Sunday, 23 January 2011

Handy hazel

At last, a chance to get out into the garden!  I've been working in the Field this weekend.  It's been cold but sunny and it's so great to be able to breathe the fresh air and soak up the sun's rays.

The birds have munched their way through the bird feed and the fat balls but they haven't made much of a dent in the peanuts.  Actually that's probably a good thing. I've just this minute been reading about the levels of Aflatoxin in peanuts which can be lethal for garden birds. I bought the peanuts from a local garden centre and as they're sold loose in a big bin I have no idea if they're safe or not.  Plus the peanuts have been hanging up for a while which increases the chances of mould occurring and producing Aflatoxin apparently. So to be on the safe side I'll take them down tomorrow morning and replace with something else.

I've coppiced a couple of Hazels up in the field. They were a good size and I'll use them in the veg area as bean poles (thanks for the tip Kitchen Garden!) and I can use some of the small, young branches to weave an edging around the lawn. They were also providing just a bit too much cover for rabbits and I think that's why the warren was created near them.  I hope I've managed to place another obstacle in the way of any rabbits considering re-opening the warren.  That's still left me with 2 coppiced hazels that hopefully will be producing nuts in a couple of years.

coppiced hazel stumps

clearer space at the foot of the old warren

building up a pile of fine hazel poles 

I haven't coppiced anything since I was a Volunteer Officer with BTCV (about 16 years ago!) and it was great to be able to use some old skills. As a volunteer I never thought I'd be using those skills in my own garden but learning how to hedge-lay, build stone walls, plant trees and coppice are already beginning to come in handy.  I still need to remove the side branches from the cut trunks, or 'snedding' as it's known. Better get hold of a billhook I think - I can use it for snedding and it'll come in handy for when I'm ready to start hedge-laying.

An added bonus to the day was finding clumps of daffodil leaves poking through the ground as I cleared the dead leaves away from the base of the hazel stumps.....Spring is on it's way and it felt good to see the signs.

First signs of daffodils

Monday, 17 January 2011

Out and about

It was a lovely week last week - despite the weather!  Firstly a bit of work news.  I've mentioned in previous blogs a little bit about the dementia project I'm involved with.  Well one or two activities at least.  The great news is that we now have a date to start work on redeveloping the garden at the care home; it's an essential element to the project.  The project's aim is to reconnect people with dementia, living in a care home, with their local community.  We're using outdoor environments to do this; in particular enhancing the garden at the home so that it not only provides for the needs of the residents, care staff and relatives but also so that it can provide a great space for community events and activities.   It all starts on the 25th of this month and I can't wait!!!  I'll keep making notes of it's progress on my blog so if anyone's interested keep an eye out for future updates.

Okay, moving away from work, I'm still not getting much done in the garden at the moment. It's still too dark for me to do anything during the week and this weekend's weather hasn't been helpful either. So on Saturday I visited Heligan Gardens; The Lost Gardens of Heligan, to give it it's proper name.  I have a real soft spot for Heligan.  I was initially based there when I came to Cornwall 17 years ago to work as a volunteer for the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (BTCV).  After two years of learning practical skills and running conservation holidays I was at a point where I needed to get paid employment and Heligan came to the rescue.  They offered me a job there and I began in the office before taking over organising and facilitating educational visits for schools and other educational establishments.

The Woodland Walk; a gentle giant awakes!
It isn't just the story behind the house and gardens that captures my heart with Heligan; it somehow has the ability to ease away my worries and make dark times seem easier to deal with. Maybe it's because there are so many different areas and each has an ability to provide for my needs on each visit.  The walled gardens (Vegetable, Melon Yard, Flower and Sundial) offer inspiration for my own garden.  The Jungle and Lost Valley provide areas for contemplation and places where you can just go to clear your head.  The Italian Garden, Woodland Walk, Northern Garden and Flora's Green are all places that are just a joy to be in. It's good for the soul, as they say.

Perhaps some of this is to do with the fact that I have a Witch Hazel, which is of great personal significance to me, planted in the Jungle Garden .  Every year I go and see how it's doing and to take photos of it, followed by an enjoyable, relaxing stroll around the various garden areas.  When one of my friends saw these photos she said it looked like it was singing it's heart out - what a wonderful expression!

the glorious flowers of my Witch Hazel
my Witch Hazel in full bloom

This visit I headed for the Jungle first, then up to the wildlife centre where you can watch the birds feeding, use cameras to see view further afield or watch the latest video footage of nesting birds or rare 'visitors'.  A stroll through the Italian Garden before heading up through the Melon Yard and Vegetable Garden and my therapy session was complete.

And finally yesterday I went for a walk with Sue, my next door neighbour and her two children; the other members of the Tywardreath Highway Gardening Team (see October 2010 blog 'Sunday Sunshine' and December 2010 blog 'Holly and Ivy').  We decided to re-visit the walk in the Luxulyan Valley, near the viaduct.  At which point the rain decided to arrive earlier than expected and accompany us on our walk. Typical!

The waterfall, December 2010

Last time on the walk, it was cold and icy but the sun was out; the leats were full and were feeding the man-made waterfall where it tumbled over the edge, spraying our faces as it hit the bottom.  This time, the sluice gate at the viaduct was open and the water trickled along the leats in a lazy fashion; the waterfall reduced to a small flow.

The waterfall January 2011

Our wellies made sucking sounds in the mud (thankfully no-one ended up face down in the mud; nearly - but not quite!) and the wind constantly whipped our hoods off our heads but nothing could detract from an enjoyable morning spent walking in the woods.

mud, mud, glorious mud!

You have to watch your step!

water runs through the sluice to join the river below

Like I said, it's been a lovely week. But my fingers are crossed for some better weather soon and a chance for the earth to dry out a little - I miss digging in my garden!

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Past, present and future

Well I didn't win the National Lottery over Christmas and New Year so my plans of being able to retire early and spend more time outside (obviously in a larger house, possibly a small holding where I can have chickens, goats and pigs) have been foiled yet again!

Today has been my first real productive day out in the garden since before Christmas - bearing in mind that the flu kept me indoors for a week and then my energy levels have taken most of the two weeks over the festive season to get back to normal. The garden looks tired and beaten. Not surprising since the hard frost that lay on the ground for weeks has taken its toll on the plants and the lawn. Everything has been covered in a heavy layer of dead autumn leaves, despite my efforts to clear them last year, and after the overlaying frost thawed at Christmas everywhere is sodden.

So it was just a tidying up session today. I raked up what leaves I could from the borders and the lawn and trimmed back some of the Canary Clover, it's got quite stringy last year. With everything so wet it's probably best that I let the lawn and borders dry out a bit more before I do any weeding and to see if there's been any damage to the grass.  I was a little concerned about raking the leaves off it today so I was careful not to be too heavy handed - I didn't want to tug on the grass and do any damage to the roots. I shall have to wait and see if the Siddalcea and Aquilegia have survived.  I can see some bulb leaves coming through, I think it's the Grape Hyacinths (I forget to label my plants a lot of the time!) and the Alliums that are trying to peep through.

Up in 'The Field' it's a similar story - the soil is too wet and heavy to dig.  I suppose one good bit of news is that the frost has really given the ground weeds a beating this winter.  You know what spinach looks like when it's been cooked? soggy, shrivelled mush?  Well that's what the ground weeds look like in the field at the moment.  No doubt, they'll be back with a vengeance as soon as Spring arrives. Again I'll have to play the waiting game and hope that the ground dries up a bit over the next few weeks before I can start any digging up there.  There's still plenty of hedge clearing to be done though, so I can crack on with that in the meantime.

I have been faithfully keeping the bird feeders full though, which at the rate the birds are going through them is very regular indeed!   I've hung up a couple of those 'anti-squirrel' bird feeders with wild bird feed in one and peanuts in the other and about 5 fat balls and it's like an 'all you can eat for free' buffet out there!  Last year I had a normal bird feeder up and a sweet little peanut holder shaped like a house.  The squirrels took these to be educational toys.  They quickly demonstrated their level of high intelligence by chewing the wood on the peanut holder and ripping the wire frame out and also enlarging the hole in the bird feeder so that they could just pour the seeds out onto the ground and eat them from there.  Lets see how these new feeders stand up to their shenanigans!

So, did I get any of those tasks on my Winter List done?  nope! The fruit cage stills needs to be put up, the area for the future chicken run still needs to be marked out and the hedge laying will have to wait until I've brought a good quality billhook.  That's a task that may well make it on to the Winter List for 2011.

I shall, however be coppicing one or two of the hazels in 'The Field'.  The raised vegetable beds are ready for me to start growing this year and I want to use some of the hazel as support for plants like runner beans.  I'm also hoping to have a go at weaving a short hazel hurdle just to screen off the compost container so that it doesn't spoil the view when your looking up the field.

Sorry there's no photos of the garden at the moment, I completely forgot to take the camera up with me today. However, whilst I was visiting family over the New Year we went for a lovely walk in a local nature reserve called the Sence Valley Forest Park, not far from mum and dad's.  It was once the site of a colliery but is now landscaped and planted as part of the National Forest.  Despite the drizzling rain, we had an enjoyable walk around the lake, watching the birds, meeting friendly (and very wet) dogs and their owners and generally blowing away the cobwebs from New Year's Eve! So how about some pictures of birds on the lake and ice instead?  Hopefully I'll remember to get some updated photos of the garden next weekend.

Whatever 'ups and downs' we may all face this year, I hope that the 'ups' far outweigh the 'downs' for everyone. I also hope that I have lots to write about the garden this year, and that means me taking more opportunity to crack on with jobs and get things done.

One present I had from my parents this Christmas was a little wall plaque that said "A garden is a thing of beauty and a job forever" true; how very true!

graceful swans

this duck hadn't learnt to walk on water....I don't think he dared to move on the ice!

lakeside walk at Sence Valley 

The Leicestershire Golden Oldie....resident in the area, friendly, jovial and good natured!

The Furry Capped Warbler - mainly resident in Cornwall; makes loud laughing noises, generally approachable