school garden

school garden

Monday, 27 October 2014

Never give a sword.....

.. to a man who can't dance.

Attributed to Confucius.

Work continues on the Jurassic garden.  This last weekend  attention was given to the nest area and the short paths which will link up the whole garden once finished.  Creating a good  egg shape took time but after a lot of measuring and re-measuring the edging boards were finally secured to the fixing posts after checking the levels. 








Taking shape

The required shape at last!

The two yellow posts were the datum points for checking levels

During the work a few large bright green frogs were disturbed but they were safely relocated to the pond.

A large healthy frog

Something caught our eyes during a tea break.  A large orange spider appeared on one of the path edging boards.  It looked very formidable but was just a large female specimen of the  Garden Orb Spider Araneus diadematus. The spider is a very skilled web builder. The males are much smaller and approach the female with caution.  Often they become the next meal!

Araneus diadematus



Some gardening was also done and one of the Bird Cherry trees along the woodland walk was moved to a better position.  The tree had hardly grown compared to the one alongside it.  Perhaps too much shade had inhibited growth.  It is now enjoying plenty of light on the edge of the shrubby area behind the World War 2 garden

The repositioned Bird Cherry tree

A small group of colourful  blue-green mushrooms were spotted growing out of the bark chip mulch.  They could well be Stropharia aeruginosa or the Verdigris Agaric.  They will be revisited during the week and the species hopefully then confirmed. If they are Verdigris Agaric they are NOT to be eaten!



Bees are still active in the garden and Red Admiral and Peacock butterflies were on the wing all weekend.  A single Migrant Hawker dragonfly was seen and several late Swallows flew overhead on their way to South Africa-a journey of some six thousand miles!

A busy insect!

Colour still floods into the garden as October slides into November





At the end of the afternoon a mist net was set and we picked up where we left off at the end of last winter.  Studying some of the local birds and their movements.  In late afternoon a lot of birds move through the school garden on their way to roost sites.  The garden holds a large roost of over one hundred Greenfinchs.  However we managed to catch and ring a few Long-tailed tits.  These small birds will often travel considerable distances so we are happy to continue contributing to the study of our avian friends.

A delightful bird- the Long-tailed Tit

Staring at the camera!
Finally, possibly the largest Turnip we have ever grown was unearthed. It may be large but will go well diced up and put in a good beef stew in the slow cooker!





Work will continue on the Jurassic project in readiness for the next delivery of material.  Once the construction has been finished off we can concentrate on the planting up.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Adopt the pace of nature:

...her secret is patience.

A quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson

It was with some trepidation that we awaited the arrival of sixteen tons of material to start the final stages of the ammonite shell in the Jurassic garden.  Our friends from Portland Stone arrived bang on time on thursday with the order.  The lorry looked huge but the driver proved very skillful and turned the lorry and reversed it into the the small 3m gap in the garden fence.




16 tons of material!
The garden group worked hard over the weekend and with the help of a few other friends managed to wheel barrow the material and compact it down into the ammonite shell.

Jamie wheels the first barrow load!

The first section to be completed

Taking shape!

The compactor was very busy over the weekend



The compactor, hired from Eagle Plant on the Granby Industrial Estate,  helped to pack the material ready for the top layer of finer material which, weather  permitting, will be delivered next weekend.  The ammonite shell project has taken a lot of hours to construct but we feel that we are nearly there.  Following on then will be sourcing some top soil and start planting up with suitable species to give that Jurassic feel to the garden.

Monday, 13 October 2014

A frog does not drink up..

.. the pond in which it lives.

Attributed to a North American  Indian proverb, possibly from the Sioux.

Over the weekend the garden group moved their attention away from the Jurassic garden paved area and started clearing the large amount of branches and other garden green waste.  It was piled up and fed into the shredder.  The shredder was busy for several hours and we eventually recycled the garden waste into ten large sacks of wood chips. These have been distributed along the path alongside the fence with Highclere House.

The pile of branches and sticks
Feeding the shredder!
Nearly there!
Ready for planting up

This area will be a link between the Jurassic Garden and the main garden.  It will be planted with large leaved plants which will have magnificent structure and large flower heads.  We have ordered Ligularia (The Joker); Rodgersia aesculifolia and Eupatorium maculatum.  The plants have been ordered and will hopefully be put in place next weekend.

Under the Sycamore tree which is the centre-piece of the ammonite shell hundreds and hundreds of lady bird larvae were busy.  They were feasting on the green aphids which had dropped down from the Sycamore leaves.

Close up of the ladybird larvae- you can see the aphids

There are at least seven larvae in this picture. (click to enlarge)

We have details of the spider hunting wasp reported in the last blog. A colleague has identified it as being Anoplius infuscatus. A species which is found along the coast of Southern Britain. A couple of  pictures from the internet.

Anoplius infuscatus with prey

Anoplius infuscatus

Elsewhere the garden group started tidying up and trimming back.  The work on the Jurassic area has turned time away from the garden itself but once the path materials have been delivered work in the garden will be resumed.

The garden club beds have been tidied
The curly Kale is just ready for picking

The Sedum provides late flowers for bees and butterflies
We hope that the first load of  material for the Jurassic area will be delivered at the end of this week.

Finally at the end of the day there is nothing better than tea!


Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Teachers open the door........

... but you must walk through it yourself.

Another Chinese proverb.  The onus is clearly on the pupil!

The last weekend saw the garden group continue with the paving in the Jurassic garden.  A lot was achieved and the membrane was finally fixed at the close of day on Sunday.  The membrane will, we hope, keep weeds at bay and help with drainage once the aggregate has been laid.




While the membrane was being secured other group members working elsewhere recorded several sightings of Clouded Yellow butterflies in the garden.  These insects are very flighty and rarely stay still for long so we were lucky to get a quick, if not perfectly focused, picture of one. They have flown from the French continent and possibly originated from even further South. In some years there are large 'invasions' of them and this year we have seen more in the school  garden than ever.  They favour the Verbena bonariensis plants.

Verbena bonariensis growing amongst the Sweet Corn plants

Dancing flower heads of the same plant with the sun back lighting them.

Clouded Yellow butterfly in the school garden


In the newly planted grass garden the gaura flowers are still going. They have a delicate nature and move in the breeze complimenting the feathery seed heads of the grasses.



Gaura flower

Another variation of the Gaura flower

The grasses provide an evocative feel when lit from behind.  The new area will eventually provide a sensory area where shape and form will hopefully please the soul.


Our grape vine is telling us that the Summer is over and Autumn has arrived.  Apart from a bumper crop of delicious grapes this year the leaves are now on the change as the temperature drops.


Wonderful mozaic patterns on the vine leaves

A small bunch of delicious grapes!


Our Sweet Corn crop this year has not been as good as it was last year. Sweet Corn (or Maize as it is otherwise known) is a very important crop in some parts of the World and none more so than in South America. It is a very old crop historically and can be traced back to the Mesoamerican Indians.  Known as Milpa agriculture maize and beans were planted in the same hole with squash planted between the maize.  This practice kept the weeds at  bay and maximised the growing potential for the Indians.  These three crops were known as the 'three sisters'.


Maize cob
The garden group hope to source suitable aggregate for the Jurassic garden in the next week or so and then that project will have taken a huge leap forward.  Finding suitable plants will next be the task.






Finally a picture across the garden showing how much colour still abounds in the garden and the recently pruned 'paperbark' Silver Birch tree. The tree had taken on a bush appearance and needed a severe prune.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

A kind word.....

...is like a Spring Day!

An old Russian proverb.

The Living Stones in the greenhouse are now at their best.  One can imagine carpets of these flowers in the deserts in Namibia.

The Living Stones

Also in the greenhouse the sundew is the best it has ever been.  Repotting it earlier in the year seems to have done the trick.  A close up photograph shows the masses of sticky globules which inquisitive flies and other insects stick to if they get too close.

The sundew plant
The Venus Fly-trap is also doing well having been re-potted.  The plant has grown many new leaves and the they are beginning to redden up.


However the most interesting news in the greenhouse is that we have produced rice again.  Our minature rice paddy has sprouted many stalks of rice bearing seeds.  Well worth a look.

Rice!

Downloading the weather station to obtain the September figures shows how good a late summer we are having.  With temperatures almost daily over 20C  and the pressure chart showing consistently high. (click the charts to enlarge)

Chart showing the high pressure in September

Glorious high temperatures in September!

Work in the Jurrassic garden continues.  The basic ammonite shape has now been reached.  The 'bendy' edging boards have reached their limit of endurance and the finishing the centre piece is up for discussion!  We have a few ideas.  The path to the eco-loo has also been levelled and staked. One of the next jobs is to start to source infill which will help us move on again.  The site will be covered with a porous membrane to stop weeds coming through but allow rainfall to seep through.






A new insect was discovered recently in the garden.  Keen eyes spotted a spider hunting wasp dragging a dead spider over the brickwork outside the HQ shed.    It is a member of the Pompilidae group. This is a tricky group but hopefully the flight period and location might help narrow down the species

Spider-hunting wasp
The wasp kills the spider with a very venemous bite and then carries or drags it back to the intended nest site. The spider is buried and the egg laid on top of the spider.  A close look at the wasp reveals that it is heavily armoured. Some species will tackle quite large spiders!

Finally proof, it it is needed, that autumn is just around the corner.  The Field Maple leaves are starting to turn gold and the setting sun is getting low in the sky as the photograph of it setting behind the hazel bush shows

Field Maple leaf

The setting sun