Archive | May 2016

Come for a ramble around the hill

Last week, on a hot sunny day, I went for a walk to explore a lane that passes behind our hill.

I set off down our private lane…

 

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Turning left I walked along the quiet country lane that runs along our valley on the opposite side to the house. We live pretty much in the centre of the below picture, with both house and garden hidden behind the tallest trees.

 

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I followed the lane to the end of the valley, then turned back on another lane that runs up the hill behind the house.

 

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There were lovely views from the hill, back down the valley, with our village in the distance on the right.

 

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A bit further on is the highest point for miles around, with views down the far side of the hill to the sea, with the Devon coast beyond. Fancy being able to walk from my house and see the sea!

 

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A little further on and the view is of the Taw and Torridge estuary.

 

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It was a lovely quiet lane, with hardly any cars, and one lone horserider.

 

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Just as my route left the lane and entered the woodland to return home, this view showed the road running south towards Braunton.

 

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That had taken me just over an hour, and then for another hour I followed the paths through the shady woodland.

 

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The wood  wraps around the hill and the side of the valley, and leads me back all the way to my garden.

 

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My first ever rhododendrons

Having always lived on alkaline soil, I am very excited to finally have acid soil, and to be able to grow ericaceous plants such as rhododendrons. The garden has a few large specimens, but I have no idea what most of them are. They were beautiful shiny evergreens when I arrived, but unfortunately during the worst storm this winter they all suffered severe damage to their leaves. They all have lots of new leaf buds coming, so I know they will recover. Some have flowered all over anyway, while the worst hit are only flowering on the sheltered side. One poor specimen has yet to flower at all, but has one fat bud which may yet burst.

If any of you know your rhodie varieties, and have an idea what they may be, please let me know below!

 

Red red rhododendron

White rhododendron

Pink rhododendron

Pinky red rhododendron

Lilac White rhododendron

Rhododendron Daviesii

 

This last one is a deciduous azalea, called Rhododendron ‘Daviesii’. It is beautifully fragrant, and is my favourite, even though it is smaller and more subtle than the bigger, evergreen rhodies. I think I shall be buying more like this one!

Battling with weeds

Warm sunshine plus occasional heavy rain = ideal growing conditions for plants. And especially for weeds. I am beginning to wonder if I can stay ahead of them. And I am not talking about a few weeds popping up between the plants in a border – oh no. I have bigger problems than that!

You may remember that huge patch of Rosa rugosa which I had removed. I knew that there would be regrowth as it can regenerate from any bit of root, so to make it easier I left the bare soil bare.

 

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Over 50% of the shoots you can see in the picture are new rose shoots. That’s a lot of rose…I am spraying them off bit by bit, and marking with a cane those I have sprayed. It will be a long battle…

I also have an invasive weed in the main flowerbed…

 

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This is called canary creeper, an ‘annual’ climber, that many seed companies sell. Don’t buy it! When we moved in, several shrubs in one bed were completely smothered by it. After a fairly mild winter, although we did have several frosts, this has survived and is regrowing in lots of places. It has also set seed over an area probably 10m square…

 

main bed before after weeding 5 16

 

As you can see by the bottom picture, I am trying! I am hoeing off the seedlings, hand weeding where it is in amongst other plants, and spraying where it is growing between the stones in the walls. Every day. It just grows again. I need a really hard winter to kill it off, I reckon.

My paths are all disappearing under weeds spreading in from the borders…argh!

 

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My little herb bed is disappearing under a mat of seedlings – more hoeing needed.

 

Herb bed

 

Many of the plants that have survived the ravages of the deer, rabbits, and slugs are vigorous ones, that most people would not want in their gardens. Like the stripy grass, Gardener’s Garters.

 

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I do have room for spreading plants like this, but I will need to really keep on top of it and restrict it back to a neat clump every year, or else it will take over. I also have Alchemilla mollis. Lots of it. Everywhere. Luckily it is fairly pretty, especially after rain.

 

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Another one to try and keep under control! To end on a more positive note, we managed to build a little set of steps this week, leading up into the orchard, using chunks of stone that we have found around the garden for the risers, and stones dug up while weeding for the steps.

 

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I think they look great!

Learning moths

As part of our ongoing nature studies in the garden, we are catching moths about once a week, by attracting them to light overnight. They are not harmed by this, and are released in the morning once we have identified them. Different moths fly at different times of year, often depending on when their adult or caterpillar food plant is available, so we see different moths each time. They mostly have descriptive common names, and can be really pretty when you see them close up.

This little chap, about the size of a piece of macaroni, is a Foxglove Pug. The caterpillars will feed on foxglove flowers, of which we will have plenty soon.

 

Foxglove pug

 

Slightly bigger, about the size of my thumbnail, is this Small Phoenix, which feeds on rosebay willowherb.

 

Snall phoenix

 

This one is from a family of moths called the Noctuidae, which sit with their winds straight by their bodies. It is a Flame Shoulder.

 

Flame shoulder

 

This one is a flame carpet. All the carpet moths are called that because of their intricate patterns, not because they eat carpets!

 

Dark-barred twin-spot carpet

 

Less attractive on top, but with a lovely fluffy underside is this male Muslin Moth. You can tell it is a male because is dark, where the females are pale.

 

Muslin moth - male

 

The largest we caught last night was this Scalloped Hazel, each wing the size of my thumbnail.

 

Scalloped hazel

 

I really enjoy identifying moths, as there always seems to be something new that I haven’t seen before.

 

 

A Saturday night on the town…

Our idea of a night out is watching the sun set into the sea, preferably with a glass of something in hand. With that in mind, we set off in the early evening to Combe Martin. It’s a funny little place on the North coast, with a narrow, muddy beach that isn’t very special, but at low tide there are some interesting rocks and rock pools to explore.

 

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Set into the layers of tilted rock are some caves that must be great fun for children to explore.

 

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We had a good wander around the rocks, and saw little fish and crabs in the rockpools. We finished our walk at the pub at the top of the beach, and sat on the terrace with a glass of cider, and watched the sun set. It was just lovely.

 

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We watched this cargo ship heading across towards the setting sun, wondering if it would make it past before the sun set. And it did – just!

 

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The garden in May

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I have just come back from a long weekend away, and we have had a mixture of warm and wet weather, and the changes in the garden are remarkable. The big beech trees by the driveway are now in leaf, as are most of the other trees.

 

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Everything looks green and lush! The flowers (and weeds)  in the main border are shooting up.

 

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The Pieris has finished flowering and is now covered in shiny new red leaves.

 

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A tangled mass of dead stems has turned into a lovely Clematis montana

 

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My Lithodora are in flower, in such a vivid shade of blue!

 

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There are hardly any tulips in the garden, but these red ones are rather nice

 

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I planted an Exochorda macrantha ‘The Bride ‘, only a couple of weeks ago, and all the buds are now open, making it a column of white blossom. Eventually it will for a large, arching shrub, and will be stunning!

 

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While tidying around my seed trays in the cold frame, I found not one, but two species of amphibian! There were two small frogs, and also four baby palmate newts. Aren’t they lovely!

 

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There isn’t really many damp places for these guys, and it is getting very warm here now, so I decided to create a mini pool for them. We have a brick built barbecue, which we may or may not use, and next to it is a little cave for a gas bottle to sit. I have placed a large plant saucer there with a heap of stones both inside and out, and will keep it filled with water. Hopefully it will give them a damp place for hot days.

 

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The most exciting thing in the garden is that the rhododendrons are starting to flower! I seem to have a mix of colours, and will show you all the different flowers once they all open, but this is a glimpse for now.

 

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A summer visitor

As I have mentioned before, here and here, my other half is a bird ringer, and he is trapping and ringing birds which come into 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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This smart little bird has just made our week! He is a male pied flycatcher, which come here in the summer to breed, and are only found in the western half of the country. We didn’t see them in Hertfordshire, so it is a real treat to have them visiting our new garden!

Bluebells!

Eight intrepid lady walkers from our village, plus one very well-behaved dog, took a gentle stroll yesterday around our local National Trust property’s grounds, at Arlington Court.

The sun shone and the walk was in a sheltered valley, so the fleeces were gradually shed and our faces got pinker. The lambs were gambolling and the birds singing, and all was perfect.

The woods were carpeted in sheets of bluebells, as far as the eye could see.

 

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After oohing and aahing for a while, we meandered back towards the house itself, of which I failed to get a picture. There is a nice church there too.

 

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Next was the obligatory lunch stop in the National Trust tearooms, where I had a lovely leek and wild garlic soup, and a bottle of Luscombes cider, which I haven’t tried before but was very tasty. Replete and refreshed, we strolled around the walled gardens, admiring the azaleas and the peacocks, before returning to the real world.

 

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Back home in my garden, I have a little bluebell wood of my own, in the Acer glade. It may be small, but it is a delight to have!

 

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It’s slow going in the garden

The garden is slowly changing as spring progresses. We have a few leaves on the beech trees, and some sycamores are in leaf. But generally the garden is slightly behind others locally, maybe because it is on a north-facing slope. We still have daffodils in flower in May, which, considering that the first ones flowered in December, makes this a very long spring!

I am still waiting to identify many of the deciduous shrubs – they are getting leaves, and buds, and some I can work out, but others I will have to wait and see what the flowers look like. I do have several clumps of Camassias flowering in the main bed, which is a nice surprise.

 

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I have been trying to plant all the lovely things that I have been buying, so that I can justify buying more! But it takes ages to plant anything. Today I popped a Tiarella ‘Spring Symphony’ beside the path in the woodland. I dug up a bucket of large stones, and half a bucket of weeds and roots. Then when the plant went in the hole, I had no spare soil to fill in around it, so had to go and collect a bucket of soil from elsewhere. So one small plant took a good half-hour to put in!

 

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I decided to tidy up the lawn edge, as it was all undulating. Just a small job…yeah right! I have a neat little garden line marker, which I ran out to mark the new edge, and then used the edging iron to cut the new edge. That was the easy bit. Then I had to dig out and remove all the excess turf. Several buckets of turf later, it does look good, but boy did my back ache!

 

lawn edge

 

So everything is taking time at the moment, but I know that there is no real rush, so I will get there eventually. At least with the warmer, drier weather, it is a pleasure being outside.