Sunday, April 17, 2016

Dry River Bed Revamp and a Garden Raised Deck Pontoon & Bridge...

Hello All,

Well it's been another long break between posts but since my hip replacement back in September last year and now I haven't really been in the best of health and certainly not fit for too much gardening!

As you will know by now I like to have a 'project' on the go and as I was off this last week looking after my daughter and with my health moving in the right direction I thought it time to start a new one!

Unfortunately I don't have pictures of it's construction from start to finish as I usually post on here but I'm posting this to show that I am at last back and moving in the right direction!

So here it is my latest project which involved the tidying up and rejuvenation of the old dry river bed including the addition of a new raised deck seating area complete with bridge.




The pictures above hopefully show the new feature and how it sits with the rest of the garden.
The picture below shows that I have kept with the wildlife theme by providing habitats through the addition of a part buried log pile and the shallow pebble lined pond gives a great shallow bowl for birds to bathe in...


I haven't taken many pictures in the garden yet as I've been so busy getting my hand back in as it were, but it is great to see some spring colour now with the Primrose, Cowslip and Marsh Marigolds starting to push through...

Marsh Marigolds add some much needed colour to the garden and of course provide nectar for early bees and other pollinating insects...

Ribes is another great spring time plant/shrub for early bees who adore this plant at this time of year..

Over the last month or so I have also been busy sowing seeds and pricking out. I hope to have plenty of  plants from this little lot and the greenhouse full that I also have growing...

I've ended up with so many plants growing from seed that I have had to use every bit of free space that is available, including my impromptu conversion of the windows above the garage door!!!...


As well as the plants that I have growing from seed I have also, in true Higgy style, managed to collect the below plants from my local 'Freecycle' site! Freecycle is a great way to find free plants and of course to share plants with other like minded people also!...

I think that is about it for this post, I apologise that it's a shorter post than usual bu I am now in the middle of creating a garden area for my eight year old daughter as she wanted her own garden! I promise to be back soon when I've completed this project with a full update!

Unfortunately it's back to work tomorrow so I will now have to rely on evenings to get the odd hour out in the garden!

Thanks for reading and see you all soon.

Best regards

Higgy











Friday, November 27, 2015

Care Free Wildlife Gardening! And my Buddleia Test Challenge...

Hello All,

As usual it's been a long gap between my last post back in May and this one now (November!!) It's been a funny old year as I spent the summer incapacitated as far as gardening goes due to my deteriorating hip joint. This meant in the end that even a basic job like planting or weeding would take me a long time and would prove very painful afterwards due to my lack of movement and flexibility. This meant that the garden had to fend for itself to some degree this year and obviously no new projects were undertaken.

In September I was finally given surgery and now have a new hip! Currently I am in recuperation and slowly rebuilding my muscle mass, walking distance and general maneuverability.

As I sit in my office overlooking the garden and watching our new resident Coal Tit pair, I think it's time to draw a line under the last few months that have been hard due to lack of actual gardening time. So I will use this post to simply update on the summers wildlife activities and how the garden fared looking after itself for a season!

As I've mentioned them let's have a look at one of our new garden resident Coal Tits...

Not the greatest picture but one of my new Coal Tit pair...

With just a quick mow of the lawn the garden itself actually stood up well to being slightly neglected for a season. Here we have a view across the Perennial Pollinating borders  to the wildflower area in July.

 Both the perennial borders (above) and the wildflower area (below) gave a good show of colour this year and I only planted in a few plants to fill gaps from plants that we lost over winter. Again these pictures were taken in July so half way through our summer season.

So although looking a bit rough around the edges the above pictures clearly demonstrate that a wildlife garden can prove to be low maintenance (not necessarily by choice!) whilst continuing to provide a good looking garden full of colour and beneficial to a variety of species!

There are a few things that I would have changed if I was able to but generally I think the plants worked very well and we still recorded a good variety of insects and other wildlife into the garden.


Summer Garden Update 

In this next section I'm taking a lead from what I promised in my last post and will try to demonstrate what flowers and plants were particularly good for pollinators this year whilst also showing some of the wildlife that visited.

As always Inula Magnifica makes a great statement plant with its large toothed leaves but is also a great reliable pollinating plant in the garden. It is especially loved by bees & Comma Butterflies.... 

 Ragwort is effectively a weed and is probably one of the most controversial plants as in large volume it is poisonous to live stock. Ragwort will seed itself into gardens and is so valuable for many rare insects that I let if grow with will, however I never let it seed to ensure that I am being responsible by not letting it loose into neighbouring fields where it could harm livestock....

 I've mentioned Crocosmia Lucifer in other posts before and I still stand by this as a great pollinating plant for early summer bees and in particular Bumblebees....

Echinacea once again proved it's worth by attracting lots of bees and butterflies in August. White Swan is a variety that I have found to be the most attractive to pollinators...

Verbena bonariensis is one of the best know plants for butterflies and bees and should be included in every good wildlife garden. As usual it proved the backbone of my perennial borders again this year! the butterfly pictured is a Painted Lady and we were lucky to get quite a few in the garden this summer...

 If you include Verbena Bonariensis in your garden then try planting Verbena Hostata also. It's just as good at attracting pollinators but it's shorter length and conical shaped flower spires will give another dimension to your planting scheme. Generally this plant will grow to about three feet tall and makes a nice mid border perennial...

 I include lots of Honeysuckle in my garden as its flowers are great for early pollinators, it provides hiding and nesting cover for birds and small mammals also. But what I really like is the berries that it produces in June. The berries are stripped from the plant from all manner of birds with juvenile Bullfinches and young Blackbirds generally being the first to them!...

In the wildflower area we had a good show of early plants such as Bird's Foot Trefoil, Knapweed and Field Scabious among other things. Unfortunately this year we were a bit overrun by Wild Carrot and although it has some uses for pollinators such as this Brown Argus butterfly I intend to manage it better next year. this will help to ensure that the other smaller plants don't get out-competed by it as they did this year....
 

 Making sure that the whole garden has some use for wildlife has been a goal of mine and therefore we mustn't forget the native wildlife friendly hedgerow and wildlife corridor that I have been carefully developing. Within our hedge rows I have planted a large variety of plants such as Guelder Rose, Alder Buckthorn, Elder Berry among many more species. Included in this planting scheme is native Hazel which is the food plant for many moth species. I was thrilled to find that one of our bushes was defoliated by a good sized clutch of Buff Tip Moth Caterpillars (as below) This demonstrates that even a slightly neglected wildlife garden will continue to support a wealth of wildlife if the right plants have been planted....

 Back to the perennial borders and I have had great success with a plant called Veronicastrum. This grows to about four feet high and has lots of spires of pretty mauve or white flowers. It is a great addition to the back of a perennial border and I have found that the mauve colour is best as an absolute magnet to most bee species. This plant is a must!!.....

 Next to the large wildlife pond that I dug last year I planted a couple of Greater Burdock plants. These turned into large plants this summer and are quite architectural in their appearance which is a nice addition to a pond side. They produced a profusion of pinky/red flowers that the Carder Bees in particular loved this year. They were also visited by the odd butterfly.... 

 Talking of architectural plants then the Cardoon is one of the best! A good friend of mine gave me a small plant last year and this year it turned into a six foot giant thistle like plant with several flower heads as below. The Bumble bees loved this plant and it's already started shooting again so hopefully we will have another giant next year!....

This next plant is one of my best butterfly plants but I rarely see it mentioned in other peoples lists. It's lysimachia clethroides and I think a cracking summer pollinating plant. I get all sorts of butterflies on it but have noticed that the Small Copper Butterfly is especially attracted to it. The plant is vigorous and throws up lots of spires covered in tiny white flowers not disimilar to the larger flowered Buddliea. Butterflies like to work their way along each flower on the spire that has a drooping habit making the flower head lie almost horizontal...

 I grow as much Scabious as I can from the wild Field Scabious in my wild flower areas to cultivated forms mixed in my perennial borders. One of my favourites is the Giant Scabious that attracts lots of pollinators and stands over six feet tall making it an ideal companion to mix with Verbena Bonariensis or to use through a tall or prairie style planting scheme....

 Another success story of this year has been the return of our Sparrow family that disappeared for a couple of years. They have now been back for several months and are currently numbering at about thirty birds and successfully bred this year!.....

A plant that gave us much needed Autumn cover was the Japanese Anemone. Although wildlife friendly I wouldn't normally call it prolific, however this year in the warm October that we experience it performed really well and attracted lots of insects including late flying butterflies...

Teasle simply self-seeds itself throughout the wildlife garden and so long as not out of place I let them grow up as the bees like the flowers but more importantly the Goldfinches strip the seeds in winter.....



Higgy's Buddleia Test Challenge

Those of you who read last month will now that I planted about twelve different varieties of  Buddleia or as often know 'Butterfly Bush' in my garden. This is to test if any of them prove more popular to butterflies than others. 

It's obviously early days at the moment but I already have a few results that will go in the pot with the others when we get them.

This summer the two Budleia that seemed the most popular with butterflies was a pink coloured species that looks very similar in colour to our 'wild' Buddliea often seen in the countryside and a white variety that I have planted. Both bushes attracted butterflies with I think slightly more to the pale pink colour. However as with all these tests it's about their full potential and the white coloured species attracts far more moth species during night time which is of course another vital function of a well planted and functioning wildlife garden!

The pink coloured Buddleia in my challenge has so far attracted the most butterflies...

This white coloured species has attracted almost the same amount of butterflies as the pink but has one the test hands down due to the good numbers of moths that it attracts at night time...

It's not only Peacocks, all sorts of butterflies feed on Buddleia, like this Comma...

Although extremely pretty this yellow coloured Buddleia isn't yet attracting pollinators...

It's early days at the moment on this test for the best buddleia but it will be interesting to see how this develops and if we can find the perfect Buddleia for the wildlife gardener...



This has turned into quite a long post now and I still have lots to tell you about this years wildlife found in the garden, some of which is very exciting! To prevent this post from getting any longer I'll leave this summers new arrivals to my next post!

See you then!

Best regards

Higgy :-)

























Friday, May 29, 2015

Dog Friendly Wildlife Gardening....

Hello All,

Once again time has flown by and I have to admit that Facebook here has acted as a place for up to date daily reports. None the less this blog remains as the place where I post up my detailed projects and lists of plants, flowers and anything that I think might be of interest to others who are creating or thinking about starting a garden for wildlife.

Following on the dog theme from the last post and having now had Willow for a few months it has become apparent that wildlife gardening with a young dog isn't as easy as it first sounds and throws up lots of complications, especially with an untrained dog as Willow was when we first got her.

So here she is, Willow, cute isn't she?....


Well you might think she looks cute and generally you would be right as she is the most loving and affectionate dog that you could meet, but....

The first time we opened the back door and introduced Willow to the garden all hell broke loose! Plants got trampled, raised beds got dug and to top it off having spent hours of hard work erecting the fence she found the tiniest of holes and went to say hello to the neighbours garden!!!

What on earth have we let ourselves in for I thought to myself and how on earth am I going to firstly keep her in the right garden and then prevent her from wrecking it!?! Then how am I going to continue attracting my beloved wildlife into the garden when she wants to chase it and I presume eat it given the chance!?!

Quite a dilemma and not one we had experienced with out two previous rescue dogs!

So following some trial and error, plenty of head scratching and of course bundles of patience I have come up with a few tips that show that you still can garden for wildlife even with a mad dog. I hope that these will be of interest to some of you.

Fencing
This is a really interesting subject as we need to keep the dog in but at the same time welcome wildlife in....

So here is our fence that we have had to erect just to keep Willow in the garden. As you can see we have simply hammered in stakes and then used 5ft high chicken-wire. As we have been growing a natural wildlife hedge we placed it in front of the hedge which will in time grow through and make it more of less invisible....

So we can now keep Willow in the garden and by putting up this extra 'layer' of fencing we have actually created a perfect wildlife corridor. The hedge is effectively sandwiched between this new fence and the old 'Deer Net' fence that willow could get through. This has created and area of solid hedging about 3-4feet wide and runs the entire length of the garden. I am now allowing a few stinging nettles to establish in here where they are out of the way. I am also now starting to create a few wood piles in here. This makes for a 'safe' area away from predators for lots of wildlife such as hedgehogs. The chicken-wire mesh is also big enough for medium and small birds to dive through when danger presents and allows access to most small mammals.

All in all adding another layer of fencing has actually created a superior wildlife habitat around the perimeter of the whole garden. The only downside is that we now have denied access to larger mammals such as foxes and badgers. To be honest this isn't always a bad thing as they can often be quite destructive in the garden anyway. My only real concern is that I have denied access to Hedgehogs who have done very well in the garden over the last couple of years so I needed to come up with solutions to rectify this.

After some consideration I have come up with following ideas for giving access back to my hedgehog friends....

Firstly I have created little entrances at several points around the fence by hammering two post into the ground with a piece of wood across the top to give rigidity and connect them to stop them being pushed aside. It  is very important that you cut the net up the middle between the two posts. This can then be pushed back through the gap and the ends twisted around the existing netting, Then staple the wire to the frame to ensure that it is secure. I actually used a second piece of wire netting here for extra strength. A good site for a hedgehog entrance like this is by a path so that your dog can't dig out the pathway.
 A simpler way and one that I have used at the end of the fence is to thread a wooden cross piece through the net, screw this to a post and then staple the net to it. I then fix a 'looser' plastic mesh over the top that a Hedgehog could easily push past or get under but it prevents a dog digging. For extra security I have also buried bricks under the entrances so that they can't be dug out any bigger than I want them..... 

An even easier option than the two methods above is simply to dig a dip under the fence big enough for a hedgehog to get under and then create a tunnel with breeze-blocks or heavy rocks that a dog can't move. If necessary this can be buried under soil with just a shallow dip showing under the rocks.

So now that we have kept the dog in and given access to the wildlife that we want in the garden I set about trying to figure out how to keep her off of my flower borders and most importantly the wild flower area that she simply seen as an extension of the lawn!!...

Setting Boundaries

One of the biggest problems with an untrained dog is that there are no boundaries! So to aid her training and to keep certain areas dog free without a huge fence you need to set up clear and simple demarcation that your dog can be educated to adhere to.

Willow was simply seeing the longer grass in the wild flower area as another lawn so when she was shouted at to 'get off' it meant nothing to her. A simple solution to this is to give a visible barrier that clearly says that it's a different area. If it is clear and obvious and you remain consistent in your commands it's amazing how fast a dog will pick it up and stay off of the area (most of the time!)

I erected a low rail alongside the path that I wanted Willow to take and to protect the wildflower and pond area. This clear demarcation clearly shows your dog why it is being told to keep off or out of an area. We are now rule setting but using a physical example that your dog will understand....

Although I have found simple demarcation very effective sometimes you have to opt for more substantial physical barriers and on my raised beds I have found this necessary.

The use of a more substantial approach is however not due to the bad behaviour of the dog as such but due to the neighbour's cat who see's the raised vegetable beds as her own private toilet!!! It's does stand to reason that when a dog gets the scent of a cat in the garden they will want to explore and unfortunately cat poo seems to be a delicacy to the canine taste buds!! (Yukk!!)

Sometimes you have to simply use a 'fence it off' approach, although here it is to actually stop next doors cat from using the raised bed as it's toilet!!..
If you are really against using a fence then I have had good success with just using wire-mesh pieces placed on top of the soil. This has to be several smaller pieces rather than one large piece. The cats don't like this and it's great for soil that you have dug but not yet planted....

So there are a few of my ideas and projects that I have put into practice recently to great effect. There is no substitute for a well trained dog and I have certainly found that being consistent and setting clear boundaries is helping with Willow's general behaviour and training. This is a great thing for her or any other dog as she doesn't need to stress about it as I make the decisions and put the rules in place for her, which is what most dogs generally want (strong leadership).

Interestingly since we have had a young dog who could potentially catch a cat and certainly makes that known to the local cat population, we have had very few cats in the garden. This means less cat mess and less birds being caught off the feeders so all in all gardening with dogs is beneficial in so many ways as well as being great fun! ;-)

So before I go here's a quick round up of what's going on in the garden at the moment and to prove that it hasn't been wrecked by our four-legged friend...

It's really encouraging to see numbers increasing of Mason Bees like this Red Mason Bee and other solitary bees. They were out early this year also....

Esperia sulphurella  is an interesting but tiny moth that feeds on decaying wood. A moth trapping session in the garden this week produced ten new garden records from the 26 species recorded...

This dragonfly hatched form the new wildlife pond created last spring! Unfortunately it was plucked out of the pond by Willow!......
 I managed to rescue it from between her teeth and to my amazement it recovered and flew off unharmed, even better it was a Four-spotted Chaser so another garden first!!... 

 It's that time of year when the garden is full of different Iris and they fit in well with the 'wild' feel of the garden and all the water. I'm always amazed how often they are visited by bees and too often overlooked in the wildlife garden....

 Now that the wildflower area is growing up we start to see lots of weird and wonderful bugs and beetles that are really interesting and surprisingly colourful close up, this one is Malachius bipustulatus..

 I love the Orange-tip Butterfly as it's one of our first emerging spring butterflies and the male pictured here is quite difficult to photograph as they never sit still for more than a couple of seconds. The good numbers this year enabled me to get e few good shots though...

 Persicaria in its many different forms is a stalwart in the garden and this has been a source of early nectar for early Bumblebees this Spring...

 Probably my best performing flower of the year so far is  Wall Flower 'Boules Mauve' I'm growing more and more of these each year and they flower profusely for such a long time making them a superb addition to the spring/summer border....

 There have been a couple of small projects recently such as the addition of this new raised bed in the seating area. Of course in true 'Higgy recycling' fashion it was made from reclaimed roof timbers!!....

 A look down the Spring formal lawn. The perennial borders are starting to get going and the white and purple Evening Scented Stock' show well. Supported at this time of year by Geums and perennial Knapweed that the pollinators love....

The wildflower area and wildlife pond created only a year ago have been superb in attracting all sorts of wildlife including, frogs, newts as well as damselflies and dragonflies. It's simply amazing how quickly life moves into a new pond!....
This small damselfly hatched from the wildlife pond and was immediately predated by a larger Large-red Damselfly! Nature can be so cruel....

I have created a couple of beds for my newest experiment. I have now planted twelve different species of  Buddleja to try and establish if there are any species that are better at attracting butterflies than others. Whatever the results turn out to be I will be assured of plenty of colour I'm sure!...

So that's about it for tonight, I hope that this post has been of interest and that you fellow dog owners will view gardening with a dog in a different light now? It's like all things you adapt, make changes but work it out in the end.

I continue to promote wildlife gardening as something for the whole family to enjoy, even our four-legged friends!!...

Next time I will get back to some more summer planting for pollinators and let you know what else I have been up to between now and then!

As always thanks for your continued support, I hope that you continue to enjoy my mad ramblings and please do send me your comments and ideas as I'm always keen to hear them!

Best regards

Higgy