19/6/2019 Last time I looked it was April: I’m not sure where this spring has disappeared to. I have been willing it to rain so that the irises in my rapidly drying pond might have the chance to flower before the goats ate them all. My wishes were in vain: but somehow a few flowers managed to escape their jaws nevertheless. The rain came too late for the irises, but the vegetables and fruits are thankful, as am I, for having far less watering to do than last year. And for the absence of moral dilemmas: my water butts are being filled regularly, so the hose is rarely called for.
After a slow start with bookings, this spring has been all about B&B, vegetable gardening and music, to the neglect of my new bathroom which has been waiting several months to be painted. But that is a winter job, and it will just have to wait: I have learnt that ruthless prioritising is the only way forward in spring. Meanwhile, the vegetable beds were mended and cleared in February with the help of a friend, and I finally got round to repairing, cleaning and goat proofing the greenhouse – only two years late. So both are in full green swing, prompted and encouraged by my friend Steve, who has been passing on spare seeds and plants and acting as my vegetable growing consultant. ‘What do I do about the potatoes which have been squashed by a crow that got stuck in the vegetable enclosure?’ ‘Will my Brussel sprouts recover after having nearly all their leaves broken off?’ (The rabbits and goats were happy with their dinner after that mishap.)
Meanwhile Dusty and Malteser have been specialising in cuteness; Winnie the Wood Pigeon is as gorgeous as ever and will soon celebrate her 2nd birthday; the goats took full advantage of their one opportunity (and I shall ensure it is their last) to break into the beautifully fenced rhubarb bed and leave a scene of devastation behind them; and my new rescue chickens, Cheeky and Monkey (Monkey is below centre) – no need to say more – have settled into Crossways Farm life as though they never knew anything else.
17/12/2018 When I first heard reports from friends and neighbours of bluebells sprouting in December, I thought they must be mistaken. I have rarely noticed snowdrop shoots in December, and that seemed far more likely than bluebells. With a large dollop of doubt and no first-hand evidence to settle the matter, I soon forgot about it.
Until last year, when I actually paid attention to what was under my nose.
25/10/2018 I tend to suffer from maple envy in autumn when I look above the ugly, half-bare conifer hedge towards my neighbours’ garden, and see the top of their bright red maple tree, which was yellow not long ago. This year it got me thinking. My dad and my brother planted plenty of maple trees in my garden, so where are all the autumn colours?
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.
1/10/2018 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.
21/6/2018 I am so late with my last two spring treasures that they have spilled over into summer. I mustn’t use this as an excuse to abandon them though; they have been flitting around in my head, even if they have not alighted until now.
I thought pyramidal orchids would be my choice of penultimate spring treasure. They grow in my wildflower meadow – though I have only found one so far this year – and there is a forest of them at the Hobbets. In the end, however, I realised it isn’t just the orchids I love, it is their context: the sheer abundance of them at the Hobbets amongst the oxeye daisies, meadow vetchling and black medick. What’s more, there isn’t just one species of orchid there, but two. At first I thought they were a variation of the pyramidal orchid – which is known to range in colour from pale pink to deep pink-purple – but now I know better. They are marsh orchids. To my shame, I haven’t yet identified which type of marsh orchid they are, but I will make the time this very week and take along my plant identification guide.
4/2/2018 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.
‘… 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.
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.
During my literary meanderings, from Ronald Blythe to Hugh Farmar to George Peterken, I discovered several details about the Thicks that I hadn’t yet found out through visiting it myself. Aside from the fact ‘Staverton’ means ‘staked enclosure’ (Blythe, 2013), and that it contains or contained what was thought to be the tallest holly tree in the UK (at 22.5 metres in 1969), I read about Butley stream and possible marshes or wetland to the northeast of the Park, and Butley Priory approximately a mile to the southeast. Founded in the 12th century, the Priory was once the owner of the Thicks. Only ruins and the Priory Gatehouse remain, both marked on my Ordnance Survey map. Lastly, the cottage Hugh Farmar lived in, Shepherd’s Cottage, was not the one along the road to Butley I first took it for when I saw his photograph of it: there was another, almost identical, thatched stone cottage in the northeast corner of Staverton Park, a mile or so from any road.