I obviously hope you enjoy browsing through the postings on here - do feel free to leave comments as it's always good to see who's visiting and to hear about other people's experiences - after all you never stop learning do you?

If you've any gardening questions or you live in Brittany and are looking for some gardening help - be it design work, planting or general gardening or you simply would like some advice, please don't hesitate to CONTACT ME or call me on 0033 661 77 23 89 (from UK) or 0661 77 23 89 (from France).

Happy gardening!

Sunday 28 February 2010

Our Garden in Brittany - a fly-thru for ready meals!

After a fairly rubbish night's sleep last night with the strong winds and yet more very heavy rain here I pulled myself out of bed at 9.40am to go and get Lucy out and was stopped in my tracks on the stairs when I noticed we had a visitor poised quietly on the roof of the bird table - a large Sparrow Hawk - thinking this must be like the equivalent of a Macdonalds Drive-Thru for him or her - with free ready meals!!  There wasn't a Blue Tit in sight!  So I rushed back upstairs to try and get a shot of the bird and this was the only one I managed through an upstairs window before it took off!  It was a nice surprise on such a dismal morning!

Sorry I've not been around visiting blogs much this week but have been busy working on a garden design for some French clients which has certainly kept me busy.

However in odd moments during the week I did manage to get one or two pictures which I've been storing up for my weekend posting.  This young Great Spotted Woodpecker sat for ages after filling himself up on peanuts from the feeder - I wouldn't be surprised if he was one of last year's babies which I'd captured on the bird table last summer.

The weather has played a predominant part this week - I think we've had the wettest weather we've ever had in the last 7 years now in Brittany - at least Lucy was making the most it!

This is the field just below our house looking towards the road - the water right up to the arch on the stone bridge (hidden by the bushes!).

The stream which runs along the bottom of our woodland is now a complete torrent which has flooded almost as far as our French farming neighbours - this is only the second time that the little bridge over the stream has been completely immersed too.  We had very strong winds last night but from what I could see no real damage which was a relief.

A view from our woodland towards our neighbours!

The spring flowers have certainly benefitted from all the extra watering - the daffodils are almost out, Hellebores continue to bloom and finally the lovely red Camelia has fully opened! 

This morning I discovered one solitary flower on the Pulmonaria had braved the elements too.  With the rain the perfume from the Lonicera was amazing... it's not an easy shrub to photo with such delicate flowers but a real favorite.

During the week of horrible weather it's been nice to see a few snowdrops and bright yellow crocus without having to go out of the house!

Do hope you all have a good week - have been busy collecting up toilet rolls in readiness for planting seeds in a few weeks hopefully... more on that in due course...

Monday 15 February 2010

Going green just has to be seen...

There are so many ways us gardeners can be helping  to do our bit to care for our poor planet and following the suggestion of Jan from Thanks4Today Blogspot in Virginia USA  in recognition of the 40th Annivesary of  Earth Day on 22nd April for us bloggers to promote what we're doing in our own gardens in order to encourage others to try some new ideas in their own.

To celebrate I decided to do my bit as well...

I must admit I'm all for gardening organically, without the need to use chemical pesticides and insecticides and to date have found this very successful.  We were helped here by the fact that our garden and woodland which borders a stream had been left to do it's own thing for about 9 years or so - it's own little eco system had evolved and it's amazing how nature does look after itself and at the same time enable you to have a thriving garden in so many ways.

Garden Watering:  Natural rainwater can be collected in water butts or containers to save on draining other water resources.  Watering can also be reduced if you following the practice of mulching - placing compost/grass cuttings around plants in the borders which will enable the soil to retain moisture for longer during the warm months of the year - reducing the need to water too often.

Planting: One method of planting up my beans and Sweet Peas has been using the cardboard inner tubes from toilet rolls and kitchen rolls - by placing as many as will fit into a plastic seed tray and filling them all with compost till they are 2/3 full sowing the seed or bean and then topping up with more compost.  Once the plants have established they can be planted out straight into the soil in the cardboard tube which in time just composts down and thus not disturbing the delicate roots! 

Protecting young plants which are vulnerable to slug damage:  Another idea which I use each year is by getting used plastic water bottles and after cutting off both the top and base - use a pair of pinking shears - the kind of scissors that give you a zig-zag pattern - divide each bottle's middle into two or three sections - the jagged edging is ideal for pressing into the soil around each young plant - meanwhile the zig/zag top edge will make it difficult for slugs to get at the young plants!  Normally I just leave these in the ground during the growing season and they work a treat!  Coffee grounds can also work quite well when sowing rows of young salads. 

Composting: A posting like this couldn't bypass the value of home composting... by saving up all the vegetable and fruit peelings, egg shells, tea bags, coffee grounds, some newspaper and thin cardboard as well as grass cuttings - these can all go towards boosting the soil and boosting your plants.  I have made two using 4 wooden posts and chicken wire - one is full and I usually leave for a good six months to rot away whilst the other is being added to - by the time that one is full the other one can be used!

Weedkilling: Don't be so hasty to kill weeds in your gardens - a margin of wildflowers/nettles, grasses around the garden or in certain areas are invaluable to wildlife - to insects, birds and small mammals alike - nettles for instance provide essential plant food for young caterpillars which in turn are essential food for parent birds feeding their young and so it goes on.  Nettles also make wonderful soup - pick of the top 4 leaves of young nettles and use with a mix of potatoes, chopped onions and stock - yummy and full of Iron!

I really could go on and on and will try and add some more ideas as the year goes on but hopefully this will help for starters.... all of these practices takes little effort and bring plenty of reward!  Don't let another year go by without at least trying one idea...

Please do leave other ideas you yourselves have tried as it's always great to hear of new ones...

ps. Jan - many thanks for instigating this - absolutely great!

Saturday 13 February 2010

Have a special Valentines Day...

Wishing you all a very Happy Valentines Day - traditionally a day where birds are to have thought to have chosen their mate!

With the quantity of little Blue Tits in our garden right now - I reckon a Speed Dating event is needed!!  Have a special day...

Thursday 11 February 2010

More surprises....

Well I must admit this morning was a surprise in itself to open the curtains to find a couple of cm of snow lying in the garden - there was me thinking that spring at last was on it's way and then this!!  Well there are some benefits too in that the weather today certainly brought some extra visitors to the bird table and needless to say didn't get a great deal of work done - too distracted by all the actiivty in the garden!!

The Snowdrops are amazing little flowers - so small yet so robust... and SO beautiful too.

The best bit was actually getting the Fieldfares in the garden ... at last... and have managed a reasonable picture of them - these were all taken from indoors through the window so am quite pleased really!

I can now report that we have two Goldfinches coming regularly to the bird table now which is great... maybe there will be baby Goldies to come?

Today's snow also brought the male Black Cap - as well as the Fieldfares he seemed to be interested only in the apples that I'd put on the grass - ones that I'd picked in the autumn and which had now seen better days... they appreciated them!  I couldn't believe how horrible the Blackbirds and the Fieldfares were being to each other - this was the bird version of road rage I think!!

I managed to get some closer shots of the bird table later in the day from our porch... the Blue and Great Tits are so funny...

Finally to end the day I took Lucy for her walk and decided on some black and white pics to end the posting...
Do hope you've enjoyed some of the snippets from my day here... I wonder what the rest of the week will bring?

Wednesday 10 February 2010

A lucky escape... involving a woodburning stove!

Today, lunchtime turned out to be an interesting one... it was freezing cold outside with a really biting wind and it had been trying to snow on and off all morning.... so I'd come downstairs to have some lunch.

Sitting on the sofa in our sitting room, quietly eating my lunch and watching television at the same time, I suddenly noticed a movement in our woodburner (which wasn't lit thankgoodness!) I thought nothing of it and continued to watch the television thinking that I'd imagined something.  I then noticed another movement and then was completely taken aback with what I saw next...

It was a little beak, a little blue head peering out through the glass door and when I took a closer look it was a Blue Tit... which had come all the way down our massive chimney (our house is probably the equivalent of 3 storeys high) and done it's final journey down the flue pipe of the woodburner landing in a good pile of soft cold ash from the evening before - how it wasn't injured is a mystery. 

Anyway... without wasting anymore time (would have loved to have got my camera but wanted the little fella to be able to get out as quickly as possible) I opened our French Doors to the garden, then standing to the side of the woodburner, opened the door and out he flew straight out into the garden.

Feeling that at least I'd been able to help on his journey through life finished my lunch!

Monday 8 February 2010

Spring surprises...

Over this last weekend the weather in Northern Brittany, France has been relatively mild in comparisson to the last number of weeks so I was able to get out into our own garden to do some of the many jobs needing doing at this time of year - I use the word relatively, meaning that it wasn't literally freezing!!  Today however is a different situation altogether and we're back to very cold all over again :-(  
To try and keep everyone in a positive frame of mind thinking of all the beautiful plants that will be coming out over the coming months, I thought I'd try and do a montage of photos to show you how things are coming along here....  As you'll see our Hellebores have really come on over the last week as have the Snowdrops or as they are called in France Perce Neige  - literally meaning to "pierce the snow"!  Other plants which seem to be doing well is the large deep red Camelia which we inherited with the house, buds coming on well on our Flowering Currants which I grew on from cuttings a few years ago now (easy to do!), little leaves already showing on Geranium renardii and even the little Cyclamen Coum are out as well.

I thought it was also worth taking note of the plants providing foilage at this time of year - it's very easy concentrating on plants that look pretty in the summer, but it is nice to start seeing some green or other textures and colours before that - going from top left to right - firstly is are the feathery leaves of the Geum - an absoute must in mind for a border. The next are the leaves of Hesperis matronalis - (Sweet rocket or Dame's Violet) which is a fantastic perennial with the most amazing smell - a real favorite of the little Orange Tip butterfly and provides essential food for the caterpillar too! Top right are the leaves of White Campanula which are wonderful again in the summer providing flowers over a long period of time and are prolific self-seeders too - thus providing plenty of plants to dig up to give to your friends!  Bottom left are the beginnings of the beautiful deep orange Hemerocallis or Day Lillies - I was surpised to see the foilage this far on considering the low temperatures we've had!  Next is another shrub Mahonia aquifoloim we inherited - it has pretty bronze evergreen slightly spikey leaves at this time of year and produces lightly fragrant yellow flowers which are still in bud but they won't be long in coming out now. Finally bottom right are the leaves of the wonderful Papaver orientale - Oriental Poppies - the leaves appear again in the late summer/autumn after the flowers and old foliage have died off - and stay all winter long and right through till after flowering in early summer.

The Hazel catkins have come on loads since the photos I took of these in my previous posting - they look so pretty.
This was one that caught my eye as I was wandering around the garden ... all on it's lonesome!
This female Goldfinch is definately "Queen of the Castle" perched high above the Robin who doesn't really seem "bovvered!"Another regular visitor to the fat blocks is our Great Spotted Woodpecker - managed to get a closer shot whilst he wasn't looking.

The Rosa rugosa's were also showing signs of life - another favorite of mine and the also provide essential food for wildlife from the wonderful hips in the late summer.
It's worth taking a look under the leaves of your Hellebores as when you take a closer look you may be in for a surprise of loads of baby seedlings... I tend to dig these up and pot them on in the greenhouse at this time of year to give them more room to grow on and they make great plants to swap at our late spring plant swap which is coming up in March.
Another shrub I wouldn't be without at this time of year for it's perfume is the lovely Winter flowering Honeysuckle - if pruned well it can make a wonderful nesting site for blackbirds and thrushes.
Finally for today's posting I've done a montage of the various veggies we've got in the garden right now...they've done really well in tall the cold weather too - top left to right - firstly is a real favorite is Purple Sprouting Broccoli - worth growing quite a few of these in the spring as many get eaten by hungry caterpillars... but many don't!! In the middle is our Parsley - I'd great plans last year to grow it from seed but discovered loads of seedlings which had sprouted in our homeade compost and this is the result - one year on.  Rhubarb coming on well and then bottom left is another favorite Chard "Bright Lights" which not only really brightens up the veg patch at any time of year tastes delicious raw in a salad or cooked much like spinach is delicious with a bit of melted butter.  Lastly is a Mustard greens - Raggedy Jack which were kindly passed onto me from a friend here as seedlings - they died of at the end of the autumn and have come back again... they certainly spice up a salad and also good in a stirfry too!

This brings tonights posting to an end - hope you all have a good week and will be back with more news from our garden in the next few days...

Friday 5 February 2010

Caught on camera...

Just delighted this morning to spot this cheeky little fellow sitting in our Lilac Tree (a male Siskin!) (Sorry this isn't the best quality picture as it was taken through our office window at a reasonable distance too!)  

Over the last two years we've had a little collection of Siskins visit our garden each spring - I never had them in the UK and so was v. excited to see them visit our garden here in Brittany.  They've normally arrived at the beginning of January but this is the first sighting I've had of them - this one is a male with it's predominantly dark head.  It has similar colour plumage to that of a Greenfinch but is only the size of a large Blue Tit - the females in comparison don't have the dark head but a still a mix of the green and dark plumage.  They really are cute little birds and before they left us late spring in 2009 they were really becoming very tame - often at the bird table when I was working in the garden close by!

We've not had our regular spring visits from either the Nuthatch or the Brambling this year - these are the two that I'm missing... so will keep you posted as and when they appear... here's hoping!

I'll post again over the weekend but thought this would keep you going for the time being...