My church trips seem to bring luck. On several occasions I have found, heard or seen new things before leaving home, or on the journey. Today it was newts: I caught sight of one in the front pond as I was opening the driveway gate, the first since I had found two in the flowerbed wall more than eighteen months ago. A Sainsbury’s delivery driver had spotted another one crossing the same driveway after dark last autumn. He thought it was a lizard, but I knew it was a newt.
This excitement of course delayed my departure: I had to make sure I wasn’t mistaken, and watch for a while to see if there was more than one, and whether I could tell which kind of newts they were. After half an hour or so, I had spotted four newts in one little sunny patch near the edge of the pond. At least one of them was a great crested newt. I am hopeful this small sample area indicates a healthy breeding population.
‘… and even now […] the summer mead shines as bright and fresh as when my foot first touched the grass. It has another meaning now; the sunshine and the flowers speak differently, for a heart that has once known sorrow reads behind the page, and sees sadness in joy. But the freshness is still there, the dew washes the colours before dawn. Unconscious happiness in finding wild flowers – unconscious and unquestioning, and therefore unbounded.’
Richard Jeffries, ‘Wild Flowers’ in The Open Air (1885) p.36
8/7/2017 I have a new-found appreciation for thistles: they flowered just in time to teach me a lesson. The day before Steve was due to arrive with his strimmer, I saw that the thistles, towering above my head and taller than I remember them in previous years, were covered in more bumblebees and butterflies than I have seen gathered together anywhere this year. The thistles were crowding over the path, so I would have to have them cut back a little for the welfare of paying guests, but otherwise, I decided, wherever they were not causing trouble, they were staying.
16/6/2017 It was great to hear this morning that Crossways Farm featured in the Evening Standard today, thanks to Cool Places!
You can see the feature here:
30/5/2017 Spring started early this year, and then thought better of it. The first ducklings in the garden hatched in the first week of April, the day after I spotted the first swallows of the season, at least two weeks earlier than usual. Bluebells in south Suffolk were already putting on an impressive show by Good Friday, with a cuckoo joining in the celebrations; and the cow parsley was in flower well before the end of April. But the weather reverted back to winter around Easter and everything was put on hold. Even the ducklings disappeared after a week and I’ve seen no more since.
Strangely, I didn’t mind in the slightest. I am always wishing that spring would hang on just a little bit longer… and this year my wish came true. If the price to pay is cold weather, I think I’m happy with the trade-off. Though perhaps my guests weren’t. By the time the hawthorn blossom appeared in the hedge, bang on time on the 1st of May, there were still daffodils out by the front pond.
16/3/2017 I always put off the first lawn mowing of the season. It is a fine balance between the joy of welcoming in the new season and banishing the garden’s winter scruffiness, and the danger of mowing too soon when the boggy areas around the pond will be turned into a muddy mess by any attempt to drive the ride-on mower over them, even without using the cutter or sweeper.
But I don’t deceive myself: laziness plays a larger part in the delay. There is preparation work to be done, clearing fallen branches and twigs, removing mole hills and attempting to flatten the endless tunnels under the grass so as not to slice off the surface altogether. And one or two false starts are usually involved: always a flat battery, sometimes a flat tyre, and sometimes I have forgotten to fill up the petrol cans.
Now that having guests makes a tidier garden an imperative, I seem to have finally learnt my lesson and remembered to prepare the mower in good time. A few days of mild and sunny weather have dried out the lawn sufficiently, and the large fallen cedar has just been cleared, so I choose this afternoon to begin my battle with the industrious moles.
‘There’s an art to the business of wintering. It’s a time to revel in the muddier waters of human emotion and to hibernate magnificently. It’s not just the trees, shorn of flowers and leaves and berries, who turn inward.’ (Jini Reddy, in Winter: An anthology for the changing seasons)
6/3/2017 I was comforted and amused to happen across this declaration on winter just two days ago: the idea of it being possible to describe hibernation as magnificent gives a retrospective, dignified sparkle to my spectacularly unproductive winter.
Although I am a firm follower of the astronomical calendar, in which the equinox marks the start of spring (luckily for me, as I am rather later than intended with my winter newsletter), this year I have decided to claim the best of both worlds. Having seen out February with a stomach bug followed by a friend’s funeral – which pretty well sums up the intervening months since the autumn newsletter – I have never been so happy to greet the first of March, and with it a concrete promise of the approach of spring, as well as a much welcome relaxation of the bird flu-related poultry-keeping restrictions. The chickens suffered their confinement patiently but raucously!
28/11/2016 Autumn is a great time for making as much mess in the kitchen as you have to clear up in the garden. After spending an afternoon clearing vegetable beds, leaves, branches and twigs, it’s great to go indoors in the early dusk and start throwing flour and apple peelings all over the table and floor (forgetting for a moment that this creates more clearing up…). The apple peel might have been a challenge, as all my apple and pear trees were a wash-out this year – I can’t remember the last time they all synchronised in their failure to produce – but bartering came into its own: several of my neighbours had an abundance and have been happy to swap eggs for apples. The apple to egg ratio is of course deeply unfair, but most people round here will be happy to hurl apples at you by the kilo for nothing at this time of year!
As for the flour, bread making is becoming a great satisfaction. Having given up on traditional bread due to the superior loaves at my local bakery, I am now in the process of attempting to perfect sourdough bread, which they don’t sell. This is the second time I have tried learning to make it properly, luckily this time with more success, and I hope it will soon become a fixture on the breakfast menu. I am indebted to a friend for sharing his explosive starter, recipe and advice!
8/9/2016 Wonderful video of Crossways Farm and residents made by 13-year-old Stephanie after a visit earlier this week!
1/9/2016 Feature out now in the September issue of the Bury & West Suffolk magazine! Click here to read feature in PDF (1.5MB).