“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.

I’m Back!

I can’t believe that it has been over 3 months since I last wrote anything. I have been meaning to, but at the end of the day I just feel too tired to sit at the computer. It’s Sunday today, so I have no excuse!

In my last post, back in March, we were in the middle of “The Beast from the East”. Since then we’ve had “The Pest from the West”, a mini beast from the east, two heatwaves and most recently “Storm Hector”, which blew over a cherry tree in the gardens. The weather has been very curious to say the least.

Recently, it has been the lack of rain that has been giving me grief. Don’t get me wrong, I love hot, sunny days, even when I am working hard. It’s great to see more people venturing out to look around the gardens, be it staff, patients, or their families and friends. It gives me a brilliant excuse to stop for a bit and chat. The problem has been the lack of water. I have been very busy in the last three months. We were given 1,200 bedding plants. I have sown 500m² of wildflower seeds. I have planted up 350 shrubs and perennials. And I have sown large areas with grass seed. And then it stops raining for SIX weeks! Nothing, apart from a 2 minute shower. So I have been spending hours watering the seeded areas and all the plants, whilst neglecting my duties elsewhere. You have to prioritise your work and my priority was  to prevent all my hard work from being a waste of time.

One of the jobs was sowing the wildflower seeds in the new “Amberswood Garden”. Over winter I had spent a lot of time clearing weeds and preparing the ground.

Amberswood Garden - before

I then contacted Emorsgate Seeds for advice on which seeds to buy. We decided in the end to get 80% perennial meadow mixture for clay soils and 20% wild grasses, with a bit of cornfield annual mix for some impact this year. When the seeds arrived I was surprised at how little there was. I was expecting a large sackful of seed. Instead there were two fairly small bags, to be sown at just 2 grams per m²! The seeds were really beautiful.

Wilflower seeds

I split the seeds into ten equal amounts and mixed them with some compost before scattering over the area to be sown.

Sowing the seeds

This was done two months ago. Since then the progress has been slow. I’m worried that some of the seeds germinated, but have since died because of the hot dry weather. There are a good number of plants growing on the humps around the edges, but not so much on the gravelly area. I will post an updated photo when there are some wild flowers to show you (hopefully soon)!

I have also been planting up around the extension that was built last year. John Harris from Harris Consulting designed the beds and planting scheme for us. I prepared the beds and then, with the help of some volunteers, planted up the 300+ plants. It’s been quite a job, especially with having to water them all. But they look great. I’ll post a few photos when they are more established.

There have been some lovely flowers since my last post. Here are a few of my favoutites.

Anemone blanda

Anemone blanda




Euphorbia (not sure what variety!)

Alium christopii

Allium christopii

The alliums have been lovely this year. We mostly have Allium ‘purple sensation’ – the fairly tall flower with the dense, deep purple flowerhead. Last year I bought some Allium ‘christophii’ bulbs, and I’m very pleased with the results.

I continue to be busy at work. In three weeks time we are being judged by the RHS as part of the Britain in Bloom competition. This is the first time we’ve entered, so I’m a touch apprehensive. Then on July 15th, the big event of the day is our NGS Open Garden (not the World Cup final). So I’m trying to get everything ready on time. If you can come to our Open Garden you’d be very welcome.

It’s good to be back blogging again. I’ll try not to leave it 3 months till the next entry!

“In The Bleak Mid-Winter”

Just when you thought it was safe to go out into the garden, along comes… “The Beast from the East”!

This time last year I was cutting my lawn for the first time. That’s not going to be happening for a while this year. On what is officially the start of meteorological spring, it is blinking freezing and blowing a gale. The Christmas carol “In the Bleak Mid-Winter” comes to mind…

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan;
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

It is certainly not a day to be spending long in the garden and I have received many pitiful looks at work today. I actually haven’t been outdoors too much, instead I’ve been making some new tabletops to replace some rotten old ones. I did, however, venture out to fill up all of our bird feeders. I wouldn’t like to be one of our feathered friends on a day like today.

Despite the weather I did still manage to find some beauty in the gardens.

Wintery scene outside Woodview

Wintery scene outside ‘Woodview’

Some flowers have appeared and are probably regretting coming out early.

Snow covered Daffodil

Snow covered Daffodil

This beautiful crocus appeared a couple of weeks ago, adding a bit of colour to one of the flower beds near the hospice entrance.


The dogwoods have been looking resplendent, whilst much of the rest of the garden is looking a bit tired and dull. I’m so glad that last spring I hacked them right back in order to renovate them after years of neglect.


My final picture is of a frosty bulrush, although it should actually be known as “reedmace”. I love bulrushes! I’m not quite sure why I like them so much, but I think it goes all the way back to Moses! When I was Christened I was given a Children’s Bible, and one of my favourite stories was of Moses being placed in a basket in the bulrushes in order to escape the tyrany of the Egyptian Pharoah. There was an accompanying picture, which is probably why I liked the story, showing Moses in the bulrushes (reedmace). They don’t actually have reedmace in Egypt, instead they have Scirpus Lacustris, which is a true bulrush and which looks very different. Anyway, what I call bulrushes were mistakenly in the picture of Moses! I then remember seeing bulrushes (reedmace) in real life and being fascinated by their unusual velvety look , a bit like a sausage on a stick. They are not terribly pretty for much of the year, and they can be invasive if not well managed, but I like them anyway!

A Bulrush

A Bulrush by the pond

This winter hasn’t been easy, what with Dad dying and then getting the nasty cold/flu bug that’s been going around. It seems to be going on for a long time. And for gardeners, there isn’t much to do during this period, so I haven’t been going into work as much. I have realised that the lack of work and exercise, the cold, dark days, and the bereavement, has left me feeling a bit low. So it has been good for me to pick up my camera and to look around the gardens at work for something to blog about.

And fingers crossed soon I’ll be able to sing “Spring is Here” by Frank Sinatra.