Archive | February 2016

Too much salt is bad for you

And for most plants too.

My house is 4 miles inland with a large hill sheltering it from onshore winds. Salt spray is obviously not a normal problem, as when we arrived all the mature evergreens were well grown with healthy shiny leaves.

Then we had storm Imogen…

 

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Nearly every evergreen has been burned by the salt, from the primroses in the lawn to the native ivy growing up the ash tree. It is such a shame. The affected plants won’t die, hopefully, but they will shed all the damaged leaves, and will look bare and lopsided. I will work my way round cutting them back, and hopefully they will regrow from lower down. Some may never look as good as they did before the storm.

 

On a brighter note, the rain has stopped, and the soil is drying out. I have finally been able to do some creative gardening, rather than just destructive gardening. I planted my two newest hellebores by the woodland path. This one is a Hillier hybrid just called White Spotted.

 

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This one is unusual in that it is most attractive on the outside, which is a very useful trait in a nodding flower such as a hellebore. It is ‘Anja Oudolf’.

 

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They don’t yet look very impressive in the border, but they should clump up over time.

 

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Today I dug a new border along the fence that separates our front garden from next door’s driveway. Just a narrow bed, about 3 metres long. Should have been easy, right? I got six half-buckets of stones out of that small bed! (Half a bucket is quite heavy enough to carry in one go). They weren’t all small stones either, as I levered out a good half dozen that were bigger than a brick. Eventually I did manage to get the plants in – a Berberidopsis which will have red summer flowers, a Chaenomeles that has red flowers right now, two Skimmia ‘Red Riding Hood’ which will have red berries and a male Skimmia, ‘Fragrans’, to pollinate them.

 

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I may add a few smaller plants for the short term, but eventually these five shrubs should completely cover this border, and provide colour all year round.

My last job of the day was to plant a little primula that I couldn’t resist buying, even though the garden is full of primulas. But this ‘Blue Gem’ is rather sweet!

 

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A need for sea air

I have just spent a pleasant week ‘back home’, visiting relatives and friends. Nice as it was, I breathed a huge sigh of contentment when I passed the Devon county boundary on the way home. In just a few weeks I have become very accustomed to the quieter way of life here. Today I felt a need to go to the coast, to breathe in the salty air and to hear the sound of the waves. To reassure myself that it is still there, I suppose, and to fill my senses.

 

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So I took a detour on the way to the supermarket, and went for a stroll on my favourite beach. This is Barricane Beach, just to the North of the huge long stretch of Woolacombe Sands. In contrast to its giant neigbour, it is a narrow sliver of a beach, and it is not even sandy…

 

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It is almost entirely made of crushed shells. Here on the high tide line, you can see the larger, mostly complete shells that accumulate , but the smaller particles are also shells, just finely crushed. For some reason, the current just happens to wash them all up into this little cove.

 

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The rocks here are sculpted by the waves into fantastic shapes, and there are many large and small rockpools to explore.

 

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The tide was quite low this afternoon, so I was able to walk round the end of the rocks onto the vast expanse of sands in the next bay.

 

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As I strolled around the beach, the tide rose just enough to seal off Barricane Bay…well, almost.

 

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This little chasm leads back to the top of the beach, and is just wide enough to walk through. Good job I had wellies on.

 

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It may have been a bit grey today, not very warm, and with a bite to the wind, but a walk on my favourite beach was just what I needed.

 

 

Another one for the mammals list!

Our mammals list for the garden is not huge – Red deer, squirrel, rabbit, fox. We hope to add hedgehog and maybe roe deer at some point, and there are definitely small mice or voles, but we are yet to catch a glimpse of them. But today we had a superb visitor – a stoat, and right by the house, no less.

 

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It was interesting to watch him wiggle his way in and out of our log pile, popping his head up to check for danger, then disappearing again, only to emerge somewhere else. They are just so flexible. This is what we love about living in the countryside; being surrounded by such a wide variety of wildlife.

Our one big fat rabbit is now two big fat rabbits, so who knows how quickly they will produce lots of little rabbits. The stoat could come in very useful in keeping them in check, as they love a rabbit or three. I may love wildlife, but I don’t want all my precious plants nibbled by rabbits!

I am away for the next week, visiting family, so won’t be rambling on about Devon until I get back. Talk to you then!

A local celebrity and some garden visitors

All avian, of course…

There has been a rare Glossy ibis on the flooded fields we pass on the way to the supermarket. He is one of a small number found in the UK each winter, and will soon be off to sunny Spain to breed. The coast path runs right past him, and he is a bit of a local celebrity, having been photographed many times, appearing on facebook almost every day. Taken in sunshine, those photos show the oily gleam of green and purple in his plumage. My picture…well, at least I got one, and even with a mallard for size comparison.

 

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He was, very obligingly, right in my corner of the field, feeding incessantly. He probed the sloppy mud with a slightly open bill, and when he found a worm he grabbed it, and gave it a quick rinse in the nearest tiny puddle of muddy water, before sucking it up like spaghetti.

Nearby is a small duckpond, a pleasant place to spend a few minutes.

 

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We have have had two more winter specialities in the garden, which is really exciting. We caught them as part of our garden bird ringing program, which increases our knowledge if the birds are retrapped elsewhere.

 

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This is a male Brambling – isn’t he pretty? They are often found in big flocks in the winter, but we have just had the one, feeding below the feeders with the chaffinches. It was lovely to catch him for a closer look. He will be going North later in the Spring to breed in Siberia or Scandinavia – wouldn’t it be interesting if he was recaptured there, so we found out where he went?

 

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This tiny finch is a Lesser Redpoll, who is a fairly ordinary streaky brown, apart from its little forehead patch of deep red. They do breed in this country, but are much easier to see in the winter….especially when they land in your net! We hadn’t seen one in the garden until we caught it. It is great to see such a variety of birds in the garden – a real contrast to our handkerchief sized garden in Hertfordshire. I can’t wait to see what we get when the Spring migration starts.

February at Rosemoor – bulbs and sculptures

My mother kindly gave me RHS membership for Christmas, and I was keen to visit our local garden at Rosemoor, near Great Torrington. Like all RHS gardens, it is really well kept, with lots of interesting, choice plants, and there is always something to see in all seasons.

 

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There were plenty of spring bulbs in flower, but interestingly, all the daffodils were delicate species, with no big strident trumpet varieties. Very stylish! These ones under the tree were N. bulbodicum, the hoop-petticoat daffodil.

 

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There is a very nice winter garden, and I loved this combination of a yellow witch hazel with the red berried Skimmia, and the lush grass.

 

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There has been a sculpture exhibition all winter, with all the works for sale. There were plenty to discover, and I didn’t take photos of all, just those that appealed to me. Unsurprisingly they are mostly of animals, or plants.

 

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The stag would have come home with me, except we can re-furnish the living room with the money he would cost…

There is lots of inspiration in a garden like Rosemoor.

 

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Not sure I need a hobbit hole though…

 

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I shall try and visit once a month through the year. Visitors are welcome to come too…

Birds in close-up

My other half is a bird ringer, and he is trapping and ringing birds which come to our bird feeders in the garden. Ringing birds and then re-catching them helps us to understand what is happening to birds in the places they live and how this affects population increases and decreases. It also gives information on the movements individual birds make and how long they live for. I used to be a ringer too, and although I no longer have a permit, I still help out.

 

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We catch blue tits, great tits, coal tits, robins, thrushes, chaffinches, greenfinches, and a few others. Below are a few of my favourites, starting with the goldfinch. We catch a lot of these!

 

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We catch a fair few siskin, a delicate little bird that is rarely seen in most gardens, but will come in to feeders in the middle of winter.

 

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Nuthatches come in occasionally, grab a seed and fly straight off, so you have to be quick to see them on the feeders.

 

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Occasionally a sparrowhawk will swoop through the garden, and all the birds scarper immediately! And last week, the male just happened to swoop straight into our net, which is a first for this garden. Isn’t he super?

 

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After the storm

Storm Imogen hit the South West pretty hard yesterday. The wind was very strong, and then it got stronger, and the odd gust was ridiculously strong. We postponed our shopping trip which would have involved two high bridges over the Taw and the Torridge, and it was a good thing we did, as both were closed later in the day. Instead we stayed inside worrying about the huge beech trees which tower over our drive. The cars were moved to safety, but in fact, only small twigs fell.

Further down the garden we were not so lucky.

 

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The top of a large sycamore fell, and broke off two other branches on the way down. Ah well, more wood for next winter’s fires.

The wind also tore the door off the old blue summerhouse, spreading broken glass over the garden. Another thing to be replaced when funds allow. We knew it was rotting, and wouldn’t last long, but had really hoped it would have survived this year.

Then, to finish the day off nicely, at about 4pm the power went off, to our village and two neighbouring ones, with at least 6 hours estimated for fixing it. Sigh…

The wind was starting to ease a little, so we drove to the coast to see the state of the sea, from a safe distance, I might add. It was difficult holding the camera steady, so the pics are not good, but the sea was very impressive with a huge swell, lots of white breakers, and foam everywhere.

 

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We then joined most of the population of the affected villages in the fish and chip shops of Braunton for our dinner. Never have they seen so many customers on a Monday in winter! We dawdled over our dishes, making the most of the warmth and light, then returned to our cold and dark house. A merry blaze in the woodburner soon took the chill off the living room, and we lit all our candles and chatted for a couple of hours. Then it was downstairs for a chilly night’s sleep. The power came back on during the night, and the freezer shows no signs of defrosting, which is a bonus. The house took a while to warm up today, not aided by a stream of short, sharp hailstorms, and even some snow.

 

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Even though we are 4 miles inland, our windows are now covered with a layer of salt! Roll on Spring, this is getting boring now…

 

Progress in the garden

 

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I have now removed the tumbledown rose arch, which opens up a lovely view of the bank beyond. Ok, there’s not much planted on that bit, but give me time…I do like a garden centre visit! The other news is that the biggest of my three thickets of Rosa rugosa has gone. We paid the local gardeners to do it, as it was a massive undertaking. Hard to believe this all grew from a small clump of plants…

 

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They have dug out most of the major roots, but there is still the odd bit that needs doing. And being the thug it is, it will regrow from all the little bits that are left. The plan is to leave this vast area fallow, and spray off any regrowth this year, so that hopefully it can be grassed next year. It has really opened up this central area of the garden, so I am very pleased.

New bulbs are popping up everywhere, and the snowdrop glade is a real picture.

 

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The mini daffs are now appearing in unexpected places, and adding to the show.

 

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I treated myself to a Christmas rose (Helleborus niger) the other day, as it is a lovely variety with flowers that lift up to face you, not droop down.  It is planted by the path to the shed where I can admire it every day.

 

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Caught on camera!

I have mentioned before that we get red deer in the garden. Their tracks are everywhere, and some of the shrubs show signs of nibbling. We have only caught glimpses of them actually in the garden, but have seen them in the field at the back.

We set up a camera trap just after Christmas, in the hope of getting some photographs of the deer and any other wildlife passing through. For the first few weeks we only had pictures of branches waving in the wind, me trudging to and from the bonfire, and a fuzzy squirrel. But there were also fewer fresh deer tracks. We think that our new scent and increased garden activity has deterred the deer to some extent. But then…

 

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Not the best shot, I know, but definitely a red deer. We will hopefully get better pictures in the future.

Our twelve female pheasants are still visiting us every day, pecking around under the bird feeders. But now that Spring is approaching they are getting pestered by this chap.

 

 

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He chases them round in circles, but they are currently not interested. Personally I think he is rather handsome. I bet he would be tasty too 😉

 

 

The West Down Lady Walkers…

 

Today I went for my first walk with the West Down Lady Walkers. I have no idea why us ladies of West Down are not allowed to walk with our menfolk, who have their own West Downers Mens Walking Club. Maybe it is because we did only 5 1/2 miles today, and they tend to do at least 8. Good luck to them!

 

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Now five miles back in Hertfordshire is a nice mornings walk. not too arduous, maybe take 2 hours or so? We were not in Hertforshire. We walked up, and then up some more. There was the odd level bit, then a lot more up. A little bit of down was followed by a very long section of up! Don’t get me wrong, it was all very pretty, with moss and ferns everywhere.

 

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There were a very respectable twelve of us, not bad for a little village club (the men can only muster five members) The walk took us from the Hunters Inn at the top of Exmoor (see here for a previous walk in this area) along a river valley to where a lovely patch of wild snowdrops were flowering.

 
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We passed gurgling streams and rushing torrents.

 
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Then the walk wound up and up out of the valley onto the tops, with lovely views.

 

 

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By now I was wondering how a walk could be almost entirely up with no down. And then when we returned to the valley where we started, I understood. The Inn was almost directly below us in the bottom of the valley, and we had a very steep descent to get to our lunch! A pint of local cider slipped down very easily after nearly three hours of walking.

 

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