Wild flowers at College Lake


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What a difference a week makes. The weather is fantastic and yesterday we had a beautiful day at College Lake near Tring. This is an old quarry that is now managed by Beds, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust as a nature reserve. There are two lakes and a range of other habitats (woodland, grassland, open meadow, wildlife garden etc) in this lovely chalk downland.

For more information see BBOWT website http://www.bbowt.org.uk/

There are plenty of bird hides around the site with a charming one at ground level next to a shady pond with a frogs’ eye view of things. The new visitor centre has refreshments available at some times of day and great views over the reserve.

Yesterday we were looking at all aspects of wildlife, especially birds, and at the start of our walk we were treated to the sight of two hobbys in the cloudless sky. We also saw oystercatchers, redshanks, lapwings and a variety of gulls.

For me though, the real treat was the variety of wild flowers in the area providing nourishment for many beautiful butterflies. Unfortunately butterflies are not easy to identify or photograph but they included gatekeepers and marbled whites.

Here are some of the wild flowers we saw. I hope I have identified them correctly.

Greater Knapweed (Centaurea scabiosa)

Pyramidal orchids (Anacamptis pyramidalis)

Common Centaury (Centaurium minus)

Melilot (Melilotus officinalis)

Purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria)

Viper’s Bugloss (Echium vulgare)

Yellow-wort (Blackstonia perfoliata)

The pleasures of small things

Over the last three days we have had some good, dry, almost warm weather. After mowing the lawn the garden looked quite respectable. The flowers seem quite unphased by all the rain and are blooming as usual. Even the roses did not seem to be as spoiled as I would have expected.

I went and picked a small bunch of flowers for our visitor’s bedroom and was pleased to see how beautiful the most unobtrusive flowers can look in a vase. How well pale yellow and mauve go together.

This arrangement consists of Marjoram ‘Acorn Bank’, curry plant, several types of pot marjoram, an annoying weed, name unknown but shown in the top right of the picture in pale pink, although it is usually purple and bachelor’s buttons or Santolina chamaecyparissus. The button-like flowers of the latter, so easy to ignore, especially as the plant grows straggly, are actually exquisite when they open out.

Santolina chamaecyparissus flowers

Slugs rule ok!



You may not have believed my last post when I commented on the disastrous vegetable situation this year so I am posting some pictures of the damage, almost entirely due to the slugs, although pigeons are not wholly without blame, and the weather started things off badly and ensured the plants were poor specimens and ready to be attacked. (Click on the first two photos for larger slugs!)

Broad bean brunch

Radish relish

Pathetic peas

Calamatous cabbages (note potato intruder)

Paltry potatoes

I have been fighting a brave battle on the strawberry front and we have had plenty of lovely fruit, but yesterday’s rain re-inforced slug numbers and I am giving up there too.

I suppose I should say that I don’t use slug pellets because we have a couple of ponds and there are loads of frogs hopping about the garden and they come first. Frogs are having a hard time over the planet and I am trying to make their lives as easy as possible here, so I suppose there will be the odd year when I really pay for that strategy.

Looking forward to next year now. It can’t be this bad can it?

Roses win the day


I returned from a week’s holiday to find the garden very verdant, apart from the vegetables, many of which have been decimated by the prodigious slug population. The potatoes have not grown and are going yellow and the broad beans are still small and although they have flowers I do not expect much of them. The strawberries, however, are ripening well and only a few are succumbing to mildew.

In the flower garden the roses are performing admirably. The hybrid tea ‘High Sheriff’ is in its beautiful first flush.

Rosa ‘High Sheriff’

I hope I can save it from the black spot that disfigured it so badly last year.

Here are some ‘Harlow Carr’ blooms picked for the house.

Rosa ‘Harlow Carr’

Meanwhile ‘Wedding Day’ is doing what it does best, scrambling through a tree.

R. ‘Wedding Day’

Herbs in June


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Many herbs are at their best in June with lush new leafy growth. I believe it is in the month before flowering that herbs have their best flavour and medicinal value. Anyway, they are certainly looking very healthy.

Last year I bought a valerian (Valeriana officinalis) and I suppose it is a bit disappointing looking, its early flowers are whitish but it becomes tall and straggly. However, the flowers smell so sweet. I have cut some for the house and they are lasting very well.

Valerian officinalis

I see from Jekka McVicar’s Complete Herb Book that she uses a decoction of the herb root as a relaxant for anxious cats and dogs and it is traditionally used as a sedative and nervine in herbal medicine.

Santolina ‘Lemon Fizz’ is a useful plant in the rock garden. Its vibrant lime green leaves really brighten up the border. In order to keep its colour it is important to cut out the darker green leaves as they show through.

Santolina ‘Lemon Fizz’

Its relative, the cotton lavender (Santolina chamaecyparissus) is looking very good. The bush shape is still neat and its buds are ready to break into bright yellow buttons, after which it will need drastic re-shaping.

The curry plant is also ready to flower and at its neatest. It is the one herb that you can smell as you go past even when it has not been touched.

Curry Plant (Helichrysum italicum

The thymes are rampaging over the rock garden ….

Creeping Red Thyme with Woolly Thyme and Pink Chintz Thyme

…and into the pond

Creeping White Thyme

Can you identify the hardy geraniums?


At this time of year our main border would look pretty bare without the wondrous hardy geraniums to add colour at the front of the border. Up above, the self-seeded aquilegia and welsh poppies and the reliable red valerian are performing but they are not enough on their own. We have six geranium varieties and I have had difficulty identifying some of them. These days I keep a record of new plants but years ago I didn’t. I would be grateful for any identification of these lovely plants.

Probably Geranium x magnificum

We have two pink varieties. Both have quite small flowers and one has curved-back petals. The latter will flower throughout the summer.

Our white geranium looks very much like G. Kashmir White and very pretty it is too, shining out from the shade.

All these geraniums have been divided and spread around the garden, but G. x magnificum is definitely the most successful. Lately I have added Geranium macrorrhizum ‘Ingwerson’s Variety’ and Geranium phaeum ‘Album’ in another border where they are doing well in their first year.

After this flowering I will trim them back and hope they will flower again later in the year, allbeit not so prolifically.

Roses, roses, roses


Unknown rose with wonderful scent possibly from the County Series

When I was young I really disliked showy flowers like roses, tulips, and peonies. But now I love them, especially roses. Unfortunately the list in this garden is not as extensive as I would like because I can’t think of new locations for them. Most of our roses are climbers or ramblers.  We have Cecile Brunner (climbing), Madame Gregoire Staechelin (known as Spanish Beauty), the strong rambler Frances E Lester which I have located in entirely the wrong place, Adelaide D’Orleans charming us over the rose arch, New Dawn which I pruned in spring and has masses of buds, and Wedding Day growing up the fence and into a cherry tree.

Frances E Lester

A real favourite English Rose is Harlow Carr. It performs so well all summer and the smell is divine. There is little Hampshire from the County Series, another star performer. I couldn’t resist the rose from my native county. Little White Pet was not happy in a slightly shady spot and I have moved it into full sun so hopefully it will do well this year. A kind friend who was clearing out her very fine garden gave us four roses last autumn. Two are called Cottage Rose and I have no idea what the others are, it will be interesting to see.

Harlow Carr

Perhaps not quite so beautiful, but excellent value as they flower most of the summer, are three little patio roses I grew from seed about 10 years ago. They are getting quite bushy now and will suffer severe cutting back from time to time.

Just by the front door is a wonderful yellow rose with a fantastic scent and glossy foliage of a disease free nature. Next to it is an Iceberg and it is such a pity they are so vulnerable to black spot. The final rose, a hybrid tea, also given to us, is High Sheriff. The flowers open out a beautiful burnished orangey/gold and age to a salmony pink.

Jubilee plantings



Pity it was so wet for the Diamond Jubilee this weekend. I feel sorry for all those holding outdoor activities. Just to brighten things up here is a picture of one of my jubilee pots (the blue isn’t out yet!)

Jubilee pot minus blue

Pigeons have already started their jubilee fest on my young cabbage plants. They will be netted after today.

Cabbage complete with brassica collar

My tomato plants are the sturdiest ever this year. I think it must be the seaweed feed I have been applying to all the herbs and vegetables. I hope they are as prolific with their fruit. I have been growing Alicante and Gardener’s Delight for the past few years with success, also the hanging basket variety Tumbler, which is marvellous. I keep meaning to try some different varieties but then I think I will play safe.

Tomato plants ready to pot on

Bird week


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This has been a bird week. I have a new bird feeding station, bought after the table my father made me fell to bits. Feeding stations are much cheaper than new bird tables and also more flexible with their numerous hanging bits and pieces. You can have peanuts, seeds and fatty products. I don’t use the latter since just providing peanuts and seeds seems to cost a fortune.

Bird feeding station

I find myself a bit concerned about starting to feed birds like this. They come to rely on it and I am not sure that is a good thing. Also, we may be introducing diseases via communal feeding, dirty seeds and nuts etc. I would like to know what others think.

Since introducing the peanuts we have seen some beautiful bullfinches and great spotted woodpeckers have become regular feeders. Seems an unusual move from feeding on insects to peanuts, but what beautiful birds.

Paxton Pits, Huntingdonshire

During the week we visited Paxton Pits.


This is a huge nature reserve around a working gravel pit alongside the Great Ouse. There are delightful walks throughout the area with a variety of habitats for birds. Herons and cormorants breed there. Most of the birds in the sky were cormorants the day we visited. Cuckoos were also flying overhead. It was wonderful to hear them calling continuously. I haven’t heard one at home for years.

The main attraction for us though was the nightingales. We heard them quite clearly and realised what a range of sounds they can produce. I hope I will be able to recognise their singing from now on. They make quite a noise for their size.

Paxton Pits is a great day out.

Herb garden in May


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At last some warm sunshine for the plants to enjoy, not to mention me. Most herbs put on a good spurt in the spring and are good value when other plants are just getting going. Sweet Cicely is up early and flowering prettily in May.

Sweet Cicely in May

The scent and flavour of the plant are aniseedy. The leaves are beautifully soft and fern-like. You can use the herb to reduce the amount of sugar needed in stewed fruit such as rhubarb and gooseberries. Unfortunately once it has gone to seed it is not so attractive but by then other herbaceous plants take over in the border and you could chop it down and allow new leaves to develop. It is easy to grow provided the soil has moisture and there is some shade. The seeds seem to germinate better if they have a period of very cold/frosty weather in the ground, so sow them in autumn.

Another star at present is comfrey. This is the dwarf comfrey and it is covering the ground very fast but is also looking pretty.

Dwarf comfrey May 2012

Last, but definitely not least as it is my favourite herb, the rosemary is looking very good. Here is Rosemary ‘McConnell’s Blue’.

Rosemary ‘McConnell’s Blue’

This is a lovely prostrate rosemary with quite bright blue flowers and it seems to be very hardy. Rosemary excels in the qualities of aromatic herbs, wonderful, healing scent, fantastic culinary qualities and its beauty during the flowering period.