop it between and in front of  plants to hide their stems.

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Looking at robins always remind me of my Dad, who would feed them from his hand, I WILL do this soon, I know they love mealworms so that’s the way to go.

Here are some more facts that you may not know

  • The robin was declared the declared Britain’s National Bird on December 15th, 1960.
  • Robins are short-lived: the record for longevity is held by a ringed bird that survived until it was over eight.
  • Robins are omnivorous, eating everything from fruit to spiders.
  • Many attempts have been made to introduce robins to America, Australia and New Zealand. All have failed.
  • Each robin has a unique breast pattern, and can (with difficulty) be recognised individually.

Hope you enjoy bob, bob, bobbing around your garden this week.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Owl night long

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I bought Astrantia Midnight Owl at the RHS Cardiff Show earlier this spring. I am really pleased because it loves the shady and damp clay soil that sits in front of the north facing fence. Many plants struggle to survive, and it is really mainly Christmas roses, and yellow poppies ( the emblem of Plaid Cymru the Welsh political party). However, Midnight Owl has settled in really quickly and has been flowering since May. It is perfect for adding flower heads in the middle of the narrow border. Astrantia also reminds me of my 94 year old darling uncle whose surname is Buckland. I bought him an Astrantia Major Buckland many years ago, and he is so pleased with it, it is less pink, loves his Chiltern chalky soil, and seeds readily. This is one of those plants that is less showy, and is easy to overlook at the garden centre, but once in the garden it flowers away adding a starry background.

I have only seen a few wild owls, even though I started seeking them out as a teenager. The best one was early one New Years Day as we returned home in Shropshire. It was sat in a tree illuminated by the car headlights. It was a very magical moment.

I am trying to learn their different calls, and they have just started to call again. I heard something the other night just as I had got into bed. I scurried back downstairs to get my binoculars, and the bird call app on my phone. I am fairly sure that it was a Little owl. It’s not unlike a yapping dog. I saw one of these with the aid of my two bird watching friends in a quarry on Portland Bill. Even with a scope you can so easily miss them as they are so small and extremely well camouflaged.

Whereas I was just giving the hanging basket a final water last night and I heard the Twany Owl squawking in the area where our neighbours have installed an owl box. We maybe lucky and be able to spot if the spiders webs that surround the entrance have disappeared, or find some pellets. These are regurgitated remains of the prey (bones and fur) and although these might look like some type of dropping, they are not. From these you can identify what the owl has been eating.

So owl leave you to listen out on these warm summer evenings to enjoy the antics of our more common nocturnal birds.

 

Hens, chicks and a tortoise

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I saw this idea on Pinterest, and just had to do it! However when I clicked on the link it failed, so I made it up using the pictures on the left as I went along.

So this is what I did.

  1. Bought the hanging baskets for a £1 at Pound World – they are far too small to work as hanging baskets as they dry out too quickly, but perfect for making a tortoise.
  2. Mark on the liner where you want to put the sempervivums aka hens and chicks.
  3. Cut a horizontal line in the liner so that the water runs downwards and into the compost.
  4. Replace and fill basket with slightly moist compost
  5. Using an old compost bag, cut 6  or 7cm larger circle than the basket.
  6. Tuck it in to form the plastron (underside)
  7. Remove the chains from the basket and clip across the basket to keep the compost bag circle in place. I did have to use a pair of pliers.
  8. Cut a head from florist oasis / make out of chicken wire. I pushed the head onto the edge of the basket to form a slot to hold it in place. Cover with moss and tie moss in place. Add an eye each side – I had 2 spare teddy bear eyes in my button box, but glue on googly eyes if you want.
  9. Cover 4 little flower pots with moss and tie on with garden wire tie, leaving long enough ends so that you can tie them to the edge of the basket to create feet.
  10. Gather chicks from your sempervivum plants and insert into the slits that you made. Water, and continue spraying to keep the tortoise alive. Watch for the hens to make their chicks and the carapace (shell) form.

You now own a living pet tortoise. What will you call yours?

Hens, chicks and a tortoise

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I saw this idea on Pinterest, and just had to do it! However when I clicked on the link it failed, so I made it up using the pictures on the left as I went along.

So this is what I did.

  1. Bought the hanging baskets for a £1 at Pound World – they are far too small to work as hanging baskets as they dry out too quickly, but perfect for making a tortoise.
  2. Mark on the liner where you want to put the sempervivums aka hens and chicks.
  3. Cut a horizontal line in the liner so that the water runs downwards and into the compost.
  4. Replace and fill basket with slightly moist compost
  5. Using an old compost bag, cut 6  or 7cm larger circle than the basket.
  6. Tuck it in to form the plastron (underside)
  7. Remove the chains from the basket and clip across the basket to keep the compost bag circle in place. I did have to use a pair of pliers.
  8. Cut a head from florist oasis / make out of chicken wire. I pushed the head onto the edge of the basket to form a slot to hold it in place. Cover with moss and tie moss in place. Add an eye each side – I had 2 spare teddy bear eyes in my button box, but glue on googly eyes if you want.
  9. Cover 4 little flower pots with moss and tie on with garden wire tie, leaving long enough ends so that you can tie them to the edge of the basket to create feet.
  10. Gather chicks from your sempervivum plants and insert into the slits that you made. Water, and continue spraying to keep the tortoise alive. Watch for the hens to make their chicks and the carapace (shell) form.

You now own a living pet tortoise. What will you call yours?

 

Give peas a chance

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Linnet Peas, delicious, but tiny peas.

Linnets are small finches, and the name also applies to these peas – tiny. Even though you get 7 or 8 peas to a pod, each pod is only 3 or 4cm long. It would be easy to swap these peas for something larger and more robust, but they are perfect for modern small gardens as they only grow to about 30cm at most. They take time to germinate, and I have just sown a second crop in the vague hope that they will provide some peas in late summer – however I am waging a war with some pesky squirrels who even had the tenacity to dig up and eat my only carrot!, and I suspect it will do the same with the pea seeds. I am now seeking ways of deterring squirrels. Clearly the bell and spinning cd are having no effect! I have just been to check them and they are coming through in just 5 days! Go for it!

Linnets are yet another bird on the decline – their population decreasing by 50% in the last 30 years.  Although they do eat insects from time to time, they are principally seed feeders – flax seeds being a favourite, but they are known to like over 35 different types of seed – cabbage seeds also being a great source of food, but modern gardeners seldom grow cabbages, let alone allow them to go to seed!

Do watch out for linnets during your summer holidays especially if you are off to the seaside as they do like coastal habitats. They are social birds and tend to live in small flocks of about 20 or so. Years ago they used to be caught and kept in cages as they have such a delightful, melodious song. They have an undulating flight, often calling as they flick past. With a hint of pinkish red on their breast and on the males forehead, a forked tail you do get a sense of achievement when you spot linnets these days.

Give peas a chance and quickly sow a second or even first crop. There is nothing like fresh peas from the garden. A tiny cane or trimmings from a pruned crop are all they need to scramble up a mere 30cm.

Enjoy your garden, give peas a chance.