Outside the Backdoor

Observing what can happen in your own garden even in suburbia!


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From sludge to sublime

One of the most significant things we’ve added to our garden in the eighteen years we have been here is the pond.  It is very much a wildlife pond so no fish for us!  Almost from day one we have been fascinated by the variety of species it sustains, from the bright flashes of blue and red damselflies to the more dramatic emergence of large dragonflies who leave their outer skins on the iris leaves as they prepare to take flight.
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1st damselfly of 2018 sunning itself on the pergola by the pond (c) Elizabeth Malone

Then there are the dozens of pond skaters who dart around from spring to autumn, the waterboatmen doing backstroke across the length and the snails, lots of snails – wherever did they all come from?  Of course there are frogs too and their tadpoles, and a colony of newts who hang suspended in the shadow of water lily pads.
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Just hanging around!  (c) Elizabeth Malone

In terms of planting, the pond is almost entirely ringed by marsh marigolds which I remember us first falling in love with in Iceland where they grow wild and in abundance alongside rivers and streams.  Their deep golden yellow always looks stunning when the water surrounding them reflects a vivid blue sky.  We also have iris and the water forget-me-not is extremely happy, as is the purple flowered pickerel which is really getting rather too big for its boots.  All of these plants are very welcome as they are also incredibly popular with bees and hoverflies who appear to enjoy being by the water as much as we do on a hot summer’s day.
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Marsh marigolds (c) John Malone

What is far less welcome is the pond weed, in particular the blanket weed which, for some reason this spring, has decided to launch a takeover of our pond.  It began with the frogspawn.  Whilst that may seem a very odd statement, I love frogspawn when it is newly laid or when you can see tiny tadpoles wriggling within the jelly cell, but I don’t like it as the tadpoles break out of it leaving a rather slimy gunge all over the surface of the pond.  This gunge appears to attract the blanket weed.   We normally use barley straw to combat blanket weed but perhaps we were too slow in getting it into the water this year?  Or perhaps the weed was encouraged when the temperatures suddenly leapt from freezing to sweltering within a week back in April, but either way we were faced with unattractive pond soup.
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Blanket weed – yuk!  (c) Elizabeth Malone

Fortunately I found a bundle of barley straw in the back of the shed cupboard but we realised that it stood no chance without a little help from us.  But which utensil to use?  I tried the winding the weed around the stick approach but I think I would have been there all summer.  John decided on the garden rake which worked reasonably well but was still slow progress.  In the end he decided that there was nothing for it but to put on the pond gauntlets and plunge in up to elbow depth.  Soon he had three piles of green, gungy weed around the pond, each having carefully been checked first for any inhabitants but also left overnight so that any shy creatures could creep out of their own accord.  Although the pond looked horribly murky for an hour or so, it was surprisingly how quickly it cleared and it was great to be able to get a clear view of our newt colony swimming around.  They didn’t seem too disappointed that some of their weed/food had been removed, in fact they almost seemed to appreciate being able to swim more freely.
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Gungy weed drying off! (c) Elizabeth Malone

As part of his delving into the deep, John also retried the pond pump and soon had a delightful trickle of water cascading little diamonds of water.  Apparently moving water helps the barley straw to be active but it was also rather lovely on a really hot day just to sit and watch the water spilling over and reflecting the blue sky above.  Time to just sit and stare.
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Time to relax!  (c) Elizabeth Malone

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Luscious lilacs

From the end of April into the first half of May, we are surrounded by lilac! It’s a very nice position to be in. The scent is truly amazing, wafting down the length of the garden and into the house on really warm days.

It’s at this time of year that I realise that we have a lot of lilac! During April it transforms from a tangle of brown twigs into a tempting bank of bright green that tells you that spring is really here, and then suddenly one day it is in bloom! On a glorious spring day with azure blue skies, the sight of the white and mauve plumes of flower is quite breathtaking but it is very much a brief moment of glory as, by mid-May, it will all be over and we’ll be left facing the very large challenge of deadheading it and keeping it within limits.

I say keeping it within limits as lilac knows no restraint. During the growing season it every stem can put on about a foot’s growth in a week! I have known us go on holiday for ten days in May only to return and wonder why the garden suddenly seems so narrow? Whilst our backs were turned, the lilac has marched forward and what was a green perimeter is now more akin to a green version of the six foot thick walls of a medieval castle! In fact, for some strange reason, it always puts me in mind of Sleeping Beauty. In the fairy tale, the hedge grows up rapidly around the castle where the princess is sleeping and I can’t help but think of lilac shooting up with such energy amidst other thorny creepers to create an impenetrable wall.

Sadly I have no idea what variety of lilac we have as they were all here when we moved in. They stretch across our garden in an arc that’s probably about thirty feet long. There appears to be three varieties – a medium shade of mauve, a very pale mauve and the intense white. All grow with equal vigour and, if left unchecked, the flowering just gets higher and higher. For the past few years, John has been working hard to bring the lilac down lower and to encourage flowers within sniffing distance. It seems to be working although neither of us fully understands the plant enough to be doing this consistently.

When we enter lilac season I am conscious that I just don’t see much of it about these days compared to something like wisteria which seems to adorn many front gardens at around the same time. It seems strange given that lilac is easy to grow, and looks and smells beautiful but I guess its three week flowering period just isn’t enough to justify the space it would take up in many gardens when gardeners can choose from such a huge variety of plants billed as ‘repeat flowerers’ or ‘long flowering’. Admittedly there are times when we feel a bit defeated by the extent of our lilac wall but there’s no way we would be without it.

PS. At just the same time as I was drafting this post Ali, The Mindful Gardener, blogged on a similar theme. Do check out her thoughts.