Saturday, 19 April 2014

say no to mow

Gardens take up more space on this small island than do all our nature reserves.

So wildlife gets a real boost if our gardeners help.

And this year I am helping by doing absolutely nothing. That shouldn't take much time during a busy week.

I'm leaving a sunny patch of the lawn unmown as part of the Plantlife charity's 'Say no to mow' campaign. Great for flowers. Great for invertebrates. We'll leave it unmown until high summer then get the mower on it to tidy up for winter.

And to help matters along we've planted baby cowslips into our lawn that Sarah wanted to rehome. And we've been given exquisite snakeshead fritillaries which flower in pots this spring. we'll plant them into the damp, unmown lawn.

I could do nothing for England!

Thursday, 17 April 2014

beesy peasy - our new bee hotel

We are encouraged to assist our buzzy friends by making 'bee hotels'. These are collections of natures tubes and stuff that will provide nesting sites for solitary bees.

Having cleared the 'tops' of our perennials, I spotted that lots were hollow-stemmed and would make a great contribution to a Cordwood Bee Hotel if cut down to short lengths.

Next, some scrap wood for the structure.

Sawn lengths of rotting wood.

Old bamboo canes.


Plant pots.

Then add two eager assistants.

Site finished work of art on a south facing surface.

And beesy, peasy. Our new Bee Hotel.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

rain chains and whisky barrels

one mans rain isn't necessarily another mans flood ....

Here's radical - I hear you say.

filling the dried, colander-like barrel
Most of the rainwater from Britain's homes flows down from our gutters, into drains - and into rivers. The speed of this run off leads to problems with flooding. At times of heavy rain the excess rain water also rushes into the sewers. The force of this causes storm drains to flood into our rivers and seas, polluting them with raw sewerage.

Aware of this, we've done it differently at Cordwood.

My favoured idea during the design stage of Waxwings was for the roof rainwater to go down the garden into a series of ponds until it softly dissipated into the soil.

This proved an expensive option. But we have a fun solution...

Instead of boring old down pipes, we have put in plastic chains for the rain water to flow down - rainchains! The rain is now a feature as it tumbles down the rain chains. Great to watch on a rainy day! We saw this use of ordinary garden chains at RHS
water exits the barrel down this vertical pipe
Rosemoor. Thanks for this idea and I was very pleased to pinch it.

At the end of the rain chains, the water will now collect in a re-used half whisky barrel. there'll be lots of dramatic splashing. And ever on the look out for different planting opportunities, there's chance here to plant the barrels with some attractive aquatic plants. An interesting patio feature......

As the rain keeps falling, the danger is that the barrels overflow. As the rainwater level rises the surplus water shoots down the pipe which is set into the base of the barrel. This pipe feeds directly into a drain. The water then goes down the drainpipes under the lawn ... and fills the pond.

When the pond is full, the surplus pond water percolates away through our sandy soil into the water table below.

Practical note:
To drill through the base of the barrel for the water pipe I wanted the wood as dry as possible. Then when the pipe was inserted, the wood would swell and make a tight seal around the plastic pipe.

When I subsequently filled the dried barrels, the slats had dried and opened, leaving gaps. They were like wooden colanders until the wood had taken up the water and swollen back to fill the gaps and make the barrels watertight again.

Never fear, dear readers, I will post a picture of the filled barrel when the barrel is fully watertight. And keep you posted as we plant our aquatics.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

orchard meadow

We hope that we will be able to create up to 2 acres of beautiful wild flower meadows here at Cordwood.

plantain and cowslips
When we arrived, our 'orchard' was a 28 foot high jungle of suckering cherries, blackthorn, sycamores, nettles and strangling brambles. Having cleared that lot with hand tools, we began the process of creating a wildflower meadow beneath the venerable recovered apple trees. From bare soil, grass appeared and I took a hay cut in late summer 2012.  The building of our new homes in 2013 took our attention away from the orchard flower meadow and I didn't mow the grass at the season's end or remove the hay.

Will anything struggle through the thatch of aggressive Yorkshire Fog grass this year? 

greater knapweed
Delighted, first of all to see some of the seedling hay rattle  plants coming through in patches. This parasite was introduced in 2012 from seed we had collected with Mike. It sucks the life out of the over-competitive grasses, leaving space for less vigorous meadow flowers.

We planted cowslip plugs and scattered a bag of seed collected from our old allotment in 2013. In April 2014 plugs are flowering and seedlings are fighting their way through.

I collected red campion seed in 2012 and successfully grew lots of plugs. I've transplanted plants into the orchard this year.

We also collected greater knapweed seed during our evening walks and transplanted plants and scattered seed. Somethings happenin'.

And finally, the American quamash or camassia was introduced as bulblets in spring 2013. They seemed to have disappeared and I cursed our vole neighbours and their sharp hungry teeth. But the camassias are back and stronger than ever!
red campion

Unfortunately our spring flowering crocus flowers were eaten by the wood pigeons...

I've scattered lots of other seed but it's too soon to crow. But, from nothing, we have now got the beginnings of some floral diversity.

Much more to be done. Of course and I'll be collecting seed and growing plug plants to enrich the meadow during this year. Also looking to find ways of increasing the invertebrate population.

And, then,
in high summer, Mike and hope to be using our Austrian scythes to clear the hay. Scythe training. A load of laughs. Sunny day, gentle exercise. Frothing ale or refreshing cider. It's yours for the asking......


Monday, 7 April 2014

those good girls

What an odd little boy I must have been.
One of those quirky children in the class. 'Bless him, he's a real funnyossity'.

Hoy: legbar hybrid
Had this fascination with birds since the beginning. Any kind. And have loved hens. Mum promised me that one day I would be able to have some: got 'em now..

And you can imagine my sense of satisfaction as my half dozen hens forage in the mulches in the Woodland Garden or sandbathe in a freshly prepared seed bed in the vegetable garden.

And each with their own distinctive personalities.
Jess, a great big, voluble galleon of a hen. The rest named after Scottish Isles. So Eigg is the inquisitive one, Canna nice but dim, Rhum the looker, Hoy slender and smart and as sharp as a tack. And Moussa, the baby. Like some kind of free spirited hippy.

We added Hoy (white eggs) and Moussa (Greenish blue eggs) to our little flock in March. It was a tempestuous time as the others felt their place in the rigid pecking order of the hen coop was threatened by new arrivals. And both pullets were too young for egg laying at that time. We've been waiting....
Moussa: legbar hybrid

Now you probably know that Jill has got the best smile in Britain. Well, it was as wide as Maid Marion Way when she went to collect the eggs and, for the first time ever, saw that Hoy's white pullet eggs had joined those of the brown egg layers. 

There are four nest boxes in the hen house, each similar. Why then do all the hens lay in the same box? Each sitting on the other? That's just one of the a mysteries of the chicken mind.

And doesn't apply to flippertygibbert Moussa. She will lay in her own time...

Saturday, 5 April 2014

woodland garden 2014 - phase 2 finished

There's nothing more satisfying for the compulsive list maker than to cross something off.

entrance with beech hedge invisible!
make cup of tea
complete woodland garden - phase 2
put on chip pan

There. It's official. The journey that began during the Christmas holiday 2011is now half completed.

Log edged chipping paths have been laid. Structural plants (albeit baby ones!) are in and an under-storey of bulbs and perennials has been planted.

rhododendrons will screen us from views of sheds
Hollies and cotoneasters screen the boundary with Lamins Lane. There are ornamental elders and hazels, rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias. Native hollies and elders are being encouraged. The entrances to the garden from the drive have beech hedge screens planted that will be topiarised eccentrically.

Different species and varieties of sweet violets, monkshood, epimediums, geraniums, tiarellas, ferns, bergenias and snowdrops amongst many others

shrubs have been planted to shield the drive border from the garden
are ready to start massing beneath the trees and shrubs. The intention here is to have simple flowers in flower for as long as possible. Ivy's and other climbers have been planted to scramble up trunks and through branches.

Bird and bat boxes are fixed to trees and stumps. And everywhere logs for wildlife - some stacked horizontally whilst others are set into the soil in groups reaching up like grasping hands.

All aimed at meeting the needs of wildlife and our desire for a beautiful garden.

Gardening on a budget means that 'instant gardens' are not for us. Many of our plants are small at this stage of the garden's development but we hope that they will thrive and fill out wonderfully in years to come. Our hope now is for a warm growing season but with abundant rain.

And no talk about the plans for next year.... Let's just enjoy the completion of phase 2 for the time being...

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

smog over north nottingham

Weather presenters today showed our country covered by what appeared to be an ugly cold sore. The cold sore was their graphical representation of the heavy pollution hanging over us due to atmospheric conditions.

A mist has hung over the garden all morning contrasting sharply with yesterday's clear blue sky of early spring. Peacock butterflies were showing well and the first and most recognisable of our butterflies - the brimstone - was on the wing. Big and butter yellow. And giving its name 'the butterfly'.

Brimstone always have a sense of urgency in these parts, searching for a place to lay their eggs. And they're very picky - they must lay on buckthorn or occasionally on alder buckthorn.

this insignificant twig is a baby buckthorn plant
Buckthorn will only establish on moist soils and so I understand why the brimstone is a butterfly in a hurry around here. Our dry, sandy soils are not suited to establishing buckthorn and so they must travel far and wide to find their larval food plant.

My mission is biodiversity here at Cordwood and hence my order for 10 small buckthorn plants last week. Now, you have to be a bit careful with buckthorn as their country name is Purging Buckthorn. If you fancy a bit of laxity, eat their berries. Their latin name 'cathartica' is there to remind us that they have a reputation for having a powerful purgative effect. Make a tart from buckthorn berries and give it your OFSTED inspectors when they arrive.

But the birds thrive on them and I just have to get the little plants established for their first year. I can dig spadefuls of compost into their planting holes; keep them well watered in their first year and give them a good mulching of bark chippings.

Then you won't need a postcode to find us next spring
because the optimist here predicts a butter yellow* smog of brimstones lingering around the place as they seek out the Cordwood buckthorns for their precious little eggs.

* There may be a dappling within the smog because green hairstreak butterflies and dark umber moths are also attracted to buckthorn.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

woodland garden 2014

The Woodland Garden is a very flat, self-contained area to the south of our drive that consisted of overcrowded, sixty year-old, horse chestnut, sycamore and Scots pine.

Mike and (one-armed?) Rob a-rockin'
Since then we have felled trees, cleared never-ending brambles, nettles, wood avens and grass and created log edged paths and filled endless barrows with wood chippings for the paths.

We wanted to create a sense of enclosure and privacy in this discrete area and so have planted informal groups of shrubs around the edges of the garden. 

2014 saw the second phase of our work in this part of the garden with the creation of new paths, the planting of beech screens and of rhododendrons, ornamental elders and hazels. Under-planting has included such shade tolerant plants as bergenias, monkshood and dicentra.

I'll take some photos of the garden as it is now and hope to post these during the week. In the meantime, just a few photos of the garden in development and some of my able assistants who've given their time.


Friday, 21 March 2014

women happy in their work

Expect a series of posts about garden progress over the coming days.

Here's my gardening team in action tidying the vegetable garden plots.

Jill with the dachti aided by Jess, Eigg, Rhum, Canna, Mousa and Hoy.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

giving bats a home

It's becoming a cliché. But true for all that. 'Their numbers are in serious decline'.  This time that epithet is attached to our bats.

A drastic decline in the numbers of insects; changes to our homes providing fewer places for them to roost and breed; light pollution; and land and woodland management are all believed to have taken their toll. Bats need our help.

Our long term plan at Cordwood is to ensure that our garden is chock full of flowering plants for as long a period in the year as possible. We have also packed the garden with decaying logs because these encourage invertebrates which in turn feed bats. And, of course, we do not use pesticides.

And pictured is another part of the strategy...

This 'des.res. for bats' measures 60cm X 30 cm. Its made from untreated cedar tongue-and-groove and stands 1cm away from the cedar cladding to which it is fixed. It is on the north side of our bungalow in a quiet corner.

Now, I must admit that in all my time making and siting bat boxes I've had absolutely no success. Whatsoever. Diddley squat. I'm the Eddie the Eagle Edwards of bat houses.

It will be difficult to attract bats but

1. I take comfort from our house sparrow box that was adopted by a chirruping cock sparrer within less than a month of putting it up.

2. Let's take inspiration from himself:

That's an impossible shot, Batman. 
That's a negative attitude, Robin.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

house sparrows

It's sometimes the small triumphs that mark out the success of the day. Today has been special.

But allow me to take a step or two back first.

In the UK, house sparrow (passer domesticus) numbers have halved since the 1970's. I put up a house sparrow nesting box at our former home and this coincided with the disappearance of house sparrows from our road.

And now, although there are house sparrows living abundantly in some areas, there are other areas where the once commonplace chirruping is now absent.

On our arrival at Cordwood, I was delighted to hear a cacophony of house sparrows coming over the hedge. They love to be in groups, they love to skulk around in close clipped bushes such as privet and for their untidy nests they need gaps and cavities that are typical of older or 'unimproved' buildings.

We have conquered our privet hedge and it is now close clipped and big. But our new home has no places for the birds to nest. So, in the topsy turvy world of my priorities I set aside time to make one of the special nest boxes that house sparrows are supposed to love. Unlike other birds, their boxes have space for three families living in the same sectioned nest box. And the birds seem to like nests that are some way over head height.

So, I made my colony box, sited it on the vertical north face of our new bungalow and told myself that it wouldn't be used for several seasons.

Checking out the centre compartment
So, I'm working in the orchard, listening to the sparrows chirruping to my north when I hear one calling over to the north west. Strike a light, I can see it on the roof above my colony box! Only a couple of weeks after the box was sited.
Coming out of the right compartment

Ok... I know... Yeah yeah... It was probably just prospecting. And these secretive birds would be distinctly underwhelmed by me working on the earth sheltering just below the box which I had to do later that morning.

Chirruping on the roof
But it's a start! I zoomed the CCTV camera in and achieved the worst photos in the blogosphere to show our little fellah checking us out...

I'm walking on sunshine!!!!

Thursday, 6 March 2014

planting the earth sheltered mounding

Jill has been busy these past few weeks!

The earth banking that 'shelters' Waxwings on its north side needed a planting scheme. Our plan was to create a heather bank with low growing conifers. Then we realised that the northern sides of the building remain in shade between November and February. Heathers need full sun.

Undeterred we threw away that planting scheme and began again.

And now we are using plants that will tolerate shade - conifers are still in there, but now we are using such things as azaleas, skimmias and box to create a structure. Heucheras, hostas, bergenias, tellimas, liriopes, carex and geraniums are planted in groups. The advantage of this planting for us is that we have been propagating lots of these for some time.

We still have heathers in our sites but will try them out in small groups. If they work and are unaffected by the shade during their dormant season, we will increase their number.

My job is to fill my wheelbarrow with wood chippings and barrow them up the mound to mulch the shrubs. It'll be such fun!!! Volunteers form an orderly queue......

I've also adorned the northern cedar boarded vertical wall with a house sparrow colony box. You can just see it in the top left hand corner of the photo. Of course, the sparrows that were close by moved away just before I put up the box - typical....

Monday, 3 March 2014

planting winter aconites

winter aconites
Plants carry with them associations and memories.

Our garden is stuffed full of such loaded plants: the walnut given to us by Trev and Linda; the skimmia japonica planted along the drive taken from cuttings from the original plant grown by mum and dad in Wilford; or the acer negundo 'flamingo' re-homed from Sarah's.

And yet more associations and memories were added yesterday.

Our dear friend Sue Shardlow lost her fight with cancer recently. She had never had the opportunity to join us at Cordwood and we know that she would have loved it here.

After her funeral, I asked her husband (our pal Kris) if he would like to join us planting winter aconites along our drive in Sue's memory. Sue enjoyed gardening.

Aconites can be rather fussy so we thought that we'd begin with a trial planting of 100 bulbs this year. We expect them to flourish and in which case we will add further plantings in coming years.
Flowering before other plants, our hope is that they go on to carpet our drive on both sides and in doing so bring thoughts of Sue each time we see them.

Here's our little team of planters: Kris, 3T; Lindsey, us - and little visitor Max.

Thanks especially to Naturescape who ensured that the bulbs were here on time for our planting.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

luxury is ...

Most of slabbing done:
great work guys!

Luxury is:
having room to park the car now that tonne bags of roadstone and pallets of paving slabs have been used
not marching through a pile of sharp sand on the way to the utility room
and not needing Wellingtons to get to the front door..

Just got a small amount of landscaping to do now. It's on the list....

Monday, 24 February 2014

Could this be perfect ...?

New hazel path
A friend puzzled me. She said 'Have a happy birthday tomorrow. Don't'. 'Don't'? I wondered. Not the most charitable birthday greeting I'd hoped to receive.
Then the second half of the message came through.... 'work too hard'. Don't work too hard.

And I guess, for lots of people that message could have been just right. It's your day. Relax if you can. Put your feet up.

But I've never been a feet up kinda guy: my idea of perfect is doing something purposeful.

We've been doing that for several days now. As a compulsive list maker, my lists runneth over at the moment:

Begin planting north facing earth mounds
Barrow chippings along new hazel path in Woodland Garden
Begin 'Lasagne gardening' to create Fragrant Garden
Edge, weed and mulch apple and pear corden beds
Begin weeding and rationalising Vegetable Garden beds
Wash and then barrow gravel around patio edging

All of this, and plenty of family and friends coming over.

And while we were working today, I saw 100 golden plovers wheeling and circling above the fields.

Could this be perfect?