This is the journal of my endeavours to grow a range of fruit, veg and flowers from seed, grow organically, and my attempts to create a personal paradise with 1/2 acre of maintained gardens and 1/2 acre wild meadows. Northern Ireland's average daily high temperatures are 18 °C (64 °F) in July and 6 °C (43 °F) in January. Soil type: Clay

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Bird Watch 2012 results

I took part in the UK bird watch over the weekend. I spotted what I consider the 'regulars' (birds that eat peanuts on a daily basis). It was tough getting photos as the birds move very quickly.

I adore this little robin.
I think this is a Sparrow. My bird ID skills are pretty basic! 

One of three Blue Tits that regularly visit the garden. 
Sparrows. There's about 7 or 8 of them (at least). 

So my official Bird Watch Count is: 1 robin, 3 blue tits and 7 sparrows.
The little robin reminds me of Carol Klein's gardening show on TV - how she would hand feed a little robin. I haven't mastered that; a bit difficult with two cats following me around the garden.
The USA backyard bird count (and there's a photo contest!) takes place 17-20 Feb 2012. Further detail at

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Corkscrew Hazel

Many people seem quite fascinated by the Corksrew Hazel so I thought I'd hunt out some photos to give a better idea of what its like.

Variety: Corylus Avellana Contorta, also known as Harry Lauder's Walking Stick or Corkscrew Hazel.

Question: why do plants have so many names? And in many cases, why are the names so difficult to pronounce?

Its contorted stems stand out in Winter. A real show off over the Winter months.
By early December most of the leaves have turned brown and fallen off leaving a wonder 'corkscrew' structure over Winter. A few hanger-on leaves remain over Winter. Photo taken Feb 2011. 
Yellow catkins hang down from the contorted stems, usually anytime from Feb to March, providing some additional interest.  Photo taken Feb 2011.
The plant tag says it grows up to 200 cm or 7 feet high. However, articles on the internet say the plant can grow up to 20 feet. A bit worrisome for the location I have mine planted in! Photo taken Jan 2011.
This photo and the one above it were taken from the same angle but at different times of the year - with notably different colouring. Maybe one photo was taken on a 'wet' day and the other whilst 'dry'? Photo taken Nov 2011.
Photo taken Nov 2011. 
I'm not a fan of the Corkscrew Hazel in the Summer, therefore I don't take many photos of it. I could only find this one photo. In Summer the leaves are crinkled in a way I don't find very attractive - maybe a plant for a modern or contemporary garden? Photo taken Sept 2011.
Would I recommend Corkscrew Hazel /Harry Lauder's walking stick
Definitely not for a small garden but it's an interesting plant if you have lots of room and like something a bit quirky. 

Sunday, 22 January 2012

The Winter Garden

There's a fair bit of interest in the Winter Garden this month...

The snowdrops are coming up, some just pushing through whilst others are at the flowering stage.
Above: A clump of crocus more advanced than other crocus bulbs, which are just pushing through. 
A variegated holly brings colour to a border.
The Corylus Avellana Contorta, also known as Harry Lauder's Walking Stick or corkscrew hazel, brings interest in Winter. (I prefer it in Winter than in Summer.)
A variegated ivy flower head. 
The red stemmed dogwood - one of my favourite Winter shrubs. (It's not very interesting in Summer but makes up for it in Winter!)
Kale Curly Scarlet looks lovely in the Winter sun. 
More snowdrops amongst the trees. A Winter favourite!

I'm toying with the idea of changing my blog name to Northern Ireland Garden Diary, just in case you notice the name change at the top. Not sure why, but I fancy a change in 2012.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Rainy Day Comfort Food

It's pouring rain today! For me, rainy days mean eating soups and stews, or sugary treats (or both). I have such a sweet tooth so I took Mark's suggestion (at Mark's Veg Plot) and tried out the recipe for pesto soda scones but I did the sweet version with raisins/mixed fruit and sugar. They turned out quite tasty.   
The dough rolled out and ready, I dabbed on some butter, added some mixed dried fruit, and sprinkled with white and brown sugar before rolling up and cutting into a 'cinammon roll' type shape for baking.

Prior to baking, I realised I had forgotten the most important ingredient - cinnamon. So I had to sprinkle it on top before baking (oh well).
For the recipe and the savoury version, go to:

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Blogger's Bloom Day Jan 2012

It's Blogger's Bloom Day (15th of every month) so I was out in the cold garden (at least it wasn't raining) and here's what I saw...

Crocus are starting to come up. (I also saw that I need to spend a day or two tidying up leaves etc from the garden beds.)
Snowdrops are starting to show.
A few random Muscari are in flower.
Poached Egg Plant (Limnanthes Douglasii), a hardy annual, hasn't died down and is flowering.
Broccoli continues to flower - next year I might grow it solely for the flowers!
Above: a rather poor specimen of a flower - Vinca Minor Argenteo Varigatia. Perennial. The plant tag says its spread is "indefinite" - that's always a bit of a worry!
The first double bloom on the Christmas cactus - growing in an unheated glass room. Above photo: two cuttings taken from a bigger plant. I had an established plant and this young plant indoors in a heated room for several years and neither would flower. Moved them to a colder spot - success!

My 2011 post on crocus and snowdrops is at

For more on blogger's bloom day check out

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Bird Watch 2012

The RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) UK garden bird watch is coming up on 28 and 29 January. It's easy to take part and only takes an hour of your time. A bird ID sheet can be downloaded from their website.

I've a little robin that follows me around the garden when the cats aren't around.
If you wish to take part, the RSPB website is:

Sunday, 8 January 2012

2011 Flower Overview

In 2011, I had lots of flowering annuals and perennials in the garden. Pictured is my box of flower seeds and snapdragon seedlings grown back in April.

All the plants below have been grown from seed (apart from the rose). Lupin and delphiniums pictured grown from seed several years ago.

Here's an overview of the flowering year...
Best Colour - lupin.

Most Interesting Flower - Amaranthus.

Most Adored - rose.

Most Short Lived (flowering) - hollyhock.

Most Tangled - Sweetpea (I can never get it to grow neatly).

Most Unattended Yet Productive - Nicotiana. (No deadheading).

Best Bedding Plant - Snapdragon.

Most Liked (early flowering) - delphinium.

Most Potential - Silverdust / Cineraria. (I hope to use this silvery little plant much more next year).

Most Deadheaded & Longest Flowering Season - poppy. (All the poppies put on a great display of colour from early Spring to late Summer).

Most Useful - calendula (in 2012 I'll plant with veggies to deter pests).

Most Prolific Self Seeder - Poached Egg Plant.

Worse Pest Problem - Slugs.
If you want to have a nosey at the seeds I grew over the year, they are listed at

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Overview of 2011 Veg Growing

2011 was a good year in the garden and I really enjoyed growing edibles and trying some new veg I'd never grown before like celery, celeriac, kale, broccoli, cucumbers, and more. Here's a little summary of some of the ups and downs over the growing season (there was alot of learning this year!).

(All are grown from seed, except the apple tree :)).
Most Pinched - I pinched my pepper plants very early in their development and stunted their growth. Next year - no pinching!
Most TLC - the self fertilising apple tree gets green worms on it that eat the blooms in early Spring. I hand checked the plant regularly and was rewarded by a bumper crop (circa 14 apples - my all time record).
Least Harvested - I didn't manage many florets as my broccoli seemed to constantly be in flower!

Best Taste - After a bitter start (the first cucumber I tried was horrible) the plant produced a lovely sweet cucumber (the best I've ever eaten).
Most Surprising - that I managed to get a tiny harvest my first time growing cucumber.
Most Reliable - potatoes always seem to do well. This year the foliage were eaten by pests but I still managed to get potatoes.
Best Container Crop - the carrots were fab and so yummy. Next year I'm growing more!
Worse Crop - the courgettes started out great but almost all of them developed blossom rot.
Most Expensive Pest Control - slugs drowned happily in Guinness in June.
Most Useful Edibles - Celery (front) and two varieties of kale. 1st time I've grown these and very happy with the results.
Most Confusing - growing tomatoes for the first time proper (when to pinch, how much to feed,  etc). It worked out in the end and I was happy with the small yield I managed to get throughout summer.
Most Rewarding - I was so proud to grow a turnip for the first time ever!
If you want to have a nosy at the seeds I used over the year, they are listed at