The Garden of Birdly Delights

The sparrows like to eat my Swiss rainbow chard so much, in the end I decided to leave out their own special supply. It did have beautifully lush green leaves and colourful stalks, but now it’s just… stalks.

Chard is a cut-and-come-again veg, but I think I’m going to have to hide it for a bit to give it a fighting chance of coming again at all. At this rate though, we’re going to have the healthiest sparrows in the land.

It was only a few days ago that the chard still had leaves…

While I had my telephoto zoom lens out, catching them in the act no less, instead of having lunch some of the flock decided it was bath time. I’ve seen this behaviour before but until now I didn’t have my camera handy.

One juvenile starling will start having a good ole splash about, then everyone wants a bit of the action.

Our garden birds are healthy and clean.

Going back to chard, last week I was able to really start munching on my own produce. I started growing chard simply because it’s easy and generally problem free (unless you have clean eating sparrows), but I didn’t have any particular desire to eat it. But eat it I did, and it’s rather nice. A similar taste to spinach.

I also tried my first bit of homegrown kale, which wasn’t much (it’s very popular with the caterpillars) but was absolutely delicious. I’ll really try to ramp up my supply next year as it’s something I generally eat a lot of.

On this occasion I very narrowly avoided eating the worlds’ smallest omelette.

Last week’s most exciting development though was the potatoes! I have no idea when I actually planted a few old potatoes that were growing eyes in the cupboard, so I had no idea when they would be ready to harvest. Not much to do rather than dig around and have a look, then. This is what I found.

I haven’t a clue what variety they are, because I hadn’t decided to label anything at the time. More recently I started labelling and dating everything, so I shouldn’t have the same problem in future.

A friend pointed out they look like they came straight from a Tesco bag, which was surprisingly on the money.

If I remember rightly I did indeed get this hessian bag from Tesco’s.

They were really tasty taters, despite me taking my eye off the pan and boiling them to within an inch of their lives. This week I will plant Charlotte potatoes that should be ready to harvest around Christmas.

Despite having a great start (this shows them from the beginning of April to last week) my squash seems to have stalled. I’ve had buds for ages but no flowers, so I’m thinking they grew too much foliage instead of the energy going into fruiting.

I’ll be patient and see what transpires though – at the end of the day they were grown from seeds I took from a squash I ate, so I’m not losing anything if they all fail. In any case, I just love them as a plant. Check out this gorgeous tendril in the evening light.

Best of all though, oh yes definitely best of all… this week MY TOMATOES HAVE TOMATOES!!!

I started noticing them yesterday and I could not be happier. I planted them much later than is advised, so I was happy enough just to get flowers. To see the fruit though! I had a count up and I have a total of 46 tomato plants that have flowered, so even if I only get one tomato from each plant, that alone would be ace. As things stand, it’s a good job I bloody love tomatoes!

Again, I’m not sure about the varieties. I think I grew five different kinds, 2 from bought seeds and 3 kinds that came from supermarket tomatoes. It’ll be lots of fun finding out, whilst in the meantime every week I buy different tomatoes to eat and put aside some seeds for next year. Until I get my first harvest that is.

Although I’ve already learned so much about gardening, now I’m learning to be patient. It’s not something I’ve had much success with in the past, however yesterday I sowed some seeds that are going to really put me to the test.

They’re Japanese maple (acer) seeds, and first of all you have to soak them for 24 hours. Normally even that would put me off.

Anyway, stage one is complete. Next, they go in the fridge for 2-4 months, to make them think it’s been winter. It might work, it might not. If not, back in the fridge they go.

It could be a full TWO YEARS before they germinate. Please, don’t hold your breath for updates on this one!

Whilst I could go on about the garden indefinitely , there’s stuff to be done. Including gardening stuff.

Who would have guessed?

Thanks for reading,

Hayley x

Made For Sharing

Photography, art, the garden… they’re all connected. Discovering I love gardening during lock down was like finding the final piece of the jigsaw puzzle – I got to see the whole picture and it felt awesome. It started off with the photography. I found some time ago that what I most like to photograph is plants and nature. When it comes to painting, again, it’ll all about the natural world. These days if I’m not actually gardening I’m usually taking pictures of the garden, drawing it, watching TV shows about gardening, reading about gardening, talking about gardening or thinking about gardening. I even dream about gardening.

It gives me the same kind of magical feeling that photography does. I’m pleased I didn’t grow up in the digital age, because taking pictures was always (and still is) an absolute wonder to me. I’d hate to take it for granted. To be able to freeze a moment in time and keep it forever… when you really think about it, it’s kind of unreal. And Polaroids! Oh how I desperately wanted an instant camera when I was a kid, but the film was just too expensive. It still is to be honest, but of course I have one now. There are worse things I could be throwing my money at.

I’m kind of obsessed with seeds, because there’s that really incredible feeling of something coming from virtually nothing. The excitement when the seed actually germinates, especially if it’s one that takes over a month and you think it definitely won’t ever spout. Then BOOM, there it is, and you have to nurture the tiny little seedling that would otherwise die without you. Before you know it, you’ve gone from wondering what the heck to do with a load of somewhat sickly looking green sprouts to having a colourful garden.

This was the beginning of April, struggling to find enough pots and enough compost, having no idea if I was over-watering or under-watering.

Now look it all! Nearly all of that was grown from seed by yours truly.

I have bought a few plants with my grocery shopping, just because I could (there’s no WAY I’m risking going to a garden centre) and although it’s nice to instantly add colour it’s just not the same as growing it yourself.

One thing I’ve thought long and hard about is what I want to do with the garden next year. I’ve found garden ‘pests’ to be a huge problem – not because there’s no way around controlling them, but because I can’t bring myself to do it.

The sparrows were actually going inside my greenhouse and cold frame, but after I netted it I learned this is really dangerous for birds as they can get caught up in it. I had to do something immediately because if we approached them when they were inside they’d panic and possibly end up hurting themselves in that way instead.

Soon it won’t be a problem, because I’ll have a proper greenhouse instead of a plastic one that has to have the door open during the day. As for anything sown directly into the ground, I’ve decided to work with nature rather than against it. I have been providing plenty of food for our garden birds, and as such we must have 20, maybe 30 or more individual sparrows visiting every day, not even counting pigeons, starlings, tits and more. Obviously I’m trying to bring them in to the garden, not discourage them, so I will only grow food that they’re not particularly interested in. As far as flowers are concerned, I plan to have thousands next year and the birds are welcome to share. I’m especially looking forward to growing teasels which will hopefully attract goldfinches. I’ve bought a mere 1000 seeds, I hope it’s enough…

Now, slugs. I applied nematodes and they seemed to work, but it’s a bit too expensive for me to carry on. Plus I feel bad for the slugs. I lifted up a log the other day and found so many different varieties under there – I was instantly fascinated. I also realised that I literally cannot kill a slug or snail on purpose. So, again, I’m finding workarounds.

My squash seems to be relatively unharmed, and I think it’s because they’re strong enough to stand up to some slug damage. Other that that, I’ll experiment with growing sacrificial plants, sowing lettuce in baskets so they can’t get at it and looking at planting things they don’t like to discourage them from certain areas. Plus the birdies should help. I’m sure I’ll figure out the right balance, and if not? It’ll still be fun experimenting.

My absolute favourite thing about the garden though, is that they are just made for sharing. Apart from sharing with wildlife, which I clearly love, it’s so good to have somewhere nice to be when people visit. It has just turned into a really lovely space.

What I possibly love even MORE than that, is giving people things to take home with them. I gave me sister a little pot of rocket seedlings and a tomato plant, and I was seriously buzzing at that! Me and mum ate my first ever radish the other day and it was just… brilliant. The best.

Next year I plan to grow plenty of flowers that are specially for cutting. Good luck to anyone who visits who thinks they can go away empty handed.

Damn, I almost forgot to mention the pond! We are now sharing that area with tiny little wormy things and what may be a load of damselfly larvae. I’ve now added oxygenating plants and just yesterday a bunch of ferns arrived in the post which is now providing more cover for potential wildlife. I really hope we get frogspawn next year.

The other day my mum found this picture of the garden as it was two years ago (silly me forgot to take before pictures this year) which is a pretty fair representation of how it looked before I got started. Perhaps the grass wasn’t quite that long.

We have gone from that, to this:

Yeah. I’m somewhat chuffed with that.

Thanks for reading my garden ramblings,

Hayley x

Me and my Squash

It’s all been happening here, I hardly know where to begin! The garden continues to be the gift that keeps on giving, and it has genuinely burst into life over the last few weeks. Considering that apart what’s currently in a greenhouse and cold frame I haven’t added any plants to the garden, it’s looking remarkably lovely.

I started to dig out a little patch at the bottom of the garden for growing some veg soon, and the sparrows have absolutely LOVED it. Where I’ve turned over the earth they have feasted on the worms and grubs I revealed, but also (and this is crazy cute) they’ve been taking dust baths in the soil. I managed to capture it on the wildlife cam.

They have been driving my mum a little bit potty, because although I’ve spotted them feeding their fledgelings and teaching them how to forage by themselves, they are already getting ready for the next brood. These randy sparrows are extremely noisy, but it’s worth it because one couple have just moved into one of our nest boxes. Every day I look out the window to see them collecting more nesting material.

Another thing that has become part of my daily routine is filling up an old dustbin lid with water, as that’s where they like to drink and bathe. It’s funny how my life is currently revolving around several different animals – the evening routine involves religiously feeding our new resident hedgehog.

We have named him Wonder, because I think he might just be blind. He lets me get very close to him even in daylight but if I make a noise he will run away. Now I’ve discovered this I feed him and leave him alone, and I’m glad he found our little house. He comes out like clockwork and doesn’t even wait a whole minute after I’ve put the food out before he starts eating his dinner.

We’ve had aquilegias in our garden for years and they have been self-seeding of their own accord without us having to do anything. This is what a normal single aquilegia looks like:

But these are some of the more exciting ones I’ve been discovering:

Lockdown rules are starting to be relaxed in the UK, which for the most part I think is a huge mistake, however after a lot of thought we decided that it was time for my sister to come and visit. She stayed in the garden the whole time, and it was like the intervening two months never happened.

Of course she brought the marvellous Newton with her, and he has changed quite a bit! He’s pretty much fully grown now and he’s a lot more muscular, but also he has calmed down a lot. He’s not quite the boisterous puppy we saw last, but he’s still perfect in every way.

He very helpfully ‘watered’ the poppies for me (thanks dude) and also helped me eat my strawberries.

He takes things from you so gently, it’s absolutely adorable. I don’t think it’s possible for a dog to be more loved than this guy.

As for the things I’ve been growing, it’s been mostly successful so far. Everything in a pot seems to be doing really well even though I’ve had to improvise. I have stuff growing in old food packaging like tomato trays, plastic bottles and coconut milk cartons. Everything I’ve directly sown into the ground however has been immediately eaten by slugs before it even got going, so I’m waiting on a delivery of nematodes before I plant out my veg.

Nematodes are microscopic worms that aren’t harmful to humans, pets or wildlife, and might give my corn, beetroot, carrots, rocket, cauliflower, chard, four different varieties of tomatoes, chillies and various flowers a fighting chance. The thing I’m most excited about though, is my butternut squash.

When I last ate a squash I just threw a few seeds into a container with some compost and hoped for the best, even though you are supposed to dry out the seeds first. I just thought I’d see what would happen as an experiment, and this is what I found.

This was one squash plant at the beginning of May:

This is the very same plant today:

I’m completely invested in this plant now and rather than just sitting back and seeing what happens, I’m doing my best to look after it properly and hopefully I’ll get a harvest from it in the autumn. So exciting!

I think it’s nap time now as I have to go back to work on the 16th of June. I’m slowly, slowly working on switching my body clock back to nights mode. On the one hand, boooooo, work. But on the other, yay, naps!

Gotta keep focusing on the positives.

Thanks for reading,

Hayley x