Two of the most striking trees we have in our garden are poplars, "populus candicans" to be precise. In Spring their leaves start out a shade of pale lime-green combined with a shade of pink and with pale cream edges. As Summer wears on, the shade becomes more green, but still with the cream edge. The species is fairly common in the sense that most garden centres would have them for sale, and yet, everyone who visits our garden always asks the name of the tree.
The main reason we bought them, apart from their intrinsic beauty, is in the hope of finding the caterpillars of the puss moth. These are delightful creatures with pink faces, black eyes and lime-green bodies with black patterns on them. Most striking of all is that when disturbed, these little larvae extrude two red "tails", which are modified claspers. They are mainly found on willow and poplar trees and cause no end of fascination to children and adults alike.
Sunday, 31 December 2006
Saturday, 30 December 2006
Much as I love the many trees which make up the backbone of our garden, it is particularly in Winter when the deciduous trees and shrubs are bare, that I appreciate the evergreens we planted. Our garden is 225 metres above sea level and the plants suffer from strong winds which sweep across the rolling countryside. We know to our cost the effects of wind burn on less hardy plants as we have in past years lost escallonia, hebe, buddleia, roses, pyracantha, eucalyptus, rosemary and lavender.
I knew before we started choosing the evergreens that leylandii hedging would be burned black, even though we didn't want to give them garden space. Instead, we preferred to choose varieties of cedar, holly, thuja and juniper and grow them as specimen plants which punctuate the garden and show themselves off best throughout the dull days of winter.
Each evergreen earns its keep in the garden. Birds come to feed on holly berries and seeds from cones. The smell of the cedar as you brush past it, and the beauty of its glaucus-blue needles, as well as its shape and form gives year-round pleasure. Thujas and junipers do not simply stay evergreen, but change colour subtly throughout the seasons. Thrush, blackbird, robin and wren are happy to find nesting places in them too.
Friday, 29 December 2006
Beeches are interesting trees to have in any garden, because of their wonderful lime-green foliage in Spring. They make excellent hedging too when planted densely. Being hardy, they withstand heavy frosts and snow and if planted in a strategic place, afford protection to other plants in the garden. In Winter they keep the protective brown leaf cases from which the new growth emerges in Springtime.
Not content with solely green, we also invested in a miniature copper beech with its beautiful trailing habit, a standard copper which stands tall and proud and looks so majestic, and a tri-colour beech with its pink and green and coppery tones. In Spring, the leaves of these copper beeches begin with a shade of greenish-purple before making a gradual change to copper.
Of all the beeches we now have growing in our garden, the beech hedge is the place which has been preferred over the years by the robin, thrush and blackbird for their nesting sites. We have also watched the titmice, wrens, and finches combing the dense growth for all kinds of juicy insects and grubs. Beeches, therefore, are an asset as they supply good nesting sites, a constant supply of live insects as well as nuts in Autumn, can withstand the ravages of Winter, and display coats in a variety of hues, from lime-green through to purple and copper.
Thursday, 28 December 2006
When I made sketches for the layout of the garden, I noted down a list of the different kinds of trees we would like to have. Since it was to be a wildlife garden these were to be indigenous species mainly, ones which would provide good nesting sites, be able to host a multitude of insects and have berries or seeds for winter food. We also wanted to be able to see through the trees to the countryside beyond, and not be hemmed in by them.
As a result, we have many species of birch trees around the perimeter. We love the tracery of the foliage, the dancing movement of the leaves in the breeze, the catkins in the Spring, and the fact that they support a huge variety of insects for the birds. The Jacquemontii stands out with its amazing white papery bark, which it self-peels each Autumn. We also have a few pendulum birches which are beautiful to admire in all seasons.
Rowans have always been a great favourite of ours and this garden is no exception. We have a Joseph's Rock, which, as well as having yellow berries in Autumn, turns a magnificent shade of red before it sheds its leaves. There are many native rowans also, which have a profusion of red berries, and a Cashmiriana which has white berries. In one bed, we also have one called Chinese Lace, which has particularly beautiful foliage.
Wednesday, 27 December 2006
Getting rid of the weed mountain was a real stroke of genius. Our home is only a few minutes walk to a nearby river which, being in its middle stages, meanders the countryside around these parts. There are several ox-bow lakes nearby and areas for special scientific interest. In times of heavy rainstorms when the river occasionally floods, large sections of the banking are often carried downstream. When walking along the banks of this river, the evidence of the corrosion is all too clear. It was in the interests of nature conservation, therefore, when a local farmer agreed to come with his trailer and remove our weed mountain to shore up the river bank bordering his fields.
As for the soil mountains, which were created by the excavation from the ponds, we could not believe how quickly they disappeared. By the time we had built up little banks around each pond, and made a high bed to help deaden the sound of passing traffic, there was only a little left to deposit along the front of Little Dublin. The other island beds were made by digging deep pathways around each one and piling the soil on top. These beds created areas of interest, to be planted up through time, rather than having a flat mundane landscape.
The mountains of small stones and boulders were all put to good use too. The larger boulders were used to create a border of stepping stones around each pond as well as providing a hard surface for easy viewing. It was also an excellent way to secure the pond liner and also protect it from the heat of the sun's rays. Some of the smaller stones and pebbles were placed inside each pond, again to protect the liner, but, more importantly, to create very gently sloping banks as wildlife access areas. The remainder were used to define the border between garden and pathways.
Tuesday, 26 December 2006
So many happy summers of my childhood were spent experiencing the joys of farming life with my grandparents. They lived on an island, with their farm in close proximity to the sea, which afforded the added pleasures of beach-combing. Being surrounded by all the wonders of nature, in a loving, secure environment, I could not fail to be strongly influenced by it all.
The barley harvests, in particular, are indelibly imprinted in my memory. To this day, I can recall clearly the sounds of the reaper and the binder, and the cameraderie of all the farm-hands. It took all day to build up the hay-stacks of barley straw with pitch-forks. My task was to carry the picnic of crusty bread and home-baked goodies across the fields to feed the workers. I remember the hurl back to the farm at the end of a long day, and the feelings of unease I had, because the floor of the reaper was crawling with earwigs.
When we moved to this house, which nestles in a little dip in the land, I could not take my eyes off the barley field behind it. All those childhood memories came flooding back. The lower part of the house also has yellow bricks, called "rustic straw-thatch". I remembered also the barley harvests and how the seed had often been referred to as barleycorns, meaning "grains of seed". It seemed as good a name as any to call our new home.
Posted by A wildlife gardener at 12/26/2006
Monday, 25 December 2006
The oxygenators were only about five inches long and had little metal weights on them to aid their journey to the bottom of the ponds, where they would wedge themselves in the soil and begin to grow. Never did we imagine that, with time, they would grow into an underwater forest, a metre long in parts, and that we would have to thin out their growth with garden shears. All the other plants were bare-rooted and had to be potted up in special baskets with holes in the sides and base. We had to use soil which was low in nutrients. That was easy. We dug up an area with clayey soil and used all of that. We used strips of old sacking to line the base of the pots.
For the floating leaved plants we chose a variety of large and small water-lilies. Among the emergent plants we bought are bogbean, arrowhead, the small flowering rush, greater spearwort, water violets, flag irises, and a variety of grasses. In the wetland area we planted bistort, lots of marsh marigold, monkeyflower, ragged robin, loosestrife, golden sedge, water mint, veronica and water forget-me-not. These all continue to flower throughout the season and, with their colour and scent, bring many insects, dragon and damselflies, bees, wasps and hoverflies to the ponds.
Posted by A wildlife gardener at 12/25/2006
Sunday, 24 December 2006
Nowadays it is common practice, for those who find they have a problem with a sudden development of greenish/bluish algal bloom in their pond, to go to a garden centre and buy little mats of barley straw, which are then floated on the surface. Sixteen years ago, it was a relatively new idea that, with time, barley straw could eliminate the algae. There were no little mats in garden centres then. We bought a bale of barley straw from our local farmer, and stuffed it into old onion sacks and floated these on the ponds. The old man from the village derived much pleasure each time he passed by and saw the floating sacks, but we just smiled and waved, and thought to ourselves how wonderful the ponds would be with all the new plants we had ordered.
Posted by A wildlife gardener at 12/24/2006
Saturday, 23 December 2006
All these questions occupied us as we watched the water going from the hose, ever so slowly, into each pond. We never imagined that it would take the best part of a whole day to fill each pond. The day after each was filled they looked so pristine and crystal clear. The soil in the bottom had re-settled. The water looked very inviting but even in late summer, it was very cold on the fingers. After a few days, we woke up one sunny morning to discover, instead of crystal clear water, we had two pea-soupers.
At first we wondered how it could have happened so quickly. But then we reasoned that, late summer or not, there was still sufficient sunlight and warmth to heat the empty ponds and thus create an algal bloom. We decided to scoop out jam jars of the pond water for a closer inspection. There were millions of tiny microscopic algae moving around. These thrive on high nutrients, and it is inevitable that a new pond filled with tap water will have high nutrient levels. There was no way we could have saved enough rainwater to fill our ponds. But there was no time to delay in thinking about that now. We would have to down tools and go to a garden centre which stocked aquatic plants.
Friday, 22 December 2006
All the soil for the base of each pond had to be riddled to ensure there were no hidden sharp stones or small pieces of glass. This was another painstaking job which we double-checked for safety. It was amazing to see the amount of movement in the liner as the soil went in. At this stage the boulders had to be re-positioned to stop them from rolling down into the ponds.
At last the day came when the ponds were to be slowly filled with water. We had all awaited this day with great anticipation. How long would it take to fill each pond, we wondered? Would the ponds turn out to be level, or would we need to stop the water in mid-flow and adjust one of the sides to make it level? Would the soil rise and float on the top and if so, how long would it take to settle? How long would it take before we had creatures coming to the ponds? Would they come before or after we had bought plants? How many plants would we need for two relatively large ponds? And how many oxygenators?
Thursday, 21 December 2006
Before buying the butyl it was necessary to calculate the amount of liner we needed, which involved knowing the width, length and maximum depth of each pond. Then we had to multiply the length times the width, with twice the maximum depth added onto each dimension. We also added an allowance for an overlap around the edges, to create small wetland areas around parts of each pond. Lastly, there was a further allowance made for the soil which we would put on top of the butyl to form the base of the ponds. This would help naturalise the ponds for plants and wildlife.
Once we had the butyl to hand, the next step was best done by at least two people. The idea was to unfold the liner over each pond to position it centrally. My husband and Number One Son gathered large stones from our boulder mountain to place on top of the butyl around one side of the pond to stop movement in the liner. Gradually they worked their way around the pond, adding more boulders as required.
After this stage, my husband went right down inside each pond, in his stocking soles, making necessary adjustments to the liner and creating overlaps around corners and on the shelves. It was a fairly tricky and time-consuming job, but a vital one before the ponds could be filled.
Posted by A wildlife gardener at 12/21/2006
Wednesday, 20 December 2006
I planted up the spaces between the capping stones with little sedums, which continue to bloom each summer. The middle stones on the top were bare initially, till one day, while browsing in a shop for gardening gloves, we came across a sundial. My husband looked on as I read the two lines of verse on it, taken from a romantic poem by Robert Browning.
I never fail to look at the stone rose without remembering my parents with love and affection, my kind neighbour without whom the project would not have been possible, and my wonderful husband who capped it all when he cemented the sundial in the middle.
Grow old along with me,
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made;
Our times are in His hand,
Who sayeth “A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half; trust God; see all, nor be afraid!”
Tuesday, 19 December 2006
When tackling a major project such as ours was, there are many days of sheer, back-breaking slog, which seem to stretch on and on without respite. It's important, therefore, to find a little diversion, to keep one's spirits up. One such project came about when a friendly neighbour, who was having a small stone wall removed to widen her garden, asked me if I would like the capping stones. Though only a handful in number, they were very pretty to look at. I decided it would be a good idea to make a feature of them.
As a child, my dad and I used to go for walks in the countryside every Sunday afternoon. As we walked along, he would recount memories of his childhood growing up on an island farm, and the beauty of nature around him. He described fields, carpeted in a succession of wild flowers throughout the season, and named many of the wild flowers we saw on our walks. My favourite was the beautiful dog-rose. My mum's name was Rose, so it was my dad's favourite wild flower too.
Posted by A wildlife gardener at 12/19/2006
Monday, 18 December 2006
One day during that first summer, when the rain put an end to any plans for working outdoors, we decided to go to the National Library to search for a map of our village around 1900. Apart from a few new houses, it was amazing how little the village had changed.The outbuilding was clearly marked as three dwelling houses. After making enquiries from the oldest resident in the village, we discovered that it had indeed housed three separate families in the dim and distant past. But the last occupants had left in the sixties. Since then it had been used as sleeping quarters by Irish potato-pickers, who came here to work for the duration of the potato harvest. As this had been a regular occurence each year, the building had become known locally as Little Dublin.
As it now stood, it was in a state of disrepair. From the inside we could smell the mustiness. The back wall is built into the land, as was the habit of many old stone houses in these parts. A green line half-way up the wall, and across the whole length of it, told its own tale of dampness. A lot of the little window panes were broken or missing. Under three of the windows, the wall had collapsed entirely, letting in fresh air and rainwater.
From the outside too, the building looked in a sorry state. There were worrying gaps between most of the stones. There was no guttering, so the rain ran down the corrugated tin roof in little rivulets and formed deep puddles around the front of the building. Flakes of paint, once a coat of pristine white, were in parts a dampish-green colour and sparse at that. But I loved this old empty shell of a building with all its olde-worlde charm. It, and not the new bungalow we now occupied, had drawn me like a magnet.
Sunday, 17 December 2006
Never underestimate the power of brute force and ignorance. With no machinery to hand, we would need to improvise. Picture the scene in the story of The Enormous Turnip where all the characters are holding onto one another and pulling with all their might. Similarly, there we were, the delivery man, my husband, Number One Son, Number Two Son, and I, all inside the van, behind the butyl, huffing and puffing, pushing in synchronisation for all we were worth. The butyl hardly moved. At best it rocked to and fro, but always came back to rest in its original position. After many futile attempts to budge it, and getting nowhere, we all needed a rest to get our breath back. A new tactic was called for.
There was the length of washing-line I had used to delineate the shape of the ponds. If we could somehow manage to tie this around the butyl, we would each be able to take hold of a piece of the line, pull with all our might and heave the butyl out of the van. The trouble with that idea was that the butyl would come crashing down onto the large red chips on the drive, and they in turn would, in all probability, pierce the butyl, an outcome we wanted to avoid at all costs.
My husband then suggested we place two planks of wood against the van so that the butyl would roll down these, as we heaved on the rope. I can’t remember exactly how long this operation took, but in the end it worked. Suffice it to say that, by the end of the operation, each of us felt our arms had grown by two inches and we had rope burns as proof of our success.
Saturday, 16 December 2006
The delivery man, who was quite tired after having driven a distance of over 200 miles, reversed his transit van down the drive. Slamming the door, he got out holding up his invoice, and with a look of puzzlement on his face, asked if we knew the whereabouts of a farm called Barleycorn. Having assured him that he had indeed got the correct address and that this was not a farm, he then asked where we kept our forklift truck. When told we had no such equipment, the air began to turn blue as he grew more and more alarmed as to how we were going to unload the butyl liner from the van.
It was so heavy, he said, in a voice becoming louder by the minute, that hydraulic equipment had been needed to lever it onto a pallet, following which it had been lifted up by means of a forklift truck and placed in the van. There was no way, he said emphatically, to get the butyl off his van without the aid of machinery. What on earth had possessed us to imagine, when we had placed an order for butyl, that he would carry that kind of equipment on his van, he demanded to know.
Friday, 15 December 2006
The old man from the village, who had been aghast to find out that the JCB had been there to dig a hole for a pond for wildlife, and who had then questioned our sanity as to why we had not just sown grass instead, like everyone else, had now taken to leaning against the boundary wall, on a regular basis, to keep a close-eye on the proceedings. Oh, how I wish I'd had my camera at the ready, the day he wandered along the road and stared in disbelief at the enormous hole, now complete with fitted carpets. "What in the name......?" he broke off, looking at us with an expression which conveyed his sentiments that we were stark, staring mad. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall as wandered away, shaking his head and muttering to himself, "fitted carpets...?" to tell his wife that he was now convinced the family who had moved into the village were complete nutters. After that day, apart from grinning every time he saw us, he gave us a wide berth.
Thursday, 14 December 2006
Of all the small-scale habitats you could create in a garden, ponds are probably the most effective at bringing in extra wildlife. Having now gathered a sufficient supply of newspapers and old carpets, my husband was at last ready to begin constructing a variety of shelves which the ponds would need to support aquatic plants.
The shallowest shelf would be about a foot in depth to hold marginal plants such as water forget-me-not, marsh marigolds, veronica and monkeyflower. The second shelf would gradually slope down to about two feet in depth, and would support emergent plants such as irises, arrowhead, bogbean, and flowering rush. The deepest shelf would be about a metre in depth and would support the water-lilies. Oxygenating plants would be placed throughout the ponds.
With the radio for company, my husband beavered away for days on end at the shelving, till it was sufficiently strong enough to support plants. Then, following the information in the guide book from the library, he began to cover the whole area of the ponds in newspapers and then carpets. These were to prevent sharp stones and fragments of glass coming through the soil and piercing the butyl liner, which was to arrive within days.
Wednesday, 13 December 2006
When we lived in a town for twenty years, we used to pile up our old newspapers and empty bottles in our garage and take them by car each week to the local recycling bins. Then we moved to the village where we now live. We still continue to save up the things we are able to recycle, this time in our barn. But we now have to travel ten miles each way to the nearest town with recycling facilities. Living in the heart of the countryside, we are not afforded the various coloured bins which recycle the different types of waste. These are only provided for the town dwellers.
Sixteen years ago we amassed a mountain of newspapers in the barn. We'd been gathering them for months. Next to them were the rolls of old carpets from the coup. After rolling them out to measure the area they would cover, my husband realised they were insufficient to requirements. There was no question about it. My husband would need to resume his tramp-mode and pay a few more visits to the local coup.
Tuesday, 12 December 2006
Sixteen years ago when we moved here, we had to travel four miles to the nearest coup to dispose of any waste material or rubbish we didn't want. Having lived for almost twenty years in our previous home, and bearing in mind I was a bit of a squirrel, we had accumulated a fair amount of items we no longer required. On my husband's first visit to the coup he was met by a posse of unofficial coup-rakers, who led interesting lives re-arranging the waste material into various areas...household furniture, clothing, toys and tools etc. Anyone who came to the coup to dump their waste was asked if they were interested in any of the "finds". In effect, these men were like an original recycling group.
Our twenty-year-old suite badly needed a face-lift, but after doing our homework we discovered it was actually cheaper to buy a new one, than foot the bill for re-upholstery. When my husband, unshaven, wearing his shabby, filthy garden clothes and looking none too clean having been down the crater for most of the morning, delivered our old suite to the coup, he was met by the head of the coup-rakers, who delegated two underlings to carry it over to the furniture pile. Taking one look at my husband and the state he was in, and having just seen him deliver a very old, tatty suite, the head man obviously thought him to be some kind of tramp, and asked my husband if he could interest him in some decent-looking carpets. After slipping a few pounds to the gaffer, my husband, pleased with his "find", drove towards Barleycorn with the roof-rack and the boot piled high with smelly old carpets.
Posted by A wildlife gardener at 12/12/2006
Monday, 11 December 2006
At first glance the water seems crystal clear, but closer inspection reveals a multitude of minuscule creatures in a state of constant flux, the microscopic algae. Horse leeches with their suckers for holding onto prey, tubiflex worms with their heads down tubes in the mud, water fleas darting about and newly-hatched tadpoles clinging to the waterweeds with their their sticky glands are all part of the magical underwater world you marvel at together.
Then there's the caddis fly larva in his amazing, cleverly-built case and the great silver beetle with his voracious appetite, gobbling up all and sundry. Best of all, perhaps, is that first sighting of a creature, which suddenly appears out of the forest of undergrowth, dragon-like in appearance, the pond newt, closely followed by his mate. At that point the audible gasps become whoops of utter delight, and you realise you have hooked your children for life.
Sunday, 10 December 2006
Saturday, 9 December 2006
Posted by A wildlife gardener at 12/09/2006
Friday, 8 December 2006
Posted by A wildlife gardener at 12/08/2006