Wednesday 21 August 2013

(Almost) Eco-Vandals.

Sometimes the jobs you think are going to be a pain in the butt turn out to be really easy and the ones you thought would be easy are the difficult ones. In the former category, we had firmly placed persuading Broody Betty and the Hubbard chicks to 'move house' into the adults' coop after we'd stolen their home to give Goldie the rabbit back her peace and seclusion. We had visions of trying to gather the chickens up at 'bed time' and shepherd or move them from A to B. You can not move Betty if you do not also bring the chicks as she gets anxious that you are stealing her babies. The babies, equally start to shout and holler if they think you are trying to drive them somewhere where Mum isn't. They scatter and nip around behind you lest you try to corner them and they are fast, plus there are 8 of them. The only way (without upsetting anyone) is to move all 9 birds at once, all being able to keep the rest in sight all the time. Tricky.

Up to now, at around 19:30 pm she would gather the babies around her and hunker down on them at the top end of the cattle race, not actually going into 'her' run till I appeared with food and whistled her up. I do a two-tone whistle which all the stock now come to know means "Listen up! Food may be available!". She would then bring the babies running to get the food in the run, where-upon I would shut them in.

This time I expected her to hunker down the same way and wonder when I'd let her into the (now occupied and closed) run. It was raining gently, so I also worried they'd all stand around in the rain, confused, getting chilled and wet. I under-estimate Broody Betty - she never ceases to amaze me! We noticed during the day that she had been taking the babies in and out of the adult coop through the pop hole, so I'd been making sure there was food for them on the ground. When the evening came, instead of hunkering down in the cattle race, we were delighted to see Betty lead the babies into the coop through the pop hole and when I crept over to peer in, there she was on the lowest perch with 8 little chicks all lined up next to her! Sometimes you see the sweetest things in this line of 'work'!

The only issue then became that the 8-Ball (who are also Betty's "children" but now 17 weeks old) became a bit alarmed that 'their bedroom' had been invaded by all these extra birds and they milled around inside and outside the pop hole trying to work out how to get through all this 'traffic' to their normal places on the 2nd and 3rd rung of the perch ladder. It grew dark and they were still milling so that in the end I wandered over to 'nudge' the final two into the coop and shut the pop hole door. Peering inside I could see confused 8-Ball birds climbing into egg-laying nest boxes or standing in corners or trying to get to the 2nd rung without using the first rung. The Hubbard babies were sitting on their perch like they MEANT to stay there! They all sorted it out to their satisfaction, anyway and were all in good spirits when I opened up in the morning. We await this evening to see if things will go as smoothly.

And the easy jobs? I am hoping that most of my readers will have heard of Gunnera, that gargantuan exotic plant looking like a giant rhubarb which grows beautifully by the lakes and ponds of English stately homes. I remember one, particularly, growing by the pond at Great Dixter, near my home in Hastings; we have somewhere old pre-digital pictures of my two brothers and I standing under its huge leaves.

Well, we have a non-descript gap betwixt the lawn and the front wall out by the main entrance to this place which needs a special plant and is also taking some of the drainage of rain water running down the drive; puddles accumulate in that corner. Well, Liz has a 'significant' birthday coming up very soon and fancied a Gunnera to fill the gap - it would be different and distinctive, we thought, so I set about trying to find one as part of Liz's birthday present. Luckily, in searching the internet for places I might buy one, we came across this article in the Irish Times website.

It seems that far from being a good idea, Gunnera in the damp West of Ireland is an ecological nightmare, a thug and a dangerous invader. It is up there with Japanese Knotweed and Canadian Balsam, not to mention grey squirrels and the pond-weed Crassula. "Years after its indictment as an ecological menace", says the website, "this huge plant still creeps invasively along the cliffs, streamsides, roadsides and damp meadows of the western coast, shading out native vegetation and building up huge seed banks to crowd out everything else". It goes on... "In Ireland, Gunnera spreads largely by its creeping surface rhizomes and the scatter of plant fragments, rather than by birds eating the seeds. But by 2008, it was recorded at 1,168 locations on Achill, forming dense thickets on marginal agricultural land and fringing the island’s bog roads with its enormous leaves."

OK, we thought, maybe that isn't such a good idea, then!

We went instead, to our local and very helpful small local garden centre in Castlerea when the Son of the business listened to our story and steered us in the direction of a white flowered shrub which was new to us, Amelanchier canadensis. This will do us a good height and a nice spread to fill our gap and will look lovely from the lane as from the front door. It has gone in with the usual 'introduction' - a cardboard collar over the ground, a 3 inch mulch of calf poo and our two talismanic expressions to wish it luck. I use Geoff Hamilton's well used "There! That should get away nicely!" and Liz goes with Alan Titchmarsh's privately admitted to "Grow you bugger!". How can it fail?

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