Chris's Weblog – City Chickens

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

The Pond! At Last

We finally managed to get the old plastic pre formed  pond liner out and replace it with a heavy duty flexible liner and an under liner to protect it from any sharp stones. Rob did a good job of first lining the shape with sand too. It looks much better now and I have planted it up with the Lobelia Cardinalis Queen Victoria for now. I have also dotted a few creeping phlox and other low plants around plus planting a few Iris Riculata bulbs which I hope will survive the squirrels and the chickens and give us a bit of colour come next spring. Update –  22nd April 2018 – Although the Iris were few and far between this Spring, the creeping phlox are a great success and I have added Sedum and Aubretia this year.

 

Laura gathered a few seeds of Golden Eye Grass when we were in Devon at the end of September. This plant is said to be happy in a rockery and around a pond so I have just sown the seeds into the garden in the hope of raising a few plants. Update 22nd April 2018 – No sign of this grass yet so I have sown 24 seeds into a module for another try. Golden Eye Grass – Sisyrinchium californicum is a rhizomatous perennial herb producing a pale green stem which grows up to about 60 cm. The flat, narrow leaves are grass like. The flower has six tepals. They are bright yellow with brown veining. 

Sisyrinchium californicum, Golden Eye Grass produces a small clump of grass like foliage with a yellow star shaped flower. Usually this six petaled yellow flower blooms from April until the end of July. Its not actually in the grass family but is a member of the iris family. It grows well in rock gardens, cottage gardens, at the front of borders and along pathways.  It will naturalise and look good with other low-growing ground cover plants like creeping thyme or sedum.

Saxifrage Touran White – A new addition to the area around the pond. A beautiful plant which I love and so, unfortunately, do the new Silkie chickens. Saxifraga x arendsii ‘Touran White saxifrage is a low-growing evergreen perennial forming a neat cushion of green leaves topped in mid and late spring by masses of pure white flowers with bright yellow centres. 

By next Spring we should have a few more plants that can be placed around the pond. On the whole I am very happy with it and my hope is that it will attract wild life like frogs and newts into the garden.

Pond Update – 7th June 2018 – The pond is now well established and I have added a few oxygenating plants including duckweed that floats on the top. We had no luck with attracting any frogs so I have been given a couple of gifts of frog spawn and tadpoles to give it a kick start.

Pond Update –  22nd June 2018 – We have frogs!!!!!

 

Scaevola Topaz Pink – Aemula


Laura went out yesterday and came back with a pot of Scaevola Topaz Pink, I had never come across this flower before and on reading a bit about it thought it would be a good candidate for the pond. This unusual and beautiful plant is  perfect for baskets and containers. The flowers are fascinating with all the petals clustered on the lower half of the flower in a fan-shape. Its common name is Fairy Fan Flower. It has a naturally trailing habit and prolific flowering and gives a continuous show of colour throughout summer. This variety, Topaz Pink, has pastel pink flowers. I cant see any sign of seed heads so I assume that this plant should be propagated from cuttings. I intend to try this in September.

Scaevola is a sun-loving annual that grows 8 to 12 inches tall and produces a non stop show of pink flowers. Because scaevola is an Australian native the plants are heat tolerant and have almost no insect or disease problems. Scaevola is also self cleaning so you don’t have to remove the dead flowers to keep the plant in production. The plants attract butterflies and are generally safe from slugs and aphids. In very warm parts of the country it can be treated as a tender perennial.

Lobelia Cardinalis Queen Victoria

I bought this hardy perennial Lobelia plant as another candidate for around the pond. Brightly coloured spikes of scarlet flowers appear in late summer from deep purple foliage. This vibrant colour appears in the garden just as many perennials are fading. Divide large clumps every second year in spring. Protect the crown of the plant during winter with a thick, dry mulch. This moisture loving plant can also be grown at the edges of a pond if potted up it into a basket with aquatic compost. Harmful if eaten.

This plant was becoming pot bound so I have planted it into the border beside the Red Rose and think maybe I can divide it next spring and put some by the pond. Update – This plant has grown very well and as we now have the pond up and running it has been potted up and sunk on to a shelf at the side. I hope that it will survive the move and the coming Winter weather.

 

Gypsophila Cerastioides – Alpine

Gypsophila cerastioides is native to the rocky slopes of the eastern Himalayas and forms an attractive tuft with shiny green foliage and pink-veined white trumpet flowers. Also known as Alpine Baby’s Breath this rock garden plant likes the sun and light, well-drained soil. Can also be grown in troughs. A hardy perennial, this small type of Gypsophila is drought tolerant, tough and produces endless supplies of white flowers, which are loved by butterflies. The Mouse Eared Gypsophila is good for alpine gardens, rockeries, patio containers, troughs or for growing in gaps in walls and paving. The tufted, mounding plants produce flowers from spring to summer. It seems like an ideal plant for around the pond one day.

Creeping Phlox Subulata

The plug plants of creeping phlox ordered from T&M have been potted on into small pots of moist compost and put outside. The five varieties include, Snowflake, Candy Stripes, Emerald Cushion Blue, Red Wings and Drummonds Pink. This a completely new plant to me but caught my eye as ideal for around the pond if it gets done this year. At least they can hopefully flourish in pots for the time being.

Creeping Phlox Subulata is a stunning, wintergreen perennial and ground cover plant, with lovely star-shaped flowers. Flowering from April to June, creeping phlox grows out to an attractive and eye catching, spring flowering green carpet. Creeping phlox is much loved by gardeners all over the world for its rich flower display and grows to approximately 15 cm tall. It is an ideal rock garden or woodland plant and is a welcome addition to any flower border. This lovely plant is easy to grow and care for.

 

 

 

 

Sempervivum Hybridum – Hens and Chickens

I wanted to have a go at growing these unusual plants mainly because I can remember them from the garden at our prefab where I lived from the age of six months to twenty one when I left to get married. My mom always referred to them as hens and chickens. I ordered the seeds from Seekay at 99p for 250 seeds. when they came in a tiny plastic tube I was amazed at the size of the seeds. They are miniscule. Like dust. Today, 1st March, I have scattered a few onto a flat tray of sandy compost, not covered them but put the tray into a polythene sleeve and put in on the window ledge. This is another one on my wish list for around the pond. The soil is quite gritty there and I can place a few rocks for them to grow amongst. Update 7th March – Much to my surprise I was excited this morning to find that quite a few of these seeds had germinated. They are very tiny but gave me a bit of a lift this morning. 22nd March and these tiny seedlings haven’t moved on much. I have read that they are hardy plants but I suspect that the process of getting them to that point is a little more tricky.

Sempervivum hybridum is an old-fashioned favourite often seen in planters. Commonly referred to as Hens and Chicks, this perennial plant is unique and forms clusters of fleshy rosettes. The foliage colours can vary from greens to bronze-reds and all shades between. The succulent foliage spreads and produces a mat of foliage. It grows well in full sun to partial shade and prefers well-drained soil. Hens & Chicks ground cover seed can be started either indoors or directly outside. If starting inside, start the seed 6 – 8 weeks before the end of frost season. If starting outdoors, wait until frost danger has passed and soil temperatures have warmed to 70F. Press the seed into the soil but do not cover it. Keep the seed consistently moist until germination occurs which is usually within 21 days. For transplanting into the garden, wait until  after last frost and space the plants about 24 ” apart. Amazon.

Sempervivum means ‘always alive’. Also called houseleeks, Sempervivum are commonly grown in containers but they can thrive in bricks, driftwood and between rocks, due to their ability to grow in very little compost. South-facing rockeries, gravel gardens and vertical walls also make good habitats. They perform best in a sunny position in well-drained compost with sharp horticultural grit added for drainage. A layer of grit added to the surface of the compost further aids drainage.  Houseleeks are most valued for their distinctive rosettes of succulent, spirally patterned foliage, although they also bear attractive flowers from spring to summer. Each rosette is a separate plant and is monocarpic which means that it flowers once and then dies but is soon replaced by other new rosettes called offsets. These offsets can be separated and planted up, and will then grow into new clumps. Sempervivum don’t need feeding, but do benefit from being repotted each year into compost containing slow-release fertiliser. https://www.gardenersworld.com/plants/plant-inspiration/growing-sempervivums/.

Arenaria Montana – Mountain Sandwort

Arenaria Montana is a classic little alpine or rock garden plant. The plant has narrow, glossy green leaves that form prostrate mats of foliage that are evergreen. In mid-spring, Mountain Sandwort is blanketed by relatively large, white flowers.  Whilst it does best in full sun to partial shade, it is considered to be drought-tolerant. It is not fussy as to soil type or pH and is somewhat tolerant of urban pollution. Plants will grow to be only 2″ tall at maturity. Its foliage tends to remain low and dense to the ground and is slow growing. Their ground-hugging habit means that this useful plant can be used at the front of the border or, it can be used as a lawn substitute for low foot traffic areas. They are at their loveliest spilling over edges of walls and will quickly fill in spaces between stepping stones or trail down the sides of walls. RHS award 1993.

Sow in spring or in autumn. Prepare pots or trays with good free draining seed compost; moisten by standing in water, then drain. Surface sow two seeds per pot or cell and press them gently down to firm them in. Cover the seed with a fine layer of vermiculite if you have it.  Seal pots in a polythene bag or cover trays with clear plastic lids until after germination. It is important to keep soil slightly moist but not wet. Remove the covering once the first seedlings appear. Germination can take up to 30 days. If seeds do not germinate by 4 weeks remove pots/tray to a cool shaded area. Seedlings are usually large enough to handle after 4 weeks. Transplant the seedlings into 3½” pots. Two seedlings can be planted to one pot. Place the pots in a cold frame or unheated greenhouse to grow on.  Before transplanting outdoors, harden off gradually. They do best in moist but well draining soils.

Arenaria Montana has a shallow root system and can dry out very quickly. Cover substrate with vermiculite or mulch to retain water and keep your eye on small plants until they establish themselves. A relatively low maintenance perennial, simply remove damaged foliage in spring and fertilise with a complete balanced fertiliser, don’t fertilise after mid September. It should only be pruned after flowering to avoid removing any of the current season’s flowers.

Arenaria Montana is native to mountainous regions of south-western Europe from the Pyrenees of France to Portugal.

The genus name Arenaria is taken from the Latin arena meaning sand referring to the sandy habitats of many species. The species name Montana means simply ‘of the mountains’. Arenaria Montana is a member of the Caryophyllaceous family, a cousin of the popular Dianthus genus.

Today, 6th February, I sowed all twenty seeds received from Seekay at a cost of £1.22, I put them two to a module. Now I must wait for thirty days for germination. From past experience I know that Alpines aren’t easy to grow. We are planning on rebuilding the area around our old pond this year and these were  something I thought would be good there. Update 16th Feb – three green shoots showing after ten days.