Monday 31 March 2014

The Edible Garden Show

Last Saturday, David and I went along to the Edible Garden Show at Alexandra Palace.  I must admit I'm not usually one for visiting shows, but I'm making lots of changes to my own garden this year and so I thought I could pick up some tips and ideas. I also guessed that it wouldn't be a very large show and we could see it all in a morning - which was perfect because it was such a beautifully warm, sunny day.  A day to be outside in the garden, in fact!

Alexandra Palace is worth a visit alone.  I hadn't been there for well over twenty years, and enjoyed seeing all the architectural detail again. Originally built in 1873, it has been damaged by fires since and so it has been restored, destroyed and restored again...

We arrived soon after the show opened, so it wasn't very crowded. I headed straight away for the stands selling wildflower seeds and it was interesting to see on one stand the different wildflower seeds sold for different soil types (I have heavy clay here).  I bought some seeds to suit my soil that are also bee and butterfly friendly and I'll sow these in small patches around the smallholding (now I'm no longer going to create my mini-meadow).  I also bought some wildflower seeds to plant with my veg that will attract beneficial insects and keep aphids away (hopefully).

Of course I had to visit all the bee-keeping and bee-product stands, too..

Traditional Skep Making

I was intrigued by the different types of honey on sale, because I'd like to flavour my honey in the future. I might add some vanilla or ginger or various spices, for example.  So I was on the look-out to see what other people are producing and get some ideas. I haven't had a good honey crop for the last couple of years so I'm hoping for one this year -  and then I can have a go at some of the different tastes. I think it would be really fun to do.

In certain areas of the show, there were presentations by TV/radio gardeners and professionals, but I didn't listen to any of these. None of the subjects they were discussing really drew me in and, to be honest, after a while it started to get a bit stuffy in the main hall.  It was better to keep moving around. So we wandered over to look at some of the gardening equipment and features. We love working with wood and there were some wood products on display, but it wasn't really a show for wood craftspeople. I was fascinated, though, by some of the many ideas for growing food and flowers in small areas like balconies and courtyard gardens and tiny, urban spaces.

After this, I managed to resist temptation... I didn't leave with any plants. But I couldn't walk by the chickens and ducks without having a good look. Should I add another couple of hens to my girls? Probably not - I have enough for now and they're happy together in their little group. It was interesting, though, seeing the different types for when I do decide to buy some more. And of course the chicks and ducklings were all adorable (see first photo).

So; that was the morning done. I bought some honey-flavoured fudge from one of the food stands and then we left. Although I enjoyed the visit, I'm not thinking of going again.  But then, perhaps I do miss something by not going to the different garden shows. If you have any experiences of them, I'd love to hear.  Are any of them unmissable?

Thursday 20 March 2014

Fallow Deer in Sunlight; Red Deer by Moonlight

Fallow Deer

Spring is starting to work its magic in the local countryside, so I've gone on some longer walks through the woods and fields looking (and listening) for signs of it.  In this lovely, sunny weather there's been plenty to see and hear; the first Chiffchaffs, the first butterflies, Marsh Harriers displaying over the local reservoir, the Great Crested Grebes' displays on the water, bats in the evenings, masses of wild violets and primroses on the woodland floor.  And everything looks a lot greener, too, except in the hedgerows and the orchards, which are full of white blossom.  This is a view of the orchard next door...

There's a little bit of pink and white blossom in our newly planted orchard, too.

I'm always looking for unexpected wildlife sightings on my walks, so I was thrilled to see some Fallow Deer through the trees.  With their sharp ears, they knew I was approaching long before I saw them, of course - but I still managed to get a couple of photos before (with a warning bark) they all took off...

Although it has been suggested that Fallow Deer may have been in England during the Roman era, it was the Normans who were responsible for establishing a significant population here. They did this soon after they set up their forests (the word 'forest' first appears at this time, when it is mentioned in the Domesday Book).  Fallow Deer remained in managed forests and parks for centuries, but escaped into the wider countryside in the early twentieth century. They love to eat ash, elm, hawthorn and hazel.

Only four days after I saw the Fallow Deer, I came across more deer in the fields.  I often see the little Muntjac, but this time I saw a small herd of Red Deer.  I couldn't believe I had two fabulous sightings of the 'rarer' deer in just a few days (I won't say it's a bit like buses coming along at once because they're too lovely for that!) I saw the Red Deer just as the sun was going down...

I know that these Red Deer are all that's left of the beautiful herd I saw last spring  here.  I'm very sad (and very angry) to see that there is only five left when I counted eighteen last April.  I know what has happened to them, but I won't write about that story now.  You can probably guess. So these five were a very special sighting, and I managed to get quite close to them, although it was growing darker all the time, so the photos are terrible (and it makes me realise how lucky I was to get such a good sighting for those photos last year)...

Soon I was watching them in the moonlight...
The final rays of the sun shining on the moon

Red Deer are the last of the large deer we have in Britain (Roe and Fallow Deer being smaller).  I find it fascinating to think that thousands of years ago, I could have been looking at Reindeer and Elk, too!  I completely agree with Oliver Rackham, who wrote in his marvellous book, 'The History of the Countryside'...
Deer are the nearest that we have to the great beasts of prehistory; few of us can resist the wonder and adventure of seeing them.

Monday 10 March 2014

Wildflowers and Wild Areas

I've been dreaming of planting a wildflower area for the summer, but I'm beginning to think that it'll be one project too many at the moment. I've created a wildflower area before and it looked fantastic one year, full of field poppies and corncockles and cornflowers.  But the following year (the wet 2012), it was a real disappointment. I realised, then, just how much hard work is needed to create and maintain even a mini-wildflower meadow.

So with all the other gardening projects I have on my list this year, a wildflower patch will have to wait. I keep changing my mind about where it will be anyway.  I've now planted trees where this was before - and I've recently decided that another possible patch of ground will be given over to spring bulbs instead.  So the truth is, it all needs a lot more thought (and more dreaming!)

But even though I'm not ready to create a mini wildflower meadow this year, I still want plenty of wildflowers on the smallholding.  Most of these will be the flowers that'll be growing naturally in the 'wild' areas i.e. the untidy bits.  I love discovering something different about the wildflowers here; I'm always thrilled to see a new type of wildflower appearing or to see that existing wildflowers have started to colonise a new patch. Last year I found some bird's foot trefoil growing along a path for the first time.  I knew the butterflies would be interested in this - and they were - visiting it again and again.

I really want to encourage more butterflies here this year. I already have three buddleia davidii bushes that were covered with Peacock butterflies last year, and the Red Admirals love the ivy when it flowers in early autumn. Now I'm thinking of lady's smock for the Orange Tips (this will also go in my future mini wildflower meadow), drifts of scabious and some michaelmas daisies. I'm even going to leave small patches of nettles and thistles in the deepest corners of the smallholding, because butterflies love these so much (although I'll be making sure they stay there!)

As well as butterflies, I'll also be planting for moths and will be using Countryside Tales' great post on plants for moths as a guide here.   .

Along our country lane there are lots of primroses in flower at the moment, and over the years I've been encouraging these to spread on our verge.  This year - finally - I have a whole bank of primroses.  They look beautiful, but there's a story here. Last year the primroses flowered late, and early one morning I was horrified to see the council's machines cutting the verges and hacking down the primroses. No one can prove who owns the verges in our lane and it's assumed the property and landowners do. But this didn't stop the council from cutting down the wildflowers on my verge and on all the other verges, too...


Our small country lane doesn't go anywhere and the grass on the verges never grows high enough to cause visibility problems for drivers, but try telling that to our council (as I have).  Try telling them, too, about the importance of wildflowers for pollinators!  I thought I was making progress last year in conversations with them, but when I contacted them again this year I was told the verges have to be cut - whether there are wildflowers growing there or not - and if anyone wants to encourage the spread of native primroses then they need something called a planting licence...

...and after

Grrr...I can feel a battle against red tape coming on.  I'm considering contacting Plantlife, a charity that protects wildflowers, to see what advice they have for me. Plantlife's 'Flowers on the Edge' campaign urges councils to cut verges less and after the wildflowers have finished - so my situation is just right for this.  Let's hope the council start to listen...

Anyway, I'll finish with a photo of my own, homegrown destroyer of flowers - as Pip is nesting in one of my flower beds again this year.  I dread to think what she's crushed, but she's happy, so I'll just leave her there and hope the flowers will revive when she's finished!