The power of three

Have you ever stopped and thought about the number three? No, neither have I much, but if we do stop to analyse, it is actually quite an interesting little beast.

While that old saying ‘Two’s company, three’s a crowd,’ has a negative slant, the fact that three can be a crowd is actually very useful when it comes to arranging flowers and planting in the garden. It’s also a very important number to remember when you’re writing…

In appearance, an uneven number of things, three, five, seven and so on, always gives a more random, ‘natural’ look. A farmer friend of mine planted all his daffodil bulbs two by two in a regimented march across his lawn and, oh dear, did it look odd! If he’d done little clumps of three it would have looked much better.

I always plant my perennials in clumps of at least three, and the same goes for bulbs. Flower arranging, which I am trained in and did a very great deal of earlier in my career, works a lot with threes and the triangular shape, and the science behind it and how our brain sees things is very interesting…

The ‘Rule of three’ is a writing principle that suggests that things that come in threes will be funnier, more satisfying, or more effective than other numbers of things. And that sentence was itself an example of it!

Apparently, we are more likely to absorb information if it is written in groups of threes. From slogans – the Olympic’s “Faster, higher, stonger!” – to films, many things are structured in threes. Examples include the Three Musketeers, Three Little Pigs and Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

When I’m busy writing – whether it’s an article, a book or this blog – (that’s another three!) the rule of three does come to me quite naturally after all these years. At the moment, as some of you will know, I am working on a novel and, when I am trying to create dramatic, impact I do sit and chew my pen – well actually my finger nails as I type everything – and put a lot of effort into producing the most concise, clever and crafty sentences that I can. A series of three creates a progression in which the tension is created, built up, and finally released.

Will I succeed? Or will time, tiredness and tedium get the better of me…? Only time will tell. I’ll keep you posted on the novel’s progress…!

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Secret gardens just waiting for you…

Spring is so slow to get going this year that I am trying to convince myself it will be doubly good when it finally does arrive!

In eager anticipation of this, I thought that I’d mention the National Garden Scheme in this week’s blog. Some of you may already know it – it’s often referred to as ‘The Yellow Book’ scheme – if not, you are missing out on a real gardening treat. The National Garden Scheme (NGS) is a wonderful idea that not only raises lots of money for charity, but also allows you to visit some absolutely stunning private gardens.

Most gardens that open for the NGS are privately owned and open just a few times each year. Some gardens open as part of a group with the whole community involved. The gardens give all the money raised directly to us (including from the sale of teas and plants); the only exceptions being in some cases they ask that a small proportion goes to a nominated local charity.

When a garden is open, it puts out a distinctive yellow poster – look out for these! A few years ago, I had a wonderful afternoon wandering round a garden that was right next to somewhere I’d lived as a child. It had been home to Enid Blyton many years before and the current owners had done a fantastic job restoring the garden. I had been visiting the area and drove past the end of the road and saw the sign – pure chance. Sadly, that particular garden isn’t open this year, but there are no less than 3,700 across England and Wales that are, and some of them are bound to be near you. 

Buy a copy of their ‘Yellow Book’ Guide and it will tell you all the gardens that open, and when. There are some absolute gems! Their website is also very useful and includes details of when you can stay near particular gardens, details of plant fairs and nurseries etc.

 

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Feeding our feathered friends in winter

The arrival of ‘proper’ winter weather has seen the usual flurry of wild bird activity in our garden. I see robins fluffed up like pompoms and black birds looking huge – thank goodness they have such great insulation in their feathers. But it’s important we look after our garden birds throughout the winter months, especially now as so many of them are under threat.

Garden birds need extra nourishment to keep them warm, just as we do and, as I know you are all so keen on cooking and ‘making’, I thought you’d love to have a go at making your own winter bird feeders!

All you need is vegetable suet, or lard, bird seed mix and empty yogurt pots.

Mix one part suet to two parts seed, transfer to a saucepan and gently heat until the fat melts.

Next, make a small hole in the bottom of each pot and thread some twine through to tie the feeder to a tree branch. Pour the mixture into the pots – do this on a tray or baking sheet so if any fat leaks through the hole it won’t damage anything. Set overnight in the fridge, then simply remove the pot and hang up outside.

Don’t forget their water in winter. I keep a stock of old plastic post and cartons from packaging that I fill with water and weight down with a stone to ensure they always have fresh unfrozen water.

Finally, hygiene is very important – when a large number of birds are attracted into an area to feed, the danger of disease increases. Prevention is always better than a cure, and is the best thing you can do to help the birds.

The RSPB has lots of useful information about bird feeding and advice on how to keep everything clean. Click here to find out what they suggest

http://www.rspb.org.uk/advice/helpingbirds/feeding/hygiene.aspx

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Hedgehogs, frogs and (non) barking dogs!

I think we’d all agree that, in weather terms, it’s been a bit of an odd year. This in turn has made a big impact on the flora and fauna in our gardens.

I’d just been listening to a friend bemoaning her lack of peas and broad beans this year – almost all eaten by Jays, something she had never witnessed before – and I suddenly thought (as you do!) – hedgehogs!

Hedgehogs have always been regular visitors in our garden – I’d spot them toddling across the lawn just at it turned dimpsy, as we say in Devon – or dusk to the rest of you.  But this year I haven’t seen any.

Predictably, Wellington, our slightly mad cocker spaniel, would always enjoy a good bark at any passing hedgehog, but not this year. And that seems very strange as we’ve had so many slugs and snails which hedgehogs adore.

And so, I started thinking about all the other things that have been strange in 2012…

I haven’t noticed many frogs or toads. These usually make their way into the garden via the stream. Despite the months of rain from April onwards, and the generous supply of slugs to feed on I haven’t seen a single one. Perhaps the hedgehogs and frogs have more food than they know what to do with closer to home, so haven’t needed to look further afield. Have others gardeners among you noticed this, or is it just me?

On the other hand, we seem to be inundated with woodpigeons, squirrels and magpies all of which are hugely destructive in different ways. Jays being members of the crow family, as are magpies, have been much more prevalent probably accounting for my friend’s vegetable losses.

If you feel like helping out some of our smaller garden inhabitants, you could try building piles of sticks and leaves at the back of borders for them to use for winter shelter. Nothing complex, just welcoming homes made from natural materials, something a hedgehog would find very cosy.

And, finally, as Halloween and Guy Fawkes’ Night loom, if you are having a bonfire do please restack the heap on the day of the bonfire on a fresh site to ensure no wildlife has crawled in and taken up residence.

 

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No need to shell out!

I hate throwing things away, especially natural things, so I’m always interested in ideas for recycling. Egg shells are of course lovely things in their own right, and we’ve talked about blowing and painting them before… but what about the typical broken egg shells that we throw away every day after we’ve used the eggs?

My Hen Pal, Julia Wherrell obviously has lots of eggshells and has some interesting ideas on what to do with them, plus some ideas she’s been told by other hen enthusiasts… see what you make of these…

1. Sprinkle broken up eggshell around your garden to deter pests

Soft-bodied insects like slugs or snails don’t like crawling over sharp pieces of shell, I find it works really well.

2. Give your tomatoes a calcium boost

Blossom-end rot is a common tomato problem and it’s caused by a calcium deficiency in the plant. A very successful veg gardener friend of mine puts eggshells in the bottom of the hole when he plants out his tomatoes to help combat this problem. I’m definitely trying this next year as my tomatoes were rubbish this year!

3. Use them to start seedlings

I think this is a lovely idea, especially if you are short of space. Give your smaller seedlings a start in rinsed-out shells! An egg box fits perfectly on a small windowsill so use this to hold your eggshells. They need to be at least half shell in size, so try and remember that when you’re next cracking some eggs, rinse them clean and then plant up your seedlings as normal but obviously, best to stick to smaller things, like herbs. When you come to plant out, gently crush the shell as you plant it and it will decompose in the soil around your plant.

4. Compost them

Add calcium to your compost by adding shells to your compost bin.

5. Sow directly into the soil

If you don’t have time, energy or inclination to compost, simply dig crushed shells directly into your garden. It’s still better than just chucking them out!

 

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