Things I find in the garden never cease to amaze

THINGS I FIND IN THE GARDEN NEVER CEASE TO AMAZE

It is quite true.  Like everyone else, I should love to unearth a crock of Roman gold coins and we do live near to Roman remains.  To date, however, the most lovely thing I have dug up in the vegetable garden is a brass military button from the Staffordshire Regiment.

I have no idea how old it is but, as you can see, with a lot of hard work, it polished up beautifully and sits in pride of place on our sitting room mantlepiece.  It would be lovely to think it was off the uniform of someone who lived in the house and was home on leave from fighting in one of the two world wars – and survived.

 

Patterns of nature

Nature is quite amazing. Take a look at the photograph of the log which I picked up in the woodshed.  I have absolutely no idea which insect it was that made that delightful pattern as it feasted on the green moss but to recreate it, as a piece of decorative artwork, would cost an awful lot of money.  We humans do think ourselves very clever – well many do – but when you find something like this it puts our role into perspective.

Learning from each other

Mrs GG and I have been watching one of the robins in our garden trying, in vain, to access the squirrel-proof sunflower heart feeders.  The poor little thing tried and tried but simply could not manage it.  He looked enviously on as the various tits, goldfinches and other birds made it look so simple.

Then, another robin simply flew up to the feeder, nipped inside and scoffed a fair quantity of sunflower hearts.  Our poor little bird sat in the hedge and watched.  We have no idea whether the two of them communicated but lo and behold, our previously not so nimble robin, learned the lesson and now he too is a regular visitor inside the feeder.  We can learn a lot from nature.

Rabbit-proof fence

Three years ago, I planted a long laurel hedge and to keep the young plants safe from marauding rabbits, who immediately started eating them, I erected a wire fence around the entire area.  We called it the submarine and it was shaped like that.

Last weekend I decided it was time to remove the wire and make the hedge look part of the garden.  But I did not take into account the strength of the grass that had grown through it.  When putting it up, I carefully folded about 8 inches of wire flat onto the grass to stop the rabbits digging underneath.  But my goodness, trying to get rid of it was a Herculean task.

At first, I simply tried to pull it up but the grass was far stronger, and I ripped the bottom off the wire and the flat area simply stayed put.    In the end, I had to bring out the old grass hand clippers and push them under the wire and snip away.   The hedge is about 70 yards long but, fortified by Mrs GG’s coffee, I completed the uncoupling in just over an hour.

Wildlife potential

When we put the laurels in they were a couple of feet tall and now, some of them are well over six feet so it is going to be a lovely hedge in a few years’ time and, I hope, home to a lot of wildlife.

Happy Gardening

The Grumpy Gardener

The cost of feeding garden birds is enough to turn your feathers white

The cost of feeding garden birds is enough to turn your feathers white

Mrs GG and I are both very keen on our garden birds but the cost of feeding them in spiralling.  Just before Christmas, to ensure they had uninterrupted festive meals, I bought replacement sacks of peanuts, sunflower hearts and mixed corn.

The sunflower hearts won’t last a month but the other two will not be finished until spring.  But the cost!  It was more than £60.  You really have to love your birds to fork that amount out. 

On top of that we supplement the feeding with bread and meat fat plus the fat balls.  But our birds are fussy eaters.  They used to scoff down the peanuts and fat balls until I introduced a squirrel proof sunflower heart feeder.  Well that was it.   Our epicurean feathered friends largely ignore their former favourites but squabble like rats in a dustbin over the sunflower hearts.

Regular visitors

On an average day we will have regular visits to our bird table and feeding stations from great tits, blue tits, long trailed tits, hedge and house sparrows, dunnocks, a pair of nuthatches, chaffinches, an occasional bullfinch and the beautiful goldfinches.  Feeding off the floor we have robins, pigeons, pheasant, magpies, jackdaws and crows.  We even have the spotted woodpecker who visits us most days.  He too loves the sunflower hearts.  So, on balance, it is worth the expense.  But all of this is in addition to keeping two pheasant feeders full of egg layer pellets.   They do attract all sorts of different birds and badgers.

It is interesting to note that the charming greenfinches, who used to be very regular feeders, have disappeared and we have not seen hide nor hair of them for almost a year.   Our other real sadness is that our wonderful barn owls, who had been with us for more than 30 years, have been driven away since the Lioncourt housing development in adjacent fields.   Our lovely buzzard ignores the 140 houses and is still a regular visitor, surveying the scene majestically from his perch high up on a larch tree.

A mystery visitor

But just before Christmas I spotted something that made me fetch my binoculars.  It was a jet black bird with a yellow bill and feet and a startlingly snow white head and beak.  We looked through our bird books but found nothing.  So, in the end, I emailed my friend Paul Stancliffe at the British Trust for Ornithology down in Thetford.

Paul immediately identified our mystery avian visitor.  It is almost certainly a leucistic Blackbird.  That’s a blackbird with a feather pigmentation problem.  They can be completely white but not albino as they will have the normal coloured eyes rather than pink.   It is believed to be a genetic condition so lets hope our bird finds a mate.

I was in my greenhouse at the weekend creating a bubble-wrap shelter around a banana tree given to us my our daughter, Emma.  As I was putting the finishing touches to Staffordshire’s very own Crystal Palace, I was aware of movement under one of the benches.

 

 

 

 

 

I slowly turned round and sitting on an upturned flower pot, with its twinkly little eyes focussed on my shelter, was the most enchanting wren.  I’ve seen them before in the greenhouse in winter and believe they get in through a disused air vent.   I bet this little bird was working out precisely how he or she could get inside my mini hot-house to stave off the winter chills – and that must be an excellent idea.  They are lovely little birds and very clever.   

Happy gardening, The Grumpy Gardener

Hot under the collar

Hot under the collar                                                           

I’m thoroughly fed up with this unremitting hot weather. Mrs Grumpy Gardener loves the sun and keeps telling me to come and sit down. No time. As soon as the sun is off different areas of the garden, I’m out with the hose and watering can.

The vegetable cage is the most difficult because the planted-out brassicas, beans, leeks, courgettes, squash and spinach beet are all desperate for a long, cool drink once the oven is turned off.  It’s a two-hour job every evening and goodness knows what the cost will be on the water meter.

The water snake

The herbaceous border is also tricky because most of the plants do like a drink – but not all of them. And then there is the damage caused by the trailing hose. My silent curses plumb new depths with the performance of the water snake. Not only does it damage plants, but it also kinks and stops the flow of water. I stomp off down the line of the hose to find the cause only to realise, once I have been drenched, that I didn’t turn it off first!

Water lot of effort

The real exceptions to my watery grumpiness are my urns, containers and hanging baskets.  I derive a great deal of enjoyment from them – apart from the Sherpa Tensing slugs that crawl up at least three feet to feast on the content of the urns. It’s the order of the boot for those little perishers.

Watering my urns, containers and hanging baskets is quite different from the rest of the garden. I use a two gallon can without a rose and each Sunday I give them a liquid feed. We have four stone urns along one South-facing low wall plus smaller stone baskets and they all need a prodigious volume of water – every evening in this hot weather.

Bird bites

Then I have to look after my little avian friends. Mrs GG puts out crumbs and finely diced pieces of fat onto the bird tables each morning and I fill the feeders with fat balls, peanuts, tiny little black seeds the name of which I have totally forgotten and sunflower hearts.

Almost all the birds love the latter and we have a wide range of tits, gold and green finches, nuthatches, sparrows and, of course, robins that love them.

Grey matter

Two chief grumps: firstly, the wretched grey squirrels (tree rats) destroy the feeders on average every four or five weeks and then, the more easily remedied bird mess.

Do any readers of this column have any remedies for solving my squirrel problem? What I’d really like is a clear Pyrex feeder that the rascals would not be able to dig their teeth into. Oh for the return of the lovely red Squirrel, Nutkins, of my childhood.

No angry birds

As for the other problem: every fortnight I take the feeders down around lunch time, when the birds don’t seem to be active, and wash them with a mild solution of weak disinfectant. I then dry them thoroughly, refill and hang them back up. At least my garden birds are not grumpy!