Where is summer?

Mid May and temperatures are still hovering in the mid teens!  We did have some warm weather, hard to remember, it was back in March. Droughts and hose-pipe bans were widespread and then of course we had a record breaking wet April.

Not surprising we Brits obsess over the weather!  And what about our gardens?

There is an old proverb  ne’er cast a clout until may is out!  Which in modern English could be said to mean don’t put away your winter woolies until the may  (hawthorn) is flowering – although there is some ambiguity as to whether may refers to the month or the very common and very English Hawthorn. Which ever way you interpret it, it reminds us that we can still get cold weather & frosts well into May.  Not that we need reminding this year, when there is still such a nip in the air, but maybe its comforting to know it’s not that unusual.

There is no doubt the cold is holding back some plants. I like to think of them as staying snug under their blankets of earth, with quilts (mulch) of compost or bark chippings.  They will ‘show a leg’ as soon as the temperature feels right – they are much better attuned to it than we are.  Though they get caught out if we have a spell of warm weather followed by a chill – they can’t read the long range forecasts like we can!

And if the plants get caught what about the little critters.  The Swallows and House Martins arrived back only a few weeks ago and its been pretty cold and miserable for them.  At least there is plenty of mud for nest building!  A Swallow couple are re-using the nest they (probably the same pair) built last year in a purpose built space in our car port/garage.  We had to line the roof as in a previous year chicks have almost expired under the ‘hot tin roof’.  And put a false floor so that they don’t make to much mess on my car – and so that the neighbourhood cats can’t use the roof to jump up to get at the nest!  The things we do! They chatter away to each other and positively shout at us if we get in their way and they have become part of our summer.  The year after we nearly lost those three chicks to the heat (we actually hosed the roof regularly to take the heat away until the sun moved off) three Swallows returned – was this coincidence?

Right now I can’t imagine it being that hot – but who knows in our unpredictable climate. I did catch myself thinking ‘cold for the Swallows’ and ‘fan heater’ in the same moment! But I guess they’ve faced worst and they are protected from the wind and dry – and they are snuggled in together!

I’ll get on to the plants another day…..

Look at this – but make sure the tissues are handy first: http://beingstray.com/animal-stories/swallows-mate-life/

Weather is a touch cooler now….

Is it really THAT long since my last blog?  I set out with good intention of not too frequent but regular….  the road to heaven, they say, is paved with ‘good intention’.

Cooler – I should coco!  Winter is early, hard (-13 degrees here on Friday night) and sharp.  We’ve had about an inch of snow and it’s dry.  At the beginning of the month it was so mild but now everything outdoors has had to adjust to freezing conditions in the space of a few short weeks.  I feel for the animals, furred, feathered or otherwise.  I hope the farmers can get to their herds and that all cows/sheep/horses/goats etc have shelter.  I worry about the elephants and other exotics in the wildlife parks, but particularly the hefelumps as I have a soft spot for them.  I even worried about the worms in the wormery so they get put under the compost heap and I start again in the spring.

Well I am a female and we have to have something to worry about don’t we?

At home I have wood piles, upturned flower pots, uncleared areas and I left plenty of ivy on the walls, to provide cover – I’ll thin it out in the spring (but not when the birds are nesting) and I can live with that.

I have been feeding the birds for a few days now.  I don’t start too early as, frankly, it gets quite expensive but also because we are rural and there was plenty in the hedgerows and in the air even a week ago.  I could sit here and watch the birds for ages – it was a feeding frenzy this morning until a few moments ago when it suddenly went quiet.  I cant see anything (like next door’s cats) which would have scared them off – so maybe (hopefully) they have had their fill!

This morning’s visitors were: A gloriously coloured cock pheasant, greedy pigeons, squabbling starlings, house sparrows, dunnocks, cheeky chaffinches, great, blue and coal tits, nuthatch, greenfinch and a couple of robins. The blackbirds are up the other end of the garden, feeding off windfall apples, so they are OK.  The long-tailed tits have not found us yet this year (not that I’ve noticed anyway) and I haven’t seen the tree creeper since I actually put food out!  Hardly seen many thrushes this year at all – and none for a many weeks now.
I will move the nyjer seed feeder and hopefully get a few other finches (the teasels are still standing so probably still some seed left there too).  I have never seen a wren take food from the table although they are frequent visitors in the garden.

I do not mind at all if wood-mice or even the field rats come down for food at this time of year.  We get the odd squirrel, but I don’t put out peanuts any more as the squirrels wreck the bird feeders and they never got the hang of the specific nut feeder I had for them – they obviously didn’t read the book!

I know there is a large toad out there as I disturbed him a couple of weeks ago so had to hastily create a new abode over him.  I have some small frogs in my greenhouse which I am trying to keep just frost free.  As soon as the weather breaks I will insulate it with bubble wrap but this cold caught me out and it is already packed with plants, some definitely tender and some border line that I don’t want to lose.  I’m not risking it this year having lost both Phormiums* and my bay tree last.

Between you, me and the gate post, I don’t have a very good record with the greenhouse as I tend to forget to water.  It is best to keep plants as dry as possible, they will withstand lower temperatures that way, but they DO need a little drink every now and again.   It is also important to vent the greenhouse when ever possible and remove anything going rotten or growing mould A.S.A.P.

I spent several hours packing my little plants (stuff in pots I should have planted out but not got around to yet) onto various staging in the shelter of a stone wall, or the oil tank or my greenhouse.  I made bamboo cane ‘structures’ over them and wrapped them with fleece, which I wouldn’t normally do.  It may be a case of shutting the gate after the horse has bolted….but its so cold so early!  As soon as it warms a bit I will uncover them as I want to grow them ‘hard’.  But the structures are now there if we get more severe weather. Heath Robinson has nothing on me!

My potted Hostas are very tough but I have always snuggled them together in the lee of a wall – and they always come through.  Same with the daylilies, Hemerocallis, which I WILL get into the ground next year – nag me please?  Other large pots are pushed close to the house wall for protection.

These days you can buy fleece ‘jackets’ for plants but I think I’ll buy a large roll and try ‘running’ some up on the sewing machine.  I’ll let you know if it works!  The advantage of fleece is that it breathes, it lets moisture and light through – and its easy.  Traditionally straw was used but its a right fiddle.

*Coming back to the Phormiums… they are actually (generally) pretty hardy but they do not like snow freezing in their crown.  I KNOW this, yet last year I didn’t go and tie them up so that snow couldn’t sit in the crown; consequence 2 dead Phormiums! RIP

The sun is breaking through here, and I can just see the outline of Long Mountain to the North.  I cant see the Stiperstones to the south as there is fog lying in the valley between.  But I must stop window gazing now as a VAT return for Triple Link beckons.

Post note: Having said rarely squirrels – there is one doing acrobatics in next doors tree.  We overlook part of their garden (and washing line which is usually full – like living in Coronation Street – but not today, not unless you want stiff knickers anyway! Pet hates!)

BUT there is one animal who loves the cold; Zak the Collie spent hours yesterday just lying in the snow watching the world go past the bottom of the drive.  He doesn’t like the summer heat and hardly ever lies in front of the fire.  In this weather he likes to lie in the icy streams when out for a walk!  More snow expected? Zak will be pleased, especially if he gets to go tobogganing.  I think he thinks he’s a husky!

And did I mention the squirrel who is now sitting squirrel Nutkin fashion in the middle of the cage (designed to keep big birds/animals out) over a pile of seed.  Cute really!

‘My First’ Quince Jelly & Japaneses Knotweed

I am unfortunate to have Japanese knotweed in my garden. It came unannounced under the wall from next door while I wasn’t looking and now it’s… well it’s there!

I can actually understand why the Victorians were so taken with it.

Picture courtesy of wikipedia

It IS statuesque, 7 maybe 8 foot tall, with strong freckled stems a bit reminiscent of rhubarb, large mid green oval to heart shaped leaves and panicles of tiny cream flowers – if only it didn’t fill a gardener’s heart with such sheer dread!

I have been fighting this weed for at least 3 years, trying to get rid of it without resorting to chemicals.  I ‘pull’ the stems in the hope of weakening it and to be fair it has not spread, but neither is it going!  I know I am going to have to use chemicals – and strong ones at that.

My ‘Grand Plan’ for the garden includes a large pond nosing into the area where the knotweed is, so I am going to need to eradicate before we start excavating.  Although, I have already warned OH that we may need to ‘skip’ all the earth removed as I cant risk spreading knotweed.  But that is for another day, month or even year most likely.

So where does the Quince come in? The knotweed is growing next to a large and rather straggly quince – I think it is the ‘common’ quince Cydonia oblonga – which I have neglected for the last few years pending the ‘Grand Plan’ remodel and the knotweed!  In order to pull all the knotweed stems I needed to cut back some of the quince and noticed quite a few of the little yellow/green fruits.  I began stuffing my pockets – and pretty soon had to go and get a small punnet , which I also filled.

This prompted me to find out more about the shrub and its’ fruit – I didn’t even know if they were ripe – they were sure hard!  The fruits are small and apple like, but NOW I know that this is probably because the shrub is in more shade than it would like, they should be larger if it is Cydonia.  The shade comes from the neighbour’s trees (the other side of the wall) which are quite big now and overhang somewhat; I shall be tackling these at some point.  I will definitely (this is a statement of intent and you are my witnesses) be giving the quince a little more of a haircut, plus a feed & mulch, in the hope that it flowers – and fruits- better next year.  I might even to be able to make a positive ID.

Having saved a precious punnet of fruits and having heard of (but never tried) quince jelly I searched the web for a recipe and found one at The Cottage Smallholder

I had no idea what to expect, and to be honest wasn’t too enamoured by the smell of the fruits cooking.  Now the second cooking phase is complete and it’s turned into a jam/jelly it actually tastes rather yummy. I was hoping I would have enough for 2 small jars – one to try and one for a pressy (optimist aren’t I) but I barely filled this one.  It may get opened tomorrow as OH is keen to try it too.

Next year I’ll definitely give it another go!

Now what shall I make with all those cooking apples………

A little more on knotweed: It can root deeper than it grows – up to 10ft, and even the tiniest bit of root/stem can regenerate into a new plant.  Dig it out with caution.  Do not transfer soil and do not compost any parts – I do not even put it in ‘the green bin’ as the council’s composting process is unlikely to kill it.  Best thing is to burn it if you can.  I have used the definitely dead stems to make insect houses, as they are hollow and brittle and can be broken into short lengths and bundled together – whether or not the insects use them I have no idea!

I shall be trying chemicals next year and will start with ordinary glyphosate which is as safe as any can be.  I’ll move up the ‘nasty’ scale if I have to.  Unless anyone can suggest an eco friendly alternative? Please?

Today…

… is such a grey day its hard to be inspired outside; but I am only too aware that soon, very soon, we will lose that hour in the evening.  Of course there ARE still the same number of daylight hours, but if you are a bit of a night owl like me then early starts are not customary and I only come in when I can no longer actually see what I am doing ….

Only a few days ago it was one of those brilliant Autumn days when golden light from the low sun perfectly complimented the fiery hues of the turning leaves in a spectacular display of yellows, golds, bronzes and reds.  And its early season yet so the best is still to come.

Which reminds me, I must squeeze in a couple of small trees or shrubs, specifically for autumn colour.

And there are still loads of things to do outside.  Not least, to get some of those poor plants out of the pots (in which they have been struggling to stay alive for far too long) and into the ground before it’s too cold.  I can almost hear them give a sigh of relief as I knock them out of their ‘corsets’ and plant them in freshly dug soil, settling them in so that their little roots can spread with gay abandon.  Then next year I will be amazed to see how much they have grown, how much larger the leaves are now that they can get ample air, water and nutrients … will I never learn?  It’s not that I don’t mean to get them straight in when I buy them, but I cannot resist; and then I have to find the perfect spot.  Speaking of which…….