Thursday, 4 June 2015

Day 4, #30dayswild

On 1 June I was in Yorkshire, and not able to write a post for this blog, but now I'm back there's a chance to catch up. Yorkshire was lovely, especially Nunnington Hall, a National Trust building with a delightful organic garden which nestles in a beautiful riverside setting. An added treat on the visit was the exhibition of 2014 British Wildlife Photography Awards winners (the link will take you to a gallery of the finalists, which is well worth a look, especially the Animal Portrait winner, which went to a photograph from the Farne Islands, and was my own favourite - having found the website I'm going to be looking at them all again!) Serendipity, or what?

Next day we went to Whitby - not much observable wildlife apart from the herring gulls, but a nice example at the Abbey of the effects of nature on sedimentary stone over the years:

We were in no doubt about the efficacy of weathering, the wind was an icy blast on Monday. On my last day, somewhat beset by the weather again, we drove past Rievaulx Abbey but didn't go in - somewhere warm, with coffee, beckoned. There were plant stalls too - pity I was travelling home by train.

Back home and there weren't too many dramatic developments in the garden, again the result of the cold weather, but the may blossom is now fully out, and will shortly be followed by the elder. One of the first things I did was head out to the greenhouse to see what had been happening there. To my horror I found that the nasty sticky yellow whitefly trap, which I put up because my precious scented pelargoniums were suffering, and which I thought was preferable to spraying, had caught two small bumble bees. I am now racked with guilt, and the trap is in the dustbin! The pels will just have to take their chances in future. I've sent off a donation to the Friends of the Earth Bee Cause to assuage my conscience, and will be assiduously assisting any bees I find from now on to make up for it. I was very impressed, visiting my brother and his family at the weekend, to see his bumble bee hive - sadly, my budget won't quite run to such a gesture, but I have got a house for solitary bees to put up this week. I've also sown some catmint for them which will need planting out soon. I think I might manage to make a woodpile too - well, more exactly, I'll collect up the random bits of ash tree which have come down, and put them somewhere in a better, and undisturbed pile. I don't expect the existing inhabitants will mind a minor change of location!

Tomorrow I think I'll take the camera for a walk...

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

30 days wild

This June the Wildlife Trusts are running a campaign called 30 Days Wild. I decided to join in so that I could spend the month thinking about how to encourage wildlife in the garden. I'm starting by revitalising this blog (four years on!), which had anyway turned into something mostly garden- and nature-focused. It's got a bit of a new look, and a new name, GeraniumCat in the Garden (inspired, huh?).

It won't only be about wildlife - gardening, food and related books are sure to get a look in, local history too, but for June I will try to post at least a picture most days for 30 Days Wild. I may be in Devon for part of the month, too, but that means dogwalking so I'll be out and about.

It seemed a good omen that last night while I was shutting up the chickens and thinking about what I'm going to talk about for 30 days, a tawny owl flew past and there were several brown long-eared bats flitting about. I want to increase the number of plants that are attractive to insects in the garden to encourage both bats and bees. So far, my greatest success is probably in attracting slugs, so I am embracing horticultural fleece with some enthusiasm.

Most importantly, I want to spend some time getting to grips with my new wildflower key. This will be a real challenge, and might be easier if I'm in Devon, because there are so many more wildflowers there than there are in North Northumberland!

NB: GeraniumCat's Bookshelf has also been on hiatus for some time, but I hope to be back there soon.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Herb Gardening by Claire Loewenfeld

I didn't think I could possibly need another general book on herbs but I bought Herb Gardening (at the very wonderful Slightly Foxed Bookshop on Gloucester Road) because it's one of the more comprehensive I've found.

The book starts with some brief chapters on herbs in general, then each individual herb is described under several headings: Virtues, Description (or Appearance), Growing, Harvesting and Uses. Several headings are self-explanatory; Virtues covers folklore, medicinal properties and other interesting facts, while Uses gives directions on the preparation of simples (medicinal and cosmetic) and, in the case of the kitchen herbs, a recipe, or other comments on its culinary uses.

There are two useful charts at the back, on growing and usage. There are a couple of inclusions which might be slightly unexpected - for instance, rose hips, which were much used as a source of Vitamin C during WW2* - and the range considered is wider than the usual kitchen-garden list: there are some plants here which we'd normally consider to be wildflowers or weeds. If you wanted to create a herb-garden like those of earlier centuries this, in conjunction with one of the early Herbals, like Mrs Grieve's, would be an excellent and practical reference work.

* As a child in the early 1960s, our school took part in a national scheme to collect rosehips - we would go out every evening with bags and, at the end of the week, the total would be weighed. There were lots of wild roses growing around the small Scottish torn where I grew up and we collected huge quantities which were sent off to be made into delicious rosehip syrup. I think the practice had stopped by the time I left primary school.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Out of season

This cowslip should be flowering in spring, but here it is in my garden in September, trying to clash with the (admittedly rather limp) violas - this pot was prettier earlier in the year when, under the clematis which is its main occupant, there were violets and crocuses. The bowl below is more the kind of thing I'm aiming for when it's at its best - but the pot above is meant to be resting at this time of year (although you can see I made an attempt for summer interest with some lobelia which totally failed to grow in our cold summer).

I like doing this kind of gardening in miniature. That alchemilla seedling will have to go, it'll take over completely any minute!

Friday, 19 August 2011

Bugged by inconsistency

It's official, I'm thoroughly inconsistent. Yesterday I was delighted to find that the hens view earwigs with voracious enthusiasm. Then I came in and spent ten minutes rescuing and trying to photograph a grasshopper. You can see it if you peer closely at the middle of the picture. It's a field grasshopper, chorthippus brunneus, I think.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Time marches on

Two  months since I've been here! Obviously, life is so uneventful that there is simply nothing to say, I'm just swimming serenely along with my feathers only slightly ruffled by a passing breeze - or else, it has been so frantic that I haven't had time to sit and write. And it's the latter, I'm afraid, there's just too much to try to fit into the day - it doesn't matter how hard you try to organise work, noting schedules and deadlines and calculating to be sure that one job will be finishing as another arrives: authors don't work like that, and it all manages to come along at once. Add in a funding emergency, and that's it - the garden is utterly neglected, apart from four courgette plants limping along anaemically. What is wrong with them I can't imagine, except that it was cold and wet when they were planted. True, the strawberries have been tremendous, and the one cucumber was delicious. I don't mind that only two of the hens have been laying properly, because we still have more than enough eggs (who's got time to cook?).

I've been pleased, too, with the dozen pelargoniums I bought as plug plants, which are all growing healthily, and the sweet peas are a pleasure. If I haven't seen many butterflies, I've enjoyed the moths at dusk, and we've had an influx of scarily large beetles (as yet unidentified: I think some kind of ground beetle, and yes, I do know what they are not - not stag beetles or chafers; this is a beetle I haven't met before, and no, I didn't take its photograph...). Earlier in the month we heard quail calling, which was exciting, and the grey partridges creak away in the evenings. For a week or so, a red-legged partridge took to yelling its head off on a fencepost in the paddock. Was it trying to intimidate the hens? Or just out-shriek the competition? One morning I woke about 5 because there was so much noise outside my window - it was five blackbirds on the lawn, all scolding a partridge which was looking singularly unimpressed.

The most pleasure has come from a family of garden warblers who are constantly a-flutter around the house, tiny delicate birds with heavy eye-makeup and personalities out of all proportion to their scale, and the swallows - all day the sky is alive with them and the count of the phone lines is up to at least 50. OH says that when he is mowing they play chicken with the tractor, actually flying underneath it as it makes its steady progress round the paddock. There is certainly plenty for them to eat.

 And the rain it raineth every day (but at least these streptocarpuses are doing quite well...)

Thursday, 26 May 2011


Last week I was visiting the APs in Devon and took the opportunity to do a little pottering in the garden - the weather was mostly mild and sunny, and the terrace was busy with deep blue damsel flies, orange tip butterflies, even the occasional small blue. My mother and I amused ourselves by counting bird species actually nesting in the garden - we got to well over 30, a count that includes ravens, jays, sparrowhawks, nuthatches...I've just done a similar count for home, and achieved similar numbers of very different birds (and because our northern garden doesn't include many large trees, the way the Devon one does, I expanded our area to include the fields immediately surrounding us, so the buzzards count here, but not in Devon). As I'm writing this at my desk in the window, a pair of bullfinches - regular visitors attracted by my rather laissez-faire atttitude to dandelions - landed in the ash tree opposite.

The high point of the Devon visit, though, was a sighting unlike any I've experienced before: as I walked across the terrace there was a tremendous kerfuffle as two birds hurtled into a pittosporum bush, shrieking their heads off. A high piercing note, an unmistakable screech of fury, and the minute bird emitting the racket was positively bouncing up and down on his branch. Yet despite his tiny size he was highly visible, because he was raising and flashing his crest, a violent streak of fiery orange that flashed in the sunlight. I watched spellbound for several minutes while he bounced and flashed, until the object of his wrath burst from the depths of the bush and fled across the wooded slope below the terrace. The owner of the spectacular headgear was a goldcrest, one of the enchantingly named kinglet family, and our smallest songbird:

Photo from Wikipedia

How such a tiny bundle of fluff could make such a noise I can't imagine, but the picture above does give some idea of the brilliance of his crest. In the past I've struggled to see these elusive creatures, which are more generally "sighted" by tracking their creaky tseeping cry (what Wikipedia calls "a subdued rambling sub-song" - love it!) to a bush and then peering into the murky interior to see the odd flick of a wing - they like dense bushes like yew, and nest in conifers, which makes them especially hard to see. I believe we may have them around us here in Northumberland, I think I heard them in the woodland a couple of fields away, but the tree cover around our garden is not heavy enough for them to visit us here.

I'm back home enjoying the sparrows - my mother is delighted that they now have a regular pair, and envies us our rambunctious flock of more than thirty. Who would ever have thought that sparrows could be rare?