Friday, 29 June 2012

Gardening in Chorlton

When I moved into my house, near Chorlton Green, in the 1980s, I was delighted by the small garden at the back and threw myself enthusiastically into cultivating it. I concentrated on cottage garden perennials and alpines in sinks and troughs. There were some problems - for example, the garden is north facing, with relatively lower light levels compared with gardens with a more favourable aspect, so some plants I wanted to grow tended to become etiolated and to fall over, whilst others were even reluctant to flower. Nevertheless, I persevered, learned to select plants which suited the conditions, and was generally pleased with the results. Then life intervened! In 1987 I was made redundant for the first time - just as I was in the middle of studying for an Open University degree. I quickly found another job, but settling into it and finishing the dgree took up an awful lot of my energies. Over the next decade or so it was 'just one damn thing after another' (I won't bore you with the details) and it was the garden which bore the brunt and became more and more neglected (in retrospect, a poor decision - as it could have provided me with some solace during the difficult times).

Earlier this year I looked out of the kitchen window onto a dismal tangle of ivy, brambles and nettles and decided to do something about it. Then I received an unexpected windfall and now had the funds to do something about it. I contacted Betel Gardens (ring 07791 808 727 for details) and they sent round a couple of lads to clear the garden so that I had a 'clean slate' to work with. Many thanks to Andy and his mate for a great job! That was back in February, the top photo shows where I was up to in mid-June. The re-discovery of my garden has been an exciting adventure for me (especially as I now have plenty of time to devote to it). I'm tending to concentrate on ferns, this time round, as I am obsessed with them - and they do suit the conditions rather well. Neverthless, there are many shade tolerant, but colourful, flowering plants available which contrast well with the ferns; Foxgloves, Primulas and Hardy Geraniums all work well.

Last Sunday was Chorlton Open Gardens day - and very enjoyable it was too! I walked my legs off in order to visit as many gardens as possible and to share my newly re-discovered passion with my fellow Chorltonians. The gardens varied in size from 'substantial' to yard-sized - but everyone obviously derived huge pleasure from their particular 'patch' and I was impressed by the enthusiasm, knowledge and creativity on display.

One topic which was mentioned frequently was wildlife in the garden. Because I have been spending more time in mine I have, inevitably, noticed more garden wildlife:

As I was cultivating mine, post-clearance, back in March, Jays and Magpies fought a constant aerial battle overhead.

Glancing over the wall at the bottom of my garden, and down into Chorlton Brook, I several times glimpsed the resident Kingfisher (probably Chorlton's most loved inhabitant!).

On one fine evening recently I was sat out eating my tea and a Fox cub jumped up onto the wall and sat watching me.

And last month I noticed, and photographed a Dragonfly perched at the top of a bamboo cane. I'm not sure what species it was - but the closest I can get is a Darter Dragonfly in the genus Libullela (please feel free to tell me if I'm wrong!). For some reason this visitor impressed me the most and it felt like a sort of 'benediction' on all of my efforts to restore the garden.

Dave Bishop, June 2012

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Fletcher Moss Gardens in Late May

Recently (23rd May), I walked along the banks of the Mersey from Chorlton to Didsbury. There were plenty of late spring flowers in evidence - but this time I didn't find anything new. Still it's always good to be re-acquainted with 'old friends' in the sites that I'm used to seeing them in year after year.

I ended the walk in Fletcher Moss gardens in Didsbury - which, I have to say, were looking absolutely stunning!

The photograph above is of a general view which is awash with handsome plants and flowers: Rhododendrons, Primulas, Maples, Gunnera, ferns and many others are all in evidence - all looking very healthy and well cared for.

The photo below is of a large patch of, so-called 'Candelabra Primulas'. These are Asiatic relatives of our native Primroses and Cowslips; they differ because their flowers are arranged in several whorls up the stem. I would guess that those in the picture are probably hybrids between two or more species.

I was also pleased to see a Tree Peony with deep crimson flowers (see photo below).

I have known this plant, in this particular spot, for many years and believe it to be a Chinese species called Paeonia delavayi. According to a book on Peonies (see ref.): "[It] originates from the Chinese provinces of Sichuan and Yunnan. It grows in shady moist areas of pine forest, in forest clearings and among scrub at altitudes between 3,050 and 3,650m (10,000 - 12,000ft). It was first discovered by Pere Jean Marie Delavay in 1884. Delavay (1834 - 1895) was a missionary and botanist, who, during his very active life, sent an amazing total of 200,000 dried herbarium specimens to the Musee Mational d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris."

Not only are this plant's flowers very striking but it also has marvellous deeply cut leaves of a very pleasing shape.

So, congratulations to the staff at Fletcher Moss for putting on such a marvellous show!

I'm planning to write a bit more about gardening in my next post.

Dave Bishop, June 2012

Ref: 'The Gardener's Guide to Growing Peonies' by Martin Page, David & Charles, 1997

Monday, 4 June 2012

Roydon Common, North Norfolk

I'm afraid my posting on here has been a bit sporadic of late. All will come clear in time.

At the end of April I visited my brother, Martin, at his new abode in the village of Congham, near King's Lynn (quite a long way from the Mersey Valley, of course). I thought that the readers of this blog might be interested in the highlight of this trip (sorry that its taken this long to get round to writing it up).

About 20 minutes walk from Martin's house is a Norfolk Naturalists Trust nature reserve called Roydon Common. This is a large area of sandy heathland with a high water-table. During the Second World War it was used as a bombing range and and after the War was covered in conifers by the Forestry Commission. Luckily, local naturalists had recognised the importance of this area for wildlife and it was bought by the Trust and restored to sandy, heather dominated heathland by removing the conifers (which must have been an enormous job!). Today the reserve is grazed by Dartmoor ponies to keep it in tip-top condition.

The plant list alone from the area is remarkable, with many rare wetland plants like Black Bog Rush and all three British species of Sundew. Adders and Nightingales also occur on the site.

I hoped to see some of these, and other rarities, on my visit - but didn't actually see any of them. The day was cold and (very) wet - and I was probably a month or two too early. But I did see, in a ditch, the plant that I really, really, really wanted to see above all the others on the list: Marsh Fern (Thelypteris palustris)! Yes!!!

On sober reflection I suppose that this doesn't mean much if you're not a 'fern fanatic' like me (musn't write 'fernatic', mustn't write 'fernatic', mustn't ... drat, I've written it ... twice!). Anyway, I was thrilled!

This plant is rather uncommon in Britain. According to one of my books (see ref.): "T. palustris declined before 1930 due to drainage, but it can be remarkably tenacious where natural succession has occurred, and has been re-found in several of its stations after many decades. There have been few losses [since the early 1960s]."

Soon after this momentous find the heavens opened (remember the rain in April?) and I was forced to beat a hasty retreat.

The pictures above show a general view of the Common (with rain clouds) and the fern growing in the ditch.

Unfortunately, I've recently learned from Martin that there are more than rain clouds on the horizon. A big quarrying operation wants to dig for sand in areas near the Common. These operations could well alter the water-table - which would have a disastrous effect on the Common's ecology. Watch this space.

Dave Bishop, June 2012

Ref: 'New Atlas of Ferns & Allied Plants of Britain & Ireland' Ed. by A.C. Wardlaw & A. Leonard, British Pteridological Society, 2005.