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Focus on...

Garden Features

A look at a few features or projects that would enhance any garden!

The Raised Veg Bed

Growing vegetables in the traditional way in a plot, can be unattractive to look at and demanding with both time and physical effort - but it has to be said can also be very satisfying. The space required for the average vegetable plot will need consideration in our shrinking gardens, but if you would like to grow your veg in the traditional way, an allotment can of course be the answer - providing you are lucky enough to have access to one locally!

Swiss Chard

With spare time at a premium, growing vegetables for many of us has become more of a sideline and very much supplementary with other plants within the garden. The Raised Bed lends itself to this whilst adding more structure and aesthetic appeal when growing your veg, thus making the ideal amalgamation with the traditional veg plot. Once the bed is created, there will be less work involved as far as the general maintenance and soil preparation is concerned - particularly when it comes to the annual digging regime!

As with everything in life - you get back what you put in - the time and effort savings will only be redeemed if the bed is created correctly.

It really is not difficult and needn't be too expensive. You will need to consider first where to place the bed – an ‘open’ sunny aspect, away from weedy or neglected areas is by far the best. When you have decided on where to have the bed, fork over the area that will form the base. Drive in uprights for the corners and if the bed will be long, make sure you provide uprights for reinforcing the sides. Screw into the uprights the frame of the bed. The bed does not need to be that deep, about 10cm would be sufficient. 

You will then be ready to fill the bed. This will be a leading factor influencing the work involved with future maintenance. A mix of 50/50 loam and good compost would be ideal – whatever you use it must be WEED FREE!

Once filled the bed should be left to settle for two to three weeks before the fun starts! The bed in my garden is situated over what was once a path, hence the chairs to make life difficult for our Greyhound using it as a race track while the soil settles!

Obviously the bigger the bed the more variety you can grow, as would the more beds you had. Whatever the size you choose, keep the bed accessible from the side so a width of no more than a meter would be ideal. My bed is about 6m long, so I restrict the produce to salads - 'staples' such as potatoes would take up too much room.

As with all vegetable growing ensure the plants do not dry out, so the bulk of maintenance during the growing season will involve irrigation. Should any weeds appear do not let them establish - simply work the soil lightly with your fingers or onion hoe. Late winter or early spring top-up the bed with compost and apply a base dressing of Bonemeal.

 

Garden Birds

In the wildlife section I mentioned that native plants form the backbone of our local ecology and how birds, along with all our native fauna, require the food and shelter they provide. I also mentioned the virtues of semi-native plants.

Therefore, the best way to attract a wide range of birds into your garden is simply by making a large percentage of the plants in your garden, native and semi-native.

 

There are many plants suitable for attracting birds, here a few that are native:

Shrubs:
Guelder rose (Viburnum opulus). 4.5m, scented ‘lace-cap’ tiny flowers May - June, bright red berries from August, red autumnal hues. Prefers moist soil and partial shade. A good cover & food source.
Holly (Ilex aquifolium). Slow growing evergreen, 9m, excellent cover & food source and shade tolerant. Provided a male variety is nearby, attractive red berries.
Common Ivy (Hedra helix). 10m, shade tolerant, dense attractive climber, black berries (poisonous to humans but loved by birds). Provides excellent cover.
Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum). ‘Heavy’ fragrance, 6m, yellow flushed purple flowers July - August, juicy red poisonous (to us!), berries. Good cover & food source.

Trees:
Mountain ash (Sorbus aucuparia). 5.5m, green / grey underside divided and toothed leaves, white flowers May - June, orange-red berries, alkaline intolerant.
Silver Birch (Betula pendula). 11m, white bark, delicate foliage, ‘open’ habit, spring catkins, autumn seeds that are loved by birds, yellow autumnal hues, shallow rooting.
Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna). Dense & thorny, excellent cover, 7.5m, fragrant white flowers May, crimson haws (berries), autumnal hues. Good cover & food source.
Yew (Taxus baccata). Evergreen, poisonous seeds, slow growing, dense, excellent cover, attractive red-brown scaly bark, red cup-shaped fruits. Cover & food source.

Providing supplementary food, water and somewhere safe to raise a family is also a great way to get to know them whilst they are there!

Bird baths and tables can be a decorative feature and hive of activity. A bird-bath to provide water for drinking and bathing, particularly during hard times when it’s hot, dry or freezing can be vital. There are several types of bird-table available, either to purchase or make, but the best would include a roof and lip around the table.

Consider their positioning, particularly regarding the proximity of shrubs or trees in which predators may hide. Consider hygiene also - tuberculosis risk from droppings and salmonella risk from uneaten food. The birds will come to depend on you for food and water so it is important to continue once started!

Birds nest in a variety of places, sometimes diverse! Natural sites for hole-nesting birds are often hard to find and nest boxes make an ideal substitute. They also provide great entertainment!

Tit Box

Starlings, doves, treecreepers, jackdaws, woodpeckers, tree sparrows, and most of the tits all enter via a hole. The diameter of the entrance hole will vary according to the size of the bird. A Tit Box for example has a 15 x 11.5cm base and is 20cm high with a 29mm entrance hole.

The robin, blackbird, and barn owl will use an open-fronted box (below right). Dimensions should be 22 x 22cm and 25cm deep but 50 x 100cm and 50cm deep for barn owls.
Open Fronted
Kestrel boxes (above left), need to be fixed to a strong post or building and at least 5m from the ground. The box size should be at least 33 x 36cm and 45cm deep.

Use untreated 19mm thick timber for good insulation, joints should be tight and well sealed. Protection from the weather and predators (squirrels, great-spotted woodpecker, cats, weasels), must be considered when positioning your nest box. A minimum distance from the ground of 1.5 would apply to all boxes, as would avoidance of facing full sun and strong winds. Influenced by the bird your trying to attract, fix hole-boxes to walls, posts or trees and place open-fronted boxes within dense climbers or hedges, in a tree, on a wall, and in disused or infrequently used buildings.

Remove the old nest at the end of the season and check fixings, joints and that the box is watertight at the same time. Use a water-based preservative to paint the boxes if necessary.

Grubs up!

Water Features

When the sun is beating down, the sound of water seems to cool the air - mind you, that watery trickle is welcome to me anytime! Perhaps not to everyone’s taste, but if you do fancy one, with hundreds of water features to choose from, from the simple to the grand, there would be one to suit every garden!

A small water pump and a bit of imagination. That's all you need to make your own individual water feature, apart from what you will use to make it with of course! I don't know about you, but I do like to see quirky little touches in a garden and a DIY water feature could be just that – it’s certainly better than a gnome or two! It could be anything from a bubbling globe, trickling tap, kettle or jug to a fountain perhaps more suited in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon! As a student at Writtle College, I turned an old can into perpetual watering in a design that formed part of my coursework. It must have been ok as the design was part of their display at the Chelsea flower show that year - seems a bit dated now, the watering-can as a water feature I mean!

The Traditional Herbaceous Border

Definition of a Herbaceous Plant - a non – woody perennial.
Definition of Perennial – a plant with a life-cycle of 3 years or more.

The traditional herbaceous border should ideally have an ‘open’ (no overhanging trees), but sheltered aspect, well cultivated soil and a hedge or wall backdrop. It would be as large as possible whilst remaining in scale with the rest of the garden. Make a planting plan, aiming for; a succession of flowering, a mixture of foliage texture and colour and combinations of form (upright plants, round plants etc).

As the plants will be growing for many years, the site should be dug-over and prepared during autumn. Mark out the area, if room allows lay groups of three plants out in each section, from the middle out. Make sure each plant is evenly spaced according to it’s requirements. Plant-up the border, firm the plants in well and lightly fork over the area to remove foot compaction.

As required, provide support as growth begins. Keep up the dead heading regime during the summer to prolong the flowering. Cut back early-flowering plants such as delphiniums, geraniums and lupins, to not only tidy them up but encourage a second flush of flowering. Every three years the plants will need dividing.

Example of a traditional herbaceous border for a summer display with a blue, purple & pink colour scheme:

Key:
1 Japanese Anemone. 2 Delphinium. 3 Erigeron. 4 Campanula. 5 Sweet Bergemot. 6 Lupin. 7 Jacob's Ladder. 8 Oriental Poppy. 9 Speedwell. 10 Peony. 11 Astrantia. 12 Flowering Sage. 13 Hyssop. 14 Gypsophila. 15 Carnation. 16 Geranium.

 

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The Soil
The Plant
The Wildlife
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