Thursday, 26 June 2014

Unwelcome visitors

Snoozing in front of live-action doggy TV
    I've been keeping the bird feeders well stocked throughout the winter and Spring months and have enjoyed watching our feathered visitors - it has been nice to see the sparrows back in force, although the starlings seem to be scarce this year. They all make good use of the two bird baths as well, the blackbirds and pigeons especially.
All the bird activity outside does of course, make good doggy TV for Archie and Angel as well, who can lounge on their giant beanbag in a patch of sunshine and enjoy the view through the patio windows.
    While feeding the birds has resulted in lots of avian visitors, unfortunately it has also attracted a rather less welcome one. I haven't had cats in the garden for age, and hoped they had finally got the hint and decided to visit elsewhere. Cats are not good news in my garden, as Archie and Angel cannot abide them and will chase them, given the chance. On several occasions they have gotten tangled up with them, which has resulted in some horrible injuries to them including scratches in mouths and eyes as well as deep skin wounds that have required stitching. Every close encounter of the feline kind has resulted in a vet visit ... and I've received cat bites and scratches too separating the combatants, which have meant visits to doctors and courses of antibiotics.

    Despite such encounters, the cats never seemed to learn and  continued to pay repeated visits. Letting the dogs loose in the garden now means precautions have to be taken: I wander round out there either by myself or with the dogs on a leash to first check that the coast is clear - but even so, there have been a couple of felines who brazenly ignored my presence and would lurk undetected under shrubs. So I then had to start going out alone with a stick, to poke it into the shrubbery to dislodge any unwanted intruders ...
Part of the tidying up that has been going on in the back garden this year has been primarily to make it more low maintenance and to increase the space that Archie and Angel have to race around in. But it has also been about making it more open with fewer good hiding spots for cats to conceal themselves in. So far it seems to have worked well, and there have been very few cats around, which has been nice both for us and the birds ... until the last few weeks, when a black cat has been frequently appearing, presumably unable to resist the attraction of the birds. Whenever I have spotted it I have chased it off, and when it has reached safety on the shed roof I have let the dogs out. I don't like encouraging their desire to chase, but I hoped that the creature might get the hint that this particular garden was not a particularly good one to loiter in.
Checking out the crime scene
    Not a bit of it. The last two mornings the wretched beast has been lurking in the shadow of the fenceline created the rising sun; thank goodness I had taken the precaution of taking the dogs out on their leashes, otherwise things could have been nasty. And yesterday morning we were greeted by the sight of scattered pigeon feathers on the lawn ... No blood or bodies  and I would imagine a pigeon would be too heavy for a cat to carry off, so hopefully it survived.
But the garden since then has been noticeably bare of bird visitors, which is sad.
And here's one we rescued a few nights ago
after it had fallen down the chimney.
You can read more about it on last Tuesday's whippet blog

Prikka strip. Even this inexpertly applied
it still makes the fence an
unpleasant place  for cats to sit or
walk along
Over the years I have tried all sorts of things to keep cats out of the garden. Cat proof fencing isn't possible due to the fenceline, although Prikka strips have helped discourage them from using it as a walkway.  I've tried every conceivable smell aversion trick known, ranging from lion poo to garlic and citronella. I've used water pistols, and a directional ultrasonic thingy I can point at them when I've spotted them as well as physically chasing them out of the garden.  But I have yet to come across a really effective way of getting them to keep their distance.

If it's a problem you have solved, I'd love to know!

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Friday, 20 June 2014

Brightening up the fence line

I took my Mum to the garden centre yesterday, so she could shop for some more bedding plants while I picked up some dog food at the same time from the attached pet store.  
As well as filling up her trolley with plants, she also acquired this dragonfly - another piece of wall art to add to her growing collection. If you don't (or can't) have climbing plants, wall art can be a great way of adding interest to your garden and will look good all year round.

This is another piece of wall art which Mum has had for several years now - she loves having a bee as it was her nickname at school.

Some wall art can also incorporate plants.
This wall planter is decorative all year round and in summer
bursts into bloom.
Because it was slightly damaged, Mum was able to buy it very cheaply too!

Not all fences are suitable for hanging wall art, or are sturdy enough to support the weight of flower containers. We found a solution by using the stakes and hooks of a freestanding bird-feeding station to help support this flying pig. (And yes, I know, these nut and fat ball containers need refilling!)

And of course, it is all out of the way of the dogs ... 

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Friday, 13 June 2014

Flaming June!

The weather has finally changed for the sunnier, and it looks as though for once Flaming June is going to live up to its name. While it is good news for plants, those on holiday and sunlovers generally, do bear in mind that old maxim about everything in moderation. 
Go for walks at cooler times of day ...
Two people from the double glazing company turned up this week to replace a cracked panel in the patio doors. All started well, and then one of them started feeling nauseous and had to have a sit down. Then he started feeling dizzy and light headed too ... we suspected that he was suffering from the effects of too much sun and promptly removed him to a shady spot, swathed him in cool wet towels, kept him plied with tepid water to sip at, and kept a close eye on him. By the time his mate had finished installing the new glass, he was feeling a little better - and luckily he had someone with him to see him safely home. But it does show how quickly heatstroke can set in, and with no warning. It wasn't one of the hottest of days - around 21 degrees - and was overcast a lot of the time. But it shows that you don't need high temperatures or even clear skies to suffer from problems.
Avoid strenuous activity ...
So gardeners take care - work in the garden at the cooler times of the day and follow the Aussie advice to 'Slip, slap, slop'   - slip on a shirt/slap on a hat/slop on the suncream. You could also add the PS to that - slam on your sunglasses, stay in the shade and sip plenty of water. It's sensible advice!
Find a shady spot indoors to snooze in ...
Your dog is also at risk of heatstroke during warmer weather - you can find out more about how to treat it by clicking on these links to articles by Dogs Trust and Vets Now . Bearing in mind that it can be fatal, prevention is obviously far preferable to having to deal with a stricken pet, so be prepared to monitor your dog. Symptoms to look out for can be found on both the above links. Take preventive measures such as taking your dog for walks when temperatures are cooler ie early morning and late evening, and don't indulge in very active games such as chasing after balls. Many dogs are dedicated sun worshippers, but just as you would with a small child, take care that he doesn't overdo the sunbathing. Some may also need a dab or two of suncream to prevent burning of areas where fur is sparse - ask your vet for a suitable product as not all human ones are appropriate for dogs and can cause irritation. Encourage him to snooze in shady spots when he's out in the garden, and to come indoors to a cool room when the sun is at its highest and hottest, between 11 am and 3 pm. Make sure that wherever he is, he has access to fresh clean water at all times. Don't leave him in the conservatory if you have one, and double check greenhouses to make sure that he (or any pet cats) don't accidentally get shut in - both can kill just as effectively and quickly as leaving your dog in a locked car. Remember the lesson learned by the double glazing man - temperatures don't need to be massively high, or for the sun even to be out, for your dog to experience problems! 

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Great days out

Coombe Trenchard Home & Garden Show
Here there be dragons ...
 There are some great dog friendly places to visit to help give you inspiration for your garden - or simply to enjoy a relaxing day out. Coombe Trenchard recently hosted Home & Garden Show, but if you missed it you can find out more about visiting and other forthcoming events which your dog will be welcomed at HERE. Stowe Landscape Gardens are another favourite of mine, perfect for a long walk, a bit of exploring and a picnic - and although not gardens as such, I also regularly visit Chiltern Open Air Museum, which has a variety of historic buildings on site.  You can find out more about it and the events which are running throughout the summer HERE. Thanks to the hard work of the volunteer gardeners, the cottage gardens are lovely at the moment, and there is even a small enclosure by the side of the Iron Age house growing different kinds of ancient wheat such as Spelt and Emer. Outside Maidenhead Pavilion you will also find a small stall selling plants - I've had some great bargains from it already, including some primroses earlier this year, a couple of heuchera and some geraniums to start the replanting in my Mum's depleted garden border. If you visit and spot me with the wippitties (we are there most weekends) do come and say hello - unless you are accompanied by your own dog, in which case please don't be offended if we give you a wide berth, as Archie and Angel are terrified of other canines. They'll be the ones wearing yellow ribbons - you can find out more about why and the Yellow Dog Project HERE.
Many garden centres are also dog-friendly if you are out buying plants, although it would be wise to check before you set off: leaving your dog in the car isn't a good idea at any time of the year and especially not in warm weather. Even on overcast days, it can still become dangerously hot inside, even with the windows cracked open and parked in the shade. Remember too, that you will need to leave space for your dog as well as any new plants you buy, to travel home again ...

Friday, 6 June 2014

The Strawberry Thief

No, not the famous William Morris design.
More like an opportunistic whippet!
It's usually Angel who never passes the alpine strawberries without a thorough check for berries, but this time I actually had the camera, and managed to catch Archie in action!
A good rummage around to check ..

At the moment, the birds are just as greedy, emptying the feeders almost as quickly as I can fill them. It is of course, a busy time of year for them, bringing up their young, and any help you can provide by way of food is good. Do check carefully when buying seed mixes though and make sure you don't select one with dried fruit in it - remember that currants and raisins can be fatal for your dog if he hoovers up any that fall to the ground.
If your hedges, like mine, are looking a bit untidy at the moment, try and grit your teeth and live with it in case you have any birds nesting in there. There will be plenty of time later in the year to tidy things up once all the youngsters have flown the nest!

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