On the crest of a Dahlia

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It is only in the last year or so that I have grown to like Dahlias – until recently I thought they were gaudy and grown by old men. However I received a free packet of dahlia seeds and laughed out loud – ‘What rubbish – dahlia’s grow from tubers, it’ll take years’

Well for some reason I threw them on some compost and to my utter surprise they grew. I planted them near the patio, and they bloomed beautifully. In my very stubborn way, I didn’t want the faff of digging them up and over wintering them, but lo and behold, up they popped the following year. They continue to act like outstanding perennials as long as you deadhead them – here’s how to tell the difference between a bud and a deadhead.

The rounded one on the left is the bud. The pointy, slightly wet and with a ‘dahlia aroma’ is the seed head and this HAS to be cut off for more flowers to develop. In theory you are supposed to cut it all the way back to the bottom of the stem, but better to pick it off than forget as you get distracted on your way to get the secateurs.

I bought Dahlia Goldcrest as a treat for its name – plus it had free p&p.  Earlier this summer, I was using the hose pipe to water the garden and was devastated when I snapped off the main stem, with the one and only flower – what I didn’t know was you need to pinch out the first flower to encourage more flowers – so now I have 11 stunning flowers.  I am awestruck by how the petals are formed – it is so complicated, and yet it makes these without any help from me. As I stand there puzzling this I also think about the amazing Goldcrest birds.

Goldcrest

Goldcrest facts

  1. Goldcrests are not only the UK’s smallest bird – even smaller than the wren, it’s almost half the weight of a wren at 5-6 grams, it is the smallest of all the birds in the northern euro – asian hemisphere – no bird is smaller from here to the Himalayas to Japan
  2. They are winter migrants from Scandinavia, so are more common on the east of the UK, but I have seen them here in Bath, and on the Somerset Quantocks.
  3. Initially ornithologists believed that these tiny birds were too small to fly across the North Sea, and some thought that they flew piggyback on the back of woodcock or short eared owls.
  4. Exhausted migrants are typically unafraid of humans, and some will even land on people.
  5. My most memorable sight was seeing a small flock in the Linden tree outside the  church – flitting and fluttering – far too fast to get them in the scope, my naked eye was best  – their very high pitch tweet is the only give away. The older you get the harder it is to hear their extremely high-pitched call.
  6. Goldcrests generally feed towards the tip of tree branches or in tree crowns, typically hovering in front of spiders’ webs.
  7. They tend to nest and feed in conifers, but clearly not exclusively.

At the moment I have one other Goldcrests, Goldcrest cupreeus (a miniture golden conifer,) and know that there is a foxglove, which is tempting – it has to be golden and that would be beautiful.

Now is the time to start thinking about which trees, shrubs and bulbs you want to plant in the autumn. So enjoy a cup of coffee and start planning.

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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?