15 Minutes of Fame for the Grumpy Gardener

15 MINUTES OF FAME FOR THE GRUMPY GARDENER

I believe it was Andy Warhol who said that everyone will have 15 minutes of fame.  Well, I’ve just had mine.

Regional Radio

The organisers of national Slug Week (5 – 11 April), in which children and families are asked to go into their gardens and count slugs and measure the largest,  asked me to talk about it on BBC Radio Devon.

 

Well, it obviously struck a chord because I then did interviews on radio stations in Manchester, Coventry and Warwickshire, Kent, Derby and Somerset.

The interviewers all thought it was a clever idea to attract the children and encourage them to look into different aspects of wildlife – even slugs.

All things slugs

I did a bit of research and threw in some interesting slug facts. Did you know that slugs can have as many as 27,000 teeth, have their own individual slime trails and a cubic metre of garden soil contains an average of 200 slugs?   Slug Week was organised by the company that makes Nemaslug, a nematode-based slug control.

Most of the interviewers didn’t know what nematodes are so I explained they are microscopic worms that live naturally in garden soil where one variety seeks out and destroys slugs.

Early start

Unfortunately, most of the interviews were over the Easter weekend and I was on air between 7.20am and 7.50am. The Bank Holiday alarm didn’t delight Mrs GG but, despite the early start, all the interviewers said that I didn’t sound remotely grumpy.  However you, dear readers, know better than that!

Happy gardening.

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

Lockdown – it’s more like a shutdown and as for Monty…

LOCK DOWN – IT’S MORE LIKE A SHUT DOWN AND AS FOR MONTY …….

I had just two items on my gardening shopping list – seaweed fertiliser and a waterproof marker pen for plant labels.  Nothing outrageous or difficult.  Could I get either?  No.   In the end I had to drive 24 miles to my nearest garden centre who had both – and a lot more besides.

When I asked at our local major high street store why they were not in stock, that same old excuse was trotted out.  Apparently, Covid has attacked all waterproof market pen and seaweed fertiliser manufacturers – I think not.

Turf Wars

Mowing the lawn

Then, to make me feel even more miserable, I sat down to read my Times newspaper only to find Monty Don telling me to stop mowing my lawn and let it go wild for the benefit of the planet and wildlife.   He says that mowing grass is “about the most injurious thing you can do to wildlife.”

Poppycock.

Alternative Facts

I’d love to know the factual evidence on which he bases that claim.  He had a go at petrol lawnmowers which are still the major fuel source in the UK but Mr Don missed out a few alternative vital facts.  Firstly, mowing the lawn provides vital exercise for everyone and is claimed to be good for physical and mental wellbeing.  Secondly, there is a massively increasing market for battery powered lawnmowers, strimmers, hedge cutters and blowers and I’m told that it won’t be long before they overtake petrol and mains-electric as the major power source.  The modern batteries are now so good they power big garden tractors.   Thirdly, we all like advice but not instruction on matters as personal as how we cut our lawns.

Wildlife Haven

I mow mine with a petrol powered tractor mower and the garden is full of wildlife,  Why?  Because we create areas specifically for the birds, mammals and insects.  At the last count Mrs GG and I have identified more than 60 different species of birds in addition to foxes, badgers, moles, stoats, hedgehogs, bats and all sorts of little brown things that all seem to delight in my mown and striped lawn.

Wildlife on the lawn

Monty’s television gardening programmes are always enjoyable viewing but do please stick to the facts.

Compost Contents 

Hands full of compostMy final groan today is what you can find in bags of compost other than what it says on the packet.  I’m thinking of creating a museum of unwanted items from compost.  In the last few bags I’ve found partially charred sections of wood, plastic plant labels, silver paper, bottle caps and lengths of string.

I appreciate that this is indicates the source of the raw material, but the manufacturers charge enough money for a bag, so check the content.

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