Category Archives: Garden

Mostly garden pictures and maybe the odd poodle

Garden Birds – Jackdaws and Feeders

Chimney Breast through Silver Birch

This chimney breast with its nice little triangular entrances is a perfect home for any bird that likes to live up at roof level and raise its young.  It’s dry and defendable and has a great outlook. I can see the back of this house from my house, it is in an adjoining road. I guess they don’t use their chimney.

We used to see swifts return in May and swoop into this chimney breast to raise a brood over summer, they would eat the flies, never came down to the ground at all and we enjoyed them careering around the sky through the summer months before they left for Africa in the autumn. One year however,  they came back to find that a family of jackdaws had moved in and they had lost their summer home.  We were sad, not a particularly rational sadness because that is the nature of things but sad nonetheless.

I think I can see something not good happening down there in that garden...

I think I can see something not good happening down there in that garden…

The jackdaws are quite polite birds, from a human perspective, they don’t bully the other birds that much, they don’t make that much of a mess, but they are very very keen on hoovering out the contents of the seed feeder that we put up and I am concerned that if they have such a large and ever available supply of food on their doorstep they will lay more eggs, raise bigger broods and before we know it we will just have twice as many as now.

I think she's been reading blogposts about bird feeders, oh crikey!

I think she’s been reading blogposts about bird feeders, oh crikey!

The whole feeding wild life in the garden issue is fraught with potential issues.

I will list some of them here:

  • you create an artificial food source and the population swells, you stop feeding for some reason, the creatures starve as they can’t find other food:
  • you don’t clean and disinfect the feeders which become intensively visited and therefore parasites and disease pass easily from one bird to the next;
  • you feed the wrong types of food and they get ill: you feed whole peanuts which get fed to fledglings which then choke; you get all sorts of strange things growing under the feeders which have rooted and maybe are not what you want growing in your garden;
  • you get guano where the birds sit and wait for their turn on the feeders;
  • you get mice and rats visiting if there is lots of food being dropped on the ground;
  • you get birds that, for your own ‘human’ reasons you don’t like, or just too many of one sort and you start to think of Hitchcock and The Birds,  you get crows and feral pigeons, or starlings in large numbers whilst lamenting the photogenic goldfinch or the endangered tree sparrow;
  • you have a small dog who eats any fat the birds chuck about and gets very ill indeed;
  • you get cats and sparrowhawks lying in wait for the birds and predating them and then you get to see nature red in tooth and claw and to a tender-hearted soul this is not a pretty sight;
  • you get blackbirds ‘stealing’ your precious homegrown fruit, (Zeb guards the one little blueberry bush from the blackbird and gets very cross with it).
I am going to check this out right away...

I am going to check this out right away…

In short, the catalogues that bounce through our letter box with pretty bird feeders gleaming in the sunlight festooned with little birds being fed by our bountiful kindness doesn’t paint the whole story; many people give up feeding the birds when they come across these issues and I can’t say I blame them at all.

I've brought you some bread dear, but I am afraid it is bad news...

I’ve brought you some bread dear, but I am afraid it is bad news…

Stubbornly though we like to feed the birds and have them in the garden, we like to hear their songs and see them fly about, they are a key component of what makes a garden a garden for us but we have cut back on what and how we feed.

We have one small feeder with niger seed for the goldfinches and a taller one for the smaller birds and a ground feeder with a cage over it for those who prefer to hop in.  We don’t feed fat pellets any more, but mainly a mix of seeds, corn and dried mealworms.

I am not very impressed with that bread dear, is it sourdough?

I am not very impressed with that bread dear, is it sourdough?

Yesterday while watching the jackdaws doing their hoovering trick once more I looked on the internet and found At Last a Pigeon Proof Bird-Feeder by Ianvisits with its delightful illustrations.

I do love you anyway, even if the fast food bar is closed!

I do love you anyway, even if the fast food bar is closed!

We purchased a pair of hanging baskets, fixed them together with cable ties and have attempted to put sticks in at angles in the style of Ian’s post. It has temporarily baffled the jackdaws and the smaller birds are delighted. The jackdaws are smart birds though and I am not counting on them not finding a way to get the seed out.

There is a dunnock in here if you look closely!

There is a dunnock in here if you look closely!

In the meantime dunnock, robin, chaffinches, blue tits, great tits and goldfinches and all the smallies are having a great time!

Lost My Glasses in the Garden

Reflections on Lost Glasses

Oh dear, the top search leading to my blog, yesterday was Lost My Glasses in the Garden.

Lets have a think about that one, must be something to do with that Goddess of Small Lost Things post…

How about, going out with a torch at dusk and shining it around and seeing if the lenses catch the light? The trouble with glasses is that they are so transparent, so you could look for them and look right through them. If you can look for them by the colour of their frames, or look for curves or something sticking up, don’t think of them how you would see them on a desk or a table or in their container, look for the edge.  Think about what happened when you took them off, were  you reading, did you stop doing one thing and start another, did you go into a shed to get something else and take them off, did  you open a bag of soil and put them down on a brick, or a stone, or a ledge. Were you called into the house and took them in with you and put them by the door or leave them in the bathroom?

I really hope  you find your glasses… I have so many pairs and I can never find them, even when they are in their cases. I have just recently festooned their boxes with strange stickers so I can tell them apart and I never know where I have left them. I can spend ages looking for them.

Does anyone else have any thoughts on how to make glasses visible?  Those dangling strings that people attach to them, I have tried those and they don’t work for me very well, I get tangled up in them and they obscure my peripheral vision when I drive.

Update :

Ardys @ ardysez.wordpress.com is a great friend and blogger and she sent me this photo and wrote :

Your post today reminded me of back in August when I was working in the garden and my glasses slipped out of my pocket, when and exactly where, I had no idea. I looked and looked in the area I had been working until finally I saw them. They were so well camouflaged, I thought it nothing short of miraculous that I found them. Thought you would enjoy the photo I took, why, I don’t know, but somehow it seemed like proof of a miracle, I suppose!! xx A

photo copyright Ardys

A Miracle!   Shown by permission of Ardys @  http://Ardysez.wordpress.com

Big Moon and a Frog

24th July 2013 1.29 a.m -– just now as I turned to leave the kitchen to go upstairs to bed I realised there was a frog silently staring at one of the poodles asleep on her blanket.

I was slightly baffled – the back door was shut and the frog must have come in the house much earlier in the day.  I picked up a plastic pudding basin and popped it over the frog and found He who loves Frogs and used to rescue tropical ones from the bananas when he worked in Safeways and take them home with him and look after them when the zoo didn’t want to know.

He was asleep. I woke him. I could have maybe done it myself, I know I know, but I didn’t want to. He likes frogs a lot, I like frogs, but not so much that I want to have one jump up at me, because then I would jump and we would all scream a bit and the frog would get stressed.

So the sleepy Lord of the Frogs put on his Frog Catching Gloves and airlifted Mr Green to safety. I don’t think he really woke up, he is clever like that. He will think it was a dream in the morning.

Outside there is a big golden moon sailing high in the sky. lighting up the streaky clouds.  We saw the moon earlier in the evening and did that thing where you look at the moon upside down (easiest way is through your legs)  and it looks smaller. It worked.

Inula Hookeri

This post could do with a photo or two and I don’t have a picture of the moon, but here is a photo I took the night before of a flower in a front garden I walked past. There were lots of them and they had clearly spread through the garden in a slightly invasive way.

I asked on Twitter if anyone knew what it was and kind people made all sorts of suggestions and eventually came up with Inula Hookeri. It reminds me of something you would find stuck on a bathing cap from my childhood.  I think it is beautiful.

If I walk down to the back fence, there is this stalwart shrub covered in flowers. Every year I think it is going to die in the cold winds of winter. Its leaves turn red, and then mysteriously they turn green again in the Spring and by July it is covered in sweet white whirls of jasmine scented flowers, the shrub doesn’t grow very much but it is still here eight years after being planted in a planting pocket surrounded by concrete. It is a survivor. The Clock is telling me to Go To Bed once more.

I am becoming an insomniac blogger.

Night all x

Trachelospermum Jasmonides

Heat Wave Thoughts

Screen Shot 2013-07-18 at 08.25.37

Today’s forecast (18th July 2013)  from the Weather Channel

Those of you who live in a climate where summer temperatures routinely hit 30 and above for weeks and months at a time probably look on in puzzlement at the UK (and all the fuss we are making about the weather) which is currently basking in very hot temperatures (for us) for the forseeable future.

Our houses are designed for the most part to keep the cold and the damp out and are not always the best when it gets hot. But like most humans, we adapt  – given a couple of days to get used to the idea, so I get up earlier and water plants at the coolest point in the day. I am also practising revealing body parts that are normally swathed in socks and thermal underwear, eat later and do things a bit more slowly.

Of course if I did things much more slowly I would indeed be exhibited in the zoo as the three-toed sloth that I am. I do most of the things that absolutely need to be done and then ignore things that can wait till another day, having discovered that if you ignore them long enough they have a habit of not needing to be done at all, or someone else, racked with impatience will do them instead.

Here are a few slowly snapped pictures to share with you this morning. We start off with the ex-chervil. Doc once commented that we don’t show the gaps in the ground, the plants that didn’t grow, the failures, so here just for him is a special photo. One evening there was a happy plant, the next morning….

Ex Chervil For Doc

… we think the dog may have watered it while no one was looking

But in my hand, Doc, is one of the first sugar snap peas that I grew from your collection and they are good and sweet and snappy. I don’t know that they will do that well on account of the heat, but I am enjoying picking and eating them as I go.

Doc's Peas

We also put a couple of rows of lettuce plugs in last month which grew rapidly and successfully. There was an odd ugly one which Brian said was ‘red gem’ or so it had been labelled. When I harvested one yesterday it turned out to be a rather wonderful radicchio inside. We have never had good radicchio because the rain always seems to stick their leaves together at the top, a bit like balled roses, but no rain, equals great radicchio.

Radicchio

We have flowers! Here is a lily for Heidi and I am pleased to report that we vanquished the early lily beetles this year and they haven’t re-appeared so far, so we have enjoyed this one with its beautiful curly petals in peace and unmunched quiet.

Lily

We had the paths at the front cleaned yesterday, never done that before and the moss and green stuff has all gone, so hopefully when the cold and ice return, we won’t fall on our bums, slithering towards the front door. This beautiful soft and furry leaved plant (Stachys byzantina or Lambs ears) ended up covered in grit as a result, so I have been out there trying to clean it up. It is beloved by the white and golden bees that visit and lives happily in the gravel garden. Anything that the bees like is all right by me!

Stachys byzantina (Lambs ears)

We are mildly obsessed with French tarragon, that wonderful herb that goes so well with all manner of foods. It is slow to grow and tricky to keep going through a cold winter. We were sent some by post from Rome and we have potted it all up and it is doing very well on the windowsill. We also have a South African blue basil which we traded with a man at the Garden Centre for two oca plants. I love trading plants, such fun!

The photo below is of tagetes lucida, also known as Mexican tarragon, or winter tarragon. I have bought a little one and am hoping it will do well as it is supposed to be a tough plant but we will see as this is not Mexico!

Tagetes Lucida

Tagetes Lucida or Mexican Tarragon

Fat HenI carefully sowed some special marigold seed that someone had sent me last year and even went so far as to plant them out, only to realise that the plants I ← had nursed were in fact Fat Hen, a weed I was unfamiliar with, but apparently is edible and which has been used as a pot herb for a very long time, (thanks once again to @Rhizowen on Twitter) but I didn’t want Fat Hen, I wanted marigolds so they had to go.

Zeb has found a shady spot to sit in when he wants to be outside but he tends to go in mostly when it is like this and he likes to sit quietly and plot his next move at times like this. I put the kitchen thermometer next to him to see what the shade temp was.

Zeb

I have baked once since it got hot.  I thought I would make French bread. I had forgotten how sticky and impossible dough can be when the weather is warm and I wrestled a couple of baguette shapes together and then gave up with the rest of the dough and shaped it loosely onto a tray and baked it off. The loaves stuck together but do we care really, it is all food. It had a good crust and an open crumb but my regular sourdough is a lot easier to handle than this stuff.

French Bread

IMG_3084

Here is a picture of carrot and coriander soup from when B was still feeling delicate. You will note that one bowl is topped with sourcream – that was mine !

Carrot and Coriander soup has to be one of the easiest soups out there. Chop carrots and an onion, sweat till soft, add stock and fresh coriander, whizz till blended with either a stick blender or a food processor, season to taste and serve.

Carrpt amd Coriander Soup

And I am treating myself on a daily basis to cherries which came first from Turkey, then from Greece, from France and finally yesterday from England. I love cherries!

Cherries

So that is a snapshot of where we are at, today is supposed to be even hotter and I had better lift a paw and move slowly and elegantly  towards the shower. Take it easy wherever you are!

Brian Bakes Again (UHT Milk Bread)

I wrote this post towards the end of June but somehow forgot to post it, here it is anyway. There is still one of Brian’s loaves in the freezer…. As the weather has turned very hot, I am glad we have stored a little bread away as I don’t feel like baking when it is very warm here. 

Recently I wrestled with a very small bit of a border in our garden, as well as trying to sort out a tangle of climbers at the back of another bed and not getting very far. This bit was an after thought at the base of a wall that is at one end of the little lawn and only goes down so far before it hits rubble.  I took out some old plants and dug out the soil which was full of builders’ rubble, as is most of our soil.  Over the years we are digging it out,  but it makes even the smallest job hard on the wrists and extends the time it takes to do the simplest of tasks, as spades can’t shift half bricks buried in hard clay very easily and you have to winkle them out with a trowel.

Purple bells

I decided to see if the tomato plants would work in the ground outside with a wall at their back. It is now after midsummer and if they can’t go out now, when can they go out?  The soil isn’t very deep there so I figured it might work (thinking about those growbags which are very shallow) but they might not get enough sun there. I am trying to have fewer food plants growing in pots, as it is much easier to water them in the ground and generally look after them.  I hanker after a greenhouse or a polytunnel but there isn’t really room the way our garden is laid out.

Fortunately it was a perfect long June day for me to spend time pretending to garden, light cloud and not too windy and I stayed outside for hours. When I came in Brian had decided to make bread as there was none around. He made his favourite milk bread which he has simplified  a little and a batch of pita dough as well.  So I got to do the fun bits, shaping the dough and prepping the tins and making the pita itself.  We finally got round to eating around nine pm which is late for us, and had warm pita pockets stuffed with salad and some leftover bits and pieces.

4Milky bread

This is how Brian did it. It is based on this beautiful old recipe of Dan Lepard’s for a delicate milk loaf suitable for very refined sandwiches without crusts, the sort of cucumber sandwiches that they eat in The Importance of Being Earnest. We love crusts however!

This makes enough for four approx 500g loaves.; one for the next morning and three for the freezer. This is the sort of bread to make for people if you are trying to convince them that you can make soft white bread at home that is much nicer than the shop bought stuff.

 Brian’s UHT Milk Bread

  • 825 g UHT Milk (full fat)
  • 16g Active Instant Yeast
  • 525g of Strong Flour (still using last year’s Stanway Mill flour)

Brian mixed these up in the Kenwood at low speed for 4-5 minutes and then left the bowl to froth up for 20 minutes. The temperature in the kitchen was about 23 C so it went very fast.

He then added

  • 75g golden syrup (thank you for finally producing this in squeezy bottles, even though the tins are beautiful, squeezy bottles are easy peasy)
  • 600g Strong Flour (Stanway)
  • 16g salt
  • 75g unsalted melted butter (remember to reduce the salt if you use salted butter)

 He mixed this once again in the Kenwood for 5-6 minutes.  Left it to rest for 30 minutes. He  folded it twice by hand during the 30 minutes.  He then left it to double in size for 45 minutes.

At this point I came indoors and Brian had to make some phone calls. I buttered and floured the bread tins and divided the dough into four portions which I rounded up,  shaped and into the tins. They were left to prove and I investigated his pita dough and made it into balls which I  left sitting under a cloth and then stared out into the garden and watched the birds on their last round to the feeders of the evening.  This is one of Brian’s photos of the very harassed looking and worn out mummy blue tit feeding her ginormous baby on the fat balls. If anyone is in doubt about the value of putting out food for birds in the summer in England, don’t doubt it, just do it. The birds need us in our gardens and it really helps them survive all year round. If you don’t put out food then do put out water and change it regularly and keep the containers clean so the birds don’t pass disease between each other.

Bluetit feeding baby

Eventually we got it together to make some salad and find some things to put in the middle of the pita breads. I baked the pita off, they take 4 minutes in a very hot oven and we sat down and ate.  Once we had finished Brian put his tins in the oven. The dough was about two inches clear of the top of the tins.  It was warm last night so the final rise was maybe an hour or so.

5Milky bread

The oven was set at 210 ºC and he baked them at that temperature for about 20 minutes and then lowered the temperature to 190 ºC for a further 20 minutes. He wasn’t happy with them and thought they were a bit soft when they came out of the tins, so put them back out of their tins on the oven rails for another 6 – 7 minutes so they crisped up a bit on the outside.

Old faithful bread tins

The loaves were huge and toppy with lovely curlicues where the dough tumbled over the sides of the tins.  Cherry freezer jam and a scrape of butter on this for breakfast and a little sunshine!

Toast and Cherry Jam

Hedgehog in the Garden

1st July 2013

Watering Pot

Hot off the blogging press..

…early this morning about 6 a.m. one of the dogs met a hedgehog by the ‘chicken’ water pot and gave a little huff of puzzlement.

I last saw a hedgehog about ten years ago, out in front of my mother-in-law’s old house in Midsomer Norton.  I saw them as a child from time to time, once memorably finding a mother and babies in the field in the middle of the houses where we lived in Surrey. The babies’ prickles were soft, that I do remember, and I remember being told by a neighbour not to touch them because they would be full of fleas. I now know that hedgehog fleas rarely transfer to other animals, including us. We all have our own fleas apparently! I have a friend elsewhere in Bristol, whose home backs on to a railway embankment with a footpath along it and she has hedgehogs and babies every year coming into the garden for food.

Brian's Hedgehog

I know relatively little about them, except that you should not feed them bread and milk but cat food. as my friend Julia does when she has them visiting her home. If you are so inclined or think they need feeding there are organizations that rescue them and advise you on what to do to attract them to your garden and how best to feed them and so on. Here are links to a couple of them in the UK:

Tiggywinkles Wildlife Hospital

Snufflelodge.org

Hedgehog action shot

Hedgehogs can move fast and this one is probably on its way out to a more benign and food rich environment,  though I like the idea that she stopped for a drink on her way and had a good root around in our scruffy corners. Brian tiptoed out with his camera and took these shots catching up with her on her way out, clambering over bricks and spare roof tiles to find the gap in the fence to go next door to M’s where cats get fed on the porch and I suspect maybe she sneaks a few bits of kibble there.

There aren’t many points of access to the garden for someone of this size unless you can climb a fence like a fox or a cat, but under the gates giving on to the street there are gaps and the fence panels are getting a bit ramshackle and warped.  Wildlife sites always ask us to leave our gardens not too tidy, to leave dark and damp corners and a bit of rubbish here and there to provide cover and always leave water out somewhere for anyone passing who might need a drink. Hedgehogs are a good sign of a healthy environment and we should make it a little easier for them not harder.

Hedgehog exploring

LIttle hedgehog I celebrate your bravery in coming into the garden, I would put out food for you, except I don’t want to feed the neighbourhood cats and the dogs would eat it as well and they might get into a scrap with you.

You looked big and healthy and in no need of extra food from me today. I wish you well and a happy and long life and I have told our neighbour to look out for you too! Come back for a drink anytime!

This by the way is not a hedgehog but a Tawashi! Fantastic for gently scrubbing new potatoes and carrots and it doesn’t seem to get mouldy or stinky. I love my tawashi!

not a hedgehog

Footnote :

For those interested in pottery, the pot came from Hookshouse Pottery, Gloucestershire and was made by Christopher White. They have a beautiful garden which they open for the National Garden Scheme to coincide with an exhibition. We went last year, not this. I think the pottery is open throughout the year.

Mostly Acquilegias

Mr Two Flowers

It’s June! I think I feel a flowery post coming on. There may be many flowery posts, we will see what happens.  At the moment the acquilegias are all blooming and despite the fact that I know that originally we only had red and black Barlow double acquilegias in the garden…

Black acquillgia

… we are getting all sorts of variations and random loveliness and in my fantasies one day we will have rainbow ones…

red acquilegia

The one that stopped me in my tracks was the first photo on the post which I have been looking at because it has two different shaped flowers of different shades on the same stem. Maybe this is a common enough event, but every year new acquilegias come up and it is a never ending surprise to see what the criss-crossing of pollen produces.

Pinky ones!

Last autumn we pulled up the cardoons that have dominated the small fish shaped flower bed near where we sit.

A poppy for Ardys

The plants were seven years old and had rotted and split and were looking very straggly. Without them dominating the bed, which wasn’t very big, we get to see the poppies having fun, the big frilly red one and the orange one and a whole host of yellow and orange visitors, all set off by the black acqueligia which have always been hidden from view under the huge cardoons.

Blue acquilegia

I love the surprise flowers and as Brian is not so good at remembering to buy flowers for (the house, well me actually)  today he went out and took me photos instead. OK that’s not strictly true,  I begged, some would say demanded,  I have no shame. And I don’t know why he has that big camera if not for taking fuzzy background closeups of flowers for so I can decorate the blog with them. I am sure you agree?

Rosebud for Zeb Bakes

Brian came back with a clutch of images, none of them showed that the two flowers (first photo) were on the same stem, so I sent him back again. He suggested I borrowed his camera but it is too heavy and I can’t use it. Excuses, excuses.  But look here are all the flowers I got today, complete with fuzzy backgrounds. Nice eh? He brought me a rosebud too.

Visiting PoppyI am also trying out a batch resize programme to see if they will stay sharper on transit to the blog. I seem to lose sharpness by the time they get to you. What do you reckon? Or does anyone have any secret tips on making photos look good on the blog? I think these look sharper than usual, but I am going cross-eyed staring at them, so lets just publish and be damned.

PS Zeb is howling for his tea, I messed up the first time I resized so I had to chop them all out of the post and redo it, so if it is even more incoherent than usual, blame technology and my impatience. Life is short. xx

All photos copyright Brian Kent 2013 (aka Mr Zeb Bakes)