Sunday, 27 September 2015

prairie planting

We've made a lot of landscaping progress this year. Too busy to blog.
''Hrmph. Unforgiveable".

When Jill first saw the 'prairie planting' landscaping schemes of Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf, her life changed.
prairie bed 1 - after first season
And as a consequence we've spent a number of years selecting and propagating plants and preparing ground. Now we're at the end of our first season of the first phase of our own prairie bed planting and beginning to prepare the ground for next spring's extension which will see this part of our garden completed.

The plants in the first phase have still got to develop but the mixture of summer flowering perennials and ornamental grasses is already eye-catching. It's certainly catching Jill's eye as you will find her looking at the beds from windows or from the lawn. Or she'll be in the middle, chest deep in her favourite plants running her fingers through the inflorescences of the ornamental grasses.

prairie beds - phase 2
Jill says that she was attracted by the relaxed informality of this planting style. When Dave visited over the summer he commented on the effectiveness of the contrast between the formality of the mown lawn and the exuberance of the perennial planting. He was spot on.

view across lawn towards prairie beds
Fo my part I love the fact that the flowers are all insect friendly and the deepness of the borders and the height of the plants provides excellent cover for wildlife. At the moment we frequently have half a dozen pheasants appearing from the jungle to feed on the lawn.

This week I watched a young kestrel sail down from a perching post and kiss the tops of the flowers with its talons. I'm guessing that it was catching a large insect.

And now the work has begun on the second half of the prairie beds. We're back to digging soil, removing rubble and barrowing soil in to provide the 'hummocky' effect that the head gardener requires.

A lot of hard work.

But all worth it when one can look across on opening the bedroom curtains and see the view.
I've been playing 'This must be what paradise is like' by Van Morrison in my head for days now. You may be able to guess why....

Monday, 21 September 2015

spreading wildflowers...

field scabious
Late summer/early autumn sees a stooped figure skulking along the local roadside verges and waste land. Watch this wrong 'un closely. He's fingering wildflower seed heads and furtively slipping the seeds into envelopes and small bags.

But not a wrong 'un at all really. Away from protected sites, the collection of wildflower seeds is completely ethical. I don't collect on a commercial scale - a seed head here or there-  and my motive is pure. I'm increasing the biodiversity of our developing wildflower meadows with seed that is from the local gene pool.

Sadly, areas for wildlife are so fragmented these days that there is little chance of wildflowers that are not here already making an appearance without a little helping hand. So, I'm giving them a hand up.

Successes so far have been yellow rattle, red campion, cowslip, primrose, honeysuckle and foxgloves. Each of these is now thriving and increasing the biodiversity of our gardens.

field scabious seedlings
This years' additions include seeds from a recent Lincolnshire visit - field scabious (knautia arvensis), a diminutive wild onion or leek and bladder campion (silene vulgare). None of these is currently growing in the meadows so I potted freshly collected seeds into a mixture of coarse sand and spent potting compost, watered and labelled them and covered each pot with a loose fitting recycled plastic bag.

Each of these precious and beautiful wild flowers is not only valuable in their own right - they frequently provide food for the caterpillars of specialist moths or butterflies so they are doubly important.

Todays' rain kept me from work outside so time to pot on some of the seedlings - scabious and bladder campion.

They've been transplanted into individual

plastic plug containers and I hope that they can get a hurry on so that they can be transplanted as vigorous little plants into the developing wildflower meadow areas in the next month.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

the border line ..

Blimey Oh Reilly!
A month since the last blogpost.
I know what you're thinking .. 'I bet the old buffer has been sitting back, soaking up the sun and relaxing'.

Amongst the other stuff, we've been finishing the drive.

The remaining jobs for us were to finish the gates and then to work along the drive beneath the privet hedge, creating an orderly border.

The gates had been hung previously but fell off. Not well hung. Dang it. But enough about me. So, Roger (the brains in the outfit) had new hinges specially made and we hung them! They're still hanging baby, although one has a mysterious arthritic clunk. But what the heck That's a result. Gates that work!

drive border - waiting for privet to be cut
Well, when I say 'Gates that work'.... Our buddy Dave has been working to resolve the other issues. You see, the opening mechanism has a mind of its' own creating the gate equivalent of Arkrwight's till in the Ronnie Barker BBC sitcom 'Open all hours'. Dependent upon their mood: the gates don't close when you want them to; lock you out when you want to come in; and close on cars as they pass through. Apart from that, they're working magnificently.
But Dave's on the case. He'll sort it.

And then there's the drive border.

This had been the recipient of shovels and digger buckets full of discarded roadstone as we worked down the drive getting levels right and putting in edging.

But it was a mess, rather like a weed infested surface of the moon.

So, with picks, spades, trowels, azadas, rakes and wheelbarrows we painstakingly worked down the drive braking up the roadstone and barrowing it away. Then putting in soil. Then watering. Then dividing plants and planting. Then fertilising. Then mulching.

Hard work? I'm going to rename our site 'Cordwood Penitentiary' and have calico suits with arrows printed for the four of us.

Utterly bahoogered. But rejoice people, yesterday, - we finished!!

Bob will cut the hedge at the end of the month and then you'll see how good it is.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

the Toby Buckland garden..?

Really pleased with the way that the new garden is coming together. We've created a fragrant or scented garden. We call it the smelly garden. More accurately, in honour of my Nottingham roots I think of it as the smelleh garden.  Only locals can love our accent.

Path edging is finished in the main beds. Got peripheral stuff to finish but ran out of wooden stakes. Never thought a vegetarian would be crying out for more stakes.

view from kitchen window
And soil has arrived. Of course a hauliers' idea of good topsoil and an assistant gardeners are very different. 'This is fine, great stuff Rob. It's top gear'. Top gear? I was once described as being like Clarkson. Ouch. Back to steaks. Another ouch. You see how much thought goes into this.

This 'top gear' looks like soil when wet ... but dries to a pumice grey. Hmmm.

But thanks to Roger and his dinosaur 'Sir Alex', big buckets of this 'topsoil' were brought over saving me hours of barrowing. And Judith and Roger lent a hand to move it about. The head gardener expressed herself pleased on her return.

Then onto permeable membrane and more barrowing ... but this time of gravel for paths.

Don't let Baz drive 'Sir Alex'...!
Jill has lots of planting to do over coming months. We need to save up for a rose arch entrance. I aim to create a festival of insect hotels here too. I'd be disappointed if I couldn't push a loaded wheelbarrow with a deflated tyre over rutted ground and up inclines -my barrow itch will be scratched a-plenty as I push in wheelbarrows of mulch to cover the soil surface.

And, you know, there's a kind of serendipity out there. 

We have a garden devoted to scented plants. And have created a boundary to the garden with beautiful pheasant grass (Anemanthele lessoniana). And took inspiration from Cambridge Botanical gardens in creating our own.

In our 'down time' Jill's watching Toby Buckland in a recorded TV series called Garden Revival (?) proselytising about first scented plants and then grasses. We've got both in this garden Toby!!  And he once worked at Cambridge Botanical Gardens. Too many coincidences? Toby is a really effective presenter and in my view is the natural heir to the great Geoff Hamilton. He's got a great manner, a twinkle in his eye, is down to earth and full of useful factoids too. For instance - scented double flowers have double the strength of scent of their single cousins. We've sought out simple, single flowers as these are the ones easiest for insects to feed from. There's room for some doubles says the girl in the floral shorts*.

So, perhaps not the smelleh garden at all but the Toby Buckland garden...?

*£1 from CandA in 1980. And with pockets.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

the smelly garden...?

It's a dilemma. What to call something.
The Scented Garden at Cambridge

Over at Cambridge University Botanic Gardens they have an area dedicated to scented plants - a scented garden.

Want one! Great to smell and great for insects.

Herbs. Roses. Magnificent buddleias. Honeysuckle. Sweet peas. Wallflowers. Gravel paths. Hot summer sun.

So, the long process of creating a garden for plants that smell began.

I started by 'lasagne gardening' with layers of cardboard, organic matter topped with chippings. But woe is me - couch grass loved it. Positively flourished. A grass garden? That's a lawn. And the hens thought they'd help by scattering all the chippings everywhere so you couldn't tell where paths were supposed to be. Some help you lot are! You may as well talk to yourself.

So, it stood moribund as I sulked in a corner.
'Lasagne Gardening'
But sulking got me nowhere so I started again.

I have to admit publicly here that I sprayed the lawn where the new garden would emerge.  Not pleased about this. But its out there now.


Then onto the best bit with drill and screws and spirit level and saw and big hammer - the path edging began. Big hammer, hot day, man without t shirt. How come it wasn't the Poldark moment I thought it was going to be? If only we could see ourselves as others do.
'I've seen better muscle tone on a rice pudding'.

But undeterred I created lovely sinuous curves and interconnecting paths.
And that's how far we have got. Soil to be barrowed in; substrate to raise path levels before permeable membrane then gravel. Then another best bit - planting.

But back to my initial question.

What to call it?

It began as 'The Scented Garden'. But its not in the centre. No good.

Then 'The Fragrant Garden'. But that belongs with a gardening tradition I don't feel part of. I could imagine BBC TV presenters like Rachel De Thame floating there, ethereal, balletic with one of those open whicker baskets collecting herbs. Or Monty Don having a Fragrant Garden with Nigel lolling along behind carrying that damn ball.

Lads from Clifton don't have Fragrant Gardens do they?

It was Sally who sorted it. 'The Smelly Garden'.


Friday, 10 July 2015

a pirates rattle

Out in our orchard there's pirate's treasure. And I'm bagging it.

Yellow rattle (rhinanthus minor) is a parasitic plant that swings into the meadow and whose roots suck the juice out of surrounding grasses. The Captain Jack Sparrow of the plant world - stealing the life blood from vigorous grasses around it.

That's great for those of us passionate about meadows and wildflowers. The last thing we need is thuggish, verdant grass swamping our delicate wildflowers. Yellow rattle takes the energy from its host plants leaving space for wildflowers to grow. And it's the food plant for four species of our native moths. In the spring it has pretty yellow flowers ... but I'm most interested in its seed heads.

We grabbed a handful of rattle seeds during a walk three years ago and have been nurturing it the plant the orchard ever since. Yellow rattle is an annual, so it is important that it is allowed to seed. Ours have seeded abundantly and after three years its influence is spreading well.

The seed heads rattle to tell us that they are ready to spill their seed for next year. It is said that farmers would rattle the seed heads to see whether hay was ready for collecting. A good dry rattle would tell the farmer it was time to mow.

And there's a-rattling in the orchard. So swift as a cannonball I'm in, swishing off the seedheads with my cutlas (ok - scissors) and paper-bagging them.

Our newly sown wildflower meadow is waist high in grass so I'm going to sprinkle rattle seed into the grassy ground in the hope that Captain Jack can work his yellow magic next year!

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

not quite the magnificent seven

A tour around the garden today on a team bumblebee hunt and DIY bumblebee ID session.

Rain. Cold wind. Not auspicious. A bumblebee must keep its core temperature at 30 degrees C*. With temperatures of around 15 degrees C excluding the effects of the cold wind it was surprising to see any busy bees.
early bumblebee (bombus pratorum)

But six species of bumblebee were identified:

Species of bumblebee     No     Location
  1. Early                       1      Lamium; lavender
  2. Garden                    1      Monkshood
  3. Red tailed                3     Thalictrum; lavender
  4. Common carder     12     Feverfew; foxglove; fuchsia; lavender; rose - nest in Picnic Wood grass
  5. Buff tailed                1     Foxglove
  6. White tailed             1      Rose
Davies mining bee and hummingbird moth were among other invertebrates that braved the cold wind.

common carder bee (bombus pascuorum) nest
We have seen tree bumblebees here at Cordwood. If we had seen her today we would have hit a 'magnificent seven' species. But this disappointment won't keep the theme tune from this wonderful western out of my head for the rest of the day...

Were's mah hoss..?

Do doo, doo doo do doooo...

* Dave Goulson 'A sting in the tail'.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

June evenings

juvenile broad bodied chaser
Just lovin' being outside in June. Especially evenings, when the work is done.

The cold wind that seems to have blighted the preceding months has abated and now there's lots to be seen.

A family of great-spotted woodpeckers has regularly been bringing its boisterous family of three scarlet capped youngsters to the bird feeders.
The early evening sky has been frequently been marked by the passage of around 1500 rooks and jackdaws in a long, straggling party south to their summer roost.

Our muddy wallow of a pond has proved a fertile breeding ground for impressive broad bodied chaser dragonflies. An adult male with a sky blue thorax has set up its territory there and has been vigorously defending it. Meanwhile, at least five juveniles have emerged.

green silver lines moth

One of the quintessential Sherwood birds is the woodcock. Males are famed for their creaking territorial 'roding' flight at twilight over the tree canopy looking for lerv... One did a fly past from Crimea Plantation last night. Hands off, she's mine!!

And also looking for lerv are the male ghost moths that dance over the lawn in a 'lekking' display, showing off to females. Go boys!!

And then there's this beauty - a green silver lines moth - which arrived at the moth light last night. You're gorgeous!!

All of this ... and a glass of Jura single malt. I ask you ...?!

Friday, 19 June 2015

wildflower meadow progress

This year we are extending the wildflower meadow at Cordwood.

'no publicity'?
It has taken time because some areas intended as meadow were thick with rosebay willow herb, nettles and brambles. Now each of these plants, of course, has tremendous wildlife merits, but not in this part of the garden!! So, I've been working to clear ground and hope that I can get a rotavator on it in a couple of weeks. Then seed sowing can begin.

In the meantime, at Judith and Rogers end, they have made more progress. Last week we sowed a pollen and nectar mix into the subsoil seedbed we've created. The great news is that grey squirrels are really enjoying this smorgasbord of seeds!! Grrr!!

"Fox and cubs' or orange hawkweed has been transplanted into the meadow
This photo is one taken by my sister of us during the seed sowing. I think that Jill and I must have ticked the box marked 'no publicity'.

In the meantime, in phases 1 and 2 of the meadow, red clover is having it large and bumble bees are going boogaloo! And delightfully, this years impressive resident pheasant, 'The Sultan' has been busy and one of his six concubines has been seen in the new meadow with half a dozen seriously cute little ball-of-fluff babies.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Stop mowing roadside verges - 'Say no to mow!'

The mowing of roadside verges and central reservations must stop!
Here is my email to my county councillor. Join the campaign!!!

Dear Cllr Barnfather,

I am very disappointed to see so many of Nottinghamshire’s road side verges and central reservations closely mown at this time of year. Where there is no over-riding safety issue, I think that we should not be mowing these areas. 

First there is a cost issue - it would be interesting to know how much money our county is wasting on this each year?
Secondly, and of greater importance to me, is the detrimental effect that mowing has on biodiversity.
red tailed bumblebee and hoverfly enjoy knapweed
If we take as an example the A38 from J28 to Sutton. The Derbyshire section is unmown and hosts Greater Knapweed, Birds Foot Trefoil and is currently resplendent with Oxeye daisies. The border with our county is marked by deadly dull close mown grass. 
Not only is this aesthetically less pleasing, the effect on biodiversity is powerful.
If left unmown these areas can become home to a wide range of our native flora :
  • Changing land use means that many of our previously abundant wildflowers are declining rapidly in numbers. We should be taking every opportunity to give our beautiful wildflowers a chance to bloom in Nottinghamshire. Animal and plant communities are badly affected by the fragmentation of their populations. Roadside verges can act as ‘wildlife corridors’ enabling plant and animal species to recolonise areas if left unmown.
  • Our wildflowers are needed as essential links in the food chain - Oxeye daisies support 8 species of native moth caterpillars and diminutive Birds Foot Trefoil supports a mighty 22 species of moth and butterfly caterpillars. Our bees are suffering too and clearly need flowers to provide essential pollen and nectar. These invertebrates then support birds, mammals and bats.
We really must be more imaginative and proactive if we are to conserve and promote wildlife in our county.

At a time when so much of our wildlife is under pressure, it would be imaginative and prudent to stop the mowing of roadside verges and central reservations.

I hope we can count on your support in this.

Rob and Jill Carlyle

Let's build a consensus and change the roadside landscape of Nottinghamshire - ‘Say No to Mow!'

Thursday, 28 May 2015

a garden tour ..

We spoke to the Papplewick Gardening Club in the New Year. Last night they came to see us.

Kitchen Garden Phase 1

We took them on a tour of all we've achieved outside so far and then had cake and refreshments on the terrace. 

Thanks to all for a generous donation of £82 to mums favourite charity - Cancer Research.

And especially thanks to Judith & Roger, mum and dad and Trev and Linda for making the whole thing go with a swing and for organising refreshments.
Jills Mounding
Cedar walk by Crimea Plantation
Tea and cake on the terrace

Monday, 18 May 2015


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!

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).

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!!

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.

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.

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

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

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.

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. 

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

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.

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!

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. 

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.

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

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.

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

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!

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.

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.

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!

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!