Monthly Archives: March 2020

Bird food

Well, no warmer this morning, in fact I had to scrape some ice off the car windscreen before driving up to work. And that keen wind is still there, knocking a degree or two off the ‘published’ temperature.


White Honesty (Lunaria annua var. Albiflora

The bird feeders have been very busy, both at home and at Horatio’s Garden, with Goldfinches particularly abundant. These were unusual birds when I started birding as a schoolboy in the early 70s. In fact, I remember clearly a day when my mother told me about these ‘really exotic looking’ small birds she’d seen in the road not far from our house. I fished out my bird books, and we quickly identified them as Goldfinches, distinctive with their red, black and white faces and gold wing flashes. Nowadays they’re common garden birds for most of us, making the most of humans’ increasing provision of seeds throughout the year. They’re especially fond of sunflower hearts, along with thistle or nyjer seeds – mimicking their natural feeding on teasels and thistles in the late summer. Thinking about it, back in the 1970s, when bird feeding was a very ‘niche’ activity (outside of Mary Poppins, at least) not only were there no foods as exotic as nyjer or sunflower hearts available, feeding was very much a winter activity. Putting out peanuts (one of the bird foods which was available) or any other artificial food between March and October was absolutely the wrong thing to do. We were told that fledglings would choke on these indigestible foods: little realising that birds know perfectly well what to feed their young, and that the adults – run ragged in the effort to keep their young alive and well-fed – benefit enormously from easy access to these energy-rich ‘artificial’ foods during the nesting season.

I haven’t included any pictures in the last couple of blog posts, so here are a couple, linked to plants I’ve written about (I know they’re in the Instagram box on the right hand side of the page, but here they are in bigger, brighter, better versions).


Tulip ‘Brown Sugar










Tulipa sylvestris


Colourful but cold

Yes, Spring’s arrived – the clocks have changed, Gardeners’ World is back on Friday nights, the birds are singing – but it’s very cold. The wind, which has been in the north or north east for quite a while, really cuts through you even when the sun is shining. I heard that there was snow in Aylesbury earlier this morning. So, let’s not get too carried away.

Nevertheless, the first Tulips are up and about, really quite early. Their colour is more than welcome at the best of times, and these are definitely not the best of times; but their appearance in mid-March is also concerning. It’s almost certainly a product of the warming world we now inhabit, and something we’ll have to get used to in the short term at least. In Horatio’s Garden we have lots of Tulips, which are intended to pick up where the Narcissi (first ‘February Gold‘, then ‘Thalia’) leave off, and then carry the garden through to the beginning of summer. This year the sequence has got a bit compressed and muddled. I am still dead-heading ‘February Gold’ (and some are still looking good) even as some of the first of ‘Thalia’ are starting to fade. And the first Tulips are crashing the party too: ‘Brown Sugar’, ‘Negrita’ and ‘Prinses Irene’ have been flowering for a week or more, and ‘Angelique’ is now showing well. The first flowers of ‘Purissima’ and ‘Ballerina’ are also starting to emerge, so we’re in for an amazing – if slightly anarchic – fruit cocktail of pinks, oranges and the rest within a few days.

Tucked away shyly is the species Tulip, Tulipa sylvestris, a very different character from its cultivated cousins. It comes originally from the Mediterranean and Central Asia, and is often called the ‘Wild Tulip’ or ‘Woodland’ Tulip. We have mixed success with it at Horatio’s Garden, and have planted more bulbs to build up the stock; although where it is really happy it will naturalise and spread quite freely. It grows well on the bank among Sesleria autumnalis (Autumn Moor Grass), and there is another patch under one of the two remaining Betula nigra. Short stemmed and quite delicate it is an unobtrusive flower, but up close you can detect its lemony scent and admire the pretty yellow blooms.

Two years on…

Well, almost two years to the day since my last post on this blog, I’m picking up more or less where I left off… Except that this year’s Spring is well under way already. And, of course, there’s the current unpleasantness to contend with.

Gardening has suddenly become all the rage, with newspapers full of ‘how to’ articles exhorting people to use their new-found free time to grow vegetables, dig ponds, refresh their houseplants, make over their tired plots and the rest. There has been, for the past week at least, a sense that we’re somehow faced with a slightly extended Bank Holiday weekend (minus the traffic jams on roads to the seaside). This, coupled with what have been some lovely, sunny days, has sent everyone scurrying into their gardens to tidy up, enjoy some fresh air, and get going.

Easter  is the time when ‘lay gardeners’ (if I can call them that) start to venture forth, cutting lawns and even getting the rusty barbecue out from the back of the shed. The Easter weekend is therefore – normally (remember ‘normal’?) – the busiest time of the year for nurseries and garden centres. Not this year. The unavailability of compost, seeds and bedding plants will doubtless bring many folks’ good intentions to a sudden halt. Mail order suppliers will certainly enjoy a bit of a boom, which is good news for them – especially the smaller ones – but will it last?

I’m sort-of-regretting that I handed back the key to my allotment last year. It had become a burden rather than a pleasure, and offered diminishing returns as regards produce. But there were some fantastic rhubarb plants, which would have kept us in crumbles for the duration.

And my ‘day job’, looking after Horatio’s Garden at Salisbury District Hospital, has taken a surreal turn. The garden is still open, as the patients in the Spinal Injury Centre are in need of it more than ever. Being able to leave the wards and enjoy a spell of fresh air, sunshine and birdsong will doubtless make the long days a little more bearable. So, I am able to get in and ensure that the garden is safe (no fallen branches or toppled planters) and lovely, but then get out of the way by late morning when patients begin to come out. There is also a greenhouse full of plants and seedlings to keep an eye on, as well as our polytunnel/nursery. Sadly, the annual Plant Sale – for which many of these plants were being grown – has fallen victim to the lock-down: but I can keep many of them for next year, and those which won’t last can be used for a spot of  ‘guerrilla gardening’ around the hospital site if that will brighten the place up a bit at this difficult time.

I will try to keep posting now, and share with you some of what I am up to. I’m off Twitter at the moment, but am putting photos from the garden on Instagram, should you care to have a look.

Thanks for reading, and stay well.