Monkey Chicken’s example was followed to the letter this autumn, with a Very Big Party to begin the season. I have never attempted anything so chaotic before, and have my friend Rachel to blame for her encouragement of the mad idea of a camping party. Approximately 30 adults and children came to camp in my garden for the weekend – although a few of them opted for a bedroom instead – and even more came to join us for a barbecue on Saturday lunchtime. With hot, sunny weather – no sign of autumn – live chamber music in the background for at least half the weekend, and Winnie becoming officially the Luckiest Pigeon in Suffolk by having a piece of music written especially for her by Rachel, I couldn’t have hoped for a more special start to my new decade… We were even serenaded by tawny owls after dark.
This summer has been full of excitement and activity, and, sitting in a sunny garden listening to bird song while I write, I am glad to feel it is not yet over.
With only a few small pauses between B&B bookings – all of which were occupied by visits from family and friends or short musical trips away from home – and averaging 5 concerts a month since April, I feel happy to have made it to mid-September without having to hide in a darkened room (more than once or twice, at least).
There have been so many highlights it would be hard to choose between them. One, of course, must be the many lovely people I have met and the joy with which they have shared my house, garden and creatures during their stay. Many of the other highlights are of course creature related. A kingfisher flew over my pond – I’m not sure what he was doing here as there are definitely no fish in it, but I was very happy to see him all the same – and I have seen hares in my garden almost daily. One crossed the bridge recently, which I as a result I now consider a magic bridge. Leia the chinchilla, who sadly lost her friend Solo earlier in the year, found a new friend and it only took a few days before they were snuggled up together. Malteser and Dusty the rabbits… well, cute, fluffy and funny pretty well sums them up. The goaties have, surprisingly, refrained from too much mischief this season but continue to rule the garden and the chickens with their usual self-assurance.
20/12/2018 It very much still feels like autumn, and I’m glad about that. I can carry on enjoying walks and garden jobs accompanied by chickens and goats without having to brace myself too often to go outdoors. I know I will warm up soon enough with activity, but that doesn’t stop me putting off going out in the cold…
Autumn seems to be the quietest B&B period. More so than winter. I think once New Year has passed, people start needing to think about their next long weekend or holiday in order to get them through till spring. I don’t mind having a quiet period: it gives me a chance to catch up on all the long overdue tasks of mending, sorting, tidying (indoors and out), admin, getting myself generally a little more organised than usual, and even decorating. And this year I actually feel as though I’ve made the most of the time available, to the extent that three years after building work was completed, I am finally getting round to decorating the animal room and finding a way to permanently rodent-proof the wattle and daub walls, which are slowly but surely being transferred to the floor by chewing chinchillas and excavating rats… I am also well on my way to having a new bathroom (the last time it was done was likely in the 1950s) along with other smaller but equally essential renewals or additions, such as paving improvements and a proper fence for my rhubarb bed that I defy even Ilo and Felicity to breach…
19/9/2018 It has been a busy and fun summer, full of sunshine, B&B guests, church concerts, animal happenings and house improvements…
The two most important events that have happened this season are, first, the arrival of Dusty and Smudge, two gorgeous and soft rabbits. Dusty is a Lionhead, like Dexter (though with more upright ears), and Smudge is a Mini Lop. They cannot replace Dexter, who is still deeply missed, but they are a great joy and comfort. After a few weeks of rabbit withdrawal, and sure that I’d find no other rabbit that would match up to Dexter, I thought perhaps I might just go and meet a few rescue rabbits and then make up my mind.
Dusty and Smudge, then called Pippa and Jasmine, were the first two rabbits I met. ‘I won’t be taking them home,’ I told the volunteer at the rescue, ‘I’m only coming to meet them’. But before I left I had reserved them and told her I’d be back the next day to collect them.
18/6/2018 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.
23/5/2018 On the radio the other day I heard cow parsley and nettles being referred to as the ‘thugs’ of the wild flowers. Apparently they thrive in the countryside and on road verges to the exclusion of other wild flowers due to added nitrogen from car fumes and agricultural fertilisers.
I was immediately indignant. On reflection, however, logic has permitted me to accept that this may be so. But it doesn’t stop me loving cow parsley. My garden, which has never been fertilised – except perhaps by goats and chickens in the last few years – has always grown into a jungle of cow parsley in May and June, reaching above my head as a child, and nothing makes me happier than seeing it everywhere in the May countryside. Without it, spring almost wouldn’t be spring.
5/3/2018 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…
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.
‘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!