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The views expressed in this blog are those of Alison Salisbury and not necessarily those of Cornwall Wildlife Trust.
24th May 2013
I said last week there was not much life in the small pond, and that’s not strictly true. I haven’t seen the big dragonfly or diving beetle larvae, but in the last few days lots of the slim and delicate damselflies have discreetly emerged and flown off. They have wings that twinkle in the light and bodies as slim as electrical wire, some electric blue, some red. I went out to my hut in the wood on a sunny day and there were dozens of these little damselflies in this sheltered spot on my hut “lawn”, sitting on leaves or grass blades soaking up the warmth.
The pond is also simply stuffed with preoccupied courting newts; so busy are they that one can watch unobserved from inches away.
My greenhouse is fabulous. In fact the salad is already past eating in places because it’s grown so big. I'm trying really hard to keep a rotation going, but the timing is always going to be difficult when temperatures are so unpredictable. If one can be bothered it would be best to sprinkle a little seed every week and thin out the results, but the weeks zip by and the salad is suddenly huge and tough. Well, at least it’s free, organic, good for us and huge and tough. My cucumbers and tomatoes have hardly begun to grow, in spite of being planted out in this beautiful environment for what seems like weeks. Maybe I’m not good at greenhouses…
The flower garden is heaven though, and I keep taking photos.
Absolutely vital to drink it all in while it lasts. Whenever it’s sunny there are lots and lots of bumble bees. I counted six just in a little patch in front of me. They are very keen on the centaurea montana, and mine has grown into huge clumps this year and I love it. The flowers are like big cornflowers and a striking blue. I think it has overcome various other plants and I won’t discover the corpses until much later, but I think it’s worth it for the bees.
This week I planted fifty wood anemone rhizomes in the wood, and forty little water mint plugs in the shallow part of the pond I made last autumn. This was a rather extravagant spend so I hope the plants thrive. Another “Next Year” thing to look forward to.
17th May 2013
There seems to be a sad dearth of life in my small pond. I haven’t seen a single hawker dragonfly or diving beetle larva. A couple of damselflies have emerged, and I admit I hadn’t seen their larvae either, so maybe there’s still hope. I found a recently emerged damselfly on the stone edge of the pond, sitting by its shed larva skin and still getting its colour.
I had an orange-tip flitting about the garden on a sunny day, which was such a pleasure to see, being convinced, as I sometimes am, that all the butterflies must have perished in last summer and last winter’s wet and cold. Another lovely discovery on the same day was a wren’s nest under construction in my garden shed. I had seen the wren fly magically through the tiny tiny slot of space at the top of the window glass; I’ve measured it and it is 2.5 cms wide. I know a wren is small, but that is astonishingly accurate flying, is it not.
Walking up the garden to the greenhouse I startled the partridge pair, who were deep in the flowers by the path. They flew off gluck-glucking loudly in fright. A little later I was weeding in the greenhouse when one partridge arrived noisily on the fence at the edge of the vegetable patch nearby, landing with difficulty on the narrow edge of the corrugated iron. It perched there, scolding me loudly and wobbling wildly in the wind, which was rather strong. I kept still, hoping it would get over its fright and go back to foraging in the flowers, but the wind was too strong for it and it suddenly and ignominiously blew off backwards off the fence in a flurry of displayed underfeathers.
Another discovery this week - an early purple orchid.
The last time I saw one here was back when we had cows. It flowered on top of a wall in one of the fields and I thought it disappeared, possibly, because when we planted trees and the canopy closed in the orchid lacked light. I know an early purple orchid isn’t a great rarity, but it’s exciting simply because it arrived seemingly magically, making me wonder what else might arrive in the same way at any time in the future. The snag is that having decided not to mow the grass path in this area until the bluebells are over, we will now have to re-route the path altogether, as the orchid has chosen to come up slap bang in the middle of it!
10th May 2013
Monday was a red letter day as we ate some asparagus (not very much, I have to say, but last year I never even tried to pick any it was so pathetic) and I heard a cuckoo. There have been years when I haven’t heard a cuckoo at all, and I know they are in trouble, so hearing one is a real boon. And of course the sunny warm weather has been wonderful. This is the pale blue part of the year in my flower garden as it’s a sea of forget-me-nots.
When the forget-me-nots are over I pull them out, leaving the odd one to seed, and find plants I have forgotten I had that have been struggling to unfurl underneath. I don’t think there will ever come a time when I know where everything is and am sure to look after each and every plant, but then forgetting from one year to the next has the effect of making life full of nice surprises. And some dead plants…
I was at my desk one evening as the sun sank towards the horizon and I saw something large high up in the beech tree by our big pond. Through the binoculars I saw a squirrel, lit from behind in all his furry glory, munching his supper. We all think of squirrels eating nuts, but as I know from bitter experience they like a varied diet and there are only nuts at a certain time of year anyway. I think this squirrel (who must, so far, have escaped my neighbours trap) was eating the new beech leaves. Well, I think the new leaves look delicious, so I’m sure he was having a lovely, sun-lit supper and he looked very picturesque. I don’t think I shall refer to him as “squirrel” though. Bit poignant.
Since I started this week’s blog the weather has changed to high winds and rain, horribly reminiscent of most of last year. One thing I have learned, though, is that if the sun is out, then so am I. You can’t rely on anything any more, and you have to grab what sunshine there is.
3rd May 2013
I’ve got a bucket of nettles and water in the conservatory, making plant food. This is so easy and costs nothing at all; you just pick the nettles, crush them a bit with a gloved hand, cover with water, place a brick or something on top to hold them under and leave for three weeks or a month. Then use the resulting liquid diluted until sort of tea-coloured, or roughly ten parts water to one part nettle liquid, as plant food. It does get quite smelly, but never mind.
There are various constants in life looking after my six acres, and three apply at the moment - digging brambles (when I spot them invading where we don’t want brambles,) pulling out goose grass (there actually doesn’t seem to be quite such a plague of it this year, but I won’t be too optimistic just yet) and digging docks, which has to be done before the meadow bits get long and shouldn't be trodden under foot. The thing with docks is never ever to let them seed. If I can’t dig them all (no chance) then I have to tiptoe through the long grass later cutting off the seed heads.
With the sun shining and the birds singing it's a pleasure to be working outside. Everything is bursting into leaf and flower and the green is so green it almost hurts your eyes in the bright sunshine. Some of the loveliest flowers go mostly unnoticed, so if you come across any trees with low branches, have a look at what is coming out, because the ash, for instance, has the most beautiful firework of a flower.
Really deliacte and beautiful.
I’ve planted parsnips, peas, spinach beet, leeks, broccoli and have a greenhouse full of little lettuce plants. I’m bringing on tomatoes, cucumber and courgettes in the conservatory, as well as a lot of flowers I couldn’t resist. I may have mentioned putting a first row of early potatoes in the vegetable patch back in late February/early March, and thinking it was probably a mistake as it was cold and wet soon after, but actually that first row has had leaves for about two weeks now, so it paid off!
26th April 2013
I saw, and heard, our first swallow here on 20th of April. I’m sure it was one of “ours” because it swooped to the garage to do a recce, but it didn’t stay. It gives me a lurch in my heart, that bubbly sound that announces the arrival of an amazing little bird, returning from Africa to exactly the location it used last year and maybe for several years before that. A few days later I saw two, high up above Zanzig, feeding.
Most of the hazels and hawthorns have leaves now, as well as elder, crab apple and some shrubs, but these are oak buds, not ready to unfurl just yet and very beautiful in their tight stripes I think.
For several years now, I have vowed at the end of a season not to plant a million seeds in seed trays at the beginning of the next season. It’s so very easy, and takes no time at all, to fill a tray with compost and sprinkle nice rows of seeds with labels at the ends, but very soon these have turned into a million tiny plants, all of which need to be potted on. After a while, every surface in the conservatory will be covered in small pots. A little later on they will all have to be hardened off, which involves carrying trays of seedlings outside for the day, and not forgetting to bring them back in again in the evening. And then, finally, you can plant them out in the big wide world for the slugs to eat. Yay!
This sounds a tad bitter! Last year was a very very bad year for all sorts of things, and of course one hopes this year may be better; and guess what? I’ve got hundreds of seedlings coming on in trays in the conservatory…
Looked on positively, the whole process is addictive and thrilling, and you might end up with a glorious riot of vegetables and flowers that have cost comparatively little.
The small pond has hundreds of tadpoles now that are big enough to swim about. I don’t know if some toads die after mating, but I’m beginning to think they must, because I keep finding dead ones that look perfectly intact. A few days ago there was one on the lawn. I prodded it gently but left it just in case. It was still there the next day in exactly the same place, which meant I’d have to pick it up and throw it somewhere. Yuk. Putting this off, I went to the compost heap with the bucket, and on the way back, immersed in thought, guess what? Out of all that grass to tread on, I trod firmly on the dead toad. Double yuk. But by then I really had to chuck it somewhere so tried not to see what standing on it had done and took it at arms length to throw in the nettles. There’s another one on the lawn by the big apple tree now… What is the matter with them?
19th April 2013
This is the time of year when I feel the need to sing the praises of the dandelion. I know they have a knack of rooting in places that are impossible to get at, and then putting a root down a foot, but I get upset by the brutal adverts that advise us as to how we can poison them or yank them out of the ground, because the cheery yellow flower of a dandelion seems to be the flower of choice for the first emerging hoverflies, bees and beetles. I lay down on not entirely dry grass the other day to see a little mining bee that was just wallowing in the polleny luxury of all those yellow petals, and it was a heart-warming sight. The sight of any bee is heart-warming at the moment, and I have seen terribly few, but this beautiful bumblebee was also on a dandelion.
You can see his proboscis going to the heart of the flower, and don’t you admire his bristly blonde pantaloon hairs that are sticking out to the sides! I realised recently how distinctive the buzz of a bumblebee is, and that nothing else buzzes in that way. Hoverflies make a thin little noise. Other flies might buzz against a window, or on a sunny patch of slate, but the bumble makes a bumbling buzz and this year my ears are definitely on alert for that sound.
I seem to spend my life moving compost around at the moment. I filled two dumpy bags in a panic in preparation for the arrival of the greenhouse, and imagined I would find plenty of places to spread it when I had time. But I’ve put thick layers over every flowerbed and some of the vegetable patch that I failed to put dung on this year, and I’ve given some away, but there is still a dumpy bag with too much in it too move and I don’t want to keep it there because it’s an eyesore and I can see it from the house. One thing always leads to another, so I am emptying another dumpy bag, leaf mould, into a third, also leaf mould, in order to fill the empty bag from the other bag I can’t move yet and… Well, you can see what I mean. Still, you can’t have too much compost, can you?
12th April 2013
I have my greenhouse at last, but the excitement of this new acquisition was eclipsed one morning by a completely unexpected event. I was up in the bedroom and out of the corner of my eye saw something lolloping along the drive. One of the neighbours dogs? I went to another window and looked out, and there was an OTTER, in broad daylight, making its way along the drive. It went to where our clothesline is, on the edge of a drop in level onto the lower lawn. Deciding against this route it then lolloped its way through the garage and came into view again on the lawn. It traversed the lawn and slithered into our big pond at the bottom. Wow.
It spent long enough in the pond for me to fetch our neighbour and the binoculars. We watched it swim about and at one point climb onto the little central island, where it “scented” against a large stone. After a further swim it got out of the pond and left in the direction of our neighbours pond down the road.
This explains the poos I couldn’t identify under the bird feeder! I’m still a little puzzled as to why it lingers under the seed feeder, but recently there have been lots of quite large, black shiny poos strewn on the grass. Too big for hedgehog. I thought possibly they belonged to the two little partridges, but last week when one of the partridges got briefly trapped in the conservatory, this theory bit the dust. Panicked partridges leave poos, and they were small, olive green and white, and blobby, compared to the ones on the lawn. Well, mystery solved.
Still can’t quite believe we have a visiting otter! There are no fish in our pond (I’m thinking of rushing out and buying some, but they tend to disappear over the weir) so I hope it found some frogs. I’m fairly willing to sacrifice a few frogs if it means otter sightings.
I had to use a long plank to get some big stones to the top of the wall I’ve been rebuilding.
I have now finished this little section, but the whole of this boundary needs redoing. If I think about that it fills me with panic…
And actually the greenhouse is lovely, and already planted out with lots of salad seedlings. This is T fitting a tap.
And the weather has FINALLY become almost spring-like, which has made me feel human again. Yay!
5th April 2013
I’ve been in quite a state because a friend said she’d seen “hundreds” of swallows over the river, and, ever since, I have been imagining them dropping out of the sky from lack of food. Then on a sunny day I saw a little cluster of gnats milling about. I have never, ever been so glad to see gnats, and on a trip out I too saw lots of birds over the river, swallows or maybe martins, I couldn’t tell because I was driving, but whatever they were, they had managed a week of this perishing weather and were still flying about. I shouldn’t under estimate their resilience.
On a day of brilliant sunshine I stood on the steps by the small pond mesmerised by the heat, and became aware of much activity in amongst the tangled growth and new leaves of my rambling rose. There was a pair of dunnocks, a wren and, I think, more than one sparrow. One dunnock was, like me, enjoying the warmth of the sun, sitting preening itself and singing a quiet little happy song from time to time. I could see its breast quiver, and feel its pleasure just watching it.
Last week I mentioned the two partridges that are living here. I wasn’t here when one got into the conservatory (door open a crack to let in some air), but T was, fortunately, and managed to release it again without incurring much damage amongst the pots and seed trays, which was a miracle. But the flustered partridge apparently ran down the lane pursued by one of the cats. Oh dear, poor little bird. Would it find its way home?
Later, I was on the ‘phone and kept hearing the peculiar explosive “chukka chukka” noise a partridge makes. I peered out of the window at the ground and amongst the bushes and couldn’t see a bird, but it sounded really close. Eventually I spotted it, on the gable end of the workshop roof overlooking the big lawn. From this elevated perch it was peering about and calling out for its lost mate, I assume. Oh dear…
Don’t fret though. This morning I spotted the pair of them back together, picking about contentedly on the flower meadow. Good.
I’ve been half-killing myself, very enjoyably, repairing our boundary wall on the far side of the wood (keeps me warm) with large spars and earth. I like working out there because it feels truly remote, at a distance from house and road, and it means I walk right through the wood to get there, and to go back to get the pickaxe or some other tool I need. Walking back and forth I’ve noticed an ever-growing number of large patches of this little plant, with its cheerful lime green flowers. We never had this here before we had the wood, and it’s taken fifteen or so years to get so established, but now it’s thriving.
I believe it’s opposite-leaved golden saxifrage. As it arrived of its own volition, it makes me wonder what else might arrive in the years to come. Always something to look forward to, even if you don’t know what it might be.
29th March 2013
I did get in the big pond on a day that was actually sunny, and cleared the weed from the lily. It looks healthy and promising, but no buds yet, and I managed to get a waderful of water. Not done that before. How do you dry out a wader?
(Ah… By finding a place in the conservatory where I could sort of hang it by the strap at the top and keep the floppy part opened up. Let sunshine do the rest.)
In the small pond I was picking out a few dead leaves and came across a caddis fly larva that had dressed itself in yellow iris seeds.
One does have to wonder if they don't take an interest in their choice of materials, as this one is entirely clad in these seeds, which one imagines must mean it went around hunting for them on the bottom of the pond.
Not too far from here is a farm that does “shoots”, killing hundreds of partridges for sport (we won’t go into this…) and I have been delighted to see a pair of what I imagine are runaways here in the sanctuary of Zanzig. They are dear, silly little round birds and I have watched them picking peacefully about down around the marshy bit. The other morning they were right outside the window amongst the forget-me-nots.
I get kind of anxious when friends tell me about all the seeds they have started already, because I haven’t planted anything. Well, ages ago I put in one row of early potatoes, but I’m fairly sure that won’t gain me anything because it’s been so horribly cold more or less ever since. Horribly cold might be a little better than horribly wet, which would have rotted the seed potatoes before they had a chance to grow, but nevertheless doesn’t bode well for their progress. And I have, just, done three little trays of seeds in the conservatory, salad and a few flowers for the garden, but I don’t want trays full of seedlings and nowhere to put them because the ground hasn’t warmed up so I’ve been cautious.
One tray has some seeds I collected last summer, amongst them, figwort. Last year, I had one figwort, which was home to the most irresistible insect, actually called a figwort weevil. (How clever was that, that it found my one figwort?) This year I’d like a positive forest of figwort and lots and lots of these long-nosed funny little insects. (see July 27th 2012) Mind you, so far, the figwort seed hasn’t come up…
22nd March 2013
There is a dead toad at the bottom of my small pond, and I came across a desiccated corpse amongst the vegetation on the side too. The casualties of mating, I presume. It’s a horrible business. But there is lots of spawn trailing all over the pond, so we'll have plenty of tadpoles, which not only means keeping the toad population healthy, but also provides food for diving beetles and other pond dwellers.
There has been a notable absence of squirrel for some time, and I learned the other day that one of our neighbours has been waging his own war on squirrels. Oh dear, he catches them and drowns them, and since he told me the thought has haunted me, because I think drowning is a nasty death and although I got very incensed with squirrel from time to time, I wouldn’t wish that on him. In fact, I have to admit, I have missed his perky presence…
On a more cheerful note, I keep seeing hedgehog poo on the big lawn, so dragged myself out of my armchair the other evening to see if I could see the animal itself. Well, instant success. I just walked out of the door and shone the torch, and there was a hedgehog under the bird feeder.
It was a bit cold for a lengthy search and I didn’t hang around, but when it warms up a bit I want to see how many I can find out and about.
Having filled two dumpy bags with compost in preparation for the arrival of my greenhouse, I spent the last few days before this rain shovelling it all out again into a bucket or the wheelbarrow, to be distributed over flower beds. This feels like what T calls Job Creation, but I had to put it in the bags in order to get the plot cleared quickly, and then the arrival of the greenhouse was delayed. Oh well, it’s all good exercise. The beds look lovely with the new foliage coming up through a thick rich brown coating of beautiful compost. Not that I’ve been out to admire it since it started raining relentlessly. Again.
15th March 2013
The site for my new greenhouse contained an enormous pile of “garden rubbish” behind a larch lap fence. T took the fence down a while ago, and seeing hedgehog poo around I felt I could begin dismantling the heap. (This was before this bitterly cold weather arrived.) This has been a gigantic job and nearly killed me. The pile proved to be about a tenth sticks and branches and stems on the top, and two feet of almost-ready-to-use compost of a tempting nature.
We have a supply of what I believe are known as Dumpy bags, the bags one gets from a builders merchant if you order sand, and are non returnable, which is a sin, but provides us with some useful storage. I filled two of these bags and spread some of the rest on flower beds. I am finally ready, but now the greenhouse provider is rather busy and I have to wait, and it’s going to rain, inevitably.
I’m pleased to see large lily leaves appearing in the big pond. I had never succeeded in getting a lily established because the wild mallards just pull everything to pieces, and uproot the plant in the process. Then, two years ago I removed an enormous mat of lily plant and mud from my small pond, which was getting overwhelmed, and T helped me get it in a wheel barrow and I wheeled it down to the big pond and tipped it in. Then, with it in the water it was easy to float it to where I wanted it and fasten it down with a couple of big stones.It didn’t flower last year, but it’s looking very healthy and I’d be so pleased if it flowered this year. If it weren’t quite so cold still I’d get into my waders and go and see if there are any buds forming yet.
I mowed the garden “lawn” today. The birds have had a great time scatting the compost I put on beds at the start of the winter, and the bits on the lawn have gone rock hard and there is a certain amount of earth and stones involved too. The rooks have dropped sticks and the edges of everything have got a bit lost, and mowing was not so much grass as debris of various kinds, some of which sounded like I was incorporating at least a garden trowel in the process. I hope I haven’t damaged the mower… Still, it is beginning to take shape out there. Mowing always gives the garden a tidied up look that’s very encouraging.
8th March 2013
Since the ground dried, and it seems like it’s the first time since about last April, there is so much to do, but suddenly I can’t wait to do it all, which must be Spring, surely? I cut the wild flower meadow that we gave up on at the end of last year, and T raked it and then he was able to cut it again with the ride-on mower, so it looks quite respectable, amazingly. I cut the rough bit in the orchard too, and raked that. This is following a new policy, which is Cut the Grass When You Can. I planted the first row of early potatoes, the little white label declaring spring just by its presence. I had a stupendous bonfire and burned all the brushwood from the coppice and all the big bundles of brambles I’d cut, as well as some bay tree branches. Bay tree makes a frightening noise when it burns as it’s full of oil.
With a bonfire, my aim is to create as little polluting smoke as possible,
so although we finished both the coppicing and the bramble cutting a while ago, I left both bramble bundles and brushwood for three weeks because it burns much more fiercely if you let it dry out a bit. Proof of this is in the One Match policy. Some men have a tendency to resort all too quickly to dousing a reluctant fire with some horrible flammable substance so get banned from making bonfires, and T always asks if I used only one match and I was able to answer, smugly, ‘Yes.’
Having left the material for the fire for a while I moved the first bundle of brambles to a new spot to make a start, and was glad I did, because two beautiful mice ran out. I’m so afraid of forgetting this simple precaution.
I was really keen to get my top flower meadow seeded before the dry weather finished. I’d already dug it over once and taken out weeds and grass (and rocket) and I’d hoed it once, but raking it produces a lot of stones on the surface, so I filled the wheelbarrow with stones twice before scattering seed. Then I had to tread the whole area, which gave me a crick in my neck, watching where I put my feet and doing a stomping routine. I decided to have just field poppies and cornflowers this year, possibly a bit of an indulgence as I just fancy the colour scheme. I know the corn marigolds were a great draw for flies and spiders last year, but, well, I’ve indulged myself. Should it all come up and flower, which is never a certainty, I think it will look spectacular in blue and red.
1st March 2013
Going across the lawn to fill the bird feeder I saw what I am sure is hedgehog poo, so I went to the mound in the orchard and very carefully took the top off it, and there was no one inside. I hope the hedgehog can find enough to eat at the moment. Do they go to bed and get up frequently in a relatively mild winter?
I found another fox poo in the wood. The last one disappeared mysteriously before I could photograph it, but now we have another good sample of a classic, because these two bits have the typical pointy ends and a kind of plaited look that says fox.
Finding a poo may not be the most auspicious event, but I’m unlikely to see a fox in daylight so seeing poo is the next best thing. At least I know a fox has visited.
The rooks have just started collecting sticks for their nests, and last weekend I saw the first toads in the small pond. I haven’t seen them since, I imagine because it suddenly got too cold to be amorous. Also, T cut the big lawn, which makes things look sooo much better. It’s not necessarily the right time to cut grass, but with the weather of the past year being so unremittingly wet and weird our new approach is Cut the Grass When You Can, and at the moment it’s dry enough. With the grass cut and the little daffodils out under the apple trees one might almost imagine spring is on the way.
Before my greenhouse can be erected I have a lot to do. The heap of stuff that might have a hedgehog in it will have to wait, but the ever-troublesome bay tree needs pruning or it will be making my lettuces feel overshadowed. This bay tree is a nightmare. It started life as an innocent cutting and has grown into a monster. When I removed one of the two trunks a million shoots appeared at ground level - well, I say ground level, but most of them have poked their way through the dry stone wall on the boundary, which makes dealing with them very difficult if not impossible.
I was surprised, having had a fight to the death, almost, trying to get a double ladder right up into the top of the tree, to find evidence at this height of my previous attacks. It takes determination to struggle up a ladder through a thicket of foliage and then, nose to twig with an old pigeons nest, try and saw through quite a large branch, and the fact that I’d been there before made me realise that the tree had thickened up effortlessly after being pruned last time. Perhaps I should actually take it down to ten foot of trunk, but I’m not sure if it would sprout again if I did that, except in unwanted places. It would look rather bald and unsightly. Hmmm.
22nd February 2013
If you have a piece of garden and feel tentative about doing the right thing with it, take heart. I don’t think you need to learn how to garden. You just have to begin in a corner somewhere, and the rest will follow. Most of it’s common sense, and you get more informed, rather than better, just by doing it. Make a start, and inevitably one thing leads to another.
I made a start on tidying up round the big pond. The plants that like those wet conditions, purple loosestrife, meadowsweet, hemp agrimony, royal ferns, leave dead stems at the end of the season and now, as I see signs of spring I look out of the window and I want to start tidying up.. It’s actually cold at the moment, but I won’t disturb anything, I hope, as I’ve learned from experience that most of the dead growth will magically vanish under the flush of new leaves and flowers and all I need to cut off is anything tall. This led to finding a bramble or two, and a bit later on I found myself on a major clear up on our boundary, pulling out brambles once more. This could have led to looking at the hedge and feeling it might need one or two tops pruned off, and then there’s the willow that we cut down (it got dangerously tall and was leaning towards our neighbour’s roof) which if I forget for just one season produces a hundred shoots that soon get too big to cut with secateurs.
Of course, if you let your garden become a jungle and do almost nothing to it, it will still be a good habitat for something!
Sometime soon I’m getting a new greenhouse. When I say new, I’ve never actually had a greenhouse. I inherited a huge polytunnel, but that got taken down and sold, and I was quite relieved because it was too big and made me feel guilty. What I miss though is the endless salad a polytunnel made possible. I want lots of salad, especially all through the winter, and maybe some perpetual spinach that the pigeons can’t get, and maybe some cucumbers for T as he likes them in his sandwiches, and maybe I could grow just one or two bearded irises and the slugs wouldn’t find them… So, I am indulging in a greenhouse and looking forward to it being nicely manageable, and crammed!
It’s going where there is, at the moment, a vast pile of slow-to-rot-down material, rose stems, tree trimmings and so on, but I can’t move the pile yet because of the hibernating hedgehog possibility. It’s behind a larch lap fence that has seen better days, and T has started taking down the panels and pulling up the posts. The first panel revealed an awful lot of hibernating snails on the back. They were big snails and were sure to wake up hungry, so I stopped what I was doing and collected all twenty-three of them, and before I walked to the far side of the wood with them I did something I’ve been meaning to do for ages, I marked a number of them on their shells with a spot of pink nail varnish.
It will be interesting to see if any of them make it back to the vegetable garden.
15th February 2013
I’ve been waiting for a man with a big strimmer to come and tackle the brambles in the end piece of coppice in the Orchard, and there was a day when the sun came out (and obviously went to my head) when I got tired of waiting and I took my hook and started on the job myself. I actually love bramble bashing, which is just as well, as it does seem to be what life mainly consists of at certain times of year. It’s very satisfying, seeing the area of cleared ground round the coppiced trees expand down the hill as I thrash away, and often I find things of interest. I found an old nest. It had been made so neatly on a coppice stump, cradled by the new growth of slim multiple trunks of the tree, and then it would have been covered with an impenetrable layer of lethally prickly brambles.
A blackbird (I think it was a blackbird’s nest, although the mud lining was hard to see after all the rain) would have slipped easily in and out of the thicket, and the baby birds, who spend up to a week on the ground before they can fly, would have been hidden and safe from predators. Altogether an ideal location and a good advertisement for brambles.
The next thing I found almost ended in disaster. I was hacking with the hook and came to a hump that might once have been a pot plant, large, that I had chucked (minus pot of course) into the thick of the trees during summer. It had a layer of dead leaves and stems over it and I suddenly noticed that my hook had skimmed off a layer of leaves, and there, exposed, was the curve of a prickly back. A sleeping hedgehog. I came so near to slashing it while it slept, or just disturbing its winter slumbers, which must be the fate of many a hedgehog I fear. They are actually quite hard to arouse if they are well and truly asleep, so I quickly covered him up and added a bit more leaf mould for protection as I’d removed the brambles. I even put one or two long brambles across like guy ropes.
The hump, hard to see, is between the two trees.
Later I came upon another, smaller mound of dead leaves and debris. Very carefully I removed the “roof” to see if there was another hedgehog. Inside was a rounded hollow, but the only thing I could see was what looked like the kernel of a sweetcorn cob, only grey in colour. I picked it up and put it on the end of my finger to look at it properly. I was just coming to the realisation that it was a large tick, when all it’s horrible legs started to emerge from it’s body! So, it certainly looked as if it had recently had a good meal, so it’s likely then that there was a hedgehog in that hole, but has it swapped accommodation and is it the one I nearly sliced with my hook, or has it come out thinking it’s spring now?
All this taught me a lesson, which is that the compost heap it not the only place one has to be careful not to disturb a hedgehog. If they are to be found in quite a small pile of leaves or a thick clump of grass, then this makes life very difficult. In fact if the man with the big strimmer had arrived I feel sure the hedgehog would have met a nasty end. Thus I am destined to look after my entire estate, for ever and ever, with a humble hook. Oh dear.
8th February 2013
T finished the coppicing of trees a while ago, and has been diligently sawing the trunks into logs and stacking them. Out in the field there is an enormous amount of brushwood to deal with now. as you can see on the left of the photo.
I used to think we could just disperse it around the place, but it tends not to rot as quickly as is necessary, which means that in places the brambles grow through it and T returns to coppice again before it's really rotted down. This makes life almost impossible for the coppicer - a bit like trying to work on an unreliable old mattress, only prickly, so I shall have to have a bonfire. I absolutely love bonfires, but seldom allow myself the luxury as they have a big carbon footprint and make me feel guilty.
I keep missing the good days, if you can call them good… Had to be out on Monday, and it turned out to be sunny. That morning I woke in the small hours and heard “Waak waak waak. Waak waaaak waak waak,” and for a moment couldn’t think what I was hearing. It was, of course, the local ducks shouting. It’s the female that shouts actually, but whoever it was, it meant that their thoughts have turned to procreation. Later, at a more civilised hour, getting ready to go to Truro for an appointment, I remembered my small pond and its vulnerability to ducks. I went out in a panic and found just the thing. T has been removing some tree protectors we made years and years ago for some of the first trees we ever planted here, chicken wire and posts. He had painstakingly removed the wire from the posts and made rolls of it, and the rolls were up by my garden shed, where I arrived in my panic wondering how to protect the pond Very Quickly as I had to go out. I took five rolls and simply placed them in the pond. Galvanised wire doesn’t mind water too much and the small creatures can swim happily through all the holes, whereas I defy any marauding duck to get on very well in a bunch of rolls of wire trying to eat my dragonfly larvae. Brilliant?
1st February 2013
On a sunny day I began the bramble-digging marathon down on the marshy bit, but it turned out not to be such a marathon after all. Brambles make new plants by rooting at the end of their arching stems when they meet the ground. During the growing season, if I happen to notice a stem that is about to root, I often just break the end off to thwart it. I don’t remember doing all that much snapping off of stems this season, but most of the brambles have cut off-looking ends to their shoots and haven’t rooted at all. Not sure if this was my vigilance or some odd effect of too much rain. Also, all the terrible weather has meant the ground is wetter than I have ever known it, but as a result I didn’t have to dig up most of the brambles, I could just pull them out of the squishy ground by hand, roots and all without too much effort. Brilliant. After three sessions down there, I was finished!
A little more fine weather, and I have been able to hoe the whole of the wild flower patch that I spent the winter digging over and weeding. I’m determined to stop it greening over before I plant seed this year.
As for the other wildflower meadow, down by the marsh, I am not sure what will become of it. The whole area became too wet last year to get the mower round the paths let alone cut the meadow, and the final straw was the neighbours cattle getting in. I shall try and keep it all bramble free, and tree free - there are always seedlings of ash, oak, sycamore, hazel and elder appearing uninvited and I don’t want it to turn into woodland even if it isn’t going to be quite the kind of meadow I once planned. Things rarely go to plan, but then it makes you look forward all the time to Next Year, when it will be just how you plan it of course…
25th January 2013
As I write this, the sun is sinking after a beautiful day, for which I feel profoundly grateful. Having so much wet weather has taught me to grab coat and boots and get myself out there should the skies clear. Just get something done. Anything. I have finally finished digging over the wild flower patch of last year and I have been putting compost on the flower beds.
I wish I made better compost. This lot is okay, but it’s not quite the crumbly enviable stuff you see television gardeners plunging their arms into and using with abandon. I have quite a lot, but it’s hard work to dig out and it really doesn’t crumble. Parts of it look as if I put a spadeful of grey sand in there (possibly egg boxes? I put those in sometimes when I don’t have enough dry bulky material) and then there are the bits that look like half squashed toads, making me flinch. As for egg shells. I didn’t think we really ate very many eggs but the egg shells seem to be everywhere, looking almost as they did when I chucked them in the compost bucket. I do know I’m lazy when it comes to building the heap. Some people chop everything up small. Have to admit, I don’t. There doesn’t seem to be time when everything is in full swing, which is usually the time one makes the most compost material. I rely on good layers of grass cuttings, which have a simply miraculous effect on a heap. It can be right to the top of the bin and then you put on grass cuttings, and in a couple of days the heap has sunk at least a foot.
There were predictions of the “coldest winter on record” sort, bandied about in the late autumn, and we have had some fairly cold days. On one sunny day I noticed that my feet were getting a bit painful, but I didn’t realise quite how cold it was until I went to take in the sheets from the washing line and found they were frozen! Never had frozen sheets before. They are remarkably difficult to fold; you have to punch them into submission. On the whole, though, there has been no biting cold, no frozen ground, so maybe the forecasters were wrong and squirrel knew better than they do. The other thought that struck me regarding squirrel and his lack of nut-burying this year is this: I bet he is out in our wood stripping the bark of innumerable trees. What else would he be eating?
Found a classic fox poo in the wood when walking round with a friend - it was exactly as described on a website I found, that is, having a slight twist to it, and being deposited in a prominent place, which was the higher side of the main path. Didn’t have my camera with me so went back the next day to photograph it and I swear it had entirely disappeared. I am mystified. I’ve looked and looked in the spot where I saw it. I’m sure I remember where it was because I used a sweet chestnut leaf to pick the smaller portion up and look more closely and see if it smelled “foxy”. So where has it gone? Would something EAT it? I doubt it somehow, as it looked as if it consisted mostly of fur and tiny bones. Unless the something that ate it was desperately hungry…
11th January 2013
Dry for a while and I almost finished digging over the wildflower patch… There was a bird tantalising me with a gentle, secret “tap tapping” from one of the ivy covered mature trees on the top hedge, amongst the leaves, high up against the sky, tappity tap, and no chance of seeing it unless I happened to look up just as it flew off. A nuthatch?
I was worried that with our squirrel-proof bird feeder, repositioned on the lower lawn, it would be impossible for the nuthatches to feed. On the old set-up there was a little wooden tray to catch the falling seeds and the nuthatch would arrive with a slap and be something of a bully whilst helping himself from the lowest feeding hole and chucking seed about recklessly, apparently just for the hell of it. I used to get rather cross. Occasionally I used to bang on the window when I could hear the seed raining onto the glass roof below. Then we moved the whole feeder and irritation with the nuthatch turned to concern for his welfare. The feeder now hangs from a metal bracket and there is no wooden tray, just a slippery dustbin lid to keep squirrel at bay. A nuthatch has feet that are beautifully adapted for getting about on rough bark, but not quite right for the metal perches on a feeder. However, looking through my binoculars a few days ago I was reassured by the sight of the ever resourceful nuthatch clinging to the metal bracket and reaching out to take seeds from the feeding holes. No need to worry then.
Since hearing of the threat to our ash trees, I have an ever-growing, rather desperate collection of photos of one tree in particular here. Just after Christmas there was a full moon, and it came framed in the crook of one of the huge branches of this tree, along with the evening star, peeping through and just visible in this photo.
Another photo for the ash tree collection.
4th January 2013
I suppose a great deal of foul weather does a lot to enhance a decent day, or even one where it simply isn’t raining. On one of those days I opened the bedroom window because I heard a bird singing when I was making the bed. A thrush. Tuning up. Ah joy! Out in the wood I found the little spikes of snowdrops coming through at last, and there are suddenly hundreds of celandine leaves about the place. I heard the tee-cher tee-cher of a great tit, and also, another heart-lifting sound, the green woodpecker! After weeks and weeks of silence I suddenly heard him laugh loudly from somewhere in the valley. All sounds that feel reassuring, portends of spring and proof that out there the birds and plants are still getting on with their lives, in spite of the weather.
Out in the wood I found staghorn fungus on a moss-covered tree stump; if you kneel down (getting very wet knees and elbows) it looks like a miniature forest, a complete other land, which reminds me of being a child and spending hours looking at the small details of everything.
I think the moss is rough-stalked feather moss, and the little brown stalks with heads on them are the moss fruits.
It’s so wet there are few jobs I can do. I shall have to start digging brambles down in the marshy bit soon, or I won’t get it done before everything grows and I can no longer get in there without trampling on things I want. I have compost to spread on my flower beds, and leaf mould, but I can’t do that while the ground is so saturated as the wheelbarrow and my feet are enough to make a quagmire in a few short trips. I haven’t finished clearing the wildflower patch, but what can one do but wait…