A recent blustery day resulted in a rather large branch from one of our weeping willows, loudly snapping off and crashing into the river. It had made the river virtually impassible for canoeists. We contacted our excellent tree surgeon, who lives in the village, who came the next day to deal with the problem. A visit to our garden to deal with an issue quite frequently involves him having to use a rowing boat to accomplish the task! Very skillfully he managed to remove the large branch piece by piece from the river and we now have a good pile of future firewood on the bank. Our next task is to wheelbarrow the logs to a safer place to avoid all his efforts being washed downstream in a flood!
An equally spaced row of columnar Golden Irish yew, Taxus Bacatta Fastigiata Aurea, line the path to the bridge over the sluice gates. They are festooned in red lantern like berries, which look dramatic against the green and yellow foliage. Although poisonous to us the birds seem to relish the berries and the blackbirds in particular are having a feast. The guelder rose shrubs, Viburnum Opulus, are hanging with large clusters of glossy, scarlet round berries but they seem to be ignored by any bird at the moment. This shrub has a lot of good features and the leaves develop a deep red hue in the autumn.
The leaves are falling and are being gathered up for the leaf mould bin or to be added to the compost heap. Thankfully, my husband loves raking or mowing up the leaves as he is an avid leaf mould maker! Not my favourite task! I must say the resulting compost is fantastic and well worth the effort and it is added to our “mix” of compost for pots, mulching etc. Much of the leaf material has come from the striking Acer Freemanii ‘Autumn Blaze’, which has been a beacon of scarlet, orange and deep red leaves.
Acer Freemanii ‘Autumn Blaze’
The quince tree has produced a very small quantity of large, yellow fruits, only enough to make a few jars of quince jelly. I regularly check beneath the ancient Conference pear trees for windfalls. There is definitely a race between myself and the moorhens as to who gets to the limited number first! The harvest from the orchard as a whole has been very poor this year.
As I write the delicious smell of my Christmas cake baking is wafting through from the kitchen. A reminder that Christmas is only a few weeks away. The pressure is off regarding the demands of the garden during the winter months. We can sit back and relax; plan any changes we may want to make to the garden as there is always room for improvement.
Autumn reflections in the millpond
The wildlife that shares this garden with us carry on with their busy existence. We have the heron who visits every day, accompanied by the seasonally numerous cormorants who create havoc in the millpond, spreading silvery, leaping shoals of fish before them. The kingfishers also regularly perch above the millpond, ready to strike in an instant. Mallard ducks mill about on the back lawn and Island, occasionally accompanied by the pair of swans. Otherwise it is a quiet time on the river; only the early morning fisherman and the dedicated canoeist quietly going about their pursuits. Generally a peaceful and calm time of year for all of us who live along the riverbank. SB
We have a mature white willow beside the lake on the Island. It is a rather splendid tree, which over the years has had tree surgery carried out to remove a few potentially hazardous dead branches but we try to leave some in safer positions for the starlings that nest in the holes abandoned by woodpeckers. We have seen common treecreepers hunting for food in the bark of the trunk. At the moment a section of the trunk, where the branch above has been removed, is sporting a most fabulous display of egg yellow Chicken of the Woods. It grows in large, overlapping thick, fleshy masses; it is a bracket fungus. Chicken of the Woods supports a host of wildlife. There are some specialist beetles which only feed on bracket fungi. It is also eaten by deer. It grows on dead or dying trees, both deciduous and conifers.
Most evenings the “tu-wit tu-woo” of the Tawny Owl eerily resonates around the garden. It obviously has excellent eyesight but its real strength is its exceptional hearing. I have read that the Tawny owl can hear the rustle of a mouse, even the movement of a worm beneath the surface, from a considerable distance. A Tawny owl will remain in a territory all of its life and the pair bond for life too. The Tawny owl is particularly vocal in the autumn and spring. I have to confess to having been terrified by the song of the Tawny owl as a small child. There seemed to be so many of them hooting away around the farm buildings. One evening, as we were driving home, my father stopped the car and pointed to this rather fabulous looking bird sitting on a fence post, and explained that it made the sound that so frightened me. I was no longer afraid of the “tu-wit tu-woo” from that day on!
There is a plentiful supply of wood mice, also known as the long-tailed field mouse, in our garden. They are fascinating to watch (we have a thermal imaging device for wildlife watching) when they emerge after dark. They resemble miniature kangaroos as they tend to jump about on their large hind feet with their front feet tucked up. They are common prey of owls.
A Blueberry ‘Liberty’ that we planted in a large container has this year finally rewarded us with a good crop of blueberries to enjoy on our breakfast cereal. It has taken a couple of years to bear fruit. This has prompted us to buy three more plants, Blueberry ‘Aurora’, ‘Bluecrop’ and ‘Draper’ in the hope that we can extend the season. Three large containers have been purchased in order to plant in the ericaceous soil they prefer. The leaves of the Blueberry ‘Liberty’ are now turning a wonderful red and orange providing a splash of autumn colour in the vegetable garden.
The clump of Nerine bowdenii nestled against a wall in our front garden are providing a burst of vivid, candy floss pink flowers akin to the finale of a firework display. The final burst of colour before the autumn takes hold in the borders. SB
John Milne writes…
My wife is a painter and works for the National Trust. It was with her that I started to explore the valley of the Stour river. I think we are both moved by trees and always have been. That response may be formal – in general landscape goes from side to side and trees go up and down. So for a painter a tree in a landscape is like a mark on a drawing. Our responses may have been to the increased unnaturalness of the post-industrial world we inhabit. We seek out trees in landscape because their scale reflects the human scale and their generally long lifespan appeals to us. Sarah can point to oaks around East Bergholt and Flatford which were there when Constable walked by. It may have been just a colour response – people feel happier, appear handsomer, just look better against a green leafy ground. The effect is doubled if water runs through the scene. The Stour valley is an uplifting place to be.
Of course on the Essex and Suffolk Stour we have the extra element of John Constable. He dominates the landscape as much as he reflects it. Constable’s childhood is just before the industrial revolution and his adult life takes place during it. He lived in East Bergholt and was schooled in Dedham, across the valley and across the Stour. His paintings often feel to me to be reflections on his walk to school – there’s my father’s mill, there’s Fen Lane, there’s the bargemen on the river, there’s our cart and horses. These images stayed with him even though he was in London. His work is a prism through which we see the landscape which both exists and for us – living long after the Industrial Revolution – is like a dream. If you take photographs in the Stour valley, especially close to Dedham and Flatford, you can’t help but find little glimpses of Constable in your pictures. Much has changed but many of the shapes remain – bends in the river, hand-fired brickwork, calves in a field, sometimes even the very same trees he saw. And this remains true though we are 180 years after Constable’s death.
photos by John Milne ©2017
John Milne is a novelist, photographer and screenwriter. A version of this post was published at www.johnmilne.photography