Leave or Remain? (Should I Stay or Should I Go?)

“Leave or Remain?” is the big question at the moment. The hospice gardens are firmly in the leave camp. No, this hasn’t become a political blog. Rather I am talking abouts trees and their leaves… should they stay or should they go?

For the last few weeks I have spent increasing amounts of time picking up leaves that are littered all over the gardens. We have approaching 100 trees at the hospice, and the vast majority of them are deciduous. Around this time of the year, as the levels of light decrease and the temperatures fall, deciduous trees prepare to drop their leaves in order to preserve water and conserve energy. It’s tempting to curse the leaves when, having spent ages picking them up, you turn around to see a whole lot more that have fallen. But leaves can be beautiful with their colours, shapes and textures. As gardeners we shouldn’t just focus on the flowers! Here are some examples of their beauty…

I also spotted a ladybird sat on an evergreen holly leaf.


Last week I had some more volunteers come from Wigan Council and there was one job that I really wanted to do with them. There are three silver birch trees, that over the years have become hidden by some unruly, and rather unattractive, dogwoods.

Silver Birch before


I have wanted to tackle this area for some time, but have been a bit daunted, questioning my sanity. The dogwoods – should they stay or should they go? Definitely go! So we got to work and a day later this was the scene…

Silver Birch After 2


I was very chuffed! The bark on the silver birch is stunning.

On another day last week I heard the unmistakable noise of honking geese overhead. It is a sight that really thrills me – seeing geese flying over head in a V shape. I dashed to get my camera as 200 geese flew overhead. An amazing sight and another sign of the approaching winter.

Geese Arriving

This wasn’t the only thing of note in the sky recently. On Tuesday morning the skies went dark and yellowish as storm Orphelia approached. Then, at 11am a bright red sun appeared in the sky, apparently due to high levels of Saharan sand in the atmosphere. It was very surreal.

Red Sun and DogwoodsRed Sun

As you can see, it has been a busy couple of weeks in the gardens, but with lots of interesting things to observe. Let’s hope there’s a lot to admire in the coming weeks.

Room 101

Today I have been in Room 101, literally. I have been working at the hospice now for just over a year. Each year we have to do some mandatory training (ie H+S, manual handling, data protection etc). The time had come for me to redo mine. So I went to a room with a computer and started the online training. I laughed out loud when I looked down at the phone and saw that I was in Room 101 (Room 101 being the torture chamber used in George Orwell’s 1984). Mandatory training, very important as it is, can seem somewhat tortuous, especially on a sunny day!

Room 101

I feel that I am also in a slight metaphorical Room 101. Over the last few days my back has been getting increasingly stiff and more sore, a fear that all gardeners dread. By lunchtime I decided that it was best to stop working and rest up for the next few days, in the hope that the pain will ease off. I am also being referred to a back rehab clinic.

It is now just over two weeks since the Garden Opening. For a few days afterwards I was exhausted. We had a quick debrief afterwards, and were very pleased with how the day went. We have decided to open again next year, this time a bit earlier. So on July 15th 2018, Wigan and Leigh Hospice will be open again to the public.

Last week suddenly went very autumnal. The leaves were dropping off the trees quicker than I could clear them. Is it me, or are they falling earlier this year than in recent years? Mushrooms have also started appearing in the lawns. Mushrooms, and fungi in general, remind me of autumn conditions – cool and damp. The mushrooms in question are called Bay Bolete.

Bay Bolete

The Imleria badia (syn. Boletus badius), as it is officially known, is bay brown (chestnut) in colour and grows up to 15cm in diameter. On the underside they do not have gills, but rather pores. And despite being named ‘badius’, they are actually edible, although I haven’t dared harvest them to give to the kitchen to cook up, just in case I have mis-identified them! They are mild tasting, and according to one website they smell “mushroomy”!

Another highlight of the garden this week are the kaffir lilies – Schizostylis ‘pink princess’.

Schizostylis 'pink princess'

They are so pretty and delicate, and a real treat to see in flower, in a month which can feel a bit depressing as the days start to get shorter, cooler and more damp.

Hopefully I’ll be back in work next week, as there is plenty to do, and not just picking up leaves!

“Bring Me Sunshine”!

Continuing the theme of song titles, I decided to give today’s blog the title of “Give Me Sunshine”!

Today was the big day – we opened the hospice gardens for the first time as part of the National Garden Scheme. I’ve been looking at the weather forecast all week… and it’s not been good, to say the least! Rain, rain and more rain, with the odd scattering of heavy showers. I’ve been singing/praying “Bring Me Sunshine” for the last couple of days, and although it wasn’t very sunny, it didn’t rain very much at all, just a couple of short showers.

I think that the forecast might have affected our numbers a bit, but I was delighted that 96 people came to have a look around. Many of these people were local and had never visited the hospice before. And it was thumbs up all round. We raised £246 for NGS and nearly £400 for the hospice.

Visitors for Open Day

We are definitely going to open again next year, but maybe a little earlier in the season.

A big thank you to all who helped out and made this such a success.

It’s The Final Countdown…

That wretched 1986 song by Europe, The Final Countdown, has been going round and round in my head as I’ve been doing my final preparations for the NGS garden opening (click here to find info). I’ve had help from various volunteers, including 4 wonderful women from Wigan Council, who have slaved all day, as well as the regular volunteers coming in twice this week to make sure that everything is ready.

The final countdown

Dead heading

I don’t want to give too much away by showing photos, but I think that the gardens are looking great. I am so pleased with them, I just hope that the weather is ok on Sunday. So if you are able to, please pop down to Wigan and Leigh Hospice to have a good look around. See you there!

P.S. Gardens are open from 10am till 4pm Sunday 10th Sept. @ Wigan and Leigh Hospice, Kildare Street, Wigan WN2 3HZ

Wildlife at the Hospice

One of the joys of working as a gardener, especially in a large garden, is that you get to see a lot of wildlife. In the twelve months that I have been working at the hospice, I have seen frogs, newts, kingfishers and herons (probably why the fish seem to have disappearded), moorhens, buzzards, pheasants and roe deer, to name just a few.

I saw the pheasants today. They are regular visitors to the hospice garden, in the search for food. We have numerous bird feeders outside the patients rooms, which give a huge amount of pleasure to the patients and their families. When you are stuck inside due to ill health it can be very frustrating. Watching the birds feeding outside your bedroom window is very relaxing and therapeutic. We get various tits and finches feeding from the bird stations. They’re messy eaters, leaving seed all over the flower beds. Some of these germinate into various grasses and other plants (yes I know we should probably pay more and get the stuff that won’t germinate), but a lot of the seed on the ground is eaten by the pheasants, or grey squirrels. Earlier in the year, there were only two pheasants. But they had chicks, and now there are five. This afternoon they were all present, hunting for seed for well over an hour. At one point I noticed them chilling out, the male on the ground and two of the now big chicks stood on a picnic table. I had to get my camera from my campervan for a photoshoot, and luckily they were still there on my return.


The hospice is situated next to Amberswood Common , which is 160 hectares of former open cast mines and landfill sites. It is now a nature reserve and is a mix of woodland, grasslands and marshes. There are also ponds of various sizes, known as the Wigan Flashes. Amberswood is home to much wildlife, including the rare Willow Tit. Wigan is home to 10% of the UK’s willow tit population. A patient said that they had seen one in the garden earlier in the year, but I cannot confirm that. Something I can confirm though is the presence of roe deer, because I saw them just before Christmas last year. I like to think that it was Ruddolf and friends checking out the hospice. They were very nervous, but I did manage to get a very poor photo of one of them.


Patients regularly see the deer in the gardens very early in the morning, before I arrive at work. Occassionally the patients come up to me to tell me of their sighting. They are always very excited, and rightly so.

It is important that we encourage wildlife to our gardens. At the hospice we are developing a new area in the garden, which is going to be called The Amberswood Garden. It looks out onto the common and is going to consist of mainly wildflowers. These will hopefully encourage many insects and other wildlife.

In just over two weeks time we are opening our gardens to the public. So if anyone would like to visit, you’d be more than welcome. They are open on Sunday 10th September 10am – 4pm. It would be lovely to see you then. In the meantime, I have a lot of weeding to do!