Hungry hedgehogs

Ironic that it was Hedgehog Awareness Week last week, because here in our small back garden in Hampshire we have been becoming increasingly hedgehog aware. It started as a bit of a mystery. Every morning we would find the cage on top of our bird ground feeder knocked askew, and the remains of the birds’ mealworms and suet devoured. A ratty visitor perhaps?

Who’s poo?

But then, more distinct telltale signs: shiny black droppings, not just one or two, but tens of poops around the lawn. Most of the literature on hedgehogs states that their stools are distinctly cylindrical, sometimes slightly tapered at one end and about 5cm in length, but I can confirm that hedgehog poop comes in all shapes and sizes, and in vast quantities.

Hedgehog poop – shiny, black, generally cylindrical ... and lots of it!

Hedgehog poop – shiny, black, generally cylindrical … and lots of it!

In the flesh

And then we finally caught the culprit in the act. Instantly recognisable – short tail, long legs, small ears, pointed furry face, small black eyes … a lot of spines … and terrible table manners! Those of you who follow this blog will know that our last sighting of a hedgehog was back in the summer of 2015 (see Huffing Hedgehogs), so you can imagine our excitement.

Hedgehog in garden

Instantly recognizable

We immediately got down to the serious business of leaving the right food out.

Feeding hedgehogs

Hedgehogs are omnivores but over 70% of their natural diet comprises beetles and other insects, worms and a tiny number of slugs and snails. 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 (not whole sunflower seeds)
  • Sultanas and raisins

And if the guzzling in our back garden is anything to go by, they will appreciate it!

Do not give them:

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

And make sure you provide:

  • Water – they drink a lot!
  • A sloping exit out of ponds so they can get out if they fall in.

Lawn of many hedgehogs

So, for the past 4 weeks we have been putting the food direct onto the lawn after dark between 9 and 10pm, when there are fewer marauding moggies around to sneak a crafty snack. This seems to have encouraged more hedgehog visitors to the garden, and as they are not territorial they seem to be content to share the food without too much squabbling. In fact, we have now seen up to four hedgehogs together at any one time on the lawn.

 

Hedgehogs feeding

Erinaceus europaeus – three caught on camera – enjoying the buffet

Even if they are not around on the lawn, then we can usually hear them through the night, either huffing at each other in our herbaceous borders or in our neighbour’s garden. Yes, the courting rituals have started (hedgehog breeding season is April through to September) and we have our fingers crossed for hoglets later this summer.

Look after your hedgehogs

Hedgehog numbers in the UK are continuing to decline. According to the People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) 1 in 3 of all British hedgehogs have been lost since the year 2000. They are on the endangered species list, so if you find them in your garden, look after them!

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

Chop, shred, mulch!

 

It’s good to leave the ‘skeletons’ of some herbaceous plants standing over winter. The natural scaffolding and seed heads of Sedum spectabile (ice plant), Eryngium (sea holly) and ornamental grasses help to protect the tender crowns from the sharpest frosts, provide a cosy home for insects and add general winter interest to the garden.

Winter Sedum heads

The seed heads of Sedum spectabile provided great winter interest in the garden

But now that things are warming up, it’s time to remove last year’s debris and let fresh green leafiness take free reign once more.

Get chopping (or pulling)

If you haven’t done so already, don’t delay, get chopping! Secateurs work best for most herbaceous perennials. Cut as close to the crown as you can, cutting at an angle to prevent water collecting inside and rotting the crown, or cut just above any fresh new growth.

In fact, at this time of year, you’ll be able to simply pull some of the hollow dead stems out from the base of the plant without cutting at all.

The joy of shredding

Remove any diseased material, but don’t throw the rest. It’s fabulous organic material that can be put back to use around the garden.

Bag of shredding material

After three 15-minute sessions I had a huge bag of shreddable material

Ideally, shred it. Most domestic shredders will cope with woody stems less than 3–4 cm (1¼-1½ inches) in diameter. I shredded the above bagful of woody material last weekend. The shredder made a hell of a racket (for which I profusely apologise to my neighbours), but within 15 minutes I had reduced one large bag of winter debris to a bucketful of useful chippings; wonderful ‘brown’ material for the compost bin, or a fabulous mulch for the borders.

15 minutes of shredding produced a bucketful of compostable organic material

15 minutes of shredding produced a bucketful of compostable organic material

If you don’t have a shredder, then simply cut up what you can into bitesize pieces. It all helps!

I add all my ‘shreddings’ to the compost bin. Alongside all the kitchen waste, it makes great compost.

A barrowful of homemade compost - great for spring mulching

A barrowful of homemade compost – great for spring mulching

Marvellous mulch

Which brings me to the last of this trio of spring jobs: ‘tis the season to get mulching! According to Monty Don (my husband has been hearing that phrase a lot lately):, mulching is “probably the best single investment of time and money that anyone could put into their garden”* for 3 reasons:

1. Mulching reduces weeds.

2. Mulching retains moisture.

3. Mulching improves the structure of your soil.

Oh, and it makes the garden look tidier too! What’s not to like about mulch? (I love the word ‘mulch’!)

To be honest, until this year my mulching has been rather sporadic, mainly because I only have 2 smallish compost bins and have never produced enough material to get around all the borders. But this year, I went the whole hog and ordered 900 litres of soil conditioner, which I’m currently spreading around my garden with wild abandon.

A mulched flower bed

A mulched border – weed free, water retentive, and the earthworms will be happy too

My garden has been giving me so much pleasure for so many years that I felt like it deserved a treat (and there was a special offer on at B&Q), especially as I have heavy clay soil that needs all the help it can get.

Try to do as much work in your borders as you can before you mulch (weeding, dividing perennials etc.) so that you disturb them as little as possible afterwards. Then pile the mulch on the soil surface and around the bases of your plants to about 2 inches thick, taking care not to smother the crowns. The earthworms will do the rest.

Pile the mulch around your herbaceous plants, up to 2 inches think and up to the bases

Pile the mulch around your herbaceous plants, up to 2 inches thick and up to the bases

Finding the time

It sounds a lot of work, but 15 minutes of cutting, shredding or mulching at a time and you’ll soon have it done. And when you’re sitting back with a glass of wine in the evening sunshine (hmm, we can but hope!), you’ll be glad you did it, 15 minutes of green at a time.

Spring garden

After all that mulching, find the time to enjoy your spring garden

Let me know whether you mulch your garden, and what with.

*https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2006/mar/05/gardens

On your marks …

… get set, grow! This month is when I start to get back out in the garden and scare myself silly at how much there is to do. Yes, it’s that time of year when everything starts to get going again – the spring bulbs, the perennials, the weeds!

Tete-a-tete narcissus

The emergence of tete-a-tete narcissi tells me its time to get gardening again

It’s all crying out for a tidy up. Now is the time to cut back the remnants of winter growth, stop the weeds in their tracks and start sowing for the year ahead.

But there’s only so much I can do at any one time, so rather than go with my first impulse – all out panic! – I remind myself of the 15 minutes of green philosophy. I can do anything for 15 minutes, and with 15 minutes of green every day (plus a few 15+ sessions when time allows) I will coax my garden back to splendour.

Spring border in desperate need of a tidy up

Desperately seeking a tidy up

I started on what I call my perennial border; basically, the border that gives me the most grief but can also bring the most joy. I removed the dead leaves and stalks from the sedums, day lilies and anemones, dug out as much of the ground elder as I could, which creeps in from under the hawthorn hedge, and added a few bucketfuls of garden compost and leaf mould.

Tidy herbaceous border

What a transformation, and oh so very satisfying 🙂

It looks a bit bare at the moment, but I’m always amazed how quickly it fills in once the perennials get growing. So that’s one good job done!

That just leaves the raspberry canes to chop down, the herb bed to tidy, the vegetable beds to hoe, the fruit trees to top dress, the seeds to sow, the ……. deep breath! 15 minutes at a time, remember.

To help me (and maybe you too), I’ve made a checklist for March and used the 15 minutes of green logo to indicate which of the jobs can be done 15 minutes at at time. Check out the #15greenmins tab at the top of the page and click on March for more information and a checklist that you can print out.

It’s time to get out and grow, 15 minutes at a time!

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

Spud update

Last time I mentioned the potatoes, they were merrily chitting on a bedroom window sill.

Chitted potatoes, ready to plant

Chitted and ready to plant

A lot has happened since then. First, I had to decide where to put them. If, like me, you are pretty limited on space, the perfect solution is to plant in sacks or containers. I’ve just about managed to squeeze mine in behind the raised vegetable beds.

A chorus line of potato sacks

A chorus line of potato sacks

I filled my sacks about a third full of compost, along with some ‘potato fertilizer’, and placed the chitted potatoes on the top (about 5 per sack), then covered them with more compost and watered them well.

Five seed potatoes per sack

Five seed potatoes per sack

Since then, I’ve pretty much left them to their own devices, and they have done their thing extremely quietly and quickly. Before I knew it (and partly because I’d been away) the leaves were poking out of the tops of the sacks.

Potato sacks in leaf

Sackfuls of … leaves

Not what I had intended! The plan had been to gradually earth up soil around the stems as they grew. Instead, I have now had to shovel a load more compost into the bags and hope I haven’t got a potato disaster on my hands.

So now it’s just a waiting game. I shall keep them damp (not wet!) and await the flowers; then we’ll see if there’s anything to harvest.

The Great Garden Sowing Marathon

Move over the Great Chelsea Garden Challenge (as seen on TV), it’s time to make room for the great garden sowing marathon (as seen in my garden recently). Having gone a bit nuts on the seed buying earlier this year, I now realize that I may have bitten off a little more than I can chew.

My post on ‘Seedy decisions’ earlier this year gives a full list of the vegetables I’m aiming to grow, and as foolhardy as it may be, I’ve stuck to the plan. In addition to all those vegetables, I’ve sown a fair few seed trays with complementary flowers such as marigolds and nasturtiums, plus salvia, cosmos, rudbeckia and gaillardia to fill in any gaps. GAPS? I could do with another garden to fit it all in!

I don’t have room for a large greenhouse, and my little put-me-up is full.

No room in the greenhouse

No room in the greenhouse

So, the question of where to put all the seed trays and pots has been a bit of a challenge. Fortunately, I have a very understanding husband, who doesn’t mind a kitchen floor full of seed trays (for a short while at least)!

Seed trays on the kitchen floor

Seed trays on the kitchen floor by the door …

Cucumbers by the radiator

… and by the radiator

I never quite believe that anything is going to happen when I sow seeds, and I’m always delighted when the pots and trays start to show signs of life. I collected the marigold seeds myself last year, so I was particularly delighted when they started to germinate after just 3 days.

Germination success

Germination success

And these are just the seeds I’ve started indoors. I’ve sown beetroot, leeks and spinach outside, with more to follow. Safe to say, I’m going to be ‘blooming’ busy for the next few weeks!

April wonderland

Oh what a difference a month makes. Back in the UK, after inspiring green travels far afield, a walkabout in the garden reveals it has been blooming busy in my absence.

On first inspection, yellow predominates. The last of the daffodils are waving their nearly spent trumpets, clumps of wild primrose (Primula vulgaris) are holding their  faces aloft with gentle but confident beauty, and the Forsythia is full to bursting with sunny floral joy.

Forsythia brings sunshine into the garden whatever the weather with dramatic flair

Forsythia brings sunshine into the garden whatever the weather

Alice may be celebrating 150 years since her extraordinary adventures, but I wouldn’t swap her wonderland for mine …

 The herb garden is springing back into life

The herb garden is springing back into life, with chives, oregano and lemon balm already ready for use in the kitchen

The early unfoldings of tulips splash the garden with vibrant colour

The early unfoldings of tulips splash the garden with vibrant colour

The heavy-blossomed pear tree shouts the promise of a fruitful autumn harvest

The heavy-blossomed pear tree shouts the promise of a fruitful autumn harvest

Blooming aubretia softens and brightens stone walls and shady corners

Blooming aubretia softens and brightens stone walls and shady corners

The vibrant red-tipped growth of the Pieris Forest Flame reminds me to be alert for frosts

The vibrant red-tipped growth of the Pieris (Forest Flame) reminds me to remain alert for frosts

The flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum) is flowering in spectacular fashion

The flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum) is most definitely flowering

Then there is the ever-consistent hellebore. It is the plant that keeps on giving: from the first splash of colour in an otherwise grey canvas in February to the heavily nodding blooms that continue to vie for attention in the crowded borders around my pond today.

Helleborus blooms in April

A Christmas rose is not just for Christmas!

And it’s not just the flora making me smile. Before we went away, we knew that a pair of robins were making a home in a nest box nestled in the ivy opposite our kitchen window (see Watch the birdie). On our return, it was clear from the non-stop industry of the adults that incubation was over as they were already feeding their offspring.

A busy robin taking food back to the nest

A busy robin taking food back to the nest

So we’ve been keeping our eyes out for signs of the youngsters, and they have obliged in spectacular fashion, with 3 faces regularly peeping out of their increasingly cramped abode. Most broods tend to have a dominant sibling, and ours is no exception.

So what better name than ‘Alice’ as she becomes ‘curiouser and curiouser!’ about the wonderland that awaits her. In fact, her curiosity has almost resulted in fledging a little ahead of schedule.

Robin fledgling

First, she decided to get a better perspective on the world outside her nest

Robin fledging

Then she tried out her undeveloped flight feathers … and nearly fell out!

It doesn’t look like it will be long before Alice and her slightly less inquisitive siblings fledge, and as they will be unable to fly for a couple of days I shall have to go on cat alert.

So, now that I’ve got all the holiday washing out the way and we’re getting back into a regular routine, the hard work really starts. There’s lots of sowing and sorting to be done, but I can think of worse chores!

Gardening forever, housework whenever

Forget me not!

 

Lupin experiment

Last autumn I collected a few lupin seeds from the desiccated pods of the plants in my perennial border. I stored the seeds in envelopes (protected from mice in a tin) in the shed, where they stayed cool and dry over winter.

Come sowing time, I googled what to do with the lupin seeds, but came up with conflicting advice. Some sites simply said sow them (helpful!), some recommended scarifying the seeds with sandpaper first, others suggested soaking the seeds for 24 hours, while others advised sticking them in the freezer to break dormancy.

To soak or not to soak …

So I decided on a little experiment, soaking some overnight and sowing the rest dry, to see if there was any difference in germination success. (Next year I might try the scarifying and the freezing too.)

Pre-soaking lupin seeds

To soak or not to soak … that is the question

I’ve labelled the seeds 1, 2, 3 and 4, depending on what plant I originally collected them from (by the time I collected the seeds I couldn’t remember the colours of the lupins!), and ‘D’ or ‘W’ depending on whether I sowed them ‘dry’ or ‘wet’ (pre-soaked). Then I’ve sown them all in the same way, two to each small pot with just a few millimetres of potting compost on top, starting them off inside and keeping them moist.

Lupin seed experiment

Randomized controlled trial (sort of)

I’ll report on the findings. In theory, the pre-soaking should improve the germination success rate, but as Sod’s law would have it, the first seed to germinate was a ‘dry’ one.

Lupin seed germination

And the winner is … first to emerge is a ‘dry’ seed

Overwinter success

In the meantime, I’m delighted to report that the three lupins I lifted from the garden at the start of winter have thrived in my tiny makeshift greenhouse. I don’t usually have much success overwintering lupins in the garden – they usually rot in the ground and rarely get going again in spring, so I thought I’d see if I could keep them going over winter under cover instead. When I lifted them in November last year they already looked pretty dismal, so I wasn’t  expecting much. But it worked!

Overwinter success with lifted lupins

Overwinter success with lifted lupins

Having said that, the one lupin I left in the border (as it already looked pretty dead at the time) has also started to grow. We’ve had a pretty mild winter, so it had a fighting chance.

New lupin growth

Lupin winter survivor – a first in my garden!

All in all, the garden should be lupintastic later this year!

Watch the birdie

Nest box update

Monday mornings are always a struggle for me, but as I brewed the first of several mugs of tea this morning I spotted movement in the ivy opposite the kitchen window. What a joy to know that robins have returned to our recently cleared nest box!

Female robin, starting the nest building process

Female robin, starting the nest building process

At present, the female is busy toing and froing with leaves and moss; she will do all the nest building, but the male is close at hand, and will be supplying her with food while she toils (‘courtship feeding’).

Sparrow entertainment

Meanwhile, we also have a wonderfully entertaining flock of 50+ house sparrows (Passer domesticus) in our garden. It’s hard to put an exact figure on their numbers, as they are constantly on the move between the bird feeders and hawthorn tree, the flowerbeds and hedges, the shed roof and pond, exploring every inch of their domain.

Small groups of house sparrows congregate at different feeding stations around the garden

Small groups of house sparrows congregate at different feeding stations around the garden

These gregarious little birds start chattering at dawn under the eaves of the house, and their noisy squabbling rarely abates before dusk. It is fascinating to watch the different ‘characters’ in action, such as the bolshy males who assert their authority over the feeders (until a starling or woodpecker arrives on the scene!), or the younger, more curious, members of the flock, who are fascinated by pretty much everything, especially the glass roof of our conservatory.

Male house sparrow in breeding plumage

Male house sparrow in breeding plumage

Strangers in our midst

A few weeks ago some unusual behaviour caught my eye: a stand off between a robin and a male house sparrow over a ground feeder (or so I thought). The robin was getting stroppy and, unusually, the house sparrow wasn’t backing down. I’ve seen male house sparrows throw their weight around within their ‘family’ groups, but rarely with other species, so I picked up the binoculars to see what was going on. Imagine my surprise to find out we had a male reed bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus) in our midst: very similar to a male house sparrow from a distance, but that characteristic white drooping ‘moustache’ meant it could be nothing other than a reed bunting.

Male reed bunting

Male reed bunting

He’s been a regular visitor for a few weeks now, never coming too near the house and too wary to join the larger groups of house sparrows on the bird tables. Instead he has been feeding alone on a caged ground feeder on the lawn or in the company of a  few select sparrows on a log at the bottom of the garden. And this week, a female joined him. I could easily have mistaken her for another female house sparrow, but there was that tell-tale moustache again!

Female reed bunting, feeding in isolation away from the house

Female reed bunting, feeding in isolation away from the house

Traditionally birds of reed beds and wetlands, it’s a real treat to have them in the garden for a little while. No doubt they’ll be moving on to a suitable nest site soon.

And it just goes to show, you might think you know which birds are frequenting your garden, but it’s worth picking up the binoculars from time to time just to make sure, especially if you notice any ‘out-of-character’ behaviour.