Chris's Weblog – City Chickens

Mice in The Garden?

The header picture is Chico Grande, one of our many cats over the years at this house. She is long gone but was a mouser and would often present a mouse or a young bird to us.

We have noticed that we have been having mice in the garden since last Autumn. I am assuming that the fact that we have chickens is probably the main reason as they have a regular source of food and bedding plus warm hidey holes under the chicken houses. They are very attractive little creatures and although I am aware that they breed prolifically, I am loathe to do anything cruel to them.

The Wood Mouse

The wood mouse is sometimes known as the long-tailed field mouse and is widespread; it is probably most common in woodland, rough grassland and gardens. It is mostly nocturnal and an agile climber. Wood mice will gather food stores of berries and seeds in the autumn, which they keep in underground burrows or sometimes in old birds’ nests. Females have up to six litters a year of between four and eight young, and may even breed over winter if food is abundant.

Wood Mouse

The wood mouse is golden-brown, with a pale underside, large ears and eyes, and a long tail. It is bigger than the harvest mouse, and browner in colour than the house mouse.

The wood mouse is our commonest mouse and the one you are most likely to find in your garden. Because of this, it often falls prey to domestic cats, foxes and owls; in fact, tawny owls may not breed if wood mouse numbers are low as it restricts their diet. The Wildlife Trust

Laura has noticed that she has lost quite a few seeds and young plants from her greenhouse too.

This is only the second year that we haven’t had a family cat or two as our old girls and boys finally died and we haven’t replaced them. I can only assume that, although I was never happy when the cats brought me a mouse, the cats must have acted as a deterrent to the mice.

On the positive side, since the cats died, we have many more small birds inhabiting the garden now too.

Field Mice

Gardens are ideal habitats for these small mammals as they provide plenty of cover and a wide range of food sources. Sometimes, however, they come into conflict with gardeners when they eat highly valued plants, seeds and bulbs. When populations peak mice are more likely to become a nuisance in the garden. Mice are small mammals that sometimes feed on garden plants. They are shy nocturnal animals so there could be more of them in your garden than you suspect. Which Magazine.

Field Mouse

Field mice commonly live in gardens, where their vegetarian diet can cause problems for gardeners. For most of the year their numbers tend to remain low. However, in autumn they can build up high populations and cause a great deal of damage into early winter. Which Magazine

A wild, green garden full of colour and life is far more rewarding for both people and wildlife than a grey square of paving slabs and our garden is definitely a paradise for wildlife so I suppose we should welcome these creatures. Following a bit of online research, I think maybe our tiny lodgers must be Wood Mice.

Hmmmmmmm. Should I get a kitten?

Copper Beech-Fagus Sylvatica

Copper Beech Fagus Sylvatica?

This young tree was presented to me by Sean and Deb, my son and his partner, following their move to a new house. I believe it was in the garden already in a pot so they brought it here. It is a beautiful thing with striking colouring and looks very healthy. It survived the winter and though I was concerned that it looked a bit dead early on in the Spring it is now a pleasure to behold. I had heard of a copper beech of course but had no idea of the size that it might grow to.

On researching this species I have found that as well as large trees this can be used as hedging. I am also confused as to whether I actually have a Copper Beech or a Purple Beech.

Fagus Atropunicea

Fagus Atropunicea – purple beech – creates a beautiful, dense hedge with attractive copper purple, oval wavy-edged foliage that changes throughout the season with small white flowers in spring. A very rewarding hedge they have been known to bring wildlife into the garden as well. The Purple Beech is a very popular choice as a standalone specimen and makes a great alternative to fences or walls when grown as hedges.  It has stunning dark purple-red foliage in the spring, turning into a dark green-bronze gradually over the year. They will grow perfectly well in either sun or partial shade and thrive on almost any well-drained soil. Monoecious, meaning both male and female flowers grow on the same tree. In April and May, the copper beech’s tassel-like male catkins hang from long stalks at the end of twigs, while female flowers grow in pairs, surrounded by a cup.

Fagus – Beech

Fagus – Beech is a traditional English Tree. They have lovely green or copper purple, oval foliage that changes to yellow and then a rich russet brown in Autumn. They do tend to keep hold of some of the leaves during the Winter months but they are mainly a deciduous plant. The leaves then start to bud up around February / March time and the leaves open from April onwards depending on the weather. Monoecious, meaning both male and female flowers grow on the same tree. In April and May, the copper beech’s tassel-like male catkins hang from long stalks at the end of twigs, while female flowers grow in pairs, surrounded by a cup.info from Grasslands Nursery.

Well for the moment I think my Copper Beech? or Purple Beech? Fagus Sylvatica? or Fagus Atropunicea? will be staying in its pot and looking beautiful.

On further research, I came across this information. Copper Beech, also known as Purple Beech, is a cultivated form of common beech. It grows to a height of more than 40m. The bark is smooth, thin and grey, often with slight horizontal etchings. Twigs are slender and grey but not straight, their shape resembles a zig-zag. Torpedo-shaped leaf buds are coppery and up to 2cm in length with a distinctive criss-cross pattern.

40 m. Oh dear. Well unless I win the lottery and move to a big house this tree will stay in its pot for a few years.

Beech

Sambucus Nigra – Black Lace

Elder

I have wanted one of these plants for a while and last year Laura turned up with a beautiful young plant that has come on really well this year. The new leaves have emerged green but are changing to deep burgundy and already has flowers. I have placed it into the sun.

Multiple stems are crowned with flattened heads of fragrant pink, lightly perfumed, flowers that complement the dark foliage. Later in the season, glossy black elderberries appear that are traditionally used in preserves and homemade drinks.

Sambucus nigra Black Lace has very finely cut, almost black foliage, which is the perfect foil to the pink blooms in late Spring and early Summer. In autumn its leaves turn a rich red. To produce the best coloured leaves prune plants back to ground level every year in early spring. Nigra works well when planted on its own or as part of a hedge.

For best results grow Sambucus nigra Black Lace in moist but well drained soil in full sun to partial shade. However, it will tolerate waterlogged or very chalky ground.

Aquilegia vulgaris Collection Columbine

Over the years I have gathered quite a few varieties of Aquilegia Vulgaris from the very first seeds given to me many many years ago by my Sister-in-law Janice who had gathered them from her Mothers garden one Autumn. Her mother has long gone but I think of her often when these flowers start to bloom.

Just like Joyce these flowers are hardy and no nonsense. They look after themselves and pop up year after year to bring colour to the garden. There are so many varieties and hybrids so my wish list is very long.

You can start Columbine flowers from seeds or buy young plants. Seeds should be sown throughout spring. The seeds need light to germinate so simply press them on the soil surface and lightly cover with soil. Germination is about 30 days and because Aquilegia is a perennial it will take two years from planting the seeds for them to bloom.

Most varieties of Columbine plants will bloom for at least four weeks. They look delicate but are tougher than they appear. They tend to be short-lived perennials but self seed and spread bringing pleasure and colour to your garden for years.

Varieties of Columbine include dwarf varieties that are just 6 inches tall as well as large varieties that are more than 3 feet tall with large flowers. Keep in mind that Aquilegia varieties readily cross-pollinate. If you plant more than one variety be prepared to see new colors and combinations.

Aquilegia is a genus of about 60–70 species of perennial plants that are found in meadows, woodlands, and at higher altitudes throughout the Northern Hemisphere, known for the spurred petals of their flowers. The genus name Aquilegia is derived from the Latin word for eagle (aquila), because of the shape of the flower petals, which are said to resemble an eagle’s claw. The common name “columbine” comes from the Latin for “dove”, due to the resemblance of the inverted flower to five doves clustered together.

Aquilegia Vulgaris William Guiness

Also, known as Magpie, this variety has purple-black flowers with contrasting white centres in late spring and early summer above fern-like, mid-green leaves. The unusual flowers of this old fashioned columbine creates an eye-catching display. The plant self seeds freely.

Aquilegia William Guiness

Aquilegia Vulgaris Pink Flamingo

This is a large flowering pink variety. Appearing in late Spring it is a new columbine variety. Coming quite true from seed it should be planted away from other Aquilegia with which it could hybridise.

Aquilegia Pink Flamingo

Aquilegia Vulgaris Crystal Star

Aquilegia Crystal Star is a long spurred aquilegia with pure white flowers. A cottage garden favourite and an excellent and unusual cut flower possessing a clean crisp bright whiteness. “This has to be one of the easiest and most rewarding Perennials available producing masses pure brilliant white flowers with stunning spurs”. so says the company that I bought the seeds from so I hope so as this is the first year that I have sown them and I am hoping for them to become a permanent presence in the garden.

Aquilegia Vulgaris Blue Bird

From the Songbird series this blue Aquilegia is one of my favourite flowers in the garden. Such a perfect blue.

The songbird series is a range with compact habit and very large flowers with bright clean flower colours. A clump-forming perennial which forms a basal rosette of foliage and from May to July huge flowers with long spurs produced on strong upright stems. Varieties still to add to my collection from the Songbird Series are Goldfinch, Nightingale, Cardinal, Bunting, Early Bird and Chaffinch.

The Songbird hybrid series has a long history that started back in the 1980’s, and it’s story involves at least two breeding programs. The breeders used many species and selections in creating this mix. McKanna Giants formed the foundation of this complex cross. Breeders also reportedly used A. skinneri, A. californica, A. chrysantha, A. canadensis and a number of other strains. It’s a real mix, but is still sold under the botanic name of Aquilegia caerulea, as this remains the primary species used in the strain.

Aquilegia Bluebird

Aquilegia Wild Variety

A perennial often found at woodland edges and roadsides, long stalked with long-spurred blue-violet flowers. This variety grows to a height of 60cm and prefers damp woodland. It flowers during June and July. The foliage is very pretty.

Wild Columbine

Aquilegia Crimson Star

Crimson Star hybrida has striking red and white flowers. Columbines are attractive foliage plants that grow well in fertile soil in the sun or partial to full shade.

Aq Crimson Star

Cranesbill Cantabrigiense St. Ola

This cranesbill is an improved form of  Geranium cantabrigiense Biokovo which holds the white flowers for longer before ageing to pink.  It is an Alan Bremner hybrid, bred and named in Orkney.  A cross between G. dalmaticum ‘Album’ and G. macrorrhizum Album with aromatic, evergreen, glossy green leaves. It grows well in most soils, is low growing and forms good ground cover. 

I bought this plant as a bare root from wilko.com and it seems to be growing as it should. Unlike the tulips that I bought from there as pale pink and white that turned out a beautiful cerise colour. It was a slow starter but is now looking very good with a good amount of healthy bronze leaves. I am looking forward to flowers this year as it is supposed to bloom from May till first frost. It is listed as deciduous but perennial so hopefully will reappear next spring. All I have to do now is decide whether to keep it in the pot or put it into the border.

Cranesbill is very easy to manage.  Remove old overwintered leaves in spring, tidying up any damaged by winter weather.  Propagate by division in spring.  Pest and disease resistant. This will be the last of my cranesbill collection for a while. I have Beth Chato already in flower at present and more to look forward to.

Common Garden Frog

….did someone say frogs?..

We have waited patiently for years for the frogs to appear in our garden pond. We did have frogspawn last year and during the summer saw some tiny frogs appearing but this year our patience has been rewarded with evidence of a resident group of our very own frog family. Garden slugs look out! We have moved all the chickens to their own enclosure now as they would eat the frogs.

Common frogs have smooth skin that varies in colour from grey, olive green and yellow to brown. They have irregular dark blotches, a dark stripe around their eyes and eardrum, and dark bars on their legs. They are able to lighten or darken their skin to match their surroundings.

This species is widespread in mainland Britain and can be spotted in the garden from March to October. Common frogs are most active at night and hibernate during the winter in pond mud or under piles of rotting leaves, logs or stones. They can breathe through their skin as well as their lungs. They can emerge to forage during warm spells.

Males can be distinguished from females by the hard swellings, called nuptial pads, on their first fingers. The nuptial pads are used for gripping females when mating. Males also possess paired vocal sacs, which the females lack.

In spring males croak to attract females. The male embraces a female and fertilises her eggs as she lays them in shallow, still water. Frogspawn is a familiar sight in Spring. Tadpoles hatch and over about 16 weeks gradually change into froglets, a process known as metamorphosis.

Adult frogs eat insects that they catch with their long, sticky tongue plus snails, slugs and worms. Young tadpoles feed on algae, but then become carnivorous. Frogs cannot swallow, so they ‘push’ their food down by using their large eyes, this means they must close their eyes to swallow.

Outside of the breeding season, common frogs live a solitary life in damp places near ponds or in long grass. They are normally active for much of the year only hibernating in the coldest months. In the British Isles common frogs hibernate from late October to January. They can re-emerge as early as February if conditions are favourable and migrate to bodies of water to spawn. Common frogs hibernate in running water, muddy burrows or layers of decaying leaves and mud at the bottom of ponds. The oxygen uptake through the skin suffices to sustain the needs of the cold and motionless frogs during hibernation. In the wild the Common frog has a life span of around 8 years.

Evergreen Climbing Plants

In botany, an evergreen is a plant that has leaves throughout the year that are always green. This is true even if the plant retains its foliage only in warm climates, as opposed to deciduous plants that completely lose their foliage during the winter or dry season.

Clematis & Jasmine

I already have a few clematis in the garden that I have accumulated over the years but none of my current collection is evergreen. I also have a very old Jasmine which has served me well for many years but seems to have gone very woody at its base but I am hopeful of flowers this year nevertheless.

I recently bought a trio of evergreen climbers from smartplantapp.com and they were sourced from http://www.guernsey-clematis.com/. Smart plant has been set up by an enterprising chap who could see a problem and came up with an answer to it.

Guernsey Clematis is a wholesale nursery that is struggling during the pandemic lockdown as most of the garden centres that they supply are closed. Take a look at the website. I am truly impressed by how efficiently it is being run. Very futuristic things are happening there and it gives me hope for the future of growing in this country. I decided to help in my way by making a small purchase. There are two clematis and one jasmine in the bundle that I chose.

The genus Clematis can be a deciduous or an evergreen shrub/climber or an herbaceous perennial. They mostly climb by twining and clinging to trellis or trees and come in many varieties. The choice is endless with some beautiful colours and types of flower. Most also have attractive fluffy seedheads in the autumn.

Jasmine is a genus of shrubs and vines in the olive family. It contains around 200 species native to tropical and warm temperate regions of Eurasia and Oceania. Jasmines are widely cultivated for the characteristic fragrance of their flowers.

Star Jasmine

Star Jasmine

Star jasmine, Trachelospermum jasminoides is a woody, evergreen climber with rich, dark green leaves that turn bronze in winter. From mid to late summer, pure white, fragrant flowers are produced. It can be grown against a wall in milder climates or in a greenhouse or conservatory in areas prone to severe frosts.

Clematis cirrhosa Wisley Cream

Clematis Wisley Cream

The Cirrhosa Group of clematis are evergreen woody climbers with bell shaped single flowers, produced from late autumn to early spring on the previous year’s growth. The variety Wisley Cream is a large evergreen climber with divided, toothed glossy dark green leaves which are bronze in winter. It has pale cream flowers that can bloom from autumn to early spring followed by silky seedheads.

The variety was introduced to the UK in the 1970’s after being raised by the late Ken Aslet at the RHS garden in Wisley from seed collected in Southern Europe. Although it is Cirrhosa, Wisley Cream can go dormant during the Summer but it will produce glossy foliage over the Winter months and flower during mid to late Winter.

Clematis Kimiko

Clematis Kimiko

I am assured that this special evergreen clematis is one of the easiest of all to grow. Apparently, apart from the removal of the odd broken branch in spring, Kimiko needs no pruning at all. It is vigorous, hardy and healthy. It should produce fragrant flowers from early spring to summer over the entire height of the plant. Perfect for growing on an obelisk in a large pot in a tree or on a fence. Whilst best in a sunny location it prefers its roots in the shade. I have the perfect pot and obelisk for this tiny new plant and can’t wait for it to be 4ft tall and covered in flowers.

A new introduction from the Evison/Poulsen breeding program this compact evergreen climber produces abundant spring flowers year after year. info from Guernsey Clematis.

I really hope that this company will continue to serve the public after things get back to normal, Whatever that may turn out to be.

Can’t wait

Swiss Chard White Silver

Swiss Chard White Silver

I have sown seeds of white swiss chard today, May 1st, as I came across them whilst looking for herbs. Swiss Chard is a favourite of mine that we grew every year at the allotment. It is a very giving plant and needs very little maintenance once established. It is a member of the beet family. When we visited the allotment after being away for a whole year the chard was still there looking as healthy and inviting as ever. Day 7 and a few green shoots have appeared in the Chard pot. Potted on today 24th of May.

The variety of chard that I had seeds of is White Silver which has wide white stems. The early leaves can be used in salads. Later, use the tops as you would use spinach. Treated as a separate vegetable the stems can be sliced and cooked in boiling water and eaten with butter, salt and pepper – simple, tender and tasty.

I prefer to chop the whole stem and leaf and toss it in the pan with a little oil and lemon juice. Put the sliced stem in first and cook a little before adding the leaf as it takes a little longer to soften whereas the leaf wilts very quickly. Add a splash of balsamic vinegar. Perfect beside fish or steak.

Swiss Chard White Silver

White Silver is a classic Swiss Chard with thick white stems and glossy, rich green leaves. With an RHS Award of Garden Merit, this robust leaf beet is a versatile addition to the vegetable plot or even the flower border. Baby leaves can be used in salads while the juicy, mature stems can be chopped and steamed, or used to add a sweet crunch to stir-fries. Mature leaves can be used as a delicious spinach substitute. Sow Swiss Chard ‘White Silver’ up until August for cropping into the New Year. Thompson&Morgan.

Swiss Chard

Finally, Swiss Chard is very good for you being naturally low in calories and carbohydrates but very high in Vitamins K, A and C. A diet rich in a variety of vegetables and fruits has been shown to lower heart disease risk factors, Swiss chard is an excellent source of potassium, calcium and magnesium, minerals that help maintain healthy blood pressure. There is also current research that indicates that these leafy greens can actually lower LDL cholesterol.

Herbs – Parsley, Sage and Thyme

Inspired by Gardeners World I have sown a pot of mixed herbs. Just one large pot. The lady on TV had plenty of ready grown herbs and was potting them up into a large container. Expensive, instant herb garden. I only had a ten-inch pot and a few old seed packets plus a new bag of multi-purpose compost. I have searched through my seedbox and I don’t have any Rosemary seeds to make up the foursome.

The seeds are sown and now on the window ledge. I have watered them and enclosed the pot in a polythene bag to preserve the moisture. I estimate that germination should take place between two and four weeks.

Sage Broad Leaved

The perennial broad leaved variety of Sage that I have sown takes a little longer to germinate. I have grown this variety before at the allotment and as I remember it formed a beautiful shrubby bush with downy grey-green leaves and purple flowers. The taste is strong and distinctive and the aroma is wonderful. I will be happy if I manage to get one bush for the garden as the seeds are quite old.

The leaves of this herb are usually mixed with onion and breadcrumbs to make a delicious stuffing for pork or chicken. However, its unique taste and aroma enhance the flavour of many dishes.

Sage

Only seven days have passed and already many green shoots have appeared.

Parsley Italian Giant

Parsley comes in two main types, flat leaved and curly leaved. The seeds I had are of a flat-leaved variety and are the ones I prefer to use in cooking. The variety that I have sown is Italian Giant. This parsley has a distinctive flavour and is good with fish, salads and soups. It is easy to grow indoors or outdoors, as it is very hardy with good frost resistance.

Flat Parsley

Thyme English Winter

The variety of Thyme I have sown is English Winter. Thymus Vulgaris is a hardy evergreen perennial with dark green leaves that are followed by clusters of small pink flowers. This herb hails from the Mediterranean and can be picked all year round. The active ingredient in the leaves is Thymol which lends the herb its strong flavour and antiseptic properties. Thyme is used in cooking to flavour meat and stews. It is the classic herb used in bouquet garni and enhances the taste of most meats.

Thyme

In addition to livening up the flavour of food, the thyme plant is also the source of thyme essential oil. Thyme oil has antifungal, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties. It is commonly used as a preservative in foods, cosmetics, and toiletries.

Zinnia Elegans – Sowing Seeds

Zinnia is a genus of plants of the sunflower tribe within the daisy family. They are native to scrub and dry grassland in an area stretching from the Southwestern United States to South America, with a centre of diversity in Mexico. Wikipedia

For early flowers Zinnia seeds can be sown under glass in early spring. Fill a seed tray or pot with compost and cover with a sprinkling of vermiculite or compost. Water moderately and when the seedlings are large enough to handle pot on and harden off before planting outside.

Alternatively, sow seeds thinly a quarter of an inch deep in a sunny bed in the garden. Wait until after all risk of frost has passed. Germination should take place in 7-14 days.

Zinnia are perfect for cut flowers. They should flower from early June until the first frost. I am going to try to sow them directly into the border this year. They like a sunny but sheltered position and once germinated don’t like to be moved. I have seeds of both Green Envy and Polar Bear.

Green Envy – The colour of this summer blooming annual Zinnia is a bright chartreuse green and acts as a wonderful foil to richer shades.

Zinnia elegans ‘Envy’

Polar Bear – A bright white double flower that shines out in the border.

Zinnia Polar Bear

Save seeds at the end of the season and in a couple of generations of seeds you will have developed your own strain of zinnia naturally selected to perform well in your conditions. Simply clip off a dried flower head from each flower type that you want to save. Pull the flower apart and remove the seeds inside or simply put the whole blossom full of seeds into an envelope. Seal and identify the flower colour. Keep the seeds in a cool, dry place until it is time to plant next year.