A cold day at Ryton Organic Gardens

I rarely visit Ryton gardens at this time of year because, well, to be frank, it is even less exciting than my own garden and much colder.  However, I felt the need to go out with my camera and so I called in on my way home.

I have to admit, the drab and dreary weather (it started to rain whilst I was there) did not lessen the dull feel of the gardens, but, here or there were some hidden gems that made me think that underneath the mud and general brown tinge there was a whole host of life just waiting to get out.

There were quite a few hellebores there, but many did not look their best – not sure if it was the early morning frost or if they just needed some TLC – however, not far away were some bright points of blue – I think they are scilla – there were not enough to cover the ground, but they still grabbed my attention.

Whilst I didn’t see much in the way of edibles, the trees in the orchard were full of big, fat buds, and underneath they were planted with iris or daffodils.  The daffodils were just showing some colour, in a couple of weeks they will be amazing.

One thing that I did notice was the amount of bird life there.  They have put bird feeders in every garden.  I am not sure if they have always done this, but there are never any out in the Summer.  As a result, with every step, there was a flurry of activity as a chaffinch or blackbird or unidentifiable small bird zoomed off into the safety of the hedges.  The lack of visitors at this time of year, and the mist and drizzle lent an air of tranquility to the place.  The cacophony of bird song just added to this feeling.  One bird that I used to hear a lot more around Daventry, before they built even more houses, was the yellowhammer, so I was very surprised that to find it in the middle of the gardens.  I think it was just getting its voice back after the Winter, the song was almost there, but the characteristic wheeze at the end was much shortened.

I always like the sensory garden at Ryton – whatever the time of year they always have something flowering, and this weekend was no exception – look at the little cyclamen that I found.  I have planted corms several times in the garden, but whilst I seem to have one or two that will throw up some leaves, I never seem to get any flowers.  (However, my anenome blanda – all of which seem to be blue – have just started to come into flower.)


My biggest surprise of the day also came in the sensory garden – my first bumblebee of the year, foraging on some heather.  This will be a queen going out to gather food before the first of the brood start to hatch.  It just shows the importance of having some early flowering plants in the garden – mahonia and some early flowering honeysuckles are also good for the early bees.  Sorry for the poor quality picture though – I was taken a bit by surprise and she didn’t stay around for long!


Too cute to kill?

Some friends of ours have a house in France and last year were bemoaning the fact that edible dormice (glis glis) had taken up residence.  To someone who rarely sets foot outside of the UK, the thought of little, shy dormice being considered a pest seemed a little strange to me.  However, it seems that these are not the small brown fellows much beloved of Autumnwatch (native hazel dormice), but bigger, greyer beasties.

So, why a blog post about these creatures?  It is inspired by an article in the excellent, if somewhat scholarly, British Wildlife Magazine.  What I didn’t realise was that there is a colony (or maybe more) of the creatures in Tring (Hertfordshire).  They are also known as the fat dormouse – both names arising from the fact that they were kept as food by the Romans and were even carried in jars by Roman soldiers when on marches.

So, how did they get here?  Well it certainly wasn’t under their own steam as studies on the Tring population have shown that they have really not extended their range very far at all.  As in most cases it was human intervention that has resulted in the UK colonies.  In this case, Lord Rothschild and an ‘accidental’ release at the beginning of the twentieth century.

So, the lowdown on edible dormice:

  • They are quite a lot bigger than their native relatives and live for about seven years
  • Whereas UK natives are brown, edible dormice are grey and about the size of a small squirrel
  • They are nocturnal
  • They hibernate underground from about the end of October to May
  • They nest in holes in trees and are thought to form creches with the offspring of more than one female found in some nests
  • The young aren’t born until July / August which gives them only two or three months to gain enough weight to hibernate
  • Their favourite food is Beech mast – in years where it is likely that there will be a poor crop of Beech mast the dormice don’t breed
  • It is thought that when there is a poor yield of Beech mast then the dormice are more likely to be found in nearby houses

So, why are they considered a pest?  They do apparently strip bark from trees, however, the main problem with them seems to be the fact that they are often found in houses where they chew through wires and eat food stores.  They are also doing rather well despite their limited range (mainly within 25 miles of Tring) – Natural England estimate that there are at least 10,000 of the animals in the UK.

They were recently listed as one of the top 10 problem invaders alongside mink and grey squirrels.  There are certain methods that can legally be used for ‘dealing’ with these large eyed furry creatures, but it is also an offence to release these animals into the wild now, which is exactly what is thought to be behind their appearance outside of Tring.  People had a problem with them, but couldn’t bring themselves to kill them, so took them far, far away and released them.

But, could you resist those big black eyes and grey coat – perhaps there are things that are too cute to kill?  Still, that argument has never worked for seal pups though, has it?