the secret life of woodlice

It’s funny what you learn when you have a four year old.

Ours has been fascinated by garden creatures since she was tiny. So back in August we made an insect hotel. We hoped it might provide a winter resting place for bees and ladybirds. Perhaps a few toads would move in at the bottom.

insect hotel, cottage garden, gardening blog

Since we were replacing the veg garden fence at the time, we had plenty of wood kicking about the place. The insect hotel turned into quite a grand affair. Although I think you can see why we don’t get on very well with DIY in the house…

insect hotel, cottage garden, gardening blog

little bit wonky…

Next we filled it with sticks, logs, fir cones, pots stuffed with straw and random stuff, like a bird box we’ve never got round to putting up.

insect hotel pots

A few days later, M started school and we didn’t pay it any attention for a while.

Then the nights started drawing in. One evening we were wandering around out there with the dogs and discovered a  colony of woodlice have taken command of the place. During the day they are nowhere to be seen, but in the dark hundreds of them swarm around it busily doing whatever woodlice do.

M checking out insect hotel at night

Apart from feeling a bit guilty whenever I move a pot and see woodlice scurrying for cover, I’ve never really given them much thought. But it turns out they are quite interesting little things.

I’d always naively assumed they were insects. In fact they are 14-legged crustaceans. There are 3,500 species in the world – about 35 of these can be found in the UK. They live up to four years and play an important role eating and breaking down dead and rotting vegetation in the garden. If you’re really unlucky they might eat young seedlings – but not so much that they could be considered a pest.

2014-10-09 21.10.10 (2)

As you can see, I’ve been doing a bit of research. But one thing I cannot get to the bottom of is something Steve caught them doing a couple of nights ago. Several of them appeared to be tending to a couple of red blobs on the end of a log.

what is the red blob?

what is the red blob?

We wondered if it might be a nest of eggs. Then we thought it might be some sort of fungus they were feeding on. We left them to it, but the next day all that was left was some dried up remains. If you have any idea what they might have been up to, we’d love to know.

...this is all that was left the next morning

…this is all that was left the next morning

wordless wednesday: sunshine & showers

cosmos purity, cottage garden, gardening blog


cosmos, cottage garden, gardening blog


wordless wednesday: seed harvest

poppy seed head, cottage garden, gardening blog

the generosity of dahlias

I felt like I’d been swindled when my new dahlias arrived in March. They were such meager little tubers. When we lifted last year’s, I discarded some that were bigger.

I was cross with myself for having been seduced by the fancy catalogue I’d ordered them from. I potted them up, but vowed that if they didn’t grow well I’d write a stiff letter of complaint.

When the time came to plant them out in May, they were doing OK. Not as vigorous as the ones we’d stored over the winter, but well enough to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Most of them went into a newly cleared border, along with verbena rigida, statice and gaura lindheimeri that we’d grown from seed. There were a couple that still didn’t seem big enough to turn out to the open soil. I popped them into big pots so they’d be a bit more cosseted. Nothing much happened for a couple of weeks and I moaned about them to anyone who’d listen.

Many times over the summer, one of my mum’s favourite sayings ‘Oh ye of little faith’ has echoed in my head. Because the dahlias turned out to be an absolute joy.

dahlia rosamunda, dahlia summertime, cottage garden, gardening blog

Since July they have been flowering their socks off. Each of those small, dry tubers must have produced close to a hundred flowers so far. With October round the corner, the ones in pots are slowing down a bit, but those in the ground are still throwing out new buds on a daily basis.

dahlias, cottage garden, gardening blog

quintessential summertime

Two of the varieties we chose have become firm favourites that I’d like to have in the garden every year: rosamunde and summertime. They both produce long-stemmed flowers that sit high above the foliage. They bounce around a bit on breezy days, but we’ve only had a couple snap right off when it’s been really stormy.

dahlia rosamunde, cottage garden, gardening blog

the beautiful dahlia rosamunde

Rosamunde in particular is an absolute stunner: semi-double, peony-like flowers in a gorgeous pink with dark bronze foliage. She works really hard too, producing flower after flower after flower. It probably helps that I now know how to tell a dead-head from a bud – last year I didn’t find out until quite late in the season that it’s only the pointy ones you’re meant to snip off.

dahlia, cottage garden, gardening blog

fat, round dahlia bud (not to be mistaken for a dead-head…)

dahlia dead-head, cottage garden, gardening blog

pointed dahlia dead-head (not to be mistaken for a bud)

The dahlias have flowered generously for three months now. Providing we don’t get hit by an early frost, we should get another four or five weeks out of them.

bee on dahlia, cottage garden, gardening blog

single and semi-double dahlias provide a four-month feast for nectar lovers

I can hardly believe they had such an unpromising start.

dahlias, cottage garden, gardening blog

each tuber produces tonnes of flowers all summer long

dahlia, cottage garden, gardening blog

dahlias are gorgeous whichever way you look at them

wordless wednesday: growing up fast

cottage garden, gardening blog, sunflowers


wordless wednesday: blakeney red (perry pear)

blakeney red, perry pear, cottage garden, gardening blog

why I’ll be growing fewer pumpkins next year

Pumpkins are a lot of fun to grow.

The young plants start off looking so innocent and fragile. Then, come July, you take your eyes off them for a moment and they’ve swamped the entire garden with rampant, vicious vines bearing a canopy of huge leaves.

pumpkin plants taking over the veg patch, cottage garden, gardening blog

only the tallest, strongest plants have a chance in a sea of pumpkins

Best of all is the excitement of spotting the gourds that manage to set and start ripening as summer wanes.

Uchiki Kuri, cottage garden, gardening blog

Uchiki Kuri grew well on a pyramid of hazel sticks

Last year we unintentionally grew some enormous varieties, like Blue Hubbard. I’d gone for the names I liked rather than reading the seed packets properly.

We’ve opted for smaller ones this year; Sweet Dumpling, Little Gem, Uchiki Kuri. I had a notion that we could train them up pyramids of stout hazel sticks.

Little Gem pumpkin, cottage garden, gardening blog

this Little Gem scaled the hedge and started heading for the neighbour’s garden

It worked to an extent – except that they went up and over the pyramids and still managed to engulf the best part of the veg patch.

And that’s the problem. Much as I love roasted pumpkin soup, or even just having a pretty row of winter squash on the kitchen windowsill, I’d quite like to grow some other winter veggies. Two or three of the parsnips we sowed have managed to battle through the sea of pumpkins. But the swedes have been totally swamped. And the leeks never had a chance.

parsnips in between pumpkins, cottage garden, gardening blog

a couple of parsnips have persevered through the mass of leaves

So next year I’m going to limit myself to two or three pumpkin plants.

If a lot germinate, I’ll just have to find good homes for them. Or steel myself up to put them in the compost bin.