Hanging tomatoes

I’m still cramming the vegetables and annuals into the garden. As I haven’t got a greenhouse, and I’m rapidly running out of space – and pots – on the patio, some of the tomatoes have gone into hanging baskets.

There are plenty of bush-type varieties with shallow root systems that do well in hanging baskets. I’m trying Tumbling Tom (yellow) and Tiny Tim (red), one plant per basket, hung south facing at the back of the house.

Yellow Tumbling Tom tomatoes in hanging basket

Yellow Tumbling Tom tomatoes in hanging basket

The baskets are pre-lined so I haven’t had to faff around with liners or moss. I put a small plastic saucer and several used tea bags at the bottom of each basket to help retain water, and firmed each tomato plant in with plenty of all-round garden compost and a few growmore granules.

A small saucer and used tea bags, placed at the bottom of the basket to help retain water

A small saucer and used tea bags, placed at the bottom of the basket to help retain water

I haven’t bothered with water-retaining granules, as there are no holes in the liner so the water shouldn’t drain away too quickly.

Because of the habit of these trailing plants, they require very little maintenance, so I won’t need to do anything else now, other than regular watering, plus weekly feeding when the tomatoes start to develop.

Tumbling Tom tomato planted in hanging basket

Now we wait …

Huffing hedgehogs

I was walking around the garden last night. It’s amazing how much unseen activity there is after dark: plenty of rustling in the borders, small rodents no doubt, or perhaps a few larger ones! Then I heard the ‘huffing’, a loud persistent raspy panting or puffing. Which could only mean one thing … we have hedgehogs back in residence.

Hedgehog in garden

And here’s the proof. Erinaceous europaeus!

It has been several years since we have seen any hedgehogs in the garden. Our cosy straw-filled hedgehog boxes have gone unused for the past two winters, so I was thrilled to find they were back.

I quickly threw a few hedgehog treats onto the lawn in the vicinity of the activity (we actually still had some hedgehog biscuits left over from the days when they were coming in regularly – see below), and low and behold a hedgehog emerged. After all that huffing, he (or she) was hungry!

The huffing happens when two hedgehogs meet, and is part of a hedgehog’s courtship behaviour, where they huff and circle each other. So we can but hope for hoglets later this year. Watch this terrific piece of footage on YouTube of hedgehog courtship behaviour to see and hear the huffing behaviour for yourself!

Feeding hedgehogs

Hedgehog numbers in the UK have declined by more than a third over the past decade and they are now on the endangered species list. So if you find them in your garden, look after them!

Hedgehogs are insectivores; over 70% of their natural diet comprises beetles and other insects, worms and a tiny number of slugs and snails, but you can supplement their evening dinner with:

  • Meat-flavoured tinned cat or dog food (chicken in jelly is the best – no fish flavours or meat in gravy!)
  • Specific tinned or dry hedgehog food, available from garden centres and pet shops
  • Cat biscuits (but not fish flavoured)
  • Cooked meat leftovers – chopped up finely as they have tiny teeth and cannot chew or tear big pieces
  • Chopped or crushed peanuts (the sort you put out for the birds – not salted!), dried mealworms and sunflower hearts
  • Sultanas and raisins

Do not give them:

  • Bread or milk – they can’t digest them!
  • Salty meats such as bacon or corned beef

Make sure you:

  • Provide a source of water – they drink a lot!
  • Provide a sloping exit out of ponds so they can get out if they fall in.

For more information on hedgehogs go to The British Hedgehog Preservation SocietyThe Mammal SocietyPrickles Hedgehog Rescue or Tiggywinkles Wildlife Hospital.

Do you have hedgehogs in your garden? I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment below or let me know on Twitter @15greenmins

Magna Carta celebrations

On 10th June 1215, King John of England and his entourage rode out from his castle in Odiham, Hampshire, to meet a group of rebel barons in the water meadows at Runnymede, near Windsor. On 15th June, they sealed ‘Magna Carta’.

Well, actually, they sealed the ‘Charter of Runnymede’, a forerunner of what later became known as Magna Carta in 1217. But let’s not allow factual accuracy to get in the way of the celebrations 800 years on. In Odiham, we’ve been celebrating in medieval style.

Odiham peasant, Magna Carta celebrations 2015

Odiham peasant – I’ve no illusions of grandeur!

Flags over Odiham

First, we all put our flags and bunting out, so that anyone approaching Odiham and the neighbouring village of North Warnborough would know there was something going on. The colourful flags of all designs and sizes fluttering outside our shops and homes gave a heart-warming sense of community and proved to be  surprisingly educational, as prior to this event I had no idea what the Hampshire county flag or the Odiham parish flag looked like.

The flags of Odiham

The flags of Odiham. Clockwise from top left: Odiham parish flag; Union flags in flower pots, homemade flag depicting Odiham castle; mixed nationality bunting; the Mayhill flag; Hampshire county flag

The new Mayhill flag was designed by children at Odiham’s Mayhill Junior School to represent the NE Hampshire constituency in a parliamentary flag competition. The green ‘O’ represents ‘Odiham’ and the close relationship the village has with the natural environment. Inside the ‘O’ sits Odiham castle above a horse shoe, depicting Odiham’s connections with farming and King John’s journey to Runnymede (and let’s not forget the village’s association with the start of the veterinary profession in England). The two strips of blue across the top of the flag represent the River Whitewater and the Basingstoke canal. The gold and red backgrounds reflect Odiham’s historic connection with royalty.

The Mayhill flag, Odiham

The Mayhill flag – a pretty impressive piece of design

Village festival

The actual festivities got under way with a procession through the village, led by King John and some of his courtiers on horseback. There was a huge turnout, with lots of people getting into the spirit of the event in medieval costume.

Odiham village Magna Carta parade, medieval style

Peasants, nobility and knights walked side by side in the Odiham medieval procession

After the procession we congregated in ‘The Bury’, the former market square at the heart of the village in between All Saints church and The Bell pub.

The Bury, Odiham Magna Carta gathering

Quite a gathering: in ‘The Bury’, the area between one of our village pubs, The Bell …

Magna Carta event in The Bury, Odiham, outside All Saints Church

… and All Saints Church

The Hook Eagle Morris Men got the party started, with a lot of yelling, a fair bit of stomping and plenty of bashing of stout sticks; there’s nothing dainty about their form of Border Morris dancing – in fact, it’s pretty primeval. And a lot of fun!

The Hook Morris Eagles

The Hook Eagle Morris Men doing their thing

Meanwhile, in the walled garden adjacent to The Bury, medieval re-enactors battled each other with swords and spears.

Medieval re-enactors, Odiham Magna Carta celebrations

Chain mail, shields and swords: medieval re-enactors put on a show for the crowd

Living history

If that wasn’t enough excitement for this normally quiet corner of North East Hampshire, for several days the 13th century also returned to the fields surrounding the remains of Odiham castle (also known as King John’s castle) on the Basingstoke canal.

Odiham (King John's) castle

Odiham (King John’s) castle

Here, the Feudals Living History Group, along with several other historical re-enactment groups, camped out to demonstrate the various crafts and skills that would have been used during this period.

The 13th century brought to life at Odiham castle

The 13th century brought to life at Odiham castle

I was particularly amazed at the weight of chain mail. It was a wonder the knights of the day could walk in it, let alone fight.

Medieval knight in chain mail

It took a man with muscle to battle in chain mail

The falconry display by Albion Historical Falconry was a real treat. They train all of their birds of prey using historically accurate methods, derived from manuscripts dating from the 1100s to the 1800s.  Although King John is believed to have favoured the Peregrine falcon and Goshawk (native British birds), he would have been familiar with the use of Saker and Lanner falcons too.

Peregrine falcon and Saker falcon

Stunning birds. Left: the Peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus); Right: the Saker falcon (Falco cherrug)

The terrain wasn’t suitable for the Peregrine falcon to be flown (given the speed at which it flies there wasn’t enough room for it to land!), so it was the Saker falcon that stole the limelight on this occasion, soaring at speed around the trees, which it used as cover to avoid prematurely alarming its prey, before swooping in on the lure at incredible speeds.

The Saker falcon, one of the hawks often used in medieval times

Preparing for take off: the Saker falcon, a bird that was imported from the Middle East and Mediterranean during the Crusades

And of course, there was always time for one more battle. Even King John made an appearance.

King John ... not the happiest of kings!

King John … one of the more controversial monarchs of medieval England

Medieval battle re-enactment: barons vs knights

On the one side, the rebel barons; on the other, King John’s knights. On this occasion, it didn’t end well for either side!

Flowers, dancing, boats and embroidery

As if that wasn’t enough, there was also a village flower festival in All Saints church, with over 30 stunning displays from various local clubs and community groups, and a clog and morris festival involving 20 Morris teams from around Hampshire.

Clog and morris dancing

The energetic manoeuvres of clog and morris dancing

Meanwhile, down at Odiham wharf, a canal boat rally was in full swing alongside canoe demonstrations and music by the Cactus Brass Band; it all added more than a little touch of colour to the Basingstoke canal.

Canal boats at Odiham wharf

Canal boats at Odiham wharf

BUT, the piece de resistance of all the amazing organization for these celebrations has to be the phenomenal embroidery depicting 800 years of Odiham’s history from the time of ‘Magna Carta’ (King John is depicted setting off for Runnymede) to the present day (as depicted by a Chinook helicopter from RAF Odiham).

Designed by Odiham-based artist Mary Turner, with contributions from around 70 volunteer stitchers, this beautiful work of art hangs in Odiham library, so if you’re in the area, take a look!!

The Odiham embroidery, depicting 800 years of the villages history, stitched using traditional materials and techniques

The Odiham embroidery, depicting 800 years of the village’s history, stitched using traditional materials and techniques

So what’s all the fuss about?

Magna Carta (‘The Great Charter’) laid down the principle that everybody, including the king, was subject to the law. In particular, the 39th clause gave all ‘free men’ the right to justice and a fair trial.

No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land. To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice

Although the initial document failed to achieve much in 1215 (within a few weeks of making the agreement, King John, nice guy that he was, had the pope annul it!), it was, effectively, the first written constitution in European history and became part of English political life. It is now enormously symbolic as the foundation of democracy and civil liberties in England and as a major influence on the law of the land in the USA.

Memories of May

As Rodgers and Hammerstein so succinctly put it, “June is bustin’ out all over”. Indeed, much of the garden is now a dazzling display of glorious technicolour. But this month has a lot to live up to. Let’s not forget the slightly more subtle splendours of May. Here are my highlights, re-lived in pictures.

Garden, early May

My garden in early May

Delicate tree blossom …

Apple tree blossom

A young apple tree smothered in delicate pink blossom, hinting at the abundant autumnal harvest to follow

Hawthorn tree covered in blossom

The only large tree in the garden, a mature hawthorn, smothered in frothy white blossom

Blue tit in hawthorn tree

Nesting blue tits made the most of an abundance of insects amongst the milky white petals

The last of the Spring bulbs …

Red tulips

Guaranteed to make an impact: vibrant red tulips

Bluebell

Rather less showy, but no less resplendent, bluebells added a touch of quietly under-stated class

New growth in shady areas …

Emerging hosta

Down at the shady end of the garden, hostas started sprouting …

Unfolding fern

… and ferns unfolded

The attractive early foliage of shrubs …

Pieris Forest Flame

The spirited new growth of Pieris ‘Forest Flame’ escaped the frosts this year

Cotinus smoke tree

The first leaves of this Cotinus ‘smoke tree’ glowed like embers in the Spring sunshine

In the vegetable garden …

Chives in flower

The chives were starting to bloom in the herb bed

Strawberry flowers

And there were signs of sweet things to come in the strawberry patch

In the pond …

Spring proliferation of lily pads

A proliferation of lily pads across the surface sheltered the fish from the attentions of a visiting heron

And last but by no means least, the Spring-flowering perennials …

Centaurea montana

Clumps of Centaurea montana (Great blue-bottle) were the first to emerge

Early perennials - lupin and geranium

Swiftly followed by glorious spires of lupins and ebullient mounds of Johnson’s Blue geraniums

Aquilegia

Up popped the self-seeding aquilegia, usually at the base of another perennial(!), but they were forgiven when their nodding granny bonnets began to emerge

Foxglove

And my absolute favourite, towering over the other border plants, a fanfare of trumpeting foxgloves to take us into June