Time to plan…

Chickens, flowers, fruit, Garden design, Plants, Propagation, Secret Garden, Uncategorized, Vegetables

It’s winter, but it’s not cold.

Little green shoots are appearing – but they’re too early.

Hellebores are emerging, the witch hazel is blooming and we even have a couple of snowdrops almost fully out in the front garden.  It’s SpringWinter – not cold enough to be properly winter but not light enough to be properly spring.  Also known – on Instagram at least – as #thatwinterspringthing.

The mild weather and green shoots are not unwelcome – in fact they’re a wonderful reminder of what’s to come. I just wonder if we’re being lulled into a false sense of security, only to be shocked back into the depths of winter by a lengthy icy blast…

In any case there’s not much going on in the garden just yet, and I’m glad of the time to plan ahead for the coming season.  The main projects for this year will be:

  • the white border in the front garden – I’m redesigning one side of the front garden as it’s currently looking the most bare and in need of rejuvenation.  I want to drastically increase the planting and hopefully stick to a mainly white theme, as it’s partly in shade and its backdrop is much larger trees and bushes within the wooded area next door.  The plan is for some lush green/white planting which will lift the whole area during spring/summer
  • planting and sorting the area round the chicken coop – this area needs replanting after we switched the smaller chicken run for a much larger, covered run.  The grass needs fixed and there’s plenty of room at the front of the coop for some new hen-friendly plants
  • growing/selling plants from the Secret Garden – this project began last year when I sold the surplus plants I’d grown for my own garden.  I put the extras onto Facebook Marketplace and they were snapped up by quite a few local folk looking to support a small independent nursery.  I got the best buzz from growing healthy plants for others to enjoy so I definitely want to repeat the experience this year!  (The Secret Garden is so-called because it’s the space I have for raised beds and greenhouse behind a rather unobtrusive-looking door at the bottom corner of the garden.)

So the planning and designing is getting into full swing – I’m researching, drawing, reading and checking my seed stocks to get ready for what is likely to be a busy growing season.

This preparation includes testing out a couple of online drawing/design tools alongside the online systems I already use.  I use a range of different tools for different things – Evernote for clipping and saving articles, photos and plant information; Google Drive for plants/seeds spreadsheets and keeping track of budgets; Microsoft OneNote for drawing and saving designs.  I’m also currently trying the Suttons veg planner tool, which will hopefully help me to plan my fruit/veg growing for this year, as well as my cut flower bed.  And I’ve downloaded an app for my laptop called Bamboo Paper which also allows me to draw and create ‘mood board’ style notebooks.

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Designing the front ‘white’ border with OneNote.  It helps if you do this with wine 🙂

I did contemplate starting an actual physical notebook as a garden journal, and using a real-life pen and ink…but for some reason I seem to get on fine with the online methods.  I think in fact I’m more likely to access these electronic records and keep them updated than a diary-style physical notebook, as lovely as it is to hold and treasure a well-thumbed, dog-eared notebook…

Oh and one more goal which I hope to achieve imminently – sitting two more RHS Level 2 exams in February.  I’ve already been hitting the books again to swot up on plant biology and soil nutrition.  Wish me luck!

Happy 2019 – here’s to a great gardening year!

hydrangea jan 2019

 

 

Chickening out

Chickens, Grass and lawncare, Uncategorized

I’m a bit feather-brained at the moment.

We have three chickens – Minnie, Polly and Iona – they’re our first little flock and we’re extremely fond of them.  I have previously documented their arrival here and since we got them they seem to be quite happy in our back garden.  They’ve recently started laying again after a bit of a break over Christmas time and their eggs are delicious.  My current favourite lunch is poached egg and avocado on a nice bit of thick bread, with a good cup of tea.  YUM.

Our hens live in the middle of a back border in a second-hand Eglu (thank you, Gumtree) and have a small run outside of the main coop and wire run.  We have experimented with free-ranging before, but for various reasons I have always gone back to restricting them to their bigger run and keeping them out of the main garden.

The reasons included – bird flu restrictions (the advice was to keep them under cover and away from wild birds for several weeks), poo on the grass and paths, fears they would eat some of my plants – plus one of them worked out how to escape and, having had a taste of freedom, would get out at inconvenient times.

However, I recently bought and read this book…

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…which has reminded me of my original hopes when we got the hens – that they would be an important and valuable element of our garden, not destroying it but contributing to it.

This book has been around for while, it’s not a new release, but it’s still very relevant.  The author, Jessi Bloom, is an experienced chicken owner and writes with passion and enthusiasm about how easy it is to integrate chickens and gardens.  She gives advice about housing, planting, training and looking after hens.

The main message I took away from reading this book are that chickens can not just live in your garden, but can actually be beneficial too – I already compost their poo so that the nutrients will return to the soil, but the book also made it clear that hens can reduce pests and weeds and be useful garden helpers.

It’s helped to calm my fears about letting the hens loose.  If there are young plants you don’t want them to eat, these can be protected.  Yes, there may be occasional damage but it’s avoidable and not a great tragedy if it does occur.  Let’s face it, the nature of gardening is such that if something doesn’t work the first time, you can simply try again.  And yes there may be some poo on the grass but at this time of year it’s not a big issue and a quick sweep of the lawn in the spring/summer should see it clear for the kids to play on.  In fact, I might even get them to do the poo-picking!

And so, our ladies have been released.  They are free-ranging part-time (afternoons, when we’re home to keep an eye on them) and seem to be loving it.  They’ve already established the New Favourite Dust Bathing Area – under a conifer I recently clipped so that the hellebores underneath would have a bit more breathing space.

I do have plans to introduce new plants to the back garden but now I’ll be more mindful of how to protect these until they’re established.  I feel more comfortable that what’s already there will survive a small amount of treading or scraping and if it doesn’t, well, it can be replaced.

This back garden area will eventually be an area of woodland planting – tough, hardy, resilient to a bit of ‘chicken love’, and I hope they really will keep the pests down and the weeds at bay.  For now, I’m enjoying seeing them run across the garden, wings outstretched, or run up to me hoping for treats and just kicking about making their little ‘boop-boop’ noises.  They’re good garden companions.

In fact, they’re so good that I’m now keeping my eyes peeled for a second coop – either for raising chicks or for a new flock.  I was warned that chicken-keeping becomes addictive and it’s true.  Hence why I’m feather-brained – I keep wondering if it should be Pekins, bantams, ex-batts, Auraucanas, Buffs….

 

 

 

Catching up…

Chickens, Garden Birds, Garden design, Grow Your Own, Nature & Wildlife, Secret Garden, Vegetables

Well it seems it’s been a busy couple of weeks since I last wrote a post.  Thankfully, part of the reason for that has been some lovely weather – when the sun’s shining I’m not inclined to stay in the house and stare at a computer screen, I want to get outside and garden!

Some updates on what’s happening out there:

Sad news first – the blackbird nest which was in the ivy on the back wall has failed.  I went out one morning about a week ago to discover it was on the ground.  I don’t know what happened, perhaps it simply collapsed, or perhaps a fox or bigger bird came along and attacked.  I investigated briefly using a stick (it was hard to reach!) and couldn’t see any eggs but it was surprisingly solid to try to turn over.  Here’s a photo of Mrs Blackbird which I took literally the day before the nest came down…

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I felt quite sad for the pair – they spent so long building the nest and she’d been sitting in it for a few days before it failed.  However, it seems that this is common with blackbirds as their nests are so open and therefore vulnerable to predators and the elements.  The good news is that I think they are now building another nest inside a large conifer nearby.  Will it be third time lucky?  We’ll have to wait and see.

I have been watering like mad over the past few days.  The sunny and warm weather means the veg beds have been looking parched and the seedlings (cosmos, marigolds and zinnia) which are now outside in the growhouse need a drink almost twice a day!  They’re getting quite large now and I’m hoping to start planting them out in the next few days.

The raised beds are looking good – every one now has a little row or sprig of green appearing, with the peas/carrots/lettuce bed looking the most healthy of all.  I have high hopes for the peas, especially after they did so poorly last year.  The potatoes are now all sprouting, after my worry that they were nowhere to be seen, and even the little leeks are popping up…

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…I noticed these yesterday morning and could have sworn they were about a centimetre bigger by the evening after a day of sunshine and a liberal hosing!

I’m also making a fairly sizeable change in the front garden; I’ve removed a large ceonothus and another unidentified shrub which have been taking over a large section close to the driveway.  I plan to extend the rose bed and perhaps also use the space for bedding and dahlias.  It was a bit of a gamble as they took up quite a lot of room, but the space looks nice and clear now and is another corner to play with, so I’m happy.  Sorry no before/after photos because I forgot to take them!

Lastly, a chicken update: we are now getting three eggs a day, as Iona has joined her two friends and begun laying – hurrah!  She’s also developing her comb and her voice and likes a good cluck when you go into the run or if she thinks something’s amiss.  Perhaps the quietest hen will turn out to be the noisiest?!

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New layer Iona gets extra cuddles from Biggest Daughter 

 

Lobelia learning curve

Chickens, flowers, Garden design, Grass and lawncare, Plants, Pots and containers, Raised Beds

I sowed lobelia last year, directly into the raised bed I used to grow cut flowers* and they did quite well, but flowered fairly late in the season and are not really great for cutting, they’re better for baskets or pots.  So this year I sowed early under cover, with the aim of using the plants for two large wire hanging baskets which we inherited with the house.  I have a vision of these lovely trailing purple flowers decorating the front of our house and making visitors ‘ooh’ appreciatively when they visit.

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Lobelia erinus

However.  Lobelia seeds and indeed their seedlings are ickle tiny wee things and quite tricky to prick out, as I have discovered!  It’s not impossible, and I did manage to transfer most of the delicate little plants from the seed tray in clumps into a slightly bigger modular tray.  I’m hoping from here they will grow big enough to then plant into baskets so that they can look beautiful at the front of the house, visitors will ‘ooh’, etc etc… However.  Having dragged the wire baskets from the back of the shed to have a good look at them, they are BIG.  60cm each in fact, and I’m pretty sure my little crop of lobelias will only fill one of these at best.

I will definitely keep growing them anyway, they’ll do for a smaller basket or pot – but perhaps in the meantime I might have to invest in some pre-grown bedding plants for the hanging baskets, especially if I want them on display any time soon!

In other garden news, I did the first grass cut of the season – yay!  I observed two things:

1) the chickens didn’t freak out as much as I thought they might at the sound of the lawnmower. This is good, as I really didn’t want to have to cut the grass fortnightly during the summer under cover of darkness after they’d gone to bed to avoid scaring them!

2) The grass is in a pretty crappy state.  What with scarifying, plus a bit of extra treading around fixing up a chicken run, plus a lot of rain recently, it’s not exactly looking green and lush and is still very mossy.  This will be a long-running battle I think, to restore it to a healthy state.

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My grass does NOT look like this <sob>

*This sounds impressive, but didn’t work as well as I’d hoped, apart from the cornflowers and a few snapdragons.  I am giving it another bash this year and have sowed earlier so hopefully will get better results!

Introducing…

Chickens

Minnie (Minerva)

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Iona (or Iona McFart)

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and Big Boo (aka Polly, short for Pollos Hermanos)

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I realise that’s quite a heady mix of monikers but that’s what happens when you let your kids get involved in the naming process, while also wanting to have your own input! We’ve ended up with a selection inspired by Harry Potter, Spanish words, Breaking Bad, Orange is the New Black and the brain of a 6 year old!

Still, a week on and we’re getting used to them now – the names as well as the hens.  They chook about quite happily in their run which we’ve now covered with woodchips very helpfully supplied by a tree surgeon friend.  We’re giving them treats every day to find out what they like to eat – so far mealworms, cheese and dandelions are proving a bit hit.  My eldest daughter is visiting them several times a day to feed them treats or pick them up – she’s quite besotted with her new feathery chums!  The smaller daughter likes them too and enjoys showing them off to her friends, but isn’t so keen on raking poo.  They both like collecting the daily egg we’ve been getting though, and my husband is definitely enjoying eating them.

Polly/Big Boo is the sole provider of eggs so far, and is also the Queen Bee.  I think the pecking order has been established and it seems she’s the one in charge, followed by Iona and then Minnie, who seems to be the most nervous of them all and sometimes patrols the run at dusk clucking menacingly at the imaginary threats beyond the fence, before taking herself to bed with the others when it gets dark.  Iona seems the most chilled out and doesn’t seem to mind being stroked or picked up.  They have all already got into the habit of running over at the first sight of a human, but I am under no illusions – they clearly just want food!

It’s Easter holidays for us at the moment, which is one reason why we’ve gone for it with getting the chickens just now, but what with settling in our new friends and doing general family stuff, I’m not getting much time in the garden at the moment.  Which is the reason I’m about to cut off this post and head straight out right now – a rare window of opportunity presents itself, so I am going to grab it with both hands!

Until I return, here are some pics of our new ladies for you to enjoy!

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They’re here! 

Chickens

Just a quick one before bedtime – but I had to share today’s excitement…

  

Three hens, happily scratching away in their new home in our back garden! 

I am super excited and also nervous about their first night – please let them still be there in the morning?! 

Project Hen is moving forward…!

Chickens, Garden design


We have a coop! An Eglu Go to be precise, and I am so excited.

My head is full of hens at the moment, as I’m working out where to put them, when to feed them, how to make this work for our family life. My girls are also excited about the prospect of some feathered friends and even my husband, who was somewhat dubious to begin with, seems to be getting on board and is keen to come and choose our chickens.

Hopefully we’ll bring some home next week during the Easter holidays, but before then we’ve got to figure out how to make the coop and run fit into the area I have marked out for it.  More pics and details to follow after the weekend I think, when I hope to have the Eglu in place and ready to accept its new inhabitants!

Not a gardening post

Chickens, Other Gardens, Uncategorized

This weekend was unfortunately spent not gardening, so this is a ‘not gardening’ blog post.  I was Not Gardening for various reasons:

  1. The weather was poor, which was actually a good thing because…
  2. I had to paint my study, and keep getting distracted by the good weather and the garden when really I need to Get On With It.  My study is my little refuge – for reading, writing, blogging and occasional staring at the garden while planning the next job…!
  3. It was quite a busy weekend with a grown-up party, a kids party and a visit to my parents to take into account, as well as a hairdresser’s appointment to keep.

However, even when I’m Not Gardening, I’ve found it’s difficult to shake the gardening habit. When I was in town for the hairdresser appointment I popped into a few shops and discovered that my eye is now drawn to garden-themed clothing.  The evidence…

I’ve also been inspired by a couple of books which will hopefully help with my garden plans – I’ve been reading Chicken Coops for the Soul, which I stumbled upon at the library when I was looking for something completely different.  It’s a useful insight into the realities of chicken-keeping and is helping me to get an idea what it might actually be like, if/when I take the plunge.  So far, it’s not putting me off!

I have also recently received this book which I ordered from a second-hand online shop…

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…and I can’t wait to get stuck in.  Although I haven’t read it yet, it’s one of the inspirations for this blog – Monty kept a diary, written and photographic, of everything they did when they moved to Ivington and this book is the result.  Now.  I KNOW I am nowhere on the scale of the mighty Mr Don, but we do plan to be in this house for a long time, so I’d like to think that a record of the development of the garden would be a great thing to look back on in years to come.  And if at that point I’m a big famous gardening expert *ahem* , a publishing deal will certainly be very welcome…so I’m getting started early!

Look at this face, how could you not trust the advice he gives…

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Don’t even get me started on his new puppy.

So, as I said, it’s been a weekend of No Gardening.  Followed by today – the Springiest of Spring days and, Sods Law, I’ve had to go to work, in a windowless office, with zero plants or soil or anything.  It is genuinely frustrating, to have to spend such a beautiful day indoors, but when I start to get worked up about it I remind myself that I am very lucky to have a good, flexible, part-time job, and that my three days of work allow me to have two days of non-work and the means to own the house and garden that we do.  So the next time I get annoyed about it, I will take a breath, count my blessings and walk through the office door, dressed  in one of my lovely new garden-themed shirts…

 

 

 

A whole day in the garden

Chickens, flowers, Garden design, Plants

A WHOLE DAY.  This almost never happens, thanks to a combination of family responsibilities, weather, a job and various other demands which crop up on a daily or weekly basis.  But I have a very rare week off work, promised since last year, and it’s allowed me the luxury of time to write, garden, walk and go to yoga classes whenever I please.  So yesterday, I spent all my time outside and I loved it. Following the walk I blogged about in my last post, I wrapped up (it’s still a bit chilly!) and went straight outside, armed with a gardening to-do list.

Focusing on the main garden, I dug, planted, moved shrubs, mulched and snipped myself into a state of bliss.  There were two areas I was aiming to clear – the side patio bed and a section of the back border which is where I want the chicken coop (yep, I’m still planning this!) and run to go.

The side bed has been a bit of a conundrum since we moved in.  It’s got three thriving shrubs in it already – a bamboo, a camellia and a lovely variegated myrtle bush.  At one end I’ve planted some herbs as it’s close to the back door, and easy access from the kitchen when I need some for cooking.  But the middle section is quite shallow and tough to dig, with lots of old roots from a huge ivy, most of which has now been cleared to make way for a gas pipe to be fixed along the wall (don’t ask, it’s a long and boring story…).  Towards the end of last summer I planted some perennials which I’d bought – geums, lavender and a couple of foxgloves – but this was largely because I couldn’t really think of anything else to do with the bed.  They’ve done very little since then of course, so I’ve now lifted them; the lavenders are going into the opposite end of the garden, the corner patio where we have a table and chairs, and where I’m growing a series of climbers to try and hide some of the grey breeze block wall behind.  The lavenders should do a good job of brightening up the areas below the clematis, honeysuckle and roses which are already there.

The geums have now gone in below a twisted hazel which is also next to the back door, again a little bit of interest for the lower level of this small, rocky bed.

The plan now for the side patio is to put down a membrane, some decorative stones and to plant up lots of pots and place around the existing shrubs.  That way, I won’t have to dig into the tough soil, I can plant a variety of containers and can chop and change the pots whenever I like.  So, I’ve managed to clear the space ready for this, and now it looks like this…

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I’ve also ordered a rambler from Peter Beales roses, which I’ll grow at the back and along the wall to try and hide some of the grey-ness.  It’s a pale pink flower, and should complement the vivid green and red-pink of the camellia, which flowered beautifully last year.

I had to move a couple of things out of the back border too, so that I could mark out the approximate space I’ll need for the coop/run I’m hoping for.  I moved a young cherry into the front garden, and removed a hydrangea completely.  I love hydrangea – I don’t mind that they’re a bit old-fashioned, I just love their huge showy flowers – but this one was quite old and woody, plus I’d taken cuttings from it in the autumn so it will live on.  There’s a rhodedendron which might also need moved out of the way but it’s just about to flower so I’ve left it for now.

This is how the space looks now…

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In the foreground you might also be able to make out a small magnolia which was also planted yesterday – another bargain from Lidl!

So I’m quite pleased with the preparations I’ve made in these two key areas of the garden. Looking out and seeing the clear spaces gives me a sense of anticipation – I’m ready for the next stage!

And now for a close-up!  A selection of photos caputuring what’s going on in the garden just now…

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The rhodedendron which is getting ready to flower

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Salix – a new pussy willow for the front border

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The witch hazel is still going strong 

To chook, or not to chook…?

Chickens

I have hens on the brain at the moment.

I am very seriously considering some for the back garden!

chickens

This has been an idea at the back of my mind since we moved into the house, as the garden is such a good size, there’s plenty of room for a small coop and three or four chickens.   And although I’ve been resisting the thought (just a fad! too dirty! you’ll get fed up!) I keep coming back to it again and again, lurking on chicken keeping forums, searching Gumtree for second-hand coops… I can’t seem to shake the idea and am becoming more and more sure that it’s something I’d like to try and think I’d enjoy.

I’m still weighing up the pros and cons – with any new venture I really do like to wrap my brain around it and try to imagine what doing that thing will be like, how it will affect my daily life, routines, the rest of the family etc.  Here’s the list:

Pros:

  • Eggs!  Lots of them, I hope!  I’d give any excess to family and friends – or maybe have an honesty box at the front of the house.
  • Company in the garden – I’d like to let them free-range sometimes, and like the thought of them pecking about (and hopefully eating all the slugs!) while I’m pottering about.
  • Pets – we don’t have any (apart from 5 guppies!) and I like the idea of caring for an animal and that it would (hopefully) enhance our family life and engage the kids with other living creatures.  The girls seem keen – they say they’d help out and I’d like to think they’d enjoy feeding the birds, handling them etc, even if they would almost certainly be unwilling to clean up bird poo!
  • The aforementioned poo is good fertiliser – goes on the compost heap and enriches the garden at a later date.  So, although poo is really a ‘con’, it’s also a ‘pro’.

Cons:

  • The free-ranging might mean damage to the garden – and would definitely mean poo on the grass, which would need to be removed before the girls would play outside.  (This could possibly be limited by fencing off a free-range area)
  • The poo (see above!)
  • Rats – I fear the idea of encouraging these into the garden, however I’m aware there are ways to prevent them and obviously there are ways to get rid of them.
  • Time commitment – this seems fairly minimal, compared to a dog for example, but I would need to spend time feeding and cleaning them, and perhaps be up and about to let them out fairly early in the mornings, especially in the summer months.  My ‘spare’ time is already precious – do I want to give up a little more of it?  Am I prepared to tweak my daily routine to care properly for these birds?

As you can see, I’m putting a lot of thought into it – too much, perhaps!  But I need to be sure before I take the plunge.  At the moment I’m keen to proceed, and keep waiting to find out something which would put me off, but it hasn’t happened yet.  So, I’m back on Gumtree looking out for the elusive bargain starter chicken coop…I’ll keep you posted!