Saturday, 28 January 2012

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch Weekend - What did You See?

Recently we have been visited regularly by a group of Redpolls. They are a type of finch, with pinky red patches on their heads and breasts like this one above. (Sorry it's so blurred, I was in a hurry to photograph it before it flew away). Some are more brightly coloured than others, I think it is the males that have more colour. If the first one to arrive had not been so brightly coloured, I would not have been able to identify them. The females are really quite non-descript. I had  never heard of a Redpoll, let alone seen one, so I had to leaf through the bird book until I saw something that matched. They squabble with the Goldfinches who were already regular visitors, so I decided to get myself one of these extra large nyger seed dispensers, with multiple perches, so more could visit at any one time. They still squabble over it, even though there's more than enough room for all of them.

Over the course of my one hour, this is what I saw:

3 Blackbirds
2 Collared Doves
1 Greenfinch
1 Robin
1 Blue tit
2 Dunnocks
2 Crows
2 Starlings
2 Chaffinches
4 Goldfinches
1 Long-tailed tit
2 Woodpigeons
1 Coal tit
1 Great tit
3 Redpolls
1 Seagull

Did you take part? If so what did you see?

Sunday, 22 January 2012

The Victorian Kitchen Garden

In my quest for substitute gardening activities during winter, I often turn to gardening books and magazines, but what I really enjoy is to immerse myself completely in some full-on gardening fantasy, ideally through the medium of a screen. I had seen adverts for The Victorian Kitchen Garden DVD collection in magazines, and thought it seemed rather expensive, and it recently occurred to me that I might be able to rent it instead. So I popped over to, marked it 'high priority', and it landed on my doormat in a couple of days. I was intending to spin out the couple of hours worth of Disc One over a few days, but ended up watching it all in the same day, then watching it again the next day!

It is quite an old production, I'd guess around 30 years old, the presenters are obviously from the Percy Thrower School, jackets and ties at all times. They waffle on a bit here and there, but they know their onions.

This particular kitchen garden belongs to a country house in Berkshire. It is a huge walled garden, with great expanses of glasshouses and coldframes, espaliered fruit trees on every wall, and perfect gravel pathways with clematis-clothed arches dotted around. There are rows of outbuildings, not only potting sheds and tool sheds, but forcing sheds, and soil sheds, and a special building to house the huge boiler which heats the glasshouses. There is a fruit store which looks like a small thatched cottage, and even an ice-house. (Forgive me if I'm confusing this last bit with Chatsworth, which is also featured in the Introduction quite a lot).

The series takes you through the gardening year, month by month, describing the day to day lives of the Head Gardener and his staff: what they would be doing, and how they would be doing it, in the days prior to the invention of plastic pots, bags of ready made compost, nylon netting and horticultural fleece. They had some pretty resourceful methods of pest control! Of course, being right next door to the stable block, they were never short of manure, including the fresh stuff for creating hot beds, but imagine how much time and effort would have gone into shifting all that amount of muck. Just as well they had a staff of around 20 people.

Wealthy Victorians enjoyed showing off at their dinner parties, and liked to impress their guests with the range of exotic produce on offer. If they took a fancy to aubergines, or pineapples, the Head Gardener was expected to produce them himself, on the estate. Not only did they have to produce enough to feed His Lordship and his family and dinner guests all year round, but enough for all the servants as well. The large gardening staff and the elaborate, purpose built equipment would have been essential, as would access to his Lordship's presumably quite generous gardening budget.

This is a relaxing, old fashioned TV series, perfect winter viewing for anyone who is dying to get on with the new gardening season, but finds themselves confined to barracks due to the cold, wet or frosty weather. You will be inspired with all kinds of new ideas. Or, if you're looking for some motivation to get you going again after the winter break, this will certainly help. So far I have watched January through to May, and I can't wait for Disc Two, with the second half of the year, to pop through the door. If you don't want to buy or rent it, you can also watch it all on You Tube.

Monday, 16 January 2012

First Seeds of the Season

It's too cold and frosty to work on the allotment at the moment, and I have been getting twitchy sitting waiting for the season to get underway. So I decided it wasn't too early to start sowing a few seeds. The only one of these I have done before is celeriac. Although the packet says sow Feb - March I normally start these off in January as they are pretty slow growers, and by the time they germinate it will probably be February. I guessed that as celery is very similar I could do the same with this. I know a lot of people sow their onions at Christmas, so I'm pretty sure I'm OK with these too.

They are all in the conservatory so they are well lit, and will all be covered in bubble wrap, and the celery and celeriac are sitting on my heated propagator. Once they have germinated I can move them onto the windowsill and make room in the propagator for the next batch of seeds, toms, peppers, chillies etc.

I have made a bit more progress with the digging during the mild weather last week, so the plot is nearly ready for spring. There is not much more I can do now until next month, when I will be buying and chitting seed potatoes, starting off the greenhouse seeds, pruning the autumn fruiting raspberries and, weather permitting, sowing broad beans.