Garden Progress, Wildlife Insights

MIA Catch Up 1 – Birds and Bugs

It’s been 7 weeks since I last posted here and looking back at my last couple of posts, soooo many things have changed. Nature (and Roger!) works fast.

In that time we’ve been incredibly privileged to have a pair of very busy blue tits successfully raise their babies in our next box.

Blue Tit emerging
Blue Tit emerging, taken with my iPhone through the eye piece of a spotting scope

On my quest to find out about how we could make our new garden wildlife friendly, I joined the RSPB in January. I’d forgotten the gift for joining was a bird box, and was very happily surprised when it arrived in February.

Lovely surprise from the RSPB
Lovely surprise from the RSPB

The beautifully made box sat in the conservatory for a couple of weeks, as we couldn’t decide where the best place was for it. Then I read somewhere that it was time to put up bird boxes as prospective residents would be scouting around for a good home, so it went up in the easiest place to put it, next to the bathroom window.

 

It was then forgotten about as we carried on with our garden and house plans.

Just before the scaffolding went up, Roger mentioned that he thought he’s seen a bird go into the box. I spent ages on the raised patio staring at the box, but I saw nothing. We thought if there were any birds looking at the box they would be scared off by the men that would be working from the scaffolding.

 

Some windows were replaced, all the fascias were replaced, then the roofer started on the chimney and roof repairs. “Did you know you have Blue Tits nesting in your box?”

We saw those busy parents constantly in and out the box from then on, sometimes taking a brief rest on the scaffolding. More men came to take the scaffolding down, the Blue Tits just carried on parenting.

I spent hours just starring in wonder. Roger bought me a spotting scope so I could get a close up view, as the parents got more and more bedraggled and the babies got noisier and noisier.

Watching the Blue Tits
Watching the Blue Tits

It wasn’t long before we saw lots of little faces keep appearing at the hole. They were getting ready to fledge. One morning, looking at the box, I had a feeling today was the day. On my return from work they were gone. No dead baby birds under the box or in the garden. My heart went to them, wishing them all the best for their futures.

***

So, back to the beginning of June…the upper tier of the back garden had a new retaining wall and had been de-turfed and seeded with a wildflower meadow (written about in the previous post). What to do now?

On of our favourites local places to go on our motorbikes is Carsington Water, a beautiful peaceful place. It has a small RSPB shop which we always visit before having a cup of coffee looking over the reservoir. We loved this magnificent bug hotel they had for sale.

Huge Bug Hotel at RSPB shop
Huge Bug Hotel at RSPB shop

Luckily it wouldn’t fit on the back of a motorbike, so Roger got thinking and turned a few packing crates into a beautiful one of our own.

As you can see, not all the floors are ready for inhabitation! We need to go on a walk to find pine cones and other interesting bits and pieces before winter.

But, now Roger had an urge to build more houses! I’d been trying to get his son to build me a bird table since we moved in, he’d now lost his chance. When I next came home from work, there was a bird table. Not just any old bird table, a delightfully crafted one.

I’m very happy, the birds are very happy.

***

We have a friend, actually we have two! A pair of robins. They appeared whilst the Blue Tits were mid parenting, so they either didn’t have a nest or lost theirs. They are incredibly inquisitive. We’ve done more work on the garden (or rather, Roger has) which I’ve still to write about, and they’ve been there every step of the way, keeping all of us company as soon as any of us stepped into the garden.

One was very brave and followed Roger into the conservatory! He did panic and needed a gentle coaxing out.

Over Friendly Robin
Over Friendly Robin

That’s the bird and bug news, wild flower meadow news still to come!

Garden Progress

May Madness, Mayhem and Wildflower Meadows

Yesterday we sowed a wildflower meadow in our back garden. Which sounds very simple but it’s been over a month of hard work in preparation. At the same time we had scaffolding put up around the entire house for new windows, guttering and fascia boards as well as some chimney and roof repairs. A busy household of men who were powered by sugared tea (we ran out of sugar!).

Scaffolding in place
Scaffolding in place

Last time I wrote here, we were getting ready for a delivery of two tonnes of reclaimed stone, to build a stone retaining wall which would replace the log one already in place. The stone was delivered at the bottom of our very steep drive on a sunny morning in early May. I moved it, a couple of stones at a time, off the public path to a few metres up the drive, Roger then wheelbarrowed it up to the back garden. It was very hot work.

Roger then had fun creating a giant jigsaw, choosing stones from the spread on the lawn to build a wall. He did a dry run first, before cementing anything in.

Back garden before May work
Back garden before all of the work done in May. Dry run of the retaining wall.

Roger had booked a week of “holiday” from work to build the wall and prepare the garden for the wildflower meadow. I started a new job the day the scaffolding went up (not on purpose, it was just one of those things) which added to the mayhem, so it was all down to him. Hardly a rest, and he’d also declined an offer of a week on the beach in Spain! The weather here was the best we could ask for, so the hard work continued.

Drainage in place
Drainage in place
Wall almost complete
Wall almost complete, just the coping stones to be put into place.

The wall looks fabulous, even better the the original stone retaining walls throughout our front and back gardens. But that wasn’t the end, next on the list was removing the uneven turf. Roger hired a petrol driven turf cutter but it was still incredibly hard work due to the incline, unevenness and compacted clay soil. We decided to keep the lower lawn and will try to revive it into something that actually resembles a lawn! [Our original plan was to make this into a low growing wildflower meadow that would only need cutting about every 3 weeks.]

Now it was time to lay some stepping stones through the meadow to the raised bed at the end of the garden. It was another job very well done.

Stepping stones laid
Stepping stones to the raised bed at the end of the garden

Next job…to turn over the hard compacted soil to remove the remains of the turf and weeds, and as it turned out, glass, rocks and old brick wall! I was able to help with this by the end of the week. Back breaking!!! We eventually finished it Sunday morning. I then raked it over as level as I could. Finally, it was time to sow the seed.

First I divided the area into equal(ish) sections. I couldn’t find my metre stick or any string, so I used a broom and a ball of wool.

Dividing up the area ready to sow wildflower meadow seeds
Dividing up the area ready to sow wildflower meadow seeds

I’d ordered native wildflower meadow seed for clay soil from Meadowmainia. It contains 21 wildflowers and 7 grasses. It’s a bit late to sow this year but I’m sure something will come up and we can expect a better meadow next year. I’m excited to see it developing over the years. I’m prepared to add plug plants if necessary. Best of all, it only needs to be strimmed/mowed twice a year.

I had 12 sections marked out. so I divided the seed into 6, then 12, in the conservatory. A red damselfly joined me!

I tried to sow the seed as evenly as I could but it was harder than I expected. I may well have a patchy meadow! After sowing I trod over each section. This was also harder than I expected and took a lot longer than I thought it would. We were expecting rain. The BBC said 1pm, then 3pm, then 7pm, then 11pm. So I soaked the area with the hose, to encourage germination, late evening as the rain didn’t look like it would arrive. It did eventually rain very lightly but barely anything. Only a few miles miles away, it rained hard and places became flooded. How lucky are we this week and this weekend?!

This is how our back garden looks now.

Waiting for the wildflower meadow seed to germinate
Wildflower meadow seed sown and trodden in – phew!

We are very happy!

The neighbours have been very complimentary.

Which leaves today, Bank Holiday Monday, free for a motorbike ride.

Garden Progress

Making a Start on the Back Garden

In a week or so, stone to match the front face of all our retaining walls is being delivered. Before then we need to make some preparations in the back garden. We had a good few hours trampling around in the muddy soil on the 8th April and I’ve done a few hours this morning. So…what are the plans?

At present the small retaining wall holding back the upper part of the back garden from the lower part has a front face made of large stacked logs.All the other retaining walls, front and back (the house is built on a very steep slope) are stone.

Logs in front of retaining wall
Logs in front of retaining wall

 

 

Back Garden - lower lawn
Lower lawn

Roger has removed some of logs and laid a foundation for the new stone wall. Once this is built, the space between the new wall and the remaining logs will be back filled with concrete. Heavy rain turns our back garden into a beautiful (and disturbing, at the same time!) large water feature, as it flows from the field at the back, through the drainage already set in the garden and walls, down the steps, around the back door and into the drains built into the driveway. Which means, it’s probably a good idea to add drainage pipes within the concrete as a precaution against any random fountains appearing in the top lawn!

Whilst this was going on, I decided to tackle the overgrown corner at the top left.

Top left corner of back garden
Top left corner of back garden – before

After some extreme pruning, I found a fern tucked up at the back, waiting for the right time to unfurl and some purple shoots, which I now believe is a peony.

After tidy up
After the extreme tidy up

Two weeks later, the peony is thriving.

Peony
Peony – 2 weeks after discovering the shoots

The sunshine this morning called me back into the garden. Once the stone wall has been completed we plan to hire a turf cutter to remove the top layer of grass/weeds/moss. The grassed areas are very uneven, as well as sloped, and a mole moved in a few days after we did. It can never be a manicured lawn.

I put forward my idea of a wildflower meadow on the lower lawn, seeding it after removing the current grass. It would only need strimming down once a year and would attract lots of bees and butterflies. My proposal was accepted…and developed.

We have now decided (although all plans are open to discussion and change!) to sow wildflower meadow seeds on the upper area and sow a low growing wildflower lawn on the lower area, which will only need mowing about every 3 weeks. Anyway, watch this space to see how we get on.

But, getting back to the point, what did I do this morning?

I trimmed back the neglected bushes along the fence and weeded all around them. They all looked a bit sad, so I’m hoping, now they can breathe, they will be much happier.

Very sad Camelia
Very sad Camelia
Today's hard work
After this morning’s hard work

I’m finishing with pictures of leaves appearing on the lovely apple tree (I will learn how to look after it), the beautiful magnolia next door and a glass of well deserved wine, in the sunshine, admiring the progress so far. Cheers!

Apple Tree
Leaves appearing on apple tree
Magnolia - next door
Magnolia in the garden next door
Cheers!
Cheers!

 

Garden Progress

Weeding, Planting, Bees and Bikes

After my enthusiastic start on the front garden in February, progress has been slow, mostly due to frozen ground, high winds and snow.

February saw me clear the bed at the bottom of the drive, order some woodland plants and plant them. The snowdrops made a brave attempt to flower despite being covered in snow several times. One Snakeshead Fritillary flowered beautifully before losing it’s lovely purple colour after the last covering of snow. But the remainder are definitely growing, as are the bluebells, but I’m not sure I’ll see any flowers until next year.

At the same time as working on the woodland bed I started at the very top of the main front garden, which is on a steep slope and tiered. My plan is to tidy all the tiers up, see what pops up over the summer, add a couple more shrubs and plant some herbs.

Herb and Shrub Plan
Herb and Shrub plan and shopping list

One of our first jobs when we moved in was to clean the windows. Not an easy task with the house on a steep slope as it’s difficult to find safe places to put up ladders. Even the local window cleaner refused! So, the shrubs at the very top of the garden needed cutting back to allow a ladder to anchor into the soil.

Shrubs at the very top
Shrubs had to be cut back to allow space for a ladder in order to clean the windows

I can’t wait to see the twiggy one come into leaf, there are plenty of small buds. It looks like it has an amazing colour in the autumn, if not the summer too.

A few days later I was able to get out into the garden again. Now those two shrubs were cut back I could tackle the weeds underneath them.

Whoever created this tiered garden put in a lot of work. Each layer has a weed suppressing membrane covering the soil with a few inches of bark on top. It must have been done many years ago as most of the bark has decomposed and the membrane just tears when it’s touched. Needless to say, the weeds are growing through. It soon became apparent that as much of the membrane as possible needed removing in order to dig out the deep weed roots. It was going to be a slow project.

I now have a process – weed the top layer and then move it to a cleared section. Pull up the membrane (which rips away in small bits) and dig out the weed roots, then put the top layer back. Much to my surprise, it’s very satisfying!

Looking down on the tiered garden
Lots of work to be done!

Whenever I needed a break, I pulled out all the old Crocosmia leaves. I like Crocosmia very much but it does spread everywhere. This is the case in my new garden, so I’m digging out lots of Crocosmia bulbs with the weeds, on purpose!

Croscosmia die back behind white Heather
I think the Crocosmia needs to be tidied up!

Once I’d weeded around the top two shrubs, I moved down to the next tier and ended up with a bare patch, crying out for another plant. So off we went to the garden centre, returning with a Mahonia. I love it’s spiky looking leaves which contrast well with the more regular shaped leaves of the other shrubs. Next winter I should have some beautiful yellow flowers to match the yellow in the leaves of it’s neighbours.

Mahonia
Newly planted Mahonia

Then came the “Beast from the East”. Twice!

No more work on the garden until last weekend, when the sun came out and I got warm enough to strip down to a T-shirt!

The poor Mahonia looks a bit worse for wear, with browning leaves. I think it may have winter burn. It hadn’t had chance to properly settle in. I’m keeping an eye on it and hoping it’ll recover.

Continuing my process – clear top layer, pull up membrane, dig out roots, put top layer back – I ended up with another gap. I had two small lavenders and a rosemary waiting to be planted out. So in went one of the lavenders. Although the soil is quite heavy, it’s very well drained, due to the steep slope, so I’m hoping any lavenders I plant will thrive. Next door has quite a few, which look a bit sad after the snow but they were lovely in December when we moved in.

Lavender and Mahonia
Found space for a Lavender

Sitting on the wall to admire my work, I realised there were lots of bees in the Heather. I was sooooooo happy! Bees and Butterflies, the name and inspiration for this blog. I want to attract wildlife into both the front and back gardens, especially bees and butterflies. And here were the bees!!! Unfortunately no matter how still and patient I was with my iPhone camera, I couldn’t capture a photo of any of the bees.

Then came another first for this year.

The gardening tools were put away, and the motorbikes came out. A ride out into Derbyshire to enjoy the sunshine, the never boring scenery (no matter how many times we see it), spotting new lambs and getting a bit chilly at the top of Snake Pass which had only been reopened a few days ago. There was more snow up there than I expected and the small lake/mountain pond was iced over.

What a lovely day. Here’s to many more beautiful days ahead, sharing my time between gardening and motorbike riding.

Pure Pleasure
Motorbike adventures or gardening?
Walking Discoveries

Afternoon Canal Walk

As the wind and snow had mostly disappeared, I could finally get out to discover more of the surrounding area. My daughter was home from uni and wanted to practice using her new camera so she came along too.

From our house in Disley we took the path almost opposite which leads to the Peak Forest Canal. Turning right we headed along the canal path towards New Mills. We continued past the Swizzles factory and New Mills Canal Basin until we reached a footpath across the fields down to the River Goyt.

Canal in Disley
Starting our canal walk, heading towards New Mills
Reflections in the Canal
Perfect reflections
Canal in Disley
Following the canal path
Painted Canal Boat
Beautifully painted canal boat
New Mills Canal Basin
New Mills Canal Basin

I didn’t see as much wildlife as I expected. In the trees on the opposite side I caught a glimpse of a squirrel racing through the branches. Most of the ducks and geese were gathered in the canal basin amongst all the moored canal boats. There was a large friendly black duck with beautiful feathers that changed colours as he moved, which I’ve not seen before. Some of the residents of the boats further down the canal had seed feeders and fat balls in the hedges for the birds which attracted plenty of sparrows and I got a brief glimpse of a long tailed tit which I’ve not seen since I was a child.

But, quite a surprise, were the lamas in a field as we approached the river! They were quite happy munching on the grass. Despite plenty of effort to attract their attention they ignored us completely, much to Esme’s frustration, as she wanted a photograph of one with it’s head up.

Railway bridge over River Goyt
Magnificent railway bridge over River Goyt

Following the river brought us to Torr Vale Mill which used to be a cotton mill and is now being developed into office space and an arts centre. Along side the mill is a beautiful double arch viaduct and a weir. Leading from this stunning area is the Millenium Walkway, suspended over the rushing water. We crossed the bridge over the river at the end of the walkway and climbed up into New Mills. We were then able to rejoin the canal at the basin and retrace our steps back home.

I’m still amazed at the beauty and peacefulness just over the road, but not visible, from my house. I can see myself using the canal path to get the New Mills all the time and can’t wait to see it come to life through the Spring and Summer.

Double Arch Viaduct and Torr Mill Weir
Double Arch Viaduct and Torr Mill Weir
New Mills Millennium Walk
New Mills Millennium Walk
Walking Discoveries

Discovering Disley

Before moving here 10 weeks ago, I’d driven through on the A6 many times but I knew nothing about the surrounding countryside. I get an amazing view from my front door over adjoining villages and Kinder Scout, the highest hill in the Peak District, but so far I’ve only looked at it and taken photos.

Roger grew up in Disley and has many tales of mischief and adventures which took place all around where we now live. Sunday was finally a sunny, if very cold, day and he could keep his promise to start showing me my way round the many footpaths.

Map of walk 25th Feb
Map of walk, each number represents 1km

Wrapped up warm and reluctantly accompanied by two of the teenagers, we set off down towards the Peak Forest Canal, which is barely 0.5km away. It’s a wonderful waterway and I’ll be investigating it more in the near future. There were several inhabited houseboats moored alongside the pathway. I imagine the warmer weather brings this stretch of water alive with many more boats, people and wildlife. The ducks and geese were keen to say hello, but they weren’t so happy when they discovered we hadn’t brought any food with us!

We discovered community built dirt jumps just off the path, which perked up the male teenager. I think he might be back with his bike! Just a few metres further on, wooden steps down through the trees led to a view of a steep drop down to a fast flowing run off from the canal.

Near the 2km mark, gazing out over the fields towards Hague Bar we spotted a large bird of prey drifting on the thermals. On the other side of the canal, which still had icy patches, were happily grazing sheep.

A cheeky robin watched us cross the canal to start heading back up through farmland onto the busy A6, which was a very sudden sharp contrast to the peacefulness of the canal. A quick refreshment break at The Rams Head and we were ready to complete the second half of our loop.

Climbing up again, through the gardens of St Mary’s Church there were plenty of beautiful woodland plants to brighten up the way. Following the footpath with fields, and the odd house, either side I felt very lucky to be living so close to such stunning scenery.

Just before turning left at around the 5km mark, I could see The Cage (an iconic folly that can be seen for miles) at Lyme Park and Bollinhurst Reservoir. I’ve visited Lyme Park, and The Cage, many times before but it was a surprise to me that I’d never seen this reservoir and didn’t even know it existed. I think I might be taking a walk in this direction before long!

The Cage at Lyme Park in the distance
The Cage at Lyme Park in the distance
Bollinhurst Reservoir through the Trees
Bollinhurst Reservoir through the Trees

Crossing Buxton Old Road we were now heading downhill, along a track which resembled a stoney old river bed and back to where we started.

What a fabulous couple of hours. I can’t wait to discover more of this beautiful area.

There are Pixies living in Disley!
There are Pixies living in Disley!
Garden Progress

First Planting!

Last week I placed my first plant order for my garden. Some woodland plants, inspired by a walk through local villages and seeing the snowdrops and crocus in front gardens. I returned home, determined to have my own woodland garden.

Box of plants
Exciting arrival

With my intention to attract wildlife, I searched the internet for a wild flower supplier. Naturescape caught my eye and I’d soon placed an order. They arrived on Friday, perfect for a weekend planting!

Wild Honeysuckle

Snowdrops

Bluebells

Wood Anemone

Wild Cyclamen

Snakeshead Fritillary

I soon found out what the hedge was at the foot of this raised bed, a hawthorn. It made it’s mark on my arms as I trimmed it back into shape! I’m looking forward to the tiny buds bursting into life and seeing the berries towards the end of the year.

I’m not sure what the tree is (I’ve added a pic at the bottom of this page). It has bean-like seed pods, of which there are many still attached, but even more were all over the drive and path. Sweeping these up filled much of the green bin. I’m hoping this tree is a beauty so that cleaning up after it is worth it.

There weren’t many weeds to be dug up, and not many roots hiding below the surface. I know this might not be the case once the earth has warmed up a bit. What did need to be removed were various sized stones, pieces of wall stone and old mortar. The raised retaining wall around this bed needs a little bit of work where some of the capstones have become loose or completely detached. I was surprised at how much difference forking over the soil and removing the debris made. Now, I was ready to start planting!

Just planted snowdrops
Just planted snowdrops

 

I eagerly began with the Snowdrops, at the lowest front corner. The bulbs are “in the green”, meaning they have just flowered and still have foliage. The instructions said “plant 10cm deep and 10cm apart”.

I don’t think I’ll see any flowers this year but I’m keeping my fingers crossed for next year, and a stunning drift of them in a couple of years.

 

 

Wild Honeysuckle
Wild Honeysuckle

I then calmed down my excitement to actually think about where I should plant the rest of my box contents. I needed to start at the back and work forwards to avoid trampling on freshly planted bulbs. I had two Wild Honeysuckle which were to grow and spread across the boundary fence.

There were plenty of roots when I gently lifted them from their pots, so I have hopes of a fair amount of growth in the next few months and a few beautiful fragrant flowers to greet me as I enter my driveway in the summer.

 

The Bluebells went in front of one of the honeysuckle and behind a small shrub with strange, but lovely, curly red/green leaves (pic at the bottom of the page). Again, these were “in the green”, so there might not be any flowers this year. Like the Snowdrops, they were planted “10cm deep, 10cm apart”.

Just planted Snakeshead Fritillary
Just planted Snakeshead Fritillar

In front of the other honeysuckle, I planted the Snakeshead Fritillary, another “in the green” bulb. I’ve been fascinated with these beautiful flowers since I first saw them a couple of years ago. I can barely believe I’m growing them in my own garden.

The strange squashed round tubers (a thickened underground stem, like a potato) of Wild Cyclamen went in front of the Snakeshead Fritillary. The instructions said “plant very shallow with shoots uppermost”. Most didn’t have shoots, so I took a guess by comparing with the ones that did. Let’s hope they’re the right way up and I get some leaves and flowers.

As advised, I soaked the twig like rhizomes (continually growing horizontal underground stems) of the Wood Anemone before planting them along the front side of the bed in front of the little Pieris Japonica. If you’re wondering how I know the name of this shrub it’s because it still has a label on it!

There’s a couple of gaps. I love hellebores and might just buy a plant or two from a garden centre. Or I might just scatter some forget me not seeds around in a month or two. Or maybe add some Oxlips or…

All that’s needed now is a bit of patience whilst the plants, hopefully, get used to their new home and become established.

Woodland garden - before and after
Woodland garden – before and after
Woodland Garden Plan
New plants added to the plan
Mystery Tree
Any ideas what this tree is?
Mystery shrub
What is the name of this shrub?
Mystery shrub 2
I’ve seen this before, but can’t remember the name