Mid-summer flowering clematis

Although the stars of June are certainly the roses, quietly creeping their way up among the trees and shrubs are the mid-summer flowering clematis. Here are six that are currently flowering around the garden, some large and some small but all add something quite special.

One: Perle d’azur

This pale blue, vigorous clematis has been slowly climbing up a large holly tree in recent years. Last autumn we did some major pruning on the holly to try and get it back into shape and we wondered whether the clematis would be as good this year. In the last few weeks it has begun to flower and clearly we have not done it any lasting damage.

P1040414 Perle d'azur

Two: Clematis viticella ‘Minuet’

A much smaller and less vigorous clematis than the Perle d’azur, ‘Minuet’ is climbing amongst a honeysuckle and rose in the old rose garden. It has delightful two-tone flowers.

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Three: Clematis texensis ‘Etoile rose’

We are not entirely sure about the name of this clematis but we think it might be ‘Etoile rose’. Each year we think it might be something different. Its small bell shaped, nodding flowers emerge from an ivy trellis close to the house and brighten an otherwise green backdrop.

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Four: Blue large flowered clematis (variety unknown)

I have included this because it has such a beautiful flower. Not hugely vigorous it has survived in a quite inhospitable spot in dry shade for a number of years now. In the last few years we have begun to clear the over bearing shrubs and it has responded well. Any idea on the variety? The flowers are relatively large (c. 6 inches across) and it has very delicate markings on the sepals.

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Five: Clematis ‘Voluceau’

Another clematis the we planted some years ago but has really come to life in recently years. The reddish purple flowers are very striking against the dark leaves of the ivy.

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Six: Clematis ‘Etoile violette’

My final choice is to show just how well clematis can be used to complement other plants flowering at this time of year. Here Clematis ‘Etoile violette’ is growing amongst the rose ‘American Pillar’. It is a striking combination that we enjoy every year. Both are very vigorous and sit together well.

P1040368 Etoile Violette

There is no doubt that the richness and diversity of clematis can add value to the garden throughout the year (if you love them too you might enjoy this article as well).


The Six on Saturday meme is hosted by The Propagator. Click on the link to be inspired by what other plant lovers are enjoying this weekend.

Six on Saturday: Summer Harvest

With so much to talk about in the flower garden the fruit and vegetables seldom get a mention. This year the vegetable garden seems to have really got going. Whether this is the result of the earlier hot temperatures, the current wet weather or simply the fact that I have had much more time to do things better this year I am not sure.

To celebrate the fact that we are picking good produce daily now I thought I would highlight six crops that we have enjoyed this week. It has also been an interesting exercise trying to create some attractive photos of fruit and veg to post!

One: Raspberries

I think I would describe the raspberry canes as a little feral now. They are growing at least six feet away from where I originally planted them. I wrote earlier in the week about our new decorative walk-in fruit cage project so next year we hope to have a much better crop of larger berries. However, we are still enjoying the old ones with lashings of cream and sugar. You really cannot beat fresh raspberries!

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Two: Broad Beans

I have grown three varieties of broad beans this year and managed to sow them in succession. The varieties this year are Sciabola Verde, Red Epicure and Express. All are growing strongly and don’t seem to have been bothered by black fly this year. I have also done a much better job at supporting them which has helped reduce the damage to the pods from mice and voles. The picture shows the larger green beans of Sciabola verde and the small tender red beans of Red Epicure. There is something rather attractive about their silky skins.

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Three: Lettuce

We have suffered very little from slug damage this year (so far) and the lettuces have really grown away strongly. We have concentrated on an Iceberg variety called Match. This is producing nice, clean crisp leaves. Although not strictly a ‘cut and come again’ variety I have been able to remove just the leaves we want for a meal and leave the remaining plants to develop further.

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Four: Mangetout peas

These have been a real success. The fact that I have had the time to carefully pick the pods every day has ment that they have kept coming and continue to crop extremely well. We are getting a small bowl full every day now off a three metre row. The variety is Oregon Sugar Pod.

We do seem to have a lot of wood pigeons in the garden this year and normally it would be a challenge to keep them off the crops. However, I have dusted off my trusty bird scarers made of old shiny CDs and DVDs and they seem to have worked a treat. ‘Back in the day’ when you used to receive loads of free CDs through the post from Internet Service Providers like AOL and Tiscali I had a huge stack of these but they are now beginning to run a bit short I am afraid.

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Five: Swiss Chard

We grow a lot of Swiss Chard and Perpetual Spinach in the vegetable garden and it crops reliably right through the summer and autumn. They also produce harvestable leaves throughout the winter months and it is lovely to have some fresh veg to pick at this time.

Not only are they very productive but the Swiss Chard (variety Bright Lights) is also very attractive with its bright red, yellow and white stems. I would highly recommend this Salmon and Swiss Chard Pie recipe that we found the tried the other day. Easy to make and very tasty.

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Six: Blackcurrants

Usually the birds do not trouble my blackcurrants but last year they suddenly took the lot when I wasn’t looking. I am trying to get ahead of the game this year by picking and freezing the currants as they ripen. Picking blackcurrants is certainly a time consuming business and you cannot rush it (otherwise you end up dropping the lot on the ground whilst you seek out the next bunch to pick).

Because of the lack of rain the currants are not as big as they might have been in previous years but hopefully they will still pack a punch. I have noticed that they have suddenly started to swell and split with the recent rain. Still usuable but they will need to be picked before they spoil.

Although we do love a blackcurrent and apple pie the bulk of our currants go to make blackcurrant jelly. We freeze the fresh berries as we pick them until we have a large enough amount to make up a batch of jam. Blackcurrant jelly on warm buttered toast at the breakfast table – always good!

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All in all the fruit and vegetables are growing well. Each year something goes wrong though and this year it has been the cucumbers. All five super plants have suffered from wilt I’m afraid and had to be chucked out. Such a shame as they usually grow so well for us.

And to finish, a little nostalgia. I do find podding broad beans at the end of a busy day with a glass of good beer a very civilised summer activity. It also brings back memories of my (then) young children singing this harvest song at the top of their voices in primary school assembly:

Cauliflowers Fluffy and cabbages green
Strawberries are sweeter than any I’ve seen
Beetroots purple and onions white
All grow steadily day and night

The apples are ripe and the plums are red
The broadbeans are sleeping in their blankety bed

Blackberries are juicy and rhubarbs sour
Marrows fattening hour by hour
Gooseberries hairy and lettuces fat
Radishes round and runner beans flat

The apples are ripe and the plums are red
The broadbeans are sleeping in their blankety bed

Orangey carrots and turnips cream
Reddening tomatoes that used to be green
Brown potatoes in little heaps
Down in the darkness where the celery sleeps

The apples are ripe and the plums are red
The broadbeans are sleeping in their blankety bed, Yea!


The Six on Saturday meme is hosted by The Propagator. Click on the link to be inspired by what other plant lovers are enjoying this weekend.

Garden Ecology: Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis)

The Green Woodpecker is supposedly a fairly common bird in the UK (c. 52,000 pairs) but we see it only rarely in the garden.  The Great Spotted Woodpecker is a more regular visitor and often comes to feed on the peanuts in the bird feeders.

The Green Woodpecker is the largest of the British Woodpeckers and is the size of a large pigeon.  It typically feeds on ants probing ant nests with its strong beak and long tongue.

This individual is an adult male as it has a crimson-centred moustache.  The female has a black moustache.

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It seems that the Green Woodpecker (unlike the Great Spotted Woodpecker) does not drum.  Their song is a very characteristic loud ringing laugh (click to play)

 

Audio credit: Olivier Grosselet, Xeno-canto

New fruit cage for strawberries and raspberries

Although we have grown strawberries and raspberries over the years we have not had any decent plants for some time now.  After 25 years the old raspberry canes have become exhausted and the strawberries have just faded away.  In addition the birds always seem to get to the fruit first!

As a lockdown project we have therefore decided to set ourselves up in style; clearing a previously unused part of the garden, building a new walk in fruit cage and buying in a fresh set of plants.

Having cleared a sunny area at the edge of the orchard of brambles and weeds we have invested in a 5 x 2.5 metre walk-in fruit cage from Harrod Horticulture.   The orchard is a very attractive part of the garden and the location for my daughter’s wedding next year so we felt it appropriate to go for something that had a little more style and be an interesting feature.  We therefore went for the peak roofed steel fruit cage.

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Once the ground was dug over constructing the fruit cage was quite straight forward.   It took us (2 people) four days in total to put up.  You certainly could not have done the job alone.  Putting up the peaked roof required one person up a ladder to hold the roof in place whilst the other bolted it together.  My tall Niwaki Japanese Tripod ladder was invaluable.   The instructions were all very clear and we had no problem with these.  It did however take us a whole day to put up the netting and sow it tightly together so that there we no gaps.  I think (and hope) it was worth taking the time to do this very carefully to ensure no birds will be able to access our precious fruit.

Whilst we were constructing the fruit cage we ordered a number of cold-stored strawberry plants from Ken Muir.  I have to say that I was very impressed with the quality of the plants we received.  We were not quite ready to plant them out when they came so potted them up into compost first before they were put out.  Every single plant has grown away beautifully so no complaints here at all.  In addition to the plants you get a comprehensive and informative 46-page guide on how to grow strawberries effectively.

Cold-stored plants are runners that were dug in January and kept in cold storage until required for sale.  If planted out before July they should crop in the first year.  We have gone for three varieties (early, mid-summer and late summer) that will allow us to crop over an extended period.  The varieties we have chosen are Vibrant (Early), Hapil (mid-summer) and Fenella (Late summer).

The ground we have used has been uncultivated for some years and although we have tried to remove all the perennial weeds and bramble roots I am sure we are going to be troubled with annual weeds for sometime.  We have therefore decided to grow the strawberries through black weed suppressing membrane cutting individual circular holes for each plant.  Hopefully this will mean we don’t have to use straw either to keep our fruit clean.

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Half of the fruit cage has been put down to the 36 strawberry plants (12 of each variety).  The other half will be put down to raspberries which we will buy and plant later in the year.  Rather than just leave this half fallow we have planted corgettes and sweet corn purely to make use of the space and cultivate the ground to reduce the annual weeds ready for autumn raspberry cane planting.

Every day now I go out and look at how the strawberries are progressing.  The plants look very good and the early variety is now flowering (11 June).  Very soon I hope the berries will start to form and ripen. How exciting!

The June garden in all its glory

For this week’s Six on Saturday I thought it would be appropriate to simply let the garden talk for itself.  Just six shots that struck me as I enjoyed the June garden and all its lovely evening fragrance.

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Roses – Sweet Perfum de Provence, White perfumella, Prince Jardinaire and A Whiter Shade of Pale

 

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Wisteria frutescens ‘Amethyst Falls’
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Rose Blush Rambler climbing over the flower studio with purple hesperis and pinks in the foreground
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Rose Festival with fragrant Philadelphus 
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Roses – Rhapsody in blue with Absolutely Fabulous and Fellowship
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Rose American Pillar with Rose Compassion and Clematis Etoile Violet

The Six on Saturday meme is hosted by The Propagator. Click on the link to be inspired by what other plant lovers are enjoying this weekend.

 

 

 

Scarlet Tiger Moth – garden wildlife

Last autumn I attended a fascinating nine week course at the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust on macro moths.  I did hear the comment “what do you want to do a course on moths for?” a number of times but it was a fascinating evening class.

It has helped me appreciate the sheer diversity and number of moth species in my garden alone.  Most importantly it has helped me understand what I need to do to make the garden a more friendly habitat for both the adult moths and their caterpillars.  Of course many of these caterpillars are also food for the many birds we have nesting in the garden as well at this time of year.

The Scarlet Tiger (Callimorpha dominula) is a relatively large moth (23-27mm).  It is typically a southern moth in the UK (south of the Wash), in the south west and rarely in the south east.  It has unmistakable white and yellow spots and blotches on black on the forewing and a largely red hindwing which can just be seen in my photograph.

The adults fly in June and July by day and at night.  Its preferred habitat is wetlands, including riverbanks and ditches, grassland, coastal habitats (not applicable here!) and gardens ¹.

According to wikipedia the caterpillars mainly feed on comfrey (Symphytum officinale), but also on a number of other plants including Urtica (nettles), Cynoglossum (borage), Fragaria (strawberries), Fraxinus (ash), Geranium, Lamium (dead-nettles), Lonicera (honeysuckle), Myosotis (forget-me-not), Populus (poplar), Prunus (cherry), Ranunculus (buttercup), Rubus (blackberries et al), Salix (willow) and Ulmus (elm) species).  All of these are in plentiful supply here in the lanes and in the garden.

Further reading

¹ “Concise guide to the moths of Great Britain and Ireland” by Martin Townsend and Paul Waring (ISBN 978-1-4729-6583-7)

Scarlet Tiger Moths are in the family Arctiidae, subfamily Arctiinae which includes the tigers, ermines and footman.

Time to sow biennials

I always try to sow my biennials before the summer soltice (20th June) so that the plants are big enough to plant out by the autumn equinox (22 September) and can establish well before the winter.  We have not had rain for many, many, many weeks but today was a wet one and ideal for spending time in a cozy greenhouse sowing next year’s flowers.

Just as the garden is coming into full swing it does seem a little strange to be starting things off for next year but that is how we will enjoy the same fabulous show again in 2021.

Here are the things I have been sowing today and my Six-on-Saturday for this week.


One:  Foxglove ‘Pam’s Choice’

I love to have foxgloves popping up around the garden and Pam’s Choice is a particular favourite with its white flowers and purple throat.  It is similar to Elsey Kelsey which I also like.  This year it has looked striking growing with the purple hesperis.

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Foxglove ‘Pam’s Choice’ with purple Hesperis

Two:  Hesperis (Sweet Rocket)

We grow both the purple and white forms of Sweet Rocket.  They are just coming to an end now and are making way for planting out summer annuals.  The white form is lovely for brightening up a shadey corner or setting off a dark hedge.  As an added bonus it seems to attract many early butterflies.

For me Hesperis looks best when planted in a decent group of plants rather than singly.  This year we have grown it to great effect with Allium ‘Purple Sensation’ and Tulip ‘City of Vancouver’.  It does however need a bit of staking.

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Three:  Erysimum (Wallflowers)

Over the years Wallflowers have been used extensively in municipal parks and gardens as part of brightly coloured carpet bedding schemes.  They have perhaps become a little ‘out of fashion’.  We try to use ours in a much more informal way within our early spring borders.  They give a range of rich colours which are unusual in the early spring and sit very well with tulips and other spring bulbs.

Today I have been sowing ‘Blood Red’ and ‘Fire King’ (which look great together amongst pale blue forget-me-nots) as well as ‘Vulcan’ and ‘Ruby Gem’.  In addition I have sown ‘Ivory White’ which you can just see in the picture above with the Alliums.  It wasn’t particularly successful this year but its creamy yellow flowers showed great promise and I think I will try and get more going for this bed next year.

Tulip Jan Reus mixed with Ballerina and scented Fire King and Blood Red wallflowers
Tulip Jan Reus mixed with Ballerina and scented Fire King and Blood Red wallflowers

Four:  Foxglove ‘Apricot’

This tall Apricot foxglove creates a very different effect from the ‘normal’ pink and white forms.  I put it with the Sweet Williams this year and they create a lovely contrast.

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Foxglove ‘Apricot’

Five:  Dianthus barbatus (Sweet William)

We started to grow the variety ‘Auricula Eyed Mixed’ when we were cutting flowers as event florists.  It is tall with nice robust stems and seems to be generally free from rust problems if you don’t overcrowd the plants.

The plants produce masses of seeds each year which I collect and keep for sowing in June.  I try to create new plants each year but many of the plants seem to be perennial.  If you cut them back hard after flowering they produce new fresh growth and keep flowering into the autumn.  They seem to stay green most of the winter in our garden and a bit of a tidy up and a feed in the spring produces another crop of flowers the following year.  Here they are growing amongst Nigella to great effect.

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Six:  Astrantia

This is not a biennial but I came across the seeds we collected last year from these dark pink astrantia plants.  What is wonderful about collecting your own seed is that you get so very much more than you receive when you buy seeds from commercial companies.  You do seem to get less and less seeds in a packet these days.

The astrantia seeds from last year all look really good so rather than let them go to waste I will have a go at getting them to germinate.  Many perennials like to have a period of chilling so that they think they have had a winter and are now emerging into the warmer springtime.  To mimic this I have put the tray of sown seeds into the fridge for 4 weeks in a plastic bag and will then bring them out into the warmth to let them germinate.  I will report back on how I get on.

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The Six on Saturday meme is hosted by The Propagator. Click on the link to be inspired by what other plant lovers are enjoying this weekend.


 

It is definitely rose time!

There is so much to see in the garden at the moment and Six on Saturday is simply not enough.  However, as we move from May to June it is the roses that are in the ascendency and I really couldn’t have a six this week without them.  I spent today cutting the grass and repeatedly stopped to smell the roses as I went past each time.  The grass cutting took rather longer than usual!

Here are six that I have chosen to highlight today – there could have been so many more.


One:  Boscobel

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This is a beautifully fragrant English Shrub Rose (also known as Auscousin).  This group of repeat flowering roses sits in front of a Cornus kousa which is also flowering wonderfully this year.

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Two:  Rhapsody in Blue

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Perhaps a slightly weird colour for a rose (it is on the way to blue but definitely not a true blue).  It is certainly a talking point and I think goes very nicely with the purple leaves of the Cotinus coggygria.


Three:  Comte de Chambord

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This is a very fragrant shrub rose that we planted as part of our 25th wedding anniversary rose garden.  Now over 15 years old they are still going strong (as are we!).  They combine very well with the Persicaria bistorta in the foreground and the brick red ‘My Castle’ lupins.


Four:  Rambling Rosie

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About three years ago now we converted the old flower growing area of our floristry business into a more aesthetically pleasing flower garden.  We simply love growing flowers.  We have planted a couple of climbing roses over two new pergolas and it has taken them a couple of years to really get going.  This year they are full of flower buds and ‘Rambling Rosie’ I hope will really perform this year.  Fingers crossed.


Five:  Rose ‘Festival’

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I have a bit of a soft spot for this rose.  It is one of a number the roses that I received as a leaving present when I left the East Malling Research Station in Kent and moved up to Horticulture Research International at Wellesbourne in 1992.  It is a lovely rose and seems to be very healthly despite its age.  In the foreground here is the pink Kolkwitzia which the bees absolutely adore with the white mexican orange blossom (Choisya ternata) behind.

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Six:  Paul’s Himalayan Musk

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It has proved quite difficult to photograph this rambling rose which creeps its way up through the trees and shrubs and pops out flowers where you least expect it to have reached.  It is a lovely, strongly fragrant rose with small blooms in large drooping clusters. The colours of the individual blooms change as they age from blush pink towards white.

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That’s it for this week.  I strongly suspect that roses may well appear again in the coming weeks.

The Six on Saturday meme is hosted by The Propagator. Click on the link to be inspired by what other plant lovers are enjoying this weekend.

 

It has been a rather blustery day…

It has been so windy this weekend that taking pictures for ‘Six on Saturday’ (and doing any gardening) has been a bit of a challenge.  Luckily there has been surprisingly little damage.  My other challenge has been limiting myself to just six as there are so many beautiful things emerging in the garden.  Anyway here are my six for this week.


One:  Anthericum liliago major (St Bernard’s Lily)

We saw this plant in the white garden at Bourton House Garden in the Cotswolds a couple of years ago and just had to have one.  It is lovely and has established very well.  Next year I think we will have a go at dividing it and spreading it further around the garden.   If you get a chance to visit Bourton House Garden is excellent.

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Two:  Eleagnus commutata

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This deciduous Eleagnus has been very successful growing in the long grass at the edge of the shrubbery.  It is currently covered in sweet smelling yellow/cream flowers and fills the air with scent even on a windy day like today.


Three:  Angelica archangelica

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These plants have been a long term project.  One of those spectacular, tall architectural plants that take a bit of time to grow.  They are biennials and I originally sowed the seed early last year planting them out in the early autumn.  This year they have come of age and the bees and insects absolutely love them.  They are tall (nearly 6ft) and magestic plants that stand up well despite the strong winds we have had this weekend.  I am pleased with them but I think my wife is less impressed!


Four:  Robinia

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This tree was originally grown from a small seedling.  It took a little while to get going but now each year it is covered with masses of white, fragrant, pea-like flowers.  It is something we always enjoy but beware it does have some seriously dangerous spikes.

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Five:  Dutch Iris ‘Red Ember’

As growers and former event florists I think we are both fans of dutch iris and typically grow the mixtures which are blue, white and yellow.  This year we tried the variety ‘Red Ember’.  It has a rather lovely exotic colour and I wouldn’t be surprised if we grow it again next year.  What we do need to do I think is decide what other plants would complement it in the border at this time of year.  Any views welcome.

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Six:  Greenfinches

Next for something completely different.  Greenfinches (Carduellis chloris) have been in trouble in recent years and their numbers have declined across the UK due to disease.  A recent decline in numbers has been linked to an outbreak of trichomonosis, a parasite-induced disease which prevents the birds from feeding properly.

Over the last couple of years we have heard the characteristic calls of greenfinches but they have remained high in the trees and rarely ventured closer into the garden.  This year we seem to have a group of three (perhaps juveniles) that have been skipping around the shrubs in the garden together.  Worth a place in the ‘six’ for this week I think.

P1040199 Greenfinch


The Six on Saturday meme is hosted by The Propagator. Click on the link to be inspired by what other plant lovers are enjoying this weekend.