Cherry thief

Bird feeding station
Bird feeding station

I like magpies. They’re clever, good looking birds. I know lots of people who feed birds aren’t keen on them. But they’re always welcome to help themselves to the food I put out for birds in my garden.

Having said that,  yesterday one really pushed my goodwill. We have a tiny cherry tree, which is currently laden with almost ripe fruit. Ignoring the bird table laden with different food purchased at great expense, the magpie decided to go for the cherries.

Cherry munched by magpies
Cherry munched by magpies

I love cherries. The tree is still quite young, so we haven’t had many to eat in previous years. And it’s so small (it’s a minaret tree in a big pot) that there isn’t enough to share. The magpie stealing from our precious supply cut me to the quick.

Now, my garden is very definitely primarily a wildlife garden. I take a laissez-faire approach to pest control, hoping that the slow worms, frogs and hedgehogs that visit will keep the slugs and other plant munchers under control. It doesn’t really work, which is why I have given up on growing peas and beans, and my courgette plants have all disappeared. But I am not prepared to sit idly by and watch my cherries get gobbled.

My first attempt at putting off the magpies is hanging a cd from the tree (as I don’t have a big enough net). I put it up yesterday lunchtime, and haven’t seen a magpie since. But I have been out most of this morning, so I can’t say for sure whether it works. The trouble is that magpies are clever birds, so it probably won’t take them long to suss it out.

My attempt at stopping magpies stealing my cherries - hanging an old CD from the tree
My attempt at stopping magpies stealing my cherries – hanging an old CD from the tree

It only has to work for long enough for the cherries to finish ripening. Will there be any left by then?


First dormouse at my new site

After last month’s disappointment (and the huge proportion of boxes that were being used by birds) I didn’t have high hopes for the dormouse box checks this month. But, once again, I was wrong. On my fourth monthly box check we finally found a dormouse!

Just the one, but a very cute one. It only weighed 12.5g, which is quite small for an adult. But weights tend to be low in June, as many won’t have been out of hibernation all that long.

It was the first dormouse I’ve seen this year, so I was quite relieved it was torpid and easy to handle. I think the warmth of my hand started to wake it up, as it clung to my fingers. But it seemed to go straight back to sleep when it was back in its nest, so will just have hazey memories of a weird dream.

Torpid dormouse found on my box check in June
Torpid dormouse found on my box check in June

I say its nest – in fact, he has just moved into a bird’s nest, so it’s not at all typical of a dormouse nest. Maybe, since it’s so small, it was preserving energy for feeding, and making do with a bird’s nest until it has put on a bit of weight. It’s not unusual for dormice to build a nest on top of a used bird’s nest, but this dormouse hasn’t got round to home improvements yet. All the bird’s nests in boxes were empty this month, so hopefully the dormice will start to recolonise them.

Dormice aren’t the only mice taking over from birds – one former bird’s nest had a couple of apodemus mice hunkering down. I didn’t manage to see their necks, so can’t tell if they were woodmice or yellow necked.

Seeing the dormouse made my day – they really are incredibly endearing. And hopefully it will be the first of many.

May Photography Challenge: garden

The theme for May’s photography challenge was the garden. I love plants at this time of year – everything is fresh and verdant, bursting with life. So I spent a happy hour pottering about the garden, trying to capture some of the textures and colours of May.

It took me a while to get round to looking at the photos I shot, and when I did I was disappointed with the results. A lot of them are unusable as the focus was off, or the composition too messy. I must remember to check the images in the screen as I go along, rather than waiting til I upload them on a computer. Here’s the best of the (poor) bunch.



Buddleia reaching to the sky
Buddleia reaching to the sky
Dandelion clock (plenty of them in my garden!)
Dandelion clock (plenty of them in my garden!)
Fresh ivy leaves
Fresh ivy leaves

Our national bird

Other countries have fearsome eagles or majestic cranes as their national bird. Now, finally, the British public have decided that our national bird should be the…. Robin.


Almost a quarter of a million votes were cast in a poll to decide which should be the national bird of Britain. The shortlist of 10 included the beautiful barn owl, dazzling kingfisher, and incredibly rare hen harrier. But the humble robin was a run away winner, getting a third of the votes.

So why did the robin win? Here’s my guess. Robins are pretty common and widespread across the country, all year round. With their striking red breast everyone can recognise it, and sees them pretty regularly. It’s an egalitarian choice – you don’t have to be an expert or live in a particular place to see them. Their song is loud, drawing attention, and they’re not too scared of people.

Many gardeners will have had the company of a robin just a metre or two away as they work, the robin on the lookout for any worms that get turned over by digging. With patience, robins can even be trained to take food from your hand.

The results of this poll remind me of the poll to choose our national animal a few years ago. The humble hedgehog won – another animal that town and country dwellers alike can encounter in their gardens, although sadly hedgehog numbers are declining rapidly, meaning many people haven’t encountered one for years.


Some people have criticised the choice of the robin, as robins will fiercely defend their territory. Others campaigned for the hen harrier to win, in the hope that raising awareness of the plight of the bird would help to conserve it. The hen harrier has been illegally persecuted by gamekeepers for years. Last year only four pairs of hen harriers successfully bred in England.

But I think the robin is a good choice. It’s fiesty, easily identifiable and attention grabbing. Like the hedgehog, it’s one of few wild birds and animals one can get really close to. Still, I have to admit it didn’t get my vote – I plumped for the blackbird for its song that gladdens my heart each morning.


Hedgehog trailcam footage

My birthday present from Dr C has finally arrived: a trail cam! This is great timing, as the nights are so short now that I miss seeing our hedgehogs (I’m in bed before they come visiting the garden).

I’ve had it running a couple of nights so far (well, three nights really, but the memory card was too full to take any footage on the middle night – beginner’s mistake!). As suspected, most of the footage has been of hedgehogs.

It’s easy to assume that the hedgehog you see is the same each night – ‘your’ hedgehog. We learnt a few years ago that that’s not the case – when we did a proper(ish) census of hedgehog visitors to our garden there were at least 6 different adults and 3 babies. I’ve spent a bit of time looking at the footage for distinguishing features. One of them is fairly easy to recognise, as he has dark marks on his back.

Here’s him again a couple of nights earlier, with a birdsong soundtrack.

Here’s another big hedgehog.

And another hedgehog (or is it the same?)

So I don’t think I’m going to be able to tell exactly how many hedgehogs visit the garden just from the trail cam footage. But even over two nights we know there are several that pass through the garden. (The hole in our fence helps!)

I often put out cat food or mealworms for the hedgehogs, so a lot of the clips are just of them with their noses buried in the bowl. But I enjoyed these couple of ones:

A hedgehog having a shake:

And a hedgehog having a good old scratch:

Most of the clips are of hedgehogs, but we did get a couple of other nocturnal visitors:

A neighbour’s cat (we call her Spot), whose territory seems to encompass most of the town we live in.

Spot the cat

And, if you look closely at the next clip, you can just about make out a mouse (although I’m not sure what type of mouse it is).

I’m still getting used to the camera, so hopefully the quality of my footage will improve. I promise I won’t post quite so many hedgehog clips next time, I’m just quite excited with my new toy! My ambition is to get footage of baby hedgehogs visiting our garden, as we have seen them in previous years.

How to turn a pallet into a vertical flower planter

When a delivery left us with a wooden pallet, in battered but solid condition, my Womble instinct took over. There had to be a garden wildlife project we could use it for. A quick search for inspiration came up with the idea of turning it into a vertical planter. It’s perfect for making more space for flowers in a small garden like ours. Planted with flowers of a variety of colours and shapes it will be a good additional food source for insects. It took Dr C and I an afternoon to build and plant up. Here’s how we did it.

What we used:

  • A wooden pallet (you can probably find one for free – some garden centres etc. give them away)
  • Heavy duty landscaping fabric
    Heavy duty landscaping fabric

    Heavy-duty landscape fabric (you can get this from a garden centre / DIY store – either buy a roll, or by the metre – we used 3m)

  • Staple gun and lots of staples
  • Peat-free compost (we used four 50l bags  which cost £4 each)
  • Our irrigation system: overflow pipe with lots of little holes in it, joined by elbow joints
    Our irrigation system: overflow pipe with lots of little holes in it, joined by elbow joints

    Pipe to make an irrigation system (we used overflow pipe from a DIY store, which cost 86p for 1.5 metres – we used 3 metres worth, plus two elbow joints which cost 60p for two). A length of hosepipe would also work well, but seemed to cost quite a bit more

  • Hammer and nail to make small holes along the irrigation pipe
  • Screws and rawl plugs (and a drill and small screwdriver) to secure the pallet to the wall to stop it falling over)
  • A cheap plastic funnel
  • Plants and compost ready to fill the planter
    Plants and compost ready to fill the planter

    Lots of small plants (you can buy trays of bedding plants from a garden centre, or grow your own from seed in small pots)

Constructing the vertical planter

  1. Our pallet was a bit mucky, so we gave it a bit of a wash down and let it dry. I suppose you could paint yours with paint suitable for exterior woodwork if you wanted to, but we decided to stick with its battered look. Hopefully the plants will grow to cover it soon anyway.
  2. Work out where to position your pallet
    Work out where to position your pallet

    Work out where to position it. You’ll need a sturdy wall to attach it to, as otherwise it’s likely to fall over, and when filled with compost it will be heavy. We chose a small garden wall just opposite the window of my study. When choosing your site, pay attention to how much sun it gets, as that will affect which plants will thrive there.

  3. Drill holes through the back of your pallet to help secure it to the wall
    Drill holes through the back of your pallet to help secure it to the wall

    Once you’ve worked out where you want it, drill a couple of holes through the pallet, and use a pencil to mark where this comes on the wall. Then drill a couple of holes into the wall, and insert a rawl plug. Don’t screw it in yet – you need to do some work on the planter first.

  4. Cover the back of your pallet with landscape fabric, and staple it well into place at the bottom and back
    Cover the back of your pallet with landscape fabric, and staple it well into place at the bottom and back, leaving the sides loose for now

    Cover the back and underneath of pallet with the landscaping fabric. Make sure there’s enough to cover the sides as well. Using the staple gun, attach the fabric to the pallet underneath and at the back. I used so many staples my hand muscles ached for days afterwards! You may want to use a double layer of landscape fabric for extra strength. Fold the cut ends in underneath before stapling, to give a neat finish and a bit more strength. Don’t staple the fabric in place at the sides yet, as you’ll need to be able to get to these to screw the pallet to the wall.

  5. Make lots of holes all along your irrigation pipe, in all different directions
    Make lots of holes all along your irrigation pipe, in all different directions – we used a hammer and nail to do this

    Using a hammer and nail, make lots of small holes randomly along the length of your irrigation pipe, so the water will reach all parts of your planter.

    Testing our irrigation system before installing it
    Testing our irrigation system before installing it

    The photo shows how we arranged ours – a big v that went from the middle of the bottom to the sides of the top, and a smaller v that went from halfway down to the top.

  6. You can just see the irrigation system in place inside the pallet
    You can just see the irrigation system in place inside the pallet

    Position your irrigation system in the pallet, making sure the tops of the pipes come out of the top of your planter so you can water it.

  7. Move your pallet into position, and screw it to the wall
    Move your pallet into position, and screw it to the wall

    Move your pallet into place, and screw it into the wall (a Swiss Army knife screwdriver was handy for this, as most other screwdrivers would be too long to fit in the gap).

  8. Staple the landscape fabric securely to the sides of your pallet (again tucking in the edge so you get a neat and strong finish).
  9. Fill your planter with compost, watering well as you go along
    Fill your planter with compost, watering well as you go along

    Holding your irrigation pipes in place, fill your planter with compost, giving it a good water every so often as you go, so not just the top compost gets wet. Make sure you firm the compost down a reasonable amount, otherwise the level will sink quite a bit later.

  10. Now it’s time for the fun bit – planting up your planter!

What plants to use

I’m definitely not an expert gardener, so can’t give you much advice on this, but here are a few points to consider:

  • If you think there’s a chance your pallet may have been treated with chemical preservatives its probably best not to grow plants for you to eat in it. Go for stuff that looks pretty instead.
  • Different sorts of insects prefer different shapes and colours of flowers, so try to pick a variety that will flower over a long period.
  • Trailing plants will look good cascading down the vertical planter – I chose a mix of trailing lobelia, petunias and other non-trailing flowers.
  • Go for single rather than double varieties, as these are easier for insects to get pollen from.
  • When choosing flowers, think about the conditions they’ll have where your planter is sited – do they like full sun, part shade or full shade?
  • If you’re not good at remembering to water plants every day you may want to pick varieties that don’t mind being a bit thirsty every now and then.
  • Pick ones that smell nice as well as look nice – this will help attract insects.
  • Growing from seed will be much cheaper than buying bedding plants from a garden centre, but requires greater organisation. We don’t have a greenhouse at the moment, which makes looking after young plants hard, so we went for the lazy option. I’m looking forward to being a bit more adventurous next year, and hope to choose some native wildflower species instead.

Planting it up

This is the fun bit. Make sure your compost is nice and damp (try out your irrigation system for the first time!), and water your plants well before starting. I started at the bottom row and used a wooden dibber to make a hole in the compost before poking the plant through. I planted it up quite densely (much closer than it said on the plant labels) to create the visual effect I wanted, but if you’re more patient than me then you could probably use fewer plants. I alternated different types of flowers, to try to keep it interesting visually.

The finished planter, all planted up
The finished planter, all planted up
The planted planter
The planted planter
Violas in the planter
Violas in the planter
Using the irrigation system
Using the irrigation system

For the first few days it’ll need plenty of water and TLC. Your funnel will help get the water into your irrigation system. Some of my lobelia have suffered as their roots aren’t well enough established yet, so I use a small watering can to make sure they get enough water. But others are doing well with the irrigation system. We’ll see how it does longer term… A few bumblebees have already started taking an interest.