I had the idea about a week after finishing the edging, so there wasn’t that much grass left from my weeding and tidying efforts, and the violets have now finished flowering, but the forgetmenots are doing brilliantly and it has been a very cheerful indoor arrangement for about three weeks. I notice some aquilegia seedlings have appeared as well. The grass has had to be cut every few days…
Edging is usually a low priority for me in the garden – but higher for my kind husband who does the grass cutting! The last time any borders got edged was probably when I put the pond in and turned most of the lawn into flowerbeds a few years ago. At the same time, some new paths were added which never had edges at all while they established themselves. Now it is time for me to decide which bits of grass count as path, and which have to be reclassified as weeds.
It is not a job I am particularly comfortable with. Easy enough physically: stand vertically, push the half moon into the soil with a foot, use foot to protect new edge and lever soil away, let soil fall higher into the flower bed, and repeat many times over. Then go back and weed all the bits of unwanted grass, dandelions, daisies, primulas, phlomis and everything else I have chopped out so that they may be composted and returned to the garden in due course. However, I find it strange looking out to see crisp, sharp edges. The boundaries between wild and mown strictly delineated. The flowers will spill over wherever they please later in the season, but for now they are contained within their spaces.
I consider how I am not a person who likes to compartmentalise my life. When I did, I was two people, neither of which were the complete ‘me’. I cannot divide myself like that. Nor do I always stay behind recognised boundaries. To be a witch is always crossing borders, physical or on other planes. Being not on the outside looking in, but frequently on the edges, almost part of things but with a foot in both worlds. I cannot shut nature out, it is part of me and I like to keep the boundaries blurred.
Animals, too, like transition zones. Wavy, soft edges give them a much greater choice of habitat as they combine the search for food with the need for some warming sun or protection from predators. These tend to be from mown to unmown areas, not from grass to flowers, but I worry that I have created an obstacle that they didn’t have before.
The alternative would of course be a wildflower meadow; grass covering the whole and growing between plants that are happy in that environment. Yet this still needs management to be successful and avoid a monoculture. Unless it is grazed, or cut yearly as hay meadows were, trees will eventually take over. And the wildlife supported would be far lower than the range currently found in my ‘cottage’ style garden.
I am reminded that the job of the gardener is to make these decisions. To decide for each plant where its boundaries should be and set limits. To create a design and hold it in my mind as a picture I want to make. So I carry on, following the natural shapes as far as I can.
Then I look down on my work from the upstairs window. While all the paths I simply re-edged are fine, I really don’t like the newly shaped path at all! What was I thinking? Finding my plans, I realise how far out some of my other edges are from what is drawn on paper. I wait for a day or two, hoping it will somehow look better; it doesn’t.
Two days later I have had time to work out what needs to be done. I find our long building rope, and lay it over the edges, moving it to where I think the path should go. I check again from upstairs, then find my edging moon again. Suddenly I am enjoying myself, being creative, making a shape that is graceful to look at and easy to walk (and to mow). Harmony restored. Even better, it has created extra space for flowers – which will flop over the grass in due course, returning the edges to their blurred state.
I love this time of year with its increasing light, and snowdrops. I love Spring more, and early Summer is even better, but Imbolc holds promise. As a gardener, and being connected to the land, that is special.Maybe it is because I am an eternal optimist, always looking forwards, wanting to see what is coming and believing that it will be even better than the present. Ever hopeful. I like the planning for a holiday and the dreaming. I like the preparing for events. The pregnancy. I become part of it then, not just presented with someone else’s finished masterpiece.
Imbolc is even more special than a promise, though. It is the beginnings of light, and life, and putting plans into action that have been incubating all winter. They may have been planned since Samhain or slightly earlier, or they may be unconscious desires that have been there for a while. Whichever, at Imbolc they suddenly burst into the light and make us aware of them, and what needs doing.
My first Pagan initiation was at Imbolc, definitely a case of an unconscious longing and then bursting out into the light in a wave of illuminations where all made sense to me and fell into place. I have been a Pagan all my life, in my spiritual outlook, in the things I celebrate, and suddenly discovered there were others like me. On Imbolc I found out what I was, the reasons for everything – and within a few days made a promise to myself that changed my life.As I celebrate this personal anniversary, I am struck by how many changes in my life have been initiated in February, and then been ‘harvested’ or have taken full effect in the autumn. Not all, but a disproportionately high number. Which makes me wonder as I approach this festival what change might be initiated this February? I’ll maybe let you know next autumn!
[This post was written two days ago, but an unexpected lack of internet connection delayed things…]
May you live on with joy in Spirit, as your roses live on in my garden, and all around the world.
b. 16 Feb 1926. d. 18 Dec 2018.
Unfortunately the recent warm spell also brought a new generation of pests, including many flies which get in my face while cycling and whiteflies which have invaded my kale. I am sending the lacewings out from sheltering in my bedroom windows (not a very sensible place for the winter, I open them too often) on the next warm day to have a feast.
England is usually a damp country. I can expect it to rain at least once a week, very rarely do I even need to consider watering the plants outside. However, after a wet spring and snow in April, we had a dryish May and a totally dry June. July has so far managed one short shower, which showed little evidence in the empty water butts.
I usually feel very connected to our weather, and help to balance it in my area. However, this summer has been something I haven’t experienced before. A completely stuck weather system, that has no interest in moving anywhere. The only messages I have received are that it would rather we took note of what we are doing to the Earth and how we use the resources available to us, and doesn’t want to change until we notice.
This has raised many issues for me, both in terms of my connection to the weather and rainfall, and in how I use water myself.
First the weather, I always remind myself that I only ask, and while most of the time my requests are answered, sometimes they are not for various reasons. The main reason I have noticed my requests having no effect is when the weather pattern is much greater than my little area. A lack of wind can be tricky as well, although this can be built into any request. But I also noticed early on how hard it is to be single minded in wanting to change the weather when everyone around me is just enjoying the long sunny summer days and clear blue skies, and when there are all sorts of practical reasons such as house building work that the sun is aiding. It is also hard to want wind when it would only fan the flames of the various moorland fires that are raging further north in Derbyshire and nearby. Meanwhile on the other side of the world there are floods, as you might expect to bring balance to the Earth. As time goes on however, I just pray for rain with no reservations – and try to enjoy whatever weather arrives here.
The second aspect is my garden. I am aware that over the past few years, with having a pre-school child with me most of the time, I have had to simply let a lot go. This year I wanted to be much more proactive, sowing and re-sowing vegetable seeds, and watering the growing plants during dry periods.
First I appreciated ‘indicator’ plants like those pansies mentioned earlier being fast to wilt and letting me know that water was required. I duly watered the vegetables and the strawberries, plus the few flowers in pots – one with pansies and one with pelargoniums. After a while I grew bored of watering every day and considered getting a sprinkler that would cover just the area of my vegetables, four small raised beds. Then there was talk of water shortages. Instead I stopped watering the fruit, leaving it to finish, and just water the vegetables three times a week. They are not exactly thriving, but they are still growing and producing courgettes and lettuces and peas with tomatoes, beans, brassicas and sweetcorn well on their way. But as each area comes to a finish, I shall cease watering and not plant anything else until the weather changes.
What amazes me however, is how much I have learned about my garden by doing this, and some of the other small changes I have made recently. To thoroughly inspect crops every day or every other day has been a valuable experience to see how they are growing, what is ready for picking, and what pests arrive and need dealing with. As is doing my hip physio while I stand with the hosepipe! Fruit has been very early and small, yet the strawberries scarcely got eaten and the raspberries had a massive crop given there was no rain damage to the smaller fruit. Alpine strawberries are very small, yet are still going much longer than usual – so many tiny fruits I made a pot of jam from them. Flowers have few leaves and haven’t filled their usual spaces, but many are managing a great display, and there are a lot more seeds than usual. Even if they don’t all survive, I’m hoping I will be able to replace them from fresh stock – after all, plants die in hard winters, this is just a hard summer. There are far fewer weeds, although there is no way I can do weeding in our solid clay soil. The pond still has water in it and is going down slower than I might have anticipated – it may need some kind of a top-up soon although I am resisting for as long as possible and just watching to see how it does. All the sunshine is of course helping the waterlilies to their best display ever. Meanwhile our grass is about the greenest of any around which has really puzzled me. I can only put this down to more shade than in other gardens nearby, and a more suitable variety of grass since I deliberately went for ‘hardwearing’ rather than the more beautiful lawn options. And the clover is still green!
Finally, an interesting ‘message’ I got this Spring about my front garden was that the gravel we had inherited in the area wasn’t doing it any good – too sterile, and too reflective of light and heat combined with the bare brick house. It faces due south, and gets very warm – or else I wouldn’t be able to grow sweetcorn there! So after much thought, I decided to leave any low growing ‘weeds’ in the gravel, and see how it developed from there. The main one is self-heal, with yarrow, pink geraniums, lavender, centranthus, sisyrinchiums and lots of early chionodoxa all having seeded themselves. Just the grass, dandelions, American willowherb and spurge I still try and weed out, when it isn’t baked too solid. Not only am I happier with it now, but so are the other plants.
Normally I do what everyone tells me to and remove any flower shoots as soon as they are seen. However, given the size of the plant, I couldn’t see why I needed to do that – there were plenty of stalks the other side, and if that bit did die off for any reason it would save me the trouble of dividing the plant next winter. So I decided that it didn’t matter. I let the flowers come – and now they are an absolute delight. Over five foot high and fluffy creamy-white. Rhubarb in its fullest glory.
It feels like the whole front garden is celebrating in response.
Actually there was some logic in my apparent madness. The unpredictable winter with its late snows (by local standards) has left many gaps in my borders, and as I haven’t been growing so many flowers from seed over the past few years, I do not have a ready supply of new stock with which to fill the gaps. I figured the pansies would bring happiness, especially to M, and would hopefully last all summer. If most are gone by next year then at least I will have more time to plan something else new!
But as I started to get them out of their pots for planting, I had a revelation. I realised that if regrouped them into their approximate colours, I could reduce the crazy mixture to approximately four colours: dark red, mostly yellow, purple-blue, and white with a bit of dark purple.
I have a vague colour theme going on, inspired by John Fothergill and his writings about his pub garden in the 1920s, (An Innkeeper’s Diary, published 1931), placing hotter colours near the house and fading out to white at the furthest distance to make it look further away. It works well in my small garden, as there are fields beyond, and helps me decide where to put a plant – although some seeds don’t read their labels like ‘yellow’ hollyhocks turning out to be pink, or Welsh poppies seeding everywhere they can, so I’m not too strict about it! So I mostly followed my usual scheme with the pansies, M helping me to place them around the garden in colour groups, mostly three or four at a time with me helping to show where geraniums or campanulas or giant scabious were about to be, and suddenly they looked amazing. Blending in tastefully, yet full of cheer. I really enjoyed the sight.
However, trying to take photos of them to go with this post revealed another problem that I hadn’t considered: several of the flowers were being eaten. Being edible to humans, and also freshly grown, they must have appeared to be a new delicacy in my garden compared to all the hardy plants that had survived outside all winter. I have never liked to use poisons in the garden, preferring to find natural solutions and letting the garden balance itself over time; copper rings made out of an old hot water tank are one of my best against slugs, but I didn’t think that was the problem here, since it was the flowers being eaten rather than the stalks. A few days observation finally revealed the truth. Pigeons.
Immediately another incident in the holidays with M came to mind, when I had to wait at a zebra crossing because a pigeon was using it. I had watched as the bird looked both ways at the side of the road, in the way pigeons do, then walked very fast all the way across, exactly in the middle of the crossing. I didn’t want to run it over, so I ended up having to stop while it completed its journey to the other side and then over to investigate the gutter. My daughter of course found all this hilarious. Given the Highway Code says drivers must stop when a ‘pedestrian’ is on the crossing, rather than specifying a ‘person’, I presume this was what I was required to do. I now wonder whether I should have reduced the pigeon count slightly, as I am getting a little fed up with them.One more possibility springs to mind however, before I curse the fat grey birds, as we had an even more unexpected garden visitor recently that makes a pigeon look tiny…
I was given a very lovely, anonymous gift of flowers from a local florist at the end of last term. Pink Stargazer lilies, dark pink miniature roses, grey-blue sea holly, dark purple alstroemerias, light purple crysanthemums, rosemary, pussy willows, fatsia and wide green flax leaves, and the whole thing was beautiful. Over two weeks later, many of them are still looking good. So a huge thank you to whoever gave them to me for making me smile and brightening my days, when I was having a particularly hard time!
I now see it as a once in a lifetime gift that I shall probably pass on one day. But trying to figure out who they were from made me think first about my friends (who all denied any knowledge) and then about the various plant-related things I do for which I expect nothing in return, which might have somehow ‘earned’ me some flowers. Rubbish collecting around the village. Giving plants or fruit away from my garden. Secretly sowing appropriate wildflower seeds in barren places. Shifting energies or sending healing – to the Earth or its inhabitants. I rarely see the full effects of my actions, just like the kind donor of these flowers will never see how they brightened my kitchen and left the house smelling amazing, or how they made me feel loved and wanting to do more.
There has been one immediate impact on me however: they have helped me to understand that I need greenery inside the house again, and to do something about it. I used to have a few houseplants, ones I had been given that didn’t really like the conditions in our house, and that mostly felt stiff and spiky to me. Eventually I got fed up with them always looking slightly ill, and wanted the limited windowsill space for seedlings of perennial flowers or vegetable plants each Spring.
So now I am trying to be more creative about where I put plants, considering Winter (near window) and Summer (eg in front of fireplace) positions. I look at a book from the library and see what might be suitable, but dowsing comes up with very little that looks like a guaranteed success.
Then I visit my nearest garden centre. Outside first, I can’t resist a look, and in the back corner find some wildflower plants that are being sold off at rock bottom price, just in perfect condition with the roots starting to show through the bottom. I choose several, two of which I have been looking for for some time – Herb Robert and Red Campion, each nicely labelled with their history and planting requirements. We also choose some pansies in flower, of which more later.
Back inside, near the tills I find the houseplants. Lots of showy orchids in flower, along with a few large foliage plants. Too big for what I want at the moment. Small Dragon trees, with a picture of a dragon and basic care instructions but no clue that they will reach 5′. Then almost hidden away, small plants of the size and price I thought might be reasonable – but labelled mostly as ‘fern’, or ‘foliage plant’ with no care instructions at all. I choose four plants whose shapes combine well, and which intuition and basic plant knowledge suggest may survive where I want to put them. Even looking later, I cannot positively identify three of them from the library book I have; my list of questions fails to get much shorter.
I could just hope for the best, but being a witch I am now asking the plants what they need. So far they seem happy, and have brightened up my shady kitchen windowsill brilliantly giving me something green to look at when I wash-up instead of tiles, cleaning products and the temporarily bare brick wall opposite. It may be possible to live a fulfilling life without plants and greenery around me, but I’m glad I don’t have to.
As this festival is about balance, I wanted to do a very square design. Most of the colours I had that were suitable were not patterned either, restricting my options. However I found that this added to the calm, balanced feel, even if the weather is being wild. Like at Imbolc and Yule, there is a more definite pattern to this quilt than some of the earlier ones, which I find I prefer.
The colours were based around what I normally see at this time of year, so lots of new fresh greens, daffodils, pink blossom, blue skies. At the moment, the purple crocuses are doing well, usually much earlier, and the only pink I have seen is my winter flowering Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’. Just before the equinox we had a very deliberate removal of anything ‘Wintery’ and changing to Spring, hoping to help draw it forth. So the display includes a woolly lamb we made in the Lake District (I’ll have to do some more for Imbolc next year so it doesn’t get lonely!) hares, flowers, fairies, and lots of eggs.
There are grass verges in front of most houses at the outskirts of our village, a legacy of Edwardian planning, setting the houses back from the road. Most of the verges are neat, mown regularly by the council, though occasionally covered in wheel tracks or removed altogether where space is needed for parking. Ours currently is not neat or tidy. Ours is completely covered in little brown molehills, where a small, black creature has evidently been digging in circles.
When I started this blog, I asked which animals would like to help me and offer their support. The result is the sketch I made at the top of the page. One of these animals was the mole, who made himself known to me in the same way as he is now, by making molehills all over the place. And then disappeared as silently and completely as he had appeared.
So now he is back, I felt he had a message for me.
Unfortunately with the holidays my meditation time was massively reduced, my focus has been elsewhere, and I never made the time to simply ask Mole what he had to say. Instead I spent three weeks being puzzled. Not annoyed with the destruction of the otherwise perfect lawn – it is winter and no one is harmed by a few molehills, but it is so extreme as to be very odd. And then suddenly the penny dropped.I have been working with the elements individually, something I do every so often in a cyclical way, deepening my connections each time, and this time started with Earth knowing I find that element hardest. It is also the element of the North, and of Winter. A good time of year for working with rocks, crystals and other gemstones indoors, and going for (short) walks on Derbyshire gritstone, but not for gardening and connecting directly to soil with my hands. The ground in my garden has alternated between frozen or waterlogged for the past three weeks and certainly wouldn’t be helped by digging or compacting right now. But then I looked again at the molehills. Perfect soil, not frozen, not waterlogged, already loosened for me. Created by an animal of the Earth. So obvious in retrospect.
My original intention had been to try meditating with some soil indoors, just as I had done with different types of rock – one from my pond, another I brought back from Wales last summer, etc. Soil is after all the basis for trees, which I have never had a problem connecting with! But when I got outside I realised I had already done all the indoor work I needed to, exploring loam, sand, silt, clay etc. and how they relate to different types of trees growing, and if I did any more was in danger of becoming so Earthed that all would reach a standstill. I needed to be active, practical. So instead I had a really enjoyable time raking all the little heaps level, seeing the various qualities and ingredients in the soil that help plants to grow and moles to feed, and marveling at how much the soil can vary in colour and texture even over quite a small area. Not only that, but I managed to do it in the only hour of sunshine for about three days. A really lovely working meditation. So thank you mole, and I expect it is goodbye again for now.
Thanks to the changes I made to the shape of my garden last year, it turns out that I now have a place where I can contact or meet with dragons easily. It is my circular grass lawn with paths in from each of the cardinal directions. The first time I tried meeting a dragon there (at their suggestion) it was very easy and felt positive. However for various other reasons, a lot of trees have been arriving in and around my garden over the past month or so, also making the circular lawn their central focus point. This has made it much more difficult for the dragons who, although they are not solid matter and can therefore ignore many material obstructions like walls and trees, found it more difficult against the trees in my own mind! But it worked okay, the trees stepped back and let my normal companion through. But the next time I went out there in a journey, it wasn’t my usual companion who arrived (who is small and bright blue) but a huge, dark green, forest dragon. And I mean huge. I had met him once before over a year ago, and now he was arriving to assist me with a project concerning tree planting.
In a July post I was saying good bye to a large part of my life (Leaving, 14 July) and suggested I would soon be looking forward again. Just two days later a chance conversation has led to a project of trying to get permission to plant a small woodland in a field near me. Spirit moves fast sometimes! It is a bit of a sad field at the moment; a football pitch that is never used, some swings that were taken out last winter when the land they were sited on was sold for a car park, and a footpath that cuts across the middle leaving the bottom end unused by almost anyone. (I say almost, as it is my best picking place locally for hazelnuts and blackberries, but I find so many that I may be alone in doing this.)
At the moment I have just the seed of an idea and a willingness from a parish council member to support my ideas if properly funded and thought through – one of my seeds mentioned in my Lughnasadh post. So I have been spending every spare minute reading up on woodland planting and management, surveying the field for tree species already present around the margins, and drawing plans with the help of Google mapping (although unfortunately the new car park is not shown, involving much pacing and measuring.)
It may all end in nothing. But very fact that a forest dragon showed up gives me hope that a woodland has already been created on the etheric level; I just need to sort the physical out. Flying from my house to the field showed woodland growing strongly, with a tree circle at the centre connected to the grass circle in my garden. There seems to be a common energy line connecting the two. And on the return, the space in between (currently farmland) was also filled with trees. Wishful thinking, or can I make this a reality one day? Meanwhile any pagans locally who can help support this project in any way now or in the future, please get in touch. A tree is for life, not just for Yule…
I enjoy the changing of the seasons, and with each season its special flowers. I have very few evergreen plants in my garden, even flowering types, because I find them stiff and dull for so much of the year – with never that promise of a fine show when it is their turn. Roses are great for flowering from June to November, but even they would be too familiar if they didn’t take a break from time to time between each flush of new flowers. However, there is one flower which the books don’t tell you about, which I am finding is testing my patience in the opposite direction: the waterlily.
Until digging the pond last year, I had little experience of any water plants, and relied on best advice from the books I found. It has mostly been a wonderful journey of discovery and excitement, with a whole range of different shaped leaves and flowers and some interesting growth habits, and I enjoy discovering which wildlife can be found on which plants. Most have grown well, and flowered well, except for the waterlily. Last year it produced a few leaves and one flower bud, which as far as I could tell, sat sticking just out of the water for days and days, then fell over and died. I was disappointed, but as a new water gardener, not too worried as I thought it just hadn’t established yet and the weather conditions were wrong and the balance in the pond hadn’t quite sorted itself out yet. After all, not all peony buds make flowers if the weather is wrong, but there are always enough giant blooms to give a good show for a few weeks.This year I have therefore been pleased to see a succession of buds come to the surface on my waterlily, approximately one a week. This is the fourth in the photograph. You will however see it is only half open. And there lies the problem. After spending well over a week as a bud, the waterlily finally decides it is time for the flower to open. If it is a warm sunny day, the flower opens up like the pictures in the book and looks beautiful. Truly stunning. I saw one. But if the weather is miserable and cloudy, or worse actually raining, then it half opens for two days, like this, before giving up and falling over sideways for a few days before disappearing back into the depths. I really wanted to take some pictures of a beautiful open flower; I didn’t realise that first one was going to be the only one to fully open! Luckily for my peace of mind, flower number five followed just a day later and did finally get three-quarters of the way open briefly this afternoon. Even more luckily I was here to photograph it at the right moment. Normally it is earlier or later in the day that I am outside, not 3pm on a week day.
The waterlily is not, of course, the only flower to spend most of its life half-open, and only open fully when the sun is shining. Tulips do this all the time. Some even look quite odd on a sunny day, with their petals wide; they were clearly bred for a Northern European climate. The little species tulips that grow naturally further south look great opened out, because the interest is on the inside of their petals, but most hybrids are bred to look good and be photographed half closed. But my fluted tulips often last 5 weeks for each flower, and even the fussy ones and the species last 2-3 weeks, with sometimes more than one flower per stem. Tulips would never have become a garden classic if they lasted a mere day or two!Daylilies (Hemerocallis) illustrate the other side of the picture – they do just last a day. But then they get out of the way so as not to spoil the show for tomorrow’s flower. My plants may be more leaf than flower, but there are always several flowers to be seen each day in the summer.
In Lisa Beskow’s ‘The Flowers’ Festival‘ the Rose and the Waterlily are both queens of equal rank; all the other flowers are below them. But while the rose presides over the festival, the waterlily is fussy and does not leave the water. Everyone else comes: other water flowers such as reeds, rushes, Miss Calla, Yellow Flag and the yellow water lily; even the hothouse flowers like the Miss Pelargoniums, Mrs Myrtle and the grand Lady Fuchsia, once their fears about cold have been allayed. Says it all really!
I think I have a choice. I can enjoy the challenge of growing something so fussy, doing my best to contact its Deva and find out what it wants and then struggle to meet its needs in my windswept Derbyshire garden, or when I next rearrange plants in the pond, I can reconsider whether it is happy here. And yet I can’t help but feel disappointed. If it was something really rare, I would be proud of my occasional flowers. Instead it is like a Camellia plant I removed a year ago because every year it was full of promise, covered with buds, and then every year it got frost on it at some point so the flowers went brown and I would have to go round pulling them off because I hate the sight of a plant smothered in dead flowers. I replaced it with Camellia ‘Debbie’, which has been far more successful – the flower shape is slightly unusual with larger petals around the outside and smaller in the centre, so the centre never gets frosted because it is protected. And when each flower is finished it falls off by itself. Add to that it is a stunning rich pink.
Meanwhile I planted another rose last month, completely the wrong time for rose planting, just because I found a gap in a flower border and it looked pretty. (I also had a voucher to use up at the garden centre near the school M has just left and it was my favourite of everything they had in stock.) I’m glad to say it seems very happy and has sent out new leaves.
Anyway as apples are such a great Pagan fruit, I just wanted to share it this week. Pagan because they make a five-pointed star inside, and because anything regarded as totally sinful and at the same time the fount of all wisdom must be good… They are pretty good for promoting harmony and love as well!
The first ones ‘hatched’ after 2 weeks, with more emerging each day over the next week and creating a very dark mass of wrigglers in the centre of the two clumps of frogspawn. Finally they seem to have eaten the remains of their ‘egg sacks’ and the first ones broke free to pastures new, being seen around the plants and nibbling algae of rocks – particularly later in the day as the sun warms them. I may have a cleaner, clearer pond very soon!
Frog spawn apparently ‘appears’ between January and February or March, in any pond where there are frogs. I have had various people asking if we had any over the past few weeks, but had to keep saying no, the pond was less than a year old and I didn’t know if we would this first year.And then to our great excitement a large clump of spawn appeared last Sunday.
Given it was full moon that day, I spent some time in the garden in the evening and for the first time in my life had the joy of listening to the gentle sound of frogs croaking. After about 20 minutes there was a splash, then silence. A second clump of frogspawn had appeared – so close to the first I almost missed it in the dark.So now I am keeping an eye for changes, and making sure nothing damages the spawn. However, I was fascinated one morning to discover just how well it looks after itself. Some beech leaves had blown in from the nearby hedge, which I remove most days at this time of year, and one had landed on the spawn. I was surprised to find it was slightly stuck to the spawn and then worried about damaging them as I pulled it off – until I realised that it had a series of circular holes and arcs cut into it. (Afterwards I wished I had kept hold of the leaf, as I couldn’t find it again later to take a photograph.) I can only assume that the coating on the spawn had dissolved the leaf wherever it touched, so that it was no longer blocking the light. This seems to me some feat to achieve in less than a day on a crispy tough beech leaf! Meanwhile my photography took a new turn as I began writing this post, as I managed to find the waterproof case we used to use with our old camera when canoeing. I have a lot to learn still about lighting and focal distances underwater – I obviously cannot see what is in the viewfinder, nor can I check the resulting images very well while they are in the waterproof case, and it needs to dry before I can open it giving little chance for a repeat attempt.
Surprisingly for a camera that is rubbish at macro, it was the closest pictures that came out most in focus, just showing the start of tails developing. Hopefully with this knowledge and a bit more time to experiment, I will improve before the tadpoles emerge!
The sun come out, the soil warms up, and every year I am surprised by how the weeds always seem to launch into growth ahead of my preferred flowering plants…
I have spent the past three weeks weeding, whenever I have half an hour or an hour and it isn’t actually raining. Mainly just four perennial plants (it being too cold for the annuals to get going) – grass, dandelions, American willowherb and avens. Avens I unfortunately allowed to seed itself thinking it might be geum, and which now infiltrates from its base in the hawthorn hedge to wherever it can hide. The geums meanwhile seem to have given up the ghost; there were none last summer. Creeping buttercup used to be a problem, but I have only found a couple of areas this year that it has tried to cover pretending to be hardy geraniums. I am growing wise to the subtle differences there too.
I think only one plant was inadvertently weeded out this year, a phlox paniculata just emerging that looked like a Rosebay willowherb. (Had I realised immediately it could have been replanted, but unfortunately it had to wait for me to flick through a plant catalogue that arrived a week later.) I have never managed to grow tall phloxes, them being rather prone to mildew and other fungi, but like everything, try occasionally when I find a cheap plant that looks pretty in the hopes it will do better this time. Clearly it is partly my own fault I don’t have phlox!
But now I am left wondering what plants resemble grass that I need to be careful of? Dierama seedlings? Crocosmia? Hemerocallis? Luckily I don’t think the dandelions are in danger of confusion with anything else so at least I know I am safe weeding them out before they flower! However, dandelions are one plant I might just allow to grow – were it not for the fact there is usually a field full of them just over my back wall where they look stunning both in flower and later with their silvery seed clocks.
So I now have the near impossible task of filling the gaps (before they fill themselves) with other native wildflowers. Near impossible, because while I think plants such as Helleborus foetidus or Geranium robertianum or Silene dioica should be easy to obtain, they are generally eschewed at the garden centres in favour of new introductions that pay plant breeders rights and will ideally live for only a season or two, ensuring the purchaser returns to buy more plants next year. I’m sure the cottage gardeners of yesterday would have simply dug a bit up and transferred plants to their garden, or hedgewitches would simply have known where to find them locally when they were wanted. Today I must create my own garden, and that may even include importing the ‘weeds’ I want!
Luckily there is also a thicket on the ground, so I shouldn’t be short of corn cockles (Agrostemma githago) this summer.
The 1st/2nd February may be the start of Spring, but Imbolc was not a sunny day here this year!
Maybe I should be glad – it is said in Scottish folklore, that if the Cailleach wishes to make Winter last longer, she will ensure Imbolc is bright and sunny so she may gather lots of firewood. If the weather is foul that day, the Cailleach is fast asleep and Winter is nearly over. It was so windy that I had trouble taking any photographs at all, although at least our everlasting fog has been blown away. The poor snowdrops in my garden, pictured in snow at the start of February two years ago, have not had enough warmth or sun to open properly yet this year and are now looking ragged.But an unexpected find: Rosemary just coming into flower. It is a wonderful Winter herb, full of flavour through the darkest months when nearly all the softer herbs have lost their leaves or disappeared below ground, as well as giving shape to the garden. Then just when I start thinking the ‘evergreen’ plants are looking stiff and tired they spring into new growth, or bring out these wonderful blue flowers. It makes a great herbal tea, full of robust energies – as well as being anti-bacterial anti-septic, and an antioxidant. I also like it mixed with my other winter herb, Thyme, which is great for coughs.
At this time of year I frequently feel very lucky to have a garden for it is filled with ripe fruit, there for the picking. But what I really love is the fact that most of what I can pick is not available in shops.
Victoria plums are for some reason dismissed by many gardeners as being not worth the effort or the space. I really don’t understand this; our plum fan takes little of either, apart from being sure to pick them every day when in season for they do not hang around. Their keeping time is short, only two or three days to be at their best, but the flavour and texture is so much better than any other plum I have tasted with the possible exception of a good greengage.
Apples start in my garden in August as well, with the smallest Sunset eating apples usually coming first along with Bountiful cookers. Arthur Turner follows on promptly, but goes on for longer. However there is another, unnamed, tree growing in our hedge from a core discarded many years ago that produces the most amazing cooking apples. If only they kept for more than a week it would be a great commercial proposition, but they don’t. I like to make chunky apple sauce that can be frozen and then turned into crumble or Eve’s pudding or applesauce and chocolate cakes. I wouldn’t bother with an apple that keeps for weeks and that I could buy in the shops whenever I wanted it, yet because the season is so short I find myself going to extra efforts.
As for various berries in their reds, blacks, or blues, a few at a time, they are delicious for breakfast and so different from watered down commercial equivalents. Luckily they won’t keep either, unless frozen or turned into jam. We just have to eat them.
There were two animals I really hoped to attract when building the pond – one was frogs, the other was dragonflies. From all I have read, importing animals or frogspawn is a bad idea; nature will usually turn up when conditions are right.
I have not written here about planting the pond, beyond designing a pot lifter to move the pots around in deep water. (See ‘Planting the Rain Pond’, 17 April 2016.) It has been an interesting learning curve for me, starting with the basics of understanding water plants, how many and what types are needed, what depths they like, and how to actually plant them when they arrive as bare-rooted specimens. General advice I could find was to avoid anything remotely invasive, put in more plants than you might expect, and allow time for a balance to be reached.
So I dowsed with my trusty pendulum to find out which plants would like to be in my pond, bought one of everything that said it would, three of each of the oxygenating plants that get planted in bunches, and then spent the best part of a day fitting the whole lot into pots. The weather promptly turned cold with snow, growth was at a minimum, and virtually nothing happened. It then got hot, algae grew and, with virtually no plant cover on the surface yet, the pond needed frequent topping up from water butts. Algae continued to grow, and most of the plants disappeared from view, and I feared would never be seen again…
There are probably more plants that absolutely necessary, but it has been fascinating to me to watch how they all grow so differently. Forgetmenots and brooklime have sprawled all over the place and leave trailing roots through the water that I suspect will attempt to invade their neighbours. Irises just sit there looking small. But the water hawthorn sent up flower stems very shortly after being planted, giving hope. Now all of the various plants seem to have recovered and are growing and flowering; even my waterlily, which I feared drowned for some months due to its disappearance into the depths, has sent up a flower bud. And the water soldiers have risen like a bunch of pineapples as the water suddenly cleared a couple of weeks ago.
So now I have a frog. I can’t help wondering if the fact I went swimming two days before for the first time in a few years, making new, deep connections with water and water elementals, had something to do with its arrival. I wanted to take a photograph of it, and of course couldn’t find it. Best evidence was rustling in some plants the other end of the garden, where frogs have occasionally been spotted before. I went back later at a similar time of day to when I had seen it before, mid to late afternoon, looked again in the branches of the scruffiest plant there, and this time found not one but two frogs in the pond! I guess the brooklime (Veronica beccabunga) will be staying…
Not all that I planted has thrived, and not all the seeds have turned into plants. It is too shady, too dry, and too many plant predators were made homeless just before I created the bed – but there is one plant that has grown better than any previous attempts of mine: Sunflowers. Standing taller than almost anything around them, they haven’t needed staking or care and have produced several flowers each.
As we approach the festival of Lughnasadh (or Lammas if you prefer), it is always this colour that is in my mind. The hot sun, the ripening barley in the fields, summer holidays. They bring smiles to my face, reaching for the sky, as they flower for weeks. They are strong, bending in the wind, yet flexible enough to follow the sun in its path every day. Several religious or spiritual groups around the world have used sunflowers as a symbol for both reaching for the light and being or bringing light.
I will be leaving the flowerheads to ripen for the birds and look forward to seeing how long they last. Along with the teasels and the various tree berries (hawthorn, rowan) they should create a natural storecupboard for a few months to come.
I am trying an experiment this year – to cut our mixed hawthorn hedge twice, instead of once. This weekend we have managed to complete the first cut, having started it two weeks ago. I’m glad to say that this year the birds finished nesting by then; some years we would not have been able to start in June! (Garden warblers usually seem to be the latest here, but I haven’t been hearing them this year.)
It has been interesting to see the different behaviours of the plants by changing the timing. While starting only about six weeks earlier than normal (yes it often takes us two weekends to do the whole thing, since we have to cut both our side and the ‘track’ side where the footpath runs) it was noticeable how much softer the hawthorn was and therefore how much easier it was to shred. However, the holly was so soft though that it kept clogging up, and the hazel, separated out to be composted, was definitely easier when woodier. But the first cut with most of the hazel has virtually made compost already, in just two weeks.
There is another aspect however which makes me glad to change our practice. I have been gradually trying to grow the hedge out wider on the track side, in order to protect the bank against inappropriate use of strimmers and weedkillers applied by other track user(s). By keeping the edge neat and cutting a little off more frequently, the hedge is starting to thicken up on that side. It was really encouraging to see the return of cow parsley this year for the first time in about a decade. There are also a few other wildflowers, besides the predictable nettles, brambles and stickyweed trying to keep humans at bay, and a large quantity of ivy helping to stabilise the soil. I am hoping these will all flourish in a more protected space.
This is an old saying that will no doubt be familiar to many. It refers to the May flowers, Hawthorn, rather than the month although it is generally May before the hedgerows are laden with their scented coverings; Beltane rarely has a good showing this far north, and certainly not this year!
I have written already about the strange winter we have had; Spring has been equally odd! After a warm week or two in early April, I noticed buds on the hawthorn hedges near me that were almost ready to pop open. Then it got cold again, and colder, and for three days in a row it snowed. The buds stayed exactly as they were. Swollen, almost open in places with hints of white petals showing, but frozen in time. Meanwhile the Blackthorn has been putting on a wonderful display with its flowers that come on bare branches and last for weeks if not months, from March to May, to get all the flowers pollinated.
Then the sun finally came out, the days warmed up to Summer temperatures rather than just Spring, and I thought that would be it. But no, there was another week to wait before the hawthorn finally revealed its flowers, and in that time a further couple of hard frosts. I have learned to trust. So I waited, and only now have I started my Spring sowing of tender vegetable seeds and the planting out of the many seedlings crowding my windowsills. I trust they will now be safe and happy in the garden.
Here is a gardening challenge that most people don’t face – how to grow small ‘trees’ for planting alongside a model railway.
The scale of the railway is 1:22.5, known to railway-minded people as Gauge 3 in the UK. (In real terms, around half inch to the foot.) So a tree would ideally be between 1 and 3 feet high. And preferably not too wide, or too fast growing, or it will be in the way of the trains. Other railway gardens use small plants, like alpines in a rocky landscape, but given this section of the garden is in shade for more than half of the day, and is fairly damp clay soil, and we don’t really want to feature the brick wall behind too strongly, trees seem like a better option!
I have one abiding problem, however. How to grow a tree that will keep growing and healthy, and not get too big too quickly. Some model gardens use crab apples on dwarfing rootstocks to great success, others use dwarfing conifers. Neither will grow well here. I have a couple of Japanese maples, now ten years old, one of which is growing very well and is almost too big, the other is rather less happy. There is a Euonymus alatus (Spindle) which can be pruned and seems to be doing well. A small magnolia was removed after such a devastating insect infestation that it never recovered, and a small Rowan, Sorbus reducta, failed to grow roots in the sticky clay. And then there is my willow.
Salix hastata ‘Wehrhahnii’ is supposed to take ten years to get to 3′ around, sometimes longer. It should never get larger than 5′. No one told my willow that! I prune it most years to try and keep it within bounds, yet this year I see it is rather a lot taller than the wall…
While in the process of redesigning the garden generally, I have given this somewhat frustrating area quite a bit of thought. Even to the point of considering removing the willow and the maples and starting again with smaller, more prunable plants such as box and spring bulbs – until I realised the cause of its excessive growth. There is a soakaway nearby and so the willow is actually doing a sterling job of removing all the excess water, allowing other nearby plants to thrive instead of drown. So when it finishes flowering, I shall try a new pruning regime similar to a blackcurrant of removing a third of the branches to the base each spring, and see if over three years it can be stabilised to a more manageable size. Of course, I now realise that what would be really happy in that spot would be bog garden plants – but I haven’t come up with any that will grow at an appropriate scale yet!