November, 3rd Week - Sunflowers, Teasels And Finches
Dirty Nails writes from personal experience, having supplied his family of four over the years with enough fresh produce to eat their fill. His book combines his love of gardening with the natural pleasures of being outdoors and 'in amongst it'. The author seeks to de-mystify the art of kitchen and allotment gardening, making the thrills, spills, triumphs and tribulations accessible to all-comers, whatever their level of gardening experience.
SUNFLOWERS, TEASELS AND FINCHES
As the cold weather really sets in, Dirty Nails finds great pleasure in watching the birds that visit his garden for a feed. As well as providing nuts and other tidbits for his feathered friends, he always cultivates certain plants especially for the birds.
Sunflowers are good to grow. At this time of year thick stalks of the Giant Single variety still stand 10 feet (3 metres) or more. Their large heads, which at the peak of the season were incredible gold and brown glories the size of a dinner plate, are now drooping, dark and pecked ragged. They are high up on the menu for many seed eaters, including greenfinches. Dirty Nails will leave his sunflowers standing right through the winter, unless adverse weather snaps them first.
To please his eye in the summer, and feed the birds in winter, he sows sunflowers singly in pots of moist compost during March, popping in the black and white striped seeds to a depth of ½ an inch (1½ cm). They are strong growers in the greenhouse or on the windowsill and should be big enough to plant out in early May. Allowing 2 feet (60 cm) or more at this stage may seem a bit extravagant, but Dirty Nails is always generous with his sunflowers when it comes to giving them space. They like to be kept watered during dry spells, and respond to a monthly dose of nettle and comfrey feed with energetic growth and spectacular flowers from high-summer onwards.
Another provider of nourishment for birds in winter is the teasel. By November it has become a crisp brown skeleton, up to 6 feet (2 metres) tall, with numerous stems supporting dozens of spiky, egg-shaped seed heads. It is a magnet for goldfinches. These birds have beaks which are perfectly evolved to fit into the depths of these ‘hedgehogs’ and extract the seeds. A flock of goldfinches is known as a charm, and when travelling thus they have a beautiful call which makes Dirty Nails think of thick and precious dripping liquid. His veg patch has teasels popping up all over the place, descendants of those that he introduced from a packet of mixed wildflower seeds. They develop a low rosette of leaves, studded with soft spikes, and are easy to identify.
NATURAL HISTORY IN THE GARDEN
Dirty Nails moves these self-sown plants to his chosen growing site any time from October to March. Borne on the ‘hedgehog’ in high summer, the purple flowers are also very attractive to many long-tongued insects.