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Late Winter update

The cold weather in December and January finally put an end to my late-flowering perennials. By mid-January even my mahonia and fatsia had stopped flowering; I really must get some later varieties to keep the bees happy.

At the time of writing this the ground outside is frozen, and it will be a few more days before we return to anything close to "normal" February temperatures. At least it's no longer waterlogged, for the whole of January the lawn was partially flooded and I barely set foot outside for fear of compacting the clay soil.

I am delighted with my Christmas gift from my husband, a seat which fits around my golden willow tree. I look forward to sitting reading a book in its cool shade in the summer:

The extreme cold of the last few days finally killed off the last flowers on my astrantia "April Love", but if it's anything like last year it will start blooming again before the end of March. My rosemary has, I think, been in flower continuously since last spring, and right now I also have a viburnum, witch-hazel and some heather showing their colours. Our chaenomeles have just started to bud and should be putting on a good display by next month:

Above left to right: rosemary, viburnum, heather, Hamamelis (Witch hazel) 'Orange Beauty'

It's my birthday next week and I've also had an early birthday present from my husband, something I've been thinking of getting for a long time: we've had our water feature replaced with a small pond. We've had one or two small frogs living in the water feature over the years despite the difficulty of squeezing between the stones which covered it, and last summer we spotted some toads lurking in our ivy, so I wanted to give them a better place to live. It's designed for wildlife rather than fish, with a sloping beach area and a small cascade to keep the water moving, which also seems to have prevented it from freezing this week so the birds still have somewhere to drink from (our bird baths have turned into solid blocks of ice). I want to populate it with native plants as animals can carry seeds from ponds to local water courses and this has caused massive problems in some parts of the country where river habitats have been damaged by invasive ornamental pond plants. But that means waiting until April so in the meantime I may pop some artificial lily pads in to hide the pump, which is rather visible in this small pond:

Above left to right: the new pond, ice around the cascade, frozen bird bath

Finally, I've used the recent weeks where I couldn't do much else in the garden to reposition our bird boxes, clean and sharpen tools and install some staging in my greenhouse.

With two cats who are very keen on climbing trees I needed to move some of the boxes so that they'd be harder to access, so they're now on trees with smooth, slippery bark or without side branches for the cats to perch on. Unfortunately the box which proves most popular is in a very climbable tree, which also usually gets at least two other nests in its branches. So I've positioned a "CATwatch" cat deterrent nearby; it's a device approved by the RSPB which emits a sound beyond the human hearing range which cats hate but which doesn't affect other animals or birds, and it seems to be working really well at dissuading my two from climbing that tree. It can be purchased from the RSPB here:

Top row left to right: standard bird boxes positioned where cats cannot reach them. Bottom row left to right: open box suitable for robins and wrens, our most popular nest box protected by a CATwatch device (just visible in the eaves of the shed in the background), my new greenhouse staging has enabled me to protect far more cuttings from the icy weather as well as providing a platform for chitting my potatoes.


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