Autumn treasure 3: Chilean guavas

Chilean guava

10/10/2018 For a few months in 2011 I lived next to a river near Pucón, in the temperate rainforest region of Chile. Large, evergreen shrubs that looked similar to box grew in abundance along the riverbank, and one day I saw a lady with her young son collecting buckets full of the red berries that grew on them. I asked her what they were, and what she used them for. ‘They’re murtillas’, she said, ‘I make jam with them’.

I picked some and ate them. The flavour was like nothing I’d ever tasted before, and I was excited. The next day I went back with a plastic bag to collect more, and so began my first jam-making attempts.

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Autumn treasure 1: Ivy flowers

Occold window1/10/2018 I have never much liked ivy – except when it radiates sparrow chatter – and I don’t know many people who do. There is only one context in which I think it has any aesthetic appeal: growing, spider-like, up the outside of an old church wall or door. But I know those conserving the buildings must be at constant war with it.

Six years ago, when I first started walking along the South West Coast Path, I had an entirely new experience of ivy. Almost simultaneously I heard a loud buzzing and noticed a strong smell of honey. I looked ahead and saw a long stretch of hemispherical yellow-green flowers on both sides of the footpath. They were covered in bees, wasps, bumblebees and hoverflies. Butterflies were also fluttering about them.

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Summer treasure 13: Grandchicks

Winnie30/9/2018 Many of you know the story of Winston the Wood Pigeon. But you may not know the latest developments. Beginning with the fact that Winston is now Winnie. And no, she is not confused about her gender.

Winnie and her sibling came to live with me aged approximately two weeks. Becoming a pigeon parent was a steep learning curve, and sadly Winnie’s sibling didn’t make it. But Winnie was a tough old bird, and when she took her maiden flight on the day I visited Winston church in August last year, her name was decided.

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Summer treasure 11: What are YOU doing in my kitchen?

11/9/2018 It is the first time in my life that I have been given a fright by a tiny ball of fluff.

I put out my hand to turn on the kitchen tap, and pulled back in alarm. There was something behind it, moving ever so slightly. It was spherical, and for a moment I couldn’t tell what it was. Then I saw a few tail feathers sticking out at one end and realised it was a baby bird.

Goldcrest ballBut it wasn’t any baby bird I had seen before. Part of my confusion as to the identity of this apparition was caused by a bright yellow-orange streak amongst the grey, gold-green and black. Indignant, it took its head out from under its wing when I picked it up, and I saw that the colour was on its head. It was almost weightless.

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Summer treasure 10: Wasps’ nests

cedar wasp nest9/9/2018 The discovery of an exquisitely beautiful wasps’ nest hanging in a cedar tree in my garden yesterday prompted me to think again about these much destested creatures. I wouldn’t exactly put wasps at the top of my list of favourite animals, and I admit they make a nuisance of themselves towards the end of summer when, unemployed and in a drunken stupor, they wander about looking for sugar. But I become extremely angry when I see people killing them.

I have lost count of the times when, forbidding a visitor to kill a wasp in my garden, I have been asked, ‘but what is the point of them?’ To my shame, the only answer I have been able to give is, ‘if wasps disappeared from the planet tomorrow, you’d know about it. And not in a good way’. The truth is, though I was certain wasps did have a point, I was only guessing at their ecological importance. I believe there is no creature on the planet that has no purpose; it wouldn’t exist if it didn’t. Certainly no insect, anyway. I am not always so sure about humans – except perhaps as the only creature capable of appreciating the miracle that is our planet. We have a funny way of expressing it though, so intent do we seem on destroying our only home…

It is time to extol the virtues of these poor creatures, beyond that of providing a free cleaning service for my fences and garden furniture. My love for hornets is greater than for wasps – they are, after all, regal in their size and colour, and don’t bother humans even in late summer – but I feel more urgency in expressing my support for wasps.

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Summer treasure 8: The comma butterfly

2/9/2018 I have been waiting since the spring for a sighting of this beautiful creature. In early summer I caught a glimpse of that orange-brown glow fluttering past at a distance, but too briefly and too far away for me to get a proper look – though I was fairly certain it was a comma. No other butterfly shares its rich colour. But finally, a few days ago, one came onto the terrace, and sunbathed on the window long enough for me to get a photo on my phone.

I think we all know that butterfly numbers have taken a nosedive in recent decades. When I was a child, our lavender bushes were almost invisible beneath the clouds of white butterflies enjoying the flowers. The buddlejas were always covered in tortoiseshells, peacocks, cabbage whites, brimstones, red admirals and the odd painted lady, comma or fritillary, if we were lucky. I am now sadly privileged to welcome only the occasional visitor to my garden. The small whites are the most numerous, but sometimes large whites, meadow browns, skippers, gatekeepers and common blues, amongst all the previously numerous buddleja frequenters, come too. Now, instead of the buddlejas, patches of head-high thistles around the garden – though proving somewhat problematic in their seemingly infinite spreading capacity – seem to provide the most attractive food source to my insect friends. I am torn between attempting to prevent them taking over entirely, and wanting to provide for as many creatures as possible in my little oasis.

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Summer treasure 7: Camping in the garden

30/8/2018 Far too late in the season, I have got round to camping in the garden. A few years ago I spent nearly half the summer sleeping in the garden. This year I should have done so during the heat wave, but the season has been my busiest yet and I worried about depriving myself of sleep when I was already exhausted. By mid-August, dawn was back to the relatively late time of 5am. I had a few quieter days, and deemed that the risk of sleep deprivation was minor, and taking advantage of any remaining mild, dry nights was becoming more urgent.

The trick was to get everything prepared before dark and before I was so tired I couldn’t be bothered to make the effort. But I had to pick the right weather too: sleeping in a tent wasn’t what I had in mind. I wanted to see the sky above my head, and feel the air. Sometimes I think sleeping in a tent hardly qualifies as sleeping outdoors…

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Summer treasure 6: Mulberries

6/8/2018 It is a simple fact that mulberries are the most delicious summer berry in existence. No arguments. But, of course, there are many poor souls who have never eaten one, which I consider a grave deprivation.

Part of their charm is that – in contrast to other berries – instead of giving way when you bite into their juicy flesh, the centre of the berry puts up some resistance, and the seeds add a little crunch.

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Summer treasure 3: Blackcurrants

16/7/2018 Until recently, I had almost forgotten the delights of blackcurrants. They are not a fruit I would ever think of buying in a shop (if indeed they are sold in shops – I have never looked for them), and many years passed between visiting ‘pick-your-own’ farms during childhood and tasting them again about five years ago, when a friend generously gave me a few of his small and precious crop. Putting one in my mouth instantly transported me back to childhood summers. Their flavour was uniquely wonderful; their sharpness sweat-inducing. In that moment I decided to grow my own.

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Crossways Farm Spring Update 2018

sunbathing18/6/2018 It has been a good spring, despite its late arrival. After a wet and boggy start, leaving everyone desperate for sunshine, its end is dry and sunny, leaving everyone (with a garden) desperate for rain. Some rain would indeed be welcome, but guests, creatures and I are having no trouble at all appreciating the good weather…

This season has had many highlights. To mention just a few, we have welcomed four new cuddly ratties (Badger’s relatives) and four new chickens, who have settled in well and are laying beautiful eggs. There were one or two adventures at the start due to my forgetting to have their wings clipped before I brought them home. It took me nearly two days and a fair bit of neighbourly detective work to track down one of the girls who had made her way to someone’s garden down the road after the goats frightened her over the shed roof…

I also had a friend to stay last week for a two-and-a-half day intensive gardening session. In that time we managed to transform a cage full of weeds back into a fruit cage and raised beds planted with courgettes, squash, sweetcorn, kale and tomatoes. I still have to check regularly to make sure I’m not imagining it! Thank you to my friend Gina for all her hard work and weeding enthusiasm.

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