Wednesday 17 February 2016

Air traffic control at Bird Station 1

Last week the RSPB invited garden owners to take part in 'The Great Garden Birdwatch' as part of their gathering of statistics. We duly downloaded the App to take part and added our list of regular visitors to our bird feeding station.

We inherited this Bird Feeding Station from our dear friends, Les and Anne and have never altered its position in some 12 years or so. Positioned strategically close to hedges for shelter and nesting, surrounded by berried shrubs to perch and feed amongst with ground space underneath for bottom foragers.  It is the perfect place and  a regular delight to us. An old bathing fountain completes the picture tucked in amongst the grasses to provide water for sipping and bathing in.

Making coffee this morning at my kitchen window after a productive gardening session my gaze as ever was drawn to it as a lot of activity seemed to be taking place.

Cocky Locky, our beautiful but dim pheasant was furking around under the bird feeder, trawling through the husks and remnants left by other tinier tidier visitors.  As he turned around his enormous tale, bashed into the newly sown Stipa arundinacea - damn him!  Suddenly he takes off vertically, squawking in that shrill echoing wail familiar to countryside dwellers, crashing through the soft emerging buds of the Magnolia soulangiana behind the bird feeder as he just about clears the hedge. At take off  he almost collides with Fat Boy Pigeon, coming in without clearance who manages to crash-land amongst the plants, bird feeders and  narrowly miss the drinking fountain before subsiding into the Phlomis.

As I notice that the fat balls need replenishing a vivid scarlet flash swoops into the scene,  disappearing behind the Magnolia trunk as if awaiting some invisible command.  It is 'Mission Impossible' ( cue music...) time as the Great Spotted Woodpecker begins his par cour tactics.  Perhaps he doesn't realise there are no laser alarms attached to my bird feeders? But still he avoids the floor, then scales the wooden post claws only, before dropping down as if on a zip wire onto the tube of nuts. He knows he has only 30 seconds to peck, eat and get out of there.....

I drink my coffee feeling like an Air traffic controller on a break, never a boring moment on my watch!

Tuesday 2 February 2016

Snowdrops and Snowflakes

When the snowdrops appear in Della's woodland and adjacent garden at Hill Cottage my neighbours and I breathe a collective sigh. It marks the beginning of the end of winter for many who are just holding on through the dark days. I have written before about the joy of snowdrops and the collective mania or Galanthaphilia but this must be the first year that I have seen both snowdrops and snowflakes ( Leucojum aetivum) in flower side by side. 

Their  beautiful simplicity never fails to enthrall.  Stark white against the deep dark woodlands like pockets of  fallen snow  melting amongst the mouldering leaf litter. Tiny and fragile when viewed in isolation belying a strength and resilience.  In large swathes poking up between the ivies and ferns of the woodland floor they really can stop a walker in their stride.

I try to pot up a few divisions each year into my old vintage clay pots,the better to admire them close up. On my outside table, amongst a collection of other gardenalia they can steal the scene. Mulch them simply with moss or lichen. A mini woodland scene all on their own.

My thoughts turn to a long overdue garden project on my long  neglected shade border.  I am looking to design a lower maintenance, naturalistic option. So I am looking to the woodland for my  inspiration. I have a tall stand of sycamores and some native hedging as a backdrop so I am hoping to create a mid-storey of small trees and shrubs, magnolias, oak-leafed hydrangeas, maybe some acers and then a ground floor of woodland perennials and bulbs. Perhaps I will be tempted with some edible woodlanders like currants too? First I need to do some more research on the woodland and permaculture garden.

One thing is for certain I will be needing lots of snowdrops! So I will have to divide my clumps at the end of February as this is the best method for propagation. A pleasureable task.

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Saturday 30 January 2016

Red delight......


My cycle route to Yarmouth was wild and very windy this morning as the remnants of  Storm Jonas hit our shores. Head down, battling against the wind my eye was caught by a copper shape, darting about in the middle of the lane. A red squirrel!  Now I must tell you that we islanders love our red squirrels. They live here in safe isolation from the dominant greys and we go to great lengths to keep it that way. Shy and secretive it is always a pleasure to come across one in the wild and to spend a while observing it.

This little fellah was a beauty. Quite large, so a mature adult with delightful dark tufts on both ears and a very full fluffy tail.  A very handsome and bold creature indeed. It remained unphased by several passing vehicles and continued to forage about amongst the verge and then it took off, scampering right up the middle of the lane until darting into the conifer copse.

As I cycled on I reminsced about the great lengths I have gone to over the years to encourage these adorable creatures into my garden. Several metres of hazel and beech hedgerows have been planted but to no avail. I understood the principal of creating a 'wildlife corridor' to provide both shelter and food source, enticing the squirrels right to my door. It seems however that the squirrels hadn't read the same book as I, as it took many years and only a couple of sightings to appease my efforts. But I have learnt to laugh at my folly and take a sighting like this mornings as the simple gift it was. It is enough for me now to know that they live around me.  When I find an acorn buried in one of my bulb pots I take comfort from the fact that they visit my garden, but not necessarily when I am about!

Little wonder that with their amusing secretive ways and pretty colouring wildlife photographers go to great lengths to capture their image. Surfer friend, Paul Blackley is one such and below is one of his wonderful images.

Tuesday 19 January 2016

The First Frost

Tuesday 19th January- The first Frost

The first real frost of the winter. Cold but bright! Yay! The Echiums outside my front window are wilting in response, their giant leaves drooping earthwards. But apart from them, very little damage. Crunching over the crisp lawn to admire the frosted seedheads in the long border I was so glad I had planted a Prairie style border where all the grass stems and seed heads were mostly still standing,making a perfect receptacle for the frost.

I have waxed lyrical about leaving seedheads in the garden before but a lacing of  frost over a sedum head or phlomis russeliana takes some beating in my view. But this season there is a real conundrum which you may be able to notice from my next picture.

In the foreground are the frosted seedheads of the phlomis and sedums but wilting behind are the emerging foliage and buds of a sulking echinops ritro, tricked into believing it was spring and now hammered by frost.  Not sure how this is all going to pan out but will just continue to observe.

My cycle ride along the Causeway was also a joy with memories of childhood jumping on icy puddles, anticipating the crack and groan as the ice gives way. It's the first time this path has been crisp and crackly underfoot rather than wet and sodden so I careered along it, quite the girl racer. Stopping to gain my breath I admired the seedheads of the tall architectural thistles of the teasels and the banks of natural rushes as well.  Both reminding me that nature does it so much better!

The low bright winter sun, danced across the rivulets and frosty marshes catching the dazzling white of  upturned wings in flight across the river. With just the lonely cry of the curlew and the cheery chatter of the canadian geese for company I felt curiously energised and 'in the moment'.

Back at home Joe had arrived to begin a massive cut-back and sort out of our overgrown shrubs and climbers. Brambles had invaded a Holly tree, the Magnolia needed its lower branches trimming, the Bay tree was in need of a bold hack back and the Vitis coignetaea which was planted at the base of the archway had climbed across the whole front of the house and tangled itself in the bamboo, guttering and downpipe. Reinforcements were definitely needed.

Working at ground level, cutting back clematis, raking leaves, deadheading crocosmia and other late perennials I became very concerned about damage to other early appearing plants. I  had to tiptoe around  primroses, pulmonarias and anemone blanda all in flower, trying not to break their fragile leaves.

Each season brings its own challenges but I feel there is much more to emerge about this year in progress.......

Friday 15 January 2016

Log piles

Wednesday, January 13th

Yesterday son Joe and Tom came to do the tree work on our stand of Sycamores. The plan is to crown lift and thin every year or so, trim the fallen branches and then log the bigger ready to go in the Log Store to be dried and seasoned for the following year. Great excitement and activity on a bright winters day.

Because of this mild winter the native narcissus out on the grass verge are beginning to emerge and juvenile bluebell leaves also. So my plea was for the heavy work to proceed but without trampling these emerging treasures.   A sensitive soul, Tom managed to do this for the most part by jettisoning the branches over the balding hedge into the meadow the other side.  Much to my delight.

Leaving the  two strong men  to carry out the felling task I jumped on my bike to cycle to the local store for fresh bread and provisions, knowing that a Woodlander works better on a full stomach of warming soup. Turning the road to the Bay I was met by a surprising sight. A flock of scruffy sheep being shepherded along the road bringing  the bemused traffic to a standstill. It was a scene more reminscent  of a lane in New Zealand than the main road to the Bay. It transpires that a full trailer load of sheep had overturned at the main junction.   On my return the fall out from this upturning was clear for all to see with the distressing sight of an injured sheep collapsed close to the rear of the trailer and the local Bobby re-routing traffic.

Sharing this excitement(you can tell we live in a quiet rural community)over the soup and crusty bread the subject somehow then moved on to Tom's forthcoming second trip to New Zealand. We all reminsced over our collective experiences and expressed our love of the place.  I then presented him with my NZ Tree Guide,which seemed fitting for such  a tree hugger.  He is going to take a Permaculture Design Course whilst there at the Tui community in Takaka, South Island.  One of the first and most original of the communities set up in NZ.  Equal in influence to our own Findhorn  in Scotland. So I am delighted that the books will have a good leafing through.

After lunch as the felling work ceased so began the joy of lighting a woodland fire to burn off the thinner twigs and waste.  What is it about the raw joy of fire lighting that ignites so many enthusiasms? 

Roger Deakin writes so well about this in his 'Notes from Walnut Tree Farm': 'There are few sights more beautiful than wood smoke hovering over a copse in autumn/February when the coppicers are at work. '

We re-jigged some of the accumulated debris around the Log Store and positioned two large shrubs to be planted as part of the screening and then began the very serious debate of how to stack the logs and create the log pile.This is a  subject  that ignites  passions and enthusiasms.  Stood amongst three  men all equally passionate about how to set out about this task I  found myself  reflecting on the many issues arising.  Life-threatening historically to get right and a matter of great pride amongst a rural community to provide fuel and warmth for the winters warmth and cooking, the Log Store was a vital survival tool.   In the same way that women have re-claimed the Shed so I find that I too have a view on how our Log Store should  look and the way that it should blend in  with the rest of my large garden.


Tom has the greatest practical knowledge and shared his  considerable experience about the differing types of wood , how to season them and how they burn. Tomorrow we are receiving some large pieces of pine destined for the log store and they will need at least a year to dry out as they are very resinous. In a log burner they present few problems if mixed with other woods, like our Poplar or later the Sycamore. But in an open fire they can spit a lot as they are so full of sap. Fascinating stuff!

I adore log piles, built creatively as a form of land art. Over the years  I have built several creations  including a log dragon, a sinuous caterpillar and log stepping stones.  I like the fact, that as they biodegrade they form a wildlife habitat so are important to have in any garden. My current favourite is to see logs stacked under a bench or tight against a house . The patterns are pleasingly geometric  as they stack one row upon another,  lending a safe, homely feel to the winter garden.

 This winter a new best- selling book has taken the book buying public by storm  entitled,  'Norweigan Wood. Chopping, stacking and drying wood the Scandinavian way' by Lars Mytting.

Researching this later ( in front of my roaring log fire of course) I laughed out loud at this section about how you can tell a lot about a person from his woodpile. For those looking to marry, there is a list to guide you which I have precised:

Upright and solid: upright and solid man

Low pile: Cautious man, could be shy or weak

A lot of wood: A man of foresight, loyal

Unusual Shape: Freethinking, open spirit, the construction may be weak

Unfinished pile, some logs lying on the ground: Ignorance, decadence, laziness, drunkenness, possibly all of these

and finally....

No log pile: No husband