Thursday, 29 January 2015

Vigorous climbers and the Dead hedge project

While the snow is falling heavily and now lying I thought I'd talk about the "dead hedge project". As mentioned in this previous blog we have an almost dead Leylandii hedge running from front to back along the western edge of the property and we want to improve the look of it without spending lots of money. Next door has a matching hedge, the tops of which are still alive, so it looks a bit odd. As I mentioned before, I came up with a cunning plant to cut off all the dead branches and snags and grow vigorous climbers up and over what was left.

Clematis alpina Columbine
As with choosing any plants for your garden, it's important to choose types and varieties that will grow well in the conditions you have. Although there are many climbers that will do the job of covering something we don't want to see, not all will survive or grow well in my bit of upland Scotland. Whether you want to cover a shed, fence, wall, garage, or unsightly half-dead hedge, you can make it look appealing all year round with a bit of careful planning. From early flowering Clematis, summer flowering Roses, Honeysuckle with fabulous scent and berries in autumn to Parthenocissus with their incredible red autumn foliage. You can use Ivies for evergreen foliage (as long as they are well-behaved ones) or evergreen Clematis if you have warm and suitable conditions.

Humulus lupulus Aureus
Lonicera growing on a fence

For where we are gardening I am going to use some tough climbers that I grew at Easter Mosshat (which was 100 feet higher than here), so I know they will do the job. I also have a lot of cuttings of them, so more free plants, which is always a good thing.

Clematis montana 'Wilsonii'

I am going to use three different types of Clematis:

C.montana 'Rubens' is very vigorous and perfect for covering large areas quickly. It can ultimately grow to between 20 and 30 feet, although it can be pruned back to fit the available space. They also look good growing up trees, so I am sure it will be quite at home growing through the hedge here. With its pink flowers in summer sprawling over the hedge it will give effect quickly whilst other slower climbers get going.

C. montana 'Wilsonii' is one of my favourites. With it's white, chocolate-scented flowers and vigorous growth it is perfect against the dark green of the conifer that is still alive. I grew it over the potting shed at Easter Mosshat, where it put on a good 6 feet a year. I will be planting it near a path so I can smell the flowers as I walk past.

C.aplina 'Willy' is very tough and recommended for exposed cold positions, I grew it on a fence at Easter Mosshat, where it got all the wind and cold going and yet did very well. After it has flowered it has lovely silky seed heads into autumn and winter.

Clematis alpina 'Willy'

Clematis seed heads

Another plant I will be using is Lonicera japonica Halliana, which I used to grow through the native hedges at Easter Mosshat. It flowers well and is beautifully scented, so plant it where you can enjoy the perfume as you walk past. It also puts on feet of growth a year so will fill its place in the hedge quickly.

There are several big, vigorous, rambling roses you can use. They will love to scramble through large trees and over long fences or through a hedge. R. filipes 'Kiftsgate', R. 'Rambling Rector' and R. 'Pauls Himalayan Musk' are great examples. I will be growing Rosa 'Park Director Rigors' and Rosa 'Betty Sherriff". The first one is a fabulous scarlet and with put on at least 6 feet of growth a year and flower for months with red hips to follow in autumn. Only grow R. 'Betty Sherriff' if you have a lot of room and by that I mean room for a plant that will put near on 20 feet a year! It is also covered in vicious thorns, so plant it where it can do its thing but won't snare passers-by. That said it is well worth growing. It covers itself in beautiful pinky white flowers in summer and the scent is lovely.

Rosa 'Betty Sherriff' growing at
Binny Plants
Flowers of Rosa 'Betty Sherriff

Rosa 'Park Director Rigors'

Humulus lupulus 'Aureas', I have always loved that name, it rolls off the tongue effortlessly. Otherwise known as the Golden Hop, it is another great climber for the garden. There are several new varieties which are shorter and the species which has green leaves and is the one used for beer. The golden variety shines in a garden: it is such a rich colour and if grown on a wall or fence at the back of a border forms a great back-drop. It does die back in winter, but comes away with new shoots and feet and feet of growth come spring, covering itself in yellow hop tassels, which are great for drying and flower arranging.

Making a start to cutting off the
 dead branches

The hedge in question

Lastly I will be planting Parthenocissus quinquefolia, again a vigorous grower, deciduous and tough. Its vine like branches will sprawl through the hedge and we can enjoy its glorious scarlet foliage in autumn.

Parthenocissus with its glorious autumn colour

All I need is some dry weather to get the rest of the hedge cut back. It doesn't have to be warm, just dry: sawing all those branches is warm work. Then I can get the climbers planted and they can scramble away to their hearts content over the summer. A year or two will see them established with plenty growth to lighten up and improve the boundary.

Other climbers I would recommend, which are tough and good growers are:

Clematis alpina 'Alba plena'

Clematis 'Paul Farges'

Ivies, varieties depending on your choice of leaf colour and rate of growth

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Wednesday, 28 January 2015

A brief blue sky and a lovely walk at a local nature Reserve

For every sunny day we get at the moment there seems to be at least four times as many wet, dull and cold winter days. Thankfully it is the end of January so we are getting there, just wild and wintry February to get through then it will be spring. I am making sure every good weather day we go out for a walk and absorb some fresh air and sunshine. On Saturday, although it was bitterly cold we went to a local nature reserve David knew of for a wee wander with Daniel and Bracken. Getting a young teenager away from a screen of some kind is always a major achievement so getting them out walking and in fresh air is a bonus. The bribery of hot chocolate and cake afterwards might have been an influence! There is never an issue getting Bracken out, as soon as he sees you lift a pair of boot socks, he's there tripping us up, making sure he will not be left behind.

Milkhall Pond nature reserve

Half an hour north of the house we arrived at Milkhall Pond nature reserve. There is only a couple of muddy areas of verge to park on, fortunately, being a cold winters day it was quiet. I've never been there before and it is a possible place I can use for plant surveying for my courses later in the year, so it was good to visit and see what's there. Through the reserve there are a series of ponds dropping down towards a stream and boundary of Birch, Betula pendula and Scots pine, Pinus sylvestris

Alder, Alnus glutinosa in black and white

There are well constructed grass paths along the edges of the ponds and board walks over streams and bog areas. There is a wealth of flora and fauna here in the spring and summer which I am looking forward to coming back and seeing. The first and largest pond had a couple of swans (which were having opinions about Bracken) and a dozen or so ducks. I don't do much, if any wildlife or bird photography, so it was good to have a chance to try some here where the birds were relaxed and sitting on the ice in the winter sunshine.

Walking alongside the second pond

As the ponds and paths drop down it gets a bit muddier at this time of year, so boots are a must. At the end of the path the stream disappears under an old railway bridge. From here we climbed over a style and up a small embankment onto the disused railway line. We are becoming collectors of disused railway line walks, if there is such a thing! They are great for walking on as they are generally flat (some see this as a good thing), they are easily followed and are littered with historical artefacts, bridges and remains of long gone history.

A bridge long gone on the disused railway

Of course once we reached the bridge in the photo above it had to be investigated from stream level, from the middle of the stream, freezing cold water, and three of them are standing in it in their wellies (ok Bracken wasn't wearing wellies), looking back up at the brick piers. Until of course Daniel got stuck in some mud at the edge: never a dull moment. Heading back we stopped at a large frozen puddle in the neighbouring field where Daniel and Bracken (reluctantly) went "skating".

Walking on the frozen puddle

Wheeeeeeee, look I can go sideways

They're no Torvil and Dean, but they had great fun

The wind had got up a bit now and it was bitterly cold, so it was a relief to climb the fence and walk back down into the nature reserve. The sun was lighting the ducks nicely, so I got a few more photos of them before we left.

Ducks in the afternoon sun

Mr Mallard on ice

Once back in the car, with the heater on we headed to Whitmuir farm. This is a great place and well worth a visit. . It started off as a farm, then an organic farm shop and now has a great cafe with fresh home made organic food in lovely surroundings. They have a good range of products in the shop and a couple of bookcases of second hand books that are always worth a browse. You can wander around the farm, visit the animals and enjoy the views, I believe they have some new litters of piglets now. Once we'd filled up on cakes, scones, mochas and cola we had a wander round the shop then headed home. It was great couple of hours out, we didn't have to travel far to have a nice time out together and Daniel, once out really enjoyed himself.

This swan had opinions about Bracken

Sunday was murky, damp, rainy and overcast. Not helped by more upsetting and sad family news. I am still trying to get my head round it all. So sad that another close family member has to go through so much because of cancer. 

Galanthus 'John Gray'
Whilst standing at the study window, wondering what the point of it all is and why life has to be so cruel, I noticed the snowdrops I potted up and brought with us from Easter Mosshat were flowering. It's great to see they have moved successfully and I can tick them off on my database as having moved. I found Galanthus 'John grey', G. nivalis and G nivalis 'Flora Plena' all flowering in the garden moving troughs, hooray! 

Sweeping up the leaves on the patio

In a bid to cheer me up, David suggested we go out and tidy the patio. It was a bit damp and drizzly but it was good to be outdoors doing something. We swept up all the leaves on the patio, I cut back the herbs in pots at the back door and we put some bits and pieces away. It looks so much better and it was good to be outside doing something together.

The pots of mint, fennel and oregano cut back at the back door
We put four bags of bark in the chicken enclosure. They've been sitting at the back gate for weeks, awaiting a dry day. The chickens viewed us with suspicious, beady eyes until we were finished, then scratched it all around until they were happy with it. My raking skills obviously weren't good enough.

The chickens making sure we put the bark down

Lastly we sorted out and took the six crates of bottles and jars to the recycling at the local village. Hopefully there will be dry weather soon (though having just looked at the weather forecast, I suspect not, more snow on the way). I really want to get outdoors and get on with gardening, Cabin fever looms, which might lead to comfort eating and all that chocolate I got for Christmas  which would ruin the really good work I've been doing to lose weight and get fitter since New year.

For now I am going to enjoy my snowdrops.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Snow, no water and a Day trip to Shrewsbury, its snow joke

Another busy mixed week here in the Quirky Bird household. Monday saw us spend most of the day shopping in Livingston and some lunch and a wander around Dobies garden centre. This was while my car was in the garage getting its tyres and noisy exhaust looked at. It was easier to take two cars and go off and do some window shopping instead of 2 trips of 40 miles to go home and come back. We picked up some bits and pieces we needed and had a lovely lunch. The end result of the garage visit was three new tyres and most of a new exhaust! Goodbye £500 and that was with a discount of 25% on the tyres and another discount because David is a good customer there. I do need my car, especially as we live in the country and I should get longer out the tyres now the car is doing a lot less mileage. Its is driving much better and I feel happier knowing these things have been dealt with.  Bracken did well out of our shopping trip as he got a new bed as you can see below.

Bracken approves of his new bed

I have been having a wee run of success on my 365 project, with several images featuring on the Trending and Popular pages this month! This is my fifth year doing it and I almost gave up at the end of December. I wasn't sure I was getting enough out of it, but I have continued and with great feed back too. Its great fun for photographers of all levels and there are some amazing images on there.

This image was on the the Trending and Popular
page this week

 A quick word about the Daffodils in the image above. They are in the front garden, not really very sheltered, yet are further out than the snow drops next to them! I don't know what variety they are as they are already planted in the garden. I am looking forward to seeing them flower later in the spring. The latest snow and low temperatures haven't slowed their growth down at all.

A snowy scene at Walston from our walk on Tuesday

We came home from Livingston on Monday to find no water running in the house. There was still water in the bathrooms, but as we later discovered, this was coming from the header tank in the attic and the hot water tank, which soon emptied. So come Tuesday we were waterless. A phone call to a neighbour and trying to get in touch with the landlord and estate agent soon revealed the cause. The water for the house we are renting and the houses on either side comes from a spring. Apparently the pipes that bring the water from the spring to these three houses runs over the top of the ground over several fields! Which means whenever there are temperatures of  a few degrees or more below zero the pipes freeze and we have no water until it defrosts! So we have no idea when we will have water again as the temperature is to stay low all week! This has been happening for the 16 plus years the houses have been built and no one does anything about it. Had we known this was a possibility we would have stock piled water, but no one mentioned it so we've had to buy water. 

I managed to find some 5 litre bottles of water in
the Co-op today in Biggar awhich are more economical
than the 6 pack of 1.5 litres I got on Tuesday

The mains pipe is about 300m away and its entirely possible to get connected if the three house got together and split the cost. They seem happy to live for days or weeks with no water, apparently its part of living in the country, well I've lived more remotely than this in the country for 17 years and never not had water! We've been in touch with the letting agent and land lord and they have shrugged their shoulder and that was it. Can you tell I'm not happy? So we are using bottled water sparingly, it takes four two litre bottles to flush a loo. I've filled a large plastic dust bin with snow and put it in the heated greenhouse to melt as the greenhouse plants are getting very dry. I've also brought a second bucket into the house to defrost to flush the loos! A shower would be lovely and of course the pile of laundry is stacking up.

The third thing about Monday was youngest sons new bed arrived, so he and David started to put it together only to find there were three bolts missing! So the bed is stacked up in the dining room awaiting the replacements (which arrived in the post today) so a big thumbs up for the company getting them out to us so quickly.

Bracken enjoying a walk in the snow

We haven't had enough snow to drift for a couple of years

I am pleased to say the rest of the week has gone better so far (apart from still having no water!) Tuesday was a catch up day in the house, cleaning as best you can with no water), various other chores and a nice walk up to Walston in the afternoon.

Shap on the way south to Shrewsbury, after a quick coffee stop
 at Westmoreland services. Fortunatly the windscreen washers started
working here. It was not easy driving up to then.

Wednesday was a long tiring day driving to Shrewsbury and back, mad I know, David came with me so we could share the driving, it was quicker and cheaper than going by train just for a four hour meeting. This was the induction day for the course I am doing run by the Manchester Metropolitan University and the FSC. I am ahead of the game as David did the course about seven years ago, but it was good to put faces to names of people I will be dealing with over the year, some of whom will be doing some of the lectures. David went off and had a wander around Shrewsbury with Bracken while I was busy watching presentations and having lunch. I now have more paperwork to read and I've applied for some funding. The course is a University certificate,  and is equivalent of first year on a degree.

A wet and cold Shrewsbury
We left Shrewsbury just after 4pm which was unfortunate as we got caught up in Manchester traffic when we joined the M6. Once past Preston the roads are always much emptier and we made good progress to Cumbria where we stopped for something to eat at the Tebay or Westmoreland services. These are the best services around and have been since they started. Eco friendly, family run with ponds for all sorts of ducks and wild birds, great food and a fantastic farm shop. Yes we did buy cheese and pies! It was great to get home in the evening, tired, but in one piece, always a good thing when doing a lot of driving on the roads these days.

David heaven

Today (Thursday) has been a much more relaxed day, just me and the mutt as David is away working. Its still snowy and we still have no water. The temperature hasn't been above freezing all week, brrrrrrr. Once a deliver I had been waiting in for this morning arrived, Bracken and I went to Lanark. Once I'd got a parcel from  the Post office, we took the scenic route past Tinto to Biggar. I stocked up on more water then Bracken and I went for a walk along the disused railway line. It runs along the south side of Biggar and has wonderful views of the local hills. The sky and light was lovely over the hills and though chilly, there was no breeze or wind, so it was very pleasant. We walked about two miles out and then back again before heading home for home made scotch broth soup, lovely. If a week like that doesn't drive me to more wine and chocolate I don't know what will!

The disused railway carries on to Broughton

Lovely sky over the Biggar hills

Winter sun reflecting in the frozen snow

Trees in the snow, Biggar

Monday, 19 January 2015

This January I am ...

The Biggar hills this week

Making: Plans for holidays, days out and things we want to do and achieve this year.

Cooking: Lots of Indian meals using the Indian £5 offer box we got from Approved Food                          last month. 12 meal sauces, poppadoms, peppers, onions and chillies, a really
                  good deal.

Drinking: Hot chocolate, so nice when we get back from our winter walks.

Reading: The Rosie Project by Graeme Simeons, great read about a guy with Aspergers
                  trying to find a wife.

Wanting: Some decent weather so I can work in the garden again.

Looking: At how far I have come in the past few years.

PlayingToyah's album Anthem, reprising my angst teenage years (only the music!)

Wishing: The water would come back on, last week it was power cuts, now its no water!

Enjoying: Not having to go to work in very cold, icy weather.

Loving: Spending lots of time with David while I'm not working.

Smelling: Some very nice coffee David bought.

Wearing: My wonderful scarf and leather gloves I bought in Venice, so cosy.

Anticipating: The snowdrops coming into flower, soon I hope.

Buying: A beer making kit! We're making our own beer, something else off my bucket list.

Disliking: The cruel, horrible mess so much of the world is in.

Eating: Very healthily, determined to lose this excess weight and get my fitness back.

Planting: Ground cover Geraniums and bluebells at the entrance to our drive.

Marvelling: At how much I sleep these days, making up for all those years of not.

Wondering: How I will get on when I start my course in the summer.

Feeling: Nervous about going back to studying, see above.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Winter interest plants and Snow stops play

The weather has had a turn for the worse again. We've had days of rain, sleet, strong winds and now snow that has lain. We had a twelve hour power cut one day and damage to the wee greenhouse. Two of the new panes of glass smashed, so another repair job, as well as the new alpine trough covers that blew off and smashed. There has been no more gardening since I tidied the entrance ten days ago, which is so frustrating. Instead we have been hibernating and planning trips and what we hope to do during the year. Middle son went back to uni. today with a car load of his belongings, we had hoped to have a day in Glasgow once we'd dropped him off but David is under the weather with a bad cold, so we'll do that another day. So what can we do to have more colour and interest in the winter garden using trees and shrubs?

By now we are all desperate to see some signs of plant life and growth. Down south and in more sheltered lower lying parts of Scotland there will be Snowdrops and hellebores coming into flower. Up here at 750 feet above sea level and above it happens a lot later, so our winter season is much longer. This is where incorporating as much colour by way of stems and evergreens is important from a visual point of view and to make us feel better. 

One of my Spotted Hellebores

When planning a garden or a border always try to think what you can grow at every time of year and in every month. Bulbs, perennials and annuals are great from early spring right through to autumn and into winter if the weather is favourable. Look at your borders and if there is a space at any time of year, research what looks good at that time of year and fill that space. You will end up with a successive border that always has something flowering, has berries, coloured stems or foliage (think also autumn colour and evergreens). 

Winter in the back garden

In winter there are of course the obvious earliest flowerers such as Snowdrops, Aconites and Hellebores for winter interest. There are so many varieties and variants of these genera now and you can have singles, doubles, semi doubles and many, many colours of Hellebores. See these previous blogs I wrote on Snowdrops and Hellebores.  As well as flowers think about stem colour: many shrubs are great for this. Cornus, Salix, Euonymus, Betula, Sorbus, Prunus and Acer are some of the more popular and easily sourced genera and within these there are many species and cultivars to choose from, its mind boggling! My favourites include Cornus alba 'Elegantissima' and any Betula, I love them all! Prunus serrula is beautiful with its shiny, peeling bark, especially in winter sunlight and Acer griseum with its mottled bark. There is a tree or shrub with coloured stems to fit any size of garden. These will all grow well in most conditions and aspects and even at my higher elevation here in Scotland.

Cornus alba 'Elegantissima' stems
Cornus alba 'Elegantissima' at Easter Mosshat

Betula utilis

Betula stems come in white, grey, pink,
beige and brown
Close up of a Betula trunk

Acer griseum
Snakebark Acers

Prunus serrula

We can also use evergreens in the garden for winter interest and indeed all year round to give gardens and borders structure, a back drop for more showy plants, a home for wildlife and something to look at in winter when everything else is dormant. Again a little bit of research and visiting other gardens and nurseries will give you an idea of what you can grow in your own garden, no matter how much or little space you have. From large Hollies, Viburnums and conifers to smaller Euonymus, Box, Hebes and Rhododendrons. There are green-leaved ones, yellow-leaved, variegated, silver, the list is endless and will fit into what ever colour palette you have in your border. Whilst some Euonymus and Hebe may struggle with very cold winters where I am, in most average winters they survive and in lower level gardens, do very well. Here are some I am growing and would recommend.

Euonymus 'Emerald and Gold'
Viburnum tinus 'Gwenillian'

Ilex pernyi

Taxus baccata Fastigiata Aurea Group

Ilex 'Blue Princess'
Rhododendrons at Crarae

Hopefully I have given you a few ideas to brighten up the garden through winter. It's about remembering colour does not have to mean flowers. There are lots of plants out there that will add colour and a new dimension to your garden and borders all through the year.

Rhododendron 'Williamsianum'

Signs of things to come, some daffodils poking through the snow in the
front garden 

Our chickens aren't keen on the snow, but when there are left over scraps
in their trough they are willing to come out

The two broken missing panes of glass
in the wee greenhouse