Lead the Good Life Blog

February Newsletter by Adam Woolcott

SquirelFebruary is a bit of a no man’s land when it comes to weather, situated between spring and winter; the temperature often fluctuates, bringing rain, frost and even snow. 

 However, whatever the weather in February, there are still plenty of jobs that can be done in and around the garden.

Pressure Wash

 This is a great time of year to pressure wash decking, paving, stone garden ornaments and even your gravelled areas.

 A Karcher pressure washer is simple and fun to use and will completely remove all the winter grime, moss and algae that’s built up on hard surfaces over the winter months.

 It’s also a great time to pressure wash or clean the inside of your greenhouse and cold-frames; thoroughly wash all the staging and glass, paying particular attention to the nooks and crannies where harmful bacteria and insect eggs may lurk!

335611_STANDARD__000_20150105_5.jpgPrepare Garden Tools and Equipment

 Send off lawnmowers and other garden equipment for repairs and servicing before the spring rush.

 Tidy and organise the shed and garage ready for spring. Oil and clean shears, loppers and secateurs.

 Check that your fencing and fence posts are secure and fit for another year; it’s best to replace any fencing now before all the plants emerge in your beds and borders.

KroneStock up on Plants, Bulbs and Seeds

 If you can’t get outside then February is a great time to order plants, bulbs and seeds for the year ahead.

 There are a lot of plants and bulbs widely available- take your pick from items such as;

  • Bare root hedging
  • Fruit
  • Roses
  • Seed Potatoes
  • Summer flowering bulbs
  • Tubers
  • Dahlias
  • Begonias
  • Lilies
  • Gladioli

On Mild Days

 Sometimes, February can be extremely mild allowing you to get out into the garden early.

Dig over and add well-rotted manure or compost to your kitchen garden area or allotment. Bear in mind, however if you want to plant brassicas such as cabbages, kale and Brussels sprouts, to leave the soil undug and manure free as they enjoy being planted into firm ground.

 Check that your roses and exposed shrubs haven’t been blown loose over the winter. If they have, tread down the earth around the base of the main stem and remove any broken or snapped branches and twigs.

 Cut down any remaining dead perennials to almost ground level and towards the end of the month reduce grasses such as miscanthus and phalaris to about 6”.

 Finalise the pruning of apples and pears as well as wisteria and cut down autumn fruiting raspberry canes to ground level.

CuttersClean Up

 Getting the garden clean in February is very important. Areas of dead vegetation or piles of dead leaves make great breeding grounds for slugs and snails as well as harmful bacteria and fungi. Remove this sort of material and add it to the compost heap.

 If the tops of any plants such as ferns, choisyas, euonymus and ceanothus have been damaged by frost over the winter leave the removal of the damaged foliage until the weather warms up. The damaged foliage can then be trimmed off and new growth will emerge from below.

 Check that stone and terracotta pots have made it through the winter and haven’t cracked or broken. If you find any broken pots you can use the broken pieces as drainage crocks at the base of new pots. Just break the old pots into smaller pieces and place a layer of them over the drainage hole in the new pots before adding compost.

 So there you have it! Let February be a month of planning and preparation; get you and your garden ready for the year ahead!

 

The Big Garden Bird Watch- How to Attract Birds this Weekend

shutterstock_125246660Big Garden Bird Watch

Bird watching is a great way to get outdoors, surround yourself with healing nature and to dose up with all-important vitamin D.

With RSPB’s Big Garden Bird Watch this weekend, there’s no better time to get behind your garden birds and to encourage wildlife than now.

 How to Attract Birds

Which birds you’ll see depends on where you live, what food you use and how your food is displayed. Spending a little time creating a bird friendly garden will help to encourage garden guests.

 Hanging-Feeder Hunters

Hanging feeders are a favourite of blue tits, long tailed tits and great tits; stock them up with energy-rich seeds such as our High Energy Seed.

 shutterstock_119715592Floor Feasters

 Other birds, such as collared doves, blackbirds, dunnocks and wrens, prefer to feed on the ground.

Scatter mealworms on the floor and you’ll soon have a photograph worthy feeding frenzy.

 Unscrupulous Scavengers

Other wild birds live up to their wild name and will peck up seeds and snacks no matter where they are; off the floor, the bird table and even out each other’s beaks.

Included in this roguish outfit are:

  • Blackcap
  • House sparrow
  • Bullfinch
  • Goldfinch
  • Greenfinch
  • Starling
  • Robin
  • Siskin

Variety is the Spice of Bird Life

To attract the most birds, use a bird table or hanging feeder that offers a variety of different snacks – that way you’ll please even the most pedantic of peckers. A great place to start is with the Bird Feeding Starter Kit, which combines wild bird seed, a suet block, fat balls and three different hanging feeders, giving you everything you need to get spotting!aaaa

 Share a Photo of your Garden Birds for a Chance to Win!

We want to see which birds you spot in your garden this month! Simply post a picture of your garden visitors to our Facebook or Twitter page for a chance to win a £10 off LTGL voucher. Simply submit your pictures before midnight, Saturday 31 January 2015.

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Facebook- www.facebook.com/leadthegoodlife

Twitter- www.twitter.com/ltgluk

Find out more about the RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch here-

https://www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch/

 

Customer Favourite : Cherry Ilford

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The Iford Weeping Cherry tree is a true eastern delight. As I child I always loved the dreamy blooms of the flowering cherry tree in our garden; I could pick large handfuls of flowers and they never seemed to diminish. I also loved the shape of weeping willows; I would always believe I could create the ultimate den underneath. The Iford weeping cherry is the perfect combination of the two and does not grow more than 1.5m high, so it will fit beautifully in to any size garden.

A Rich History

If like me you enjoy researching a plant’s history, then you’ll find the Iford Cherry tells an interesting tale. At the turn of the 19th century, Harold Peto, architect and garden designer, found a small and completely weeping pale-pink flowering cherry on one of his plant collecting trips to the East.

He named it the Iford Cherry, planting it on the terraces, banks and paths of the Iford Manor garden, creating a truly magnificent sight. In 1999 the present owners of Iford Manor decided to propagate from the only surviving tree; by then, the tree had only one living branch which was no thicker than a pencil. Graft wood was taken and the tree died a few weeks later. Three trees were raised from the grafts and became the mother wood for the trees you now see for sale.

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Planting and Care

Planting your Iford cherry tree is the same as planting most other trees. They prefer a sheltered sunny position, as well as plenty of well-rotted manure or compost. Plant the tree at the original soil level and firm it into the ground. It is a good idea to stake the tree to prevent it getting damaged in the wind.

These trees are perfectly happy to be planted in a container on the patio but be sure to choose a pot large enough, we suggest one at least 24in (60cm) in diameter. A heavy terracotta pot is recommended in windy conditions to prevent it from toppling over. Although they do not like their roots being kept wet, they do like to drink, so make sure to water them well in the hot summer months.

Pruning should be done in early spring or late autumn when the tree is dormant and there are no flowers or leaves on it. To begin with trim any branches that are touching the ground and cut them back so they are around 6in above ground.

You then need to remove any diseased, dead or damaged wood, as well as any branches that are crossing over or rubbing one another. Any branches that are growing straight up will need to be removed as these will not weep.

Sometimes there will be a lot of growth in the centre of the crown which will need to be thinned out. Once all this has been done, you can prune your tree further into your desired shape and size.

This may sound like a lot of work but don’t despair pruning is just a once a year job and this beautiful tree is definitely worth it.

 

Growing Rhubarb and How to Force It

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There is nothing better than a steaming bowl of rhubarb crumble with cream after your Sunday lunch. Or, if you’re like me, at any time! What could possibly be better? Perhaps home-made rhubarb crumble using freshly picked home-grown rhubarb (this could almost be a line from a certain luxury food chain advert). Growing rhubarb is so easy that I’ve been told it thrives on neglect, so you have no reason not to grow it.

How to Start

As with most plants you can grow them from seed, but personally I prefer to cheat a little and buy rhubarb crowns or budded pieces. Rhubarb crowns are established plants that will produce a crop in the season after they’ve been planted. Budded pieces are parts of the crown that will crop 2 years after planting.

Rhubarb grows best in moist, well drained soil in the sun although it will tolerate semi-shade. As rhubarb plants dislike being disturbed, be sure to plant them in a permanent position. As they will be there for many years, it is advised to dig-in plenty of well-rotted manure or compost in the planting hole. Plant the crown or budded piece around 3cm (1inch) below soil level, or, if you have wet soil, at ground level, and leave 75cm (30in) between plants. You can plant rhubarb in containers but be sure to use a large container holding 40L of compost or more as they have a large root system

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After care

I may have said that they thrive on neglect, but a bit of love will make them even better!

In spring, remove any flowers as this will encourage the plant to put all its effort into growing delicious stems. Adding some general purpose fertiliser will give the plants an extra boost.

Summer can get very hot and plants very easily dry out, especially those in containers, so make sure to give your rhubarbs (and the rest of your garden) a good watering in dry spells.

As the weather turns colder and the remaining leaves die back naturally, you can then cut the stems back to the crown. Now is also a good time to apply mulch around the plant, being careful not to cover the crown as this could cause it to rot.

Harvesting

Picking rhubarb is easy; pull the desired stem and give it a little twist. However, make sure you don’t pick more than half the stems; if you do the plant may suffer.

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How to Force Rhubarb

From early December to early March it is possible to force your rhubarb to produce stems earlier than if grown naturally. All this really involves is ensuring the plant is kept in the dark; approximately 8 weeks later, your rhubarbs will be ready to harvest.  This may sound like quite a harsh treatment of a plant, but it’s been done since the start of the 19th century with impressive results.

This method works best when the rhubarb is exposed to freezing conditions. Once you do get a good cold spell, clear the area around your rhubarb from weeds and debris. Cover it with straw and place a large pot, dustbin or rhubarb forcer over the plant, ensuring any holes are covered up to keep out any light. I recommend moving forcing rhubarb into a greenhouse or garden shed to be forced where it is warmer. Keep an eye on your plant to make sure no greedy slugs or snails get to it. Once the stalks are 30-45cm (12-18in) long they are ready to harvest.

If you can avoid it, don’t force the same rhubarb plant two years in a row. It will need a rest as forcing the plant can be quite strenuous. Why not get two crowns and alternate forcing them?

Top tip: If you find yourself with an abundance of rhubarb then why not freeze some? Chop it into pieces then poach it for 3-4 minutes in sugared water. Wait for it to cool, divide it into portions then freeze. Easy!

rhubarb

Recipe – Serves 4

Ingredients

500g Rhubarb

100g sugar (to taste)

 

Crumble topping:

100g butter (at room temperature)

200g flour (or try using half flour, half oats!)

100g sugar

1tbsp cinnamon

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C or 180°C if using a fan oven.
  2. Chop the rhubarb into 1in (2.5cm) pieces and simmer it over a low heat with the sugar for about 15minutues until the rhubarb is soft but still holding its shape. Carefully taste the stewed fruit as it may need more sugar depending on how sweet it is.
  3. Add the fruit to a medium sized baking dish, or create individual crumbles using smaller ovenproof dishes or ramekins.
  4. Add the butter and flour for the crumble topping into a large bowl and rub it together with your fingers until it looks like breadcrumbs.  To save time this can be done in a food processor.
  5. Mix in the sugar and cinnamon into the crumble mixture and sprinkle over the rhubarb.
  6. Bake it in the oven for 30minutes or until the top is golden brown.
  7. Serve with cream or custard or ice cream.

 

Variations: Why not try adding fresh ginger or a dash of port when simmering the rhubarb. Or try mixing almonds into the crumble topping.

Small garden spaces by Adam Woolcott

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Small spaces have big potential!

Are you desperate to grow fruit, vegetables and flowers but fear you can’t due to space restrictions? Well don’t worry because even the smallest space can offer lots of growing opportunities.

When faced with a small garden or growing area you need to maximise the space and the production of the plants within it.

Vertical surfaces offer space for hanging baskets, wall troughs and trellises!

If the area has a vertical surface on one side, such as a wall or fence, then use this for hanging baskets, wall troughs or add a trellis to create another growing surface. Wall troughs and baskets can be used to grow trailing strawberries, trailing tomatoes or trailing ornamental plants whilst in the centre, you can grow upright plants such as blueberries, chillies or small shrubs, creating little gardens in the sky.

Trellises will allow you to grow climbing fruit such as melons, loganberries and blackberries, or vegetables such as runner beans and cucumbers or even fabulous climbers such as jasmine or honeysuckle. Exploiting vertical surfaces in small spaces really allows you to maximise planting in limited space.

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Choose compact, fruitful plants for the ground level

When it comes to ground level it’s important to grow fruit, vegetables and plants that are going to give you a good return in a small space.Try growing espalier or cordon fruit trees, these sit snuggly against vertical surfaces taking up little space but providing lots of fruit. This is a great way to produce apples, pears, cherries and peaches.

Grow potatoes in large pots or bespoke containers; again, these take up little space but will give you layers of fresh spuds!

French beans, peas, peppers, and tomatoes also do well in pots and can be placed on hard surfaces where ordinarily you couldn’t grow anything.

Use flowers to bring colour and fragrance  

Of course there’s more to gardening than just fruit and veg, how about the colour and fragrance of flowers – no problem at all, these days there’s such a large range of dwarf trees, shrubs and perennials that anything is possible.

Whether you want a small flowering cherry, a tiny rhododendron or compact lupins, don’t worry, modern breeding techniques have made them and many more available. Many plants are now bred to be small and compact allowing you to have a huge range of plants even in a small space.

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The natural sounds of a water feature will create a relaxing ambience

You might want a pond in your garden but you’re worried that you don’t have the space- again, these days this isn’t a problem as there’s hundreds of different types of pre-made small water features that will add wonderful natural sounds to your tiny paradise.

 Remember it’s not about the size of your garden; it’s about the size of your imagination!

Planning your 2015 garden with Adam Woolcott

fireplace

With the New Year in full swing you may be feeling frustrated that it’s too wet and cold to get out into the garden and get your hands dirty. If you find yourself in this predicament, do what I do – stay in the warm and make plans for your 2015 garden. Now is a great time to start planning how your outdoor area will look later this year.

A simple walk around the garden will reveal gaps and spaces which can be potential positions for new plants in 2015. Have some plants outgrown their patch, did you leave out a tender plant that has now been killed by the frost, or was a plant in the wrong aspect and just didn’t thrive? These are all opportunities to plan a new look for this year.

If you’re restricted to pots and tubs and crave colour why not plant begonias, dahlias and summer flowering bulbs- this mix will give you many months of fabulous colour with very little effort. If you’re lucky enough to have a greenhouse and some spare time, why not grow your own plants and vegetables from seed this year? It’s an amazing buzz sowing those tiny, dry seeds and watching them develop into mature plants.

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Another great feeling is growing – and eating – your own fruit. The vast, diverse range of fruit available means that anyone can grow fruit even in the smallest spaces. This time of year, the majority of fruit plants can be purchased bare-root; this means that the plant has been lifted straight from the ground with no soil around the roots. Don’t worry, the plants are dormant and haven’t got a clue! This is a great way to buy all sorts of fruit trees and plants at great prices as they’re much cheaper than pot grown fruit. Think apples, pears, plums, raspberries, blueberries and strawberries.

It’s not just fruit trees that are available as bare-roots at this time of year, so are many garden shrubs and perennials. If you’ve just moved into a new property or you fancy a new flower and shrub border then sit back and make your choices for a collage of colour this year.

Once spring arrives you may find yourself needing to buy quite a few bits and pieces for the garden such as fertiliser, pesticides, string, pots, compost and so on, so plan ahead and purchase those products now to spread the cost. All these items will be fine kept in a cool, dry place and will be ready for when you need them.

Don’t let the January blues get to you- plan ahead for 2015 and you’ll be tickled pink by the results!

Customer Favourite: Begonias

Customer-FavoriteBegonias

One of our biggest sellers last summer was the long time favourite, begonia and it’s easy to see why. There are so many different colours and types of flowers and they are perfect for sun or shade in flower beds, hanging baskets, containers or even as house plants. They come with a range of different coloured leaves which provides interest as well.

They could not be easier to look after. Treat them like any other annual plant. Plant them in good fertile soil, water and feed them as needed. And don’t forget to deadhead them regularly in order to promote even more flowers and keep your display looking its best.

Here at LTGL we love planting up our begonias (Fringed Frimbriata is our favourite) into easy fill hanging baskets filled with incredicompost™ and a water wizard to help with watering in the heat of summer.  

Here at LTGL we sell begonias in various ways over the course of the season, available at the right time for planting.

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Tubers which are sections of roots that are ready to burst into life. This is one of the safest and economic ways to transport begonias however they will need some care in the early stages and potting on. Not all begonias create tubers so we can’t offer this option for all varieties.

Plug plants are small plants that will easily fit through your letterbox and are superb value. They will also need potting on but the hard work of germination has already been done for you.   Usually available in March and April.

Jumbo Plugs are larger than the plug plants and usually 8-12cm in height. They are large enough to be planted straight away into their final location and don’t require potting on.  Usually available in March and April.

Garden Ready Plants are as the name suggests; ready to be planted into the garden! These are larger plants than the jumbo plugs and are usually available around May

Later in the season we also sell pre-planted pots of begonias that can just be put into the garden and enjoyed straight away.

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How to make your own compost by Adam Woolcott

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Make your own compost

Turn your Food waste in to nourishing compost!

Making your own compost is a great way to recycle garden and kitchen waste, it’s great for the environment and of course you have rich, organic material to improve your soil with.

No need to buy, just DIY!

There are many bespoke compost making containers on the market, but you can very easily make your own using old pallets, or posts and chicken wire to create an enclosure. It doesn’t really matter what container you use to make compost what’s more important is how you make it.

The compost mix!

There are three elements required to make good compost: moisture, oxygen and the right mix of materials. Follow the simple composting rules below and you’ll create a hot environment where bacteria can work aerobically (using oxygen) to breakdown the materials and create a fine, dark, crumbly and odourless compost. Using the wrong balance of materials will cause the compost to break down anaerobically (without oxygen) creating a slimy, smelly, sticky mass that will take years to become usable compost.

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You can compost everything, from food waste to wrapping paper!

With Christmas approaching there’s bound to be more kitchen waste than normal, but much of it can be added to the compost heap. Items that are suitable include: all vegetable material, fruit, egg shells, nut shells, stale bread, tea bags, coffee grounds and dead flowers. Even Newspaper and wrapping paper can be used!

From the garden you can use: grass clippings, fine twiggy material from tree and shrub pruning, fallen leaves, old straw, and discarded cut down perennials.

Mix dry and wet materials to speed up the composting process!

As mentioned above the secret to starting the bacterial breakdown of all the compost constituents is moisture and a good supply of oxygen. With this in mind add different layers of material to the compost heap; mix dry, twiggy material such as straw or dried plant clippings with heavy, wet material such as grass clippings or vegetable waste.

The secret is to have a good mix of materials and not to have great big thick layers of one type of material, keep the compost mix light and airy and make sure it’s damp. Once the layers have built up, bacteria will begin to breakdown the materials creating heat as they do so, and so accelerating the process. Just keep adding the various layers until you reach the top of the compost container and then wait for nature to do the rest.

Finally once the compost is dark, crumbly and odour-free then add it to your beds, borders and vegetable areas.

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Growing Potatoes by Adam Woolcott

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 How to grow potatoes

Growing potatoes is fun, easy and rewarding; there are only a few rules you need to follow in order to achieve a great yield.

When growing potatoes grow in a rich, organic soil or compost, in a sunny position and always keep them well watered.

 Protect foliage from frost, and earth-up!

When caring for your potatoes there’s two main things to remember, make sure the new foliage isn’t caught by frost, and always keep the developing young plants ‘earthed- up’.

This simply means that as the plants get taller you continuously raise the soil or compost level around the base of the plant in order to keep the developing potatoes under the soil or compost level. If they’re exposed to the light they will become green, hard and toxic! Always make sure that ultimately there’s about 8” to 12” of foliage above the soil as you don’t want to completely bury all the foliage.

Grow in any garden, regardless of size

Another great advantage of potatoes as a crop is that you don’t necessarily need a huge allotment as they perform very well in pots, containers or specialised potato growing pods. If you select a pot or a container, make sure it’s approximately one and a half times the width of a standard bucket and about twice the height. 

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Potato varieties

So you’ve selected a sunny, frost free spot, you’ve bought your container and you’ve chosen a fantastic compost such as ‘Tref’ to grow your potatoes in, now you just need to decide what type of potatoes to grow.

Again this is very simple, you can grow ‘early’ potatoes, ‘second early’ potatoes or ‘maincrop’ potatoes. 

  • Early potatoes are planted in late March and will be ready to harvest in June or July.
  • Second early potatoes can be planted in early to mid- April and will be ready for harvesting in July to August
  • Maincrop potatoes can be planted in mid to late April for harvesting in August. 

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Pick your potato!

The choice of varieties is huge these days and many have high crop yields and good disease resistance. There’s a potato variety for every culinary use and their textures can vary from waxy, to powdery, to creamy.

A great early variety is ‘Rocket’ with its round, egg size shape and waxy flesh, great for salads or smothered in mint sauce.

 ‘Maris Peer’ is a well-established second early variety with great disease resistance and tubers that are brilliant for roasting, boiling or steaming.

If you want to grow a really different maincrop variety then try ‘Pink fir apple’ with its long pink or red potatoes that are great for steaming and boiling. It’s obviously got a lot going for it as it’s been in existence for over a hundred years!

 Chit them

Now you’ve selected and got your seed potatoes home, you’ll need to ‘chit’ them, this simply means selecting the ‘rose end’ of the potato, this is the end with all the tiny, knobbly eyes, and standing them in trays or old egg cartons in a bright, frost free place with the rose end pointing upwards.

After a few weeks have passed the eyes will have sprouted and produced small shoots, your potatoes are now ready for planting.

Remember you can purchase everything you need to grow potatoes on our online shop.

Choose your potato varieties here 

Purchase a container here

Order your compost here 

and purchase your potato gloves here 

Office product of the month – Bird Feeding Starter Kit

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Now we’re in chilly December it’s a good time to give thought to the birds in the garden who will be finding it more difficult to find bird food.

Having just moved into my new flat I felt it was the time to experiment with my latest purchase and see what feathered friends could be attracted into the limited outside space I had to play with.

I gingerly brought home the bird feeding starter kit a large part of me was quite pessimistic, the local sparrows would venture high to my top floor flat to feed.

I could hardly grumble at the quick assembly and easy to store box it kept everything protected from the rain, and out of reach of pesky mice looking for an uninvited meal. Hooking on to a nail already hanging in the wall I hoisted up the fat ball holder late one evening. 

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To my surprise the next morning I was awoken to a hive of activity as a flock of birds had decided to take advantage of the snacks on offer.

In the space of an hour we had a group of small sparrows, several inquisitive starlings and a lone dove who was quite fond of the suet cake which hung neatly over the balcony. 

Naturally they were a little camera shy so we haven’t yet been able to capture the  as we would have wanted, however given the lack of food remaining after one week they obviously enjoyed their visits.

The next step is to install a bird camera and hook it up to the television, but for now I’ll be taking advantage of the selection of bird food on Lead the Good Life and restocking for our new found feathered friends.

If you would like to see what birds you can attract to your garden – why not purchase your own starter kit today and see what good you can do for the local wildlife.

Purchase your Bird Feeding Starter Kit here 

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