gillybirds

What came first- the chickens or the blog?

You are radiant with charm

Were you ever aware of the Victorian language of flowers? Lilies symbolised beauty. Roses represented love. If your suitor gave you red roses you knew he was mad about you, if they were pink you could be assured of his affection, if yellow roses arrived he was only interested in friendship. And black or dark roses – well, make sure you put your affairs in order as someone wanted you dead. Flowers were used to say what could not be said in those more formal times. A bouquet given to you upright sent a positive message, and beware if you were given flowers facing the opposite direction. Mind you nowadays if you get a bunch of Bonnie Jeans from the garage from your gentleman caller I would maybe encourage him to try a little harder!

Anyway, while on a recent holiday in France I was entranced by these beautiful flowers in a restaurant.

  

These are ranculus asiaticus, a cousin of our buttercup. A Victorian maiden would blush with pleasure at being told, without words, that she was “radiant with charm” should she have been presented with these. Whereas Mrs G headed straight for Amazon.co.uk and ordered a delivery of ranunculus asiaticus bulbs in an attempt to cultivate these very special pretty paper-like blooms in time for the summer.

When the bulbs arrived they looked anything but charming 

Actually they reminded me of the hens favourite snack of meal worms. They had to be planted with these little “fingers” pointing down. I worked very hard, filling pots with soil,  planting bulbs and watering.  Only to discover that Naughty Lucas had jumped into a big pot and dug out and scattered its entire contents when I was tidying up the tools.  The Victorians would suggest he should give me a purple hyacinth to ask for forgiveness.

For now, here’s hoping by the summer I will be posting pictures like this 

there are no words for such beauty 

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Guard Dogs

Of course no blog update would be complete without photos of the ever vigilant Mr Buttons and Naughty Lucas who were able to eyeball the hens while they were at the Beach Club

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Secret garden Update

A few months ago I blogged about my very dark North facing patch of earth that I planted as a very small flower garden with no great expectations of it growing into much.
Things were slow to start with the long winter and late Spring but with the fabulously hot and sunny weather of the last few weeks the summer bulbs I planted have grown, grown some more and this week bloomed into the most spectacular lilies- cream and orange, with lots of buds promising more flowers to come.
Bulbs and seeds are wonderful things when you think about it. Lying quietly in dark damp earth, packed with all the information they need to grow into the plant or fruit or grain that they will be given the right growing conditions.

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My Beauty Spot

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From the kitchen sink where I spend (too much) time daily I look out northwards onto the cement yard with the bins, two sheds, a high hedge and the back of the garage. It is not the most inspiring view. There is a small area of soil, where the previous owners used to grow rhubarb. Since we moved here, 19 years ago, this patch of dirt has been a real eyesore. Sometimes I have put plants into pots to make it look at little better but due to the north facing dark position, with two walls and a hedge not improving access to light, nothing ever thrived.
A few years ago my mum gave us a rowan tree sapling which has settled well and appears to enjoy its sheltered location, reaching upwards for sunlight. It provides a visual interest with its leaves and bright berries in summer and autumn. At Christmas I decorated it with bright baubles for a few weeks.
A year ago I got so fed up looking out at a tree standing in a square of dirt that I finally got round to googling “plants that like shade”- and the rest is history. I’m not a green fingered goddess at all, sadly my mother’s gardening gene has passed me by, but this patch is small enough to work with. Not too expensive to buy plants to fill, not too many spaces for weeds to flourish. We had a pile of paving bricks so I built a little low wall to hold in some fresh topsoil and got busy planting. With some success!
Now that our late winter appears to be retreating I have been adding to my plant collection.

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Out walking the dogs I get a good view of local gardens and hellebores always catch my eye. Until today I thought there were only “Christmas Roses” (which have grown very well in my garden space) but I am now nurturing “Lenten Roses” which are a lovely blend of pink and cream.
I love gardens that have the “cottage” look – informal, abundant, colourful, unplanned- but which probably take a lot of planning. For shady areas gardening books recommend foxgloves, or digitalis, which also grew really well last year, climbing up beside the rowan tree. So I have planted some more.
To add colour I planted many bulbs but none of these have grown. I’m not sure if this has been the wet weather or just a poor bag of bulbs, or both. Primulas have been smiling at me as I have my hands in the washing up bowl and hopefully they will last another couple of months.

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I adore nasturtiums and these are great for seeding themselves and coming back with wild abandon year after year. I look forward to seeing these appearing soon.
The trick will be keeping the hens away from my little patch of Eden. They can do quite a bit of damage in pursuit of a juicy slug or a beakful of wood lice. But they are good at eating the weeds. Perhaps I should refer to my patch as “The Garden of Weedin”.

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One of your five a day

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Now the Gillybirds are laying so well on their layers pellets I have been experimenting with little extras from the scrap bin and from the garden to discover their likes and dislikes. Like my own four children, each hen appears to have different tastes! (like Violet and her slug preference) For food hygiene purposes giving away our fresh eggs I am not able to feed the hens anything with meat in it, but they do get regular pasta, rice, whole meal bread, corn cobs, tomatoes, trying to keep a varied diet as I would my own children, rich in fresh veg etc. Sadly the hens do not appear to share my taste for mangoes.
Yesterday morning I threw in a handful of pea and bean leaves (from my rahter feeble attempt to “grow my own”) and because they all grow together and are gloriously tangled through each other, a load of nasturtium leaves and flowers.
There was a riot. It was like the first day of the sales. The girls couldn’t eat the nasturtium leaves fast enough.
This is great news as I adore nasturtiums, all those different bright colours of flowers, our garden is abundant with them and at this time of the year they are growing through everything and are everywhere.

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They were moving so quickly it was impossible to get a clear focused picture, sorry!
The appliqué picture was sewn by me probably about 15 years ago and hangs on the back of Mr Gillybirds favourite red chair in the kitchen 🙂

20120829-111559.jpgjust uploaded InstaCollage app this morning and played around with some photos. Such warm happy flowers! And they must taste ok too. I imagine a little spicy

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Pioneer Girl

Growing up my two favourite literary heroines were Jo March from Little Women and Laura Ingalls from the Little House on the Prairie books. Today to that list I would add Mattie Ross, the young woman in the True Grit novel. All three girls show great spirit, determination and strong character through difficult circumstances, even more so when you realise, as I did as an adult, that Laura Ingalls was a real person who passed away at the age of 90 only 8 years before I was born. At a time when most young ladies her age were squeezing into tight corsets and having the vapours at the inadvertent flash of an ankle, our Laura tucked her skirts into her boots and got on with the hand that life dealt her. My kinda girl.

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This is a photo of the real Laura, not the one we all remember from the saccharine sweet tv series of the 1970’s. Laura and her family had a really tough pioneering life, moving across America firstly in a covered wagon, threatened by severe winter, drought, prairie fires, Indians, grasshopper plagues, illness, helping build new towns and then moving restlessly on. After her marriage at 18 Laura’s life with Almanzo Wilder was no bed of roses either. They lost their home to fire, Almanzo was left partially disabled after serious illness, after a time of plenty they invested heavily in the American stock market, only to lose it overnight in the Crash of 1929. Laura’s only son died shortly after his birth, but her daughter Rose encouraged Laura to write down the stories of her childhood, which grew into the Little House series.

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I still adore these books, having read the whole series again back to back a couple of years ago, stunned by the cruelty and harshness of living off the land, which of course so many many people all over the world do today.
As well as keeping hens this spring I planted some peas, beans and pumpkin seeds. The results, probably due to the poor weather, have been less than fruitful, not enough to get a family of six through one meal, let alone an entire winter. I ate two pea pods straight from the plant last night, delicious, and pumpkin flowers have yet to appear. I hope to have some spectacular carved pumpkins for the doorstep for Harvest and Halloween. (Ever the optimist).
The girls have virtually stopped laying again, there have been a few soft eggs with no shells, it is very frustrating and I feel entirely to blame as it must be a dietary problem which I thought had been sorted. Some one was clucking up a storm this afternoon, I thought there was sure to be an egg after such a loud proclamation, however there was none to be found, just a mad flurry of feathers as they spotted me approaching. It does make me smile. And at least I have the option of heading to the supermarket to supplement our egg supplies.
In reading more into the later life of Laura Ingalls Wilder, I discovered that she herself was a poultry farmer. At last, something in common! And in her time as a child living on the prairies of Dakota, the grassland was populated with millions of prairie chickens, whose numbers now are very limited as their natural habitat is all but gone.

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If you haven’t already I would encourage you to read the Little House books, perfect for rainy day reading or if you are having an under the weather day. I will leave you with words from Laura herself:
As you read my stories of long ago I hope you will remember that the things that are truly worthwhile and that will give you happiness are the same now as they were then. Courage and kindness, loyalty, truth, and helpfulness are always the same and always needed.”
― Laura Ingalls Wilder

PS. The blog title of “Pioneer Girl” was the original title of the Little House series.

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Friends of the Earth

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It continues to rain and our garden is really starting to resemble a quagmire. Between football sessions and the hens rooting thought the lawn, the grass is in a sorry state. The hens themselves look like they are having an expensive mud therapy treatment in a beauty salon but they must be quite happy as they are laying well, and in consequence we are having eggs with everything. I had promised to make meringues for a wedding on Saturday, they collapsed into a crunchy crusty puddle in the oven which was disappointing, not even suitable to make a family favourite dessert, Eton Mess. My problem at the minute is that our hen’s eggs are slightly smaller than shop bought eggs, I may be over compensating adding too many eggs to cake mix which is affecting the outcome. I would welcome advice from any other hen keepers out there on how they deal with this issue.
I have been trying to capture on camera the hens friends, there are three magpies who are always within a few feet of the coop. I don’t know if they are there for a friendly chat or simply waiting around for stray hen pellets or nibs of corn, but they are always there.
Some of our boys were camping at a festival and we drove some distance into the countryside to visit them last weekend. On the way we spotted a farmhouse that had brown hens just like our girls all running round the garden, it was a pretty sight, I would love to be able to let them roam free but garden security and the threat of the dog getting to them is too much
I do however let them out every few days for around 20 – 30 minutes, and the other evening the girls were let loose in the garden while I tried in vain to find a less boggy patch to move the coop to. Watching them closely in case they disappeared into a neighbours, I realised that they were all going mad pecking away at a weed that is rampant in our garden. Yay! So since then every time I am outside I feed them another handful. I don’t know what it is called, it has a pretty yellow flower like a buttercup. We aren’t really committed gardeners so it has been allowed to spread amongst the bushes, and now we have an environmentally friendly solution! 🙂
The benefit to the environment is however reduced due to the high temperature washes to remove the dirt from the footballer’s clothing when the children come in from the garden 😦

PS this blog is being a little neglected as I am currently writing daily blog updates for Mr Gillybirds BigBikeHike blog (also hosted on WordPress if you are interested) as he cycles from Land’s End to John O’Groats, 950 miles over this week for charity.

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