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
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