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Remember to Relax

Funny how after a vibrant and colourful Spring as we approach July all things seem to settle down and become more muted and perhaps understated. The bright greens, yellows and blues calm and soften as the season draws on. Birds that not so long ago were vibrating along every hedgerow are quieter and , after raising their chicks, more tired `cos kids can be very demanding of parents time and energy. Ready for the school holidays are we? This is a good time to dawdle along the valley and across the meadows just looking and listening and just breathing in some fresh air. Remember though to please be in control of your dog and clean up after it. Remember to please consider pedestrians when you are on your bike, all the valley paths are to be shared with care. Remember how lucky we are to have such a resource as the New Hall Valley Country Park and remember that it needs caring for and looking after. It really is a jewel in Walmley`s crown , it is as good an example of Community asset that we could wish for.

We are now nearer to next Christmas than we are to the last so lets get out into our gardens and relax. The glorious scent of the neighbour`s barbeque, the throbbing bass from a passing car, the house alarm that has been going since midday, the mowers, the strimmers……….. Still ,as of yet no sound of gunfire or rumble of tanks, I like to live in a country that people strive to get into rather than out of, don`t you ? ( apart from a Scottish Nationalist of course )

This article appears in Walmley Pages Magazine, a local publication delivered free to homes and businesses in Walmey, Minworth and Sutton Coldfield.


Water, Wood and Wild Wander

Just a week or so after reading this it will be Midsummers Day !

How does a year go by so fast? At least we seem to be having proper seasons this year. Not much snow for snowmen though.

A great show of blossom this spring with the May (hawthorn)

lasting a full month, Apple and Cherry blooms promise a bumper crop later. In the Valley our grasslands are starting to reach a peak of colour as all the wildflowers compete for the attentions of moths, butterflies and bees. Join us for a Wildflower Wander through some of the best meadows in the West Midlands. Meet at the Water Mill 2.00pm Sunday June 8th. Hope for sunshine and we`ll see how many of the over 100 species are on view. Bonus is that the Mill is open and so is the tea room. Also in the Valley we are having a Grand Balsam Bash ! Sunday June 22nd 9.30am and we will try to clear the Plants Brook of this Himalayan invader to give our indigenous water plants and wildlife chance to grow and flourish out of the shade cast by the Balsam. Wellies essential.

How many readers recognise the name of “Jones`s Wood”??

This is the patch of ancient woodland next to the Deanery School and is in need of some urgent TLC. A meeting is to be held at the school on Wednesday June 11th 7.00pm to explore setting up a Friends group and to discuss ongoing issues and future maintenance. Nothing heavy ,just a bit of help for a neglected but much loved patch of Walmley past and present.

If you care about Walmley , the Valley or the Wood, come along to any or all of these events supporting our Community.

 

This article appears in Walmley Pages Magazine, a local publication delivered free to residents in Walmley, Minworth and Sutton Coldfield areas.


Cheers and Cheeps – Article from Walmley Pages Magazine

Do we in Walmley realise how lucky we are to have a number of unpaid and unsung heroes who quietly enhance all our lives with no thought of recompense or reward. This attitude goes straight to the real heart of that elusive ideal, “community “. People like the group of pensioners who weekly tidy round the church and church hall, the early morning duo who tidy around the Select n Save area, THANKS to you all.

The magical appearance of our hanging baskets, Christmas tree and lights, they all have silent arrangers behind the scenes as do the annual Remembrance service at the memorial, ditto the carols round the tree each December. THANKS to you all .Too many to mention who help out in our Country Park, those who pick up other folks litter , those who help to cut back overgrowth , those who always answer the call for workdays. THANKS to you all, Chrissy , David, Chris, Jenny, Paul, Bill…….The list is extensive and covers many ages and both genders. All of these hardy souls do not sit back and whine “something must be done”, they get out there and do it !

I know that through August and September your garden birds have been quiet and less in evidence . This is perfectly normal and is as a result of their annual moult when they feel vunerable , so don’t sing and tend to skulk. By now they will be coming back and this is a good time to establish a feeding station in your garden to ensure plenty of winter entertainment from a convenient window.

Provide clean water and a variety of foods in your chosen spot and enjoy.  Remember keep it clean and regular. Small quantities at first to avoid attracting vermin. Just one reason to look forward to winter. Lastly, a date for your diary…

 

Saturday October 12th    Crocus planting in Walmley Village, Sutton Coldfield

All welcome, just bring your trowel, and dig it ! 

 

Jeff Gilbert – Jeff’s Useful Shop, Walmley Road, Sutton Coldfield.

This article appears in Walmley Pages Magazine, a local free magazine delivering to homes in Walmley, Sutton Coldfield and surrounding areas.

 


Green is the colour

Looking back is traditional at this time of year, especially as we have a bright shiny new one to make a mess of. Such a lot of rain made it a difficult time down in the Valley. Our wildflower meadows missed the correct time for mowing and we have to hope that it has not too much effect on this new year`s display. Certainly the undergrowth burgeoned massively and it meant machete time around the Boardwalk and at various other points where the greenery impeded a walk or ride. Earlier in the year we had a go at the Himalayan Balsam that infests the brook and would hope to do the same this coming spring. There are those that would have us clear out the stream of its silt and and weeds but I think that the fact that fish and crayfish have returned are an indicator of good water quality. The long bright green weed that has white flowers is water crowfoot , again a natural sign of water quality. Also, we will be adding some extra, long awaited , litter and waste bins shortly as a joint effort between the Council and the Steering Group.( We pay for `em ,they get `em emptied!) The muddy gateway at Allendale Rd has at last received our attention and been meshed. Apart from work of course there has been much to enjoy and appreciate. The lush summer gave way to a spectacular autumn and now winter. Whatever the season there is always good reason to get out there and enjoy, `cos it is the users who make it what it is , ours.

Ours, also, is the Green Belt that surrounds us. It is under pressure from an increasing city population. I fear that the case for releasing some of it (400hectares) is too strong to resist. However, with the right response to the current consultation we should be able to mitigate its effect on our locale. If you have not already done so , please comment on the proposals before the end of January. Try to make objections objective and offer alternatives. Don`t be afraid to be a Nimby , because Nimbys care about where they live and how they live. Be heard and least say you tried. Your kids may yet thank you for it .

Jeff Gilbert

 

NIMBY or Nimby (an acronymfor the phrase “not in my back yard“)

 

This article appeared in the January edition of Walmley Pages Magazine,

a local magazine delivered free to over 8000 homes.


Gardening – Rain Dance Anyone?

ome would argue that our weather has never been the same since we started putting things up in space – including tons of metal ‘cans’ and the odd (and slightly reluctant) chimp and stray dog. Others would blame the wrath of the gods demanding some sort of sacrifice, or even an aberration of the sunspot cycle. I had this very debate only the other night in the local pub when, after much mirth and nine pints of foaming ale, it was  finally decided that Wayne Rooney was the most likely culprit!

 

As I write this, it is a gorgeous August day outside – perfect for lazing in a deck chair with an ice-cold drink and a decent paperback – but absolutely hopeless if you’re trying to nurture a newly planted border. I can’t remember the last time we had a consistent downpour to quench the ravenous thirst of my herbaceous borders. The Phlox and Helianthus are not looking good at all and most of the shrubs, such as Camellias, that enjoy a dampish root run are looking decidedly miserable.

Clearly I’m not the only keen gardener lamenting the lack of rainfall this  summer in Sutton Coldfield and the rest of the UK, the topic is probably second only to the re-launch of Big Brother in the ‘irrelevant conversation’ rankings. People are also talking about an early autumn this year – presumably because all their trees and shrubs are busy shedding leaves to help preserve any last vestiges of moisture. Realistically, it is a persistent drought that we are experiencing but, thankfully, in most cases the damage is normally only temporary and most plants should recover next season with few  apparent problems. In much the same way as last winter’s devastation of anything slightly tender, where plants have been left in situ they normally show dramatic signs of recovery given time.

 

The problem is what do we do in the  future? Do we keep persevering with our typical English garden favourites, or do we throw the towel in and accept that we really have been “globally warmed?!”  In that case, we might as well start stocking up on sun-lovers such as Lavenders,  Cistus and a few Cactii for dramatic    interest. Personally, I’m not convinced that our fair land will become the first European desert, but I do think that our weather has been ‘Wayne Rooneyed’ and we are in for more erratic and dramatic weather patterns. This shouldn’t mean that we necessarily have to change what we grow, but it will mean that we have to be more aware that we could get caught with our trousers down with intensely cold weather or, as is currently happening, longer periods of drought conditions. With a bit of judicial planning it will still be possible to garden the ‘English’ way and the use of organic  matter in the soil, mulches and companion planting will certainly help fight the effects of reduced rainfall. Equally, by having the right sort of protection measures such as cloches and some rolls of horticultural fleece, we can save some of the more tender species, provided you remember to keep an eye on the weather forecast/ pine cone and don’t mind a bit of extra work to wrap your charges up nice and snugly!

 

Apologies to anyone who thinks I’ve just joined the predictable ranks of the “English Weather Whingers” – I try to be a bit different but, when it comes down to the welfare of my precious plants, then I probably do get a tad defensive. Not sure if it would help but I may even go so far as enlist the local Druid faction to  organise a proper Rain Dance – partners please!

 

Jonathan Wild

Garden Consultant and Rain Dancer

Article provided by Walmley Pages Magazine in Sutton Coldfield

 


Daffs and Laffs

Nights are really drawing in and Autumn is upon us. This year the leaves started to turn to their fall shades in early August. This was a result of our very very dry June and July. It seems that the rest of the country was getting drowned while we just got drier and drier. However there seems to be plenty of food in and on the hedgerows for our feathered and furry cohabiters. How do blackberries, plums, damsons and sloes manage to be so juicy and plump eve when there is hardly any rain? It is one of Mother Nature’s miracles, like the turn of the year and the daffodils in the spring. Oh did I mention Daffodils? Funnily enough Getreal Community Group are again having a Saturday Daff Planting Day. They’ve got the Bulbs now all they need are the bodies to do the planting. Look out for the Gazebo in the village on October 15th, grab some bulbs and plant, complicated it aint. Last years bulbs were a delight this spring and you can add to our display for next year. The cycle path extension through to Pype Hayes and Eachelhurst Road seems to be a great success. A sunny Sunday stroll showed happy groups, all genders, all ages, all promenading a la continent. A delightful sight to see as part of our community. The Valley Boardwalk, in Newhall Valley Country Park, Walmley, has now been reopened and rebuilt thanks to this community. Many turned up and many worked. The sound of sawing and hammering was interspersed with the sound of laughing and coffee slurping. Not only is it a stunning achievement but a good time was had by all. It was a big task but we are a big hearted community. Pat yourselves on the collective back. (if it has stopped aching by now)

Jeff Gilbert – Jeff’s Useful Shop, Walmley Road, Walmley, B76

 


Gardening – My favourite four letter word…..

Just to put your hands into a bag of peat and give it a good squeeze has to rank amongst the most sensuous pleasures known to man – well, certainly a man that doesn’t get out very often! As a young ‘horticultural apprentice’ in my parents’ garden, I used it liberally to improve the soil in the borders and any new plant would have at least half a sack added to give it a good start in life. In fact, I’m surprised that, after all my digging, their garden didn’t evolve into the first man-made peat bog!
 
How things have changed. Once upon a time you could pop along to the garden centre and pick up a tin of creosote and some DDT, along with your good old peat, in order to tackle the weekend’s jobs. It’s probably fair to say that the only bogs of interest to us in those days were of the porcelain variety and any critters who had the temerity to chew on any of our geraniums would have the full arsenal of our “endorsed by Saddam Hussein” sprays unleashed upon them. Now garden centre shelves in Walmley, Sutton Coldfield, are, quite rightly, full of green and organic products that will only give greenfly a mild headache or tummy upset – just enough to put it off nibbling your plants and try the ones next door instead. Equally, the outside pallets of composts now offer a bewildering array of mixes, but with the overwhelming message that if you pick up anything that is not carrying the peat-free or, in the worst case, reduced–peat logo, you will be labeled an environmental vandal. Soon they will be offering brown paper bags so these “Peatists” can wrap their offending products discreetly to hide them from the prying eyes of the environmentally enlightened masses…..

But, should these Peatists be vilified for using what is, in effect, a natural resource covering vast tracts of Russia and Canada – especially as it has now been classified as a renewable biomass product by a UN advisory body? In our country, at least, there seems little excuse for pillaging acres of sedge peat that will take lifetimes to replenish – at a growth of 5mm a year it doesn’t take the mathematical ability of Carol Vorderman to work out that you and I, or indeed our children’s children, will not live to see these areas regenerated. Leave it to nature and the odd (very odd!) bog snorkeler to enjoy……

The startling reality, aside from all its aesthetic and tactile qualities, is that peat has very little that it can add to our gardens that we can’t produce ourselves in our compost bins. If you haven’t the space, time or energy to do your own composting, then buy composted green waste as it is every bit as good as peat based soil conditioners – you only need to see the numbers of worms it contains! Peatists and the large commercial growers may argue that peat is a much easier and consistent product to work with – but what they can’t argue with is the “peat-miles” involved and that peat extraction is now as environmentally acceptable an activity as chopping down the rainforests or dumping all our rubbish at sea.

Personally, I love the stuff; you can burn it, grow plants in it (if you have to) but, most importantly, it adds that all important flavour to a single malt whisky – so call me a Peatist if you want to, but keep putting your leftovers in the compost bin while I pour myself another shot of Laphroaig.

Jonathan Wild
Garden Consultant and Connoisseur of the ‘Black Stuff’


Gardening – En-suite Gardening!

 

The other day I had the great pleasure of surveying a lovely, untouched garden surrounding an equally lovely Georgian house in a beautiful village. The house is just about to be sympathetically restored and I’m going to (hopefully!) make sure the garden does the result justice. As it sits in a conservation area and the locals are taking a justifiable interest, I did a bit of market research as to any possible features they consider worth retaining. Virtually every one I spoke to said that ‘ye olde Privy,’ sat in the far corner of the plot, was fantastic and should be spared any clearance that may be needed – which only confirmed my own feelings on these iconic (and very useful!) garden features. 

Thankfully, there seems to be a very benevolent movement (please excuse any further unintended puns of this nature!) towards the retention of these, once absolutely essential, facilities. Most of them have now taken on a secondary role as a tool store or simply somewhere to shove all the kids’ clutter. I couldn’t even see inside the privy in question as the key had gone walkabouts so it was impossible to confirm if it was still sporting the original seating arrangement. I did, however, find the exit from the “long drop” which goes straight into the lovely trout stream which runs through the plot. No doubt the trout and eels which were flittering around my Wellies were pleased when the village finally got itself on main drains in the 1960’s!!

InAmerica, privies were called “necessary houses” and were often highly decorated. Paintings of the period when their use was commonplace show them often styled in the same way as the house with Greek portico facades, some even topped with a bird house! Thomas Jefferson designed octagonal brick privies with domed roofs to echo the main house which made them look like elegant pepper pots. In good old Blighty we tended to take a more utilitarian view of the privy, but it was interesting to note that when Mr Crapper kindly invented the flushing loo there were a great many folk who lamented losing the nightly ritual of freezing your nether regions off at the bottom of the garden.

 Personally, if I inherited a privy in any of my gardens and I had a bit of spare cash I think I’d be tempted to re-instate some plumbing and actually “bring it back to life.” Not only would it be very useful for comfort breaks whilst gardening, it would also be the perfect hideaway – second only to the shed. Imagine being sat there with your torch reading back copies of Gardeners World with just the resident spiders for company while the wind rattles the door on its hinges?!

 All of which brings me back to my privy, which is now going to have pride of place in the new design of the garden. It is not a thing of beauty and I doubt that throughout its 152 year existence it’s ever been given any sort of makeover. As the client is keen on using it as an alternative to a shed, it’s going to have to have a path leading to it and some electrics. To reflect its former use I’m thinking of utilizing one of the plain brick walls for a suitable water feature – I think I’ve got the perfect one in mind which will look great with the right planting to compliment it. The idea will be for a continual flow of water into a container which will give the appropriate sound effects but without the aromatic qualities you would normally expect. I’ll post some pictures of the final solution later in the year so you can all see ‘The Privies Progress’! 

If you’ve got an interesting privy then please let me know as I’d love to come and have a look or, even better, if it’s still working……………..!!
Gardening article provided by Walmley Pages, Sutton Coldfield community magazine advertising local business to the Sutton Coldfield public


Great British Inventions – The Lawnmower

 

Lawns were popular in the estates of the landed gentry and to keep their grass short, the rich employed large numbers of gardeners who used scythes. If they did not mind some faecal pellets, they used the cheaper option of having deer or sheep graze their parklands to keep the grass short. 

In 1830 the inventive engineer, Edwin Beard Budding, invented the first lawnmower. It was made of cast iron with a large rear roller and a cylinder with blades at the front. Budding and his partner, Ferrabee, licensed their design to other manufacturers and the most successful of these was Ransomes. Ransomes still manufactures mowers to this day.

Shanks inScotlandintroduced his patented design. These mowers were usually bigger than those of Budding and were pulled by a horse or pony.

In the late Victorian era, powered mowers appeared. They had lightweight petrol engines or steam engines. One of the most successful early motor mowers was made by Atco from 1921.

At this time there was a trend towards making smaller mowers for suburban domestic gardens as well as further development of large motorised mowers for estates and parks. Electric powered mowers were developed in the 1920s and rotary mowers soon made their first appearance. 

In the 1960’s rotary hover mowers appeared. These were electrically powered and were made possible by the use of lightweight plastics.

Great British inventions article provided by Walmley Pages, Sutton Coldfield community magazine advertising local business to the Sutton Coldfield public

 


Pimp My Ride -To the Garden Centre and Back!

Pimp My Ride -To the Garden Centre and Back!

We’ve all done it – popped along to the local garden centre for a packet of sunflower seeds and come out with enough new plants to re-stock a small country estate. It is also virtually impossible to leave without a trailer full of compost, a nice new shiny stainless steel thingamibob for weeding the borders or maybe a Lady Spade! Which is all very well until you get to the family Mondeo and wonder how you are going to fit it all in.

The bottom line is that most cars and I include Chelsea Tractors and pick ups in this sweeping statement, were not designed for the garden centre run. The loading procedure for your average shopping trip inevitably takes the form of a scene from ‘It’s a Knockout’ with Stuart Hall providing a hilarious commentary as the boot, back seat, foot wells and glove box are engulfed in horticultural stuff.

Yes, of course you can cheat and take advantage of the free home delivery, but not everyone can wait to get their new plants and ‘sundries’ home; besides, what if you live outside the delivery area? A few years ago I remember travelling throughBirminghamin my gleaming company car when I spotted a garden centre with a sign proclaiming ‘SALE– EVERYTHING HALF PRICE!’ This always has that red rag/ bull effect on yours truly so business meetings were cancelled as I went hunting for a bargain. Unfortunately, my bargain(s) turned out to be a pair of spiral topiary specimen trees which were approximately 6 feet tall and planted in substantial pots of very heavy compost. Stuart Hall would have had a field day; my suit, the previously immaculate car and my self-esteem were in tatters as I managed to cajole these monsters through the boot, across the back seat and onto the dashboard. Thankfully the trees survived unscathed and are still resplendent in the front garden of my old house – however, every time I pass by I get flashbacks of the journey from hell and the hefty cleaning bill!

Luckily I have never been one of those people who feel a need to drive around in a spotless car and, having now acquired 3 children and assorted dogs, that isn’t an option anyway. Yes I’ve done the flash motor bit but my latest jalopy, an old Volvo estate, is proving to be as close to perfection as I can get for garden centre forays. Firstly, it has got a massive boot with a low sill; with the back seats down you could even get a garden bench in there! Secondly it already has a background aroma of ‘Eau de Wild Bunch’ so a stray bit of manure won’t make any difference. Most importantly, I have a good feel for exactly how much I can load in before either the suspension gives up the ghost or the boys in blue read me my rights. If I had one complaint it would be the lack of headroom for tall plants (sod the passengers!) but perhaps I could get someone to fit one of those concertina roofs like you see on Camper Vans.

The big problem with garden centre purchases is the ‘randomness’ of it all. Normally your groceries will fit neatly into plastic bags. Not so your garden supplies where you have to try and keep your plants from toppling over and prevent muddy water from dripping on your velour upholstery. I would love to see the Top Gear team have a go at ‘pimping’ your average car into the ideal wheels for garden centre devotees – Jeremy Clarkson take note!

Maybe ‘garden centre user friendliness’ would not be top of your average road tester’s priorities when putting the latest Porsche through it’s paces – but I would be willing to bet that at some stage in its life it’s going to have some inappropriate plant life on the passenger seat following a trip to the garden centre!

 Garden article provided by Recommended, Sutton Coldfield community magazine advertising local business to the Sutton Coldfield public.


A Golden Opportunity…Tinged with a bit of Green!

                                                

A Golden Opportunity…Tinged with a bit of Green!

Welcome one and all to my collective mourn-in!  If you were the proud owner of a beautiful Bay tree or flourishing Phormium, the chances are you are resigned to the fact that it is now as dead as the Monty Python parrot. Owners of Cordylines, Ceanothus, Abutilon and any other exotics will also be lamenting their losses but, if it’s any consolation, I was also caught with my trousers down. I am now bereft of a much admired Nerine collection and one of the finest shrubs I have ever had the pleasure to grow, Coronilla glauca.

 

The prolonged permafrost we endured during this mother of all winters killed our plants from their roots up and, bearing in mind their Mediterranean origins, it is not surprising they keeled over. Unfortunately, with the unpredictability of theUKseasons these days, there is always going to be a risk in leaving any borderline hardy plant outside through the winter. Ideally we would all have dug up our little treasures and cocooned them in a nice greenhouse for the winter, but clearly this is not feasible for most of us. I know a lot of people tried wrapping their plants in ‘fleece’ specifically made to protect plants from frost damage but all it succeeded in doing was maintaining their frozen state!

Before we all give up on our gardens altogether, let’s look at all the positives and embrace the opportunities that this horticultural death and destruction brings. Firstly, with the judicial use of a shredder you can feel quite rightly satisfied that your plants are living on, albeit in a finer and less attractive manner than before. Secondly, and arguably most importantly, it provides a fantastic opportunity to change and revitalise your garden. Opening up new spaces and vistas lends a whole new aspect to the garden and, whilst sad, the loss of a large dominating plant can be an excellent catalyst to kick-start the garden change process. Obviously you could just replace your dead parrot/ cordyline with another one, but why not look to pastures new? Maybe now is a good time to put in that pond you’ve always wanted, the vegetable and herb garden that could help cut the family grocery bills or simply more space for the kids to enjoy some fresh air?!

Whatever you decide to do, take some time and advice as to the best solution for you and your family. There is a great temptation when you have some glaring gaps in your borders, to simply do a ‘trolley dash’ round the alluring displays at the garden centre. If all you want to achieve is a window dressing of your garden then that’s fine, but if you want something more lasting that is not going to be a wasted investment then you really ought to consider having a professional  review of what can be achieved. In the same way you wouldn’t normally fit your own kitchen without some expert help, your garden will always benefit from an expert plan of action to bring out its full potential. It may not be necessary to commission a full design of your garden; simply changing planting plans and revitalising existing borders could make all the difference between a struggling display and your very own littleChelsea!

Now is the best time to take some decisive action – we are coming up to the prime planting season and if any hard landscaping needs to be carried out, then this needs to be done first. Equally any ponds or water features should be installed as soon as possible together with outdoor kitchens for those wishing to take advantage of their own home grown veg! Personally I’m looking forward to seeing my new wild flower lawn come into it’s own in the next couple of months –I decided to practice what I preach and take it as a golden opportunity for change!

Jonathan Wild

Garden Consultant and Change Specialist!

Gardening article provided by Walmley Pages, Sutton Coldfield community magazine advertising local business to the Sutton Coldfield public.