Thursday, 18 January 2018

Plant profile - Snowdrops

This genus of well-known and often coveted bulbs is native to Europe from the Pyrenees in the west to Caucasus, Iran and Turkey in the East. Many people think the Snowdrop is a native of Britain, or brought to the British Isles by the Romans but it is more likely they were introduced in the 16th Century.


Galanthus nivalis
Galanthus nivalis

They do well in shady conditions, under trees or shrubs in moist but well-drained soil, with some leaf mould if available. Here they will naturalise and spread around giving a fabulous display in the depths of winter when we need some cheering up. Once planted Snowdrops are self-sufficient and happy to be left to their own devices. Some of the more unusual varieties are a bit choosier and because they are a bit more expensive to buy. I like to grow them in my alpine troughs, so I can keep an eye on them and they have fewer plants to compete with. Some cultivars need a bit more attention, cover and protection in winter or grown in pots, but that’s a whole other topic of conversation. For now, I’m going to concentrate on the ones I love and grow in the garden. I have fond they do very well on our exposed hill in the Scottish Borders at 850 feet above sea level in clay soil

Galanthus 'Lady Elphinstone'
Galanthus 'Lady Elphinstone'
Galanthus 'John Gray'
Galanthus 'John Gray'





Our hearts and minds lift at the first sight of these tiny, delicate yet extremely hardy little gems. I have several cultivars dotted about the garden along with the common Snowdrop Galanthus nivalis. The species spreads itself around very well if it is happy. The cultivars take a bit longer to bulk up, apart from Galanthus nivalis 'Flore Plena' which spreads as readily as its species cousin. Plant Galanthus with other winter interest plants such as Bergenias, Hellebores, Winter Aconites, early daffodils, Crocus and evergreen ferns for a wealth of winter interest in the garden.

Snowdrops at Dryburgh Abbey
Dryburgh Abbey

In recent years Snowdrops have become a bit of a collectable genus in the horticultural world. Their collectors have even earned their own collective name: Galanthophiles. People will pay a small fortune for one tiny bulb of rarer varieties, with some going for over £300! I once bought 3 bulbs of Galanthus 'John Grey' for £8 a bulb and thought that was excessive. There are many books on the subject and several specialist nurseries selling them. Popular and very collectable are yellow snow drops such as G. 'Wendy's Gold'. Another yellow is G. 'Lady Elphinstone', a double and so very striking.

Snowdrops at Howick Hall
Howick Hall

Snowdrops at Threave Gardens
Threave Gardens

The flowers of Snowdrops are well worth looking at closely. Each flower is a drop of white with different markings and this is what makes them interesting to collectors. The nodding bell-shaped flower is held on a slender stalk amongst the leaves. The flower usually bears six tepals rather than petals arranged in two whorls of three, the outer being larger. The shorter inner tepals ate tapered and usually bear green markings at the base, occasionally the markings are yellow, green-yellow or absent depending on species.

Galanthus 'Desdamona'
Galanthus 'Desdamona'
Galanthus John Grey, Hill Poe, Magnet, Flore Plena and nivalis
Galanthus John Grey, Hill Poe,
Magnet, Flore Plena and nivalis



When buying snowdrops, it is always better to buy them in the green, i.e. when they are in leaf, not as dried bulbs. There are lots of nurseries advertising snowdrops in the green: be sure they come from a reputable source and are not being dug up in the wild! For some of the rarer gems have a look at the following nurseries:




Galanthus in shot glasses - perfect scale
Galanthus in shot glasses - perfect scale

Galanthus in shot glasses - perfect scale

A great way to see Snowdrops and spend a pleasant Sunday afternoon with the family is to visit one of the many gardens that open in February for the snowdrops. The easiest way to find out where there is one near you is to do an internet search for "where to see snowdrops". Here are some of my favourites and recommendations, including blog posts of Snowdrop visits we’ve done: 






Cambo gardens, Fife  www.camboestate.com

Howick Hall, Northumbria www.howickhallgardens.org



snowdrops in a drawer


Snowdrops are good for cut flowers, bees, long flowering, winter interest, clay soil and shade. If you have a space in a shady part of the garden I would recommend you give these plants a go. Which one to go for depends on your colour preference. I have grown all these growing in an exposed garden on clay soil. The Quirky Bird recommends the following:

Galanthus nivalis
The common Snowdrop with its small white, bell flowers with a green smudge on the inner petals. Easy to naturalise. H 15cm.

Galanthus 'John grey'
Snowdrop with exceptionally large, heavy, pendant flowers with a large, spreading, single green mark on the inside petals. Early-flowering. H 15cm.

Galanthus 'Lady Elphinstone'
Fabulous fully double yellow marked flowers, very sought after.

Galanthus 'Hill Poe'
A late flowering double whereby the solid looking flower is tightly packed with inner segments that form a neat rosette. Grows well with us in clay soil.

Galanthus 'Desdamona'
Relatively large flowered, irregular double, most strongly distinguished by the frequent appearance of a third leaf on a single shoot with occaisonal four perfect outer segments.

Galanthus 'Magnet'
White with green markings, the distinctive feature is the long pedicel (the spur connecting flower to stem) which allows the flower to dangle and sway with great grace in any breeze.

Galanthus nivalis 'Flore Plena'
The commonly found double with its broad flouncy green and white flowers, often found wild as commonly as its single cousin.


Galanthus 'Hill Poe'
Galanthus 'Hill Poe'


Galanthus nivalis
Galanthus nivalis


Galanthus 'John Grey'
Galanthus 'John Grey'


Galanthus 'Magnet'
Galanthus 'Magnet'


Galanthus nivalis 'Flore Plena'
Galanthus nivalis 'Flore Plena'






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Wednesday, 17 January 2018

From Winter Garden Progress to Winter Wonderland

Back to the nursery this week, getting back into the working routine and getting up for the school bus was uncomfortable, it's still dark at 7am and feels way too early to be up after time off. Still I'm raring to go to get on in the nursery and start the winter tidy up ready for opening at the beginning of March. There is so much to do and I want to make the most of dry days in case the snow comes back.

Crocus beginning to pop up in the entrance borders of the farm
Crocus beginning to pop up in the entrance borders of the farm

I started the great garden tidy-up at the entrance of the farm where I created two new borders a year ago. These are stuffed full of tough perennials that will provide colour and interest all year. At the moment there is no sign of anything once cut back, but there were brave crocus popping up. These are some of the two thousand Val, Dee and I planted last autumn. You can read about creating those borders in this blog February in the Quirky Bird Gardens

Starting the willow weaving
Starting the willow weaving

The other big job at this time of year is weaving the willow that runs along both sides of the wildlife garden. This is woven into a hedge about three feet high giving us a boundary between the cafe and nursery. This year I am increasing the height by about six inches and filling in the gaps between plants with excess rods of willow cut from last years willow growth. Once done it looks lovely with all the different colours of willow woven together and I find the task therapeutic and relaxing. It also lets light into the cafe and opens up the gardens. It's also an easy and cheap way to create natural boundaries in the garden and can be woven into many patterns or heights.

Tidying stream garden


I also started to tidy the nursery gardens this week, starting with the stream garden. Here I have made use of one of the farm streams to make an interesting and colourful entrance to the nursery. By planting damp and water loving plants and some plants who's roots will knit the bankings together and stop the soil being washed away I have placed plants in the environment they will do best in. There are spring flowering Epimediums, summer Iris, Astrantia and Primula then grasses for autumn interest, to name but a few of the plants here. Once I've cut everything back and weeded the beds, they get a top dressing of our own compost, made in the nursery from all our organic waste and old compost. We do the traditional method of turning after 6 months into the next compost bin, leaving it for another 6 months before emptying it into bulk bags until it is required. So this compost is at least 12 months in the making. It makes a huge difference to our clay soil over time, being taken down by the worms and worked into the soil over the year when I hoe. I'm waiting on new mini hurdles being delivered to replace these tired ones which have done just about three years there.

You can read the Quirky Bird's top tips for tidying the gardens here
 
Tidying stream garden


 January plants in the stream garden, Pulmonaria rubra 'Ann', Juncus patens ‘Carman’s Gray’, Epimedium pinnatum ssp. Colchicum and Petasites japonicus var. giganteus 'Nishiki-buki'
 January plants in the stream garden, Pulmonaria rubra 'Ann', Juncus patens ‘Carman’s Gray’, Epimedium pinnatum ssp. Colchicum and Petasites japonicus var. giganteus 'Nishiki-buki'

I've created a new page on the nursery website to highlight the wild flowers and native plants we sell. We have an ever increasing ranger and you can see them growing in the wildflower bankings in the nursery through spring and summer. You can see the page here: Wild Flowers

I grabbed a sunny half hour between showers earlier in the week to tidy my alpine troughs. The didn't need much done, mainly all the fallen leaves from the trees picked off and a few plants cut back. It's all part of the garden tidy up for spring.







Just as I was beginning to make progress in both the gardens in the nursery and at home we've been snowed under, literally. As I write we have about six inches of snow, and it's still snowing on and off. School buses are cancelled and police are advising necessary travel only. From the office window at home I can see traffic moving along the main road, but much less of it and much slower. Our wee side road is still white. So that means more time to get paperwork, seed orders, newsletters and signage made, printed, designed and so on. 

Bracken thinks the snow is far too deep for nursery dogs
Bracken thinks the snow is far too deep for nursery dogs

We spent a lot of last year building new gardens, our wedding garden and getting married! This year it's back to basics. As well as updating the website over winter we've been designing lots of new signs and information boards for the nursery and gardens. This will help visitors and customers find their way round and find the plants they are looking for. We will have lots of information available on tricky areas of the garden, specific plant groups and of course I will be on hand to give advice about the best plants for your garden. 

Snow views from the back garden at home
Snow views from the back garden at home

Snow views from the back garden at home


Snow views from the back garden at home


So there we are, no school, no outdoor work, no day out for this week. If you have lots of snow or only a little, enjoy it but stay safe and warm. It's a time to nestle down, wrap up, read garden books and blogs and dream of spring and better weather.


Have a great week.



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Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Quirky Bird Top Tips for the Winter-Spring Great Garden Tidy

This is a garden job that people have varied timing preference for. Some like to do it as soon as the plants die down in autumn, cutting back and clearing everything away for winter. Others like to wait until after winter so they can enjoy frost on the seeds heads and give the plants crowns a bit more protections with leaf debris against the cold. I fall into the later camp, letting the garden sleep under the blanket of debris, letting seeds fall to hopefully germinate in spring and to enjoy the silhouettes of seed heads in frost.

The stream garden in the nursery before it's tidy up, as you can see the rest of the nursery awaits its turn behind
The stream garden in the nursery before it's tidy up, as you can see the rest of the nursery
awaits its turn behind
........ and after with a mulch of home made compost to improve our clay soil
................. and after with a mulch of home made compost to improve our clay soil

I always enjoy this job as I find it immensely satisfying to turn weedy, messy borders in to neat tidy borders, refreshed and ready for spring flower beds. Then you can easily see the plants emerging after their winter sleep and bulbs beginning to flower. Again as with timing everyone has their own way of doing this task, mine is by no means the only way, but the way I like to work.

In my last garden, tidying the woodland garden, before on the left and after on the right
In my last garden, tidying the woodland garden, before on the left and after on the right

~ Cutting back plants and lifting leaves
Firstly I cut back all the dead stems, leaves etc from the plants and lift weeds, gathering it all up into my big recycled tyre bucket and ultimately into the compost bin. Most of the plant material goes in the compost heap unless it is very woody, then it goes on the bonfire. I also use tidying up as an opportunity to check on which plants are struggling or maybe not survived. Then I can make a decision whether to replace them or plant something new.

Before tidying in the old veg garden in my previous garden
Before tidying in the old veg garden in my previous garden

veg garden tidy and after
and after

~ Re-edging lawns or fixing border edges
It's all good exercise after hibernating over winter! Once all the debris is cleared off the border I can if any lawns need re-edged, which I do with a half-moon edging knife and shears. If larger areas need fixed, I cut out a square of turf larger than the whole and turn it 180 degrees so the border has a smooth new edge and the hole can be filled in with some soil and re-seeded. If the beds have a wooden edge, etc, it's a good opportunity to do some maintenance before plants start growing again. This can be replacing wooden edges, hammering in loose pegs, etc.


Tools at the ready to tidy another border in my last garden
Tools at the ready to tidy another border in my last garden

~ Forking / digging / no dig
Here again there are many preferences, some people fork over the soil, loosening up compacted areas, if it's it a large area (veg beds) it can be dug over and then there is the no dig approach to gardening. This is something I have recently been considering. Because when you think about the borders in the nursery which have a bark mulch don't get dug or forked at all and the plants grow very well......... Any beds that don't get bark get a home made compost mulch, so the soil doesn't need  forked to make it look good. Food for thought there moving forward.


~ Feeding
After all the clearing, forking, and tidying it's time to prepare the borders and beds for new growth. Again we all have our favourite general fertiliser that we use. For many years I have used pelleted organic chicken manure and I find plants do very well with it, it's organic and completely natural. It gets scattered over the borders, this is useful not only to boost the plants but also if the soil is poor to enrich it.

One of the borders in the nursery with its  compost mulch
One of the borders in the nursery with its
compost mulch


~ Compost mulch
 Finally I cover the border in home made compost from our compost heaps. This mulch seals in moisture, feeds the plants and nourishes and improves poorer soils. Over the year worms and me hoeing the beds will work the compost in and over time the soil does improve. I did this for the fifteen years I was at my last garden and by the time I left the very poor clay soil in the borders was becoming a lovely workable soil.

Time and patience as in all things gardening.

This was not in winter, strangely enough! But it's good to relax and  Genjoy all our hard work after a day in the garden
This was not in winter, strangely enough! But it's good to relax and
enjoy all our hard work after a day in the garden


~ Enjoy the fruits of your winter labours
Lastly, stand back and enjoy the really satisfyingly feeling of those tidy borders, beds and garden, ready to jump into life, even if you feel sore and tired! Have a coffee and stand at the window in the warmth and watch the bulbs emerging and the first signs of growth, that's what I do, as I plan what I'll put in any spaces I've found.


Happy gardening!









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Sowing the Seeds of this years garden plans

HAppy new year time to start the big garden tidy up

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Happy New Year! Where will this one take us?

A happy new year to you all!

No new year resolutions, no promises, no setting my self up to fail. Going to do the best I can do, live life as well and fully as I can, love my loved ones, cherish my friends, look after myself, tick more off that bucket list, work even harder to make the nursery even more successful. If I do all that I will be very happy. I'm ready for a new year. In the end each of us can only try our best in whatever circumstances we find our selves to do the besr we can. I quite look forward to New Year, a new beginning, I'm done with the festivities and ready to get started on the new year's clean diary and see where the year ahead takes us.

Some of the few Hawthorn berries left by the birds

On New Year's day we had a slow and relaxing day, both of us are still under the weather with bad colds, so not much energy to do much, the damp weather doesn't help. With only one son at home, it was an easy dinner, before relaxing in front of the TV of the evening with a book. David and I did take the dog for a wee walk up towards the local village in the afternoon. There was a hint of blue sky and sun in between the threatening clouds and we made it home before a heavy shower.

Xanthoria on Hawthorn branches

Looking towards Tinto

Black and white hay bales

Bracken taking it all in





Not much is ever wasted in this house or garden. I spent a couple of hours in the big greenhouse, tidying, cutting back and watering. The Pelargoniums that got cut back look much better and I saved all the bits and made cuttings from them for new stock. At the moment they are in water on a window sill as the compost was still frozen. They might stay in the jars and I'll experiment with trying to root them this way. One of the advantages of a greenhouse or two is I can still feel I'm gardening even if the weather is bad.







One of the tasks I like doing after New Year when the weather is miserable is to sort out all the seeds I have gathered from the gardens, then go through all the seeds left over from last year and then search through the new seed catalogues to order what I want to grow over the coming year. This year we're hoping to finish the wild life garden and start the winter garden, plus a few smaller borders in the nursery stock bed area. On my list will be winter and spring bulbs, more hellebores, winter interest plants, lots of bee, bird and insect friendly plants and a few unusual perennials for the mixed borders. What are you planning in the garden for this year and what plants are you looking for?

Sorting Viola seeds

Seeds harvested from the nursery in 2017

I've also been spending the wet and frozen days over the past couple of weeks completely updating the nursery website. All the plant lists have also been updated for 2018 with over 140 new plants added for this year. I will be adding more as they become available through the season. We have some lovely new items for the the nursery shop too. Photos coming soon. 


You can visit our website here: Quercus Garden Plants

We've been enjoying some gorgeous over the past week, this is Tinto our nearest big hill



I  made the most of a dry morning and lifted all the leaves and debris from the patio along the back of the house, swept and washed it, looks so much better (apart from the red slabs) fortunately we're renting and can leave them behind when we move. Next job will be to cut back, feed and top dress all the pots and troughs before the plants start growing. As you can see below, before and after. I'm looking forward to getting on with tidying the pots and troughs in time for all my snow drops coming into flower.



On Sunday the forecast was exceptionally good so I decided to organise my self and get out for a hill walk. I always do one at the beginning of the year, promising myself this is the year I get back into it and do more, but alas life always seem to get in the way. Maybe this year, who knows.

It is amazing to be back in the hills after so long. Though I knew I wasn't hill fit, now I know just how unfit I am. The views were amazing , not a breath of wind, the silence was soothing, the weather stunning, the freezing air refreshing.

But more of that adventure in an up coming blog.

View from my first hill, looking to the next one
We've had lots of frost and I've been out with my macro lens



Making the most of our last day off on Tuesday we took Bracken for a walk long the old railway line to Lyne Station near Peebles. It's a lovely walk coming back along the river Tweed. You can read about a previous walk there  here: Railways and Rivers at Peebles

Were is your favourite local walk?

A heron striding out towards the River Tweed

Crossing the old railway bridge at Lyne Station

Bracken doesn't like small bridges

Fungi in the woods

An avenue of trees

Ash tree buds

Wednesday and back to work. I'm back, the crazy plant lady is back in the nursery. It's back to life, back to reality (sure there's a song in there somewhere) It's time to get those leaves lifted, plants cut back, borders tidied, stock beds tidied and sale plants sorted and tidied so we are ready to open at the start of March for the 2018 season. We're raring to go with lots of ideas and plans for this year 

The Quirky Bird Gardener is back in the nursery

Today was about catching up, getting back into the swing of things, checking the tunnels, tidying up our plant display in the shop, listing the seeds we have so I don't buy duplicates, paper work, sending off adverts, I did a stock take of the wee shop items and moved the tables about in the sales area - new layout for 2018! Whew!


So there we are, the first week of 2018 gone already. Hope you have lots of exciting plans for the coming year and manage to do at least some of them.






If you want to find out what's been happening in our garden at home like our Facebook page 
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Find out more about the nursery here - our web site: www.quercusgardenplants.co.uk


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