Gardening with Nature on the Edge of the Atlantic

Set a thief to catch a thief

5 July 2020


My yoga classes have been taking place at home via the internet during the Covid-19 crisis. The sense of peace and tranquillity that the classes engender have been enhanced by my view out the kitchen window. A row of hydrangeas leads on to the fields on the hill opposite the house, through the gap to Roaringwater Bay and on to Cape Clear island. The perfect vista for meditation. That is until last Thursday. At first the ‘to and fro’ of blackbirds enhanced my sense of wellbeing until I realized that they were appearing too frequently for comfort. I was concerned for their welfare but should have known better. While I was contemplating the universe and searching for inner peace, they were raiding my redcurrants. Their red beaks were the giveaway as they escaped to the hedgerows with their mouths crammed with fruit. It was very hard to concentrate on the task at hand as the theft continued throughout the lesson and I felt obliged to change my plans for the day to include fruit picking so that I could have at least a small part of the harvest. I am aware that this probably means that I have years to go before I achieve any level of enlightenment but the redcurrants are an essential ingredient for my cordials and summer puddings. Millie would chase off the birds if I allowed her to but as she also steals redcurrants, I am no better off whatever I do.

The damage continues

Millie in full excavation mode.

The next crop to be decimated was my strawberries. These were planted in a raised bed over two feet high. Something had been nibbling them as they ripened and I suspected mice. Millie has a particular fondness for strawberries and it is hard to find a place where she cannot find them. However, she does not nibble but swallows in one gulp. Today she hopped onto the raised bed for a quick feast when I was not looking. I was just about to remove her when she started digging frantically. At first, I thought she had lost a strawberry but as she was quickly joined by the other two dogs, I had to reconsider my theory. You are probably wondering why I did not remove them all immediately. Well, I have to confess that while I like or at least tolerate most creatures I have a particular dislike of rats. If there was one or more in the bed Millie was the one to get it and administer a quick fatal bite. On the other hand, I cannot resist the urge to run in the opposite direction at even the mention of rats and had no intention of checking the bed either now or in the future. In fact, if it harboured a rat, I am capable of abandoning it permanently until one of us succumbs to old age. Sadly, the occupants were two small field mice who are no longer with us thanks to Millie. I think that these two mice had had to decamp two or three times in the last few weeks as the dogs moved from a dry-stone wall to the bank by the garage and back. They may also be the ones that stole all of my peas. In the above photo Millie is enlarging the hole that all three dogs worked on in sequence in the last weeks. (it is worth noting that all of them have rejected my shop-bought strawberries. Obviously, they take the organic movement very seriously).

23 June 2020

Flowering shrubs

A wasp feeding from a berberis in the hedgerow. I think that the white dust on its back is pollen.

At last the rain has arrived as you can see from the above photograph. I was beginning to worry. With five empty water butts and uncertainty about the capacity of my well I have been very mean with my allocation of water for the garden. I worry most about the hydrangea as they have had a few very dry summers recently and did not like it. With our usual climate they do very well here and I now have over 17 varieties. I like to keep them happy but they do need a lot of water to look their best.

This hydrangea is a puzzle. I have no memory or record of buying it and it has not been for sale in our local nurseries. Tim Boebel’s book Hydrangeas in the North list a number of possibilities including Macrophylla Emotion, Macrophylla Izu no Hana and Macrophylla Romance. I have decided to use the Royal Horticultural Society’s advice service to help me identify it correctly as I have had no luck on my own. I think it has to be one of the most attractive flowers of all the hydrangeas, is as resilient as its colleagues and changes colour dramatically throughout its life. This is from a cutting of the original plant so it is also easy to reproduce.

Like the hydrangea many plants provide interest throughout the year. The above is the stem of a phormium Cookianum Hookeri tricolour whilst below are details of the flowers on Phormium Tenax Purpureum

These rather tough looking plants contrast very well with the very delicate, almost floating Dierama or ‘angel’s fishing rods’ as I have heard them called and which do well throughout the garden. Their very long, flexible stems sway dramatically but remain intact in even the strongest winds. As can be seen below the silver white flower heads are stunning even before they open.

Dierama Pulcherrimum in the herbaceous garden.

Dierama Pulcherimum Merlin.

Teucrium Fruticans.

This small, evergreen bush loves a dry sunny spot and is very happy on my hillside. It did very well in the very hot weather recently and the leaves send out a lovely scent when brushed.

Leptospermum Crimson glory.

I have grown these shrubs for at least five years and it is only this year that I have noticed the unusual flower seed heads. They start out a deep black but as you can see in the following photograph turn to a grey white and look a little like hot-cross buns.

Wild flowers

The foxgloves looking their best at the end of their season.

This year I have noticed a few new additions to my wild flower ‘collection’. These tend to appear in areas that I have left fallow for the first time. I am not sure whether these are growing from seeds that have been dormant in the ground for years or have recently been dropped by birds, but I am always delighted to have an addition to my ‘collection’. In each case there is often just one tiny plant but I do hope that they will increase and multiply as time goes on. I should note that I am not an expert on wildflowers and sometimes find identification difficult. The distinctions can sometimes be subtle and a good magnifying glass essential. A friend suggested that I draw each flower as this is a good aid to observation and accuracy. I have found this very helpful even though I cannot draw and only I would recognise the results. But you soon notice whether the leaves and stems have hairs and the shape of the leaves and stems. All of these may make an identification possible. However, I still make mistakes and any corrections will be gratefully received.

This tiny Hypericum is easy to miss as it is only inches high with beautiful miniature flowers. It is a new addition to the garden.

These small pink flowers also showed up in the garden for the first time this year. I have provisionally identified them as common Centuary or Centaurium Erythraea. Like many wild flowers they only open in full sunshine. It is a native gentian and is thought to have healing properties with an infusion aiding digestion.

Scarlet pimpernel Anagallis arvensis, also commonly known as Poor man’s weather-glass, with Greater Bird’s-foot-trefoil, Lotus Pendunculatus, hiding under a Nepeta gigantea ‘Six Hills Giant’.

Wildflowers continue to look beautiful after they have flowered if you allow them to remain in place in the garden even after the seeds have dispersed.

Broad Leaved Dock Rumex obtusifolius technically a weed (the Royal Horticultural Society says so) but I allow it to grow in the small wildflower meadows and remove the very attractive seed heads before they shed their seeds. As children we used the leaves to rub on nettle stings. I am not sure that it worked but at least it felt like we were doing something to alleviate the discomfort.

Good news. My clematis and wisteria decimated by a rabbit or hares in spring have made a full recovery. There has been no further sign of the culprit(s), but I have no confidence that I will have flowers next year as I suspect they reside in my neighbour’s garden and only visit when gourmet food is on offer.

I have also managed to wrestle some blackcurrants away from the blackbirds and made my first cordial of the year. I have had slim pickings from the redcurrants, although a few bushes still have to ripen.

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