There are some lovely quiet lanes around Minchinhampton where the last of the leaves can be seen golden in the low sun’s glow, wrestling with the wind before departing the branches and rustling and scraping across the path into satisfying heaps, ready to be trampled during the Christmas walk, or composted into leaf mould.
There are rather fewer tasks in the garden during December, once the dahlias and chrysanthemums have been dug up and stored, old perennials’ stalks cut back and tidied, open grown apples and pears, and acers, birches and vines, wisteria, red and white currants and gooseberries have been pruned, the lawn and borders cleared of leaves, vegetable patches emptied, and a generous mulch from the compost heap applied. This allows time during the wet and windy days and long dark evenings to clean and service garden tools, and contemplate the possibility of new equipment – given that Christmas is not far off.
First of all, a big thank you to all who contributed to and visited the 35th Minchinhampton Gardening Club Flower and Produce Show back in September. Part of the post-show recovery programme involved a break on the NW Scottish coast, where on passing a plant nursery, I was amused to read a sign advertising ‘Tough Plants’. This region is very mild, with frost and snow a rarity, and offers some fascinating gardens. (Photo: Lip na Cloiche Garden, Mull, May 2017).
Our native ivy, Hedera helix provides wildlife with food and shelter over the winter months and should be valued. It flowers from September to November on mature plants, in clusters of yellow-green umbrels, which then form black berries. The flowers are nectar and pollen sources for bees, hoverflies and wasps, and the plant provides a home for the larvae of many butterflies and moths. These include the holly blue, small dusty wave, angle shades and the twig-like larvae of the spectacular swallow-tailed moth. Many birds also take advantage of ivy for shelter, nesting and food sources, both from the berries and the many insects and invertebrates it harbours.
As an evergreen, ivy was seen as a powerful symbol during winter, and with a frost-rimmed leaf can be very attractive.
There will be a close conjunction between Venus and Jupiter in the pre-dawn eastern sky on 13th November.
Every year, we start a new chalk-board list of birds seen in the garden. This year’s is currently 28 species, but does not yet include the green wookpecker or partridge which have been seen (frustratingly) in nearby gardens. The lawn has suffered from ant nests over the summer, so the green woodpecker would have have been welcome on 2 counts.
Since the intensive but enjoyable effort to ready the garden for the Minch Open Gardens at the beginning of July, maintaining it in a reasonable state has been relatively easy. Satisfaction all round then: in the preparation; meeting the many visitors who, on the whole, enjoyed the variety of gardens as well as teas and cakes; and the owners, who have had a few weeks to relax. Thank you to all who opened their gardens, donated cakes or helped out, and to the visitors.
You may have noticed a new noticeboard in Minchinhampton Churchyard informing all about the project a small group of us have been involved in over the past year – to manage the undeveloped area at the top of the churchyard for wildflowers and wildlife. We are working to the following plan, with the help of Stroud Valleys Project.
The garden is currently suffering from a plague of chafer beetles, which are attractive little shiny green and bronze insects, and provide a source of food for the young sparrows, but do cause damage to plants and fruit. And the lawn can be damaged when the larger birds and badgers root around for the grubs.
If you can’t drive, and don’t have anyone close to drive you, getting to a medical or dental appointment can be an extra worry. Similar problems can happen if you need to visit someone ill in hospital. This is when the Minchinhampton PPG may be able to help you, with our scheme for driving patients, mainly to and from appointments. We also drive those who need our help to visit a relative in hospital. ‘PPG’, if you aren’t sure, stands for Patient Participation Group.
Hoeing to keep weeds down is fine during June when plants are readily visible, but in April, there is a risk of damaging young shoots just below the surface. So despite the favourable dry conditions, it was hand weeding the beds. The dry April also meant the single water butt was getting low. This is used mainly for pot plants which prefer rainwater, so not a large demand, but a reminder to look out for a second water butt and bear in mind plants which thrive in dry conditions.
Some of the tasks during June are to keep on top of the weeding and mowing, support tall plants, prune spring flowering shrubs and clematis, and get the vegetable plot moving into production. The greenhouse can be emptied of bedding plants and hanging baskets to make space for tomatoes, peppers, and similar hot-house plants.
One final task at the end of a long day’s gardening is to take time to relax and enjoy the scents and sounds as well as the colours and textures.
Two local Open Garden events are taking place in the next few weeks. The first is on Sunday 18th June from 10 until 4 at Holcombe Glen in support of the Stroke Association when Terry Sharpe will be opening his garden to the public. The second is on 2nd July, when 11 gardens around Minchinhampton will be open in support of the 6P’s appeal and Horsfall House. Please enjoy these community events and support the charities.
The Show Schedules are now available for the Minchinhampton Gardening Club Annual Show which takes place on Saturday 9th September, and this year has 72 classes. Check out the schedule, and start growing, photographing and baking.
Venus is visible as a bright pre-dawn object in the eastern sky, reaching its greatest eastern elongation on 3rd June.
Whilst taking a very short break in between mowing, digging and potting-on, I noticed an odd looking insect that looks like a bee hovering over the lawn (photo). Some research revealed that it is not a bee, but a large bee-fly (Bombylius Major) which flicks its eggs into the nests of bumble bees. By looking like a bee, it is able to approach the nests without being attacked, and presumably, it was hanging around the garden looking out for passing bumble bees to follow. The bee-fly larvae eat the bumble bee food supplies and larva, but their up-side is that the adults do pollinate plants whilst drinking nectar through their impressive proboscis.
Daylight hours are increasing, and with the arrival of BST the evenings suddenly become useful for all those essential tasks as the garden comes back to life. It’s this time of year when the greenhouse is too small, as germinating seeds in trays need light, and there’s only so much bench space.
Some clever clocks change to BST automatically. Our car clock doesn’t, so it’s always summertime in the car.
By the time you read this, the RSPB bird watch will be a distant memory, but as I write, it was only last weekend, and was much more successful than a year ago. We saw 11 species during the hour, which unfortunately did not include the families of long tailed tits which descend on the garden for an occasional welcome but brief visit, searching for insects and grubs in the dried stalks, litter and branches.
Their visits justify our policy of leaving seed heads and plant stalks in the flower beds in the autumn, which will be removed as the new spring growth appears during March (it’s not just laziness).
‘New Spring Growth’ sounds good, and it’s not only the hardy daffodils and snowdrops that come to mind – it’s the delicate seedlings germinating in trays in the greenhouse with their potential to delight through flower and form, or satisfy the taste buds.
In other words, there are plenty of tasks to be getting on with in the garden, starting with covering those areas where seeds and seedlings are to be planted. This will allow the ground to dry out and warm up, making preparation much easier and more satisfying. But when the weather is too cold or wet for outdoor sowing, rein in those springtime tendencies with the preparation of a few indoor or greenhouse seed trays and pots, which could be salads, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, aubergines, celery, or plan for a continuous crop of cut flowers, and start the seeds off accordingly.
For more ideas and advice, the Minchinhampton Gardening Club has arranged a talk on ‘vegetables in a small garden’ on 20th March in the school hall at 7.30.
The Vernal Equinox on the 20th is the signal to move into BST on 26th. Venus will be at inferior solar conjunction on 25th, so in a few weeks will become a morning ‘star’, and Mercury will be close to the fairly New Moon soon after sunset on 29th.