Notes from a field & Garden - Bob Sheridan
Langham in Rutland
February   was   a   month   of   contrasts,   dank   and   misty   with   a   biting   easterly   wind   that   cut   to the   bone   away   from   shelter.   Interspersed   with   this   were   pleasantly   warm,   sunlit   days. The birds   made   full   use   of   the   better   days   and   burst   into   a   song.   Robins   were   particularly vocal   along   with   blackbird,   hedge   sparrow,   wren   and   great   tits.   Whilst   walking   along   their songs   seemed   to   be   competing   with   each   other,   then   all   of   a   sudden   I   was   startled   by   a pair   wood   pigeons   clattering   out   of   the   hedge   as   they   took   flight.   I   am   sure   that   the   green woodpecker   thought   this   was   funny   as   his   cackling   laugh   was   heard   immediately   after. The   magpies   are   now   seen   in   pairs   as   they   start   to   make   nests   ready   for   the   breeding season.   The   male   blackbirds   are   getting   very   territorial   and   a   lot   of   squabbling   is   going   on either   to   protect   their   territory   or   for   the   attention   of   a   female.   Robins   are   notoriously pugnacious   but   I   saw   four   all   together   sifting   through   leaf   litter   for   a   snack   their   quarrels temporarily   forgotten.   Blue   tits   and   great   tits   are   already   investigating   the   nest   boxes. Great   tits   have   done   well   over   winter,   they   seem   to   be   everywhere.   Long   tailed   tits   are   also plentiful;   they   will   not   use   the   nest   boxes   but   build   wonderful   domed   nests   of   moss   lined
with   soft   feathers   and   often   decorated   with   lichen.   The   number   of   pheasants   waiting   for   a   handful   of corn   has   increased   and   the   males   are   starting   their   mating   dance   in   front   of   the   females.   So   far   they have   shown   not   the   slightest   interest   and   the   males   have   to   go   back   to   eating   the   corn.   A   second   pair of   mallard   has   appeared   sporadically   over   the   last   few   weeks   which   results   in   a   considerable   amount of   quacking   and   chasing   around.   I   am   not   sure   who   is   chasing   who   and   I   don't   think   they   have   a   great idea   either.   The   original   pair   are   quite   tame   and   usually   come   when   I   call   them.   Gill   Frisby   sent   in some   notes   about   her   regular   garden   visitors.   Notably   members   of   the   tit   family   have   been   less regular   in   her   garden.   They   must   be   all   up   this   way.   Gill   also   mentions   masses   of   goldfinches. Quite large    groups    are    often    heard    twittering    in    the    trees    before    flying    off    into    the    distance. The collective   name   for   a   group   of   goldfinches   is   a   "charm"   which   certainly   fits   these   attractive finches.   The   high   winds   at   the   end   of   February   uprooted   several   small   trees   along   Mickley   Lane. The dense   covering   of   ivy   on   them   was   obviously   a   contributory   factor   to   their   fall.   The   same   day   also saw the flowering of the first daffodils along there. A   middle   of   February   quick   count   of   the   number   of   plants   found   flowering   in   the   garden   was surprising so I took photographs of them. As you would expect the snowdrops   were the most dominant species    but    aconites     and    iris    reticulata     also    put    on    a    good    display?    The    green    flowers    of    the stinking hellebore   ( Helleborus foetidus ) are also a reliable feature at this time of year.   Another hellebore, the   Lenten   rose    ( helleborus   orientalis )   also   flowers   at   this   time   but   has   a   much   greater   variety   of   flower colour.   Although   I   am   interested   in   plants   I   am   not   so   keen   on   "gardening"   and   so   that   rules   out   an immaculate   lawn   and   bedding   plants.   I   tend   more   towards   the   "   I   have   got   this   plant,   where's   a   place? Plant   it   there   and   see   what   happens"   school   of   thought.   Not   making   much   use   of   a   hoe   allows   plants   to self   seed   which   means   surprises   popping   up   in   all   sorts   of   places.   Unfortunately   I   have   now   got   a garden    full    of    hellebores    which    are    in    need    of    a    drastic    cull.    Other    plants    in    flower    were Daphne mezereum ,    crocus ,    Pulmonaria    officinalis ,    primrose ,    Bergenia     (Elephant's    Ears),    Viburnum x bodnantense "Dawn" , the latter having been in flower since before Christmas, and pansies. This   is   the   time   of   year   when   I   hope   you   are   all   thinking   about   what   you   are   going   to   enter   for this   year's   village   show.   How   about   some   chrysanthemums   or   dahlias?   These   are   not   just   show blooms   but   are   excellent   garden   plants   and   cut   flowers   for   the   house.   There   are   two   types,   those   that have   one   flower   per   stem   and   those   that   have   several   flowers   per   stem,   the   later   better   known   as sprays.   Each   of   these   types   is   again   divided   into   "early"   or   "late"   varieties.   For   the   garden   early varieties   are   the   best,   they   do   not   need   protection   like   the   later   ones.   If   you   have   never   grown   them before   early   spray   varieties   are   the   easiest   to   start   with.   Most   of   the   catalogues   coming   through   the door   at   this   time   of   year   have   small   collections   for   sale   but   if   you   want   more   variety   a   specialist retailer,   such   as   Woolmans,   offer   a   much   greater   selection.   The   young   plants   have   to   have   the growing   tip   removed,   known   as   "stopping",   so   that   the   plants   will   branch.   The   branches,   or   "breaks", occur   at   the   leaf   joints   and   ideally   you   want   about   five   breaks   so   pinch   out   the   growing   tip   after five leaves   have   formed.   If   you   order   plants   through   the   post   they   may   already   have   been   stopped   so that   they   are   small   enough   to   fit   into   the   package   and   often   this   means   there   will   fewer   breaks. The young   plants   should   be   potted   up   and   gradually   hardened   off   ready   for   planting   in   May.   All   that is   left   to   do   after   that   is   water,   give   an   occasional   feed,   take   out   any   side   shoots   from   further   down and the stems and then enter them in the show! I   was   asked   recently   how   to   grow   long   carrots   for   the   show.   The   answer   is   firstly   choosing   seeds recommended   for   exhibition   such   as   new   red   intermediate.   Secondly   carrots   need   deep,   light   soil that   is   free   of   stones   and   not   freshly   manured.   Keen   showmen   grow   carrots   in   tall   raised   beds, barrels   or   even   drainpipes   filled   with   exotic   compost   mixtures.   An   easier   method,   which   can   still   give good   results,   is   to   hammer   a   stake   into   the   ground   a   wiggle   it   around   to   make   a   conical   hole.   Fill   the hole   with   soil   based   compost,   making   sure   the   filling   goes   right   to   the   bottom,   allow   the   compost   to settle   and   top   up   if   necessary.   Sow   three   or   four   seeds   and   then   out   to   the   strongest   plant   after   a couple   of   true   leaves   have   developed.   Keep   well   watered   and   cover   with   fleece   if   carrot   fly   is   a problem. Wait till September to pull just before the show. (Also works for parsnips). Good luck!
April 2017