Sunday, 23 December 2012

Christmas Wishes

A Blythe Yule
an a
Guid Hogmany!

Wishing you all a Good Christmas and a Happy New Year!  

Please spare a thought for the fairy on top of your tree.....


I am a little fairy
On tap o' the Christmas Tree
It's no' a job I fancy
Well how would you like tae be me

A tarted up wi' tinsel
It's enough to mak ye boak
An a couple o' jaggy branches
Rammed up the back o' your frock

An' these wee lights a'roon me
I canna get my sleep
An' there's the yearly visit
Fae Santa - Big fat creep!

On Christmas Day I'm stuck up here
While you're a' wirin' in 
An' naebody says "Hey you up there
Could you go a slug o' gin?

It's nae joke bein' a fairy
The job's beyond belief
You've got to go roon' the wean's beds
An' lift their rotten teeth 

But o' a' the joabs a fairy gets
An' I've mentioned only some 
The very worst is sitting up a tree
Wi' pine needles up yir bum 

When a' the fairies meet again
By the light of' the silvery moon 
Ye can tell the Christmas fairies
They're the wans that canna sit doon

The Christmas tree's a bonny sight
As the firelight softly flickers
But think o' me I'm stuck up here
Wi' needles in my knickers 

So soon as Christmas time's right by
An' I stop bein' sae full o' cheer
I'll get awa back tae Fairyland 
An' I'll see yous a' next year. 

For those who need a translation.....

I am a little fairy
On top of the Christmas Tree
It's not a job I fancy
How would you like to be me

All dressed up with Tinsel
It's enough to make you sick
A couple of jagged branches
Rammed up the back of your dress

With all these lights around me
I can not get to sleep
And there's the yearly visit
From Santa, the big fat creep!

On Christmas day I'm stuck up here
While you're all tucking in
And nobody says 'Hey you up there..
would you like a drink of gin?'

It's no joke being a fairy
The jobs beyond belief
You've got to go round the childrens' beds
and lift their rotten teeth

But of all the jobs a fairy gets
and I've only mentioned some
The very worst is sitting up a tree
with pine needles up your bum

When all the fairies meet again
by the light of the silvery moon
You can tell the christmas fairies
they're the ones that can't sit down

The christmas tree is a lovely sight
as the fire light softly flickers
but think of me, I'm stuck up here
with needles up my knickers

So soon as Christmas times gone by
and I stop being so full of cheer
I'll get right back to fairy land
and see you all next year!   

Sunday, 9 December 2012

The Holly and the Ivy

Or to give them their proper names - The Ilex and the Hedera - doesn't quite have the same ring to it does it?  No need for the 3 minute warning either, I'm not about to burst into verse.  Being tone deaf I would not wish me singing a verse or two on my worse enemy!!  I know my limits!!

There are probably umpteen thousand websites/blogs out there, which reference these British Garden stalwarts and for that reason I'm not going to go into detail except to profile what grows in my garden.

However, should curiosity get the better of you, more information can be gleaned from British Woodland Trust or RSPB.  Alternatively a google search of either Holly or Ivy will glean you more information than you could probably handle in one browsing session.

The Holly.....

Ilex aquifolium 'J C Van Tol' (AGM) grows in my garden as a rather useful evergreen hedge. Planted by previous owners many years before I took over.  Up until this earlier this year it received a twice yearly 'tidy up' - however, having finally put a name to the face - it was given a gently shear in springtime.  Pruning group of this shrub is Pruning Group 1 (little or no pruning).  Extremely hardy and would quite happily reach a height of around 6m if left to it's own devices - it's eventual spread being half of it's height.

Kooki, as a kitten, honing his climbing skills 
Presently kept to a height of around 1.8m (6ft in old money) primarily for pruning purposes, this height also reflects the height of the fencing which surrounds the remainder of the garden.  As well as this green variety Van Tol Hollies also come in variegated forms with gold and silver leaf margins.  This hedge also provides cover/protection for the many birds which visit the garden.  At one time Robins used to nest in it's depths, this is sadly, no longer the case.  My 3 cats used the hedge for climbing practice when they were kittens, this I'm sad to say caused them up nest and leave! 

Unlike most other holly the leaves of J C Van Tol are oval
to elliptical shaped and almost spineless.  A great big plus as 
far as I'm concerned!  These glossy leaves certainly do not have the 'ouch' factor!  Being evergreen these trees/shrubs does not lose its leaves in winter but will, like other evergreens, drop leaves throughout the year.  For those who like making up Christmas Wreaths - the spineless leaves make it a great choice.       
Shade toterant and considered one of the best hollies for growing as a 'standard'.


Flowering time for this plant is spring and summer - it produces tiny 4 petal white flowers, which I supposed is considered as insignificant in plant terms.  J C Van Tol  is self fertile, therefore removes the need of planting both male and female plants in order that berries are produced.
These berries are abundant in Autumn and Winter, it should be noted that these berries, if eaten, will cause stomach discomfort if ingested.  That being said, it should also be noted that they are an extremely important food source for birds and wildlife at the time of the year other food is scare.  The dark green leaves and the bright red foliage extend the season of interest in the garden - making it an all year round worthwhile plant!!

Next comes the Ivy.......

Hedera helix (Common/Englis Ivy) is often considered a thug in many gardens, indeed, considered an invasive species in many areas.  I have a vast expanse of new fencing to cover in my garden, along with Camellia and Pyracantha I have planted 2 ivies this year.   It is my opinion that no garden (depending on planting schemes) can really be without Ivy.  I'm hoping that with pruning they should not become a problem. Oh, and I'm not afraid of a bit of hard work should pruning alone not suffice!!
Ivy is considered extremely important for wildlife.  This woody evergreen climber will clamber up trees, walls and fences.  It also has the ability of being able to grow as ground cover - prefers shade and important to note that only shoots receiving sun will flower.  Many insects and birds will use this for shelter and protection.  The nectar from its flowers provides nourishment for many bees, hoverflies, butterflies and other late-flying insects just before hiberation time.  

As yet, my Ivies are very small and insignificant but thought this would be a useful place to log their quite different leaves

Hedera helix 'Goldheart' - I don't think that name needs any explaination!!  Slow to get established apparently.  As I want it to grow up and cover a fence, I have provided it with support in the way of a clematis net and a few strategically placed garden canes until it it able to support itself.
Ivy is self clinging and uses ariel rootlets to attach itself to its host.
The contrast in the leaf colour is a deep green with a bright yellow centre.  It will take on a tinge of pink in colder weather (as seen here).  Beautiful red stems add further to the colour provided by this plant.  As it matures - it's leaves will become larger and make much more of a statement.  Currently growing in part shade where 2 previously planted clematis failed - I'm hoping that it will receive just enough sun to produce it's very nectar rich flowers.  

The other Ivy I have planted in the ground is an unknown variety.  Bought in mid 2011 to be used as part of an autumn/winter display container but had began to look rather shabby by the time summer 2012 came around as I had kind of neglected it.  It has thrived since it got it's feet in the ground and is currently using a carefully place Silver Birch log to scramble over then up onto the very tall closed board fence panel that had to be put in as part of my planning application to have my kitchen extended.This area I suppose could be considered as semi-woodland, still in it's infancy with a couple of decideous shrubs (Acer and Magnolia) surrounded by ferns, hostas, epimedium, primula and a rather special little Dicentra.  Plain green with silver veining - it should provide an ideal foil for it's neighbours.  

The other Ivies growing in the garden are currently being utilised in containers providing a bit of colour on the steps outside the back door.  Whether or not these make it into the garden, only time will tell.  

Sold as part of a 'bedding tray' whether this is hardy or not only time will tell.  It seems happy enough for now with companions of Cypressus Goldcrest, heuchera, galtheria and dwarf bulbs.

This dark green, almost grey Ivy, presently tumbling over another winter container.  Choisya Sundance is it's chosen foil - together with Galtheria, Skimmia and dwarf bulbs should make a stunning display come springtime.

As I strive to make my garden more wildlife friendly and provide as many different habitats to encourage more visitors - both these plant will be invaluable and dependable in my quest and I'm pleased you could join me on my journey!               

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Log Bird Feeder

There truly is very little gardening to be done - we've had frost for almost 2 weeks and the snow came just as predicted by those weather forecasters (makes a change).  I must admit that I get rather guilty when I'm unable to do any gardening - I don't even need much convincing to get out there and clear up the winter debris from those unwanted places.

As part of my 'gardening fix' I decided to have a go at making a Bird Feeder - I came across a picture of a recycled log feeder recently and thought that I could very easily fashion something from a log I rescued from a pile going to the council tip after a neighbour had 2 very dead conifers removed from her garden back in summer.  For the past few months I've walked by it as it lay on the path - yet to be given a purpose.  Well it needn't wait any longer.

Here is the log with screw in vine eye at either end.  These need to be spaced appropriately as they will provide the balance needed for hanging....

It will be necessary to drill a pilot hole first - I find the easiest way of screwing these in is to use a pair of pliers.  An alternative would be to drill a whole through the entire width, slip rope through and tie a large knot on the underside.  I did give this some consideration but decided that the wet weather would probably make the rope perish quicker.

In order to provide a supply of food for the birds you will need to create hollows along the length of the log.  I started doing this by using the largest size spade bit I had but found it wasn't doing the job to my nor Robbie Robin's satisfaction.    

Whilst persevering using the spade bit - I suddenly remembered that I had bought a set of core cutting bits years ago - but the question was WHERE WERE THEY??????????? An hours or so later I found them in an old tool box way at the back of the shed.  Note to self - sort out that shed in spring!!!!!  

As you can see in the picture below - this made the work much easier.  The down side to using a hole cutter is that it does not remove the centre.  However a mallet and a chisel soon has them out.  It is best to try smooth out the bottom of the hole as much as possible.

There we have it - the log with it's many varying sized holes.  I also gave consideration to drilling a smaller hole all the way through but decided that not having a wooden drill bit long and thin enough to go through the whole way - the expense of buying one wasn't worth it - as a new log would be free if it rots.  Cleaning should not be a problem either as I already use small bottle brushes for cleaning out other feeders - the same could be done with this.


Idealy, I would have preferred to hang my feeder from a stong branch of a mature tree - but seeing as there is none in my garden, I opted to hang it on the fence directly outside my kitchen window.  This would also allow us watch the birds as they feed.

A couple of redundant brackets used for hanging planting baskets were attached to the fence - make sure that what ever you hang your feeder from it is strong enough to take the weight.  I attached it through the faceboard and into the arris rail behind with good sized screws.  A couple of lengths of chain (left over from another project) was used as a means to hang it from the brackets.      

All that was left to do now was to fill it with feed and wait - rather strangely for the birds that visit my garden it took them a whole entire day before they began to investigate what goodies were on offer.

The selection of goodies on offer is  rolled oats suet pellets, sunflower hearts, mealworm, grated cheese and dried fruit. The birds seemed to like it - which after all was the main purpose of doing this.  
I didn't use seeds as I don't want an excess of weeds in the border below! 

A few other thoughts:
  • could just as easy be hung vertically - thought would need to be given to the food falling out.  Using lard or peanut butter as a way of solidifying the food could be an option
  • could also be used on the ground - no hanging required
  • make sure feeder is accessible for refilling
  • easy to remove for cleaning
  • choose size of log carefully - the larger the log - the heavier it will be
  • the nature of the log means that it will rot over time
  • not so accessible for cats
  • would be useful to hang on the inside of a balcony if you don't have a garden

I hope you find this inspirational and are tempted to have a go yourself.  Please let me know!!

Friday, 23 November 2012

Woodpecker sighting

The first ever sighting of a GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKER took place well over a year ago.  Sadly, this special moment was not captured on camera.
Imagine my delight as I peered out the window this afternoon and saw this beautiful bird feeding away at one of the feeders.
Although not the greatest of pictures - I have managed to capture him this time......

Great Spotted Woodpecker (dendrocopos major)

I'm calling him a he because as he flew away - I was able to see a red colouring on his head.  Only male or juvenille woodpeckers have a red patch of feather on their head.

few days ago I gave mention to Blacky the Blackbird and the fact that he had returned.  The Blackbird seems to have been a very elusive visitor to the garden this last few months.  Yesterday afternoon, as Blacky stood proudly on a neighbour's shed - another blackbird hopped around the borders in search of food.  It was difficult to tell whether it was a a female or a juvenille as both are very similar in colouring.  So the question is - was he watching his prospective mate or keeping an eye on one of his brood?

Blackbird (turdus merula)

Disguised in amoungst the SPARROWS was a young rather tubby ROBIN hopping it's way around the base of the bird feeder.  Yet to have matured enough to show off it's red breast, it was a bit harder to spot in a sea of brown feathers.

There has been a couple of fleeting visits from a female bullfinch this week - she didn't stay long though. Being rather secretive birds - it's not often I see them around the garden picking for food amongst the other birds.

I must say that I am rather pleased that my new bird feeder - which allows me to put out a bigger variety of goodies for the birds - is enticing in these 'strangers'.

Apologies again for the quality of the pictures - the best I could do being indoors as I did not want to take a risk in chasing them away before I was able to record.


Sunday, 18 November 2012

Alpine Trough

I have long admired the beauty of some alpine plants in many of the garden centres, website and gardens I have visited.  My previous attempts at growing some of these little beauties have met with failure.  I have concluded that the main reason is the fact that my soil is not condusive to success!!
I looked into buying some stone planters - where they could be housed - I would be able to offer the best growing medium and conditions they require and perhaps I would be a little bit more successful.  
Easy if you have the budget - some of these containers can cost quite a few £££££ - money I was unwilling to spend on something without odds on certainty for success.
My research into alternatives commenced.  There is a wide choice of sites out there which offer advice in relation to alpine plants.  One or two I came across offered alternatives for stone pots - one was Hypertufa, whilst this does create the effect I was looking for - I don't yet feel confident enough to give it a try.
There are also many alpine growers out there who use recycled polystyrene boxes, they type which are used to store meat/fish.  I thought that I'd give it a go - see what happens kind of thing.  If it all goes wrong - I've not lost much other than my time......the box I sourced from a friend and the other things I had around the house/shed - top marks for the shoestring budget!!  

Materials I used.......
1 x suitable sized polystyrene box/container
Choice of masonry paints - depending on colour/effect desired

Equipment I used.......
1 x pad saw/bread knife
1 x medium grade sandpaper
1 x spade drill bit (I used 16mm) and drill (obviously :))
1 x heat gun (paint stripping gun)
Clean paint brushes  
Dust sheet

I would also suggest the following - a clean area to work - preferably out of wind, dust cover (when painting), something to raise your box up whilst painting.

First thing was too remove the lip which ran around the entire top edge of the box - this snapped of very easily....

 I felt it was also important to roughen up both the top and bottom edges - natural stone would not have such an even edge.  Seen here resting on the lid, you are able to compare the textured edge against the machined edge.  

The bread knife I used to roughen up the polystyrene.  A pad saw would have, I'm sure, been better but as I did not manage to find it in the shed until after I had finished this stage I made do with the bread knife!! Typical!!  You could also use a hacksaw blade - with a handle created by wrapping tape around the one of the ends. 

I also chose to roughen-up on the inside of the box for around 2 or 3 cm.  Once the container is filled - this top bit will always be seen - I felt it added to the effect to do this.

My attention then turned to the main body of the container - I will admit at this stage - that as I had a few pieces of spare polystyrene lying around - I did a practice piece first just to get the feel and how much pressure would be needed....

Happy that I had the effect I was trying to achieve - I began the whole box - it's at this point you must be careful with the debris - doing this indoors on top of dust sheet, enabled me to gather the tiny particles which were left.  A final light sanding with medium grade sandpaper removed any of those little loose bit.  

The next stage was to create drainage holes (important for plants) - I used a 16mm spade drill bit on a very slow speed.  Using gentle pressure (very little was needed) and taking care not to crack or damage the base at this point, I drilled through the base onto an old board I had placed underneath.  The holes were then smoothed off with the end of a wooden spoon! 

From start to finish the time taken to get to this stage was around 1.5 hours.  Very little effort was needed - in fact - it took more effort to clear up that it did to do :)

Stage 2 was to get the box prepared for painting. 

The idea was to create a glazed surface to paint on. For this I used a heat-gun aka paint stripping tool.  This section of the task should be done outdoors - as fumes can be created when the heat gun is introduced to the polystyrene.  I would also advise having a wee practice on a spare piece of the material first.  This will let you get a feel for how much heat is needed and how much time is required before it 'melts'.  Caution is required here - I suppose I must add for health and safety reasons goggles/mask should be worn.  Too much heat will also cause your piece to become very brittle and snap.

Shown here in this close-up of the corner, you can just make out the glaze over the entire surface.  This is the effect you are trying to recreate.

The whole thing now ready for painting.

As I only had 3 colours of masonry paint in the shed - I was limited to what I could achieve.  However, as I wanted the trough to go into the gravel area in the garden I chose a beige base.  This would compliment the gravel, slabs and stones already there.

The base raised up and painted. I found that 'splodging' the paint on it provided areas which were thicker.  There are other sites available which would advise using a textured paint or adding sand or peat into the mix.  As I had no sand or peat lying around the garden and was not prepared to buy any just for 1 box, I made do with what I had too hand!     

Not forgetting that inside edge!!

After drying out for a wee while - I then added some black onto where the corners and edges would have been weathered.

The whole thing was left too dry for a good few hours - the a dry soft paintbrush was then used to 'blend'  the colours together to create a 'stone' effect.

The container was left to dry completely for 2 days!

If I had not been happy with the effect - painting over and starting again would have been easy enough - so it was a case of nothing ventured - nothing gained!!

After choosing the site I wanted - the planter was then positioned up on bricks.  This will allow it to drain freely.  Another tip here - whilst this is lightweight - moving will be difficult.  It would be advisable to slip a couple of planks underneath to support the the base and use these to life - a 2 man or woman job here!!!! 

 A layer of apline gravel was put into the base of the container before I added a suitable growing medium for the plants I want to grow.  Before I planted it out - I gave it a good water - I let it settle for another 2 days, then topped it up.


Plants in, watered and a few stones added for 'effect - the whole thing was mulched with another layer of alpine grit.  
What am I growing - I hear you ask - please subscribe and come springtime you can see for yourself ;)

As I don't have a greenhouse and my cold frame is already packed, the plants I have chose are hardy enough here in Scotland and although they have a dislike to 'winter wet' - they have been given some protection by way of a glass sheet raised on bricks.  As it's all a learning curve - who knows?????

Since I have finished this I have sourced another 3 containers, work will begin soon - I've already sourced the plants - so watch this space!! 

Thanks for reading.   

Monday, 12 November 2012

When the red red robin......

I took time out from decorating today - to replenish and restock the bird feeders.  Since introducing the large feeder into the garden a few weeks ago - I have found that doing this job fortnightly makes more sense.  Not only does it encourage the many birds, tits of all varieties, finches, sparrows and the others to go hunting for the food which has fallen on the ground.  It also means that a greater variety is available to all.  I am now finding that the fat balls are lasting longer, peanut/sunflower feeders are not being emptied overnight. 

I have also introduced rolled oats and dried food to replace the bread I used to put out for the birds.  I'm finding this is an inexpensive way to provide extra food at little cost.

I have been saying for weeks now that I haven't seen a blackbird in the garden for quite a while.  I was more than pleased when I saw one (male) perched on the back fence.  He was however, too quick, for me to get a snap shot.  Nice to see you back Blacky :))
House sparrows eagerly await their turn

At last a picutre of the robin's red breast

This little Coaltit - flitted in and out all afternoon - stockpiling I think!!

Collared Doves - they like the rolled oats

House sparrow perched on high!

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Fairy Rings

My son's girlfriend asked me the other day 'Why has Jim next door made a small circles out of stones in the middle of his lawn?' - perplexed - I said 'Who knows what Jim gets up to in his garden'
On further inspection - well not much inspection - I only had to look out the upstairs window, I found that this was a small circle of fungii.  It got me to thinking - as it was halloween time - I wonder if there was a connection.

I found myself trawling through lots of information available on the interweb!! -
It seems that all over Europe there are many superstitions surrounding these 'magical' rings - folklore stories are abound by them.

It is not only fairies that are associated with these rings.  Elves, Pixies, Witches, Dragons and even the Devil can 'claim' to be responsible for these phenomenon! 

One story is said to be that fairies sit around the mushrooms and use them as dinner tables - In Dutch folklore - it is said that these rings form in the place where the Devil leaves his milk churn.  French folklorist claimed that these 'rings' were guarded by giant bug eyed toads that would curse who ever would dare enter the 'ring'    

In my research I came across this traditional Scottish Verse which pretty much describes the danger of such places.......
He wha tills the fairies' green
Nae luck again shall hae :
And he wha spills the fairies' ring
Betide him want and wae.
For weirdless days and weary nights
Are his till his deein' day.
But he wha gaes by the fairy ring,
Nae dule nor pine shall see,
And he wha cleans the fairy ring
An easy death shall dee

For those who need a translation:

He who tills the fairies green
No luck again shall have
And he who spills the fairies ring
Betide him want and way
For weirdless days and Weary nights
Are his till his dyin day
But he who goes by the fairy ring
No duel nor pine shall see
And he who cleans the fairy ring
An easy death shall die   

It is thought that one of the reasons these rings featured in so many different stories was that the older generations often told youngsters such tales to discourage their inquisitiveness to touch or eat these often poisonous mushrooms.       

In reality 'fairy rings' are a result from the natural tendencies of mycelium (the underground spreading organisms) which spreads out to create these rings.  They slowly move out in an ever increasing circle as the decay of the older mycelium releases nutrients into the soil.  The first sign to the eye is the 'bloom' called barsidiocap - the fruiting body of the fungii - which we call 'mushroom'.  Their spores are released in a circular fashion - thus producing 'fairy rings'.    

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Trick or Treat

I've been told that there is a family of hedgehogs which live in an neighbouring garden.  Despite this, I have never had any inclination or signs that they spend any sort of time in my garden......until tonight that is!!!!

What a delightful Trick or Treat visitor to receive!  As it's reward it got a little dog food - just plain old Chicken and Turkey....boy are they noisy eaters!!

Not the greatest of pictures but the best I could get without raging terror on the little thing!


Thursday, 25 October 2012

More casualties!

I started to cut back some of the perennials today - I was really disappointed to find that the rain had done more damage that I had thought.  Whilst some of the paeonies still had a little foliage left - some rotting has occured around the crowns of the tubers, I've cut out all the stems and will await the appearance of shoots in March . My beautiful white Liatris - which I thought had been devoured by slugs was just a ball of mush!!  I'm not going to hold my breath thinking that the Aconitum 'Stainless Steel' will make a come back next year either.
Despite this - I noticed that the crown on the Cardoon (Cynara Cardunculus) was still relatively health, likewise, my Salvia x sylvestris 'Rose Queen'.  Both have been given a good layer of straw - this Salvia is of questionable hardiness here in Scotland - it worked on 2 out of 3 plants last year.
The Arum lillies (Zantedeschia aetheopica) - which will pretty soon be 'floored' by the frost - where chopped right back and given the same treatment.  These are listed by the RHS as not hardy but other internet website rate them as borderline hardy/hardy.  Therefore it will be another 'wait and see' moment!!

I prefer using these budget plastic coated  wire hanging baskets instead of chicken wire as a way of keeping the straw in place.  I find that chicken wire is a pain to cut and find I often cut myself on the sharp edges no matter how careful I am.  I keep them in place using membrane pegs or garden canes can be pushed down through the holes to secure.   

The shade lovers Hostas, Tellima and Alchemilla Mollis growing around the Kilmarnock Willow have all been cut right back to the ground.  Heuchera Marmalade and the Japanese Holly fern (Cyrtomium fortunei) also enjoy living under the tree.  There is a hellebore planted here but it's looking a bit forlorn - not sure if it's dying or not - time will tell!

Incidentally, the bird feeder I introduced on the Willow was a great success - I've added a couple more - the smaller birds flit in and out all day and only the smaller starlings have thus far managed to negociate the branches.  

Heuchera Marmalade has thoroughly enjoyed it's first season here - it was moved here earlier in the year.  Looking a bit deflated by the cold weather or is it the weight of the fallen bird seed.  Mrs Robin should enjoy these left overs :) 

In addition to the feeders - I created a little drinking place for the birds - all these were things lying around the garden, a much better use here it think!!  A few pebbles added for the smaller birds.  The log - which has began rotting, should provide a haven for insects which in turn will be welcomed by the birds!!

Enkianthus cernuus var. Rubens getting redder by  the day - almost looks like a burning fire!  Planted for it's autumn colour - it is not disappointing!!

A close up of those raindrops cradled in the lower branches.

A little colour from a gorgeous deep maroon Chrysanthemum brought home by mum the other day.  I doubt very much that it will be hardy - more research is needed.