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Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Return of the Birds - and Name That Bird

In a recent blog post, one of my local blogging friends, Dorothy, wondered where all the birds had gone this winter. 

In the six years I have lived here, it has seemed the we are surrounded by birds.  We hear them all the time, we see them in the garden, at the feeders and flying overhead.

But this winter it has seemed like they all just disappeared.  Even our year round birds, like the Cardinals, have been absent. The garden is silent.

I was really getting quite depressed about it, thinking it was because we now have houses on either side, where we used to have brush and trees.  

My little country garden that I loved so much when we moved here is rapidly becoming surrounded by suburbia. But I consoled myself that at least we still have the hedgerow (at least for now) across the road behind us.  It was always full of birds.

Where they went this winter is a complete mystery.

But at long last, I've started seeing some birds again.  Okay - so they are mostly European House Sparrows, not the most desirable of avian visitors.  But after the complete lack of birds over the winter, I'll take what I can get!



I also caught sight of this Carolina wren last weekend in the rain.  Perhaps they will nest on the patio again this year.  I hope so!  I heard and saw a Chickadee too, but couldn't get a photo of him.




The Southern Wax Myrtle seemed to provide a cozy dry shelter to these Mourning Doves, who stayed huddled under it for most of that rainy morning.  I began to worry that they might be injured but once it stopped raining, they flew off.



After weeks of cold wet, dreary weather, I was happy to see the sun shining in the garden this morning.  I was even more thrilled to see "Mr. Cardinal" on the wall, helping himself to the birdseed I had just put out.  Mrs. Cardinal was there too, but I didn't get a good shot of her.


As I was standing at the back door, taking photos of the sparrows and the cardinal, I realized that there was another bird with them.  At first I had assumed it was a sparrow but quickly realized it wasn't.  

As I wanted to identify it and add it to my "Life List", I took several photos.  Unfortunately, they haven't helped me identify it, either using my Birds of North America book, or the online tool at WhatBird.com

This is where you come in.  I'm hoping someone can tell me what this is. And then I can feel like an idiot for not being able to identify it myself!  :-)


With those markings he should be easy to identify, but once I had entering in "brown back", "streaked front," "yellow markings," "chestnut crown" etc.  I ended up with nothing.



These three are the best of the photos I got of him.



Any idea what he is?  Please leave a comment :-)
 


Words and photographs by Jayne Wilson, Green and Serene, Jayne's Country Garden.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

It's January - that means it's Seed Catalog time!

It's a dark and dreary January afternoon. The garden is soggy and bedraggled, but our mailbox has been filling up with seed catalogs and gardening magazines. 



So I've been spending some time reading and dreaming. After all, what's a gardener to do when it's too cold and wet to get out in the garden?

Found on Facebook :-)

Most seed companies will be happy to send you a free catalog.

Here are some links to get you started:

Annie's Heirloom Seeds

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Burpee Seed

Gurney's Seed and Nursery Co.

Native American Seed Co.

Park Seed

Seed Savers Exchange

*****

If you live in the UK, you can request a catalogue from these companies

Marshall's Seeds

Sutton's Seeds

Thompson and Morgan

*****

Of course, most of these companies have their full seed catalog available for online browsing, often with articles about seed starting and other gardening subjects.  But on a cold winter's day, I feel there's nothing quite like curling up in your favorite armchair with a mug of something hot and a pile of seed catalogs.

Happy armchair gardening to you all!

Words and photographs by Jayne Wilson, Green and Serene, Jayne's Country Garden.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Somerset Gardens at Hestercombe

While Eric and I were visiting family and friends in England in September, we were lucky enough to be able to visit the Somerset Gardens at Hestercombe, outside of Taunton.

Hestercombe features three gardens spanning three centuries of garden design: Coplestone Warre Bampfylde's Georgian landscape garden, the Victorian terrace and shrubbery and the stunning Edwardian garden design by Sir Edwin Lutyens and Gertrude Jekyll which I am going to show you in my blog post today. 

The gardens had fallen into disrepair but today, after a mammoth, ongoing restoration project, the gardens have been returned to their former glory.  The gardens were reopened to the public in 1997, for the first time in 125 years.

In my gardening endeavours in Houston, I have often read about Gertrude Jekyll and Sir Edwin Lutyens.  To finally see one of their acclaimed gardens in person was a magical experience.


The formal gardens, known as the Grand Plat, are laid out below the house with grass pathways edged in stone, leading to a central fountain. 



Even in the soft misty light of a late September day, the gardens had plenty of color, with marigolds, gladioli, sedum, and more in bloom.




Here's another view of the formal gardens.

 

On either side of the garden is a water feature, such as this fountain in a beautiful stone niche. The vines were just getting their fall colours which made it seem even more peaceful and magical.


The stonework in the gardens was spectacular, from walkways, to columns, to walls.  It's very easy to imagine young ladies in Edwardian dress strolling the gardens, their delicate skin shaded from the sun by dainty parasols, being entertained by their beau, under the watchful eye of a chaperone.



Narrow water channels leads down either side of the garden to small lily ponds. 




 Along the bottom of the garden is a spectacular vine-covered pergola.  Again, I could picture young Edwardian ladies being escorted by their young men.



I was pleased to see many familiar plants in the garden, like this Sedum, and even some I have in my own garden such as Gaura and Cleome, below. 


This final walled garden featured many plants with silver leaves.  After the soft greens and colours of the rest of the garden, it was quite striking to see this garden.  It included Lambs Ears, Dusty Miller, Lavender and a lot of plants I didn't recognize. Some height was added in the form of large terracotta urns filled with blooms.
 

The Somerset Gardens at Hestercombe have a lot more to offer than what I have shown you here.  

In addition to the formal gardens, there are 50 acres of Georgian landscape gardens with streams, waterfalls and lakes, as well as unique little garden houses, or "follies" such as this one, known as the Mausoleum.

 
Hestercombe is definitely on my list of places to visit again when we can.  I'm glad they went to the trouble and expense of restoring it.


Words and photographs by Jayne Wilson, Green and Serene, Jayne's Country Garden.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Notcutts Garden Centre - Helping Gardeners Since 1897

My husband and I recently spent a wonderful two weeks in England.  The main purpose of the trip was to visit family, but we also did some tourist-y stuff like taking a trip up to London and spending a few days enjoying the lovely countryside of Somerset.

Closer to home though (my parents' home, that is) is a wonderful garden center ( sorry, garden centre) called Notcutts, that I always enjoy visiting when I'm there.

Their website is at http://www.notcutts.co.uk and I just noticed they have a banner on the front page saying "Delivery just £2.50 or FREE on all online orders over £75!"  (Wonder if they deliver to the U.S.?

Notcutts has a wide variety of plants of all sorts, as well as garden tools, garden buildings, patio furniture,  ponds and fountains, hardscaping materials, bird feeders and bird seed.


I love these platform bird feeders - they call them bird tables.  So English!

There's also a gift section filled with unique gifts and a restaurant where you can sit and have anything from a cup of tea (this is in England, remember) or a full lunch.


They had all their autumn plants in when we visited, and were having a sale.  It was frustrating seeing all those wonderful plants and not being able to buy anything.


Check out the size of this eggplant (they call them Aubergines in England) growing in a container!


I particularly enjoyed seeing the roses, such as this David Austin English Rose called "Carolyn Knight".


I think I have seen other Texas garden bloggers mention David Austin roses, so I will have to do some research and see if one would survive here.



As we were browsing around this poster caught my eye.  Could that be... is that a... Monarch butterfly in the illustration? While I understood what they were getting at, with their little vignette of a butterfly-attracting garden, I didn't quite understand why they would illustrate it with a photo of a Monarch.  After all, Monarchs only exist on this continent, right?


So I was even more amazed when I rounded the corner and found these familiar looking plants.


That's right - it's Asclepias -- Milkweed.  And grown in the UK too!

I did a bit more research and discovered that the Monarch is considered a rare migrant to the UK, possibly migrating from Spain, Portugal or the Canary Islands where they are known to exist.  There has even been speculation that some may have come across the Atlantic from the US, possibly aided by the jet-stream and apparently there was a "Monarch Invasion" in 1995 with 170 occurrences, mostly in the southern counties.

So I suppose it's a bit of a long shot, but it would be nice to think that if Monarchs did find their way to England on a regular basis, there would be some fresh Milkweed there for them to lay their eggs.

Speaking of which, since we've been back from our vacation, I've seen several Monarchs in the garden, fueling up for the "Great Migration" and just today, Eric noticed a newly hatched female drying her wings in the sun.  I hope she makes it safely to Mexico.

It's getting late now, so I'm heading to bed.  I apologize that I haven't been commenting on your blogs recently.  Obviously, I was gone for two weeks, but even since I got back I haven't been commenting.  My day job is really draining me at the moment (Memo to Self: Never take two weeks vacation and return right at month's end, when all the month end closing stuff is due) I'm almost caught up now, having put in an hour or two of OT each day since getting back so I'll plan to visit some blogs and get caught up on commenting at the weekend.

Words and photographs by Jayne Wilson, Green and Serene, Jayne's Country Garden.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The End of Summer

Well it may be Labor Day weekend, and officially that signals the end of summer, but don't tell the garden that!

This really is my favorite time of year in the garden. We're beginning to get increasing number of butterflies visiting and, of course, the hummingbirds are out in full force, emptying the feeders and building up their energy reserves for the migration ahead.


I know I've shown you this view before -- forgive me, but I just love sitting on the patio and looking across the island bed and waterfall. 

As always, you can click on each photo for a larger image.

The sound of the waterfall lends a gentle ambiance to the garden that makes it the perfect place to sit and relax (provided I'm in the shade!!)


The Profusion zinnias in this bed were all transplanted seedlings that had self-seeded in the other island bed.   It certainly lives up to its name - "Profusion".


Butterflies just love it, including this Buckeye - the first I have managed to photograph this year.


This Swallowtail was enjoying the zinnia too.  You can't see too clearly in this photo, but the photo below, you can see it had quite a significant rip in its left wing.

 
The butterfly didn't seem to notice anything amiss and fluttered from bloom to bloom quite happily.




At first glance, I assumed this was a Monarch nectaring on the Tropical Milkweed, but looking closer at the photo I realized it's a Queen. (Still regal, though :-)


 
While the zinnias are still blooming full strength, the daylilies seem to be winding down now, after blooming profusely through the heat of the summer.  This one is still going though. I don't think I've shown photos of it before. Of course, I have no idea what it's called as usual!






And finally, a couple of photos of our wonderful feathered friends, the hummingbirds.  We've seen six or seven in the garden at one time this week.  This female thinks the Crepe Myrtle makes a good lookout post.

 

We've got five feeders scattered around the garden, two hanging above the patio and three out in the beds.

The red dome over the feeder attracts hummingbirds and also helps keep them cool at the same time. It's all red color attracts nearby hummingbirds and the 12" diameter baffle blocks out sunlight which keeps the feeder underneath cooler. It's made by Songbird Essentials.  I have two of them, but would like to get one of each feeder eventually.  Perhaps next year...

What's happening in your garden this Labor Day weekend?


Words and photographs by Jayne Wilson, Green and Serene, Jayne's Country Garden.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Hummingbirds Staking Their Claims

This summer, our back garden seems to have been claimed by not one, but two male Ruby throated hummingbirds.  Not that I'm complaining, you understand.  I was simply stating the facts :-)

After all, I've spent the past five years catering to them and making sure our garden offers what they need - shelter and food sources.

Hummingbird A has staked his claim on the Crepe Myrtle, and the feeders on the western side of the garden.  He can be seen sitting on a branch, keeping a beady eye out for intruders, or lady callers as the case may be.



Hummingbird B seems to favor the Vitex or Chaste tree, which is in dire need to pruning and tidying up but still offers some blooms.  He also lays claim to the feeder in one of the island beds.


I look forward to the next few weeks of watching their antics, and those of the other hummingbirds who stop by, and getting lots more photos!

You have been warned!

Words and photographs by Jayne Wilson, Green and Serene, Jayne's Country Garden.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Wildlife Wednesday - Butterflies and Bees

I'm struggling to get over an upper respiratory infection that has had me wheezing all day and coughing all night for the past few days :-(  I finally managed to get in to see the doctor and am now hoping the medications kick in soon and I can get back to feeling normal again.

So today's post is just a quickie.  

If you saw my post last week, you may remember I showed you two Monarch chrysalises - one on the back of a chair on the patio and one on the eave of the house. You can see the post here, if you'd like.

I'm happy to report that both chrysalises hatched during the week. Although we didn't actually manage to catch the hatching in progress, as I was able to do last year,  we did get photos of the newly emerged butterflies drying out their wings.

 My car was in the shop last week and my husband had to drive me to the Park and Ride bus one day in the week.  When he got home, he saw this newly emerged Monarch on the eave of the house and, since he knew I probably would complain if he didn't, he ran in and got the camera!!

The following day I went out to check on the other chrysalis on the back patio and, sure enough, it has emerged too :-)


I took a bunch of photos, but I was battling with the humidity which caused the lens, which had been inside the nice cool house, to fog up almost quicker than I could clear it.  This was about the clearest I could get. 

Continuing the Wildlife Wednesday theme, the bumble bees certainly like this Globe Amaranth (Gomphrena globosa) that I planted in one of the containers by the birdbath not long ago. This is the first time I have planted these.  I love the color and think I'm definitely going to plant more in the future.  That should make the bees happy :-)


 


Words and photographs by Jayne Wilson, Green and Serene, Jayne's Country Garden.