Rewilding

June 19, 2019

I have been reading The Running Hare with some enjoyment (despite, perhaps, rather than because of its prose style). It’s an interesting excursion into what wildlife-friendly farming might look like and it has reinforced my recognition that much of what we think of as natural countryside is in fact a green desert. In particular, the dairy farm that borders our garden; much as we enjoy the annual visitation from Moo-I-5, for the rest of the year the field next to us is being put to work growing silage and it is much sprayed, cut, slurried and the like, making me wonder just how chemical free our own vegetables really are.

Fenced-off field margin

However, after the coos all but put paid to the garden fence last year, we’ve gained a bit of a breathing space. For reasons best known to himself, instead of replacing the tottering fence, the farmer just strung a new one at an angle to the old, creating a triangle of land which is now out of reach of cows and tractors (albeit not the sheep who usually spend a few weeks there in the winter). It gives us a little more distance from whatever is being sprayed and it has also created an uncut corner which is going a little wild. I’m watching with interest to see what comes up, assuming it’s allowed to remain – if you believe some rewilding gurus this will turn itself into scrubland, and then forest, unassisted, given enough time.

So far, we’re seeing nothing more exciting than nettles, dock, cow parsley and buttercups among the grasses (none of which are in short supply in our garden either), but rest assured you will be regaled with updates should things become more interesting.

I know, you can barely wait.

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Garden Assistance

June 16, 2019

After a week of gadding about, today felt like a day for hunkering down and getting on with the gardening. Undoubtedly there were more productive things I could have been doing, but sometimes you get stuck into a task and find it hard to stop.

Which is why our back patio now looks like this:

weed-free patio slabs

Oh, okay, that was a carefully selected camera angle and a tight crop; the true picture looks like this (please excuse the pile of stones which are awaiting a project that needs a load of stones (we’re not bringing any more gravel into this garden if we can help it), various random stumps which have been sitting there so long I’ve stopped seeing them, the mystery giant’s chair that was left by the previous owners and has proved a good place to harden off seedlings out of reach of slugs, the equally mysterious spare flagpole (we already have a main flagpole) found in the garage, and the overgrown mass of vegetation which is currently smothering a collapsing trellis and wood store which will be sorted out in the fullness of time):

back patio

I did leave one ‘weed’ – a little patch of speedwell. I’ve always thought of it as growing in lawns but it seemed happy among the stones so I’ve transplanted some more around the edges of the patio. With any luck it will spread along the gaps between the paving stones and at least give the dandelions and other weeds a run for their money. Something has to, as I know that my efforts this afternoon have largely amounted to giving them a nice radical pruning, rather than actually eradicating them.

speedwell flowers

It was also satisfying to discover many ex-snails (last seen doing their bit for science) among the weeds – we have a resident thrush whose intermittent hammering forms a soothing soundtrack to any gardening task. While I am now a little fonder of the stripey snails than I was before, I’m fonder of thrushes, which have had a tough time of it due to our farming habits. It’s good to know that our garden functions as a thrush habitat as well as a hare one, especially if it makes the garden a bit less of a snail habitat.

Meanwhile, the young hare is no gardening help at all, having decided that my (allegedly fenced off) asparagus bed is a handy place to chill out – unless ‘contemptuously demonstrating the uselessness of my hare defences’ counts as helping…

hare in asparagus bed

Damn it’s cute though.


Blooming Marvellous

June 14, 2019

Returning from Edinburgh yesterday afternoon, and doing the garden round to see what if anything had changed in the two days I’d been away, I noticed that something had been nipping the flowers off my geum and leaving them scattered on the ground.

This morning, the culprit was revealed.

hare eating flowers

It appears that the stems of geums are very delicious if you’re a young hare.

hare and flowers

Fortunately we’ve long since decided that when it comes down to flowers versus hares, the hares win every time. This one in particular takes cuteness to an advanced level, as I think you’ll agree …

hare cleaning whiskers

(Photos courtesy of the other half and his much more capable camera)

This went some way towards cheering me up after our MSPs made entirely the wrong decision in Parliament yesterday.


Pheasant’s Revolt

May 8, 2019

While I’ve been busy, spring has been springing and things have been sprouting. As the leaves have unfurled on most of the trees I was reassured to see some green shoots emerging on my new fedge – although not as vigorously as on the bigger stakes we knocked in to support it …

leaves sprouting on willow stakes

Indeed, there are similar sprouts showing on the hazel sticks I used to provide some temporary hare defences for my new asparagus bed, suggesting that they may prove more permanent than I was intending, if I don’t watch out. Unfortunately, it turns out that it’s not the hares that are proving the problem (they seem keener on eating our new blueberry bush) but the pheasants, which of course can mount an aerial attack, and have been merrily nipping off the new shoots as they appear.

nipped off asparagus shoot

Irritatingly, they aren’t even eating them all, although that did at least give us a chance to taste two of the shoots – if the crowns don’t survive their first shoots being cruelly cut short, these may prove to have been the most expensive asparagus ever eaten (naturally, it was delicious).

protected asparagus bed

So I’ve reinforced my sticks with a bit of netting and added bottle cloches for now, although that is still likely to prove a temporary measure as some of the survivors are already taller than my biggest bottles. I’ve had reasonable success keeping pheasants at bay with string and strategically deployed spoke reflectors in the past, although that was defending brassicas rather than asparagus, which might prove a bit more tempting to the discerning pheasant. It’s a slightly more ethical approach than our old landlord, who just used to call in the shoot when the pheasants got too rambunctious. I may have lived in the country for over a decade, but my townie sensibilities still draw the line at that.

asparagus shoot in bottle clocheBut then again, just think how delicious an asparagus-fed pheasant might be…


Sprung

April 19, 2019

Hmm, I was hoping for a quiet week or two (workwise – the Pedal on Parliament madness is obviously in full swing) but as the fine warm sunny Easter weather has no doubt informed you, that didn’t quite happen.

fields in sunshine

Fortunately at times like these, one of the joys of being largely dependent on your bike for transport is that, however busy you are, you still end up ‘having’ to spend time out in the spring sunshine with the wind in your hair. So at least, even though I’ve had to spend more time at my desk than I’d like, especially with the garden calling, spring isn’t entirely passing me by. Yesterday as I rode down to Bigtown to drop the bike off for its annual service* the skies were filled with larks singing their little lark heads off. And today, as the other half and I rode down for a couple of errands, we found ourselves among a flock of sand martins, swooping and skittering over the river path in Bigtown, all but weaving through our wheels. As my Twitter feed has recently been dominated by the sight of netting preventing these charming little birds from nesting elsewhere, it’s nice to know ours have still found a welcome up here.**

River in Bigtown

* Like an idiot, when I was offered the bike shop’s e-bike as a ‘courtesy vehicle’ while my bike was being serviced I turned it down. Then discovered that Bigtown is actually quite big when you’re getting about on foot and instantly regretted it. Who knew?

**Seagulls, on the other hand, are still Enemy No 1.


Habitat Management

March 6, 2019

I don’t know why I ever think this, but as I nipped out into the garden this afternoon to take advantage of a brief respite between downpours, I thought there wouldn’t be too much to do. Naturally, a couple of hours later, once the rain closed in again, all I had done was remind myself what a mammoth amount of work it’s going to take to get to grips with it all.

bed in garden

Normally I choose my camera angles carefully to highlight the good bits of the garden. This is more the reality

Today’s task was to clear up the dead vegetation that has been lying around being wildlife habitat over the winter. Unfortunately, I quickly discovered that one clump of bracken was still being wildlife habitat in the form of a young hare whose parents hadn’t read the information that says their breeding season has only just begun.

I think I’d have things somewhat more under control if I didn’t have to garden around whichever bit of the garden was currently favoured as a hare resting place, but then our garden wouldn’t have hares in it, and that would be wrong. Much as I’d like a beautiful and productive garden crammed full of interesting plants, its key role in our lives is to look like the sort of a garden a responsible hare parent can leave her offspring in. So I can’t simply lay waste to all the undergrowth and patches of brambles and nettles – I’ve got to wait until I’ve got something to replace each bit with that’s a bit more garden like but also functions as suitable hare habitat.

Garden and wilderness

(This doesn’t explain the pallets, obviously, but we have plans for them and they will be put to use in the fullness of time)

Greenhouse and pallets

So I keep chipping away at the edges, clearing out bits as I have plants for them, and averting my eyes from the rest. Some of these plants even, miraculously, survive, if they are not too delicious to the hares.

lupins

I think this is the first lupin ever to last longer than a month in my care, let alone over winter…

Meanwhile, we have exciting composting news (and also another exciting delivery* lurking in the garage which I can’t blog about for non-fate-tempting reasons) but that will have to wait for another

*Not a bike, before you get too excited


In the Midst of Life …

January 16, 2019
snowdrops

Snowdrops come up in the darkest days

It’s been a sad few days for us as a family, with my brother-in-law taken from us far too young by galloping cancer. He was a lovely man and a committed environmentalist, dedicating his life to keeping his small organic farm in France going and preserving the wildlife and habitat it harboured.

It’s times like these, I find gardening can be the best solace. My continuing dodgy shoulder is preventing me from doing what I should be doing (heaving bags of horse manure onto my raised beds) but I did manage to cut the ground (literally) on another project that seemed a fitting way to mark Adrian’s passing.

fedge preparation

Sadly our own farming neighbour doesn’t share his commitment to wildlife and agriculture and the field on two sides of our garden is a classic green desert – sprayed and cut and slurried to the max. Much as we enjoy our friendly coo neighbours for the two months they are with us, it has been eye opening just how intensive a dairy farm needs to be, having only had beef cows for neighbours up to now. The garden fence keeps the cows out but that’s all it does – unlike a hedgerow it doesn’t shelter us from the wind (or whatever is drifting in on that wind from the field) and nor does it shelter any wildlife. But establishing a hedge in the face of Moo I 5 will be an uphill task, if the fate of the ash tree is anything to go by.

willow fedge

We spotted this impressive woven willow hedge at Paxton House last weekend

Enter, hopefully, the fedge – a fence woven out of willow that will take root and sprout into a hedge. We have plenty of willow growing in the garden (some of it where it shouldn’t) and it seems that the main drawback to a willow fedge is all the pruning it requires. The hope is that our neighbours will see to the pruning while the willow will be vigorous enough to survive their attentions or at least numerous enough that some of it will survive. We’ll get a bit of a screen from the worst of the slurry drift, and the birds and the hares and other creatures will have somewhere to hide, while the cows will have something to chew on that isn’t grass, which seems to be their aim in life.

 

So this afternoon, I started peeling back the turf along the bottom fence, and filling the gap with some of the pile of woodchips from when the willow was pollarded. And – because it appears that there’s an iron law that if you reduce any of the various piles of stuff in our garden you have to replace that with another one of a similar size – creating another pile of the resulting turf.* Theoretically, once covered over, this will turn into beautiful crumbly loam in a year or so. At least, that’s what happens in normal gardens. Given that all ours wants to do is grow grass, I expect I’m just creating a three dimensional lawn, but I live in hope.

turf pile

An hour or two’s work was enough to prepare a decent length of ground, and the next step will be to plant the willow and weave it into shape once spring looks a bit closer at hand. And if it goes even a small way towards making our garden a better sanctuary for wildlife, then it will be a fitting tribute to my brother-in-law’s too-short life.

* Please can some well-known garden designer create a show garden at Chelsea this year that consists of random piles of stones, landscape fabric, bricks, old railway sleepers and lawn clippings?