Crossways Farm Spring Update

siberian squill

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.

What I always get most excited about on the foliage front is beech leaves. At the end of April I saw and touched – it is impossible to resist stroking them – the first exhilarating, furry-edged, silky-soft translucent beech leaves in the hedge.

Despite the slowing down of spring, one thing we have been lacking since last summer is proper rain. The pond water level is more than a foot lower than at this time last year, and I began to have real fears that the irises, gradually encroached on by the goats as the water recedes, might not make it to flowering in June this year. I heaved a great sigh of relief after the recent nights of heavy rainfall which raised the pond level 2 or 3 inches, and another even greater when I saw the first yellow flowers appear a few days ago.

The other casualty of the lack of rain seems to have been the cow parsley, another of my spring favourites. Usually jungly, it has been a quarter as tall and a tenth as bushy as last year. I was quick to blame Felicity and Ilo for its failure to perform, when I remembered they had had ample opportunity to consume just as much last year, even if they had not quite finalised their taste in plants the previous year. So, for now they are off the hook. At least until next year…

To make up for the cow parsley disappointment, I have been celebrating the Return of the Yellow Rattle. After only a few plants popped up last year from a sowing of many thousands of seeds, I thought that the mild winter might prevent them germinating again. I was over the moon to discover many more plants in the areas where they grew before. Until they are all in flower it will be difficult to determine quite how much they have spread, but I am now confident that they are capable of colonising the developing wildflower meadow without much further assistance from me.

Daisy path
Daisy path in the wildflower meadow

Broody chickenThe animals are all well and enjoying spring as much as I am, apart from the three poor broody chickens who are creating egg-laying traffic jams. I have decided to banish them to the tennis court during the day to try and cure them… All possible tit-nest sites are in use and I have been ridiculously pleased with the sound of cheeping coming from inside the ceiling of the animal room. The nest entrance is a hole in a wall beam which apparently was not filled when the wall was repaired two years ago. (If that was at my request, it was surprisingly sensible of me).

There are, of course, several new members of the family to welcome, including Dexter the Rabbit and three fluffy Brahma chickens (photos below). I intended to get only two Brahmas, not knowing the breeder had 3 colours available until I got there. But no sooner did I get home with the two I’d struggled to choose than I realised how silly I’d been and arranged to go back to get the third a few days later. They were christened Knicker, Bocker and Glory by a bishop, no less!

Knicker, Bocker and Glory
Dexter doing a seal impression… or is it a sphinx?

Dexter is quite a character (the goats are scared of him) and nearly as soft as the chinchillas. The dark Brahma (silver chicken above, called Knicker, poor thing!) went into immediate training to become a Teddy Chicken and passed with flying colours after just a few days. As I write this, I am sitting cross-legged on the grass in Dexter’s enclosure with Knicker settled on my knee and Dexter stretched out next to me. I am quite convinced she and Dexter are going to become cuddle buddies very soon…

The most recent animal excitement has been the sighting of a hummingbird hawk-moth on the terrace, and the discovery of newts in the front pond. I saw four in just one small area of the pond, at least one of which was a great crested newt (rare and protected), so I hope that is an indication that there is a good population breeding there this spring…

Usually vastly outnumbered by the furries and featheries, humans have been making increasingly frequent appearances at Crossways, which we are all delighted about. Felicity and Ilo have been taking the opportunity to show off to their captive audiences (which sometimes involves less desirable displays of talent, such as fence-jumping). It has been great to see a steady increase in bookings this spring, including my first two repeat guests – which is a special pleasure, both to know they liked it enough to come back, and to be able get to know them better. Thank you!