Chickens, Grass and lawncare, Uncategorized

Chickening out

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….

 

 

 

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flowers, Garden design, Grass and lawncare, photography, Plants, Uncategorized

A total redesign

These are scary words!  A TOTAL REDESIGN of the front garden.  This means digging, moving, sowing, replanting, more digging, weeding, propagating… I can’t wait.

We’ve lived here for three years now and I have tweaked the front garden only slightly each year.  It’s been good to wait and live with the garden for a while.  To see what thrives and what doesn’t; what I look forward to seeing each year and what bores me.  I’ve added bulbs for spring colour and a number of roses.  I’ve hauled out a couple of shrubs which did nothing for me or the garden, and experimented with adding a few annuals and perennials.   It’s a very mature ‘shrubby’ garden – there are several rhodedendrons and azaleas, a skimmia and a couple of handsome continus, for example.  And while many of these plants do very well and have their moments throughout the season I want to introduce interest right through from spring to autumn.

Last year saw the biggest change and I chose a section beside the driveway to add more planting than ever – mostly herbaceous perennials and a couple of new roses and shrubs.  And even though I didn’t really plan it properly and added things ad-hoc, perhaps slightly haphazardly and sometimes just to fill gaps…it looked great!  It gave me a vision for how the whole of the garden could look and made me realise that cottage garden style planting is the way forward.  For this particular section of the border I was attracted to echinaceas, lavender, roses, hollyhocks, geums, more roses, salvias and gypsophila.  Soft colour, blousy petals, frothy flowers were held together by showy dahlias and some good old-fashioned roses.  I enjoyed the colour, the scent, the fact that there was always something in flower to enjoy and that the seedheads and stems are there to keep things interesting even now, in the middle of winter.

So – a cottage garden it is.  And the planning is underway…

Now, I am not a designer – I’m not even a particularly good artist so please forgive the slightly scrappy drawings, but I’m loving sketching out plans for what should go where and creating ‘mood boards’ to give me a clear idea of the kinds of plants I want to grow and plant.  I’ve even gone into Full Organisation Mode, using spreadsheets to keep track of what seeds I have, when to sow them and to keep a record of what I’ve grown as I go along this year.

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I’ll be honest – I’m not normally this organised, and you don’t have to do this to be a ‘good gardener’.  Up until now I’ve had a pretty relaxed ‘it’ll grow when it grows’ attitude to what I’ve sown and planted!  But this is such a big project for me – my first proper garden project in fact – that I want to try and document it as much as I can.  I feel like I’ve been my own apprentice up until now, messing about with growing a few veg, sowing some flowers and I’ve been surprised at my own success.  Now I feel like it’s time to graduate up to Assistant Gardener/Trainee Designer!

Work will begin in earnest in a few short weeks but as well as all the indoor planning and a little bit of seed-sowing (sweet peas, delphiniums, astrantia and echinacea are in the propagators as I write) I’ve managed to do a bit of preparation in the garden itself, taking away some of the lawn to widen the borders at each corner, hard pruning of two shrubs (which are either Philadelphus or Deutzia but haven’t flowered for a couple of years so I can’t ID them! Hence the hard pruning…) and I’ve also moved the Monkey Puzzle, as blogged here.  As soon as the weather warms up enough for me to dig a bit more I’ll move some more shrubs into better locations – I want to keep them for structure and because I like most of them, but they need spaced out to make way for interplanting of all those lovely herbaceous perennials and annuals.

A few ‘Before’ photos…

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See – lots of bare soil and potential.  Wish me luck, there’s lots of ground to cover!

And finally some of the stars last year’s trial ‘herbaceous border’…

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Garden design, Grass and lawncare, Plants, Uncategorized

Monkeying around…

I’m really quite pleased with this weekend’s main gardening project – moving my monkey puzzle tree.

Actually I’m really quite pleased to have been in the garden at all – it’s been ages.  Pre-Christmas, Christmas and post-Christmas did not leave much time to get outside and tackle winter gardening jobs, and when there was a bit of spare time the ground was so hard and frosted there wasn’t much point!

So now that we’re back to school/work and in the regular routine, I spent a few hours on my non-working days in the greenhouse and the front garden.  It was so good to get my hands dirty again.  As well as sowing a few seeds in the greenhouse and my new propagator – see below, isn’t she pretty…?

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This was an early birthday present to myself – a bargain in the Black Friday sales.  It’s currently warming up some astrantia and echinacea seeds – fingers crossed it will do the trick.

Anyway, back to the monkey puzzle.  Moving it is Step 1 of my grand plan for the front garden, which I am attempting to totally redesign.  Previously shrubby and a bit, well, boring, I have already begun removing the most dull/old/overgrown shrubs and last year managed to introduce a few perennials.  This year I will be moving a few plants around, and planting as many perennials as I can get my hands on.   More on the Grand Plan in a later post – back to Step 1.

I wanted to move the monkey puzzle as I had put it to the front corner of the garden after we moved in here.  We acquired it when my youngest daughter was just a few days old so it’s almost 8 now.  It’s done fine and is gradually getting bigger (they grow very slowly for the first 5-10 years) but the branches are growing towards one direction, a bit like arms which are stretching towards you for a hug…but this would be a very bad idea as it’s incredibly prickly.  I think this is because the trees behind are shading it and it’s been growing in the direction it gets most sunlight (west).  So I’m hoping that moving it into the middle will enable it to get a more even tan, so to speak, and might help it to rebalance its direction of growth.

I was a bit nervous about moving a tree which is about seven years old and had been in its current position for about three years, but when I came across Rachel the Gardeners post on this here I was reassured that, with a bit of care, it should survive the transplanting process.  So I dug carefully around it, lifted it with as many roots intact as possible and replaced it into the nice deep hole I dug in the centre* of the front garden.

*Please note my entirely UNscientific method of measuring the centre: pace lengthways across the garden and pace the breadth.  Then take half the number of paces each way and you’re in the middle.  Simples.  I don’t really do measuring.

Et voila – one replanted monkey puzzle tree.

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I really like it there – it seems to change the whole nature of the front garden.  I guess it’s the addition of a focal point.  So I’m hoping that I can nurture it into its new home and that it will continue to grow and thrive, and that in years to come I can give people directions to my home by telling them ‘we’re the first house as you enter the village – you can’t miss us as there’s a massive monkey puzzle tree slap bang in the middle of the front garden.’

Now for the botanical bit…

Monkey puzzle (Araucaria araucana) originates in Chile, South America and came to Britain in the 1800s.  Its common name derives from this time, when it was very rare to see one.  Apparently Sir William Molesworth, who owned a young specimen at Pencarrow garden in Cornwall was showing it to a friend who remarked “It would puzzle a monkey to climb that”.  The name has stuck – as has the novelty of seeing one in someone’s garden and my own children frequently enjoying shouting ‘MONKEY PUZZLE’ at the top of their voices when we pass one.

Trees can grow more than 12 metres tall, although it will take at least 20 years for it to reach its full height.  They usually bear either male or female cones, although it won’t produce seeds until it is at least 30-40 years old.  It’s thought they can live up to 1000 years.

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

Lobelia learning curve

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!

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