Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Loss of a good friend and planting for summer's Pollinators....

Hello All,

It really has been quite some time since my last post back in the nice weather last year when I was building a bridge over a flower border into my daughter's play area!

Time has moved on and to be honest no further work has been done in the garden other than the erection of about 220ft of mesh fencing around the bottom sections of the garden!

"Why the mesh fence when you're trying to encourage wildlife in?" I can hear you all asking.

Unfortunately just before Christmas we lost our old dog and best friend Choco! Those of you that watch my progress on here, facebook or even know me from the RSPB on-line Community will know that Choco really was my shadow and was always only a few inches away from me, particularly whilst I was out working in the garden! He was the most wonderful companion and so trusting for an older rescue dog who had such a bad start in life.

He featured in many a post on-line and some of my infamous 'badger stake-out' videos that we ran on the RSPB forum. In fact he became quite a celebrity in his own way.

Unfortunately Choco gave up his fight having suffered from old age and a couple of illnesses and on December 1st 2014 he let us know that he had had enough and was put to sleep at home in his bed with all his family around him. I'm not too 'macho' to say that I shed a good number of tears over the loss of such a special friend!

Choco having a snooze in his favourite place - out in the garden by my side so that he could keep an eye on me to ensure I didn't abandon him as he had experienced in earlier life...
Choco R.I.P 01/12/2014

You are now probably wondering where this post is going and how it will ever link into my garden project?

Well it's that fencing again, remember that I said that I laid about 220ft of fencing at short notice over the Christmas period? There was a reason.....

Following the loss of Choco our home and lives felt empty so the decision was made to rescue another dog and this would be our third rescue to date. Having rescued Choco in his later years we wanted a younger dog so that our daughter could be a bit more hands on and we hoped would have a good amount of time growing up alongside it.

When you put children into the mix your choice of dog has to be considered very carefully so after much deliberation and research we decided on a Lab or Springer Spaniel. We looked at several dogs but just couldn't find the right one as they were too big and boisterous or just completely mad!

After some time we were rang up by Happy Landings Animals Shelter in Shepton Mallet, Somerset and they stated that they had an 18month old Sprollie (Springer/Collie X) that they felt would fit perfectly into our family set up and lively life style. Although a good distance away from home we paid several visits, fell in love and eventually brought home Willow....

Welcome to the Higgy madhouse Willow!

We soon learned that taking the mind of a Mastermind champion, the endurance of an Ironman and a formula one turbo charger then mixing them all up and creating a dog gives you a Sprollie!
Basically a Sprollie is a supercharged brain on legs!

Although highly intelligent, highly trainable it soon became apparent that she was also highly 'escapable!!' which I hope explains the reason for my hasty and very rushed erection of the fence!

Unfortunately in my haste to secure the garden I trampled over most of my flower borders and did a fair bit of damage to the garden! this combined with heavy water-logged winter ground ensured that the garden was well and truly trashed! This has now caused me to have rather a lot of work to do to get the garden back looking as it should this summer!

I am looking at this as a positive though and an opportunity to rethink some of my planting scheme by digging up the borders, splitting large perennial flowers and replanting for pollinators once again.

So after quite a long introduction here are my thoughts of what I shall be re-planting in my trampled borders and why....

My Perennials For Pollinators - PART ONE

Astrantia - One of my favourite perennials for early summer, plant front to middle of a border and they will take most situations including both shade and damp ground. Irresistible to Small Tortoiseshell butterflies and most other pollinators

Bergenia 'Elephant ears purpurea - Again front of the border for Spring flowers and evergreen ground cover. Will take sun or shade and again a range of soil conditions. Great source of nectar for early Spring Pollinators.

Campanula Canterbury Bells - Flowering at the height of the summer you will be amazed at the bee activity around these unusual large cupped flowers. Mid birder in sun will keep these happy but be sure to watch the bumblebees that will come out of them covered in pollen!

Salvia - I use lots of different varieties and sizes. Bees love them they smell great and generally flower mid-late summer. They need full sun and good drainage. they don't over-winter on our damp heavy clay here but should if you have good drainage and dry conditions for them.

Crocosmia Lucifer - Not known as a pollinating plant but they get plenty of visits from Bumblebees in my garden and are a nice plant to add some drama in the border. Again surprisingly adaptable and despite popular belief they actually benefit from plenty of water or a slightly damp ground.

Aster - There are lots of different varieties of Aster and we will use a few different types to add interest and longevity to the feeding season. Aster comes into it's own late summer and into Autumn where it will keep flowering until we have the first frosts. Best in a sunny spot on reasonably well drained soil, doesn't like our waterlogged winter ground but will happily over-winter in drier conditions.

Helenium - A great pollinating plant loved by bees and butterflies! Tall so can be used in the middle or back of the border. Sunny position prefers a well drained soil. I under-plant these with annual Corn Marigold wildflowers and it works really well for attracting in all sorts of pollinating insects!

Inula - Great summer butterfly & bee plant, especially useful in very hot sunny areas or extremely hot years as they cope well with drought and seem to keep attracting pollinators even when other plants are stressed and struggling

 Monarda - great bee plant for a sunny summer border

Rudbeckia Goldstrum - An underrated plant. Adored by the Small Copper Butterfly. There are plenty of other Rudbeckias to chose from also. Mid to back of the border depending what type you plant. They like full sun and well drained soil but do over-winter on our heavy wet clay soil here.

So that's my first ten pollinating perennial plants that I will be planting in me borders when I revamp them in the Spring. I have plenty more choices that will be going into my garden and to share with you also.

Next time I will continue with my list of pollinating plants but will start to include a few other ideas such as wildflowers and bulbs that can be added and make perfect partners for your perennial plants and give your pollinating bed a real 'Zing!'

I will also get some pictures of the new fence and give you a few ideas of how we can still let some wildlife in whilst keeping Willow safe and sound inside the garden!

Until next time....

Best

Higgy










Monday, September 1, 2014

Easy Build Bridge for Child Friendly Wildlife Garden...

Hello All,

Yet again I start another blog post a long time after my last post and as is usually the case the good weather has seen my time spent in the garden and not on the computer writing about it!

Although I much prefer my time outside I felt that I must come on and update you all on my wildlife pond and show you a new feature built for my daughter recently.

Before I tell you about the new child friendly feature I will give you a quick update on the pond that you will know from previous posts was dug this Spring.

 So at just six months old you can now see that the wildflower planting around the outside of the pond has really taken off and gives the area a nice natural feel. The planting inside the pond is also adding to this feel and providing a great habitat for variety of animals and insects...

Visitors to the pond...
 Last time we spoke about the Damselflies but now these have made way to Dragonflies that are also depositing eggs into the pond. Above is the plentiful Common Darter and below is a Migrant Hawker both seen in the garden around the pond....

Although my Blackbirds still bathe daily in the pond all sorts of birds use the facility to wash and drink from like this thirsty Greenfinch...

I always talk about my wildlife and the things that I enjoy in the garden but for some time I haven't mentioned my daughter in this blog!

If you cast your mind back to my first post one of the key things for this garden was to demonstrate that you can have a wildlife garden that is family and more importantly child friendly!

Of course my daughter has her play area with slide, climbing frame and trampoline etc but like all young children they get bored and desire other things to keep them active and entertained.

This presented me with a bit of a challenge as I was also looking to find a little more planting space so building new play equipment would take up space that could be planted in!?!...

Cost is of course always a factor and in the current climate we really couldn't afford to be buying brand new equipment or even materials to build something.

After much head scratching and discussions with my daughter as to what she wanted it was decided that building a bridge into her play area would be just the thing to add a bit more fun to her part of the garden! I could also see this as an opportunity to provide more planting space by creating a pollinating flower border the complete length of the play area and using the bridge s a means to get over the border and into the play area, how exciting!!...

Materials!!??...

Now this was a question! obviously wood would be first choice as it fits into the theme of the rest of the garden. Also I had a large pile of reclaimed roof-joists in the garage just waiting for a likely project!! These joists are 3x3inch and between 6-8feet long so I would need to be creative in my design but at the same time wanted to show how someone could make a really simple but effective 'play-bridge' feature out of reclaimed materials....

So first job was to sort out how many lengths of wood we would need and cut them all down to about the right size. I left the pieces that would be used for the steps slightly over sized so they could be 'adjusted' as required. This is also a good time to get the kids involved and once cut my daughter and I spent about two hours in the garage painting each piece of wood. This has two effects; the first being that you get a protective covering on every side of each piece of wood. But it also makes your children feel like they are really involved in the building of these play features with you!!....

So once the posts had been cut and painted we ended up with a wooden jigsaw like this...

 To get started on your bridge lay the small base pieces on the ground where you want the steps to be located whilst using one of the longer lengths to ensure that they are in the right place at both ends of the bridge...

Once happy with the position of the base pieces of wood start building your bridge 'dry' without screwing anything together or using any fixings at this stage...
 Building the bridge 'dry' like this enables you to make adjustments as you go along to ensure that you get it in the best position possible. You can see by the picture below and above that the design is a simple 'stacking' of the various pieces of wood. It is at this stage that you could decide to add extra pieces to make your bridge higher or as you can see here trim pieces to ensure they fit in the space correctly.....
So now you have the base of the bridge fully assembled. You are 100% happy with it's positioning and have made any adjustments or cut pieces of wood that required it you are ready to proceed to the next stage....

DISMANTLE!! Yep that's right you now need to take it all apart again! Now a word of Warning here. When dismantling do it piece by piece and very carefully. What you don't want to do is move your base pieces as they are in the exact position where they need to be to support your new bridge!...

Having not disturbed them cut around your base pieces with a sharp spade and then dig out the area where the bases will sit..... 
Back fill the holes with concrete and reset the base pieces into the concrete using the end of a lump hammer handle to gently tap then into the concrete mix. Important - At this stage you must use a spirit level to ensure that the base pieces at both ends of the bridge are level or as I did just very slightly off level to allow drainage of water along the bridge.

Once you have got to this stage and the base pieces are firmly concreted into place it's a simple matter of following the above process but screwing each piece of wood into place and into the piece below. For ease I pre drilled and countersunk every piece to ensure a nice even and neat finish.

You now have the base of the bridge finished and fixed firmly in place....

The final part of the build is to add some handrails to make the bridge safe to use but to also make it look a lot more 'bridge like'

To add handrails simply get six round stakes (like the wooden stakes that are often used in fencing or to stake trees) and cut the spiked end off of two. Put those two posts aside and hammer the other four into the ground right next to the bridge. Use a tape measure and spirit level to make sure that they are evenly spaced and level and then drill and screw each leg onto the bridge base as below.... 
Hammering the post into the ground is for safety reasons to make sure that the rails are solid and any children leaning on them aren't going to cause them to collapse. Make sure that they have had a couple of good coats of preservative to slow down any rotting of the posts.

Now take the two 'spikeless' posts and lay them along the upright posts on one side of the bridge and mark with a pencil where each upright meets the rail. Using a chop saw it you have one cut the section between each pencil mark out to create a shallow grove the width of the end of the upright. Once cut out simply lay back along the two uprights so they sit in the groves and screw a long screw down into the upright to fix the handrail firmly into place as below. Then simply repeat this process on the opposite side...
At this point add another lick of paint and remember to paint the ends of the pieces of wood that were cut earlier. This obviously makes the bridge look finished but more importantly helps prevent the naked ends from rotting...

So there you go a really simple and quick way to build a garden bridge and of course another fantastic feature in our child and family friendly wildlife garden. The size and height of the bridge is only limited by your imagination so why not have a go and bridge a flower border like I have rather than have a boring path or bridge a garden pond and then paint it whatever colour you want!!...

 The finished bridge built in just one day!...

As you have seen from other posts I used the same design for the new pond and it works well over water also!!...

That's about where I have to leave it this time but I will leave you with my Top Tip...

TOP TIP - My bridges have been built using reclaimed roof joists from a builder that I know. This is a very cheap way to source timber for this sort of project as the price of tips has escalated recently meaning that many builders are more than happy to create extra space in their skip by letting you have some wood! Just remember that you can't help yourself and must always ask before taking away anything such as this. 
The only downside is that the timber won't be treated so will need painting or a few coats of wood preservative but what a great way to recycle and if your really lucky Freecycle!! :-)

See you next time

Best

Higgy 



Thursday, June 19, 2014

Wildlife Pond, Wildflowers and Wildlife. Now that's Wild!!....

Here we are again but two moths on since my last post, which I can only apologise for! My lack of writing should actually be seen as a good thing as it generally means that the weather has been good and I've been out enjoying the garden!! I'm pleased to report that this is the case and I have plenty to tell you all about.

So with skin tanned and muscles stretched from all the recent hard work here's an update on the new wildlife pond from where we left it in my last post.

Two months is a long time in nature and just look at how the pond has come on in this time....

Three months after the pond was started it looks really settled with the wildflower area starting to come into bloom around it....

Another view of the pond as it is now, it will continue to improve as the summer goes on!!

 The two pictures  above and below hopefully help to demonstrate how the design of the pond fits into the wider landscape in this part of the garden and will in time look really natural....

With the pond starting to mature really quite quickly I needed to concentrate my attention on the wildflower area that sits along side the pond and will in time surround this water feature making it a little oasis for passing wildlife.

Below I will cover some of the wildflowers that I like to use and I will also try and let you know what wildlife species they attract....

Corn Marigold is one of my favourite wildflowers as it is simple to grow from seed, flowers all summer if deadheaded but best of all is a magnet for hoverflies. We all often forget what important pollinators hoverflies are. I also mix Corn Marigolds in with my perennial plants to provide pollinating bedding plants!!

Common & Greater Knapweed are both superb pollinating wildflowers adored by bumblebees and many butterflies (Large Skipper pictured). As with corn marigold I use them in among my perennial planting schemes and as they are perennial themselves they come back every summer! I like them mixed with Helenium where they make a great mix for Gatekeeper butterflies among others.

Californian Poppy isn't a native wildflower but it's bright colours act like a beacon to passing pollinators which may come down and feed on more suitable flowers. They do however attract some of our smaller flies and hoverflies....

Oxeye Daisy is a cheery early summer plant loved by most pollinators....

Toadflax is a superb bee plant loved by all types of bee. The purple variety is a native wildflower often pulled out by gardeners as it seeds and grows freely but often not where it's wanted! I love this as a bee plant and let it grow where ever it wants! The variety pictured is a cultivated pink form and I have found this to be just as good for bees so worth adding to the wildflower garden.

Wild Mignonette is loved by bees and a food plant for some of the white butterfly caterpillars...

Forget-me-not is one of the most underrated flowers for early pollinators and again pulled out by many gardeners as a free seeding invasive pest! It is one of the earliest flowers along with dandelion that offers pollen for lots of species. In this picture you can see it also offers a hiding place for predators like this pollinator eating Crab-flower spider... 

Birds-foot Trefoil is probably our best butterfly plant attracting many different species including this Brown Argus and the Common Blue among many others...

Perennial Flax is a strange one as it shouldn't really grow on my heavy soil as it's a chalkland plant but it seems to be doing well and will attract pollinators...

Cuckoo-Flower is a spring wildflower of damp ground and is superb for Orange-tip and Green-veined White butterflies. It grows well on our heavy clay soil here....

Mixed Grasses are vitally important to include in a wildflower mix as there are many species of moth and butterfly that lay their eggs among the grass and then their caterpillars feed on it.... 

Corn Chamomile is from the daisy family and is a little annual plant that will self seed and is visited by bees and other pollinators....

Cornflower is a blue flower that everyone knows, visited by bees and other pollinating insects but there are other colour variations such as this white version...

Field Scabious is simply superb for bees and butterflies. I have actually found that all Scabious species to be top rate pollinator plants including cultivated versions that can give you something a little different....


The above demonstrates a small selection of the wildflowers that we have growing in the garden and most are in flower now. As the season moves on more will come into flower providing a rich source of nectar for pollinating insects. I will post up another selection of my favourite wildflowers that I grow here in future posts. I hope that these at least give you a few ideas for your own patch.

Before I leave I will post a small selection of wildlife that has been visiting this area of the garden and the new pond....

The new pond has attracted really high numbers of Damselflies and I'm including a selection below so that you can see the difference in colouration and the difficulty in identifying species....

Azure Damselfly
 Azure Damselfly
Azure Damselfly
Azure Damselfly
 Azure Damselfly
As you can see the Azure Damselfly comes in many different colour forms!

Here are other types that visit the garden....

Blue-tailed Damselfly...

Large Red Damselfly

Common Blue Damselfly...

Dragonflies showing in the garden at this early stage of the summer are...
Broad-bodied Chaser....

And Southern Hawker....

There have been lots more exciting sightings in the garden over the last couple of months but unfortunately too many to list on here. I will leave you with a picture of our latest success story which has been the arrival of a family of Hedgehogs! This is really great news as the Hedgehog is under major decline and I know that we have a family of at least 4 hogs! 

One member of a new family to the wildlife garden busily mopping up fallen meal worms that have proved irresistible to the hogs!...

That's about it for this post so I will bid you all farewell and many thanks for taking the time to read my blog. Please do feel free to comment or pass on any suggestions that you may have for the blog or my garden.

Best

Higgy