You may recall that we had logs piled up awaiting relocation to a higher part of the garden, following the tree surgeon’s visit to remove from the river a large fallen branch, snapped off in a gale from our weeping willow. Many wheelbarrow loads later we had moved the pile to higher ground to season. Very hard work as only a few could be transported each time. The logs were large and heavy and an uphill push to the safe area. The weather forecast warned of heavy rain to come so our task was urgent! The heavy rain fell and the spot where the logs had originally been piled up was the following day under water as the river duly rose. Our logs would have drifted off down river if we had not made the effort.
Salix alba ‘Britzensis’ lighting up the riverbank
A female Goosander diving duck has been residing here for several weeks now. She hunts by diving underwater and catching fish with her serrated bill. This Goosander has joined the large group of Mallard ducks in the garden and when not hunting sits with them on the back lawn.
This Christmas I grew Paperwhite narcissi in the way I used to grow them when we lived in Hong Kong. It was a tradition to have a bowl of hopefully flowering narcissi at Chinese New Year. They are a sign of wealth and good fortune if flowering at that time. The bulbs were just grown in gravel and water. In mid-December I partially filled a large glass vase with gravel then added water to the level of the gravel, laid the bulbs on top, with the bases of the bulbs just in the water. Very soon the roots appeared and then the shoots. We had a fabulous display for at least a couple of weeks, the tall stems being supported by hazel twigs pushed into the gravel and then festive white lights woven through for added sparkle. The perfume is superb too. I will definitely do this again next Christmas plus it reminds me of the many Chinese New Year celebrations we enjoyed in Hong Kong.
Snowdrops making an appearance
After such a grey and grim end to December and the dreariness of January to endure I decided to wander around the garden looking for some uplifting signs of spring. For a change the sun was shining! Beneath the walnut tree I spotted the first aconite flower unfurling from the soil and a clump of snowdrops in bud. Elsewhere bulbs were pushing through and brightly coloured flowers adorned some sheltered polyanthus in the vegetable garden.
On the Island a young mahonia ‘Charity’ shrub has produced its best show of flowers so far. Soft primrose, upright, yellow fingers of flowers which we have been enjoying for some weeks now. Also on the Island, on the millpool bank, salix acutifolia ‘Blue Streak’ appeared to be illuminated with tiny white lights where the white catkins were caught in the sunlight against the blue sky. Close to the house the viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’ is putting on a fabulous show of pink flowers festooning its bare branches with the added bonus of a delightful perfume. After my walk around the garden I did feel my spirits had been lifted and that spring was just around the corner. SB
At last the cool, wet weather has changed to warmth and sunshine, such a welcome change. Not least for the hope that the growth of the lawns may subside as keeping on top of the mowing has been challenging to say the least! The Island being particularly troublesome as the grass is lush and as quite enclosed by trees and riverside plants, it takes some while to dry off to a suitable level for mowing. However, by dodging the rain and making the most of dry days we have managed to keep everywhere mown. The areas we leave unmown are still looking spectacular with the seed heads and the variety of grasses with different heights and seed head shapes forming a feature of their own. We were delighted to find a single orchid bravely making its debut appearance in one of the uncut areas. We think it is a Piramidal orchid.
Elsewhere the weeds have also benefitted from the high rainfall with hedge bindweed entwining itself around so many plants and extending its range with stems which seem to be far longer searching for the next plant to climb. On the plus side the herbaceous borders are looking fabulous, despite the attempts of the hedge bindweed in some, to steal the glory! The border on the back lawn is a mass of vibrant colour, hard to belief a few months ago it was frequently underwater during the floods!
It has been a distressing time watching the struggles of the ducks to raise their broods, very few have made it to maturity. We watched a duck bravely fighting off the attentions of a carrion crow as it attempted to carry off a duckling. Sadly I think it eventually succeeded as there was one less in the brood of three a short while later. There have been terrible territorial battles amongst the swans with fatalities. We have never known such a time of intense territorial encounters in all the years we have lived here. However, on a more positive note I noticed yesterday a new brood of moorhen chicks and a duck with four small ducklings.
We have been thrilled to find hedgehog droppings in various parts of the garden. With slugs and snails, now munching their way through dahlias, runner bean plants and brassicas, there is much food available for the hedgehogs. We have never used slug pellets in this garden, nature usually keeps everything balanced.
On warm, sunny days I have encountered one or two grass snakes, curled up sunbathing on tops of low walls and on pathways. I’m afraid they always give me a start as their camouflage is so effective when they suddenly slither away as one approaches! We have seen one swimming in the river too. Strangely we rarely see any frogs, despite having what appears to be the perfect conditions for them in this garden, perhaps the number of grass snakes may account for this. We do see the occasional toad. SB
The overnight frosts and cold of April have taken their toll on several plants in the garden. New leaves on hydrangeas shriveled; flowers on both the magnolias ruined, such a shame as the trees had been covered in buds and flowers this year. The Pacific Dogwood, Cornus nuttallii, whose flowers have been turned to a crisp brown, instead of the fabulous display of white flowers we were looking forward to.
Life continues despite the frosts and cold with the starling pair now to and fro with food for their vociferous young. The parent makes good use of our television aerial as a pausing spot before swooping in under the garage eave with the food. The swans have built a nest in the lake on the island in the preferred spot. The female is still sitting on her eggs and can be seen gently turning them with her beak periodically. She sits there, in the open, through all the weather conditions nature can throw at her. The incubation period is 35 – 41 days and the cob will also help to incubate the eggs.
Mute swan nesting in the lake.
I wrote of the duck nesting in amongst the thyme on our terrace last month. The day after writing the piece I looked out of the kitchen window to see a duck with seven newly hatched ducklings in the thyme, she was in the nest and the ducklings were out and about, clambering through the thyme stems and exploring. It seemed very soon for the ducklings to have hatched but we assumed she must have been there for a longer period on the nest than we thought. It is always a joy to observe the antics of tiny ducklings who are so independent and busy pecking at everything so soon after hatching. I left the happy scene and returned to boiling a kettle for some coffee, just happened to glance out again a short while later to see another duck sitting on the edge of the occupied nest! There didn’t appear to be any hostility, so I assumed all was well. However, very shortly after this a dispute developed and the newly arrived duck was physically throwing the ducklings out of the nest and attacking the mother duck. It was quite horrible to witness, particularly the young being tossed about and trampled on in the melee. Despite knowing one should not get involved I couldn’t just stand there watching this unfold, so I did tap on the window and the “imposter” flew off. Thankfully all the ducklings seemed to be unscathed following their rough treatment and soon after the mother duck and ducklings wandered off towards the river. However, this was not the end of the drama as within a short while the “imposter” duck returned, climbed into the nest and proceeded to settle herself down. We had in fact got the situation completely wrong and the mother duck with ducklings was not the terrace duck but an interloper herself, trying to take over the prime position in the thyme! She did come back a while later with the ducklings and another tussle broke out but eventually, she left. What drama!! Unfortunately, after such a traumatic day for the terrace duck things did not improve and during the night her nest was raided by a badger we suspect, destroying all of her eggs. Only the mangled, chewed up remains of her eggs lay strewn about the area in the morning, which is the telltale sign of a visit from a badger.
The mother duck and seven ducklings did continue to come to the terrace for food and to drink and swim in the water tray. Surprisingly she never ventured into the thyme now that the nest had been abandoned. As is so normal at this time of year the duckling numbers reduced each day until she was left with one. Another brood that frequented the terrace was slowly reduced to two but they failed to survive. We named this remaining duckling Solo, not a good idea to name a wild creature but all our hopes for one survivor from all the ducklings we had seen in the garden were pinned on this little chap. Every morning we would check to see if it was still with its mother in the garden, or on the river. It was frequently left alone and we would hear it cheeping until its mother could return to it following yet another pursuit by drakes forcing her to leave the youngster. I guess you know what is coming but one morning, in early May, there was no sign of the duckling and sadly only the mother came for food that day. It really has been a most terrible early spring for the ducks and also for the moorhens who seem to have lost their chicks too. We can only hope the second broods have better luck in the perilous world they inhabit with so many predators around them coupled with the very cold April. The ducks, however, carry on as normal despite the awful losses and no doubt will soon be nesting again.
Syringa Vulgaris ‘prince wolkonsky’ on millpool bank.
On the island there is an ancient white willow with several dead branches amongst its healthy branches, left in situ, we have removed obviously hazardous branches in the past. I recently witnessed a treecreeper swiftly ascending the trunk in search of food. On another occasion a great spotted woodpecker was drumming high up in the tree on a dead branch. A great joy was the arrival of the reed warblers whose distinctive melodic warble fills the air around the stands of bamboo in the garden. Another sound of spring was hearing the cuckoo in early May. SB