Maintaining focus…Friends of Bridge of Allan & Seasons Greetings

Our Garden back in June…a distant memory just now.



Whilst casually browsing yesterday and reviewing unread tweets I stumbled upon a useful article on The 99 Percent. The article was listing the top 10 programs available that help improve or maintain focus. By the way, the irony of me spending the afternoon reading blogs about improving focus was not lost on my beloved. One of the programs particularly intrigued me however and I couldn’t resist downloading it. It’s called Focus Writer.


The purpose of this program is to concentrate the train of thought into writing, and solely writing. The theory goes that the various buttons, tabs, taskbars and further program buttons can act as distractions and being able to visualise other program actions such as incoming email etc can lead to you being metaphorically dragged from the pressing task in hand, which is your writing.


Now, I don’t have much in the way of creative writing to do. I have a blog to try and keep up to date and tweets to keep tweeting. Garden designs need presentation text and our website gets updated every now an again. but I can still see the value of this deceptively simple little program. Firstly, it has spurred me on to start writing this little ditty which, if I keep going which it would appear I’m going to do, will probably find its way into my blog somewhere. Secondly, what little writing I do, and in the cosmic scheme of my business it is tiny, I still feel oftentimes that it is taking me way longer than it should be, so any mechanism, or in this case a clever program, that can allow me to expedite my literary responsibilities efficiently and with minimum disruption to other areas of the business has got to be a good thing.


The primary function of the program is to zone out all other programs and it does this by completely blanking out your screen with the ‘notepaper’. There are no buttons, function keys, taskbars or scrollbars visible. All you start with are a grey page and an expectantly blinking cursor. It has the look of a vintage typewriter or word-processor. There is functionality though. Should you move the mouse towards the top, bottom or side you will get pop-out menus for further editing options. It has a performance bar if you drag the mouse to the bottom that tracks word count and time spent typing. The coolest feature though, in my opinion, is the little tic-tic-tic sound you get every time you hit a keystroke. It’s about the most therapeutic sound I’ve heard in a long time.


Beyond the new focus enriching software though I’m now into my fourth week of not being able to do ‘outside’ gardening. To say I’m getting frustrated would be an understatement. I’ve been commissioned to carry out the build of a further two of our designs and I can’t wait to get started but alas the gods seem insistent in keeping the temperatures at an average this week of -8 degrees.


Work still needs doing though and we’ve been approached to design a community garden in the local Provost Park by the Friends of Bridge of Allan, a local community volunteer group. They do sterling work keeping the green areas in our village looking top banana. Their hard work was recently recognised by Beautiful Scotland with Bridge of Allan receiving the accolade of Best Small Town 2010. The site has been cleared due to adjacent building work but now requires to be revived as a nice relaxing space for the community to enjoy. We can’t wait to get started.


Before I sign off I’d like to give a hearty thanks to all our customers who have supported Vialii Garden Design and Vialii Garden Services this year and take the opportunity to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.


Michael – Vialii Garden Design


- As I write I’m listening to Kings of Leon – Because of the Times
- The photo above is of our back garden which was completed in the summer of 2010. I thought it’d be nice to see what I’m missing at the moment and to visualise what I can look forward to getting tucked into next year.

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Beautiful time-lapse footage of cordyceps fungi

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Winter…

Regardless of all the frustrations of not being able to work on build projects at the moment there’s no denying that it’s an incredibly beautiful time of year..

…still, a thaw would be nice now…

Michael

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Well then, there’s not going to be any panic here..

December is almost upon us but the great weather gods have deemed it necessary to chuck down some snow a little bit earlier than usual. I can’t say that I’m not disappointed as we’ve just recently begun the build of a garden and progress was going almost too well. I’m guilty perhaps, of being a bit too gung-ho about the state of things and tweeted how much I was enjoying the fair weather when the laws written by Sod decided that we would receive over five inches of snow over the weekend. So, to all those affected by the snow, I apologise for tempting fate and angering the Gods.


Life (and business) must go on though so today I have been mostly updating our design portfolio whilst my fairer half has been updating the portfolio pages on the website which has been long overdue(1). We’ve also been advancing a garden design for a lovely family in Bridge of Allan.



The snow will certainly put paid to any garden work just now, but when it clears, which I’m sure it will, there are a few things to be gettin on with. Now is the time to be pruning woody ornamental plants, fruit trees and bushes and give those overgrown hedges a trim before the nesting season begins. Carry out winter digging if the weather allows and incorporate plenty of organic material such as well-rotted manure or compost and sort out all those niggling repairs to garden gates and the shed door.


Not gardening related but I’m perusing a new (vintage) book titled Pictorial Stories of Heroism and Enterprise (circa 1890) hoping to inspire myself with some new found heroism and adventure. The tales that await me include Livingstone’s Last Journey, Incidents of Heroism and William Harvey’s Discovery. I cannot wait.


The pic is from September showing our garden in readiness for the wedding ceremony.
Currently listening to Bow Down to the Exit Sign by David Holmes


Take care,
Michael


1. A large chunk of our year has been taken up by the organisation of our wedding which took place in September so less important items such as website updates got pushed to the metaphorical back-burner. On the subject of our wedding I’d like to take this opportunity, on behalf of my wife and I, to thank some local businesses for their help assistance with various facets of the wedding. Amongst those involved were Glenallan Fashions for the dress, Adamo for the reception, fizz from Woodwinters, Moss for flowers and pampering at Lumia. They would like to thank everyone who helped make it such a special day and for all the warm wishes.

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A Sustainable Future

It’s a common misconception that sustainability and being kind to the environment equates to being unkind on the wallet. Here are some ideas of how you can create a stunning garden whilst still doing your bit to help the planet and without breaking the bank…
RECYCLE
Re-use all sorts of otherwise useless objects in the garden to create interesting features. Old bamboo canes, broken pots, egg cartons and old bricks can all be used to create a trendy wildlife tower. Or try using old slates stacked on their ends to create an interesting feature. Old concrete slabs are commonly lifted to be replaced by something more modern. However, they can be broken and re-laid to be a modern take on crazy paving. Or, if you are feeling like trying your hand at some crafts, how about making a mosaic ball out of left over tiles for a unique garden ornament. 
FREECYCLE
Freecycle is a fantastic grassroots movement which matches people who have something they want to get rid of with people who are looking for such an item. In doing so it avoids these items ending up in landfill and reduces the requirement to manufacture and transport yet more goods. The best thing is that everything is absolutely free – you can even list what you are looking for too. At the time of going to press, our local Stirling Freecycle website was offering an apple tree, garden furniture, various lengths of wood and even some horse manure!
SHARE THE LOAD
Seed sharing is a great way to get free plants. Often a pack of seeds gives you far too many of the one plant. Swap some seeds with like-minded gardeners to widen your plant choice. Alternatively, you might have sown all your seeds but have too many plants for your own garden and have excess you are happy to give to a good home. Or perhaps you have excess fruit and veg you can’t get through yourself? There are some great websites that you can swap through or perhaps, if there is demand, we can create something locally. Let us know if you are interested.
SALVAGE YOUR GARDEN
There are salvage yards which are dedicated to supplying “scrap” for garden use. From sculptures and fountains to furniture and planters there are plenty of items which will make your garden completely unique and you will be saving it from landfill. If are looking for something a bit more unusual, look at non-garden salvage items and consider how it could be adapted to some use in your own garden such as an old wheel as part of a handrail. 


SOURCE FREEBIES           
If you are about to embark on a garden project, before you head to your local DIY superstore consider alternative ways you can source the required materials. Local builders and landscapers often have left over materials they don’t need or scrap they have removed from a job which is destined for the local tip. Contact them to see if they have materials which suit your needs – what might have been someone’s deck in a previous life might become the frame for your new green roof.
CIRCLE OF LIFE
Re-use items from your own garden to create interesting new features. For instance, an old felled apple tree could be cut up into sections to create a contemporary wildlife log feature in a quiet, unused corner of the garden. By tempting wildlife into your garden, they will help you deal with the various pests in your garden in a non-biological way. 
HARD CHOICES
Consider your choice of hard landscaping carefully before you commit. Not only can paving be very expensive, many varieties are non-permeable, thus impacting on water levels in the area. And we all know how prevalent flooding has been recently! Consider alternatives such as gravel which is cheaper and allows excess water to permeate more easily.
SEED OF THOUGHT
If you have the time and patience, grow plants from seeds. Not only does it save money (especially if you have got them free as discussed earlier) but you avoid additional costs to the planet by avoiding the plastic pots which plants are sold in in garden centres. You are also avoiding transport costs of the plants from nursery to wholesaler, wholesaler to retailer then retailer to consumer. And of course there is the immense satisfaction of growing your own plants from tiny seeds. Priceless. 
GO ORGANIC
The word “organic” can strike fear into the hearts of many a shopper as it can often seem an excuse to charge the customer more. However, when it comes to gardening, it can be a cheaper approach to horticulture, whilst doing your bit for the environment. For a start you won’t be buying any of those expensive chemicals to kill pests or keep them off your prize plants. Clever approaches such as companion planting is cheaper, can look pretty and keeps your conscience guilt free. Attracting wildlife into your garden, using some of the tips above, helps deal with the pests too. And simple old hard graft is the cheapest, most effective and kindest way to deal with your weeds (and great for calorie burning too!).
So now you can sleep well at night knowing you’re doing your bit for both your bank balance and the planet.
Jill and Michael, owners of Vialii Garden Services, can be contacted to discuss any of these ideas or any horticultural questions on 01786 834621 or through their website at www.vialiigardenservices.co.uk.


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Wild About Your Garden



Bio-diversity. Sustainability. Eco-friendly. They are all buzz-words in the world of gardening as more and more people realise that it can be cool to care. The United Nations have even declared 2010 as the Year of Biodiversity. No longer does having a wildlife friendly garden mean that you just leave an area of your garden to go “wild” and inevitably become an eye-sore. 

Even the Chelsea Flower Show this year featured heavily on wildlife gardens with one garden planted entirely with a wildlife meadow. Wildlife gardens can fit whatever style of garden you choose, from contemporary to traditional cottage garden. And even the smallest and most urban of spaces can attract the most surprising of visitors.
So, how can you create a wildlife garden and what, more interestingly, can you attract?
Perfect Planting
Planting should include native species and have some of the key features important to wildlife. Look at what grows naturally in the wild and what grows really well in your neighbours’ gardens. Native hedgerows such as beech, hazel or hawthorn will provide a haven for hundreds of species of wildlife.
Birds love winter berries so plants such as cotoneasters, viburnum, holly and skimmia are perfect.

Include plants that are efficient for bees to collect pollen from such alliums and fox gloves as well as broad-leaved perennials which allow easy access for bees such as asters, sunflowers and echinacea. Avoid double flowers which make it difficult for bees to access pollen.

The world’s bee population is still in decline and it’s crucial we all take steps to reverse this trend. Einstein once said If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.”

Plants such as buddleja, lavender, scabious, forget-me-nots and lonicera (honeysuckle) are perfect for attracting butterflies into your garden.
Don’t deadhead plants as soon as the flowers go over. Instead leave seed heads which not only look beautiful throughout the winter but are also perfect for birds looking for seeds. Ideal for plants such as echinops, sedum and angelica.
Different species of trees and shrubs provide nectar and other food sources throughout the year so make sure you have a good mix of plants.
Grow climbers against walls to provide shelter for birds.

If you want to take it a stage further and if you have space, why not incorporate a wildflower meadow. The gold winning HESCO garden at the Chelsea Flower Show this year proved wildflower meadows can be beautiful as well as a haven for wildlife. Packets of wildflowers seeds or trays of plug plants are readily available from garden centres or online these days but make sure they originate from the UK.

Wildlife such as spiders, caterpillars, butterflies and moths, bees, birds and small mammals will all be tempted into your wildflower meadow.  Nowadays wild flower meadows are extremely rare – we have lost 95% in the last 50 years. Planting one in your garden will really help local wildlife.
Water Wonderland
Incorporating some form of water feature into your garden is a great way of attracting wildlife. Water can be incorporated no matter what size or style your garden is and can be made child-friendly too.
If your garden is small then even a half barrel can be made into an effective water feature and will attract frogs and other wildlife which will feed happily on slugs and snails.

If your garden is a bit bigger, look at a larger pond. Incorporate “floating” stepping stones to make your pond very on-trend. Make sure there are sloping edges to your pond though so birds can bathe, frogs can spawn and  hedgehogs can escape if they fall in. A mesh can be incorporated to make ponds child-friendly too.

Go Organic
Avoid using slug pellets and pesticides. Many are harmful to the “good” wildlife you are trying to attract. Instead look for alternatives. For weeds, hand-weeding, mulches, ground cover plants and weed suppressant fabrics will all help keep weeds at bay. And once you have started attracting wildlife in, they will do a lot of the work for you such as eating slugs.
Happy Habitats
Create the sort of habitats that are perfect for the wildlife you are trying to attract:
  • Put a nesting box in your garden. These can range from the traditional wooden boxes to boxes in trendy shapes and colours to suit all styles. Boxes will attract birds and possibly even bats. Many gardens have plenty to offer birds to eat but nowhere to nest.
  • Create a log pile somewhere quiet in your garden, perhaps hidden behind your shed. If you are lucky hedgehogs and toads may set up home there and help keep garden pests at bay.

  • Introduce a wildlife tower into your garden. It can be built out of old pieces of wood and the different sections incorporate different recycled materials such as bamboo canes, egg cartons and broken pots. The tower will provide a focal (and talking) point in your garden and be home to a myriad of wildlife.
  • Include bird baths and bird tables in your garden to encourage our feathered friends to visit. Be careful where you site them though for curious cats…
  • Other easy additions are rock piles, a garden shed, a window box or even a simple hanging basket. All will entice wildlife into your garden.
Sustainable Gardening
Take simple steps to help our planet as well as saving yourself money:
  • Introduce a compost heap for all your lawn clippings and dead-heading as well as your kitchen waste.
  • Avoid using peat-based compost. Peat extraction destroys vital wildlife habitat.
  • Include a water-butt somewhere in your garden. Not only do plants and wildlife prefer rain-water but it saves you getting the hose out.
So from lady-birds to lace-wings, hedgehogs to hoverflies, bees to butterflies or dragonflies to damselflies, gardens are a place both humans and wildlife can enjoy side by side.
We’d love to see pictures and hear stories of some of the wildlife you have tempted into your garden. Email us at info@vialiigardenservices.co.uk with some of your tales.

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Ermine Moth Webs

Spotted these rather fascinating webs when leaving my local Wickes recently. Closer inspection revealed thousands of little caterpillars steadily devouring the foliage of the shrubbery they had encompassed.

A quick google revealed them to be Ermine moth caterpillars who quite commonly take over whole sections of shrubbery like this in order to feed.
Fascinating and creepy in equal measure..
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