Saturday, 29 March 2008

Why Blog?

Hundreds of thousands of blogs with millions of posts every day. Why on earth create another one to add to the trillions of bits and bytes?

Self-discipline - plain and simple! Bag End will be the sixth garden I have created from scratch and sadly, very little remains as a record of any of the development of its predecessors. The idea has been stolen fair and square from Mrs Flummery who explained to me that the Vegetable Heaven blog existed mostly for her own record and that's when the lightbulb went on and I realised that the same approach would work for me.

With previous gardens I have always started with the best of intentions taking photos of the initial phases but those pictures languish on my hard drive doing very little but taking up space ... (the pond at our previous house is a perfect case in point!)

and as time goes by it is too easy to forget to take the next set, and the next, and then you're so far behind it seems hardly worthwhile trying to catch up. Fingers crossed that the discipline of putting Bag End into Blogland will encourage me to develop a complete record of how the garden changes and develops. Of course, there will be distractions on the way - a girl still has to make quilts and go fell walking.

Their days are numbered

Great meeting this afternoon with John Lowe, a tree surgeon recommended by our friends in Loweswater. Husband and I were impressed with his approach and his knowledge - and his statement "unless we do this very quickly I am not cutting anything down until the Autumn, other people will fell trees with nests but I won't".

We have agreed that I will clean up the trunks of most of the Leylandii to head-height so that when John and his team return they can make an immediate start on felling. We are going to take out Leylandii from all three of the boundaries where they are planted, John thinks he could get as many as 15-20 down in one day - wow!

Our nearest neighbour should be a lot happier when some of this lot are gone and he gets a bit of light onto his garden.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

And not just Red Squirrel

I'm going to be kept busy maintaining my Garden Bird Watch records!

So far we have seen the following avian visitors

Robin (at least four, possibly more)
Blackbird (up to five on one occasion)
Song Thrush
Goldfinch (at least 11, maybe more)
Bullfinch (male and female)
Blue Tit
Long-Tailed Tit (pair)
Great Tit (pair)
Collared Dove
Wood Pigeon

and this rather splendid chap who wanders around most days, Phasianus colchicus, or Ring-necked Pheasant to you and me.

Yesterday a Kestrel spent much time hovering over the hedge at the bottom of the drive and early one morning I'm fairly certain I saw a hare just outside the back fence. There are at least two Tawny Owl whose Twit and Twooo is very loud late at night when Mr Hairy Four-Paws gets taken for his bedtime constitutional.

We are truly blessed to already have this much wildlife in the garden. I've just watched a small bird making regular trips into one of the ornamental conifers with nesting material in her mouth (couldn't tell what it was, the sun was in my eyes) so we're going to have to be very careful with the tree surgery.

Friday, 21 March 2008

Birds' Bistro

I've had a wonderful trip to Birds' Bistro today. How many shops do you go into these days and your first word is "WOW"?

I have never been in such an Aladdin's Cave of bird food, feeders, bird tables, nesting boxes (for birds, mammals and insects) and loads of other stuff as well. Husband will enjoy the techie section with cameras for bird boxes, ponds etc. The owner, Richard, mixes all the feeds himself and was marvellous - talked me out of spending £40 on a sack of hazelnuts and sold me a £15 sack of specially mixed red squirrel food instead - now that's unusual in this day and age.

Not my best squirrel picture but included because it clearly shows a large nipple on the bottom right of a fairly large tummy. If this is a female then she's either about to have kittens or has given birth and is nursing them. Because of this Richard recommended the Squirrel mix because it contains Maize and other elements which are particularly useful for lactating females.

I bought new feeders for the birds, three different sorts of feed for them plus the biggest sack of squirrel food he had, and received a half a hour one-to-one amazingly informative lesson on different birds and their feeding requirements. I couldn't recommend the place too highly, and they deliver once a week to our area, so stocking up could not be more simple.

We want to support local businesses as much as we can and with service like this it's not difficult (and the prices are less than I used to pay to a nationally known mail order company).

They're located 15 minutes off the M6 as you're coming in from Penrith so definitely a compulsory stop on your next visit to Lakeland (it would be rude not to as you're going past the door)!

Click here for a location map

No affiliation and no benefit to me for this "advertorial" but shops like this are far and few between and deserve all the praise I can give them.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Horticultural Vandalism

And then there was one ...

This truly feels like vandalism but if a weed is just a plant growing in the wrong place, what is a 15 year old tree that completely obscures the view? I guess we've all done it - planted a tree or shrub that seemed like a good idea at the time but 10 years on we become emotionally attached to the plant, it seems to "belong" where it is and we don't cut it down. Husband and I agreed that if we don't deal with these cherry trees very quickly then we too will become attached to them and it will be even harder to fell them. As I know I'll be replanting dozens of trees and shrubs over the next few years I feel a little less guilty.

On this beautiful sunny Spring afternoon I now have a previously unseen view to Skiddaw, Ullock Pike and Dodd ... what a privilege to look at this every day.

And all this without the chainsaw - I collected it yesterday from Keswick Garden Machinery but am going to be sensible (for once in my life) and wait until I've got some protective gloves and trousers before I use it. KGM didn't have anything small enough in stock but they're getting items in for me.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

If you plant it they will come ...

And even though I have not yet planted a thing, I'm delighted to find that the wildlife already comes to Bag End.

We'd been here less than 24 hours before the first Red Squirrel was spotted outside the kitchen window and it has been joined by another. They are currently emptying the Hazelnut feeder faster than A Very Fast Thing and burying nearly all of them - without any effort on our part we might end up with a Hazel Coppice. They're also busy chasing each other around the lawn and through the trees in a most Spring-like fashion, maybe we will have baby squirrels later in the year?

It would be tempting (and terribly expensive) to put nuts out every day for them but on advice from the Red Squirrel Project we are only feeding a couple of times a week in order that they do not become dependent upon human-supplied food sources. Of course, many of our neighbours also provide hazelnuts so with a bit of synchronicity these dear creatures could find a five-star feast at a different garden each day!

My friend John has recommended Birds Bistro near Pennruddock, I will visit them (hopefully) this week. Squirrel factoid for the day - did you know that too many peanuts can cause calcium deficiency in red squirrel?

The last couple of weeks have been tiring and frustrating as we struggle to turn cardboard-box city into a home and discover some of the idiosyncrasies of the house that the previous owner "forgot" to mention, but it's not too hard to maintain a sense of proportion when from the kitchen sink I can see this:-

and from the sitting room I can see this:

I am truly blessed. The view is only like this on a good day, and we've had very few of them since we moved but that's no bad thing, means I can concentrate on moving furniture and emptying boxes without thinking "damn, I'm missing out on good fellwalking weather".

One down, two to go

Yesterday Husband was on holiday, well, by the time his work phone calls had finished he was on holiday yesterday afternoon ... and the "joy" of unpacking meant the umpteenth trip to the local dump to recycle empty cardboard boxes plus another visit to B&Q.

We came home with (amongst other things) a cheap but very sharp box saw. Despite a sprained wrist I couldn't stop myself heading towards the tree in a determined fashion but within minutes Man To The Rescue had taken over and "TA DA", we have some more view. It still feels like utter sacrilege to remove trees like this but they're completely in the wrong place. Once all 48 members of Fangorn Forest have been removed there will be plenty of room for replacements.

Monday, 17 March 2008

Ever done something and almost wished you hadn't?

A large plot and overgrown with nasty, 40 year-old, 40 foot tall Leylandii. But, there are other trees and shrubs and this morning I thought it was about time I took an audit of what we have.

I almost wish I hadn't, I knew we had a Leylandii "problem" but I hadn't realised the scale of it. Whilst it is wonderful to find your garden a vast number of big shrubs and trees of various shapes and sizes, it's not so much fun when 48 of them are Leylandii. When I told Husband his first comment was "WHAT! Are you sure?". I reassured him that I can manage sums of this sort and his reply was "never mind, a chain saw is a wonderful thing".

Which reminds me, I ought to go into Keswick and collect ours which has just had a thorough service, chain sharpened and general TLC.

Of the deciduous items:

There are three very large Prunus, not sure exactly which one. A pretty tree, nicely shaped with attractive blossom in Spring - and located in a solid line across the front of the plot blocking the view of the fells from all but the study window. They are not needed for privacy therefore I suspect they were planted 10 or 15 years ago without thought for how they would mature. It feels like sacrilege but they are all coming out. I have already made a start on two of them (do not ever under-estimate the capabilities of a determined woman with a pruning saw). The largest (and middle) tree has a reprieve until it has flowered and then it too will be coming out.

11 are Silver Birch. They are interplanted between Leylandii, tall, thin, leggy and desperate for air and light. It's quite possible that when the Leylandii go many will either die because of disruption to their shallow roots, or just get blown about too much and break. That will be a great shame and they'll be replaced if necessary.

(If you look closely, the birch are on the left and on the right is the large Acer)
These two, with a Cotoneaster in between, have more light and air than any others.

We have at least one fairly mature Beech tree (well, that's what I think it might be), and possibly others but it's hard to be sure until they come into leaf. There's a huge specimen that the previous owner described as an Acer, I fear it is common Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) but the garden is large enough to take it, and it's a decent shape. Time will tell as the leaves develop.

(Even if this turns out not to be a Beech, it has a lovely shape and is in a good location)

There are Cotoneaster which the Blackbirds love. From the few berries that are left I think ours are C. Cornubia. They badly need pruning and bringing back into shape but I can't physically get to them right now. We've also some Holly, no idea which variety or what I can do with them - they are leggy, starved, swamped under Leylandii and not very happy at all.

Summary of Tree Audit
38 Leylandii large
10 Leylandii small, possibly self-seeded, trunk less than 10" diameter, we can remove these ourselves.

1 Beech ?
4 Cherry
11 Silver Birch
7 Cotoneaster
3 Holly (not exactly trees, but out of control large shrubs, need pruning back into condition)
2 Conifer (out of control and taking up half the back of the garden. I'm fairly certain it is J. sabina tamariscifolia)
12 Unidentified (until they come into leaf) medium deciduous trees

The tree-count does not include three large beds of conifers and heather (very 1970's) which I don't much care for but right now they are doing no-one any harm, minding their own business and not asking for attention - so they can stay put for a while! They contain a mixture of Conifer, Skimmia Japonica, Verbena, Heather, Broom, Rhododendron, a very sick-looking Camellia and Hebe.

Struggling under the dense Leylandii growth are some very sad Flowering Currant, Forsythia, Escallonia and overgrown Clematis but the best thing is finding many Yew and Holly seedlings between 12" and 24" tall. They will be transplanted, loved and much appreciated.

Last but not least, the hedge of Escallonia which runs for over 100 foot around two sides of the garden. It is either dead or dying and is destined for the bonfire to be replaced with a hedge of mixed native species.

Saturday, 15 March 2008

Welcome to Bag End

We've only been here two weeks but already it seems like home, albeit a very messy home requiring a huge amount of upgrading, updating and decorating from end to end and the garden is no better.

Half an acre in North West Cumbria near Cockermouth, the front of the site faces South-East
and we are blessed with a view of the Derwent River (50 feet below us therefore little likelihood of flooding) and a view of the fells. The plot is fairly over-grown but tidy and as boring as hell - trees and lawn & a few conifers and heathery bits. Given our semi-rural location Bag End has the potential to become wildlife heaven and that is what I will try to create over the next few years. The previous owners claim to have seen red squirrel, hares and a tawny owl in the garden as well as many of the usual avian suspects.

My dear friend Mrs Flummery has christened the garden “Fangorn Forest”. It is easy to see why - may I introduce you to The Leylandii From Hell.

This is taken from the road outside the house and the car gives a sense of scale.

The trees are acting as a windbreak which is about the only positive thing that can be said for them. They are also taking every scrap of nutrition from the soil, the roots have previously damaged the drains and are busy trying to break the retaining wall around half of the garden, they prevent a huge amount of light getting in and are loathed by all our neighbours (many of whom would also enjoy lovely views to the fells if the trees were gone).

Their days are numbered.