Garden thoughts

A flip side of being able to nip down to Stanwick Lakes regularly this year (see yesterday’s blog), unlike last year, is that I spend less time tuning in to Spring in the garden. But, it has recently been so cold , it’s the wind you know, that sitting in the garden is currently less attractive. It was so warm last year – it was wasn’t it? I’m not misremembering or imagining it, am I? I’m fairly sure I’m not as people have written books about it (see my reviews of The Consolation of Nature and Skylarks with Rosie).

But chilly though this Spring is at the moment, my habit of sitting in the garden staring at the sky has persisted. The habit acquired last year of taking a tea or coffee into the garden with my binoculars, and this year more likely a hot chocolate at the moment, rather than staring at a computer screen for another 10 minutes, has lasted. Although my time spent sitting in the garden this year lags greatly behind 2020 so far, it greatly outstrips previous years. I have acquired a lasting habit and a different relationship with my own space.

Lockdown did not change me from a townie hooked on my mobile phone into a dedicated follower of nature, because that wasn’t my starting point, but it did nudge me into a slightly different relationship with nature. Much is made by nature conservation organisations of how last Spring changed us all so much, but I suspect that the truth is that the change in our relationship with nature as a society is a fairly widespread but very patchy collection of tiny steps towards a greater connection with nature. As with much societal change it wasn’t a revolution but was more of a gradual evolution with spurts and stalls.

And in any case, I haven’t heard many other than a few impressionable media types and those whose business it is to promote nature awareness saying that anything has changed. When the CBI or NFU are issuing press releases saying that the mood of the country has changed towards a greater appreciation of nature and their members must change too, or when politicians are alarmed at the massive change in voters who are now moving to vote Green and asking all candidates about what they will do for wildlife then we can celebrate a sea change.

But as I sit in my garden, wrapped up and thinking that I’ll head indoors again soon, Spring is uncoiling around me. uncoiling Spring is pretty unavoidable at this time of year – it’s ubiquitous.

We’ve been through snowdrops, aconites (I love aconites), lesser celandines, daffodils and crocuses and are now in primroses and daisies. The forsythia pictured above looks great, better than ever, and that’s because it got a proper pruning after flowering last Spring (in the warm) and has benefitted from that tough love. I spent some time slightly envying, but mostly enjoying, my neighbours’ magnolia tree which was bedecked with gorgeous flowers but, sad to say, the recent frosts and winds have done it no favours and the blooms are browned off and blown to bits now. It was a short-time extravagant flowering which was at its glorious peak for less than a week, whereas my forsythia looks as good post frost and northeast chills as it did before them. I wouldn’t have noticed those things in previous years except in the most casual and inaccurate of ways. My attention has shifted.

The wintering Blackcap (occasionally more than one) that frequented the fat balls and sunflower feeder from just before Chrismas until early March was seen on an almost daily basis but then it stopped visiting and a few days later I head a Blackcap singing nearby. Then there was no sign of Blackcaps but I have heard nearby Blackcap song a couple of times since the Blackcaps arrived and started singing at Stanwick. I’ve noted the transition from wintering birds to Spring arrivals in my garden closer than ever before.

And the Jackdaws, paired off and sitting by chimney cowels and pots along the street, are again bringing what look like discs to their perches. They did this last year, they probably do it every year, but I noticed it last year and believe I have figured it out this year. As I sit and watch the Jackdaws they fly to their perches, often the two members of a pair together, and in their beaks are very obvious discs, about the size of a plug for a washbasin – so, quite noticeable in a Jackdaw’s beak. Last Spring I spent quite a while wondering what were those deiscs. This spring, in the cold, I was watching the Jackdaws and i saw one of the pair on my own chimney pot drop its disc and I saw that the disc crumbled as it hit the sloping roof and tumbled into a gutter. It looked, as it broke up, as though it was made of grass, and fairly dry grass. So how do Jackdaws find, or make, discs of dry grass or similar? Then I saw a Jackdaw on the road, pecking at something, and all became, I believe, clear. The Jackdaw was pecking at a drying pile of horse manure deposited recently from an equine backside. Aaah. Now quite whether collecting slices of dried horse shit is for food or nesting material I’m not sure, and I’m slightly surprised by how keen my local Jackdaws are at making use of this resource, but I think that is what is happening. Phew! What a relief that is now clearer to me!

Other sightings in the garden so far this uncoiling Spring have been Brimstones, Peacocks and a Small Tortoiseshell, a couple of Beeflies, an early House Martin (first in Northants this year I’m told, on 21 March, and I haven’t seen one since, anywhere) and a Peregrine and a Merlin overhead.

I’m looking forward to warmer days.

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6 Replies to “Garden thoughts”

  1. Yes it has been a bit of a miserable spring so far this year with so much cloud and a cold wind and just a very few sunny days. Things are also getting quite dry. As a result things are not growing very fast at all. As I recall by this time last year, which was fairly exceptional, the leaves were pretty well on the trees. This year there is still not much sign of the leaves except on a few early hawthorns. Nevertheless I dis have my first orange tip butterfly last Sunday. This will be a newly hatched butterfly as compare to peacocks that have over wintered. Also seen a few swallows, and heard sedge and reed warblers as well as willow warblers. Chiffchaffs are everywhere this year singing their hearts out.

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  2. Spring about 10-14 days later than last year from a gardeners point of view..... photos from last spring imply the greengage almost finished blossom now and letttuces half grown, this year greengage only been open a few days and lettuce still seedlings.......
    The northerly is keeping it colder, but it is still as lacking in rainfall over here in the east..... but its only just drying out from the deluge of February.....

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  3. I can't believe I'm bemoaning the lack of rain already! The Blackbirds seem to be struggling to find food for their first brood, so I'm turning over the top of the compost bin and finding some worms for them! Don't expect to do this til June/July!

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  4. In the Far East of SUffolk here we once had soay sheep for a while as a management tool.. One advantage is they shed their fleece each year, you do not have to shear them. Jackdaws could often be seen in the spring with beakfulls of the dark fleece, presumably to line their nests. As livestock of any kind are few and far between here I wondered what they used normally. Probably rabbits fur from the corpses which there used to be plenty of.
    I wonder if your Jackdaws are keeping a folk memory going. Maybe using droppings to bind the sticks before adding fur. Horse power died out in most places decades ago. In its hay day horse poo was a major waste disposal problem in London.. I knew someone who did a thesis on it. London had multi story stables!

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  5. It is always a Thing, living at just 13m lower than the top of the Cathedral spire as calculated from OS maps and Russian guidebooks, how much colder it is here in Spring and how much later everything is to emerge. So it is a shame about the Mangolias this year, browned off everywhere, even down in the city.

    Noticeably different is the unusually luxuriant growth of Lords and Ladies, which Dearly Beloved Mrs Cobb has also noticed so it must be true.

    Beeflies are so numerous I'm wondering if they have done in all the solitary bees.

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  6. My dog loves eating horse shit - it makes her coat shiny - I suspect it would be quite healthy for people too - all that gut flora. I've been trying to start getting meadows going at our place - although I suspect it will be a very long haul. However I am hopeful for a small patch in the garden. I bought organic harvested meadow seed from habitat aid - it was pretty expensive £70 a kilo so would cost a fortune per acre but it's 57% wildflower seed well worth buying and then splitting up for back gardens as you only need 2g or so per square metre.

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