Sunday, 19 April 2015

Marwell Zoo

On Friday Jane and I looked after our oldest granddaughter, Lara, for the day. She is nearly six, and a real bundle of energy. For a start, she seems to eat non-stop!  Rather than keep her cooped-up at home all day, we decided to take her to Marwell Zoo, near Winchester, which is only about 45 minutes' drive from us.

Situated in the grounds of a stately home, the zoo is normally described as a "zoological park". It covers a large area, and all the animals seem to have plenty of space to roam. This can be a good thing and a bad thing - it means that if the animals don't want to be seen, then they have plenty of places to hide!

There were several animals that we would have liked to see more of (e.g. Tiger, Cheetah), but then you have to see the animals' point of view too - it mustn't be much fun being locked up in a cage, and a bit of privacy is probably welcome. This Meerkat looks a bit depressed!

Despite what I said above, there were lots of animals to see. Here are some photos of them...


Cape Buffalo

Sable Antelope

Ring-tailed Lemurs having a Group Hug!



Pygmy Hippopotamus

Snow Leopard (sleeping!) - seen through glass.

As well as having plenty of animals to see, the park is full of play equipment and things for children to climb on, and places for them to run about. Lara loved the big grassy bank next to the house - ideal for running or rolling down!

There is also a miniature train on which you can travel around the park to admire the views.

For me, one of the most interesting parts of the park was the Tropical House, which contains lots of rain-forest plants and creatures (for instance spiders, lizards and a whole colony of red ants).


One of the occupants of the Tropical House was this Malaysian Dwarf Crocodile, lurking in the shadows...

Why do some people insist on throwing coins into every bit of water they see?!

I liked this Crocodile wood-carving too.

Stars of the show though, in my opinion, were the Meerkats - active, entertaining and full of appeal for all ages.

Meerkat "sentry"

In one of the enclosures there were three baby Meerkats, born in the middle of February and still very tiny. I tried to get a photo with all three of them in it -- No chance, they were far too mobile!

Visiting an attraction like Marwell Zoo is not a cheap day out. A Family ticket for two adults and two children is £60 - and that's before you consider the cost of lunch and ice-creams etc - but I suppose that it is about "par for the course", as the saying goes.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

The National collection of...

...of Elmlea pots!

Tomato seedlings

Where would I be without Elmlea pots??


On average we probably use about one pot of Elmlea a week, and I save the pots because they are really good as plant-pots. I need a lot of small pots at this time of year, and it would cost me a fortune to buy as many as I need. Actually the Elmlea pots are better than most purpose-made plant pots, because they are taller and slimmer. They are ideal for things that like being planted deeply, such as tomatoes and leeks.

Of course I always make a hole on the bottom of each pot for drainage purposes, but this is easily done because the pots are quite flimsy.

I reckon that an Elmlea pot lasts at least two years, usually three, but they do eventually go brittle and start to crack. Oh, and by the way, just in case you were wondering what it is, Elmlea is a cream-substitute. We use the low-fat version. It is very good for making "cream" sauces, and for Gratin Dauphinois.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Earthing-up potatoes

My First Early potatoes seem to be doing OK, especially the "Annabelle" ones. They had grown several inches tall so last Sunday I decided the time had come to do the first earthing-up. By this I mean packing in some more compost into their containers so that the leaves are nearly buried again.

Earthing-up means that more of the stem of the plant is underground, which normally leads to the production of more roots and therefore more tubers.

This year I am again growing my potatoes in a mixture heavy with composted stable manure, because that's what I used last year and it produced a good crop of very clean potatoes.

I was away from home from Sunday afternoon until Wednesday evening. When I got home I was amazed to see how much the potatoes had grown in the three days I had been away. This is the same pot as the one in my first photo.

They need earthing-up again already!

My other First Early potato variety is "Winston", and the plants seem to be growing much slower than "Annabelle", which is probably a good thing because it means they won't all mature at the same time.


Meanwhile, Second Earlies "Charlotte", in their smart new tubs, are not far behind.


Thursday, 16 April 2015

We have lift-off!

After more than a week of mostly sunny and warm weather, stuff is coming up!

Those are "Chantenay" Carrots, in one of the black plastic crates in the wooden planter outside our kitchen window.  I sowed them several weeks ago, hoping for an early spell of warm weather to get them off to a good start, but it never happened. However, last week we had several days of decent weather, and the Carrots just shot up.

In the other plastic crate I have Carrots of two different types. The "Paris Market" ones are on a par with the "Chantenay" ones, but the "Amsterdam Forcing" ones are a fair way behind.

Paris Market ones at top of photo

The Radishes came up very rapidly too - just seven days after sowing.

I sowed 3 x 1.2 metre rows. One type ("Cherry Belle") is considerably behind the other two ("Saxa" and "Sparkler"), though of course probably only a day or so.

In good conditions Radishes mature very quickly, so I'm hoping these ones will be ready by about mid-May.

One of the two rows of Parsnips has come up too - though not so quickly! This is "Hollow Crown" (new seeds), so I'm hoping it doesn't mean that the "Duchess" ones from last year's seeds won't germinate. I know that you are supposed to use fresh seeds every year, but in the past I have managed OK with ones that are 2 or even 3 years old.

Not wishing to be left out of the fun, a couple of Chicories have re-appeared in amongst my Broad Beans.

This happens if you cut the Chicory at ground level and don't pull up the root. Normally I remove the roots, but I must have overlooked a couple. Still, having a few tender young leaves for a salad in a week or two is no bad thing.

In the shrub border the Hellebore plants are also putting up lots of new growth, so hopefully they will be "putting on some weight" and storing up energy for next year's flowers.

There are some new shoots on the Pineapple Mint too. The leaves are mostly white, with a bit of green, but at the moment the stems are bright purple!

The only thing I am really concerned about is whether my Cotinus tree is still alive. You may recall that last year the tree suddenly fell sick, and some people suggested it might have been struck by Verticillium Wilt. Usually by this time it has sprung into growth, but there is no sign of any swelling buds just yet.

I haven't given up hope yet, because lots of things are late appearing this year, but I'm certainly considering my options...

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Some flowers for a change

How about seeing some flowers instead of vegetables, just for a change?

I am very happy with these bright red Tulips in a wide shallow blue pot:

My only complaint is that they are supposed to grow to only 6" tall, and these are at least twice that!

They are "Dwarf Praestans". There are 10 bulbs in the pot, but this is a multi-headed variety, so it looks as if there are more.  In full sun the flowers open very wide.

But when the sun goes in they close up tight like this:

The Daffodils are just about finished now. My favourites are the strongly-scented "Soleils d'Or" - the ones I bought in the Isles of Scilly. Nice while they lasted, but past their best now:

In order to prolong their life and prevent them going "blind", I will be doing all the right things with those bulbs - feeding them with fertiliser; removing the flowers to stop seeds forming; leaving the foliage to die down naturally, etc. If you want to see some more advice on this, follow this link to the relevant bit of the RHS website - Daffodil blindness.

This is Euphorbia "Clarice Howard", which seems to have recovered a bit this year, after a very poor showing last time.

It is normally very vigorous, and spreads enthusiastically via underground roots. I am forever pulling up bits of it that appear in the shingle.

Along the edge of the border, just by the Euphorbia, I have established a clump of Primroses.

Many of them are brightly-coloured ones bought as a mixed pack from the local Garden Centre, but some of them are the old-fashioned yellow / cream type, which I like better. They seem more natural.

The Snakeshead Fritillaries (Fritillaria Meleagris) are coming along nicely.

I always find it hard to photograph them well, because the flower patterns are naturally blurred and it looks as if the photos are out of focus. A lot of the stems have two flowers.

Not all the Fritillaries are speckly purple. Some of them are white:

This is that beautiful dark-coloured Hellebore given to me by my Facebook friend Alice.