To own a bit of ground . to scratch it with a hoe, to plant seeds and watch the renewal of life - this is the commonest delight of the race, the most satisfactory thing a man can do" -   Charles Dudley Warner (1829 - 1900)
 
 

Beautiful Troubadours

Song Thrush
Song Thrush

We certainly can't do any "scratching with a hoe" at the moment except in the polytunelll! The soil's far too wet - even the paths between the raised beds are like walking around in half frozen mud soup!  As there's not that much to do outside in the garden - later on I talk about some of my favourite garden tools - and also tell you about a couple of real gems I've discovered in the last few years - which look like making my life a bit easier!  The main thing I seem to do in the garden right now is feed the birds! They are so hungry that all the feeders need filling up every day - and since I think I must be the only person feeding birds around here - there are flocks of them on the feeders all day long. It's not cheap but I don't begrudge them one bit - the birds give me so much pleasure every day and provide permanent free pest-control all year round, both outside and in the tunnels - in addition to their uplifting song!  The Song Thrush in particular gives me so much pleasure. It was my late Father's favourite bird and I think of him whenever I hear it. Their echoing song is the soundtrack of my childhood - and brings back wonderful memories of the primrose and bluebell-filled woodlands of springtime in the English Cotswolds. You can always tell a thrush from a blackbird because the Thrush "sings his song twice over" as Robert Browning said in his lovely poem 'Home thoughts from abroad': Just lately a thrush has begun to sing up in the hedge behind the polytunnel and it's such a joy to hear it. I never want to live in a world without birdsong! Or bees without the buzzing either for that matter - which I write about later on.

 

Birds and bees are increasingly threatened at the moment - they are 'the canaries in the coal mine' which we must take heed of - because if they are lost, then the our species we will not be long for this world either! What affect them affects us also - as science in increasingly beginning to prove if anyone ever doubted it! We must do all we can to make sure that their numbers increase - not decrease by doing all we can to help them. Not using pesticides and other chemicals is one of the first things we can and must do. Growing plenty of plants which provide food for them is the next thing. Lots of fruiting shrubs and trees for the Thrushes and Blackbirds, and throw out any rotting fruit for them too. 

 

Luckily there's no near neighbours to hear when I call my garden birds - "Here, birdie, birdie"!  (Although they probably think I'm mad anyway!) I love the way when I let them know I'm coming with food there's a fluttering all around the garden and they all descend on the feeders to see what new treats I'm bringing today. When I have time I love to stand and watch them - it must be a very sad person who isn't enchanted by their beauty. The goldfinches are so tame now that they will come to the Nyger seed feeders when I'm only a couple of feet away, and they really are stunning to look at, when one is at close quarters. Sadly they won't allow me to photograph when I'm near them though - I think they're camera shy! The blue tits that come to the small see through feeder on the kitchen window are so cute too - they're not a bit shy and if it's empty they tap loudly on the window (probably trying to get the very last crumbs) which reminds me to fill it up. Their colours are so vivid at close quarters that they look just like toy birds!

 

Beautiful Vandals! 

The birds I'm a bit ambivalent about are the herons - although admittedly they are magnificent birds. A couple of days ago I heard the most awful racket outside and went out to see what was going on. There was one Heron sitting on top of the house roof and another in the shelter belt of fir trees at the bottom of the garden - and they were screaming raucously at each other. They're sitting around waiting to spot any signs of frogs laying eggs in the pond at the bottom of the field as it's getting close to that time of year - some people even have frog spawn already. I hate the way herons greedily hoover up any eggs and tadpoles they can find. I want lots of frogs in my garden because they're great slug eaters. Nothing puts the herons off though, and the pond's far too big to completely cover with netting - the only thing that would really work. Their razor sharp bills have punctured the shallow edges of the liner so many times that the pond now leaks like a sieve. Sadly I haven't been able to afford to re-line it and completely cover it yet, so unless the weather's very wet only the deepest bit in the middle is full of water. 
 
 
Don't believe those people who tell you that only one heron will ever come to your pond because they're territorial and won't allow any others near - that's complete rubbish! I often see three or four loafing around on the edges of my pond for hours, just like the well-known Irish village 'corner boys' who hang around all day waiting for something to happen or for some mischief to get into. So if you have a fish pond you're trying to protect, don't waste your money on those expensive life-sized plastic herons! They are beautiful birds and a magnificent sight in full flight though, I must admit. In the last few years I've even seen beautifully pristine Little Egrets near here, one flew across the road in front of me only yesterday - they're obviously attracted by the local reservoir and also the Rogerstown and Broadmeadow estuary bird reserves close by. Although it's lovely to see such beautiful birds - I'm sure the local fishing club aren't too thrilled! I remember seeing them first in Ireland over 20 years ago in the estuary down at Shanagarry, near the famous Ballymaloe Cookery School run by Darina Allen. I believe a lot more have arrived there since. The sight of them always reminds me of those pictures of Africa - with egrets so often in them.
 
 

The Joy of Raised Beds  

Now one thing I don't often mention - is that I've had serious back problems for many years after falling off an awful lot of horses when I was younger! When we moved here 35 years ago I'd already been forced to give up riding due to my back problems. After a bad fall I suffered lower body paralysis and nerve damage in my neck which resulted in subsequent spinal surgery. Happily this was successful - but with increasing degenerative disc disease I was aware that things would get progressively worse sooner or later. So as a result - I specifically designed the whole vegetable garden as a series of twelve 4ft wide raised (or deep) beds, with paths in between. This kept me focused on my recovery and occupied my brain while I was unable to do anything else. The late Geoff Hamilton was a keen proponent of 'deep' or raised beds in those days. I originally made them not by deep double digging, as many do, which I always felt was totally wrong and against nature - but by throwing the soil from each of the paths in between up onto the beds - instantly raising their level and creating good drainage which is badly needed on my heavy clay soil. Mulches and compost followed. The paths were then surfaced with wood chips.
 
 
My raised beds require a lot less bending than gardening on the flat, are 4 feet wide so that I can reach from either side with one arm if necessary to plant or hoe - which is very useful and makes life a lot easier. Originally they were just about 30 cm high, raised with boards which gradually rotted and eventually crumbled over the years. Now I'm gradually renewing them all and making the beds even higher - with possibly a less able future in mind, particularly since my argument with a trailing bramble 3 years ago - which resulted in me being catapulted several yards and smashing my shoulder into several pieces! That extra height means that now even on bad days - if I can walk, then I can garden - even if I have to do it sitting on a chair!  I'm still recovering from breaking my right shoulder in September 2013, and after surgery I can now luckily use my right hand on the computer again, I can sow seeds and garden in the raised beds very comfortably, despite not being able to reach quite as far now with my right arm. I've always said that gardening in raised beds is so easy that anyone can do it with one hand tied behind their back! Now I have to prove it - because I have no intention of giving up! 


To dig or not to dig - that is the question. I prefer not digging too much - it's an easier, more relaxed and far more natural way to garden - and much better for soil life too! All of the herbaceous borders have matured into permanent wildlife borders now - with survival of the fittest being the rule!  Hellebores, snowdrops, primroses and spring bulbs early on - meadow geraniums etc. and old shrub roses later - the kinds of things that bees and butterflies love and that will survive in grass without getting eaten by slugs!  It's a far easier, more labour saving way to have flowers in your garden than endless, pointless weeding - it's far better for wildlife too as there's far more habitat for them. The vegetable garden is the only thing that really requires much actual work - and with doing it in raised beds, after initially making the beds - the only sort of digging ever needed is when you're lifting root vegetables or potatoes - and that's really more forking - not digging. Perhaps I should name my sort of gardening 'Forking Gardening' - for want of a better name - just to keep up with the 'No Dig' (so called - but not actually!!) people. 'Forking Gardening' sounds slightly "Two Ronnies-ish" though - and vaguely tongue-in-cheek - so I avoid trying to use a catchy name! You can mostly plant into the raised beds with your fingers, as the soil's in really good condition after a few years of cultivation and plenty of organic mulches - you don't even need a trowel! I don't do any digging - except when I'm planting a new tree or shrub. How do you think the so-called  'No Dig' people plant trees?  Well of course they have to dig holes - just like I do!  Lots of mulching takes care of the weeds - so I only ever have a few that are easily pulled out by hand. I aim just to do as little work as necessary to grow all my own vegetables and fruit, that way I can fit it into my very busy life.

 

My Favourite Garden Tools 

Some of my favourite tools - Wolf Garten 'cultiweeder ' (top'), with interchangeable hoe, a  stainless steel border fork and my father's old spade
Some of my favourite tools - Wolf Garten 'cultiweeder ' (top'), with interchangeable hoe, a  stainless steel border fork and my father's old spade

So - what tools do I actually use? After the first few months on a new raised bed - when I've begun improving the soil and getting the top few inches into fairly good condition - all I really need to do is just scratch over the surface then with a hand held 3 pronged cultivator. The one I use is made by Wolf Garten - they call it the 'Cultiweeder' - and it has a stirrup hoe on the reverse. Used with a 'push-pull-push' action - it's probably the most used tool in the garden - I certainly couldn't do without it. It opens up the surface of my heavy, stony clay soil - aerating it (soil needs air too) and breaking up any crust or small lumps - to get it ready for sowing or planting. It's also good for incorporating things like a light dressing of well rotted compost, seaweed meal or calcified seaweed etc. into the top couple of inches. I've had mine for about thirty years or more - first with a wooden handle - then when that finally fell apart a couple of years ago - I bought the more up-to-date metal handle for it. It's very versatile and you just push the button to click another tool onto the handle for doing various jobs - so although initially not cheap - it's actually a jolly good investment. Irish Times journalist Fionnuala Fallon tells me it's her favourite tool too. There's a huge range of different heads for it - but I really only use the other individual hoe head for it - pictured here - which has two wavy profile edges and is razor sharp - ideal for quickly slicing weeds. Because it's lower and flatter that the 'Cultiweeder' - it's good for hoeing among larger established crops like lettuces when they've grown quite close together - where the three prongs might catch and tear the leaves. You can buy a shorter handle too - which fits all the interchangeable tools - and which I also find very useful on the higher level raised beds.



I also use a small stainless steel ladies border fork - being smaller it's much lighter than most conventional large garden forks and it's useful for lifting root crops if necessary, levering up any deeper rooted weeds like docks and also breaking up larger clods of soil on newer beds - using a sideways 'bashing' (note - technical term!) action. This fork wouldn't be much use for growing on the flat as I would need to bend far too much to use it with it's shorter handle - but it's ideal for using on the beds. I do have a larger stainless steel fork which is fairly light and occasionally useful - but these days I use it very little in the veg. garden. The fork I would really love to try is the American 'broadfork' - 30 inches wide with 10 inch long tines. It penetrates well below the topsoil to lift and loosen the soil slightly without turning it over. This would help to improve drainage and loosen any compaction in permanent plantings when necessary or on compacted lawn areas which are walked on a lot. This allows plant roots to penetrate really deeply - even among established perennials or shrubs. It might be useful on border soils or vegetable garden areas that are compacted too - either by too much use of rotovators producing a hard 'pan' - or through lack of worms.


As I've often mentioned - the spade I use is the old one that belonged to my late father - it has an old fashioned carbon steel blade that somehow 'self-sharpens' as you use it. You could almost shave yourself with it - and it glides easily through practically anything - like the proverbial knife through butter. I often use it for skimming off green manures or surface weeds if necessary - rather like a giant hoe. As far as I know there's only one company making similar spades now - I saw them on TV in the north of the UK - and they cost well in excess of £100!  I've no idea how old my spade is - my father died over 40 years ago - so it's at least 50!  No modern spade can compare with it - and I have a lovely feeling that when I'm using it - he's somehow at my elbow helping me!  From the picture - you can see that it's blade has worn down with use by at least a third to a half over the years - helped by my stony and very heavy clay soil - but I wouldn't be without it for the world!  Nobody is ever allowed to use it but me! If you can find one of these old spades in a sale of garden tools - there is nothing else like them - they are literally worth their weight in gold!

 
My new 'Garton' shovel - huge and light as a feather!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My new 'Garton' shovel - huge and light as a feather!
While I'm on the subject of spades - one ridiculous item that I would never dream of wasting money on is one of those expensive so-called 'back-saver' spades (ha!) which have a lever action that sort of flips the soil over.You often see them recommended in magazines for people with bad backs - it would help if the magazines actually had someone with a genuinely bad back reviewing those types of garden tools! I tried just to pick up one of those spades once and it was so incredibly heavy I couldn't even lift it, let alone attempt to dig!  You'd have to be really fit and healthy to do so!  It would almost have given you a slipped disc even if you didn't already have a bad back! They certainly would be utterly useless for making a planting hole for fruit trees or bushes. I think there must be literally thousands of them sitting once-used and rusting in garden sheds everywhere! Far easier to make raised 'deep' beds instead - you'll only ever have to do it once!  I found a brilliant large shovel a couple of years ago. I went into B&Q looking for a snow shovel - on the premise that if I actually had one then hopefully I wouldn't need it!  I found this absolute gem!  I really couldn't believe it when I picked it up -  it was even lighter than the plastic ones - and being aluminium it's far more durable. It's made by 'Garten' and is as wide as my large wheelbarrow - ideal for raking up leaves etc. with my fan rake which is exactly the same width. Again unbelievably - it was only 20 euros!  What a find - it's going to be really useful for all sorts of jobs! Oh - and I forgot the plastic wheelbarrow also pictured - which I've had for years and again is incredibly light - as long as I'm not tempted to put too much in it! Now, if I could only find one with four wheels and a motor that went along under it's own steam!! Anyone know a cheap one?
 
Although I mainly use my fingers for planting things like lettuces etc. in the beds - I do use a trowel for planting things which needs a slightly deeper hole. I found a really comfortable cheap one a few years ago in a garden centre - for less a fiver - I bought a couple as I'm always losing them! It's important to have one that fits your hand and is comfortable if you're doing a lot of planting - or you could end up with a very sore wrist. I also find a small diamond shaped bricklayer's trowel quite useful for fiddly jobs. The only rake I use is a fan rake. I have two of those - one large and one small. I use both mostly for clearing leaves etc off paths and flower beds in the spring. They both have soft-ish 'tines' so not to damage spring bulbs and other emerging plants. I always have a fleet of robins following me round the garden when I'm doing this - eager to grab any insects which the blackbirds might have missed during their daily winter scratchings! I often use the back of the big fan rake for breaking up small lumps of soil very finely if I'm making a seedbed for sowing something like carrots. I don't use it for 'scarifying' the lawn - the hens do that! 
 
 
Apart from these - the end of a handle of anything that's handy is used like a 'draw' hoe to make seed drills for carrots etc. and a broken old hand brush used to lightly back-fill the soil along the drill after sowing - and cleaning mud off the top of the planks along the sides of the raised beds to discourage rotting. A line of old baler twine is used for marking out straight lines and a 'ruler' of 2in x 1inch rough timber is marked with permanent marker every 6inches so that I can space plants correctly - I hate higgledy-piggledy planting and like to plant in patterns! (yes - control-freakish I know - but each to his own!). One thing I never economise on - but try to buy in sales - is a good strong pair of leather gloves for pruning thorny fruit bushes like gooseberries. I just wish they would make them in three's - with two right hands - as I'm always taking off the right hand one to use the secateurs more easily - shoving them in my pocket and then losing them somewhere in the garden! I swear there's a garden gremlin down in the wood somewhere with a stash of right-handed expensive leather gloves - either that or the dogs have eaten them!


My 'toy' mower!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My 'toy' mower!
Easy mowing! The grass has been growing almost all winter so far - it grows at a much lower temperature than most things - so I actually did some one handed mowing a few days ago as it had dried out really well in the cold wind. Someone very kindly broke the key start on my mower the year before last - and since then I'd been getting more and more frustrated having to wait until someone was around who could do the pull start for me. My neck and back problems just won't allow me to do this any more - it's really asking for serious trouble - so it's one of the very few occasions l when I do actually have to admit defeat and give in (which I really hate)!  As you know I use grass clippings for mulching quite a lot - I also have quite a lot of grass to mow - so I need to be able to do it when I have time and the weather's suitable - not when there just happens to be someone about to start the mower for me! I was actually beginning to get quite stressed by the thought that I might not be able to manage the garden on my own for much longer.- when three years ago - looking up the price of new key start mowers on the web (horrifying!) - I came across the most wonderful little battery powered machine. The Bosch Rotak 34 LI. It's a push button start with a rechargeable battery - rather than nasty polluting petrol which inevitably runs out and I then have to drive down to the village to get more!  It really appealed to me - so I went ahead and ordered one knowing I could always send it back if necessary! When it arrived and was unpacked there were very sceptical looks from my family - it really looked more like a 'Fisher Price' toy mower!  Well - it was a total revelation! For me is the find of a lifetime! I absolutely love it. Light as a feather - I can push it with one hand just like a hoover - in fact it's lighter and quieter than a hoover! I didn't get the wider biggest model because the details said it could mow very close to edges - so I though it might be ideal for my grass paths between the raised beds which are only about 20ins wide - and it does a  perfectly neat job - right up to the plank edges. (In an organic garden it's important to keep grass paths very short if you have them so that you don't provide places for slugs to hide!)


It's also the very first thing I've found in over 35 years that will mow quite safely and very neatly right up close to the sides of a polytunnel as you can see here. Over the years I've tried all sorts of ways of keeping grass and weeds down along the outside of the tunnel but strimming was too dangerous, flame gunning obviously out and clipping by hand laborious and back breaking. Now it takes me just 15 minutes to go round the outside edges of both tunnels - letting more light in, looking really tidy and giving slugs nowhere to hide! Although it's not self-propelled so doesn't go along on it's own - I don't find it difficult to push despite my dodgy neck and back - it's more a knack you get used to - you can always push with your midriff and just steer with your hands when necessary. The only time it feels a little heavy is when the grass box is really full - as despite what the makers say - it will actually cut and pick up quite wet grass! It will also tackle really long stuff with the box off - particularly if it's dry - and I'm afraid I've often used it more like a strimmer with wheels - something I'm always wishing I had!  It will mow really fine grass very low - leaving it almost like a billiard table - and it even does stripes with it's permanent little roller behind!  I've never had a striped lawn before!! Some people might complain that it will only do 25 mins before it needs recharging - for an hour and a half - but that's ideal for me any more would be too much. As it is - it gives me a nice walking workout and then tells me when to stop - which I wouldn't otherwise do and then would overdo it!  I can then go off and do something else while it recharges and it's ready to use again in an hour and a half. I just wish Bosch would invent a really big one that would go under it's own steam - then I could mow the meadow and orchard paths as well!  It's definitely not the cheapest mower you can find - but it's by far the lightest and easiest ever to use - and for me it's utterly brilliant. The poor little thing's certainly survived the ultimate testing from hell here!!  It's stood up to endless abuse! If you're thinking of getting a new mower - I really can't recommend it highly enough.
 
 
Dealing with weeds on paths without weedkillers.  
 
One tool I'm desperately missing right now is my flame weeder which I've had for 30 years. It's brilliant for keeping paths tidy as long as you remember to protect box edging etc. with a board or something similar. The same (mower) person broke it!! They just couldn't get the idea of simply passing over weeds to wilt them - before going over again in a couple of days to finish the job - despite lengthy instructions!  I won't be sexist here - but why do some 'people' always think they know better? With the result that they melted the head off it!  Flame weeders are brilliant because they kill weed seeds as well - leaving ground really clean. If there is the odd dock or two in a path - I find that chopping it's head off down low to the root with an old kitchen knife and then putting some salt on top a couple of times works. What many people don't realise when they're spending money on dangerous and expensive so-called 'kill all' chemical weedkillers like 'Roundup' (Glyphosate) etc .is that weedkillers don't actually kill weed seeds! So the minute you turn over the soil more just come up again! Weedkillers also pollute groundwater, kill soil life and also aquatic life like tadpoles, frogs and fish etc. Someone working on a friend's farm 2 years ago was badly affected when stupidly spraying without wearing protection - and ended up very seriously ill in hospital. All of these weedkillers are very serious EDC's (endocrine disrupting chemicals) which interfere with the hormones that regulate all our body's functions, causing cancer and many other illnesses. That person will doubtless have ongoing effects on his central nervous system and possibly his major organs for the rest of his life! Those poisons aren't safe just because the makers and the people selling them tell you they are! Many of them were inadequately tested when they were originally approved back in the 1970's in some cases - and yet they continue to be sold. Remember - they are designed to kill other forms of life that we share many of our genes with - forget that at your peril! Even the vapour coming off them on the shelves in garden centres is dangerous. If you can smell it - then you're breathing it in, whether you like it or not. If garden centres have to sell the stuff then they should store it in their coolest places away from direct sunlight - but I've seen it in several places on shelves in the heat of full sunlight. You shouldn't be forced to walk past it to get to plants or other things - you can smell it a mile away!! Complain if you see this - or just don't visit those garden centres in future if they ignore requests to move it elsewhere!

 
New Year's day posy
New Year's day posy
A New Year's Day posy. On the first of January every year I always take a walk round the garden whatever the weather and pick a tiny posy to put in my little bud vase (an old ink bottle) to put on my kitchen table to cheer me up - the rose - 'Bengal crimson' - was given to me by the late Rosemary Brown - who had a beautiful garden near Bray in Co. Wicklow. Every time I see a robin I'm reminded of her. She always had one that would trustingly come and eat out of your hand if you held up a few peanuts. A quite magical experience that I was lucky enough to enjoy when visiting her!  Last winter was the very first time that I had ever seen 'Bengal Crimson' without a flower. I thought I'd lost it - but it recovered after a while. All summer long it's elegant single flowers are a deep, rich, velvety crimson which contrasts beautifully with the inner boss of gold dusted stamens. During most winters it will go on flowering in all but the very coldest weather - but tends to be paler. It's an old China rose hybrid - the China roses were bred with our native wild roses and others centuries ago to produce the first repeat flowering hybrid roses - the forerunners of many of our modern garden roses today. The iris pictured here is Iris Lazica - given to me by my dear friend the late Wendy Walsh - a well known botanical artist. She gave me some of it when she was painting it for the Kew magazine. Plants are such lovely living memories to treasure. There are a lot of flowers scenting the garden on milder days at the moment, things like Daphne and lily-of-the-valley scented Mahonias, which are already tempting one or two adventurous bees out to forage. It's lovely to hear their buzz again - it makes spring feel just that little bit closer.
 
 

Bee-friendly flowers for winter.  

As bumble bees don't hibernate - on mild days they'll come out looking for a midwinter snack - so it's really important to have some flowers which produce pollen and nectar for them. On 11th Jan. as I walking back into the house after sitting up in the tunnel with my morning coffee - I heard that distinctive bumble buzz and saw my very first one of the year on a flower of Clematis Armandii over the back door. I hadn't actually noticed that a few of it's first flowers were already open - but the bees had! Clematis Armandii has a beautiful almond scent which wafts all round the garden on mild days. In the courtyard outside the back door there are witch hazels, the beautiful lemon/cinnamony scented shrubs Daphne bholua and Lonicera purpusii (the winter flowering honeysuckle) and also the slightly more tender but deliciously coconut-scented coronilla. Appropriate scents for plants growing outside the kitchen door!  Winter flowers aren't just important for bees - they're important for us too - they really cheer us up just when we need it most. My walled south west facing courtyard is what I call my 'winter garden' with lots of things like Hellebores flowering right opposite the kitchen window where I can see them without venturing out into the cold. Hellebores produce masses of pollen and bees really love them. The great thing about most winter flowering plants is that so many of them flower for quite a long time - depending on the weather - and there are a surprising number of perennial plants and shrubs which normally flower at this time of year, even in quite hard winters. Even late last night - despite the frost - the witch hazels in the courtyard were scenting the surrounding air. In the tunnel, I find that Bowles perennial wallflower is the most reliable all winter long - there's always a few flowers on it. Feverfew is good - early narcissi and primroses flower even earlier in the tunnel too. If you plan well - it's quite possible to have flowers in your garden to delight you and to produce food for bees and other insects all year round - in even the coldest of weather!

 

Why flowers are important in an organic garden 

For those of you who think that perhaps flowers aren't relevant in a serious food-producing garden - or that you have to be a bit 'girly' or a 'garden geek' to grow them - you couldn't be more wrong! They are just important as the vegetables!  By providing pollen, nectar and seeds - flowers actually help to establish a more naturally balanced and diverse ecosystem - attracting all sorts of bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects vital for pollination and pest control. Those insects then bring in other associated wildlife, like birds, hedgehogs and frogs - which also help to control garden pests. Right now bees in particular really need our help - they're in serious decline - due mainly to habitat loss and chemical pesticides. It's absolutely crucial to look after all of our native bee species - particularly those that don't hibernate in the winter, and as such are even more vulnerable. Flowers are actually a vital part of a whole balanced ecosystem in a properly working and successful organic garden. You don't have to be a 'garden geek' to take pleasure in growing beautiful things in your garden either - or to enjoy watching the bees and butterflies that also love them. They have a definite psychological effect on us - something important which is very often underestimated or even overlooked completely!


The value of pollinators.

The latest research at East Malling Research station in Kent (experts for many years in fruit growing) showed that fruit set was up to 40% higher where bumblebee nest boxes were used in the 'flight cages' where they were monitoring the pollination of blackcurrants. They counted 13 different species of solitary bees and bumblebees foraging for pollen and nectar - none of which were honeybees! They say this proves to growers just how crucial it is to provide more 'wild bee-friendly' habitats. Sadly they didn't however go so far as to say that it's not a good idea to use chemical sprays either!!  There's not much point in providing habitats to attract bees if you're then going to use pesticides which may quite possibly kill them!


Keep feeding your resident birds now - and making sure they have clean water to bathe and drink. They're already gearing up now for the busy breeding season ahead - establishing their territories and scouting for the best nest sites. I watched two sparrows playing tug of war with a long piece of hay the other day, it was very comical. They were obviously trying to grab the best nesting material already! Take the dangerous nets off fat balls if you use them as birds can get their legs caught in them and die. REMEMBER - HELPING WILDLIFE HELPS YOUR GARDEN TO WORK MUCH BETTER- and adds to your quality of life too!



In the last few weeks a song thrush has taken up residence again on the tallest ash tree at the top end of the tunnels - his joyous and beautiful liquid notes are an echo of my past - like the music of the Pied Piper to me. They are an increasingly rare treat. 
 
"That’s the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over, 
Lest you should think he never could recapture 
The first fine careless rapture!" 
 
Robert Browning - "Home thoughts from abroad"
 
I'm off outside to see if I can catch a brief glimpse of that shy, sleekly-spotted, melodic troubadour now - before dusk falls!

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