Category Archives: Gardening

Sorry, it turned into a rant

It’s that time of the day again.

The sun is draping itself gently on the rooftops of Nottingham as I stare out of the window at the back of the house and try to look like a writer. There’s still a while before sunset and the sky has not yet taken on any colour, but I am a patient man and I live in hope. It’s low enough to light up the trees in the garden and it is doing a particularly fine job of lighting up the variegated holly which are looking quite spectacular tonight.

The view, rather like the Amazon, has been deforested over the years.

On our left the neighbour removed an ornamental plum and a crab apple tree, as well as ripping up their lawn and spreading the garden with gravel. They also pushed over our laburnum tree when they had a new fence put up. It didn’t need moving, but they had never liked it and used to hack at it whenever they got a chance. I can’t, of course, prove that it was done with malice, but I’m pretty sure that this was the case.

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Small Tortoiseshell on Red Valerian

That same corner was the site of a strange case of forsythia die-back, a disease that only seems to have existed in one corner in one particular garden in the country. A man give to muttering dark things about his neighbours might justifiably think that they had poured something through the gap in the fence to poison his plants.

When I win the lottery I am going to fit this house with a high-powered sound system and it out to students. This will be my revenge. I’m also going to fit water feature and wind chimes – let’s see how they like it.

To be fair, they do still have two Leylandii, which are the only trees, apart from ours, in a six garden area.

Over the years a couple of birches have disappeared from a garden at the back of us, supposedly removed because they were rotten. They looked good when they were cut, and they haven’t been replaced.

The worst loss was the hawthorn. It looked to me to be shared between four gardens because it had grown at the junction of the fences but one of the neighbours took it on himself to remove it one day and that was that.

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Arnot Hill

That was a really bad day for biodiversity. We frequently used to have nesting birds in that tree – mainly blackbirds.

The neighbours on the other side, the ones who used to complain regularly, took several trees out too, though apart from a few Leylandii I can’t remember what they had. They were the ones that reported me to the the local Community Support Officer because of the brambles, the overhanging plums and the leaves which blew into her garden. She actually wanted me to cut the trees down to stop the leaves and the plums dropping in her garden.

As I pointed out, you can’t stop leaves (and there couldn’t have been many of them) and I thought of the plums as giving them free fruit, rather than being a nuisance. You can’t help some people.

The brambles, you say? Yes, I admit they are a nuisance, but several of them were actually coming from their garden into ours under the fence. A previous gardener seems to have had cultivated blackberries in the garden and they have always been rampant. And juicy. I suppose some people just don’t like fresh fruit.

We’re not savages, by the way, and not even particularly bad neighbours, despite the way things may sound, so we did cut the brambles and the plum branches. Couldn’t stop the leaves though.

That leaves our garden as the only one making an effort for nature. We have  a privet, which I confess was a mistake, the holly, a plum, the one we don’t know the name of, and a Leylandii. This needs topping as it is really too big for the garden now, but most years we have pigeons nesting in it and I never get round to it. We also have a couple of apple trees in pots but I always feel guilty about them as they look so dispirited. I really must give them some compost.

I didn’t really mean to run on about the deforestation of back gardens and the drive to force out wildlife, but I did. Sorry about the crusading, but I just don’t know why people don’t just live in flats, or even dungeons, if they hate trees and wildlife so much.

It’s an outdoor space full of birds and insects and even animals and kids. It’s not an extension of the living room. You can tell the difference because of the absence of carpets, though I’ve recently seen astroturf on sale in a garden centre so even that distinction is being blurred. I’ve been thinking that I really must get on top of the garden next year. And plant more trees.

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Apple at Mencap Gardens

Time to Stand and Stare

I’m going to post about the garden to start with. It’s a nice calm place to start.

We bought sausage baguettes from the Co-op on Wilford Lane and ate them as we watched the geese fly over on their daily trip to the river. It’s an extravagance but it’s nice to eat out once in a while, and it’s hardly Babylonian in its excess.

There was a robin, a crow, a few pigeons, some magpies and a flight of about a dozen long-tailed tits. You’s think I’d manage some decent photos but I had the small camera and it was set for close-ups. By the time I’d adjusted it I normally found I was zooming in on an empty branch.

The flowers were less flighty and I even got a couple of wildlife shots, though bees and caterpillars aren’t the hardest of subjects.

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Caterpillar and flower. My flimsy knowledge of plants and wildlife is revealed for all to see.

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Safer ground here – it’s a bee and a nasturtium

Imagine my mind like an over-full bookcase. As you force a volume of coin knowledge in at one end a book of insect knowledge falls off the other end.

Eventually the Council House clock struck nine and I had to leave for work. I may cover the events of the day later – breaking a grandmother’s heart, talking to a lunatic and cynically laying a trap for a potential young collector.

Those, of course, are just the highlights.

Runner Beans - guess what's for tea

Runner Beans – guess what’s for tea

In Victorian times they were grown for their decorative flowers rather than the beans. You have to wonder who first decided to taste them.

Hoverflies and Broken Dreams

Subtitle: Poppies, Pollinators and Parcels.

I was torn between the two titles, but went for the bleaker one because I’m a shameless attention seeker.

I walked in to work this morning and found we had sixteen parcels to pack, It doesn’t seem much to do in three hours, though it’s probably fair to say that after seeing a couple of customers and queuing at the Post Office we had two and a half hours of packing. Or five hours, seeing as there were two of us.

That’s about twenty minutes per parcel, which seems OK, though when you have 100 loose coins to pack into a non-rattling parcel it can take a bit of time.

Part of the problem is that we have over two thousand items of stock on eBay and not enough storage space. We can locate 95% of the stock with ease, but we have to pack and repack the cupboards each time, which is time consuming, and the system is starting to creak.

To be fair, the cupboards are starting to creak too and I’m beginning to worry about being crushed to death in a cascade of coins and shattered woodwork. And shattered dreams. It was never meant to end like this…

Despite the somewhat gloomy thoughts, I am cheered by the poppy photos – they were absolutely packed with pollinators this morning, which validates our garden choices. They often have pollinators on them but the light and wind often work against me, and the numbers aren’t normally as impressive.

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Poppy with Pollinators

 

Open Gardens

Julia visited some local Open Gardens on Saturday. If you are interested in others there is a website here which details all the national ones.

One was clearly the result of spending thousands on hard landscaping and plants straight from the garden centre. I don’t know why you would do that on our street as the house prices don’t justify the cost of expensive garden work, and on our side of the street (as this one was) the gardens slope away from the house and face North.

If I’d been a gardener when I moved to Nottingham I wouldn’t have bought this house. Nor would I have slabbed the front garden to save work. However, plants still manage to grow in the front garden, as you can see from the poppies.

The plants were all planted in buckets because the soil, it seems, is so poor. That is strange because our soil, just a few hundred yards away is quite good. It wasn’t bad when we moved in and with compost and hoed weeds, falling leaves and leafmold it has improved over the years.  It could be a lot better, but we are best described as sporadic gardeners. Having worked as a self-employed jobbing gardener for 10 years I have to confess to neglecting my own garden dreadfully.

The plots were built up using sand when they built the houses eighty years ago, and the underlying geology is sandstone, so the soil tend to be a bit light. However, it is well drained and easy to work, and does respond well to feeding. There were allotments here before they built houses so it was hardly a barren desert.

I did, however, bring back a lot of compostable debris from my work as a gardener, so it all worked out well in the end.

That, I think is where many gardeners go wrong. Spend money on hard landscaping and plants and you will get a garden you can show off. Spend time on the soil and you will get a garden where you can grow things.

Next year I suspect this gardener will have to buy more plants from the Garden Centre to fill her garden again. One thing she won’t have to do is mow the lawn (or compost the cuttings) because the “lawn” is astroturf.

We will, once again, be cutting things back in a desperate attempt to keep ours looking vaguely like a garden. We will also return to planting calabrese and kale in the flower beds. It seems to do well and the pigeons don’t spot it like they do when you plant it in a vegetable bed.

In contrast to the posh garden there was another, where kids were playing. The owner kept apologising for this but Julia told them that was what gardens are for.

They were just doing it to help raise funds for local charities and show what an ordinary garden looks like.

It takes all sorts, and they are both valid uses of a garden, depending on your ambitions and lifestyle.

We had Hummingbird Hawk Moths in the garden a few years ago. We also had a nesting Blackcap. This year we had Painted Ladies.  You don’t get that with a tidy garden.

Red Valerian, like poppies, grows vigorously from cracks in the paving. It is a great food plant for moths and butterflies, though it’s a bit of a weed and not seen in the better sort of garden.

A Few Photos

Here are some photos from earlier in the week. The year is shaping up nicely, though I’m a little worried that the papers are predicting another Beast from the East with temperatures below freezing. My only comfort is that they’ve been reporting on it all winter and it hasn’t happened yet.

The primulas are doing well. As is the blossom. If only the photography was up to scratch.

Here we have some landscaping features – a newly donated chimney pot, the newly painted table and the newly painted log. There’s a lot of new stuff happening in the garden just at the moment, as you may have guessed from the unimaginative titles.

Finally, I’ve thrown in a magpie. I like magpies, and they sit still long enough for me to get a shot.

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Magpie – so black it’s actually blue in places

And Again!

Sorry about last night. I didn’t have a lot of time between returning home from seeing my Dad and setting off to take Number Two Son to work. In between the two events I ate tea, shouted at TV, lost my sense of humour and realised that I only had fifteen minutes to write a post. I do have a little time after getting back from dropping him off, but it can be a bit touch and go. I will try not to let it happen again.

Unfortunately, the gardens have been attacked again. All the plants that escaped destruction last time have been tipped over, crushing seedlings and losing seeds, including seeds bought by individual members of the group. A lemon tree, which has been growing in a pot for several years has been smashed to pieces, all the drawers searched, screws, nails and tools thrown around and Feathers McGraw has been dismantled again. They also damaged the plastic in the door this time.

The group members are upset, perplexed and annoyed. The police are doing their best. Julia has been preparing a press release, hoping to get some support and possibly donations, but she’s been told not to by her boss, and even banned from putting anything about the attacks on their private Facebook group.

This has put the start of the growing season back by a couple of months. Thank goodness we hadn’t moved the new cacti and succulents down to the gardens.

On the plus side, they sighted Brimstones, Peacocks, Small Tortoiseshells and Hummingbird Hawkmoths.

Hummingbird Hawk Moth

We’ve entered the sighting on the Butterfly Conservation sightings page – there are 84 for the UK this year, and three in the area (Burton, Derby and Ripley), or 85 and four, after ours.

Sorry it’s a poor photo, but it’s the best I have, and I prefer to use my own when I can.

Scum

I helped Julia unload the car this morning, as we had various donations from home and neighbours  for the garden.

After that I started taking some flower pictures, until cursing from Julia alerted me to the fact that all was not well in the polytunnel.

I made my way across at a rapid amble (which is about as quick as I get these days) to find that all was not well. The tunnel had had visitors during the night and they had not behaved well.

It could have been worse, as they hadn’t touched the tunnel itself. They had, however, thrown plants on the floor, decapitated Feathers McGraw, rifled the tools, looked through drawers, and emptied the canes from newly made bug boxes onto the floor.

The perpetrators then went on to interfering with cars in the school car park (there were evening classes in progress). It seems that the school doesn’t have cameras in the car park. They have disclaimer notices up so, it seems, they don’t bother with security.