Spring treasure 3: The Weeping Willow

Willow12/4/2018 Just as blackthorn is one of the first spring blossoms to burst its buds, weeping willows are one of the first trees to break dormancy. Rather than losing their orange glow in spring like the crack willow in my garden, the emerging translucent green leaves increase the radiance of their flowing branches, and from a distance the two colours blend into gold. Add sunshine into the mix, and Rapunzel could barely compete.

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Spring treasure 1: British Summer Time Begins

26/3/2018 It is hard to believe it is nearly the end of March and signs of spring are only just beginning. Apparently deciding after the last icy spell that they had waited long enough, all the flowers and blossom appeared all at once: blackthorn in the hedgerows, carpets of primroses, daffodils in earnest, violets and periwinkles. I saw the first green leaf on my hardiest hawthorn plant this week, and a moorhen made up her mind to settle in her nest on the front pond.

But still there is far less in the way of spring than was to be found at the beginning of March last year. Mowing the lower lawn is still a good fortnight or more off – I would sink into a mole tunnel-ridden bog if I were to try it now – and I have yet to find a white or mauve violet, celandine or Siberian squill in my garden. The daffodils are only just beginning to think about showing their faces.

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Winter treasure 13: Blackbird Song

18/3/2018 It is the penultimate day of winter. This year the equinox falls on 20th March instead of 21st. You wouldn’t know it though: the arctic conditions have returned. The temperature dropped from 16˚C to -2˚C in 24 hours and the ground is covered in snow and ice.

But my winter therapy seems to have worked: I don’t mind if the cold weather lasts a little longer, and my list of winter treasures has grown so long that I will have to resume the project next year. In fact, I have enjoyed the challenge so much that I am thinking of continuing it for the remaining seasons of the year; and, contrary to my initial assumption, I think I might find it more difficult to choose 13 spring treasures than I did winter ones. After all, how do you identify the most important elements in a bombardment of euphoria?

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Winter treasure 12: Stray Snowdrops

Snowdrops13/3/2018 Everyone loves snowdrops. They are the first ubiquitous flowers that signal the lengthening days and slow approach of spring. They are pretty and delicate, and their colour is fitting for the time of year.

I love them too. I was thrilled to spot my first snowdrops of the year in a churchyard in the middle of January, though the ones in my garden were barely above ground yet: they didn’t come fully into bloom until a mild, sunny spell in the middle of February. A month later, they are still going strong, and the daffodils show no signs of taking over from them.

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Crossways Farm Winter Update

Fluffy chicken5/3/2018 The creatures and I are happy to report that, after an uncertain start, this winter has been a vast improvement on last year’s, despite several spells of icy and snowy weather which at times has dissuaded even the chickens from going in the garden – but they have gradually got braver!

Since welcoming friends from Spain on Christmas Eve, the season has been, on the whole, a positive one. It got off to a good start: we, the humans, had our first experience of a Boxing Day picnic. Dexter the rabbit had his first experience of an open fire, and soon made it clear that he didn’t see any sense in ever leaving the fireside. Winston the wood pigeon looked on jealously through the sitting room window, so I relented and gave him his own short spell of indoor warmth-bathing…

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Winter treasure 11: Proper Snow

Winter scene4/3/2018 Snow is a rare component of our winters these days. Since December I have considered including it amongst my winter highlights; after all, we’ve had more of it this year than in the last five years. But after observing my reactions to the earlier episodes of snow this winter, I decided that, although I like snow if I don’t have to travel, I wouldn’t necessarily count it amongst my favourite natural phenomena. I certainly love going for creaky walks in the subdued countryside, and will gleefully go sledging (even down the small hills in my garden), build a snowman or have a snowball fight. But we rarely have enough snow for sledging, and snowmen and snowballs usually have a fair quantity of mud, twigs and leaves mixed in. It’s just not quite the real thing.

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Winter treasure 9: February warmth

‘There is very often a warm interval in February, sometimes a few days earlier and sometimes later, but as a rule it happens that a week or so of mild sunny weather occurs about this time […] These mild hours in February check the hold which winter has been gaining, and as it were, tear his claws out of the earth, their prey. If it has not been so bitter previously, when this Gulf stream or current of warmer air enters the expanse it may bring forth a butterfly and tenderly woo the first violet into flower.’

Richard Jeffries, ‘Out of Doors in February’, in The Open Air (1885).

20/2/2018 When I discovered this essay at the beginning of winter, it struck me that Jeffries was right about February. At least, I remembered such days of warmth and sunshine last year, and in some previous years. Certainly, the first opportunity of the year to sit in the sun on the terrace usually occurs in February. There is nothing more delicious than that first sensation of unambiguous warmth and brightness falling on your face for the first time – properly – in several months. But it might as well have been several years.

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Winter treasure 7: Viburnum

viburnum4/2/2018 The viburnum is one of the very few winter blossoms I have in my garden. Usually the only one, in fact, unless the weather is unseasonably mild and spring blossom arrives early. I know next to nothing about shrubs, but I have managed to identify it with a fair degree of certainty as Viburnum x bodnantense, ‘Dawn’, a large deciduous shrub (bordering on small tree) that produces sweetly fragranced clusters of light pink flowers from autumn to spring.

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Winter treasure 6: Hazel Catkins

28/1/2018 I think my eyes are slowly becoming more attuned to winter goings on. I noticed catkins on the hazels before the end of December, and early in January I went up to examine them at close quarters. They were brown, small and hard. Only a few days later, however, amongst the hard catkins I started to see just as many long, floppy, yellow-green ones, which caught the sunlight and lit up the hedgerows better than any Christmas lights. I didn’t remember hazels flowering in the middle of winter, and I wondered briefly if they were a different species of hazel, or perhaps not hazel at all. Apparently, a tree that I took for granted around my garden and in the hedgerows was a mystery to me as far as its flowering habits were concerned. Research was clearly required.

catkins

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Winter treasure 5: Blue Eggs

Eggs 221/1/2018 Most of my chickens are hybrids, bred to lay eggs all year round – except for a few days or weeks here and there, when they are moulting, broody, or think it’s too cold and dark to consider such a thing. They generally lay slightly fewer eggs in winter, but I still have a daily supply.

I have a few pure breed chickens that are less regular in their laying habits, however; and two of them – called Cream Legbars – lay blue eggs. They are just over two years old, and each year they have stopped laying in September or October. I was mighty disappointed the first time they didn’t lay a single egg the rest of the year. I had no idea when they would start laying again – my best guess was early spring – but this year I was better informed. I hadn’t made a note of the date, but I thought it was roughly around the end of January to the middle of February.

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