Tag Archive: dahlias


It’s nearly two months since I was last at Blickling and I was wondering how the place might be looking, as it’s getting into peak visiting season.

I had lots of catching up to do, but after a few weeks with very little floral colour it was wonderful opening the garden door and coming across the double borders in all their summer glory.

It was great meeting up with the gardening team of staff and volunteers. With the other chaps I went over to the Walled Garden and was bowled over with the sight that greeted me…fabulous summer colour and every area with something growing in it, including a wide range of fruit and veg, all looking very healthy.

And whilst away the metal tunnel that runs the length of the central path (erected and welded together just before I went away) is now being painted…something the ‘two Peters’ were tasked with continuing with their tins of black ‘Hammerite’ paint. It really does add great vertical interest to the garden and will look absolutely splendid as the apples hat have been planted alongside it reach up and over to create a fabulous ‘green walk’. I also noticed a couple more new bench seats set out on the side paths which add to the scene.

Fellow volunteer Chris and I set about weeding between the rows of various vegetables (including some rather vicious globe artichokes), mainly hoeing with the occasional hand forking out of any larger plants. This was relatively easy work on a pleasantly warm and sometimes showery day…it was good to be out in the open and tackling some physical tasks once more.

Another pleasing sight was the south-west quadrant of the garden , which was the last to be cultivated. a fine sward of grass in the shape of a key hole is surrounded by vibrant floral interest and all symbolically done to represent the Indian flag, to link in with an exhibition at the House about the Marquis of Lothian’s connections to that country.

The whole scene was quite a contrast to Old School Garden,which after six weeks of letting nature do her own thing, looked rather less neat and tidy, as you might imagine. Still, after a lot of urgent attention since returning from Australia, it is starting to look rather more cared for.

As I left a little early (together with a bunch of wonderful Dahlias from the Walled Garden), to get on with the clear up at home, it was nice to hear ‘great to have you back’ from a couple of the gardening team… it was great to be back.

Further Information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

A 360 degree tour of Blickling Hall

Old School Gardener

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wp_20161116_11_36_20_proIt’s been a couple of weeks since my last visit to Blickling, and this week I went twice, though the first visit was to hear a talk by Assistant Head gardener, Steve Hagon about his 45 years of gardening here…quite a feat.

The talk was an amusing wander through some of Steve’s experiences . He began work as a 15 year old straight out of School and at that time- 1972 – the gardens had no powered machinery and no volunteers- quite a contrast to today’s set up!

wp_20161116_11_32_50_pro1My second visit was on Wednesday as other commitments meant I couldn’t get there for my usual Thursday stint. As before on Wednesdays there was a good turnout. I was sorry to hear the Walled Garden Project Manager, Mike, was still off work having injured his back. If you’re reading this Mike, all the best for a quick return to the gardens!

For the first hour I and two fellow volunteers and gardener Jane lifted the Cannas from the double borders and potted these up for transfer to their winter quarters in the orangery. Apparently these didn’t flower very well this year- quite  contrast to my own in Old School Garden, which put on their best show to date. Due to the poor (or no) flowering there was a little doubt about the colours of the flowers, so Jane tentatively put general labels in the pots indicating whether from their positioning  they were thought to be ‘warm’ or ‘hot’- it will be interesting to see what transpires next year, assuming we have better flowering!

After this we joined the bulk of the other volunteers in the Walled Garden where the glorious display of dahlias was sadly no more and the time had come to cut the top growth down and mulch the bed thickly for winter protection. As I’ve mentioned before, Mike has decided to leave the tubers in the ground and use a thick mulch to protect them over winter. I’ll be interested to see how they get on, but given their sheltered position and the thick mulch they should be OK.

We quickly finished off the cutting down- some of the stems were very thick and hollow and many were full of water. Then, while the ladies went over the borders of Thyme and other plants in need of a prune,  a few of us turned our attention to barrowing some more of that lovely home-made compost to the border, accompanied by gardener Ed and his amazing tractor skills! Ed managed to not only fill a 3 ton trailer for us which reduced the distance we had to barrow, but subsequently deposited a few tractor shovel loads  along the edge of the border.

He was also very efficient in doing a ‘formation fill’ of three or four wheelbarrows at once- see the picture below!.

wp_20161116_12_10_03_proFurther Information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

A 360 degree tour of Blickling Hall

Old School Gardener

wp_20161023_15_51_29_proIt was Wednesday again this week at Blickling. ‘Lucky you turned up’ said a fellow volunteer, you’re the 14th person here today!

This must have been the largest volunteer group I’d participated in since joining Blickling. And as the day progressed it made the Walled Garden (where we were all working) reminiscent of a Victorian Kitchen Garden; where once droves of gardeners were busily doing things most days of the year.

The team at work...

The team at work…

It started off as a rather misty murky, autumnal morning, but we were soon set to work and warmed up. Project manager Mike is off with a bad back at present so we were ably directed by gardeners Jane and Rebecca. If you’re reading this Mike, I wish you a speedy recovery; I can sympathise as I had acute sciatica for a year many moons ago.

A few volunteers were set to washing pumpkins ready for an event the following day. I gather this will include drawing faces on the pumpkins, as ‘Health and Safety’ concerns now prevent the Trust helping youngsters and others carve out faces in traditional style (I was tempted to mutter under my breath ‘even worse than banning conkers at school’!!).

The majority of us were in ‘formation hoeing’ mode to begin with as we cleared the remaining weeds and spent foliage from the pumpkin patches and then barrowed in a considerable amount of locally produced compost as a winter mulch. As we progressed from one area to another the results looked very neat and tidy, as I think the dark, damp compost provides a satisfying finish to a bare bed. I lost count of the number of barrow loads I shifted, but my arms, by lunchtime, were at least two inches longer…

After lunch we continued with the same process, pausing to chat to the many visitors on this half term weekday, which was as pleasant as ever. Many commented favourably on the gardens, and especially the Dahlia border, which continues to look marvellous in the low autumn sunshine..it just shows how mild it’s been recently. The final bit of hoeing drew most of the male volunteers together for one final push… ‘five men went to hoe’.The quality of the banter went up a notch as we hoed alongside each other (it looked a little like a ‘hoeing derby’ at one point as we raced each other across the plot).

wp_20161026_14_35_07_proBy the end of the afternoon the sun was shining brightly and the garden looked wonderful bathed in this light, which created a glowing sea of backlit foliage, especially the lime green lettuces. In fact the whole place shone.

wp_20161026_15_27_36_proFurther Information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

A 360 degree tour of Blickling Hall

Old School Gardener

bonfireNovember is upon us, the clocks have ‘gone back’, the days continue to shorten as temperatures fall. What is there to do in the garden this month? Here’s a list of ten top ‘to do’s’ to keep you busy!

1. Clean

  • Rake up fallen leaves – especially from lawns, ponds and beds. Put the leaves in a leaf cage or black bags to create leaf mould to use on your garden over the next few years.

  • Cut down herbaceous stems and clear the remains of annuals, but leave those perennials that fade relatively elegantly (sedum, astilbes and grasses for example).

  • Clear out the greenhouse, wash pots and trays, clean, mend and oil your tools and throw away anything that is beyond hope of reasonable repair!

2. Burn

Keep leaf raking and saving to make leaf mould

Keep leaf raking and saving to make leaf mould

  • If you need to, use a seasonal bonfire (where this is allowed) to dispose of material that can’t be composted. Follow good neighbour and eco friendly practices- avoid smoke nuisance and don’t use petrol/diesel or burn plastics etc.

3. Dig

  • This month is probably your last chance to prepare your soil before winter sets in. If it’s heavy, clear the weeds, dig it over and add organic matter to the soil as you dig or lay a thick mulch on top and let the worms do the work for you!

  • If you produce a fine tilth, protect it from winter rain, which will damage the soil structure – use a good layer of compost and/or leaf mould, sow a green manure or even lay plastic sheeting over it. The soil will be easier to plant or sow into the following spring.

3.Plant

  • Finish planting spring bulbs such as narcissi, crocuses and alliums – even though it’s a little late!

  • Plant tulip bulbs – the cooler soil helps prevent the fungal disease ‘tulip fire’. Plant bulbs in containers or in a sunny spot at 2 – 3 times their own depth and double their width apart. They can also be used to fill gaps in beds and borders, under shrubs and trees or naturalised in grass or woodland. Remember that tulips like good drainage and ideally should lie on a thin layer of grit if your soil is heavy, to prevent rotting.

  • Pot up amaryllis bulbs, water, keep them initially in a dark, warm place, then in daylight as leaves appear – hopefully you’ll have glorious colour for Christmas!.

  • Plant bare-rooted trees, shrubs, hedging and roses as well as fruit trees and bushes. Soak the roots in a bucket of water for an hour before planting.

  • Sow over-wintering onion sets, broad beans and garlic.

    Sow Broad Beans now for a heavier crop next year

    Sow Broad Beans now for a heavier crop next year

4. Divide

  • Perennials such as daylilies, Asters (Michaelmas daisies) and Golden Rod can be divided and replanted. Cut them down to about 8- 10cms, dig them up and divide carefully. If your soil is heavy clay, do this in the spring. All other perennials are also best left until the spring, especially peonies which dislike being split in cold weather and ‘warm season’ grasses like Miscanthus.

5. Prune

  • Roses  and tall shrubs (Lavatera and Buddleja for example) should be pruned lightly to prevent wind-rock (reduce stems by about a half). Pruning can be carried out from now on throughout the dormant season. Once the leaves have fallen it is easier to see the overall shape and prune accordingly.

  • Do not cut back the less hardy perennials such as penstemoms and hardy fuchsias more than a third – the dead stems should give some protection for the crowns in the coldest weather. In colder areas, mulch them with composted bark or something similar and avoid cutting them back fully until they begin to shoot from the base in spring.

  • Remove any fig fruits larger than a pea – the really small ones are embryo figs that will be next year’s crop. The larger ones will not survive the winter.

6. Support

Feed the birds- most will help you keep pests under control

Feed the birds- most will help you keep pests under control

  • Remember to feed the birds in your garden and provide fresh water.

  • Create a small pile of logs to provide shelter for insects and amphibians over the winter.

  • Solitary bees make good use of nooks and crannies in gardens over winter, so if you need some build your own by drilling holes in blocks of untreated softwood and then suspend the blocks in a sunny site. (Block dimensions – 5cm x 10cm x 20cm, Drill bit sizes – 4mm, 6mm and 8mm).

7. Protect

  • Stop winter moth damage to fruit trees by using grease bands around the trunk.

  • Drain and lag standpipes, outdoor taps, irrigation lines and water pumps in advance of really cold weather.

  • Cover brassicas with netting if pigeons are a problem

  • Move tender plants inside or keep a supply of fleece, bubble wrap or similar to protect them from freezing conditions – this is especially important for recently planted hardy annuals and outdoor containers which can be insulated with bubblewrap and raised off the ground to prevent waterlogging and freezing.

  • Protect newly planted trees, hedges and shrubs from the elements with a temporary netting windbreak if they’re in an exposed site.

8. Harvest

  • Bring in carrots, parsnips (wait until after a frost), endive, cauliflower and autumn cabbages.

Leave Parsnips in the ground until they've had a good frosting- it improves the flavour

Leave Parsnips in the ground until they’ve had a good frosting- it improves the flavour

9. Store

  • Remove any canes and supports in your garden left from your summer crops or staking– remember to store them safe and dry.

  • Check stored fruit and vegetables and throw out any that show the slightest sign of rotting.

  • Dahlias – wait until a couple of good frosts have blackened them, then cut the stems back to approximately 10cm from the ground and label each plant as you lift it – it’s easy to forget which is which! Lift the tubers carefully as you dig around them, remove all the soil and store for a couple of weeks in a dry, cool place upside down to allow any residual moisture in the stem to drain out. Once they are completely dry, they can be buried in gritty or sandy peat free compost (used stuff will do) so the top of the tuber is above the compost level. Keep them somewhere frost free.

10.Plan

  • Order seed catalogues or invesitgate seed availability online so that you can get hold of the seeds that you want in good time. If you’re a member of the RHS you can get hold of up to 12 packets of seeds (including 9 collections) for only £8.50- find out more here.

Old School Gardener

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wp_20160921_12_28_07_proI went in to Blickling on Wednesday this week and worked with Peter and Maurice clearing away the piles of pumpkin and squash greenery left behind after the previous day’s volunteers had harvested a fantastic array of squashes and pumpkins.

Some of the squash beds awaiting harvesting and clearing

Some of the squash beds awaiting harvesting and clearing

I was excited to see another wooden structure in the far corner of the Walled Garden- three new compost bins with removable, slatted fronts and panelled lids. These will be a great addition to the garden and reduce the need to transport piles of compost from the main dumping ground on the other side of the gardens.

The new compost bins

The new compost bins

I was initially puzzled to see no gaps in the sides fo these new bins as I thought they would be necessary to allow some air to get into the bins. However, on reflection, I think the theory might be that the amount of material, and with regular turning, these bins will be ‘hot’ bins creating usable compost within a matter of a few months. Mike, the Project Manager wasn’t around to clarify this, so that’ll be a question for next week’s session. As we were finishing off the clearing up, a couple of young children and their parents wheeled a couple of mini barrowfuls of material over to help us!

wp_20160921_11_23_58_proIn the remaining hour before lunch we hoed and stone picked around the soft fruit bushes, where, Assistant Head Gardener, Steve, told us that new fruit cages were to be erected the following day. I look forward to seeing these in place next week.

After lunch Maurice and I hoed across the pumpkin and squash beds to tidy them up. I think Mike plans to sow some green manures in these over winter. I hope so, as I’d be interested to see how this would look and what it would do to protect and add to the nutrients in the soil.

The Dahlias are continuing to put on a good show, and I noticed that the cyclamen were in full bloom just outside the Walled Garden.

We had plenty of visitors in the Walled Garden, and many stopped to chat and ask questions, as well as praising everyone’s efforts. One chap asked me what the difference is between a gourd and a squash…hmm after a quick thought I offered the view that they are different types of the same sort of plant, the gourd possibly being more of a climbing variety…As it turns out I wasn’t quite right, as this very helpful advice from the site Missouri Botanical Garden explains:

‘Pumpkins, squash and gourds are members of the enormously diverse Cucurbitaceae family, which contains more than 100 genera and over 700 species.  They have been providing mankind with food and utilitarian objects since before recorded history.  Various members of the genus Cucurbita are known as squash or gourds.

Names differ throughout the world, but in the United States, any round, orange squash used for pies or jack-o-lanterns is likely to be called a pumpkin.  But the term “pumpkin” really has no botanical meaning, as they are actually all squash.  Squash are divided into two categories: tender or summer squash, and hard-skinned or winter squash.  Examples of summer squash include zucchini, pattypan, straightneck, crookneck and other types.  Winter squash include small to medium hard-skinned squash such as the acorn, small hubbard, miniature pumpkin and spaghetti types, as well as the large hard-skinned types, including banana, butternuts, cheese pumpkins, cushaws, and large hubbards, among others.

Botanists use distinctive characteristics of leaves, seeds and fruit stalks to classify the different species.  The origins of these species are lost in time, but all are assumed to have originated in the Western Hemisphere, principally South and Central America and Mexico.  Variety selection for the many distinct shapes, sizes and colors has occurred in all cultures worldwide….

Gourds are defined as hard-shelled durable fruit grown principally for ornament, utensils and general interest….

Hardshell gourds remain green throughout the growing season, but dry to a brownish-tan when fully cured.  They have traditionally been utilized as bottles and containers for liquid and dry materials, as well as food, medicine, musical instruments, artistic media and many other uses.

Like the squash, cultivar selections in various shapes and sizes have continued from prehistoric times to the modern era.’

wp_20160921_12_28_39_proFurther Information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

A 360 degree tour of Blickling Hall

Old School Gardener

Dahlia flowers at Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire. Picture Madeleine Boldero-Rito

Dahlia flowers at Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire. Picture Madeleine Boldero-Rito

Looking towards the Temple at te start of a very hot day...

Looking towards the Temple at te start of a very hot day…

Only a couple of hours this week at Blickling. In some ways that was a relief as it turned out to be the hottest September day for many years (on my way to a meeting in Diss, the reading on my car’s thermometer was 31.5 degrees C!)

I arrived around 9am and signed in as usual; but no gardeners were to be found. The whole place had a peacefulness that only hinted at the boiling heat that was to follow; the lines of the main Temple Walk were gradually emerging from an early morning mist, soon to be burned off.

The diary we garden volunteers use to sign in and get our instructions said we were to be split between the Parterre (removing Bindweed with assistant Head gardener Steve) and something unspecified in the Walled Garden. As I couldn’t see anyone around the parterre I wandered over to the Walled Garden- still not a soul in sight. Hmmm… where could they all be?

I made my way in the direction of the Orangery, and Head Gardener Paul turned the corner and greeted me in his usual jolly way. He modestly told me about his own small garden and some of the wide range of plants he’s been growing , including some tropicals. We both moved on- he to his office, me to join the (small as it turned out) gardening team in the Orangery.

There Steve, Rebecca and Ed were busy hosing down, weeding and generally tweaking the inside of this lovely building, in readiness for a wedding reception to be held there the day after. I joined in and helped sweep off the pammented floor, raking gravel and, having spotted several of the potted citrus trees with black sooty mould on the leaves, went round and rubbed as much off as I could.

Ed hosing down the inside..

Ed hosing down the inside..

We finished off by shifting some of the many plants around; including rather tentatively carrying several large Agaves (with their extremely sharp and pointed leaves) into an adjoining room. By this time it was morning break (had I really done much?- I was certainly sweating). Anyway, after greeting fellow volunteers, we went off to various parts of the gardens; most it seemed to the rose garden to dig over and weed, in the comparatively cool shade of a starting- to- steam mid morning.

Samson, I think, casting a protective eye over proceedings...

Samson, I think, casting a protective eye over proceedings…

With only about an hour to spare I went over to the Walled Garden and hoed around the soft fruit bushes- once again this was a pleasant job with one of the twin-bladed Wolf hoes that Mike had recently purchased. But boy it was hot, and though the Dahlias were looking resplendent, it was not place to be for long, so I was glad to be on my way just before midday.

Dahlia 'David Howard' putting on a show with it's partners in the Walled Garden

Dahlia ‘David Howard’ putting on a show with it’s partners in the Walled Garden

Further Information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

A 360 degree tour of Blickling Hall

Old School Gardener

WP_20160818_10_09_52_ProI’d missed a week, but the Dahlias, which I thought had reached their best two weeks ago, were definitely in peak form in the Walled Garden at Blickling this week.

It was also pleasing to see that the posts and wires for the soft fruit were finished- but not after some further manoeuvering of our ‘difficult post’, by Project Manager, Mike! And the four new benches are also in place; they look great and offer visitors a chance to sit and enjoy the veg, fruit and flower offerings in the garden. I began work weeding around the herbs – a rather intoxicating experience as I rubbed against Thyme, Sorrel, Garlic, Fennel, Annis and so on…

After this- a mixture of hand weeding and hoeing- I went off to see Head Gardener, Paul and Assistant Head Gardener, Steve to discuss the Tree Trail Project. We are hoping to set out a series of name and information boards for around 20-30 trees within the gardens and perhaps add some ‘child friendly’ activities along the way. I suggested this after visitng Antony house in cornwall, where a similar, volunteer-led project has helped present their wonderful collection of trees.

We had an enjoyable walk around the gardens identifying the trees with a bit of special interest or stories to tell- it was difficult keeping up with the professionals whose encyclopedic knowledge of the many trees on offer was mightily impressive! Still, I think we have the makings of a great project and I’m looking forward to drawing the information together and working with Trust staff and other volunteers to finalise the information boards and leaflets etc. Something of a winter project, I think!

After a late lunch I spent an hour helping Chris and three of the lady volunteers in the corner of the walled garden clearing away the extensive weeds under and around the Mulberry Tree (which is one of those likely to make it to the Tree Trail, too). This area- previously enclosed in glass- is a wilder part of the walled garden, but after our work looked rather more in keeping with the trim borders elsewhere.

Further Information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

A 360 degree tour of Blickling Hall

Old School Gardener

WP_20160804_14_13_43_ProRemembered my camera this week! Norfolk Peter and I joined Chris in the Walled Garden in my latest session at Blickling. The ladies were detailed to the ‘Black Garden’ for some (as it turned out) frustrating ‘hands and knees’ weeding around the irises.

Jane and Pam weeding in the Black Border

Jane and Pam weeding in the Black Border

Project Manager Mike had already begun installing the heavy oak posts (all sourced from the Estate) that provide the support for the fruit bushes.Peter and I helped him to finish off the two areas by using lines to make sure the rows of posts (in threes) wer both straight and level, though one post in particular proved to be a pain…first we couldn’t get it level and then we installed it the wrong way round (the holes for the support wires went across rather than along the row)! Chris, mean time was doing great job trimming the edges of the grass paths.

There were plenty of visitors around, many offering compliments for the way the garden has been transformed over the last 18 months or so, and inevitably a few asking what the purple edging plant along the main paths was….as reported last week, this Catmint (Nepeta x faasennii) often confuses visitors, many of whom think it is lavender …perhaps a sign is needed, or maybe we should resist this as it at least is one way (albeit repetitive) of engaging with visitors!

WP_20160804_13_44_23_ProApart from some subtle final positioning to make the tops of the posts roughly line up (sometimes involving standing on an upturned dustbin and using a ‘comedy hammer’ as Chris called it- a large rubber mallet), this was a fairly straightforward job. The oak posts seem really heavy but even so, as the rows are rather long Mike had arranged with fellow gardener Rob to put in some angled supports to help resist the forces that would otherwise pull over the posts- I know about this from bitter experience at Old School Garden , where my posts are gradually toppling inwards with the weight of the blackberry bushes.

Peter and I dug the holes for these angled wooden supports as far as we could in the time available, and Rob and Mike began to put them in the ground, secured with a couple of stakes at their bases to, once more, help to prevent the whole assembly ‘walking’ forwards.

I also took time out to photograph the dahlia border, which is coming to its peak…here’s a gallery…

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Mike told us he’s ordered four new metal benches for the walled garden- cream, simple designs that will look rather stylish…the picture below is of a two person bench, we’ll be getting a three person version.

Further Information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

A 360 degree tour of Blickling Hall

Old School Gardener

WP_20160721_11_48_42_ProThe Walled Garden is really moving into overdrive and looks fantastic. My latest session- a short one- at Blickling was another warm day.

I began the session an hour earlier than usual, and it was a good plan, because by midday the heat was pretty oppressive. Digging over an area next to the runner beans saw some serious weeds removed and I followed this up with some hoeing around the beans themselves.

WP_20160721_11_55_22_ProMy fellow volunteers were also involved in weeding and one or two were harvesting- there’s plenty of stuff for use in the restaurant and some will be packed up for offering to visitors, in return for a donation. My ‘pea tunnel’ created last week seems to have survived, though the peas themselves are not looking so good.

The rest of the gardens are also in full splendour and I chatted to Assistant Head Gardener, Steve about the hours of work he put into the parterre garden removing bindweed earlier in the season- he told me it was the equivalent of ‘triple digging’! The double borders and White Garden are also looking vibrant in the sunshine.

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Elsewhere, Norfolk Peter was working with a colleague from a local firm to weld together the arches that will sit across the main path in the walled garden and eventually provide a wonderful ‘tunnel of fruit’.

I finished off my morning with some serious hoeing around the dahlias that are just about to flower alongside the east wall of the Walled Garden (see picture below). Next week will, I hope, see them in their full glory, and I’ll try to capture them in my next post.

WP_20160721_11_45_39_ProFurther Information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

A 360 degree tour of Blickling Hall

Old School Gardener

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