Sunday, 20 December 2009

2009 at Frog End - a summary

I've been looking back at the species lists I wrote for Frog End a year ago and as I'd expected 2009 wasn't a particularly great year for wildlife in the garden - not compared with 2008 at least. We had quite a warm winter followed by a very warm spring - I remember getting sun-burn in April. From May onwards (unfortunately coinciding with when my family came to visit) we had several weeks of rain followed by a really dry end of summer / early autumn (I was out watering the garden every day in September). The wet summer was quite poor for insects and we saw two fewer species of butterfly and dragonfly than in 2008. Although we saw a couple of baby slow worms and one adult the female didn't sit and sun bathe on the fence every day as she did last year (probably because there wasn't any sun to be found).

The good news is that the pond plants have become established and the ponds themselves have had many more species this year including water beetles and mayfly larvae. Our first dragonflies and damselflies emerged and the frogs spawned for the first time. My father also spotted our first hedgehog.

A squirrel drinking at the pond

Grasshopper on the house wall

We had our second thick frost last Thursday and despite rain overnight last night the frost is still thick on the ground. Both ponds have frozen over and we now have some rather ugly blue ice cream tubs sitting on the ponds leaving an air gap in the ice. The cold weather appears to have doubled the number of birds feeding in the garden and I've seen chaffinches and dunnocks for the first time at Frog End this week. We've also had a few goldfinches - a species we hadn't seen since the early summer. Most of the birds are not yet brave enough to come close to the house (there being little cover established at this end) so I have no good photographs, but all that should change in the New Year when I shall be attempting digiscoping for the first time.

I said that MOST of the birds are not yet brave enough to come close to the house. Yesterday morning a pigeon sitting on the roof presumably slipped due to the frost and fell down the chimney. Luckily Ian removed the old fireplace in the study earlier in the year and we've yet to block it up again so it was relatively easy to remove the pigeon. Of course it had to sit in my seedtrays on the windowsill before we got it out the window so now there is soil all over the christmas presents, but I'm sure my family won't mind much.

Common darter exuviae

The highlights of the year for me include our first dragonflies emerging, watching a squirrel hug a flower and dipping the ponds. Looking forward to 2010 with anticipation...

Friday, 18 December 2009

The front garden

Looking back through this blog I've noticed that it may look as if Frog End only has a back garden. In fact we have quite a large front garden. Not large compared with a house out of the city, but it is the largest front garden on our street and probably the largest I've seen in Exeter for a terraced house this size.

The reasons that I rarely blog about the front are twofold. Firstly the front has comparatively little wildlife, 95% of the houses on our street having drives or paved over front gardens. Birds can be seen passing overhead, but I can't recall seeing any actually in the front garden. Similarly I've not seen any reptiles or amphibians in the front. Insects are more frequent visitors and in the summer the front has more grasshoppers than the back garden (though I've no idea why). Secondly I have to admit that our front garden has never really been presentable enough to photograph - at least not since we started playing with it.

When we arrived the front garden was much like the back - very lumpy grass on a slope containing the odd tree stump and a single border round the edge filled with gravel and a couple of shrubs. Since then we have toyed with a number of ideas. At first I had my way and convinced Ian that it should all be flower borders (with no lawn at all). Next we decided that we had better have a drive in the hope that it would increase the value of the house and stop next door from parking in front of our house all the time. The drive seemed like a good idea as we had tonnes of gravel from the back garden to get rid of. We brought over half of that through to the front before deciding that we didn't really like it and the builder pointing out that without a solid base it would just sink with the car on top. Next we considered having someone in to put in a paved driveway, but looking at the prices and considering that we probably wouldn't bother driving the car on to the front we quickly rejected that idea. Now we are back to the original plan of flower borders and I have to say that I am relieved.

Over the last couple of years I have planted a third of the garden (the part that would not have been driveway) and began making a native hedge on the right hand side. Yesterday we finished the native hedge, added a beech hedge along the wall next to the pavement and some other native trees next to the wall on the left. Ian is currently in the middle of changing our water supply from lead to plastic piping. He has now finished digging a two-foot deep trench for the pipe from the street to the house and is starting to dig under the paving next to the house to the house wall. As soon as the new pipe is in I will have my fun, remake the path to the front gate and plant the rest of the garden.

August 2007 - just after we moved in to Frog End

April 2008

June 2008 - the real low point when the front was filled with all the junk we unearthed in the back garden before the skip arrived

9th December 2009 - Ian clearing away the gravel to prepare for the trench

18th December 2009

The new beech hedge:

Despite the big trench I still think our messy front garden looks nicer than next doors tidier, but rather blue, back garden:

Thursday, 17 December 2009


Our hedging and other assorted trees arrived today - a bit later than planned, but well in time for Christmas. We bought 15 beech trees for a hedge along the front wall, the following native species to put in the mixed hedges to the left and right of the front garden

Buckthorn, Alder
Dogwood, Common
Rose, Sweet Briar
Rose, Field
Rose, Dog
Rowan/Mountain Ash
Maple, Field

some non-native dogwoods to put in the borders, a crab apple to replace the hydrangea by the front door (Exeter city council obviously thought planting a hydrangea in every council house garden was a good idea, but personally I don't like them), a couple of currant bushes and I couldn't resist buying a Korean Fir and a walnut to go in pots until we have a bigger garden. By the time we'd got everything into the ground and watered it had been dark for an hour so I shall have to take some photos tomorrow.

Having watched "The age of stupid" the other night we're quite pleased to be planting and not digging things up for a change.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Our first 'proper' frost

We may not have had any snow so far this winter, but we did have our first 'proper' frost today. We've had a few small frosts before, but they've always melted prior to Ian leaving for work at around 8am. This stuck until 11am.

Of course we were bound to start having frosts now that we have a load of hedging that will need to be put in the ground next week.