The Orange Tip

mattcollinsgarden.co.uk

Category: outdoors

Working in the Wood

Wintering-snail in a fissure of a robina trunk

Wintering-snail in a fissure of a robina trunk

Back in the woods again. The paths have held quite well, edged with the fallen or cut branches from last year’s tree work. Although the boundaried areas of copse have subsequently been afforded uninhibited (and un-trampled) freedom of growth, it is now necessary to clear back the bramble before it has a chance to take over.

South path of the wood, lined with sycamore boughs

South path of the wood, lined with sycamore boughs

Splitting our little wood up into five sections, I’ve been slowly digging up the thorny blanket by the roots and amassing them at the centre of the copse, ready for a bonfire next week.

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Bramble pile for burning

Bramble pile for burning

As with the work last winter, I’ve loved spending a solid block of time devoted to this section of the garden; probably my favourite place to be at this time of year. The birds in the canopy are a hive of constant activity, preparing new nests and scoping out material with which to construct them. On the copse floor, flowers of snowdrop and winter aconite are now in full flower, lighting up the ground as beacons for awakening bumble bees.

Snowdrops in flower (

Snowdrops in flower (Galanthus nivalis)

Winter Aconite (Eranthus hymalis)

Winter Aconite (Eranthus hymalis)

Arum leaves under large English oak

Arum leaves under large English oak

One plant I’ve always ensured gets a good footing in the wood is burdock. Around four years ago I found a small clump, having presumably made its way over the park wall via wind or wing (or more likely, attached to a squirrel), in full spread beside one of our ash trees. Ever fond of its shrub-like form and broad, rhubarb-esque leaves, I’ve made sure each year to gather and redistribute the seed, collecting directly from the dried heads that remain at the top of dead stems over winter. Taking note of the plant’s edible qualities from the wildflower bible that is Richard Mabey’s, Flora Britannica, I even once dug up some of the burdock’s roots and had a go at stir frying them. Nothing special..I’m not going to lie. Flora Britannica is very much a book worth having to prop up anyone’s interest in the history of our British wild flowers though.

Burdock seed heads (Arctium sp.)

Burdock seed heads (Arctium minus)

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Burdock seeds released

Burdock seeds released from capsule

'Flora Britannica', by renowned nature-writer, Richard Mabey

Flora Britannica by renowned nature-writer, Richard Mabey

Robin’s House In the Country

Robin Nest
Camouflaged in the garden copse.

Throwing Back To The Summer

DahliasA few images taken with my dad’s old canon AE-1 film camera back in September. Thoughts of the year to come and possible changes to the cutting garden.
Dahlias 2DahliasGeranium and aggeranthemums

New Life in Dead Wood

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This is a picture of the stag beetle I found sitting on my desk two years ago. When I came in from the garden he was upside down, clawing the air with his hooked legs; an enormous insect there on my notebook. It was a bizarre occurrence, not least because of how scarce a sighting of one of these beetles has become; I actually jumped a little at the sight of it, wondering if it might even be a children’s toy.

The truth is that I should have expected to see one, sooner or later. Since I arrived at the garden I’ve been very deliberately leaving piles of stacked wood in tucked away corners in the hope of attracting the various creatures which favour such a habitat. A couple years on I’d already begun to see evidence of field mice, over-wintering hornets, solitary bees, toads, slow worms and even grass snakes. With Richmond park so close by too (with it’s contingent of largely woodland areas), stag beetles were always a possibility.

These impressive, majestic and slightly ridiculous-looking beetles depend fully on the existence of dead and decaying wood. Before the days when woodland floor clearance and tidying was deemed good practice (and more recently thrown out following the development of ecological study and the realisation of the detriment this management strategy had caused), stag beetles were a common sight in the UK. The beetles actually have a surprisingly long life, with only a short amount of it – a few weeks – spent in their completed beetle form. Development rom egg-hatch to winged insect can take between 4-6 years; nearly all of it therefore spent buried inside rotting wood or underground as larvae. This is why it is so crucial that any nesting site must be left completely undisturbed for such a long period. In a natural ecology of time gone by, fallen trees slowly decaying on the wood floor allowed for exactly this environment, and the beetles flourished.

Going back to the garden then – there’s a very small collection of two or three logs that I’ve left alone and surrounded by lawn for about four years. It’s a tiny wooden island in a sea of grass. Accidentally knocking one of the stumps over while mowing last week I was amazed to find that the inside had completely rotted away AND it contained three little stag beetle larvae. They appeared to be at differing stages of development (known as ‘instar’s), with the largest at least a year away from pupation. It’s such a good sign of the changing times therefore, that even a very small collection of wood left alone can potentially provide a home for growing stag beetles – small enough to be included in any garden no matter what the size.

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I few years ago I wrote a post on the provision of habitat in a garden here.

Meadow Strips

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Given the success of last year’s annual meadow, despite sowing so late, I decided to repeat the process, however this time sowing either side of the central path up to the house.
The annual strips form new edges to the native and already-established perennial meadow through which the path cuts. My hope is that the annual flowers will add an extra dimension of interest, both by way of colour and the insects they will ideally attract.

To do this I began by measuring a 50cm death away from the path using a tape measure and scaffold plank, and then cut away the turf with a half moon. I then used a spade to lift the turf strips and stacked them over by the wild garden hedge.

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Once again I used ‘Pictorial Meadows’ for wildflower seed. The quality was excellent last year so they are very much tried and tested. I went for their ‘standard mix’, incorporating a few handfuls of additional seed I’d collected such as poppy, musk mallow and cornflower. As with last year’s process, I mixed the seed with sand in a bucket and sowed as evenly as I could, having soaked the ground first. Rather than rolling this time however, I just trod the seed in by foot. Hopefully the timing of the sowing; early in the season and with good weather, will deliver some decent results by mid Summer.

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October Stacks

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This year I have to admit to up-scaling the mechanics of my meadow cutting process in a bid to save a bit of time and labour. I stretched to a power scythe (courtesy of the ever-frustrating eBay) which has made all the difference this year.
A power scythe or, ‘sickle mower’, cuts grass low at the base, pushing the sword through two crossing blades along a wide bar. The cut is very clean and surprisingly much less destructive to meadow dwellers (frogs, toads, nice etc) than other commonly used machines like strimmers and ride on mowers.
Although I was only able to get both the meadows cut by the time Autumn was settling in, we were lucky enough to have a few days sunshine to give the impression of a late Summer afternoon as I finished off the stacks.

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Caught in the Chicken Coop

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I found a robin caught inside the henhouse run this afternoon, and a mouse moving in the direction of the mower up in the top meadow. The sudden dip into Autumn seems have caught everyone off guard.

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July

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