Life in the Highlands

Hello and thank you for looking at my Blog...i hope you enjoy my site. I'm pretty new to this but hope to keep it all updated with the progress of my garden. I've really enjoyed being able to start everything from scratch and the hard work has been worthwhile. I hope you enjoy seeing my progress too! Feel free to leave comments it's always nice to get feedback.

Friday, June 29, 2007

End of June 2007

Not had much chance to get at the garden really, with the weather we've been having and working away. There's always a little ray of sunshine though in that whilst working over the West Coast the last couple of weeks, I found myself on yet another canal, this time the Caledonian Canal based at Fort William. The hotel was situated right on Banavie locks or as it's known Neptunes staircase. I have to say it's one of the most impressive set of locks i've seen. It was even more impressive when a large vessel the size of the basin was working it's way down the staircase.

Unfortunately it rained after the first night in Fort William so i was only able to venture out briefly. The area is very nice and the people friendly. I really enjoyed my time working there and look forward to my return visit.

I was delighted to see the little steam train 'Lord of the Isles' puffing it's way across the swing bridge at Banavie on it's way to Mallaig. With a little toot of the whistle (you know the sound that only steam trains make) as it went across you couldn't help but smile. This is the route, of course, which was used in the Harry Potter railway and further up the line is the famous Glenfinnan viaduct used in the film for the Hogwarts express. During the summer months you can catch Hogwarts express and travel the same route, a pure delight for hardened Harry Potter fans.

Back over the East side again for the weekend, and just for a laugh, I joined some of the girls from work and went camping at Grantown On Spey camping site, now i've never been camping before and after borrowing a 2 man tent off i ventured. I was really surprised just how easy it was to put up the tent. The camp site was a marvel and i was really impressed with the layout and facilities at the site....the toilet and shower block were surreal in that it had piped music, was very warm and those fancy lights that turn on when you enter! Oh and i must point out it's one of the cleanest places i've been. One nights stay has completely converted me to the delights of camping...despite the incessant rain! I shared a pitch with a rather nice 67 year old retired German chap who seemed to be cycling the world....he was amazing and very helpful and friendly. I did have a bit of bother sorting out my air bed but eventually my German neighbour managed to suss out the problem, erm we hadn't put the plug in the other end, so once he sorted this out it was all inflated and ready.....erm for it to slowly deflate over night! All part of the fun!

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Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Great Canal

I visited my Sister in Law who lives in Lambhill, Glasgow last weekend and her house is close to the Forth and Clyde Canal.

The canal has a long history. The notion of creating a canal that crossed Scotland was first conceived during the reign of Charles II but it would be a 100 years before this was realised. Construction of the canal was started in 1768 with the canal finally opening in 1790. It is 35 miles long with a short branch 3.5 miles long leading to Port Dundas and was wide enough to accommodate sea-going vessels. It was one of the first man made sea to sea ship canals and constructed with no natural waterways included on its route.

The Monkland Canal joined the Port Dundas Basin in 1793, and the Union Canal from Falkirk to Edinburgh opened in 1822, creating a Lowland waterway network.

The Forth & Clyde was bought by the Caledonian Railway in 1867, and remained under railway ownership until nationalisation of the waterways in 1948. During the 1960s new roads blocked the waterway so in 1963 Parliament closed the Canal to navigation and it largely fell into disrepair with odd parts being used for leisure pursuits. In 1980 a report stated that the Canal was semi-derelict with little prospect of improvement. After funds were secured from the Millennium Commission, the huge restoration project started in 1999 on the canal which reopened in 2001 and with the accompanying restoration of the Edinburgh & Glasgow Union Canal (more simply known as the Union Canal), boats can once again navigate from Glasgow to Edinburgh.

I must say that walking along the old tow path which is now a walk and cycle route it is difficult to imagine that this Canal was once in a state of disrepair. Whilst walking along the banks the canal was teeming with wildlife, different fish spawning, tadpoles swimming near the edge and Dragonflies of all colours were darting in and out of the grass. There is an abundance of water lilies, irises and rushes. Part of the route goes past Possil Loch which is now called Possil Marsh Nature Reserve. There i saw a pair of magpies which i haven't seen since i was a child. The reserve lies adjacent to High Possil and Lambhill, bounded by the Forth and Clyde Canal and the A879 and has a circular walk around it.

On the Canal at Lambhill Bridge are what is known locally as the Old Stables or Lambhill Stables and the Lock Keepers House. Stable blocks were built at various points along the canal to allow horse drawn boats to change their horses regularly. The blocks were built to a standard pattern and were once handsome buildings which some, like this one at Lambhill, has sadly fallen into disrepair. Not shown in the picture is what is the Lock Keepers house and is attached to the stables. Lambhill Stables was and I suppose still is, an attractive Georgian building on the Forth and Clyde Canal at Balmore Road, built in the 1780s to provide stabling for the horses that pulled the canal barges of yesteryear.

These interesting looking access tunnels go into the side of the canal banking. When I looked inside I noticed a shaft with a ladder going down at the end of the short tunnel. I wondered what it is was for as it looked as if you might be able to go through some sort of passage under the canal as there were also gated entrances on the opposite bank. Someone suggested that these are inspection doors for syphons carrying Glasgow's water supply under the canal. I googled and found this: "When the Loch Katrine scheme was constructed to supply Glasgow with water the main supply pipe from Mugdock Reservoir to the city had to cross the line of the Forth and Clyde Canal. A syphon pipe under the canal was the chosen solution. This view shows the inspection door for this device, set into the canal bank. When the scheme was enlarged in the late 1880s a second syphon was built beside this one, with it own inspection door. A syphon in this case allows the water to cross the canal below the level of the main pipe, returning to its original level on the other side." So i'd say that it was a fair guess. I just love a mystery so will need to find out more about these little tunnels!

The Front Garden

I don't very often mention the front garden as it's mainly a drive with beds; a long bed and a triangular one, a small patch of grass surrounded by beds. However, at this time of the year the Mock Orange 'Philadelphus Aurea' starts to flower. This is it's fourth year and is planted in a shady part of the garden as the light coloured leaves scorch from sun, wind and rain very easily as you can see from the picture. This is a beautiful looking bush and a real delight when in flower as it is heavily perfumed and the scent hangs on the evening air and can be evident some 15ft away from the bush in any direction. I planted this in this particular spot for two reason's one, it needed a shady site and two my neighbours have a seating area on the other side of the fence and i thought it would be really nice for them to enjoy the scent. Last year, when it was in flower, i recall coming home from work and as i was opening the front door this wonderful heady scent greeted me, it took me several minutes to work out the source and was delighted when i realised it was this bush.

As you can see it's planted next to a Ceonothus which contrasts well with the dark leaves and the blue flowers. I only lightly prune both these bushes just to keep them in shape the rest they do themselves. I also give a general fertiliser every year just to help them along. On the other side of the mock orange i have a beautiful peach coloured climbing rose and this is it's third year and starting to do very nicely and again contrasts nicely against the golden foliage of the Mock orange.

My other delights in the front garden are my peonies all just about to burst into flower. They really seem to like the position they have been planted in. In the triangular bed i have two, a red one and a white one. At this time of the year the bed is just starting to bloom and then flowers right through.

My other plants are Lavender of which I have several varieties which i bought these from Norfolk Lavender I started out with small plants and potted them up to see what rate each one grew at and then planted them out according to how fast or slow they grew and how big they would get. It worked quite well. I have a particular fondness for Stoechas but more lately have become a firm fan of the English lavender too. I still have a few spaces where i could accommodate more!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Ladybird fights back

This made me laugh...if only!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Ladybirds under threat

Ladybirds are named after Our Lady, the Virgin Mary. The red colour is said to represent the red cloak Mary was depicted wearing in old paintings. The seven spots are for the seven joys and seven sorrows.

The bright colours of ladybirds have evolved to act as a warning mechanism. Ladybirds are unpalatable to most predators and the warning colours advertise this. When ladybirds are attacked they ooze a horrid goo, called reflex blood, from their knees which contains toxins and tastes unpleasant. Not surprisingly this stops ants, birds and other predators from eating them.

There are over 5,000 species of ladybirds all over the world but only 46 in the UK. Some of these are very small and not spotted so there are only 27 which are likely to be found and easily recognised as ladybirds. Most species of ladybird are predatory – eating sap-sucking plant pests such as aphids. A few, such as the orange ladybird, eat mildews, and two species eat leaves. The ladybird was regarded historically as a magical animal – it foretold weather and happiness, cured toothache and increased potency.

Rumoured to have medicinal properties and some thought that ladybirds to be a cure for measles and colic.

The native ladybird (Coccinellidae), is under threat from the world’s most invasive ladybird species - the harlequin ladybird (Harmonia axyridis). To help the native ladybird, a national survey is taking place.

Originally from Asia, the harlequin ladybird was first spotted in the UK in September 2004. Since then many sightings have been reported, but these have mainly been confined to the south east of the UK. Much more information is needed to discover the true extent of the threat to the native ladybird.

There are 46 species from the native ladybird family (Coccinellidae) in UK and the arrival of the harlequin ladybird (see pic on left) is a potential threat to all of these. It is an extremely voracious predator which easily out competes native ladybirds for food. When their preferred food, of green fly and scale insects, is not available the harlequin turns on native ladybirds and other insects such as butterfly eggs, caterpillars and lacewing larvae.

The survey is calling for all gardeners, farmers, wildlife enthusiasts and anyone with a love of ladybirds to examine trees, bushes and plants and record all ladybirds, including the harlequin, they find. Scientists from the University of Cambridge, Anglia Polytechnic University, the Biological Records Centre and the Natural History Museum will use the results of the survey to gauge how widely the harlequin has spread throughout Britain.

Information can be submitted on line for the Harlequin ladybird survey or details can be sent to the UK Ladybird Survey, Biological Records Centre, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Monks Wood,Abbots Ripton, Cambridgeshire, PE28 2LS.

UPDATE: I emailed the Ladybird Survey to ask what action should be taken if we see Harlequin ladybirds and this is the reply:

"We do not recommend killing any ladybirds and although this is partly because of the risk of native species being misidentified as harlequins, also any that are killed will unfortunately make very little difference to the population.

Unfortunately there is currently no effective control method that will only target harlequins. However, research is being done to try and develop one (possibly using a pheromone that only attracts this species)."

Just hope they find something before the native ladybird is wiped out.

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Thursday, June 07, 2007

Knot garden progress

Inspiration comes in many guises. Following on from my knot garden idea i've been trying to design it but to no avail. I have been trying to draw a celtic knot but it's very difficult to do.

Now here's an interesting concept i came across whilst doing my research into knot gardens is to use a mixture of box, and two other evergreen herbs for contrast. So i have decided on Box and Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia 'Hidcote') and Grey Santolina (Santolina chamaecyparissus).

Whilst visiting Dundee the hotel i was staying in was originally a Scottish mansion house and had beautiful landscaped gardens. The dining room overlooked box maze which was absolutely stunning. It was, of course, on a much larger scale than i was planning but it's inspired me all over again to get the pencil out and get the design right.

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Monday, June 04, 2007

Early June 2007

The weather over the last few weeks has really brought the garden on and everything is green and lush. For those of you that follow my blog this is the bed that i planted up last year from scratch.....just look at it now what a difference to the picture in spring. I'm really pleased with the way it's turned out and there's still plenty to come yet. There's still some growing to do so if this is now what will it be like next year. You will see I finally put my step stones to the bird house in. I used flat pieces of local rock and buried these at the right places for my step. It's amazing the difference this makes for access. Found another poppy growing which i've replanted so must have been from seed last year. I love poppy's and plan to sow/plant more of these delightful blooms. The geranium that you can see is actually a self seeded from the front garden...i have so many of these now that they are starting to be weeds....but i just love the flowers and the way they cover themselves with flowers. The pony tail plant is looking good now...when i first bought this and planted it i was in two minds whether to keep it, pleased i did as it grows more graceful and beautiful. I just wish my cat would leave it alone, it likes to lay on the grass and play with the ones wafting above her.

The potatoes are starting to gather pace now and i need to earth up again. I've tried three different varieties this year so i am eager to see how they fare. We may have had a dry April but May and so far into June has made up for it...perfect growing weather. Put my corn in last weekend just have to get the beans and the squashes in. I've decided to grow all three together but due to practicalities i've decided to plant a block of corn, a row of squash and a row of beans in the same bed and see if this works as well as three sisters interplanting.

One of my first roses to open. The Rhapsody in Blue is starting to open her blooms too but with the recent rain it looks a little bedraggled. Greenfly is in evidence and i've been controlling this with garlic spray which i keep handy to zap any i see. Even my Fatsia japonica hasn't escaped....never mind i saw loads of ladybirds on Saturday so i'm sure they will have plenty of food to go at.

The mock oranges are starting to put out flowers now, and i have three of these plants dotted around the garden. I just love the scent of an established plant. My favourite one is a gold variety but this can be difficult to grow as needs a fairly shady spot to stop the leaves from getting scorched. When the plant is covered in flowers and when the heat of the day has passed you get this wonderful heady aroma all around the garden....there is nothing quite like it. I've sited my mock oranges where i can enjoy their scent. I also have a Mexican orange which has lovely leaves and although flowers but needs to do a bit more growing before the scent becomes strong.

Hope that June soon becomes flamin' and that the garden continues with it's progress. The weeds, of course, never let up but another month and they will be slower to germinate and then i can relax a bit in the garden - well that's the theory anyway!

Happy Gardening!

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