Saturday, 31 May 2008

Jackdaw O, Small Birds 1

The anti-jackdaw program continues to go through different versions.

The first attempt at blocking them worked fairly well but restricted access to just one side of the feeder. At least it worked though, as this very annoyed young bird found out.

It took this Blackbird a couple of goes to summon up the courage but soon found its way in.

Version 2 uses more pieces of green trellis tied together with nice strong Hemp string (from J B Banks in Cockermouth - an amazing shop that everyone should visit - and spend money in!).

This is working well but it is ugly and restricts my view of the birds. I have tried nearly every builders supply in Workington looking for a mesh which is big enough to allow access to blackbirds but small enough to keep out the thugs, no luck yet.

Friday, 30th May 2008

A non-walking friend is staying therefore a drive down Borrowdale to Honister.

We need rain! Derwent Water from Surprise View.

Water feature at Honister Slate Mine

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Thursday, 29th May 2008


Our good weather tends to come in from the west (actually, most of our weather comes from the west!). It is brightening very fast now and I can see the outline of the fells.

View, What View?


I think this is the first time I have not been able to see across the valley. We need the rain so badly, the first since 7th May. A friend was talking to a farmer in Loweswater, they are desperate for rain - the ewes and lambs are eating all the grass and it is just not regrowing.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

More visitors

Two weeks of various workmen, lots of noise and constant too-ing and fro-ing has upset the rhythm of the Bag End All-You-Can-Eat-Buffet. It has all been necessary and essential work (new hot water system, shower in the bathroom, boarding & new insulation in half the loft, making safe of some very dodgy electrics) but I am very glad it is all over for now. We have a brilliant team of tradesmen but it will be great NOT to see another white van pull onto the drive at 8.00am!

It has also been very warm and unexpectedly dry. We have much needed rain today, the first since about 7th May.

I have finally managed to get a useable picture of one of the beautiful but wary Song Thrush who come here every day.

Sadly I didn't get pictures of this lovely bird cracking open a snail and eating the contents just 10 feet away from me - bless her, who needs nematodes? There certainly will never be any slug pellets at Bag End. Moral of this story - do not go out onto the balcony for a coffee WITHOUT A CAMERA.

Monday, 26 May 2008

Chainsaw Sunday

When, on a Sunday morning, Husband says "shall we work in the garden today?" and it is dry, sunny and with just the correct amount of breeze, I don't say no! Together we can achieve three times as much as I can on our own.

Some of the largest trees to be felled were in the front corner.

We had already limbed most of one and a neighbour had taken part of another for his woodburner but we were still left with this, which doesn't look as big as it is, three trunks and lots of brush. We have been watching this tree for a while and had not seen any signs of nesting, so chainsaw at the ready.

The end result doesn't show how hard we worked. Husband hauled logs and at times rolled entire tree trunks so I could cut timber without it being under tension and pinching the blade. Running the chainsaw is hard work too, some of the cuts used the full length of the blade and the saw was pulling very hard away from me - very tired shoulders and upper back at the end of it.

I can claim no credit for the tidy log piles, they are all down to the hard-working Husband.

Sadly, we had got it wrong in respect of nests and, when we found three small Blackbird chicks it was too late to cover the nest with shrub and leave them. We moved the nest about 10 foot into the nearest cover - a large conifer and it was with HUGE relief that a few hours later we saw Mr Blackbird fly into the new nest site with food.

We also lifted the crown of this Acer which previously had struggled between two huge Leylandii.

Looks much better now and will be even happier when the Leylandii on its left comes down:-

This Acer got a trim as its lower branches made walking to the Secret Garden difficult. I thought this was a Sycamore before it came into leaf but fortunately it is not. Leaf identification currently implies it is Acer Saccharum - Sugar Maple. I didn't know that would grow in England, investigation as to exactly what it is will continue, home-grown Maple Syrup?

Another Acer received similar treatment, not sure which one this is but it is certainly much happier now it has space to grow.

We trimmed Cotoneaster branches that were hanging over the back fence and getting in the way of the lawn mowing contractors.

Finally the front hedge got a serious pruning. I did about a third of it some weeks back and the unpruned section had grown over the pavement so much we were in danger of a passerby being smacked in the face by out of control Escallonia.

"Pruning by chainsaw" revealed a large Hazel which might respond well to a serious bit of coppicing.

The Escallonia that was pruned previously has already put out a lot of new growth and allowing some light into the hedge base seems to have encouraged these ferns to emerge.

The End

Sunday, 25 May 2008

An Apology - this is not gardening

Our guest bedroom and my study were FULL of boxes of "stuff", mostly sewing-related items I want to keep but do not use very often. The basement room is earmarked as my Storage Room however up to now it has not been possible to sort it out.

Last week we had half the loft boarded and new (clean) insulation put down and a loft-hatch fitted that was big enough to actually get through with a ladder that is not a health & safety hazard. Moving old, compressed, filthy, mouse-dropping covered old insulation is an experience I could happily live without.

We can now safely store much of Husband's model-making kits and bits up there which means the Storage Room has been emptied. A new (reliable, high pressure) hot water system, much paint on the ceiling, walls and floor and we have turned this (contents courtesy of Mrs Previous Owner)

into this:

I now need to move assorted stuff out of the guest bedroom and down here.

Saturday, 24 May 2008


No, not a seabird colony moved inland but the blasted Jackdaws who have decided to call Bag End 'home'. Initially I was pleased to see a pair of Jackdaw with 4 young and have been trying (unsuccessfully ) to photograph them together for a couple of weeks.

Unfortunately I forgot that all corvids love peanuts; at our old house we had a pair of Jays who were a delight to watch on one of the feeders as they filled their crops with nuts and flew off into the wood next door. However, six full size Jackdaws get through a lot more food than two Jays and the occasional youngster.

Arguing with each other at the peanut feeders (found a use for one of the cherry tree trunks!)

Checking out the "all you can eat Bag End buffet"

They have managed to half-destroy a new peanut feeder after knocking it to the ground but the final straw is the taste they have developed for the Soft-Billed Mix I put out for Blackbirds, Thrush and Robins. If they kept to their own food I wouldn't mind but I object when they nick everyone else's.

This was yesterday's attempt to keep them out. The combined weight of three birds just about knocked it down.

This is today's attempt, it is hard to find a mesh that is big enough to allow the Blackbirds and Thrush through. Will try a couple more builders' merchants next week.

And finally, some behaviour I cannot explain. Every day the Jackdaw family spend time picking over the ash pile from my last bonfire and are definitely eating from it. Don't know whether they have found interesting grubs and insects or if they are taking some nutrients from the ash.

Friday, 23 May 2008


I grew up near Ashridge House, once home to Elizabeth I, and taking the dogs to walk in the adjacent woods was a regular Sunday morning activity.

Many years later I worked for a short while at Ashridge Management College and whilst we worked very hard, there were significant benefits! Staff were positively encouraged to use the grounds (a real treat as they are private and only open to the public for a limited amount of time in the summer). In May it was a delight to stroll along a half-mile Rhododendron walk at lunch-time and using the swimming pool and sauna after work wasn't too much of a hardship either!

In recent years the nearest Rhodies to me were considered dreadful weeds and the council who managed the lovely Bluebell wood next to our old house would regularly attack the plants which were growing rampant and smothering native woodland growth.

Now I am gardening in an area where Rhodies and Azaelea positively thrive although I am not convinced we have acid soil at Bag End, the few plants that are already here are struggling badly. Fingers crossed that they are just suffering from neglect. If I can grow Rhodies here, as long as I chose the right varieties, they will be a welcome addition to Bag End providing evergreen cover for wildlife and beautiful blooms from early May right through the summer.

We have a couple of sad little plants in flower, note to self, must give them a feed and see if it helps. Sick looking yellowy-green leaves, sure sign of chlorosis.

I've been re-reading "Gardens of the Lake District" this week and it is interesting that at Copt Howe (Langdale) where a shelter belt against the wind is absolutely vital, rhododendron have been used along with conifers to provide protection. A rare gardening book in that I sat and read it from cover to cover and then went back to the beginning and started again and am intching to visit most of the gardens during the coming years! (Usually I dip in and out of gardening books and I'm often not sure if I have read them completely.)

Thursday, 22 May 2008

The Power of Pine Needles

Ever wondered why the floor in a pine forest is devoid of life? When any leaves fall they start to decompose and pine needles are no different. However, when pine needles decompose they are Allelopathic - this means they release chemicals which affect (in this case inhibit) the germination of anything around them. In other words, they pollute the surrounding soil in order that no competing species can grow (another reason to hate Leylandii, not that I needed any more).

Allelopathy does have some uses - there are occasions when you will want weed suppression and using an allelopathic mulch can be a good way of achieving this. As we want a native hedgerow around the garden, ultimately underplanted with wild native plants (that's weeds to you!), then the pine needles have to go.

Perfect example of nature in action in these photos. These are taken outside our garden fence. A wonderful mixture of roadside verge including Cow Parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris) which I adore and would love to encourage more of - there is already a small amount in the Secret Garden. There are also some Bluebells.

This is the ground less than 12" away on our side of the fence. Carpet of pine needles = no growth, zilch, zip, nadda, nothing. It will be a long slow job but eventually all of these needles will be swept up and consigned to the bonfire, wonder how long the suppressent chemicals stay in the soil? Absolutely no point putting them on the compost heap - who wants compost that suppresses germination?

Unfortunately it does not seem to have the same effect on Ground Elder .... grrrrrr

Did I mention recently how much I hate Leylandii?

Saturday, 17 May 2008

A little more progress

Although I was not going to garden this week, Friday changed all that. After nearly two weeks of beautiful early summer weather it turned a lot colder so I figured most neighbours would have their windows shut. No wind and everything dry = another bonfire. Only a small one this time, its purpose to get rid of stray branches laying around the front and west side of the house. Everything burnt so quickly it didn't take all day and the end result is something we have not seen for a while:

lawn that isn't covered with piles of brush!

Local lawn chap due to come next week to strim everything, rake up the debris and give us a quote for mowing the lawns for this summer. I hate having anyone else do our lawns because it is never done just how I want it but I have to be realistic - I cannot manage everything and I need some help.

Friday, 16 May 2008

No Gardening This Week

I am too tired. No, I am past tired, I am completely, totally, thoroughly exhausted and worn out. We have not stopped for three months and whilst moving here has been wonderful and we do not regret it for a moment, some of the unexpected house problems that we've had to fix have left us cream-crackered, and the continuing wrangles with utility companies and household suppliers just to get accounts set up and straightened out is wearing beyond words.

This week was meant to be a "week off" but we have had plumbers, tilers, electricians and goodness knows who else here every day. This is a good thing - we now have a hot water system we can rely on and will soon have a lovely powerful shower. We did not expect the work to happen for a few more weeks but when the company rings up to say "we can fit you in sooner than expected, is that OK" you don't say no. I'll have next week off (she says, hopefully).

Why is there a photo of my laundry?
No gardening but The Canine One is outside every day. The weather is beautiful this week, however in the afternoon his favourite sleeping spot is in the sun which he does not like (gets too hot). Look closely at the picture - he's a smart chap and lays exactly in the shade created by the duvet cover. This is not the first time he's done this so I am sure it is not accidental. Clever chap!

Monday, 12 May 2008

Necessity is . . .

The Mother of Invention .. or bringer of brainwaves.

It might be longer than I would like before Patersons can put the additional lower rail into our fence to ensure Mr Hairy Four Paws doesn't go for a wander without us, they are really busy at present.

I wish I had thought to do this sooner - it might not be pretty, but it will stop The Canine One from rushing onto the drive when the farmer next door comes zooming down the road in goodness-knows-how many tonnes of JCB Farm Master.

Meconopsis Cambrica

Welsh Poppy - profligate little blighter, it is flowering all over the garden. Way too many plants to count and flourishing here and in all the neighbour's gardens too, who cares when it is so pretty. Now if I can get the lovely red Field Poppy, Papaver rhoeas, to grow as happily I will be very pleased.

Saturday, 10 May 2008

Lords and Ladies

Lots of this traditional wild plant in the more shady parts of the garden, Arum Maculatum, known as Cuckoo Pint, Friar's Cowl, Starchwort, is a member of the Arum (lily) family with very poisonous berries. I don't think The Canine One is stupid enough to eat them . . .

The berries are said to be attractive to many birds, especially pheasants. It will be interesting to see whether the Ring Neck Pheasants who regularly visit us come for a meal when the berries have set.

Friday, 9 May 2008

Squirrel Watch

I've been a bit worried this week, we haven't seen any Red Squirrels since last weekend and were concerned in case this was connected to the arrival of the Stoat.

Relief all round when "long ears" came for breakfast this morning.

Thursday, 8 May 2008


Twice today Husband has seen a Stoat from his office window. The first time it happened so fast he knew what he had seen but wasn't sure - if that makes sense.

The second time the animal came along the path next to the window (which is floor to ceiling so great views of the garden), hopped into the brush pile where Mrs Blackbird made her nest, came out and bimbled over a log pile, and then went through our fence and off towards the fields. The presence of this beautiful but deadly creature might explain why we have not seen any fledgling blackbirds. The stoat has probably eaten either the eggs or the chicks. Mrs Blackbird is still in and out of the same brush pile, second clutch or grim determination?

Nature, red in tooth and claw. What a great excuse to sit outside very quietly for ages tomorrow to see if I can get some photographs.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Yew Rescue

Friday's clearing up revealed many more Yew seedlings. If I left them in situ they were bound to get trampled on when the fence posts were replaced.

They are now potted on and will be cared for in a sheltered spot until I have a new home ready for them. For the first time in weeks it felt like I was 'really' gardening, rather than waging a personal war against neglect and rampant growth; fingernails full of soil - lovely!