Monday, 18 May 2015

bluebells

the arching head of our native bluebell
The transition from spring to summer is marked in lucky woodlands by the flowering of our beautiful native bluebell (hyacinthoides non-scripta).

Lovely as a single flower spike as seen here is, it is when they are massed together that they have the 'wow' factor - sight and scent. This month I have had that 'wow' near Nottinghamshire's Clumber Park where bluebells are thriving in woodland by the A614. I've also enjoyed them on walks around Ockbrook, Derbyshire.

It's at this point that the depressing bit goes in. We have around 20% of the world population of bluebells. But as is widely recognised, native bluebells have declined significantly and have been adversely affected by 'cross contamination' with the invasive and much more vigorous Spanish bluebells. Spanish bluebells have a more upright habit whilst our natives have a graceful curve. And as with much of our countryside, bluebells have been affected by changing land use so there's less space for those that are left.

one of the groups of re-introduced bluebells
When we came to Cordwood and I was clearing brambles, I uncovered a tiny clump of two native bluebells near our boundary with adjacent Crimea Plantation. I know from speaking to local users of the wood that there was once a bluebell presence there, but I was told that these had been dug up. I haven't seen any in the wood.

Having found a place where the bluebells occurred naturally on our site, we chose this area as the first focus of our reintroduction 'programme'. Last year we bought and planted 100 bulbs 'in the green' (with leaves on) to add to the lonely two. This month we had 80 bluebells flowering there. Encouraged by this success we planted another 100 bulbs this week.

We've now also got tiny populations at two other Cordwood locations (one from Tesco club card points bulbs and the other from a packet of seed that mum and dad got from the Sunday newspaper!!).
We plan to add to these too until the populations become self-sustaining through seeding and natural bulb division.

Loss or addition of a species is not only a single loss or gain - its effect can have a 'domino-effect': the bluebell is one of the the larval food plants the Six-striped Rustic and the Autumnal Rustic moths. Presumably an increase in these moths will aid our Pipistrelle bats.... Which may possibly then benefit the tawny owls that we share the site with.

Today is gloriously wet outdoors. Great for bedding in this years new bluebells - and great for
 viewing them just as soon as I've had a cup of tea!!



Sunday, 3 May 2015

That was April 2015 at Cordwood!

north mounding
April 2015 at Cordwood 

A summary by a compulsive list-maker!


Rainfall
Desperate for ‘April showers’ to bed in plants, we were disappointed each day by the lack of rain.
A meagre 20.5mm month Cordwood total - significantly below average rainfall (average for Nottingham in April is 48.5mm).

Temperature
No records but some very warm days. As with March, the persistent cold wind made the nights feel chilly and slowed the onset of spring. Anecdotally, many of us consider temperatures lower up here on the hill than in nearby Arnold. Must check!!

Moths 
angle shades
The actinic light was used on most evenings but the anticipated upturn in the weather didn’t happen and our total for the year inched forward to 17. Angle shades (pictured), brindled beauty and lunar marbled brown were highlights.

Butterflies
Bank holiday Monday 6 was celebrated by a mass fluttering of peacock and small tortoiseshells, both here at Cordwood and in Bestwood Country Park. These two species were then seen throughout April on sunny days. 
On Tuesday 7 a green veined white emerged from its chrysalis on the house wall.
My first Cordwood brimstone of the year was on the 20th, with the first orange tip on the 21st.
Our first large white was visiting dandelion flowers on the lawn on 27th.

Bumblebees
Common carder bee was first recorded on April 7 and first red tailed bumblebee was on 13th: both then throughout.

Amphibians
A fifth frogspawn clump was seen on 2 April. Our first ever toad seen in ‘Lake Pearson’ was seen on 25th.

Mammals
It was a local cat that was taking our generous donations of Aldi’s best dogfood from the Hedgehog Box! Nevertheless, two hedgehogs (a big and a smaller) were seen in communication on the lawn on the 18th and calling cards continued to be left.
A dead badger was spotted on Lamins Lane near Keepers Cottage and Lindy reported seeing a badger on Lamins Lane in the month. They’re getting closer!!
Common pipistrelle bats were recorded beneath the large sycamore, at ‘thorny corner’, beneath Judith and Roger’s dominating Scots pines and in in Picnic Wood on evenings when wind chill was not a factor from Tuesday 7. Our highest count (sighting) was 3.
Moles, grey squirrels and wood mice were obviously present.

Birds
Our highest number of bird boxes (33) with 14 occupied (28th).
Tree sparrows occupied the west facing colony box on Waxwings apex. Stock doves nested in the south facing medium size box adjacent to the Wizards tree: the remaining occupied boxes being used by robin, great tits and blue tits.
House sparrows began coming regularly to the feeder by the privet hedge (2 pairs 25th) which  was also regularly used by greenfinches amongst others.
Tree and house sparrows are two of the species we have targeted as wanting to see thriving at Cordwood.
Uncle Alan’s fat blocks attracted male and female great spotted woodpeckers.
First summer migrants (blackcap and chiffchaff) were heard at Bestwood Country Park on Monday 6 and willow warbler there on 19th.
Our first chiffchaff was calling on 5th, with first blackcap on 20th and first Cordwood swallow overhead on the same day. We had a pair of swallows perched briefly above the annex on 28th - were they secretly interested in my swallow nesting platform??.
Mistle thrush eggshell was found on  24th. 
Baby tawny owls were heard in the Woodland Garden on the evening of 25th.
Discarded seed beneath feeders continued to attract pheasants with ‘The Sultan’ and five wives being the highest count.
Mallards discovered Lake Pearson during the month - four being highest number. 

Flora
See ‘Gardening’.
primrose - primula vulgaris
Our main aim is to increase the range and number of native and naturalised plants here at Cordwood. April success includes:
Bluebells (hyacynthoides non-scripta) flowering on the Crimea Plantation boundary (80+), in Picnic Wood and on the grass path from Cedar walk to the meadow. 
Cowslips (primula veris) flowering in the orchard and beginning in phases 1 &2 of the meadow
Primroses (primula vulgaris) (pictured) flowering in the orchard, Picnic Wood and Cedar Walk, 
Snakeshead Fritillary (fritillaria meleagris) growing in meadow phase 1 and in the lawn
Red campion (silene dioica) growing abundantly in Picnic Wood and transplanted into the meadow.
A few wood anemones flowered in the Woodland Garden for the first time in April.
Yellow rattle (rhinanthus minor) are spreading to many parts of the orchard but so far I’ve had little success in transplanting them into the meadow.
All of these have been introduced by us.
A small patch of sweet violets (viola odorata) was growing in what is now the Woodland Garden when we arrived. These have been raided mercilessly and now are also thriving in the Cedar Walk and Himalayan Birch bed.

Introduced into Phases 1 and 2 of the meadow: 
Buttercup Ranunculus acris 
Coltsfoot Tusilago farfara (pictured)
Cowslip Primula veris 
Daisy Bellis perennis
Dandelion  Taraxacum 
Forget-me-not Myostis sylvatica
Heather Calluna vulgaris
Herb Robert Geranium Robertianum 
Lesser celandine  Ranunculus ficaria 
Oxeye daisy  Leucanthemum vulgare
Red campion Silene dioica 
Red clover Trifolium pratense 
Red dead nettle Lamium purpureum
Ribwort plantain Plantago lanceolata
Self heal Prunella vulgaris
Snakeshead Fritillary Fritillaria meleagris
White dead nettle Lamium album
Wood avens Geum urbanum 
Yarrow Achillea millefolium 
Yellow rattle Rhinanthus minor

Gardening
1. Development

There’s no doubt that the two months spent developing the drive has ‘knocked back’ the gardening development. The dry April too had its impact, slowing the establishment of newly-transplanted plants.
Having completed our first ‘prairie bed’ at the edge of the lawn (approx. 82m2) in March, the final 16m2 of ‘Prairie Bed 1’ (which lies beneath the sycamores) was planted. 

‘Prairie Bed 2’ (approx 72m2) was dug over, manured and planted before the end of the month. Ahead of target!
Plants used:
echinacea purpurea
  • Ice Plant (Sedum spectabile)
  • Yarrow (Achillea filipendulina 'Gold Plate')
  • Cone Flower (Echinacea purpurea) (pictured)
  • Globe Thistle (Echinops Vitro)
  • Michaelmas Daisy (Aster laevis 'Calliope')
  • Daylily (Hemerocallis)
  • Korean Mint (Agastache rugosa 'Liquorice Blue')
  • Inula magnifica
  • Astrantia major
  • Shasta Daisy (Leucanthemum x superbum 'Broadway Lights')
  • Loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliata 'Firecracker')
  • Globe Artichoke (Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus)
  • Cow Parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris 'Ravenswing')
  • Bergamot (Monarda 'Cambridge Scarlet'

And ornamental grasses:
  • Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum)
  • Tufted Hair Grass (Deschampsia cespitosa)
  • Golden Oats (Stipa gigantea) 
The remaining area allocated as prairie beds (Prairie Bed 3 - approx 150m2) will be sprayed to kill abundant perennial weeds, levelled and then sown with green manures in readiness for work in the winter.

Having planted the entrance last month, we waited for rain to bring the grass seed on. This  happened slowly.

Judith and Roger sowed grass seed on the ground cleared by the container. Once again, the dry weather and cold nights slowed grass seed germination.

I built the first of my four small ponds.

At the entrance to the Cedar walk is our 'ivy sea', glowered over by stumps that will one day be ivy clad and since April - with a stepping stone challenge. Just waiting on siting of Holly Blue butterfly to take advantage of the ivies and hollies that are its larval food plant.

Work on our flower meadow continued with plants introduced listed above.

The total wildflower meadow area is now:
Phase 1 (Summer 2014) 160m2
Phase 2 (Spring 2015) 200m2
Beneath beech  (Begun April 2015) 80m2
Total so far is approx 440m2
Meadow areas in front of the apiary (approx 300m2), and to the west of Goldcrest (544m2) will be begun in May using seed and transplants - approx 1300m2 (or 1/3 of an acre) by the end of the summer.

2. Maintenance

Shredded arisings from perennials in vegetable garden still wait composting - as do large quantities of much else too! 

Nathan added to our chippings pile on the road to our annex in readiness for mulching Jills mounding and completing the Himalayan birch mounding. This work was completed with only the new mounding and one of the front garden beds needing mulching.
I should enter here how tough this work was. I ached so much that waking in the night I convinced myself that I had flu...
English bluebell

Crimea boundary hedge - removal of brambles competing with hedge plants continued. Gaps filled with pot grown holly. Bluebells (pictured) flowered.

Hay that should have been taken from the orchard after Mike and I scythed it in the  summer was finally removed!

Two cuts of grass were taken from the lawn using the new Westwood mower (Sir David!!).

Vegetable garden 
Work clearing weeds began at the end of April. Asparagus looks poor but our rhubarb yielded 1.5kg.

Kitchen Garden
Curly Kale cropped reasonably during April and has now been cleared. 
Broad beans, garlic, rainbow chard, overwintering onions and beetroot are growing.

Building
March saw the drive finished. well, when I say ‘finished’ …. the gates remained an issue as one fell off! The access control allows those with a key code or fob in, but only those blessed with a fob can leave. Not ideal! 









Saturday, 25 April 2015

a home fit for holly

There's a local butterfly I've never seen - the Holly Blue (Celastrina argiolus).

The Butterfly Conservation East Midlands tells us that 'spring generation females lay their eggs on Holly buds, whilst the summer brood lay mainly on Ivy'

We've got holly. And ivy...

But I need you to suspend your disbelief for a mo'....

Brooding figures rise from a boiling green sea: one mysteriously cloaked in gold. Glowering, 'The Mesters' (for that is their name) guard a challenging stepping stone path that weaves through the breaking waves. 

Ok. You've had enough.

When we first came to Cordwood, we discovered a patch of native ivy growing beneath one of the towering Atlas Blue Cedars giving a distinctive character to this part of the garden. A visit to Biddulph Grange in Staffs showed us just how effective a ground cover ivy can be. Which is fortunate as it's great for wildlife and even better if allowed to grow vertically when, in what is called its arboreal state, it flowers and produces berries. The ivy flowers are amongst the last of the nectar sources for insects as they prepare for winter and so are especially prized.

But its value does not stop there. 


The Northumberland moths site tells us that some of our prettiest moths need ivy for their larval stage (caterpillars):
the stepping stone path
  • Yellow-barred Brindle (Acasis viretata) 
  • Willow Beauty (Peribatodes rhomboid aria) 
  • Swallow-tailed Moth (Ourapteryx sambucaria) 
  • Old Lady (Mormo maura) 
  • Dot Moth (Melanchra persicariae) 
  • Double-striped Pug (Gymnoscelis rufifasciata). 
So our native ivy packs a real punch for wildlife and I'm keen to do all I can to help it.

Pat and I had a great session clearing ground and sinking sawn pine logs vertically into the soil during the autumn. I named them 'The Mesters'. The ivy will grow vertically and flower. I must say that I thought we had a great time - haven't seen him since!

Since then we have encouraged the ivy patch to grow and have  worked to remove brambles, nettles and elder that have punctured the vista. When our pal Jan was with us we set too to remove these thuggish intruders. It's amazing just how one extra pair of hands can make such a difference. Jan inspired me to transplant rooted ivy cuttings into bare patches and to create the stepping stone path from sawn logs.

Our pals Pete and Jan chipped in with the gift of a golden ivy which I planted up one of the vertical logs.

In coming months the ivy will be encouraged to cover more ground so that this part of the Cedar Walk path is surrounded on all sides by the 'Ivy Sea'. I have some more hefty logs that will need erecting to extend 'The Mesters'. And the native holly that has grown around the area will be planted in this area and shaped into spheres to contrast with the vertical sawn logs..

And then there'll be a fluttering of blue butterfly wings.....



Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Progress report for March 2015!!

March 2015 at Cordwood

A summary by a compulsive list-maker!

A few days of spring weather now make this account seem like ancient history!

Rainfall
Rain fall was slightly above average over the month for Nottingham but the early part of March was dry with most of the rain falling after 27th. The dry spell was made worse by a desiccating wind.

45mm month Cordwood total - above average rainfall (average for Nottingham in March is 37.6mm).

This information reinforced how ‘dry’ we are in the east of England: nationally rainfall averages 65mm in March. 

Temperature
No records but the persistent cold wind made the month feel chilly and slowed the arrival of spring.

Freezing temperatures made it the UK's joint second coldest March since records began more than 100 years ago, the Met Office has said.

Moths 
Trapping began in earnest this month with eleven species recorded. Yellow-horned and oak beauty (pictured) were highlights.

Butterflies
Linda spotted a Brimstone on the 7th but no other positive identifications. ‘Dark’  butterflies (possibly peacocks emerged from diapause) were seen briefly on a couple of occasions but not identified.

Bumblebees
The first tree bumblebee (bombus hypnorum) was seen on the 6th and the first early bumblebee (bombus pratorum) (pictured) was seen on 17th.

Amphibians
Toads were regularly seen around the garden and four lots of frogspawn were recorded with first three in the pond on the 16th. Our first ever at Cordwood!

Mammals
Grey squirrel, mole, wood mouse and hedgehog were recorded on site. Lots of evidence of hedgehogs on the lawn from the middle of the month. A hedgehog feeding station was set up on 24th with food taken daily thereafter: our first siting was the 31st. We followed a badger up Lamins Lane late on the evening of the 14th.

Birds
40 species were recorded at Cordwood during March with two lists containing 32 species. Three complete lists were uploaded to BTO Birdtrack.
The high numbers of goldfinch (70), chaffinch around feeder (14) and wood pigeon on lawn (71) recorded in February are now behind us. Watching 19 redwing on the lawn was a highlight; with 19 also the highest count of fieldfare overhead. We have maintained our share of the 55 million pheasants that are released in the UK for shooting each year with a male on permanent walkabout and up to eight hen pheasants being attracted to the seed cast from the bird feeders.
Tree sparrows were seen prospecting for nest sites at two of our nesting boxes. 
My birthday bird feeder (positioned by the privet hedge facing our front door) attracted greenfinches in increasing numbers. A growing number of stock doves are now seen beneath the sweet chestnut bird feeders and at at each of the large open fronted bird boxes. This reflects the higher numbers recorded nationally by the BTO.
Judith and Rogers bird feeders were busy too.

Gardening
1. Development
Woodland garden edge ‘Green Lane’ perennial planting largely complete in February, plants were labelled and watered due to dry conditions.

The ‘thug border’ between the log wall and the flower meadow was dug over, composted, planted and mulched with ‘thugs’ that will thrive in the challenging conditions there:
  • shasta daisy
  • golden rod
  • aster calliope
  • g. Macrrorhizum ‘Bevans'
  • g. Phaeum

Our first ‘prairie bed’ at the edge of the lawn (approx. 82m2) was dug over and dressed with compost and manure during the month. 
In the first phase of planting 56m2 was planted with:
  • Ice Plant (Sedum spectabile)
  • Yarrow (Achillea filipendulina 'Gold Plate') 
  • Cone Flower (Echinacea purpurea)
  • Globe Thistle (Echinops Vitro)
  • Michaelmas Daisy (Aster laevis 'Calliope')
  • Daylily (Hemerocallis)
  • Korean Mint (Agastache rugosa 'Liquorice Blue')
  • Inula magnifica
  • Astrantia major
  • Shasta Daisy (Leucanthemum x superbum 'Broadway Lights')
  • Loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliata 'Firecracker')
  • Globe Artichoke (Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus)
  • Cow Parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris 'Ravenswing')
  • Bergamot (Monarda 'Cambridge Scarlet'
And ornamental grasses:
  • Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum)
  • Tufted Hair Grass (Deschampsia cespitosa)
  • Golden Oats (Stipa gigantea) 

The final 16m2 which lie beneath the sycamores will be planted in April.

A curved, gravel board edged path (pictured) was completed to separate prairies beds 1 and 2.

Jill’s 60th birthday magnolia grandiflora (a present from Trev and Linda) was finally planted in ground cleared in ‘the birthday border’.

The entrance was cleared, levelled, gravelled and planted. Grass seed was sown and sandstone blocks positioned.
  • Rosa Kiftsgate 
  • rosa Dortmund
  • Clematis Montana against entrance sycamore
  • Clematis jackmanii & white macropetala
  • Honeysuckle on one of entrance posts

The ground by the container was cleared with rubbish taken to the tip.

2. Maintenance

Lamins boundary in the woodland garden - hollies and berberis darwinii were transplanted to create a better screen and cotoneasters were cut back. Barrowing of chippings to Woodland Garden paths was completed. Beech planted where plants had been lost in screen by Wizard tree. Snowdrops were fed with a little pelletised chicken manure.

Arisings from perennials in vegetable garden were shredded.

Poo Pete delivered two loads of horse muck and Nathan added to our chippings pile on the road to our annex in readiness for mulching Jills mounding and completing the Himalayan birch mounding.

All buddleias were pruned.
Crimea boundary hedge was nipped back to chest height and removal of brambles competing with hedge plants begun. 

Hay that should have been taken from the orchard after Mike and I scythed it in the  summer was finally removed!

Building
March saw the drive finished. The gates remained an issue as one fell off! The access control allows those with a keyed or fob in, but only those blessed with a fob can leave. Not ideal! 









Tuesday, 24 March 2015

a beautiful bumblebee border

Not single plants, but drifts of them. All bearing simple flowers, providing seeds or shelter. For invertebrates, birds, mammals and reptiles. Natural and beautiful.
Pensthorpe

That's the vision: a skilful mix of annuals, perennials and ornamental grasses.

Piet Oudolph is the Dutch master who is responsible for this style of planting and we have visited many of his UK gardens.

What is striking is the informality of the planting combined with a very contemporary 'feel'. But behind the informality, considerable precision is hidden in making exactly the right choice and combination of perennials and grasses.

Exploring and trying to understand Piet's work has consumed much of our spare time for the past four years. We have visited his gardens and studied them; taken photos and collected copies of his planting plans. Jill has drifted around the plants, fingers playing with the inflorescences and seeding heads of the grasses.

Since 2011 she has selected, sown, cultivated and propagated her favourites in readiness for this year.

statuesque Inula magnifica
For my part, I have turned soil to create the first south-facing 56m2 bed on heavy Brackenhurst soil playing the game of stoop-to-hunt-the-couchgrass-rhizomes-embedded-in-the-clay. This game has much to commend it for families, believe me. I have about 100m2 still to go. You'll have a whale of a time. And what's so great about walking upright anyway? Over-rated. I have also barrowed well-rotted compost from my 2012 vintage until my back has refused to bend. Backs are generally over-hyped.

And finally this week we have planted:
Ice Plant (Sedum spectabile)
Yarrow (Achillea filipendulina 'Gold Plate')
Cone Flower (Echinacea purpurea)
Globe Thistle (Echinops Vitro)
Michaelmas Daisy (Aster laevis 'Calliope')
Daylily (Hemerocallis)
Korean Mint (Agastache rugosa 'Liquorice Blue')
Inula magnifica
Astrantia major
Shasta Daisy (Leucanthemum x superbum 'Broadway Lights')
Loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliata 'Firecracker')
Globe Artichoke (Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus)
Cow Parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris 'Ravenswing')
Bergamot (Monarda 'Cambridge Scarlet')

We hope that the varied flowers will be helpful to a wide range of our bumblebees especially.

And ornamental grasses:
Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum)
Tufted Hair Grass (Deschampsia cespitosa)
Golden Oats (Stipa gigantea)

We are still waiting to plant:
Joe-Pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum)
Chinese Silver Grass (Miscanthus sinensis 'Silberfeder')

We have also left two areas for annuals that will include Bullwort (Ammi magus) and Cosmos.

The whole area will be given a light mulching of chipping after the next decent rain.

coneflower
This part of the garden packs quite an emotional punch for us, including as it does some of our favourite plants - Joe-Pye weed reminds us of early visits to RHS Wisley; Inula magnifica was first seen on a visit to Bluebell Nursery and Arboretum in Smisby at the start of the Cordwood project - and cone flowers bring memories of Monarch butterflies gorging on these beautiful flowers in Maine.

This first year is very much a 'draft' or 'work in progress'. We will have to see how the plants combine and how well they do in this border, shaded as part of it is by mature trees. The ground is heavy and some plants (e.g. the Ice Plants) may put on too much fleshy growth and insufficient flower.

But the main judges won't be us. We are not the Paul Hollywood or Mary Berry of Cordwood. Ours is populist gardening and our public is our wildlife. If the flowers hum with bees and flutter with butterflies and moths: if hedgehogs snuffle for worms and finches fight over winter seed heads - then we will have succeeded.




Sunday, 22 March 2015

a helping hand for hedgehogs

We are developing lovely gardens here at Cordwood. And all lovely gardens have lovely plants. But, I am going to suggest that there's something just as important in any good garden: hedgehogs. The presence of hedgehogs indicates that a garden is healthy.

Beauty with biodiversity is our aim and so we've been managing the gardens to increase invertebrate numbers. No pesticides are used. Lots of mulching. And we leave piles of vegetation that can act as wildlife refuges.

hedgehog poo
In Britain hedgehog numbers have declined alarmingly in recent years. This decline is attributed to a range of different factors including changing land use, the increase in badger numbers and the compartmentalisation of our gardens so that hedgehogs can't wander freely. Roadkill too must be an issue.

We are in a perfect place to create a mini hedgehog reserve here. We are some way from busy roads, for the most part garden organically and have woodland nearby. Although we have foxes, we have no badgers on site.

When we came to Cordwood it was a big disappointment to find no evidence of hedgehogs - but we must be doing something right now. Last summer we saw different hedgehogs most nights. They particularly loved our compost bays that were chock full of tasty invertebrates. And the Woodland Garden was a happy hunting ground for them too.

Already this year we have much evidence of their presence on the lawn: they're leaving us lots of faeces! My photo shows a typical one. Full of the fibrous remains of insects, dark in colour and about 25mm (one inch) long.

So, they're here - and perhaps in encouraging numbers. How can we give the hedgehogs a further help? I'll show you....

Here's our hedgehog feeding station. An old plastic box turned upside down and weighted with a brick.
Two holes are cut to allow entry and exit in case two hedgehogs are in there at the same time. They fight so it makes sense to give a way out.
And dog food.

We've placed the feeding station in the area where there was hedgehog 'evidence'. We now wait with excitement to see if it works.


Tuesday, 17 March 2015

simple spring flowers to help insects

The flush of snowdrop flowers (gallanthus nivalis) has finished in the Woodland Garden. But they have been succeeded by a wide range of exceptionally beautiful simple, insect friendly flowers.
native bullace (Prunus domestica subspecies insititia)
The bullace (a small wild plum) was here when we arrived. It is benefitting from the increased light now that some of the overcrowding from the sycamores and horse chestnuts has been reduced. The bullace has elegant white flowers and prominent yellow stamens.

cyclamen coum
native primrose (primula vulgaris)
Cyclamen seem to be springing up all over! They are distributed by ants and then form really large underground corms which store water and food -ideal for our dry sandy soil. The spring flowering coum are less vigorous than autumn flowering herderifolium. Each form has the tiny, characteristic cyclamen flowers and attractively marked waxy leaves.

My favourite flower is our wild primrose. Although there are many attractive cultivars, none has the star quality of the wild form. They create hummocks of lemon coloured flowers that stud the woodland floor. They can be propagated by seed - or by division in June. Each plant can yield five or more new little plants which will flower the following spring. It is my intention to see the whole of the woodland garden populated by these beauties before I'm done!
lungwort (pulmonaria 'Sissinghurst White')
Lungwort have spotty leaves and typically have pink and blue flowers in each cluster. We also have the gorgeous Sissinghurst White form. Its progeny revert to the original colour and so they must be propagated by division if more of the white form are wanted. As with all of the flowers, their form is very simple, making it easy for insects to enter and feed.

Early bumblebee (bombus pratorum) visits lungwort flower
Also flowering at the moment are our lamiums (flowering dead nettles) and hellebores. A few tiny Tete a tete daffodils have moved into the Woodland Garden as have a little group of crocus. There really is a developing banquet of insect food out there! And more to come!

And here's the vindication! We have the first Early Bumblebee queen (bombus pratorum) feasting in a lungwort flower. She is the reason we're going to all this trouble. As with almost all insects, bumblebee numbers have fallen over recent years. The reasons for this decline in bumblebees is not entirely clear but disease and changing land use are likely causes. They need a range of simple flowers to stock up with pollen and nectar to help them establish their nests and then a succession of flowers for as long a period as possible to see them through a successful breeding season and into hibernation (diapause).








Tuesday, 24 February 2015

woodland garden: encouraging saproxylic organisms

I told you we were getting closer to finishing our development work in the woodland garden. Well, the planting has happened. Or is happening - as you'd expect there's still lots to do.
.... before

Japanese acers and bamboos are in their new positions: they will give this area a distinctive feel as the growing season moves on. The acers should be sensational in fiery autumn leaf. Our commitment to wildlife is remembered as native birch, hollies and yews have been planted: these latter two are very much in the 'micro-plant' category as they've been collected as self-sown seedlings or grown as cuttings from local bushes. The holly 'hedge' I've planted consists of plants no taller than 2" and should make something around the same time I get my centenary birthday telegram.

'It's a hedge Jill, but not as we know it...'

The part of the Woodland Garden we've been planting leads through into (what will become) the green lane border of herbaceous perennials. Some pretty, tough perennials are called for to cope with shade and our sandy soil .... stachys byzantium; leucanthemum superbum (Shasta Dasies); Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Firetail’; anemone japonica 'September Charm' and veronica longifolia are planted in groups. Geraniums, as usual, play a part with phaeum variegatum, nodosum and cantabrigiense ‘Biokovo’ in there. All of these have the kind of simple flowers that insects will love - especially as the afternoon sun brings warmth and light to this area. And an ornamental grass - deschampsia cespitosa is planted in a drift.


The soil has been dressed with our own compost and a thin mulch of chippings finishes the bed off.


and after ... just wait till it's in flower

Our use of logs makes this a really distinctive part of the wider Cordwood gardens. The Tree Council tell us that 80% of woodland wildlife depends directly or indirectly upon rotting wood: saproxylic organisms (those that depend upon decaying wood) are our main focus. We already have wood pigeons, stock doves, great spotted woodpeckers, wrens, robins, song thrushes, coal, great and blue tits busily feeding on the woodland invertebrates. Wood mice, hedgehogs and moles thrive on the opportunities they find in the Woodland Garden. As well as grey squirrels. Grrrr.

And these become food for our visiting sparrow hawks and kestrels. A pair of kestrels has been lurking suspiciously around our large open fronted nest boxes.

Distinctively Carlyle I guess - especially as during the latter part of my former career I was considered dead wood. 
Also distinctive is the compulsive labelling and listing of all the plants.