Saturday, 29 December 2012

Plans and Dreams

My 'Courtyard Potager' earlier this Summer

Christmas festivities are over; the New Year approaches – almost a time in limbo, but perfect for making plans, allowing oneself to dream. I write so often about planning that you might consider it is a fetish of mine; but over the years I have come to realise that it is crucial to good gardening practice, and that any plot – large or small, rural or urban, – is not created overnight.  And after a year of terrible weather and lack of attention to our own outdoor space through travelling abroad and subsequently illness, I know that nothing goes as expected and contingency plans are essential. 

An editor once kindly called these beds 'inspirational' - but how sad they are now
So, despite the brambles that have overtaken all but the (Dobies) Courtyard Potager – because that is the one mini-garden that has been attended to – I approach 2013 with a pleasurable sense of anticipation. Yes, the rain is still sheeting down but so much is already emerging that I feel the distinct urge to augment what I write about in this blog: Dobies of Devon will expand into the other mini-gardens in my acre of Cotswold ground – for there is just insufficient space to trial all that is new and special, no matter whether one prefers edibles or flowers; or as I do, a mixture of both.

Flowering annuals and herbs grew in the bed now covered in brambles
Because of our underlying soil (heavy clay) and a change over recent years in the water table and blocking of old land drains beyond our boundary, all my four mini-gardens are now based on the raised bed principle. One thing is clear, many of my beds need a complete overhaul, digging out and transplanting special plants I cannot bear to lose, or working around them.  When I reclaimed the garden from scratch, I was quite happy to cover areas with old tarpaulins and wait for one or two seasons, but with advancing age, there may not be the time to do this. I will have to be brutal and be prepared to move stuff around. And ground cannot be allowed to lie fallow – I am determined to use every available space to grow crops, and everything I sow and plant must be ‘multi-tasking’.

Fruit, veg and flowers intermingle in the 'Eco-Garden'
Thus, in gaps left between my beloved shrub roses – which themselves yield pot-pourri and edible petals – I will sow perpetual spinach in droves. Quick to mature and lasting for more than one season, all surplus leaves are fed to the hens who crave greenery to lay well. No hens? Add leaves to the compost heap, or even dig in to increase soil friability. The perennial herb Sorrel (Rumex ???) is equally good for hens and as fresh growth emerges early in the year, it acts as a tonic for my poultry (and a lovely sharp sauce to go with oily fish which is good for our own health).

The 'Square Foot' garden, too, has become overgrown and full of weed
Weeds – certain ones – are allowed to grow for bees, birds and hoverflies, but otherwise the ground below fruit bushes is increasingly to be planted with ground cover: comfrey, which can be invasive but provides a compost activator; edible-flowered sweet violets, and wild strawberries (the birds are welcome to the surplus). Make a note of my four mini-gardens for I will be referring to them again over the coming months. All were created for specific magazine features and are the size of a small suburban back garden. The ‘Courtyard Potager’ has featured since the inception of this blog, but the other three are the ‘Square Foot Garden’ – created as its name suggests to test ‘square foot’ possibilities; the ‘Eco-Garden’ is the most recent and combines fruit with herbs and a bed for transplants and growing on when needed; and the ‘Physic Garden’ is the oldest – culinary and medicinal herbs originally amongst the veg, plus of late shrubs, roses and flowers for cutting. All four  'gardens'  are an eclectic mix based on organic principles, and the desire to feed ourselves.

Space to sit and plan and dream .....
Walk around your own garden or allotment on New Year’s Day and ‘take stock’; list all that brings you joy; take photos and make notes; then retire indoors with the Dobies catalogue or website – and keep checking their latest special offers. 2012 was my gardening ‘annus horribilis’  but 2013 will see a transformation. Goldfinches feed on the teasels and a thrush has returned to the shrubbery, shyly feeding on the bird-table, so all’s well with my world.

A happy New Year to all my blog followers and e-news readers.

Friday, 21 December 2012

The shortest day, the longest night

Wishing all our readers and blog followers a happy holiday
Today – the Solstice –  so it’s now officially Winter, when the night (or hours of darkness) far outstrips those of daytime. Today is so benign yet the ground is far too soggy to work out of doors. Wet is oozing out of the orchard grass, mud clogs the feet of the hens. But it’s the festive season too, and for many the start of an extended holiday – maybe a time for a quiet read in snatched moments.

A favourite haunt for hunting down rather special books on gardening
It’s at this time of year that I re-organise my gardening books, notebook in hand – I always mean to catalogue them all but as they ‘move’ around it would take forever. Books litter our house, are stacked on shelves, lie on tables or the floor, sit on stairs. Favourites of course, and newcomers. And I cannot pass a good bookshop without browsing in the gardening section. Will something tempt me? (It usually does!) We are all urged to support independent bookshops (I particularly love those with a seating area and a tiny cafĂ© offering home-made treats), but also one cannot fault Amazon for their ‘Prime’ service. As a writer, speed is of the essence and for me, living some distance from town, to have a book in my hands within 24 hours of ordering online is essential.

Some current reading and research
New or old, there will always be favourites; titles one turns to time and time again. I acquire more than I discard through charity shops (I once had to buy back one I had thrown out by mistake!) or by recycling them as ‘altered art’. Books currently on my desk for pleasure and research, or because they continually inspire me, include all the ones in the pile above, plus the following oldies which I am working my way through of an evening for fresh inspiration.

‘Veg – the greengrocer’s cookbook’ by Gregg Wallace is perfect for anyone new to growing veg, although it is not for gardeners! As well as presenting TV shows and writing about food, Gregg began his food-related career running a successful fruit and veg stall in south London’s Borough Market. He believes in using food in season and sourcing locally, a philosophy that shines through his writing and his methods of preparing fresh produce when at their very best. Forget the celebrity hype and snide reviews, this book is worthy of being on the cook’s bookshelf. Published in 2006 by Mitchell Beazley.

‘The Complete New Herbal’ edited by Richard Mabey is another golden oldie which I acquired in 1988. Published by an imprint of Penguin Books, it was described then as a ‘new herbal for the modern age’. It’s a practical guide to herb applications in everyday life and the identifying photos are as stunning today as they were then. A book you can trust and a good companion for anyone who is interested in the herbal properties of wild plants for medicinal or culinary purposes.

‘Bringing a Garden to Life’ offers a topical and realistic approach to gardening for wildlife, whether you live in the centre of London, on the outskirts of Leeds, or in idyllic rural Herefordshire. Or anywhere between. Written by incomparable plant ecologist Jenny Steel and published in 2006 by Wiggly Wigglers, it explains step-by-step  just how simple it is to bring wildlife into any plot, to the benefit of all else that grows.

And back to food: ‘a taste of theunexpected’ by Mark Diacono is a book for today’s changing climate and the most recently published of today’s selection (in 2010, by Quadrille Books). Amongst other activities, Mark runs Otter Farm in Devon, home to orchards of olives, peaches, almonds and apricots, forest garden, vineyards and vegetable patch. So his tips on growing, harvesting, preparing and eating the sort of produce varieties that are increasingly becoming available from Dobies of Devon, could not be more appropriate.

Don’t forget as your read and make notes to keep re-visiting the Dobies website for latest special offers on seeds, plants and equipment. 

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Winter Wreaths - so simple to make

Wreaths from garden and wayside

As promised in last week’s December e-newsletter, instructions follow for making some simple wreaths to decorate your home this festive season. Materials can be found in the garden or down the lanes; it’s surprising what can be found – and they’re so easy to construct, your children can help as well. You will need some simple tools and materials – you probably have them already, but if you don’t, I’ll start with those. Equip yourself with some good quality secateurs (557979), and some twine, malleable florist's wire and / or raffia (raphia 585084)

The simplest to make
Let's start with the simplest decoration - not actually a wreath at all but twiggy bunches such as these can be made at the last moment. The one on the left is just a collection of trailing variegated ivy and a spray of eucalyptus with seed pods left in situ, which look like berries. Tie together with twine or raffia. The right-hand bunch incorporates prunings from a box bush (Buxus sempervirens) bound to a twiggy circlet of hazel.

Even 'old' hands can twist these soft strands into a circlet
Making a circlet is really easy if you use the long strands of Periwinkle (Vinca major) – the large-leaved variegated variety is particularly pretty; and so easy for anyone with arthritic hands who cannot manipulate woody material. Just twist the strands into a circle and bind with raffia; then poke small clippings of other variegated shrubs into any gaps. I used the leaves and seed pods of Rue, but could have added bits of feathery Cotton Lavender (Santolina). The pic shows the back view to demonstrate the construction.

For a bit of colour, use rose hips or bunches of other berries such as Cotoneaster. My ‘twig’ wreath was made from a circlet of lithe willow twigs – as the leaves dried they became quite silvery, though their shrunken state did reveal poor construction! Bind the wreath with wire and tie three twigs across in the form of a triangle; these were pruning’s from our vine and the twisty tendrils added that little bit extra. Then poke the berries into position. 

Still as fresh today as when it was made some years ago
My ‘piece de resistance’ was my herb wreath made for a village flower show one Autumn, and the most tricky to make, though not difficult. It still graces our living room each Christmas (must not be allowed to become wet or damp) – I wrap it in black tissue and store it in a closed box; the colours are still fresh. It needs a very sturdy base, but with sufficient woven willow or hazel this can be accomplished. To decorate, I used bunches of herbs (fresh when inserted) and seedheads abundant in this garden; how I love the opium poppy, nigella (love-in-a-mist) and the teasel so special to goldfinches.

All the above may not look in any way professional, but they are not meant to be; just a joyous celebration using my garden as the source with help when they were created from some of the grandchildren. In other years, after a walk through the woods, I’ve made similar rings and wreaths adding sprigs of larch cones and pine-cones left on a platter by the fire to dry, and then wired individually into place. Evergreens come into their own – laurel and bay, rosemary and yew, of course the ubiquitous holly.

Trawl the Dobies catalogue for ‘seedpod’ flowers, and shrubs or trees that can be sown and planted for more than just garden glory. Oh, and don’t forget that you have until midnight on this immediate Monday, to order for delivery before Christmas. 

Friday, 30 November 2012

Progress in our 'Dobies' garden plots

Cabbages just showing to the left, perennial herbs and polyanthus right.

We’ve gone from four inches of rain in two days to nights of heavy frost and freezing temperatures. But on the good days in between I was actually able to start on the much-needed reclamation of the pottager. Everything has suffered from my inattention this Summer, but a determined effort, and tackling the job little by little and three of the raised beds are productive again. Cabbages packed close in one bed (protected from the birds with netting) and a change of plan for the other three. Another has been planted with unusual perennial herbs (the rocket self-seeded and has germinated already), and a transplanted feverfew, because it looked so pretty. All the beds have been edged with a rather special primrose – yellow, tinged blue-green, and a joyous mix of polyanthus

Harvested garlic in a good year (this summer's crop was poor)
Plans for the four-bed potager have changed: it is to become my decorative courtyard with flowers for cutting as well as salads. Each bed is being converted to double height (easier on old bones when sowing, planting and weeding) and central within each square is an inexpensive pot that has been planted with a few garlic cloves. I particularly love the hardneck tyoes – closest to wild garlic and producing edible ‘scapes’ –actually a flower-stalk that if left on the plant and not eaten twists and curls and eventually forms a fascinating seed-head.

Bulbs broadcast and ready for planting, with garlic pot centre.
Having decided that this confined and ‘secret’ little bit of our garden is to incorporate a cutting area, one raised bed is now planted with dozens of mixed bulbs: hyacinths, tulips – for which I have a passion, muscari to add that touch of blue and miniature daffs, and the odd fritillaria or two. I ‘broadcast’ them in groups until the bed was filled, topped up the bed with compost (that which Dobies supplies is the best I have ever used), and then sprinkled some packets of hardy annual seed (calendula, night-scented stock, love-in-the-mist (nigella) and the like, all of which will flower that much earlier than if I wait until Spring.

Add captionSupplied complete with bulbs and compost.
Nearer the house, there are no pots of bulbs this year as they all went into the potager bed.  What I should have thought of, and could still do, is to obtain a ‘Spring Bulb Willow Planter’ i(or a series of them.) Made from natural looking willow, each contains four types of spring-flowering bulb Perfect for outdoor use on balconies, patios or decking - any space that calls out for colour! Size: 38 x 28 x 15cm high, each basket is supplied with 10 Narcissus bulbs, 7 Red Dwarf Tulips, 15 Muscari, 4 White Hyacinths plus top quality compost and full growing instructions. It would also make a perfect gift for a gardening friend.

Rhubarb 'Polish Raspberry'
Whilst the ‘Courtyard Potager’ has been having a makeover, I’ve been looking at other areas of the garden – the Dobies trial areas are expanding, with new spaces being created for perennial veg, amonst which I classify rhubarb, even though it is more correctly listed as a fruit. Rhubarb is fast becoming one of the most sought-after ingredients in the kitchen - and is so easy to grow! Available for the first time in the UK, ‘Polish Raspberry’ is an outstanding variety, claimed to be quite possibly the best-tasting rhubarb Dobies has ever trialled! It produces good crops of strong green stems that are washed with red, and evidently tastes divine whist also being recommended for freezing. Supplied as bare root crowns.

My trial garden here in the north Cotswolds already has an area in which I grown new varieties of Dobies fruit, so I will be intrigued to try the new Blueberry ‘Pink Lemonade’ – with pink berries. The bushy, upright-growing plants have fine, pointed leaves, making them ideal for growing in a mixed ornamental border as well as in the fruit garden. The heavy crops of berries start out bright green, turning pale pink and finally, when they mature in August/September, deep rose-pink. They evidently have a delicious sweet taste, with a pleasant, solid texture, and are superb eaten fresh or cooked in puddings and pies. Supplied in a 1.3 litre pot. Height after 7-10 years approximately 1.5m (5’). I think maybe one or two would be perfect in the shrubbery-cum-herb garden that is as yet but a dream. And maybe next year I can add a little festive cheer to special occasions – pink blueberry berries in champagne!

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Christmas Bookshelf plus Gifts & Treats

Some of my favourite gardening books - gifts and purchases acquired over many years.

Gardening books are always welcome at Christmas - or treat yourself! Many titles are so useful that you will want to keep them on the bookshelf and refer to them regularly. The Dobies Christmas Gift Catalogue list four titles worthy of a permanent place in a garden library – and they have packaged each with a generous quantity of free packets of Dobies seeds; excellent value.

Seeds will be from Dobies and not as shown.
‘The Complete Vegetable Gardener’ published in 2011 by The Reader’s Digest and expertly authored by Fern Marshall Bradley & Jane Courtier is subtitled “from planting to picking – the complete guide to creating a bountiful garden”; a title that is beautiful as well as productive and already by my bedside for early morning study over a cup of tea. Divided into two parts – 'Your Garden' and 'The Vegetables'   each section is sensibly subdivided into chapters. Part One covers planning; ground preparation; sowing, planting and growing; followed by harvesting and storing. Part Two divides into vegetable families: lettuce and salads, peas and beans, onions, cabbage, root and stem crops, tomatoes and ‘heat lovers’, sweetcorn, vine crops (courgettes, squash etc), perennial and annual herbs and finally, permanent plantings.

the 1-metre  VegTrug
Treat Yourself: If you lack space but still want to grow a limited supply of salads and vegetables, have a bad back or are wheelchair-bound, why not gift yourself one or more of these ‘Veg Trugs’?  The ‘V’ shape gives scope for planting different types of veg – or with more than one you could rotate crop types. The wooden structure is supplied flat-packed for home-assembly and is available in two sizes – 1 metre  (ref 581917) and 1.8m  (ref 583996). Plastic feet, a strong internal membrane and 7 packets of easy to grow veg seed complete the package.

Published this year by Hermes House, ‘The New Flower Arranger’ offers contemporary approaches to floral design, which will give those who grow flowers and shrubs new insight into what is possible. The author, Fiona Barnett, provides 150 innovative designs (traditional as well as contemporary), accompanied by over 700 fantastic images and step-by-step photographs of each display. Techniques are also provided for drying your own material, which adds another aspect to the flower arranger’s craft. Free seeds.

You may not be an avid flower arranger but what chocoholic could deny themselves – or their beloved – the beauty of a bouquet of handmade, luxury chocolate flowers? They look divine, almost too good to eat, and are made by the family firm of Guisabel from the Loire region of France. Created from pure cocoa butter rich in vitamins and minerals, choose from single flowers in edible pots to magnificent bouquets – the ‘Red Bouquet’ illustrated left has 16 chocolate flower heads and 16 handmade chocolates in shades of red and pink.

A boxed set of two titles pertaining to wildlife offers practical gardening advice for animal lovers. Published in 2012 by Anness Books with over 1,700 stunning photographic images between them, readers will soon be re-thinking their plots to be more eco-friendly. ‘How to Create a Wildlife Garden’ by Christine & Michael Lavelle does just that: complete instructions for designing and planting wildlife habitats with over 40 practical projects. Crucial reading is the chapter on the role of gardens for wildlife, plus the introductory topics on microclimates, garden soils, design principles and garden surveys, urban or otherwise. Free seeds.

Partnering the Wildlife book is ‘Attracting & Feeding Garden Birds’, edited by Jen Green. Birds enliven any garden, devour pests, but can also eat our fruit! Keep avian visitors well-provided for by making them welcome through feeders you can make yourself and what you plant in your garden. The book shows you how. Free seeds.

N.B. Please be aware that as I write (Sat 24th November), the link to the Dobies site for these books is not compatible with the titles I am writing about. I will sort the hiccup when Dobies offices re-open on Monday and post an additional blog relating to this book package. Sorry.

Need a quick bird feeder? Take a look at the Wildlife Sanctuary section of the Christmas Catalogue – the 'Bountiful Feeder' is made from woven willow complete with roof, and comes supplied with six types of highly nutritious seeds which you can top up as they are consumed. An ideal gift for children (or grandchildren) who may well be able to recognize a robin but little else!

Not sure what your loved ones or gardening friends would prefer? Opt for a Dobies of Devon Gift Voucher and ease the strain of decision-making.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Christmas is Coming!

Excellent value - and a choice of three gardening hampers
The excitement of Christmas in our household is always complicated by the earlier dilemma of "What shall we buy for so-and-so?" The thought of trekking round the shops and garden centre is enough to deter even the most determined of gift givers; but when you can sit of an afternoon with a cup of tea and work your way through a catalogue offering a fascinating array of truly useful gifts, that will be delivered to your door, well why wait? The Dobies 2012 Christmas Catalogue is on my desk as I write;  working my way through it, there is just so much that would be perfect for gardening outdoors, and for the indoor gardening addict when the weather is not fit. Starting with the back cover (as one does!) take a look at the superb 'Gardening Hamper Gift Sets'. Choose from one that includes seeds for either traditional vegetables, patio veg, or garden flowers - every hamper contains a top quality stainless steel trowel and fork, natural jute garden twine, a windowsill propagator 'Jiffy' growing modules, bio-degradable pots and 10 packets of seed as per selection above.

Turning to the catalogue pages in logical order, most households would enjoy a hardy indoor ‘Ageless Azalea’ – with red or white flowers. Either is supplied in a 12cm (4.72in) pot. The best way to keep the plants fresh is out of direct sunlight (they are edge-of-woodland plants), sitting in a bowl part filled with gravel which you keep moist with rain-water, as they are none too keen on lime. Avoid wetting the flowers and keep the leaves dust free.

Or how about some 'Fragrant Hyacinths' – three bulbs in pink, white or blue planted in a 15cm (6in) basket. Stand on a plate to prevent staining of tabletop surface, and keep compost moist, indeed don’t let it dry out. These prepared bulbs will flower within 2-3 weeks depending on room temperature. I like to fill my kitchen windowsill with flowering bulbs.

For a real treat, I hanker after a luxury silk ‘Elegant Peony & Viburnum’. Exceptionally life-like in its pretty receptacle, the exquisite blooms are created by the inspirational company, Floralsilk, for the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.  Gift one to your mother, mother-in-law or grandmother. Every purchase will contribute towards plant science and conservation undertaken by the RBG.

Finally in this trawl through the catalogue: take a look at the ‘Big Dibber’ – an easy-to-use implement made from sustainable mango wood (polished to a smooth finish) with centimeter gradations in 2cm increments up its length. It will allow you to accurately measure planting depths from 2cm to 28cm (11in) for seeds, bulbs, tubers and small plants. If you prefer to work in inches, just write the nearest equivalent on the reverse side using a permanent marker pen.

If you simply cannot decide what to give a gardening friend or relative, how about an  Online Gift VoucherVouchers are available from £5 to £250 and as soon as you order one online,  you will be e-mailed a special 16-digit voucher code right away! A gift for the recipient to spend on the Dobies website. Coming next week: Gardening Books with free Dobies seeds and gifts that will help to encourage wildlife into your garden.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Ideas for the Cutting Garden

With the clocks having gone back yesterday, there was time over an early cup of tea to work my way through the new Dobies Annual Flower Catalogue for 2013 – seeds, plants and equipment. Such a profusion of choice, one is hard-pressed to decide what to order. Being systematic seems sensible, thinking of the areas of the garden in which decorative plants are at there best; gaps to be filled, or a total revamp. Best to order as quickly as possible for desirables sell out quickly.

Our garden in the north Cotswolds has been sadly neglected this year as we have spent more time travelling than gardening, and there is one area that would be perfect as a ‘cutting garden’. The thought of a continuity of fresh flowers in the house always appeals, from tiny posies and bulbs in the Spring, to the abundance of Summer and, come Autumn, flowers and seedheads that can be cut and dried. (The bunch at the right contains hydrangeas, feverfew and shrivelled michaelmas daisies.) And so I searched through the catalogue for items that caught my eye, with this in mind. 

Stunning flower heads
Hydrangeas dry easily for their ‘flowers’ are actually paper bracts; they fade through various stages of colour – and even their flowering colour will vary according to the nature of your soil. The new ‘You and Me Passion Blue’ will reach a height of 4ft (1.2m) – perfect in a mixed shrubbery or even a pot on the patio. Supplied in a 5-litre pot. Ref 234780.

Equally easy fresh or dried are most grasses which can be grown from seed. Four varieties are available through the new catalogue, and one that looks truly intriguing is  ‘Wangenheima Vulcan Grass’. Its long wiry stems are topped with flat, fan-shaped seedheads that develop herringbone-fashion with age. Height 60-90cm (2-3ft). Ref 429007.

Roses have been voted by readers as their favourite flower and no wonder for repeat-flowering varieties can still be in bloom on Christmas Day! Petals can be dried once they fall (just separate them and lay on a cloth-covered tray) – lovely for pot-pourri, too as they retain their scent for years. Petals are edible, so long as they haven’t been sprayed. Repeat flowering shrub roses will usually succeed in areas where hybrid teas and even floribundas prove tricky; try Rose ‘Cardinal Hume’ with its strong musky perfume in a mixed border. Supplied as a bare-root plant. Ref 233875.

A spring-time delight - and good for early bees, too.
Unusual in its colouring is Euphorbia ‘Black Pearl’ – yellowy-green blooms with a central black eye, and flowering early, from March to May. Easy to grow, too and stunning in a mixed border, being fully hardy, and tolerant of both heat and drought. The stems of euphorbias exude a milky sap and need ‘conditioning’ if using as a cut flower. Dip the newly-cut ends in an inch of boiling water for 10 seconds, before plunging them into tepid water. Height 80cm (32ins). Ref 231121.

Joy to greet the eye on a winter's morning
Finally in today’s  ‘cut-flower’ selection, how about something quick and really easy: Primrose ‘F1 Select mix’ are available as plug plants, ideal for a tub by the back door or infilling gaps where frosts have killed your annuals. Plant dwarf bulbs amongst them, and you’ll soon be able to gather a miniature posy to arrange in a wine glass or something similar. Ref 227751, 227631 and 227691 depending on size of plug. Now back to the catalogue - there are endless possibilities for the 'Cutting Garden'.

Friday, 19 October 2012

It's here - and wildlife time, too!

The unexpected arrival just after lunch of the Dobies 2013 catalogue has taken me unawares and out-performed my scheduled topic for this week. Indeed, as I removed it from the postal wrapper, I realised just how clever the package is. For it is so much more than a catalogue – it is a Wallet, into which slot TWO main ‘annual’ brochures incorporating seeds, plants and equipment for 2013: one focusing on fruit and vegetables, and the second on flowers. Then additionally, there are three special leaflets covering ‘bedding, basket and container plants’, special offers, and ‘easy steps to grow ‘potatoes, onions, garlic and shallots’. The latter is packed with recipes produced especially for Dobies by Michelin-starred chef, Simon Hulstone.

The aim of the Wallet is that it is – and will be – the perfect receptacle for these and future mini-catalogues and leaflets. And how appropriate is the front cover image, for it perfectly encapsulates the importance of bio-diversity, where the garden merges into the landscape, and there are wildlife corridors between the two. OK, so we don’t all live in glorious Devon, or even with rural surroundings, but it is perfectly possible to provide suitable wildlife havens within urban gardens – even in the midst of bustling cities (a topic we will return to at a later date.

From my sketchbook (2001)
Which brings me back to the scheduled topic for this week: birds. They are vital to the well-being of any garden, help to keep insect pests under control, and other nasties. Consider their needs: The RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) is seeking help from gardeners, for the effects of a cold and wet spring could cause yet more problems for wildlife through the autumn and winter, 

The shy Jay (copyright
Ben Andrew, RSPB)
Ben Andrew, RSPB Wildlife advisor, says: “It’s been a difficult spring and summer for wildlife, with our make Your Nature Count survey in June highlighting that birds were struggling to find enough natural sources of food for themselves and their chicks.   Natural food is very important at this time of year and a lean autumn crop is the last thing that our wildlife needs.”

A perfect garden habitat for birds (copyright Andy Hay (
Providing food like fatballs and seeds for birds is important, but the RSPB is also urging people to manage their gardens and land with wildlife in mind.  That means not cutting back berry-bearing hedges and shrubs, so that any berries on them can be eaten by wildlife, and leave fallen fruits on the ground for species like blackbirds. Nut-bearing bushes and trees mean wildlife can access the food, and can shelter among the leaves and branches as the weather turns colder. Ben Andrew continues: “Our gardens can be lifelines for wildlife, especially when conditions are tough.  A good garden, no matter how small, can provide food and shelter for a variety of wildlife during the winter and still be attractive to look at.”

Spot the nuthatch on the middle feeder (copyright Ray Quinton)
This plea set me thinking, and this evening I will be sitting by the fire, working my way through the wealth of printed material, and listing flowers that can be left to run to seed next year – so if 2013 proves as difficult as it has been in 2012, my garden will be well-prepared to welcome wildlife.