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Plants for Butterflies

One of my plans this year was to attract more Butterflies to our garden. We are very lucky and already have a very wildlife friendly garden with wild creatures spilling in from neighbouring hedgerows, fields and woodlands. For the past 13 years we have planted hedges, gardened organically (zero chemicals) and provided food, fresh water and shelter for insects, birds and mammals. Despite all our efforts we have noticed that the number of visiting Butterflies has been falling each year. Declining numbers of Butterflies seems to be a UK wide problem for a variety of reasons ranging from adverse weather conditions to loss of habitat and food plants for adults and caterpillars.

We can’t do much about the weather I know but we can provide food and shelter. So this year we are growing some plants specifically to provide vegetation for egg laying and food for caterpillars such as Honesty (Lunaria annua), Sweet Rocket (Hesperis matronalis) and Nasturtium (Tropaeolum). We already have lots of hedges with shrubs such as Blackthorn and Holly with Ivy and Honeysuckle scrambling through them. These are suitable food plants and good egg laying places for certain butterfly species. In addition we are leaving strips of grass to grow long and flower in strategic places such as around the pond and along a sunny hedge. Apparently long grass is essential for many species of moths, crickets and butterflies. I’ve persuaded my lovely husband to be a bit more restrained with his mower and strimmer this year. To the despair of my Dad (who is a very tidy gardener!) we are also leaving patches of fresh young nettles in sunny places too. Juicy young nettle leaves are delicious caterpillar food… apparently!

The number one plant for adult Butterflies is Buddleja. We have several Buddleja bushes and it doesn’t seem to matter which variety or colour you choose. Butterflies love them all. Each conical bloom is made up of hundreds of tiny tubular flowers filled with nectar that the butterflies love. Buddleja shrubs are widely available, inexpensive and easy to grow. What’s more it’s easy to take Buddleja Cuttings and grow more plants if you want to.

Buddleja is an amazing shrub… but we haven’t stopped there. Many smaller, easy to grow garden plants and wildflowers also provide food for adult Butterflies. We’re growing them in the borders and in large containers too. Here are some of my favourites in flower this month.

Plants for Butterflies in June

 

Top row: Achillea millefolium, Lychnis coronaria, Lathyrus latifolius, Silene dioica
Bottom row: Lonicera periclymenum, Cosmos bipinnatus, Geranium pratense, Knautia arvensis

In our garden Verbena bonariensis (below) will be in flower by the end of June and go on flowering until September/October. Like Buddleja, Verbena flowers have many tiny tubular blooms filled with nectar that butterflies find irresistible. What’s not to love about these plants? They are beautiful, good for cut flowers and great for wildlife!

All of these nectar rich wildlife friendly flowers will attract more butterflies into our garden this year. I’ve already spotted quite a few flitting about on warm, still days. It’s the Big Butterfly Count next month. It runs from 14th July until 6th August… so I’ll soon see if these plants are having the effect we hoped for. Are you joining in with the butterfly count in your garden this year?

Which is your favourite plant for Butterflies? I’d love to know. Please leave a comment.

Thanks for visiting and Happy Gardening. Gillian 🙂

 

 

 

 

Bluebells

There is nothing quite like the sight of an English woodland full of Bluebells. Deciduous trees with fresh lime green leaves unfurling with a carpet of deep blue flowers so beautiful it takes your breath away. There’s patches of sunshine with ferns unfurling and dappled shade with mossy fallen trees. Bluebell woods are usually full of wildlife making the most of the early supply of nectar and pollen. Look closely and you’ll see bees and butterflies and wild birds taking advantage of the glut of insect life to feed their young. I was lucky enough to visit Bluebell Cottage gardens yesterday where the Bluebell Wood is in full bloom right now. If you know of woodland in your location where there are Bluebells then the end of April and beginning of May is usually the best time to see them in full flower. Times vary slightly from year to year depending on the weather conditions.

What’s the difference between English Bluebells and Spanish Bluebells?
English Bluebell
 Hyacinthoides non-scripta

  • The English Bluebell is deep blue.
  • Flowers are narrow, bell shaped and strongly recurved.
  • All the flowers are on the same side of the stalk.
  • They have creamy white pollen.
  • English bluebells have a strong honey like scent.
  • When the flowers are open the stalk curves downwards giving the Bluebells their characteristic nodding appearance.

Hybrid Bluebell Hyacinthoides x massartiana
(cross between Spanish Bluebell Hyacinthoides hispanica and the British Bluebell Hyacinthodes non-scripta)

  • Spanish/Hybrid Bluebells are light blue or pink or white.
  • Flowers are wide and bell shaped curling back only slightly.
  • Flowers are produced all around the stalk.
  • When the flowers are open the stalk stays erect.
  • They have blue or pale green pollen.
  • Spanish bluebells have little or no scent.

All the photos above were taken yesterday in the Bluebell Wood at Bluebell Cottage Gardens.  There’s free entry to the wood, plant nursery and tearoom and it’s £3.50 to look around the garden (Gardener’s World 2 for 1 card accepted and RHS Members free)

The photos below were all taken in my own garden.

You can grow our wild English Bluebells and Spanish Bluebells in your garden however I’m offering a word of caution here… please be aware that they can spread rapidly and may quickly become a nuisance in small spaces spreading quickly through borders. I recommend them only for large gardens. If you are happy to allow them to naturalise then they will grow well under any deciduous trees, especially Oak and Beech.

In my own garden there is a mix of English and Spanish Bluebells. From what we know about the area there was a wood here long ago. I’ve inspected the plants closely and I believe that some of our Bluebells are British natives. But many of them are hybrids and it’s too late for me to do anything about that now. We know that the previous land owner planted Spanish Bluebells because she liked the pink ones. They are lovely but must be kept in a garden situation… NOT planted in the wild because they easily cross with our natives.

I hope this has helped you determine if your Bluebells are English or Spanish. They are both lovely!

Thanks for reading and Happy Gardening. Gillian

 

Gresgarth Doors

Gresgarth Garden in Lancashire is open to the public from February to November just one day each month. Sunday 12th March was Hellebore Day and visitors were offered Hot Chocolate on the terrace.

On warm days from April onwards tea and home made cakes are served in the courtyard by the ladies of the local Womens Institute. Usually the place is full of tables and chairs and happy garden visitors enjoying refreshments so it’s hard to photograph the beautiful old buildings. On Sunday it was overcast and drizzly and most people stayed close to the house so it was the perfect opportunity for me to take a few pictures.

I love the way the garden owner and designer Arrabella Lennox-Boyd has matched the painted wooden planters with the doors of the old barns.

It’s lovely to admire the plants when visiting open gardens and I like to look at the details too because it’s those unique touches that add to the character of the garden.

I’m joining in with Norms Thursday Doors today. Why not pop across for a look at some interesting doors around the world?

Are you visiting any interesting gardens this month?

 

 

 

Hellebores and Daffodils

If you visit my blog now and again you’ll already know that I love bright colours. However I’m not usually a fan of purplish red and yellow together… but somehow they seem to work in this little jug of spring flowers.

I know they won’t last long. The Tete a tete Daffs and Hawthorn twigs will but we’ll get two or three days at the most out of the Hellebores. Really it’s better to wait until the flowers look like the picture below and have started to develop their seed pods before cutting them for a vase. You can clearly see how Hellebore flowers fade as their seeds ripen. They are still attractive though and worth cutting if yours have got to this stage already.

Happy 5th Blogging Anniversary to Cathy at Rambling in the Garden and Happy Gardening to you!

 

 

 

Hellebore Hybrids

Hellebore season is in full swing. There are so many beautiful plants available to us these days. Many of them come from specialist breeders who are developing new Hellebores with intense colours and unique markings. The Hellebore blooms floating in the shallow bowl of water below are Ashwood Hybrids. If you’d like to know more about Ashwood Nurseries then you may be interested to read about Susan Rushton’s visit. You may also like to visit Cathy at Rambling in the Garden to see some cut flowers from garden bloggers around the world.

I went to Gresgarth Garden yesterday. If you were there you may have spotted me drooling over massed Hellebores. In a long shady border backing onto the Walled Garden there are Hellebores in all shades from pure white to deep burgundy. Hydrangeas provide the shrubby backdrop to this border and there are Daffodils to follow too. But for now, without question, Hellebores are the stars.

I was lucky enough to speak to the garden owner and designer Lady Arrabella Lennox-Boyd. She told me that she started her Hellebore collection with just a few expensive plants and these have self seeded to create the impressive show today.

As a contrast to all the glamorous Hellebore Hybrids I spotted a group of Helleborus foetidus the foot of a climbing Hydrangea. Very understated yet quite lovely too with their creamy green flowers and glossy leathery leaves.

But I have something more like this in mind for our garden…

Today I’ve been removing ferns (useful but not very interesting!) from our Spring Border. I’m making space for just a few more Hellebores. We have the right conditions and a some well established plants already. With a bit of luck they will cross pollinate and self seed like they have at Gresgarth to give us a spectacular show each March. Wish me luck!

Do you grow Hellebores? Your tips to encourage seed production would be most welcome.

Happy Gardening!        Gillian 🙂

 

 

Photoboard News

This morning I’ve been outside testing my new photoboards again. I simply stood the Barn board behind a hellebore and took a few shots. I used this board both horizontally and vertically to see which I liked the best. I couldn’t believe how easy it was to get images like this. To me this looks like a hellebore growing at the base of an old timber building. What do you think?

hellebore-and-barn-008

I’m delighted to tell you that the lovely people at photoboards.org have been in touch with me to say how much they like my hellebore with their barn photoboard images in the previous post and on social media.

They wondered if my fellow bloggers and photography friends would be interested in a discount on their products. If you would like to try a photoboard or two then use the code COUNTRYGARDEN at the checkout for a 10% discount. The offer lasts for the whole month of March.

countrygarden-code

Checkout their website at photoboards.org. I’d be very interested to know what you think. Hope you all have a lovely day. Gillian 🙂

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PhotoBoards and Hellebores

January and February have flown by with orders flooding in from all over the UK. I would like to thank you most sincerely for ordering your flower seeds from me. I wish you a very happy and productive season with flowers galore. Yesterday before I started packaging orders for posting I took an hour out to take some flower photos.

parcels-to-post

barn-backdrop

Some of our Hellebores are just starting to bloom now so I’ve picked just a few. Ideally Hellebore flowers should be cut when the flowers are more mature than this. When the stamens have fallen and the centre of each bloom is starting to form seed pods is the ideal time. I know these won’t last long now I’ve cut them but they are so pretty that I just couldn’t resist them.

These particular Hellebores have flowers that droop downwards because of their growth habit and because of the sheer weight of their petals. To view these flowers properly would mean placing any vase above eye level. In the past I’ve floated Hellebore blooms in a shallow bowl of water and that works very well. This time I’ve tried an alternative and photographed them from above… but out of water. This meant I had to work fast to capture images before both the petals and stems wilted.

hellebores

Taking photos outdoors is my preferred option if the weather is suitable. We have some sheltered spaces around the garden which usually provide a little photography oasis whatever the weather. On a cold, blustery and grey day with intermittent showers I was much happier indoors with the log fire blazing.

I get quite a lot of questions about my garden photography so I thought that you might be interested to see how I took these shots today. You may be surprised to see that indoor photos can turn out surprisingly well even on a dull day if you take a few simple steps.

How to photograph flowers indoors

1) First find the light. We live in a lovely bright house with high ceilings and light walls but on a grey day even this space can seem quite gloomy. In the morning the light streams into our dining room through the floor to ceiling window so this was the best place for my 9am photo shoot. Later on in the day patio doors or large conventional windows also allow plenty of light. There will always be a spot somewhere in the house that’s getting some good light.

2) Choose your subject. When I first started taking photos it took ages for me to choose a perfect subject. I spent so long thinking about what to do that I didn’t actually take many pictures. Now I know that it’s way more important for me to simply take some pictures, experiment a bit and discover what my camera can do… so there’s really no need to get hung up about what to photograph. A quick trip into the garden and these Hellebores more or less presented themselves to me. Their soft pink blooms shone out against their glossy green leaves and probably more importantly they were very easy to cut growing next to a path and close to the house. No wet feet for me!

pale-hellebore

3) Choose your background. I like to choose backgrounds that compliment my subjects. Today I’ve been experimenting with a lovely photoboard by Lindsey James at www.photoboards.org. This particular background is called Barn and I love it.  It fits very well with the country garden theme of my blog and looks like weathered timber of an old barn.  In the past I’ve laboriously made my own boards with sheets of MDF from the builders merchants with wallpaper pasted on top. I must say that this photoboard is a much easier, lighter, cleaner and faster option! This board looks so realistic. Even close up, I don’t think anyone could guess that it wasn’t weathered timber but a 60 x 60cm smooth photograph board. I simply popped it on the floor right next to the window.

barn-photoboard

double-hellebore

4) Arrange your subject.  I usually try a few arrangements tweaking the position of leaves and flower heads until I am happy with the way it looks. In this case I made sure that the flower heads were turned towards the window to make the most of the available light. I wanted to make sure that the centres of the flowers received the most light because I find their detail quite fascinating.

dark-hellebore

5) Adjust the ISO on the camera. For a natural look I prefer not to use a flash, interior lights or studio lights. Luckily many digital cameras have a light sensitivity setting called ISO than can be raised and lowered as necessary. Outdoors where there is plenty of light I usually I set the ISO to 100. Indoors I find that I need a setting of 2,000 to 3,200 depending on just how gloomy the day is.

6) Take the shot! One of the main advantages of using a digital camera is the freedom to take as many shots as I like until I’m happy with the result. Usually moving around the subject is useful to try different angles but in this case I stood in one spot and simply moved the photoboard until the flowers were exactly in the right place. I took lots of pictures that I’m happy with and some that will never see the light of day because they didn’t work out. The bad shots are never wasted though. By experimenting a bit I find out what works for me, what I like and what I don’t. Finding your style I think they call that.

texture

Love GillianSo that’s it. How easy was that? In just one hour with a few flowers, a window, a digital camera and a photoboard I have a selection of images I can use here on my blog and on social media. Trying something new always inspires me. I’ve got lots of ideas now and I’m already planning my next shoot. Now then… which photoboard should I choose?

Do you use photoboards  or special backgrounds for your photographs?

The Big Garden Birdwatch

We are feeding our garden birds everyday now. They like sunflowers seeds and peanuts in particular and we also hang out fat balls and apples for them. Some of the bigger birds such as Crows and Wood Pigeons also visit our birdtables now that food is scarce in the fields, hedgerows and trees and a pair of pheasants like to see what’s fallen to the ground for them.

Smaller birds scatter when the big birds arrive but they don’t stay long and we replenish the food whenever necessary so there’s always something for the little ones to eat. The weather is set to become much colder here so I’ve made a point of topping up the food a couple of times today already. If the birds are well fed they’ll stand a much better chance of surviving in the icy temperatures and biting wind set to arrive tomorrow.

You may have heard that there’s an outbreak of Avian Flu at a Pheasant Farm in Lancashire… it’s not far from here.  I’m hoping that our wild ducks and swans and all our tiny garden birds stay safe and healthy. We’ll do our bit with fresh food and water every day.

Robin

I’ve just got time for one last trip around the garden to tidy away anything that’s likely to blow around when the wind arrives… there’s a few pots to be moved into more sheltered positions for starters.

Love GillianIt’s the BIG GARDEN BIRDWATCH starting the day after tomorrow. Saturday 28th to Monday 30th January 2017. Can you spare one hour to join in and help by counting your garden birds?

You may be surprised to see just how many birds visit your garden if you put some food out for them.

Happy Gardening and Birdwatching!  Gillian 🙂

 

 

Signs of Life

It’s mid January so it’s mid winter here in the UK. It’s been milder than usual here in West Lancashire with temperatures hovering around 8°C-10 °C during the day. I’m not surprised to see that there are signs of life in the garden already. Patches of bare earth have fresh green seedlings and spring bulbs are already poking their noses through the dark earth too.

ducks-and-leaves

I’ve been raking up leaves again. Each time I do it I tell myself that this is the last time until next autumn but then I find another sheltered place where fallen leaves have gathered. This time I uncovered three trays of plants in 1L pots. I’d forgotten all about them and was delighted to discover lots of lovely Aquilegia produced from seed. I was amazed to see new growth despite them being covered with a good 10cm / 4 inches of wet leaves for the past three to four months.

aquilegia

These are McKanna Hybrids which have beautiful long spurred flowers in shade of pink, white and yellow. I used them for cut flowers last year so I’m very happy that I have another 30 plants to add to our Spring Garden. They don’t look much at the moment but I can already imagine how beautiful they’ll be. Here’s some in a vase last spring.

biennials-vase

At first glance things in the garden look bleached and there are dead stalks and leaves everywhere. Closer inspection reveals fresh shoots and buds on many plants. According to the Met Office temperatures are set to drop a little this weekend and it’s possible we may have more frost in February so I’ll leave the final tidy up until then. I like to be sure that our wild visitors have places to shelter and seeds to eat.

wildlife-pond

Our pond is no exception. We have Bullrushes and Iris which are clinging on to their crispy old leaves. A pair of Moorhens nest here each spring and raise three broods of chicks. They use the strap-like leaves to construct a new nest each time raising it out of the water by weaving layers of dry leaves and fresh pliable new leaves together. Today three wild Mallard ducks were inspecting the pond. They grub around in the mud at the base of the plants for insect larvae to eat and like to shelter in the dead foliage too. There are foxes around here so a safe place to rest is essential for them. You can just about make out the soggy remains of a duck nest at the bottom right of the photo above.

three-ducks

drakes

I’m feeling excited because I can see the potential. We’ve had some grey and dismal days but things are already Looking Good in the garden for a burst of life everywhere this spring.

Are there signs of life in your garden this week?looking-good-guidelines - Copy
Perhaps some new seedlings, buds or wildlife?

You are most welcome to join in with Looking Good each Friday.

Thanks for reading, liking and commenting. Gillian 🙂

Broadway Doors

There are some English villages that are impossible to drive through without stopping to look a little more closely at the homes, shops and of course the village inns. Broadway is one of our most beautiful Cotswolds villages I think. It has the most gorgeous honey coloured buildings… some ancient and others much newer but all very attractive.  Broadway is very popular so it can become busy at times but it’s most definitely worth a close look.

broadway-doors

broadway-door-topiary

Here are some of the more characterful buildings we saw in Broadway last September. I love the way all the doors are quite unique and it’s especially lovely that they are all enhanced by individual planting schemes, some restrained and some more exuberant. Can you guess the character of the householders from the outside of their homes I wonder?

broadway-door

door-broadway

I’m joining in with Norms Thursday Doors today.
Everyone is welcome to join in… why not pop along for a look?