Sunday 22 December 2013

Evergreen garland

Every year I make my own evergreen garland for the staircase, made of holly, ivy, conifer and lights. Now I am the least artistic person in the whole wide world. I can't paint or draw, but the joy of the garland is that ANYONE can do it. And I mean anyone.

You need a length of wire to begin with, and I have used the same one for over ten years. After that, you just need patience, a barrowful of greenery and lots of green, plastic covered wire.

Once the initial wire is firmly secured, I build up the greenery in layers. It is very forgiving, and not a precise science at all. I start with the base layer of conifers, or the bottom branches cut from the Christmas tree. The thin branches are tied at the base and hung vertically - the longer and more ample they are, the better.

Once the base layer is completed, the next layer is holly, and I usually suspend it vertically too, overlaying the conifers.

The next layer is holly and again, more holly, but this time it is tied in horizontally so that it covers and hides the tied in tops of the previous layers. 

I usually drape some ivy along the very top.

Lights are added as a final touch, sometimes white, sometimes red - this year both red and white.

The garland doesn't last very long, ten days maximum, as it dries out in the central heating. It lasts much longer if it is freshly cut. Cut on a dry day and store somewhere cool if rain is forecast.

The worst is dismantling it after Christmas, when endless patience is needed to untie all the wires ! The dying greenery can all be shredded and composted, and the gathering of the greenery is a good opportunity for some timely pruning.

The trick to a successful garland is to make it as full as possible, and to try to get some length in the conifer branches, to give the whole thing some impact.

Happy Christmas !

Thursday 19 December 2013

A fishy tale

There are lots of aspects to consider when planning a wildlife pond, but I had never thought to ponder on the logistics of Autumn leaf removal. I got as far as thinking that a damn great net should do the job and left it at that. As it happens, we do possess a damn great net which we bought to home the fantail doves under, but that is another story !

So, when Autumn came it was a two man job to spread the net across the pond and peg it down with plastic spikes. Job done ! Trouble was that the volume of leaves was huge and a thick layer built up on top of the net. They were actually in the water, and after a while began to break down, and, I would guess, pollute the water. So, the net had to stripped off the pond, de-leafed and put back.

That was a Herculean effort, as it was like hauling in the daily catch ! Very heavy! Finally we removed all the leaves, and put the pristine net back over the pond, leaving piles of slimy wet leaves around the perimeter, to be barrowed away.

It was only then that we saw little flashes of silver amongst the tawny leaves - tiny beached sticklebacks fighting for their lives! Shoals of them !

We had to perform search and rescue operations and  put them back in the water as quickly as possible.

Now, I am not scared of mice, spiders, frogs, all animals, most reptiles or birds. But I am terrified of fish! I must have had a traumatic experience with a goldfish in my formative years, because I have a real phobia! As soon as I see fish out of water, flapping and gasping, I am flapping and gasping myself ! But how could I let all those sticklebacks die ? I couldn't, so I had to overcome my fear, pick them up, and put them back in the water pdq. I must admit that the more I picked up and saved, the easier it became, so maybe I have overcome said phobia!

We were having to pick through the leaves and save as many as we could.

There were also dozens of snails between the layers of leaves too, but they were an awful lot easier than the fish to pick up and put back in the water. I think we managed to save most of them, but I bet there were some that we never found, and they would have perished, poor things. I hope that the snails we failed to uncover would have been able to make their own way slowly back to the pond.

The benefits of a wildlife pond are many and varied, and one of the many pleasures is to have the privilege of watching the sticklebacks living out their lives perfectly naturally. They came from a friend's pond, and we started with  a slack handful, and they have multiplied spectacularly over the last two years. In Spring we can watch the males come into their flamboyant breeding colours, and make 'nests ' on the bottom of the pond, before driving the females into them to lay their eggs. Later on in the season we can watch the tiny fry growing and developing.

As well as sticklebacks we have breeding newts, frogs leeches, pond skaters and all manners of water beetley things. In the summer we have swallows swooping low over the water, and Damsel flies in the reeds. It is endlessly fascinating and ever changing, and worth any amount of fishy search and rescue missions in the autumn!!

Sunday 15 December 2013

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day

It's getting harder and harder to find anything which is blooming in the garden, at the moment. The garden doesn't look as bare as it usually does by December, and I attribute this to the many roses I planted  this growing season. Most of them still have lots of glossy leaves, and they really fill out the winter garden. Admittedly, there is little colour, but there is, at least, some structure left.

The fantastic little bedding rose, 'Garden Party', still seems to think that it is summer, and keeps blooming. Ssshhh! Don't let the truth be told !

A couple of stray Campanula flowers are battling against the cold, the rest have long since gone !

A reiliable stalwart throughout the coldest weather is Winter Jasmine. It is just next to the back door, so that it brightens up our day every time we pass it.

Erysimum 'Bowles's Mauve' is a little bright spot of colour amidst the brown.
The brightest stars in the garden are, without doubt, the violas and the pansies, in pots and troughs around the doors.

This is the delicious Viola Primrose Picotee. Below is a viola, sadly anonymous,

The flower looks like a summer flowering perennial, as it lush and large flowered. I am racking my brains to remember what it is called, so all help welcome ! This is the first year I have grown it and it is a real pleasure. The flowers are delicate yet very robust, coping well with rain and wind.

This post is linked to 'May Dreams Gardens' 'Bloggers Bloom Day', which takes place on the 15th day of every month. If you pop across there you will find lots of fantastic garden blogs to explore. The link is below.

Saturday 14 December 2013

Virtual garden in the bleak midwinter

I have tried to be stoical. I have looked forward, and have tried never to look back. I have embraced variegated leaves, browning foliage and architectural seed heads... but it hasn't worked. I just miss the flowers. Miss the flowers, the feel of the sun on my back, the buzz of the bees. Each season has its own joys to be sure, but the joys of the seasons where growth is an element, beat the others hands down.

Today, nostalgia rules, and I just want to imagine, for an indulgent moment that I am surrounded by the spires of delphiniums, or running my fingers over the silky smooth petals of a rose. I want to look backwards for a while, and wallow in the nostalgia of the past season.

So I'm going to indulge myself, briefly, and create a virtual garden where all my favourite things are in flower at the same time. So, for a glorious week or two, all the stars of my garden firmament would shine at once. What would I choose ?

Stiff and stately Auriculas , taken from the chilly bare earth of April.

Spires of Delphiniums from the peak of the cottage garden in June.

Tulips from May.

Roses in that first hooray of June...

Alliums fresh with the promise of Spring.

And I can't leave out  my lovely lupins...

How amazing if they were all flowering together, then I could enjoy the Camassia at the same time as the peony.

The  Hellebore would be flowering with the perennial poppy...

Ant the Snakeshead Fritillary would stand shoulder to shoulder with the iris.

 Cosmos , the best annual there is, would definitely be plugging all the gaps in my virtual garden.

And the foxglove would clash beautifully with the hemerocallis.

But it would be like eating a whole box of your favourite chocolates in one sitting.What would there be to look forward to ? A big part of gardening is anticipation, and if everything is blooming at once, then that pleasure is lost.

The winter is long and bleak, and though I am longing for those first shoots to break through in the Spring, I think I much prefer my real garden to the virtual one where all the varied pleasures come at once.