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Friday, 21 September 2012

Pre-autumn garden update

Ugh. It's cold, it's drizzly, it's 12C outside. This is officially the last day of summer, not the first day of autumn but you could have fooled me! Yesterday was a lovely sunny T-shirt weather day and tomorrow it's supposed to be 21C again. It's so cold in the house we have put the central heating on, but as downstairs has underfloor heating, that means it won't warm up until tomorrow, when we'll probably be too hot! For the moment I have escaped upstairs to my office where I have proper radiators that radiate heat the moment you turn the boiler on. Like real central heating should (can you tell I don't like underfloor central heating?)

Normally on the odd cool day or evening at this time of year we'd just light the woodburner, but that's out of action right now due to a swarm of honey bees deciding that our stainless steel conduit would be a great place to make a nest back in May - leading unfortunately to the pest controller having to come out and poison them (no other option). We've been waiting until around this time to get the chimney sweeps back again because we were advised that the wax would have to dry out over the summer. However, to add to our woes we now have hornets coming down the chimney and out into the living room! So the pest controller man will be coming back next week to check out what's going on as we can hardly risk a chimney sweep getting a faceful of hornets high up on our roof and falling off and breaking his neck!

I do seem to be attracting insects this year, both the wanted and the unwanted!

So, that out of the way I wanted to update a bit about the garden and what's been going on whilst I've been away in the land of caterpillar raising. That's all quiet for the moment, indoors at least. Plenty of them rampaging outside, which I'll come to in due course.

The garden is looking very autumnal - much too much so for September. This is mostly due to the (usual) drought situation and many trees dropping their leaves due to stress. We've been crunching through crispy leaves for the last month. There's barely been any rain in 2 months now and only 2 rainfalls worth noting, and even they have only given about 3 days of respite before the watering cans, hosepipes and seep hoses have had to come out again. It gets very, very tiring and I start to get very disenchanted with the whole business of trying to garden.

Right, time to get on with some photos and enough of the waffling, Mandy!

Looking up through the Silver Birch leaves a few weeks ago

Poor Dogwood in the woodland that I'd forgotten to check on.
It has since been watered a number of times and is looking happier!

I had had a bright idea back in the spring to make a small bit of my woodland edge into a more cultivated kind of woodland garden, but really it's just not worth it for the extra watering involved, and the hose doesn't reach this far. I'll plant some bluebells here as bulbs will be fine.

My Cercis Canadensis 'Forest Pansy' looking lovely.
This is kept as well watered as possible as I only planted it a year ago.

Looking a bit crispy round the edges! Some trees are already bare such as my Rowan
(out of the picture)

My beautiful Liquidambar going the same way as last year -
no likelihood of any glorious autumn colours as the leaves just
crisp up and drop off

Pond level is down about 2.5 feet (75cms) and is looking a bit green and murky.
This is no big deal as usually it's a lot lower level than this by now, so I'm happy with this!

I mentioned rampaging caterpillars earlier on - look at this. My poor gooseberries have been totally decimated by gooseberry sawfly larvae! These are tiny little green caterpillary looking things. Two days beforehand the bushes were fine. The two little bushes were only planted out this spring from cuttings I took last year, so I hope that this late in the season it won't have any adverse effect on them. Honestly, how vigilant can you be in the garden? You can't check everything, every day.

Bit hard to show these bare stems against the scruffy
wild background and chicken run fence behind.

Here's another example of caterpillar attack that just suddenly happened within a few days - this time the insect responsible is one of the Ermine moths which attacks Sedums called Yponomeuta sedella. I've never experienced this one before - we normally see Spindle Ermine Moth damage on our spindleberry out in the woodland but that's big enough to withstand an attack and it's a wild tree sized shrub which copes fine. I've also seen the webby 'nests' of caterpillars on our apples from time to time but never in huge amounts.

If you look closely (click on the photo to enlarge) you'll see the caterpillars in amongst
the webs they make throughout the plant. They seem to love the purple foliaged
Sedum telephium best and this damage is spreading like wildfire all around my garden.

Before you think I've gone all doom and gloom on you, don't worry. I have been quite chilled about all this as I've been enjoying the sunshine and butterflies! But now I'm trying to get my act together to do my usual autumn jobs of moving plants around - because no matter how many years you garden, there's always something that didn't work where you planted it, not to mention the plants that need dividing because they have outgrown their space. In this instance here I am trying to rid myself of a ghastly day lily which came with the house - I've never liked it and after flowering it just looks a mess. I have a new shrub to go here and a much lovelier scented yellow flowered day lily in a bed that's become too shady, so I plan to move some of that here too.

Veggie patch in the background with sunny Sunflowers and Calendula!

However I don't do things by half. Digging out day lily roots which have gone down over 1 foot into the subsoil and bedrock is like some archaelogical excavation. It took me 2.5 afternoons of work as I just know that any fleshy bits of root will come back as a plant, eventually. 

Removing soil, subsoil, rocks, roots....
and adding tons and tons of half rotted compost in the bottom
before filling back with soil again.

To be honest I will never get these garden jobs finished as everything takes so long! You can see how dry the soil is yet I thought this was a bed I'd kept well watered!!! Can you imagine how dry the rest of the garden is?

I have treated myself to two new shrubs as well, a blue Caryopteris which I've always fancied to go in the space I've just excavated, and I wanted something yellow for another bed so chose this Potentilla. Both plants were covered in bees, hoverflies and butterflies at the garden centre, so even if they are not absolutely drought tolerant shrubs I couldn't help myself.......

The Potentilla at home with a Small Blue butterfly on it!

This is what the last few weeks have been like in the garden.
Some days I can barely move for butterflies!
(There's a Hummingbird Hawkmoth at the top middle as well)

My sunflower heads have been attracting Goldfinches, both adults and juveniles so I have been enjoying hearing their twittering coming from the veg patch as I work. I also spotted them eating the seedheads in my weedy, scruffy lawn this morning - one of the reasons for leaving the Lesser Hawkbit to go to seed, which has seeds like a dandelion head. This has almost made up for the fact that our Swallows have gone. We are still seeing migrating Swallows passing by and stopping to have a swoop about over the garden but it's not the same as them being here all the time. When they first go the skies seem so empty and quiet, but the good thing is that we know they will be back!

Naff photo taken with my Cybershot - there's an adult and two juveniles in this shot.
I can't be out gardening with a big camera and telephoto lens in my pocket!

In other news one of our older hens had to be put down yesterday as she'd gone all wobbly on her legs and could barely walk; this is now the third hen this has happened to so I'm guessing it's all too common in old age. She was not one of my favourites, being totally neurotic and was never a good layer whose eggs were always brittle (and often crushed by my big Light Sussex hen!). Her laying days were over and it sounds a bit callous but it's a good thing as that's one less mouth to feed which is not repaying us with eggs.

To end on an upbeat note, the solitary moorhen who made a reappearance some weeks back has now been joined by another - so hopefully we'll have a pair again who will delight us with their presence and cross fingers will breed here next year rather than disappearing off to pastures new like they did this summer!

Next posting will be recipes and sweet veggie cakes as I've been baking cakes (and eating them......) :-)

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