WARNING: Fish thieves at work

There have been two recent episodes of fish thieves at work at the hospice.

The first incident happened about a month ago. Sadly, I didn’t have my camera to capture the two culprits on film. They were young men with large fishing nets, trying to steal the fish from our ponds. Luckily, a nurse saw and challenged them, at which point they ran off. How anyone could nick a few fish from a hospice pond I do not know.

The second incident happened yesterday. Luckily, this time I was able to get my camera to take some photos of the felon. Anyone watching me must have thought I was going a bit nuts as I crept around taking photos of the offender. The offender did notice me getting closer and just moved elsewhere on the pond. In total I spent about fifteen minutes creeping around. Here he is….

I felt very privileged to have spent fifteen minutes with a kingfisher. I had very fleetingly seen one before at the hospice, but nothing like this. He, or she, didn’t seem that bothered by my presence.

I think that I mentioned kingfishers in a blog the last time I saw one. They are a bird that means a lot to me. For me, they are a sign of hope, that there is something better to come. They are a glimpse of brilliance in a world that can be dark and very tough. The beautiful orange on its breast and the iridescent blue on its back. Wow, it’s something special!

I was buzzing after I saw it and able to forgive it for probably stealing our smaller fish. Maybe it was only trying to eat the water boatmen and other bugs, which they will also eat, but I suspect it had fish for tea.

I knew I had to blog about kingfishers today, because when you experience something so special you can’t keep it to yourself.


Just For The Smell Of It

One of the many pleasures in my life is to stick my somewhat large nose inside a flower and slowly breathe in,  just for the smell of it! That feeling when you smell a beautifully scently flower is just divine. Equally, the disappointment when a flower that you think is going to smell delightful, but in fact smells of nothing at all, is also great.

I can rarely resist having a quick sniff of the flowers whilst I am at work. It was whilst I was doing some pruning today that I started to wonder what my favourite flower smell is. There are many to pick from, but here are a few. You’ll have to scroll down to see my favourite.

Lavender has got to be up there with the best, with its fresh, calming, floral and balsamic aromas. I can’t help but rub a flower between my fingers when I walk past. This bee seems to be pretty happy.

There are many varieties of lavender, but this French lavender smells equally good.

I adore the smell of roses. When planting the roses last year I made sure that each of the five varieties had a strong fragrence to compliment their good looks.

Lady Emma Hamilton

My boss has a rather strange, and a bit controversial, favourite smelling plant. He loves the Helichrysum Italicum plant, AKA the curry plant. Now I’ve been struggling a bit to describe the aromas of plants. What words do you use to describe the smell of a rose in comparison to lavender? Well the smell of the curry plant is dead easy to describe… CURRY! Many people cannot bear it, whilst others love it. It isn’t my favourite, but equally I don’t hate it.

Helichrysum Italicum

Other favourites of mine, which I don’t have photos of, are jasmine, freesias and sweet peas, with their delicate floral aroma. Mum used always to grow sweet peas and cut them daily to make small little posies for the kitchen table.

Before I reveal my favourite, I have some photos of flowers I took today at the hospice, but which have almost no smell. Maybe don’t need to be fragrant because of their visual beauty.

Verbena bonariensis

And now to my favourite fragrant flower. They probably aren’t what you’d expect (unless I’ve mentioned it in a previous post!). They are…. drum roll please….


Marigolds! Not perhaps the prettiest of flowers, although they do add some great colour. And yes, they are a bit flouncy and prone to be eaten by slugs. But their incredibly strong, citrusy aroma reminds me of days gone by and of hot, dry summers (chance would be a fine thing).

So there you have it. Marigolds top my list of favourite smelly flowers. What’s top of your list? Please let me know!

“Happy Christmas!”

With less than 4 hours till the big day, I wanted to wish you all a very Happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year.

Christmas Tree

This is our annual Christmas tree outside the hospice. It is about 8m tall and is decked out with 6,000 lights. “A Light for a Life” is one of the hospices main fundraising events, raising between £40-50,000. It took four of us nearly three days to put up the tree using a cherry picker. This photo was taken using a long exposure whilst moving the camera around in small circles.

Two years ago my New Year’s resolution was to start a blog on my work at the hospice. My resolution this year is going to be to write at least one blog a month, with no excuses!

The last time I wrote, I was about to go to the awards ceremony for North West in Bloom. I am glad to say that we won two awards. Firstly, a special award in recognition of our wildlife garden, and secondly a “Gold” award in the hospice category. I was so chuffed with both of them and it made  all the hard work worthwhile. A big thank you to all the volunteers who have helped me.

NW in Bloom awards

I’m sure it must be an optical illusion, but I look ridiculously tall in this picture!

Despite the arrival of autumn and winter, I have still been busy in the gardens. Back in October I spent nearly 4 weeks cleaning out a large pond, which had become clogged up with weeds and was stinking. I managed to fill well over 100 wheelbarrows with sludged and reeds. It was such a horrid job, and one which I don’t think had been done for 15 years, but well worth it. This was the pond this morning.

Clean pond

There have still been plants that have been catching my eye recently. Whilst picking up leaves one morning I came across this beautiful tiny green mushroom. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my main camera, so had to use my phone. The mushroom is a Parrot Waxcap or Gliophorus psittacinus.

Parrot Waxcap

Last week, I was wandering around the gardens when I saw that the Phlox subulata ‘Candy Stripe’ that we planted in June of this year was still flowering. It is supposed to flower in mid to late spring for 3-4 weeks. Not bad still flowering mid December!

Phlox subulata 'Candy Stripe'

I have also been busy planting. I have mentioned before how my Dad was very into growing roses. So after his death a year ago, I decided that I would like to plant a rose bed at the hospice. After much studying of the David Austen catalogue, I picked five varieties and ordered three of each. I then spent a whole day planting them. Most of the time was spent trying to dig the holes deep enough – there was a layer of hard clay/slate about 8 inches under the surface. They don’t look much now, but I am hopeful that by the summer the bed will be full of colour and smelling divine!

Newly planted rose bed

I love the gardens in winter. They might not be so colourful, but they still feel very peaceful. There isn’t too much to do at the moment – just a bit of tidying up here and there, and filling up the bird feeders. So I am taking a some time off. Not that I am resting, as my wife and I are about to move house, so there is lots to do. The new house has a good sized, mature garden which I am excited about working in next spring and summer.

Enjoy your Christmas and have a great New Year!   XXX

“Things That Make You Go… Ow!”

Gardening seems have more than its fair share of risks, although generally fairly minor. Most weeks I have to remove at least one splinter from my hands and I regularly get stung by stinging nettles, not that there are many in my garden!

This summer, however, it has been wasps that have been bothering me most.


Until this year, I haven’t been stung by a wasp since I was a young child. So far in 2018 I have been stung six times on three separate occasions. The worst was a few weeks ago whilst I was clearing a load of brambles from the car par at the new hospice shop in Standish, Wigan. I had four volunteers, who I hadn’t met before, coming to help. I arrived early and started to hack back the brambles with my petrol hedge cutters and seem to have disturbed a wasps nest with them. The first I knew was when a felt a sharp sting on the top of my chest. I looked down to see the offending wasp, which I flicked off. When I looked up, there were the volunteers, somewhat amused by my cursing. Wasps were everywhere, so I advised my helpers to make a quick exit and that I’d meet them at the front of the shop when I’d put the hedge cutters back in my van. As I walked around I felt two or three more stings under my shirt. I whipped off the shirt, much to the amazement of those watching. They must have thought they were working with a nutter. The wasp was dealt with, but I was left feeling very shaken.

I was stung again this week, when I got too close to a nest which was in a hole in the ground. I was using a pickaxe to clear weeds from the wildflower area. A wasp must have seen the axe and decided that it wasn’t going to allow me to get any closer to it’s nest. It worked, and I backed off! I did, however, go and get my camera for some photos and a video, which you can watch below.

I was amazed at how many wasps were going in and out. Apparently, there can be as many as 10,000 wasps in a colony. When it gets colder, all the workers and the old queen will die, leaving just the newly mated queen wasps to hibernate over winter. They will emerge in the spring to build a new nest. Hopefully next year I won’t get stung as many times.

Wasps haven’t been the only abundant insect recently. There have also been lots of ladybirds too. Here is a native 7 spot ladybird on an achillea flower.


The wildflower garden has been looking great for most of the summer. It is still flowering with some poppies, oxeye daisies, achillea and loads of corn marigolds.

Corn Marigolds


The wildflower garden hasn’t been all plain sailing. We’ve had an invasion of wild parsnips, which have taken over a fairly large area. I am slowly digging them out. We’ve also had lots of brambles returning, adding to my splinter count!

Other highlights in the garden at the moment are the rudbeckias and the self sown sunflowers from the bird feeders.



I love the pattern seen on the sunflower seed head.

Sunflower Seedhead

It is so long since my last post, sorry, that I haven’t given any updates on the NGS Open Garden and the North West in Bloom inspection. Both went really well. Our visitor numbers were up on last year and the RHS inspectors were most impressed, especially with the wildflower garden. We will find out on Friday 2nd November what award we have been given by the RHS. Fingers crossed!

I will blog again shortly because I’m doing a totally gross job at the moment and I want to tell you all about it. Till then, bye!


Rain, Rain, Gone Away…

Rain, rain, gone away, PLEASE COME BACK SOON!

Since I wrote two weeks ago, we have had one day of rain, which barely soaked into the ground. Not only has it been dry, but it has also been very hot. The ground has become bone dry, the grass has stopped growing and is rapidly going brown, and even the trees are dropping their leaves in a desperate effort to conserve water. So it has been quite tough work. Last week we had 14 volunteers from Wigan Council. They were great, as usual, and helped trim some hedges and plant masses of bedding plants (donated by Moss Bank Nurseries). However, since then I have had the task of trying to keep them, and various other plants, hydrated and alive. It hasn’t been easy. I have spent hours watering, which I am finding increasingly boring! Maybe it’s good for my soul, slowing down and having time to think. But still tedious! At times I have felt exhausted and quite emotional as I try to prevent all my hard work from going to waste. This made me think of people who have to contend with major droughts affecting their livelihoods and potentially even their lives. So I shouldn’t grumble too much about my predicament, it could be much worse. Please note, I have been trying to conserve water as much as possible, and am not watering every day.

I am keen to keep the plants alive for several reasons. Firstly, and most importantly, for the patients and their families, many of whom have been spending a lot of time in the garden, enjoying the sun and all the flowers. Secondly, next Wednesday the RHS are coming to the hospice to judge us as part of Britain in Bloom. This is the first year that we have entered and I am very excited and a bit nervous. Fingers crossed. And finally, on Sunday 15th July we are opening the gardens as part of the National Garden Scheme. Please come along if you can.

NGS poster

Despite the dry conditions there are still some gorgeous plants to be seen. One of my favourite plants at the moment are Heucheras, and in particular Heuchera ‘marmalade’. I love the fact that the leaves are orange on top and pink underneath.

Heuchera marmalade

There has been an exciting development in the “Amberswood Wildflower Garden”… we have flowers and they are lovely!

Amberwood Garden

The flowers have come out in force on the hills, but not so much on the grit, which has gone as hard as concrete. I may have to rethink the grit. But let’s focus on those that have appeared.


Poppy Mix

I’m quite chuffed with them! They have definitley made all the hardwork worthwhile. Fingers crossed they will still be out next week for Britain in Bloom and NGS.