school garden

school garden

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..... 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.


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

Monday, 22 September 2014

Choose to be optimistic... feels better.

A quote from the Dalai Lama

A quick look in the greenhouse recently revealed that the Lithops are now flowering. The flowers of the lithops or living stones as they are more usually known do not last long.

One of the tea plants has met with a visitor.  Possibly a moth of the Tortrix group. Several leaves have been grazed and the offending larva has now rolled itself up in one of the new leaves. We will try to identify the species which may favour Camellia plants

The ammonite shell path has progressed with the posts on the outermost ring now having been secured in the rubble.  Longer posts were required to be hammered deeper into the ground  help keep the shell shape intact once the infill has been laid.  Concrete was used for this operation.

Work on the path also continued with the eventual linking of the ammonite shape to the path to the eco-loo and into the school garden.  Initial groundwork was completed and by the end of next weekend this path should be in situ.

View from the eco-loo
The link from the ammonite shell

As autumn approaches many birds are returning to Africa for the winter months. A lot of Chiifchaffs have been noted through the garden in recent days and also one evening  a Spotted Flycatcher was observed doing what it does best- flycatching!  This brown bird has a silver breast and is very acrobatic as it flies out from a perch to catch a fly or even a butterfly.  They are returning to West Africa.

Spotted Flycatcher - a new species on the garden list!

Elsewhere the garden still provides colour and form and the butterflies are still there in good numbers.  The Comma- an unusual visitor was spotted this week. Four species of dragonflies were also seen including several pairs of Common Sympetrums.  The males have crimson red bodies- the females a more drab brown colour


Common Sympetrum -male  

As the summer ends it is time to start harvesting.  The turnips and tomatoes have done well this year.

Fresh turnips

A variety of tomatoes

The soil in many of the school plots is getting tired now and needs a lot of organic matter dug into them.  We are hoping to source some cow manure at the end of the season when all the plants have been dug out.  If anybody knows of a very local source where perhaps the farmer could deliver a trailer load to us then we would be very grateful.  Please leave a message in the school office.