Chris's Weblog – City Chickens

Photos by Glenn and Laura

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

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.

Changes In The Garden

Our modest garden is split into three sections. The woodland garden. A strip along the side of the house which is shady and is planted up with trees, climbers and woodland plants. The garden at the back of the house and the chicken area.

Shady Garden

The Back Garden

The main back garden, and the area that I can see from the big window in my office, is the main area where the growing goes on and has been reinvented many times over the forty-eight years that my family has lived here. At the back of this garden, there is a shed that, up until today, housed the chickens that I bought last Spring as day olds, but as from today they have been moved to the chicken area. We now have seventeen chickens. seven Silkies; three Pekins; two Araucanas; three Welbars; and two Wybars.

Chickens

2 Araucanas and 3 pekins
Wybar Cockerel Jack
Black Pekin Jet
Silkie Chick

The next big project for us will be to renovate the shed. Clean out all the bedding, varnish inside and weatherproof the outside. Sean fixed the roof last year for me so that should last a while. Laura’s plastic greenhouse is adjacent to the shed and in front of the greenhouse is the area where the pond is.

The Pond

The pond has really come into its own now and is teeming with life. I lost quite a few of the plants that I had planted around the pond last year so we need to do a bit of planning and improve the planting.

The pond has come on a lot since this photo
Elephants Ear
Viola Sororia Freckles
Baby Frog

Spring Bulbs In Pots

At present many of our plants are in pots and containers and I would like to increase the depth of the borders and get some of the plants into the ground instead. I have enjoyed the spring bulbs in pots so I shall do that again next year as they are easy to place around when they are at their best then move away when they go over.

Honey Bells
Allium
Tete-a-Tete
Tulip
Crocus Purple King

Perrenials

This year I have bought in some perennials and we have grown some from seed too so I am hoping to stock up the borders with them and cut down on maintenance.

Wax Flower
Japanese Anemone Pink
Erysimum Yellow Bird
Spectabilis
Kafir Lily
Astrantia Shaggy
Peony

Wild Bird Visitors

We have quite a few wild birds visiting the garden. There are a pair of Blue Tits nesting in Laura’s nest box again this year and as its right outside my window, I have a good view of the coming and going.

This baby fledgling lost his way

Our Woodland Garden

No, I haven’t won the lottery and moved house. I still live in a 70’s semi on a suburban estate. I do, however, have a shady bit of garden alongside the house that I have had several failed attempts to plant up. For the last two years, I have been planting with woodland shade loving plants and today I am feeling very pleased with how it is looking. We already have two established fruit trees, an apple and a plum, also some old, tall shrub roses plus a climber that have survived from my rose bed attempts in the past.

Primrose

Last year my son Sean came over and removed an enormous fir tree and an old silver birch from this area and the difference it has made to the number of flowers popping up is incredible. There was a pink Clematis Montana already there and Deb bought me a mile a minute vine and both have romped away with all the extra light and moisture that is there now the big trees are gone.

For the last two years, I have been underplanting with shade loving plants such as primroses, cyclamen, foxgloves, bluebells and whitebells, lily of the valley, hostas, forget-me-nots, marigolds, cranesbill, epimedium and aubretia. Its 19th May and there is a lot of growth. I am very pleased.

Whitebells
forget-me-not
Epimedium

Easter Sunday 12th Apr 2020

The number of people who have died in hospital with COVID-19 in the UK passes 10,000, after a daily rise of 737. (10,612)

Its the time of the year to sow seeds of Courgette and Squash. I have quite a few seeds in the seedbox and this morning’s plan was to get them sown into 3″ pots of damp compost. I plan to sow some Hunter Butternut Squash, Courgettes Tromboncino, Black Beauty, Zephyr, Tuscany and All Green Bush. Its a little late in the year but I am also planning to sow Green Bell Peppers and Pepper Sweet Banana.

Queuing to lay their egg

The chickens in the garden are absolutely oblivious to the virus and are laying happily. All queueing up for the same nest box with no thought of social distancing.

The death toll, combined with a busy day trying to order an online food shop plus cooking an Easter Sunday Roast, has meant that I am sitting here at the computer, dinner has been cooked, eaten and washing up done, the shopping is ordered for Wednesday at 7 am, My Herculean task for the day. ‘Herculean task’ seems to be the latest, constantly repeated phrase on the news at the moment. The government’s description of their continuing struggle to find PPE for the front line workers in the NHS.

I am now sitting looking at the seed packets but no sowing has been done. I feel weary so the sowing will have to be postponed until tomorrow.

Epimedium – Barrenwort

Last year I discovered a ground cover, spring flowering plant called Epimedium. I did a bit of research and eventually bought myself a good sized root of a white variety from Ashwood Nurseries. I potted it on and after flowering I divided it into three. I am hoping that it survived the chickens and the Winter. Today I plan to have a look at them and bring them indoors for a bit of tender loving care. It is listed as ground cover and is said to thrive in dappled shade. Visually the plant looks robust then surprisingly the flowers are very delicate. I really hope that I can get a good colony of these beauties into our garden.

Apparently this species is becoming more opopular because of the arrival of a new species from China and Japan. The Asiatic varieties require summer moisture whereas Europeans can be mainstays in dry shade. A Genus of more than 50 species of evergreen and deciduous rhizomatous perennials from the Mediterranean to temperate easten Asia. They are found in woodland, scrub and shady, rocky places which gives an idea of their preferences. Info from Burncoose Nurseries.

Some varieties have been in western cultivation for the last 150 years. There is now a wide array of new Chinese species being cultivated in the west, many of which have only recently been discovered, and some of which have yet to be named. There are also many older Japanese hybrids of the genus in cultivation. Few genera of plants have seen such a dramatic increase in newly discovered species, primarily thanks to the work of Mikinori Ogisu of Japan and Darrell Probst of Massachusetts. Most varieties are proving extraordinarily amenable to general garden and container cultivation. Wiki

This plant is getting more and more interesting . There are so many different types and colours that like the Cranesbill I am spoiled for choice and my wish list it growing daily.

There is an amazing article by Tony Avent on the RHS site that is a mine of information about this very interesting genus. Its called An Overview Of Epimedium and, written in 2010, is the best source of knowledge about Epimedium that I have come across.

https://www.rhs.org.uk/about-the-rhs/publications/the-plant-review/2010-issues/march/an-overview-of-epimedium.pdf

Spring 2020 – New plants

Cranesbill Pratense Mixed Seeds

Its 11th February 2020 and we have been potting up new bulbs, roots and corms. Lauras enthusiasm far exceeds mine and she has been obsessed with seeds and plants since January, just as I used to be before Adam was Poorly and eventually passed away on 20th February 2016.

I have to admit that I can get lost in messing about in the garden and find some sort of peace out there. At present the garden is far from beautiful. I still keep a few chickens and they have eaten quite a few plants over the Winter. This, added to my neglect, has meant there is a lot to do to bring it back to life.

An online foray onto Wilkos website saw me buying a few bare roots and corms plus some topsoil and compost. I bought Spectabilis, Dahlia, Gypsophila, Calla Lily and mixed Cranesbill seeds. Laura added roots of Agapanthus and Sea Holly.

Dicentra Spectabilis Alba – This white perennial dies back to below ground level each year in autumn and fresh new growth appears again in spring. If you can get a plant established it will bloom during April and May and can become fully hardy. Arching sprays of dainty, pure white, heart-shaped flowers appear in late spring above fresh green leaves. Easy to grow, this elegant plant is ideal as part of a cottage garden scheme. As long as the ground is kept moist it will thrive in full sun or partial shade.

Dicentras are northern hemisphere plants, growing from Asia to North America. In their natural habitat they are found in moist soils in the cool margins of woodlands. This dicentra was first introduced in 1816, then disappeared from cultivation but was reintroduced by plant collector Robert Fortune in 1846. It soon became one of the most popular garden plants. It is one of the earliest perennials to flower but the foliage does start to die back after flowering.

Calla Lily – Zantedeschia White – Caring for white calla lilies is different to caring for the colourful hybrid calla lilies. White callas are semi-aquatic and their rhizomes thirst for watering holes but their colorful cousins hail from higher ground and their tubers demand drainage.

Calla lilies prefer to grow in a sunny spot with rich, well drained soil. These tropical beauties also prefer slightly moist soil that’s rich in organic matter. If you are growing calla lily in containers use a commercial potting soil. Move the plants indoors before frost strikes in Autumn. I have planted a few of these before but think I have lost them. Time will tell.

Dahlias – I bought four Dahlia corms. The varieties are Perfect Match, Crazy Love, Avignon and Cantarino. Dahlia is a genus of bushy, tuberous, herbaceous perennial plants native to Mexico and Central America. A member of the Asteraceae family of dicotyledonous plants, its garden relatives include the sunflower, daisy, chrysanthemum, and zinnia.Wiki

Dahlia Cantarino
Dahlia Crazy Love
Dahlia Perfect Match

Gypsophila Paniculata – Babys Breath

Gypsophila paniculata is a species of flowering plant in the family Caryophyllaceae, native to central and eastern Europe. It is an herbaceous perennial growing tall and wide, with mounds of branching stems covered in clouds of tiny white flowers in summer.

Copyrighted Aad van Haaster

I have some seeds to start too but thought I would hedge my bets with a bare root. There were three good roots in the pack labelled one. I have a soft spot for this plant as it conjours up old memories of my mothers garden around the prefab where I grew up. She had a large old root that carried on giving for years and frothy sprays of which she used to add to bunches of pinks or carnations grown in the coal sleck beds which were our front garden. In season she sold these bunches to neighbours for a shilling. Always useful to slot into the electricity meter. I have tried and tried to create a similar strong root in my own garden over the years but so far to no avail. Maybe this will be the year.

Favourite Flower 2019 Gaura the Bride

Although this plant was started from seed last year, 2018, it didn’t come into its own until this Summer. This years favourite flower then is Gaura Lindheimeri, commonly known as Whirling Butterflies. The variety I have is white and called, The Bride.

It is such a lovely plant that, although I intend to propagate the plant I have, I intend to start more of the other varieties and colours. There is a dark pink variety, Belleza, that is smaller than mine and I am on the hunt for some seeds.

To propagate in July dip each gaura stem in powdered, gel or liquid rooting hormone, then plant the stems in the holes, just deep enough to stand upright. Pat the soil lightly around the stems. Be sure the leaves are not touching the soil.