Saturday, 26 March 2022

Garage nest box

A birthday present to myself was a camera in the garage gable nest box.

Last year stock doves raised two broods there.
We were delighted just now when a female kestrel made an appearance.

Monday, 10 January 2022

'Forest bathing'...

Walking in the park not only makes us feel good, enjoying the sights and sounds of nature brings many benefits for our health.

In Japan, a forest bathing trip, is a short, leisurely visit to a forest; it is regarded as being similar to natural aromatherapy. 

When walking in the park you will be breathing in the scents of the woodland. These include 

phytoncides which have antibacterial and antifungal qualities which, when people breathe in these chemicals, our bodies respond to by increasing the number and activity of a type of white blood cell called natural killer cells. These cells kill tumour- and virus-infected cells in our bodies.

Spending time in woodland can reduce the negative effects of cytokines which affect the growth of all blood cells and other cells that help the body's immune and inflammation responses. It will also help to boost anti-cancer activity by sending signals that can help make abnormal cells die and normal cells live longer. Cytokines are crucial for fighting off infections and in other immune responses

There is a great deal of evidence that your walk in the park will benefit your heart and your immune system and contribute to reducing anxiety and depression.

The benefits to children are known to all teachers and parents, especially that children concentrate much better after being outside in first hand contact with nature.

So enjoy your walk in the knowledge that it’s doing you good!

Don’t believe me? Spend fifteen minutes listening to Just One Thing Podcast ‘Green Spaces’ BBC Dr Michael Moseley

Monday, 3 January 2022

A 'mindful moment' from the Woodland Garden

Here's a 'mindful moment' from the Woodland Garden…

We have passed the shortest day. Robin song trickles. A hint of yolk yellow from primroses. Snowdrops yet to emerge. The warm butter of winter aconite flowers still under the mulch of leaves.

The Woodland Garden has few places for birds' bathing or drinking so a little raised bed has been repurposed.
  • 350mm X 900mm.
  • Pond liner.
  • Remnants of wood for edging.
  • Shallow end for bathing and easier entry and exit.
Chaffinch, jay, great spotted woodpecker, magpie, carrion crow, kestrel, tawny owl, blackbird, wren and dunnock call this part of the garden home.

An early adopter was ‘The Pretender’. This cock pheasant slugged it out with the older, heavier male  ('The Warrior') throughout last year: the older bird held his ground besting the slighter upstart. To the victor the spoils of the best feeding and the pheasant hens. This year has seen a change in the power balance. The old male still battles with his young sparring partner but it seems the older bird has been vanquished. The spoils go to the burnished gold Pretender with his characteristic thick, pure white neck band. This is now his preserve. He struts now rather than skulks.

Other, predicable pond users are the wood pigeons. Their thirst appears unquenchable as is their need to bathe. Less predictable is this species’ downgrading from green to amber in the latest BTO published list of bird populations. When even the ubiquitous wood pigeon is in decline, we are in serious trouble.

Saturday, 18 December 2021

'you missed a treat ..'

Female orange tip on bluebell
Here, on a murky and frankly miserable December day, summer seems another land. It was so lovely to receive a review from the Butterfly Conservation magazine, looking back on August in the garden in that other country...

Gardening can be a lonely old undertaking but its delights are doubled when shared with others.

'We just want to say what a fabulous environment you have created and we thoroughly enjoyed our visit. Great work you have done. Today we went to buy wildflower seeds which we will scatter/sow. We have some photos to send but did not note the e mail to send them to! Also if you repeat your open garden event please let us know we have been telling people how wonderful your oasis is and we think more people would want to visit'.

We opened our garden for Butterfly Conservation this year. It was a memorable day resulting in a donation of £400 to the charity.
Comma on marjoram

Wonderful day at a magic garden, with great people and yummy cakes! 11 Butterfly species, Toad, Common Newt and my first Slow Worm!! Lots of insects feasting on the wild meadows and pollinator plants in the gardens. We will talk about this for years. A Huge Thank You'.

Our thanks to all our amazing family and friends who gave their time to making the day such success. 

And special thanks to our garden visitors. 

The biodynamic calendar has this as a 'grey day' - one in which it is not ideal to plant, sow or harvest.

But finishing the next in a series of small wildlife ponds isn't excluded so out into the Woodland Garden I will go..

Perhaps you'll come and marvel at my little ponds  next year???

Wednesday, 27 October 2021

A sewage story

I’ve been writing to my MP, Severn Trent Water and the Environment Agency for some time about their ruinous policy of pouring more and more raw sewage into our watercourses.
Here’s my latest run of correspondence...

Sent 29 October 2021

Sent 26 October 2021

Sent 6 November 2021

Sent 7 November 2021

Tuesday, 26 October 2021

Climate crisis and harvest


In looping flight on rounded wings, jays busy themselves. Our garden is a woodland clearing. The jays are especially active now, each bird searching out and hiding away up to 5,000 acorns during the season.  They are a wonder of the bird world growing their hypocampus to enable them to remember where each nugget of food is hidden. Nature’s white-rumped, piece-working tree planters. The more food they can ‘cache’ the more they’ll have to eat when times get tough. In spring, tiny oaks emerge where jays have ‘planted’ them.

I recently saw a clip of a jay vocalising: not the usual fingernails-down-the-blackboard squark but quiet, subtle, mesmerising sub-chatter indicating a lively intelligence that is confirmed in their eyes.

They are usually far too clever to be caught by our ringing nets. But, on those rare occasions when they are in the hand, the dusky pink of their plumage and the electric blue wing flash are truly beautiful.

This has been a poor apple crop - affected by the late spring and the prolonged dry spell: one fifth of last year’s harvest. Stored apples lasted well into spring last year tricking us into thinking that each year would see a similar abundance of apple juice, compote, cakes and puddings.

Fly agaric

A smaller harvest too of our favourite pale blue winter Crown Prince squash. The fruits are so well armoured that it can be hazardous chopping off chunks for kitchen use. Thankfully no fingers lost or serious abdominal injuries as I carve into the 6 kg monster. The rich orange, oven-roasted flesh has already contributed to velvety soups flavoured with rosemary and bay. I served our first squash soup of the season with mountainous cheese scones. My public expressed approval. With luck the few squash we have will last well into the new year.

Although some harvests have been below our expectations, others have exceeded them: our best ever swede and calabrese (broccoli) for instance.

Of course, this health above ground is only achieved by nourishing the soil - the soul of the garden. By applying thick coats of our own compost to the soil surface we enable the essential soil invertebrates and mycorrhizal fungi to flourish and they are the reason our plants grow with vigour on Nottinghamshire sand.

The dampness of the autumn has probably contributed to the diversity of toadstools in the garden. Scarlet, spotted fly agarics have flourished. Shaggy ink caps have been abundant in the lawn.

This winter I intend to ‘re-skin’ the polytunnel. The old plastic is held together with tape and has lost its’ tension. This time I’ll refine the design to allow greater ventilation during the heat of the summer when the polytunnel frequently becomes too hot for ripening.

Crown Prince squash and Beefmaster tomatoes 

Tomatoes ripen at 21-24C (70-75F) but ripening stops above 29.4C (85F) when carotene & lycopene pigments cannot be produced. Improved  ventilation should allow us to better regulate the polytunnel temperature. 

Now, the last tomatoes hang from the naked plants - all leaves removed to increase airflow around the fruits. They are still ripening and we continue to harvest when they show first signs of colouring then store at room temperature. Their flavour is intensified by oven roasting. Beans have been reluctant to dry.

There is a holistic connection between working to nourish the natural world and the growing of food that is within everyone’s grasp. As well as those of us blessed with gardens, allotments, balconies, community gardens all give the opportunities to grow our own wonderful nutritious, organic food cheaply and to nurture what is natural. 

The biophilia hypothesis suggests that there is an instinctive bond between human beings and other living systems. We certainly feel that connection after time in our green world and the healing power of the natural world has entered the national consciousness.

Another benefit of growing one’s own food is that food miles and waste are eliminated. Up to 30% of all vegetables are rejected by the supermarkets as crops are not the right shape or appearance. This waste contributes directly to climate change through the breakdown of food in landfill and the production of harmful methane and wasteful and unnecessary use of fertilisers and transport.

We can all take small steps like reducing food waste to contribute to combatting climate crisis.

As we enjoy the harvest at the end of this growing season, like all gardeners and growers we are already planning for the next.

This time we hope to move beyond our established organic and no-dig methods - we will be trialling biodynamic ideas. These include much more attention to the moon and cosmos and extend to the use of the biodynamic preparations used to give extra health to soil and plants.

Thursday, 30 September 2021

Poppa says he's sorry ...

Autumn arrived this week. Leaves had hung on in the face of our pronged dry period. Then the rains came in huge downpour and now spent leaves are building along paths and the drive. Sweeping leaves and emptying gutters now added to list of jobs.

There've always been heavy rains but our country park rangers report that the ferocity of downpours is causing much greater footpath and bridleway erosion than was experienced in the earlier days of the park: a relatively trivial cost of climate crisis compared to the life-changing effects of climate change for so many others.

The sense that we’re sailing resolutely in the wrong direction smacks me every day. 
Such disconnectedness with the natural world and the de-naturing of everything around us.

Today, a study showing the levels of pesticide residues in commonly-eaten fruit and veg. Although said to be within legal limits:
A. Our experience tells us that formerly safe exposure is later judged unsafe as further evidence emerges e.g. lead, asbestos, thalidomide, cigarette smoking and so on

B. We have little idea of how the chemicals being used on our food interact together. My guess is it will not be benign.

And today too, the go-ahead for the eventual growing of genetically modified plants in the UK which are banned in the EU.
Too many intensive farms are over-abstracting water from underground reserves; degrading soils and creating massive, toxic no-go zones for invertebrates and therefore birds. Genetically-modified plants do nothing to reverse this. The only benefit to this initiative is to the massively wealthy and influential multinational companies who promote these for reasons of profit. 

Meanwhile, the HS2 politicians vanity project grinds meaninglessly, damagingly and expensively forward. 

Then there’s the report in which more microplastics were found in babies’ faeces than in adults. One cannot believe that the effects will be beneficial.

And my grandchildren (amongst the most- privileged on earth) can expect to grow up in a world of continuing climate crises where their lives are blighted by the consequences of this accumulation of awful environmental news and a succession of weather catastrophes.

Greta is right - it's just 'Blah Blah Blah'.

If my grandchildren ever read this, Poppa says he's sorry.

Sunday, 12 September 2021

Dry September in Sherwood



No-dig vegetable beds on our dusty sand continue to yield - but are getting desperate. The farm field irrigator harasses me along the footpath on my morning walk. It is watering a field of unharvested potatoes where the haulm was killed by spraying at least two weeks ago. Prior to that they received a weekly fungicide spray.

In a rare short shower a robin in mid-moult bathes on the wet leaves of winter honeysuckle (lonicera purpussii). A whit-whitting nuthatch. On the pine stump a glorious male kestrel on its' regular beat. Fluting young buzzards. The deep grunt of ravens.

Our recycled water tanks still provide stored rainwater for afternoon or evening watering of Container Garden pots, polytunnel and recent transplants. I’m behind so my ‘Watering Wednesday’ is performed the following Sunday.

Senshui yellow multi-sown overwintering onions

In the biodynamic calendar we are still within ‘Northern transplanting time’ (descending moon) which we are told is a good time for planting and for applying compost to the soil. Multi-sown Senshui yellow onions and onion sets are now in the ground. The grumpy toad I re-homed from one of the compost bays disagreed that this was a good time for moving compost. I explained to her that on some days you're the pigeon and others the statue.

We are adopted by a vocal, tiny, baby grey squirrel. It stumbles about following us. It must have tumbled from its drey. These animals are pests capable of doing a lot of damage to a home with wood gables and cedar shingles on the roof. I gentle it into a bucket and release it in a corner of the Woodland Garden where cyclamen hederifolium splashes the floor in colours from white to magenta..

Frosted orange moth
Invertebrates are active - and hunting common and soprano pippistrelle and noctule bats click the detector at night.

Our moth light registers the turning seasons with ninety five moths of twenty one species including:

Dusky thorn

Black rustic

Frosted orange

Orange sallow  


The light was a magnet too for coupling crane flies. And parasitic ichneumon wasps which performed death dances around the moths. 

I mowed the lawn and now a mountain of mowings has joined the piles of invasive red stemmed parrot feather dredged from Georges Pond waiting to be composted.

Every dip of the net into the pond brought dragonfly and damselfly nymphs and smooth newts still in their aquatic larval stage.

Next doors lawn has been ploughed by badgers.

Cyclamen hederifolium

Thursday, 2 September 2021

Biodynamic gardening and the influence of the moon and stars

Natural honey bee hive
Had a fascinating visit to the Weleda biodynamic gardens in Shipley near Ilkeston, Derbyshire with inspirational Claire Hattersley as our guide two weeks ago.

We’ve been organic gardeners since reading Lawrence Hills in ‘78.

Charles Dowding’s no-dig methods developed and extended our understandings from 2018 (thanks NOGS).

Claire and Jill and outdoor shelter
And now the principles of biodynamic gardening await.

Someone asked me how I'd describe biodynamic gardening and I said it's a bit like Geoff Hamilton meets Severus Snape.. Many conventional gardeners would consider biodynamic gardening as akin to the dark arts.

Some elements will need more research but the influence of the moon and planets (whilst still needing more reading) certainly make a lot of sense.

Having said that, I still have a long way to go to reorientate my gardening practices. I am heading off now for 'watering Wednesday' when containers, new plantings and the poly tunnel get a drink. Biodynamic principles say I should water in the afternoon and evening. 

And yes - it's already Thursday!

Here’s a link to Claire’s presentation on the influence of the moon & planets. Fascinating to learn when best to crop, sow, mulch, prune and water:

Worryingly, she’s coming over to see our garden next month….

Saturday, 21 August 2021

High summer pomp..

Garden art by James Brunt

The garden is in its pomp now.
Replete with flowers and berries.

My own weight in early & second early potatoes lifted & boxed.

Today around twenty mistle thrushes playing 'king-of-the-castle' on a tree stump by George's Pond.

And the wonderful art of James Brunt with the help of family and friends…

Male common blue butterfly

Saturday, 31 July 2021

Open Garden for Butterfly Conservation at Goldcrest and Waxwings

Thank you to all those who joined us for our open garden for Butterfly Conservation; to all those who helped; all those whose comments were so affirming or who sent us photos. £400 was raised.
Enjoying refreshments at Goldcrest.

Small skippers on marjoram

Rosa 'Simple Peach'

Was a smashing day! Cake and tea on the lawn. Beautiful setting, so tranquil, dragonflies swooped over Georges pond....perfect

Wonderful day at a magic garden, with great people and yummy cakes! 11 Butterfly species, Toad, Common Newt and my first Slow Worm!! Lots of insects feasting on the wild meadows and pollinator plants in the gardens. We will talk about this for years. A Huge Thank You to Rob, Jill, Judith and Roger  and all the helpers.

George's Pond

I’ll not lie had a tear. Your dreams came true. Love to you all,it was a privilege to be apart of it .

We just want to say what a fabulous environment you have created and we thoroughly enjoyed our visit. Great work you have done. Today we went to buy wildflower seeds which we will scatter/sow. We have some photos to send but did not note the e mail to send them to! Also if you repeat your open garden event please let us know we have been telling people how wonderful your oasis is and we think more people would want to visit. Best wishes

A view through Waxwings Woodland Garden

Really enjoyed my afternoon wandering around this beautiful garden and woodland, absolutely stunning. 

Thanks to Helen and Mike for use of their photos..

Tuesday, 27 April 2021

cold, drying winds ...

Cold, drying winds. Frost most mornings.

Amelanchier 'Lamarckii'

The April showers of folklore seem only a memory now that we are seeing this weather for the second successive year. The farm irrigating machines are working round the clock.

We have almost exhausted the 4000 litres of collected rainwater stored for watering plants in the polytunnel, greenhouse and outdoor pots and containers.

But established plants are resilient. Amelanchier 'Lamarckii' is our 'plant of the week': abundant tiny flowers fill every stem at the moment.

Robin eggs
In the shed, our robin has a clutch of four eggs in a bulky nest tucked away at the back of a shelf. She's completely comfortable incubating her eggs when Jill works away at the potting bench, only feet away. I close the shed door each night, leaving a window open. Before I could open the shed door in the morning I watched the male call the female off the nest from a perch in the tulip pots. She nimbly exited via the opened window for her breakfast.

Feral greylag geese
Two feral greylags joined us today. And a heron on the pond where earlier four mallard drakes dabbled. Feral geese are attracted to the piles of discarded vegetables dumped in the nearby fields. The vegetables frequently appear to be of good quality and take a while to achieve the distinctive fragrance we've become accustomed to. A younger me would have considered setting up a social enterprise to turn the discarded vegetables into something more useful as they are only in the piles due to the exacting aesthetic standards of the supermarket behemoths. 

Voles now appear to be reaching the 'abundant' stage in the garden. Their holes puncture most of the beds and perforate the edge of the lawn. They've colonised the spongy trunk of an old silver birch that fell last year and has been left in the border. Voles are important to food chains. Here a badger has dug out one of the vole nests. Almost daily a stoat is seen hunting around: coal-black eyes with such a lively intelligence. We've yet to see a garden weasel but I'm pretty sure they'll be seen soon, disappearing down vole burrows in search of prey. Our tawnies continue to incubate in the big box above the stumpery: they'll welcome the number of voles we're currently entertaining.
Excavated vole nest

And vole burrows are especially useful to bumble bee queens who use the burrows for their nests. A buff-tailed queen was seen entering one of the burrows this week.

The badgers have discovered the apiary. We're fearing their next move and may need to find a way of securing the hives as a determined badger could easily topple a hive topped with several supers, despite the weight.

Pipistrelle bat
Pippistrelle bats are recorded here most nights, even in very cold evenings. The received wisdom is that they fly when the air is warmer. Perhaps they're getting impatient and fly despite the risks of getting chilled in fruitless search for flying insects.. I watched two bats hunting above the bee hives at dusk - presumably picking-off latecomers who were returning after a long foraging shift. 

Today, overhead, a swallow ... and our first swift of the year. That air-borne scimitar makes my heart leap and it is earlier than previous records here. Some years I have had no records for what was once a very common bird.

My trail cameras continue to monitor the progress of carrion crows, wood pigeons - and pheasants. 
Our Old Warrior pheasant cock is in his third year here and taps imperiously on the window when it's time for more corn. When the seed is cast for him he 'whup-whup-whups' to call one of his harem to feed. He's steadily being bested  by a young pretender. The two cock birds fight constantly and the Old Warrior is losing territory. An unwary hen is ambushed by three fighting males. There's no question of consent.

Last night one of the trail cameras picked up a muntjac. I check the camera cards each morning and delete countless videos of - nothing really.. It's a labour of love.
It was good to begin with 'Oh! Deer!' rather than the usual oh dear.

Wednesday, 14 April 2021

the lost birds ...

This morning my first swallow. A single. Above the coach road, then low over the trammelled soil of the
arable fields.

And bird song. Song thrushes notable: four singing males on my daily tour of this end of the country park. This, despite the persistent morning frosts, indicating a 'Blackthorn winter': one where blackthorn blossom coincides with winter's lingering cold fingers. A long dry spring with fields already being irrigated.

But with the promise of spring and the arrival of the swallow, it is easy to ignore how silent this spring truly is. Dunnocks still flutter. Chiffchaffs tick-tock. Great tits ''teacher-teacher'. Goldfinches' tinsel song. Above the stumpery, the night time ululation of a male tawny suggested a breeding attempt. A female was in the box when we checked - with take-away remains strewn around the bedroom.

But nowhere our proper entitlement of yellowhammers, corn buntings, marsh tits or tree sparrows.

The hedgerows, fields and margins are devoid of the wildlife that has been resident here for perhaps thousands of years. We are living Rachel Carson's Silent Spring nightmare. News this week that the pesticides used in agriculture now have twice the toxicity of early ones suggests part of the problem..  

'Shifting baseline syndrome' tells us that young people growing up will expect the wildlife they now experience as being the norm.

I'll tell you what the 'norm' is.

Or rather Norm himself.

We met Norman (80 this year) half a century ago. He is now a dear friend and local birdwatching legend. He graces us with visits to birdwatch in the garden.

I'll let Norman tell you what's missing from the walk I currently undertake each day:

This is what 'shifting baseline syndrome' means..... I find this living testimony truly sad.

And it takes us in one of two directions. We either accept the loss as remorseless and inevitable.

Or we use it as a battle-cry that takes us forward to regain what has been lost.

I'm for the fight. You?

Thursday, 1 April 2021

Bake your own bread.....

Baking bread has been done for thousands of years. It remains one of the most-satisfying human endeavours. It is magical and never loses its' fascination.

Wholemeal loaf with pumpkin
and sunflower seeds
I began baking our own bread during a bakers strike in 1978. Been baking since.

This bread dough recipe will make loaves, rolls (cobs), flatbreads ...

Here's what to do:

750g strong plain flour (organic is always best)
2 teaspoons fast-action yeast
2 teaspoons salt
500ml warm water

1. Combine all ingredients and mix to form dough.

2. Then knead for 20 minutes until dough is soft and stretchy

..unless you have a slow-speed mixer or bread machine - in which 10 minutes will do.
Mixed flour rolls (cobs)

3. Put dough into covered bowl and leave somewhere gently warm until doubles in bulk.

4. When doubled, squash dough down and put into bread or cake tins and leave to rise again until doubled.

5. Bake at 200C for around 25 minutes.

6. Bread is ready to cool on drying rack when removed from tin and when tapped on base sounds hollow.

7. Leave to cool and then eat.

When cooled, bread may be sliced and frozen if you wish.

That is the end of today's lesson. Enjoy!

Delicious doesn't do it justice!!!

Send photos of successes (and failures!).

Sunday, 28 March 2021

Gardeners must stop using peat NOW!!

Ambassador peas in peat-free compost
Gardeners must stop using peat NOW!!

Look. This is so simple. Let's not faff about...

The government has failed to stop peat production and consumption by gardeners and the horticultural industry. It could and should have. But money talks...

These are the simple reasons why use of peat must be banned:
  • Most garden compost contains peat.
  • Peat is extracted from peat bogs - as the peat oxidises it releases long-stored carbon dioxide into the air adding to global CO2. 
  • Peat bogs are rare and precious habitats which, once lost, are impossible to ever restore.
Winter salads in peat free compost

In our can't-be-arsed society you may think making your own peat-free compost is going to take time. It isn't. 

So, make your own
Peat-free compost can be an expensive option but it's so easy to make your own better-than-peat compost.

Here's Jill's recipe:
Mix together
  • One part coir compost (reconstituted)
  • One part home-made sieved garden compost
  • Half measure perlite or vermiculite.
Peas in peat-free compost

Job done!

Once a bag of peat-based compost is opened it loses its fertility within weeks.

Jill's recipe can be made up on demand.

Stop using peat NOW!