Sunday, November 30, 2014

Building Ponds - Again

It seems like we always have a construction project on the go in the garden. The current one is the "shed of fun" we have blogged about recently. To add to our large koi pond, the shed of fun will house a growing on pond.

The initial idea behind this is to create a place that new fish can be kept before moving into the main pond. A sort of quarantine so we can check for parasites or disease and treat as appropriate before the fish enters the main pond. Treatment is much easier (and costs less too) in a smaller pond.  

As well as a quarantine pond we will also use this to grow fish on. We tend not to buy large fish, and often buy very small ones, to be able to appreciate the smaller ones in a large pond is difficult as they can get lost. 

The new pond will be about 2,500 litres (550 imperial gallons), and filtered by a Nexus Eazy Pod - an eBay purchase we will be collecting next weekend. We had considered a number of different filter options. Wanting to combine a number of factors such as ease of use, the space available, filtering qualities, initial costs and running cost.

Our first plan had been to use black box filters, and we actually bought one for this purpose, but having spent some time considering the set up we decided this was not for the best and went with an Eazy Pod. Fortunately a second hand one was for sale close to us, so that will hopefully work well (on both the pond and our wallet).

We were so busy working inside we didn't take any photos of the koi house. The door is has been made, and hung, along with a sturdy lock to keep unwanted visitors out!

Inside has been where most of our time has gone this weekend, with the front of the pond finished off and clad in uPVC tongue and groove cladding. We are quite fortunate to have a fantastic family owned builders merchant close by who have helped us through out our projects, either in suggesting products to use or just talking the time to chat us through some of the techniques to complete whatever project we were on at the time.

With the clear plastic sides this building will also be useful for over wintering some of our tender plants, and to that end we will add a shelving unit along one side to house them.

The pond liner will go in next weekend, and with any luck we will have the wooden surround finished around the top of the pond as well. The filtration will take a little longer to set up, we will need to pick up a number of additional items, pipes, connectors etc. However i'm sure this will be a lot easier to connect up than the filtration on the main pond.

Some of the connections on the main pond.
There's still quite a bit to do but we are on the final stages now. Pond liner and filters in next then we can start to play with the space.

The space next to the new pond will house a small table and chairs as well as also provide space for a number of plants to over winter. I can see us spending quite a lot of time in here over the winter months!

Gaz :)

(hopefully we will have more photos to share in the next update)

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

BATB: The Advice

BATB = Blog About the Blog, and welcome to the first of an intermittent and continuing series of posts about...the blog.

In common with other bloggers we receive lots of emails inviting us to attend various functions. We would love to be able to attend each and every event, launch, or gathering that we get invited to but if the schedule clashes with our day jobs then we simply cannot go. And we only have so much time off from work every year that only a precious few weekday events get that special treatment of chipping off our annual leave.

Saying that, with the right timing and location combined with an interesting function, every so often we do make it.

At one of these events we attended recently the host of the party asked me for one piece of advice with regards to blogging as he intends to start one of his own soon. To which I replied:

Just be yourself and share your passion with consistency. Like minded people will naturally gravitate towards you and if they keep liking what they are reading then your followers will grow in time.

As soon as I said that I cringed a little bit inside. Not because it was untrue but because it sounded like a cliche. But he did only ask for one piece of advice and that little statement does hold a lot of truth and can be expanded if needed into a multitude of other related advices. 

His reply back though a little more surprising. He said my advice sharply contrasts with an advice given to him by another blogger, and that is to be as scathing and vitriolic as possible, to not hold back on the things that you say as readers like those sort of things.

I repsonded that we are not that sort of blog hence not the direction and tone that we tread. And then I asked who this blogger was and he said that it was... [snip - like I'm going to reveal that!]

Ahh, I recognised the blogger instantly. It's one of those garden bloggers that I call 'The Wannabe Journalists'.

The type of blogger that has chosen the platform of gardening to illustrate their writing skills by trying to create and expound issues which in turn provoke and engage readers. In the process of doing so, they hope to catch the attention of mainstream media and land themselves a column, article commissions, or perhaps even a full time journalistic job.

To be honest I rarely read such types of garden blog. They can be entertaining at first, and initially effective in provoking thoughts and bringing issues to attention but their steam tends to run out quickly. But why?

First, these sort of blogs are often, especially once you start dissecting the personality of the blogger and their writing, not really about gardening per se but about...issues. Second, once you look closely some do very little gardening or just do a mundane, minimal, and repetitive set of gardening tasks. And yet they have a lot to say about it. Third, some don't even have gardens at all, and yet they write about gardening. Not a requisite I know but it certainly helps if you have one, whether big, small, borrowed, or in pots...

A few years ago, when I started detecting members of this group of garden bloggers one of them managed to spin so many issues and posts about one tomato plant growing on a windowsill. Creative writing perhaps?

Going back to the party I followed up my query with a suggestion saying that he needs to make a decision first which direction to take. If he wants to take the direction the other blogger has taken then go for that advice.

Blogging can be a very personal thing and corporate blogs that tread this path rarely get as much interaction as those written by individuals for personal reasons. Often the personality of the blogger is in parallel or directly reflects the content of the blog and garden blogs are no exception to that.

In real life, people who constantly spout drama, conflict, and dwell on 'issues and tissues' may be entertaining at first but quickly become toxic and to be honest quite boring and eventually are best avoided. Life is too short to let people that drain energy hang around you for too long. 

Perhaps I can say the same with garden blogs? One based on conflicts, issues, criticisms, and controversies may be informative and thought provoking at first but without the solid backing of a product (i.e. a garden, especially for a garden blog) or a feel good passion that others can have an affinity with then such a blog will rarely persist.

And going back to that particular wannabe blogger, did he create a critical blog or a more personable one, well lets just say I'm still reading it...

Mark :)

Monday, November 24, 2014

Shed O'Fun 2

The construction of our 'man cave' continues...

We started the project in the middle of August and although that makes it sound like a very long time frame to finish off a shed, it's more than just a shed. Most of the work are also almost exclusively done over the weekends only and there were weekends too that we didn't do anything to it at all. Plus, with the ever shortening length of daylight it makes it harder to do anything after work hence weekend becomes the only suitable time.

Enough with the rambling...
The quarantine pond within the shed was mostly built last year but we opted to add a few more blocks later on to make it deeper and hold more water (and more fish). The final layer of blocks was cemented in last weekend. Going back in time, the decking that was on the top patio (where the sun room is now) has been reused and is now the flooring of the shed. When we restarted the project in mid August the framework of the shed went up quickly and was finished in one weekend.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Reflections of Two Garden Bloggers

So we have been blogging for four years, amazing how time flies! Four years of sharing our passion for plants and plant related adventures both in and out of our garden.

As we were sat down a couple of days ago and found ourselves reminiscing the things we got up to with regards to garden blogging over the past four years two main thoughts sprouted:

We rarely, if ever answer on our blog the questions that are often asked us by those who visit our garden in person as well as people we meet in person.

And that we rarely, and again if ever talk about the blog itself.

As soon as those two thoughts came up we also asked ourselves why we never did. The answer: they are a lot more complicated to discuss than meets the eye.

Then a follow up idea came up: Why don't we at least try?

Okay so that's the idea now, we will but in trickles...

Now going back to the two main ideas, first the questions. There are several questions that are asked us over and over again, same sort of questions that may vary in theme but the gists are the same. Some are a bit more unique to us whilst some I can imagine other garden bloggers can relate to. The ones that immediately stood out for us and will try to answer on future blog posts are:

Will you ever move homes and change gardens?

Any thoughts or plans about moving abroad?

Any plans to get into professional horticulture and make a living out of it?

What are your thoughts about social media and privacy?

So many questions, not always easy to answer...

For the second idea, as much as we opted not to before we thought it might be fun to start doing so now: to every so often blog about the blog itself. We'll share some insight into how we run our blog as well as tidbits and stories as to how some blog posts came to be. We'll also share some of the fascinating stories, gossip, and adventures (and misadventures) we've had over the past few years as we immersed ourselves into this wonderful thing called blogging. 

Come to think of it, it's amazing how many things never did make it to our blog for one reason or another, funny and wonderful stories that would be great to share now, even if just hints a few years after the event. There are some things too however that we simply can only witness but cannot blog about. There are taboo subjects in the world of gardening too believe it or not. Confidence and retaining trust from the people we interact with are still of utmost importance. But if we're feeling adventurous we might occasionally dip into those subjects and drop hints without causing ripples (only tiny ones perhaps). Blog about the Blog, that's how we'll call them.

Fellow garden bloggers, can you relate?

Now when should we start, hmmmm....

Mark and Gaz :-)

Monday, November 17, 2014

Why Hide the Evergreens?

As I was tidying up some of our potted plants over the weekend, sorting and grouping them together in preparation for the winter (as well as just being organised, or attempting to at least) I had a sudden thought, why am I hiding the evergreens?

First, a bit of autumn colour in the garden...

It was very damp, grey, and misty over the weekend and although it never actually rained while we were in the garden the atmosphere was so cool humid that it felt like we were gardening whilst there was a constant drizzle. Still I wasn't complaining as the temperatures were at least mild and it was atmospheric, like gardening amongst the clouds. And I'll take this condition anytime over freezing temperatures.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day November

Fatsia japonica in flower

Mid November and the weather is turning cold, damp and grey, and the majority of the tropical plants are starting to move into winter mode. I had hoped that when I wandered down the garden there would be several in flower, but alas the wet cold weather has taken its toll and we only really had a few Fatsia giving some colour. That colour, however reflects the weather - small white blooms that don't offer much in the way of tropicana!

Bloom day therefore is a little bit quiet for us, but thankfully not totally baron thanks to the humble Fatsia!


Friday, November 14, 2014

Look Who's Four

Wow, where has the time gone, four years ago today we dipped our metaphorical toes into the world of blogging with this post. That first post got a couple of comments which was kind of cool at the time, four years later and you lot keep us busy, with lots of comments and readers, you have accessed the posts over 900,000 times in those four years, with over 60,000 page views in the last 30 days alone.

I don't think either of us expected to have enjoyed blogging so much, meeting so many wonderful people, and showing our garden to lots of interested and interesting people both in person and online. So thank you all for making this such a fun and enjoyable journey, hopefully you will all stay with us for the next four years too!!

Gaz, Twinkles and Mark

Gaz, Mark, Knickers and Twinkles :)

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Touch of Frost

Last week I had the chance to get home early so I could move under shelter the frost sensitive plants we have still outside, as we were forecast some frost on the Thursday morning.

Well frosts did arrive and a thin layer of white crystals were all over the garden when I gave it a quick inspection in the morning. Alas I was in a rush to go to work so I wasn't able to take frosty photos but for a few moments I was able to take in the sights and take note of the distinctive scent of frozen vegetation in the air.

Fortunately the frosts didn't last long and they were all probably gone an hour or so after I've gone to work and the temperatures afterwards have been much milder.

So how did the garden react from the visit of jack frost?

Some got frazzled...

Some got the trigger to finally start shedding its leaves like the Kalopanax above...

Cercis canadensis 'Forest Pansy'

And this Cercis canadensis 'Forest Pansy' (which has grown well, not bad for a tree bought for £1).

Some look surprisingly unaffected by the frost despite looking like the sort that will mush at the faintest touch of it...

Whilst some continue to hang on to their leaves ignoring the frosty trigger.

Hopefully there won't be any visit from jack frost for quite some time after this, cross fingers!

Mark :-)

Monday, November 10, 2014

A Good Thing About Packing

It's not all gloom and adieu to the warmer weather when packing up plants for the winter. One of the little benefits of doing so is you get the chance to inspect the plants one by one as you do so (as long as it's not a rushed affair). You get to inspect them and see how well they have performed from the past growing season and how they are doing just before they get stashed away for the winter.  

Sorry birds, you're off to a warmer but sunless place for the winter!
The health of the plant can be checked before winter arrives. If they are in a good state then they can be stashed away immediately. If not then perhaps a few things needs to be done first to remedy the problem before they go to their winter homes.

Or simply you get the chance to admire them!

Such was when we finally moved this palm to its home and position for the winter (in the jungle hut).

Parajubaea torallyi var. microcarpa
My it has grown really well! And it's looking great!

This particular palm is Parajubaea torallyi var. microcarpa. You can read more about this coconut lookalike on this page. Although this palm grows in high altitude areas in parts of South America and has a good degree of cold and frost tolerance, it is still unsuitable for permanent planting in our garden without extra protection. It is a good candidate however for planting in the milder parts of the country like in the coastal west and Central London.

With Gaz for scale
So not quite suitable for planting out but good enough to be grown in a pot and kept in a frost free, minimally heated space for the winter. A lot easier to keep alive without costing the earth in heating bills than its lookalike, the coconut palm.

The jungle hut is now full of plants, although I didn't take a photo at the end. Everything tucked up ready for winter, with plenty of natural light and insulated walls to keep the heat in.

Mark :)

Thursday, November 06, 2014

A Seductive Garden

Okay, we're lagging way behind with our Portland Garden Blogger's Fling posts. We still have lots to catch up on and the remaining gardens will feature in the next few days.

Rather than sticking with our previous format I've decided to veer off from it and present this garden in a different way.

Bella Madrona - the last stop on the fling itinerary and where the 2014 edition was wrapped up with farewell drinks and canapes. You can read more about this garden and the take of other fling attendees on their own page at the fling blog.

Whimsical, mysterious, magical, quirky, eclectic are the adjectives that are usually associated with this garden. And beautiful too of course. But I'll have to add to the list the word seductive.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Very, Very Nice!

I managed to claim back some time owing from work today and got home early. Not much time at all, just over an hour but that was all that I needed today. I just needed to be home whilst there still some daylight around so I can shift some plant undercover as we are forecast a possible blanket of frost on Thursday early morning.And it seems that this will be a one off (for now) as from then onwards it looks like it's set to get a bit warmer again.

Since October has been on the whole mild and very good weather wise the shifting of some of our plants undercover has been very slow. Plus we're prioritising finishing off building the quarantine shed so we can store plants in it too (and have fun in it).

Winter population slowly building up
Also, as much as possible we prefer to leave out plants for as long as possible as they are better off outside rather than jammed altogether under glass the earliest possible we can do so. They will remain much healthier the longer they stay out as long as the weather remains mild enough for them.

Saying that I know time can be an issue too and storing plants becomes just a matter of when one can do it rather than when is the most ideal for them (which is often the last minute before a cold spell, or in the case of xerophytes to dry out sufficiently before that).

Its's all a balancing act of different factors but the dictum 'Store plants too early and you prolong their winter too' goes to mind each time autumn arrives.

Anyway so yes I utilised the extra hour early home to move some plants under glass. Fortunately there wasn't that much to move with urgency at all and most of the borderline ones can remain outside where they are for now, as they should be fine with short bouts of cold and frost on them.

The ones I had to move ASAP were the ones I personally call the 'mushy lot' - i.e not necessarily very tender but touch the leaves with ice and they turn to mush. Lots of succulents fall under this category and several leafy plants.

What about tender and tropical plants that are not only intolerant of any frost but of colder weather altogether? Well we don't really have any of those truly tender ones outdoors anymore to mollycuddle and drag in the house at the first sign of autumn. We used to but we have disposed of them gradually until none remains. The only tropical and very tender ones we have are the permanent houseplants which are in the sun room and third bedroom (most of the house are plant free).

So I've just almost unceremoniously shoved these 'mushy lot' under cover, closed the greenhouse doors, and tucked them to bed for now. Over the weekend we'll have more time to sort the plants out properly and with more thought so as to utilise the available space as efficiently as possible.

The 'mushy lot'
Since the clocks have changed and moved back we rarely get the chance to spend some time in the garden after work and are only able to do so during the weekend. Until the length of daylight gets significantly longer again we are mostly weekend gardening warriors.

So when I got home early and managed to do a bit of gardening, a rarity at the moment, I was reminded how nice it was to do so after work. It's to forget that sensation at the moment as our daily routines have changed now to adapt to the colder months.

I thought it was refreshing and invigorating, it felt like a treat! Like the odd cup of special coffee after work, or an aperitif before a meal, it was very, very nice!

Mark :-)

Monday, November 03, 2014

Win a Makita SDS Drill with Anglia Tool Centre

We have another great competition to share with you this month. Anglia Tool Centre are giving one lucky reader the chance to win a Makita HR2300 SDS Drill worth £90!

Anglia Tool Centre are an online tool centre featuring a wide selection of tools and accessories delivered to your door.  

Anglia Tool Centre is a division of the Ridgeon Group. Ridgeons have been in business since 1911 and are now one of the largest independent Family Owned Timber and Builders Merchant in the Country, supplying materials for building homes. They opened Anglia Tool Centre back in 2006 to supply Industrial Power Tools & Accessories to the Trade. Since then Anglia have grown to be one of the largest Power Tool suppliers in the UK and they pride themselves on the service level we provide and the technical knowledge of their staff.

Anglia offer a Free Delivery option on all orders over £50.00 inc vat. Very usefully they also provide a one hour delivery time slot provided on day of delivery.

We have been lucky enough to try out the Makita Drill, as Anglia have sent us one to try out, delivery was quick and without any problems, and the drill itself appears to be tough and durable, we used it during construction of our new koi shed.

To enter complete your details in the Rafflecopter widget below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Shed O'Fun

Not many people get excited about sheds. The name alone denotes a garden outbuilding that is functional and rarely a thing of beauty and a space to spend time in, apart from when you store and retrieve ones garden implements. There are loads of exceptions out there of course but for a majority the aforementioned descriptions holds true.

But I'm glad to say that the shed we have been actively building since mid August is one we're both very excited with. The structure will still be and look functional, tucked away within the working area so will not be very visible (you'll get a glimpse of it as you walk past the koi pond towards the koi filter house) but the bit we're both most excited with is that it is potentially a space we'll spend lots of time in especially during the winter months.

The jungle veranda - nice during the warmer months but too exposed during the winter plus it is used for plant storage. Same with space beyond the patio doors (curtains are removed in the winter to let as much light in)
A sort of a 'man cave', that's what it will be.

Man cave? Don't we have one already? Funny enough no despite all the existing garden structures we have. Sure we can spend some time in them during the warmer months (like the jungle veranda) but rarely during the colder months. Those spaces are usually utilised for plant storage during the winter and are usually both too crowded and uncomfortable to hang out in at that period.

I found that the larger of our two greenhouses is actually a nice place to sit in and hang out during the summer when it had more free space as most if its winter residents were outside
I suppose our home really is a very comfy man cave already so there was no need to have one to start with. But a space to hang out in, separate from the house still isn't such a bad idea to have and sounds fun. We had been looking at ready made sheds such as these at Shedstore but with the pond partly built and wanting to build to the maximum the space would allow we opted to make our own.

It started out first as an allocated space for a quarantine pond which we started to build early last year but stalled as we prioritised our house renovation and sorting out the garden after the fire. When we finally resumed the work last August it quickly dawned on us that this quarantine pond will be much more than just that. That the shed we'll build over it is a potential space to spend time in during the colder months.

Thinking about it, this enclosed space:

Will have a mini koi pond.

Will be insulated and gently heated during the winter.

Will have space overwinter some plants.

Should have enough space left for a small table and a couple of folding chairs.

An enclosed space with a koi pond and plants in it, some of our top favourite things! We can both hang out in it and I'm sure the cats can join us too, even better!

A man cave, a shed o'fun!

The pond will hold about 2,800 litres of water, we want to make sure it is very well filtered. As a result we have spent quite a lot of time planning the filtration and choosing between options.

Our current plan - which may still change is to use a combination of a home-made vortex filter with K1 filter media in it - this will provide biological filtration as well as also encouraging solid waste to fall out of suspension to be drained away from the bottom of the vortex. There are lots of ways of making these home made filters, but having seen one at a fellow member of our Koi Club we will use a water butt as the vortex and then house the media within a smaller canister inside.

In addition to the large DIY filter we will use an Oase Filtomatic 6000, this is a new self cleaning filter with built in UVC. The filter itself will be pump fed with a gravity back into the pond. These filters are suggested for ponds larger than this one will be, so with the combination of the vortex and Oase filter we expect to keep the water in pretty good condition. With any luck we will have the pond up and running before too much longer!

But before that, a little refresher on our preparation for the area last year

So here it was first, foundations for the quarantine pond being built in the merry month of May 2013
Ballast and concrete for base poured in
Alas, with space a premium this border had to be sacrificed. Sorry Forest Pansy but the bamboos should be fine

In building the shed over the quarantine pond we have recycled a few items like:

Remember our decked area, adjacent to the house and just outside our back doors?
That area is now the sun room. We saved most of the deck boards and will now be the flooring inside the shed
We also reused most of the clear corrugated plastic roofing that was on the rain shelters. These panels have been stored away for years as we don't use rain shelters anymore.
As the clear roofing above indicates, sections of this shed will be translucent to let in as much natural light as possible. But there will be air gaps which will act as insulation and improve heat retention.

Anyway, rather than make this post too long and photo intensive I'll feature the various stages of this little but fun project of ours in separate installments (perhaps two or three more). Most of the main structure is now done except for the door which will be a day on itself to do.

Oh and our project manager...

Mark :-)