Summer Solstice

Summer solstice. The spiders swing into the new season, the garden exhales and the sun burns beautiful all day.

 

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First Fruits.

Cherries, red currants and raspberries: plump and red and ready!

Last year there wasn’t a cherry and there wasn’t a walnut after a catastrophic spring frost that destroyed so much fruit that no kirsch was distilled and virtually no grapes were harvested in the Alsace to make the wonderful perfumed wine.

This year has been blissfully different. Spring was late, but this meant that not a flower was lost to late frost and now the cherry trees are growning under the wieght of thick black cherries  and magpies are swaying in the boughs drunk on lucious ripe fruit.

My tiny cherry tree has a real crop for the first time. The red currants survived the monster hail storm and the raspberries escaped all dangers and have loved the heat and the extraordinary rain of the last few weeks. There is so much fruit to come that I hope there is space in the freezer to accommodate it all.

However the one thing gardening has taught me over and over again is how changeable life is, how precariously perfectly balanced for a single moment on the grass blade edge between feast and famine . I inhale and savour the first sweet raspberry!

 

Putting your finger on it!

Sometimes the garden grows so fast there isn’t time to breath. Our weather has been very hot and very wet. The air is saturated in moisture and the garden feels like a hot house. The weeds are growing, the trees are growing,  the flowers are growing and the slugs are multiplying.

The air is perfumed. Lime trees are in full bloom and the perfume somehow reminds me of my mother’s washing powder and all seems clean and safe. The sweet chestnut is also in flower and the feathery blossoms are heavy, exotic and unfamiliar and they make make me sneeze.

The moth trap is full of the usual suspects. The light emerald wouldn’t leave my finger and the little emerald with its raggy wing seemed determined to make a point, but what it was, is as elusive as perfume and the racing days.

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Lurid

« Overnight, very
Whitely, discreetly,
Very quietly

Our toes, our noses
Take hold on the loam,
Acquire the air.

Nobody sees us,
Stops us, betrays us;
The small grains make room. »

I thought of those opening lines from Sylvia Plath’s Mushrooms when I saw this wonderful boletus mushroom pushing up unexpectedly on the edge of the field. It has been hot and crackling with electricity here, as storm after storm explodes over the countryside.

The plants are tropically lush and the mushrooms early and plump with rain.

This lurid boletus seemed sturdy enough to push a tree aside. A scrape of the turgid yellow flesh revealed red pores which turned  bight blue as they instantly oxidised in the stormy sky.

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A Billion brains.

This weekend we were walking in the Jura, high up enough to be above the line of flowering grasses and therefore cool and comfortable. The flowers were wonderful: purple columbines and strange parasitic yellow broomrapes; odd winged broom pushing up amongst the grass and in the shade of the trees, long  spurred butterfly orchids and sturdy white helebores with egg yolk yellow centres, and everywhere there were ants!

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The ground was alive with them and every track was a motorway of dark bodies. We found a huge wood ant nest and the surface was crackling with ants. I wondered if this was part of one of the famous super colonies of wood ants that have been studied a little further south in the Swiss Jura. It has been observed that each huge wood ant nest is actually linked to the next nest by tunnels and by lines of kinship. Theses ant cities work together and do not fight each other, creating peaceful and enormously sucessful empires of billions of animal living in harmony.

Not all wood ants live like this, but the colonies in the Jura have been proven to be different. They do not waste energy on fighting their own species, but instead tolerate each other and work together to hunt and forage.

They are hunters of other insects, but one of the bettles they never kill is the rose chafer beetle that was in my last post. If they encounter one of these they push it into the ant hill where it lays its eggs in saftey. These grow into larvea that spend a couple of years with the ants eating the pests that appear in the nest and thus keeping things clean for their hosts, before pupating and flying away.

When humans seem impossible, it would seem that the wise thing to do is to contemplate the even wiser ants!

 

 

 

click here for the useful rose rose beetle.

 

 

The Best things in Life are free ….

Living like an eastern potentate, this bejeweled rose beetle staggers through the pollen laden flowers of late spring gorging himself on plenty.

The Dame’s violets or gilly flowers are one of the great successes of my garden. Hesperis matronalis grows wild in Europe, but has long been cultivated in gardens for its sweet smell and tall purple blossoms. I dug this up from the green waste site in the village, when I first took possession of my utterly empty garden and could not wait to populate it with plants.

I bought all sorts of exotic flowers that secumbed to slugs or drought or rot, but the Dame’s Violet grew and multiplied steadily each year, until now it makes a spring show to over shadow everything else.  It seems the best things in life really are free and you can share them with the birds and bees and the Eastern potentates too!

Snow in Spring time.

Along the stream crack willows grow. Planted generations ago to provide wands for basket weaving, periodically the willows are still cut back  hard and I fret about the birds that used to feed and nest in them.

And then they grow back thicker and lusher than before, noisy with black caps, loud with lovely yellow hammers and wheezy with green finches.

And then they set seed and a blue May morning is filled with down shaken from a pillow and impossible snow flakes drifting down, caught on a breeze, confusing the eyes with delight.

Look hard at the blue photo and you can follow their transient trajectory too!

Thursday 2.35 pm

The Girl

One day life stands

gently smiling like a girl

suddenly on the far side of the stream

and asks

(in her annoying way ),

But how did you end up there?

 

By Lars Gustafsson              translated from the Swedish by John Irons

printed Essential Poems Bloodaxe books 2012

Slow Business.

Earlier in the year I found a Roman snail shell close up for for the winter, safely sealed behind a calcerious  door. Well, spring is here and the snails are out and about, looking for love. On a damp Sunday afternoon, these two plump snails found each other and slowly, very slowly, did what snails do.

After their amorous interlude, they may have been tempted to go back to bed, as the temperature here has fallen dramatically in the last few days . It seems that the Ice Saints are back again; that strange dip in temperature that is well known in southern Germany and northern Switzerland during during the middle of May.

This odd blip in the temperature is named after the saints days that occur at this time . At the moment we are enjoying cold Kalt Sofia, but my favourite is Saint Pancreas, who is yet to arrive ( maybe there is the wrong type of ice on the tracks!).

 

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Look!

BCE90CB6-0731-4540-99A3-A6BBAD0A4DC5Its real spring now and swallows are scissoring across the sky catching insects. Old meadows underneath the cherry trees are loaded with flowers before the mowers slice them down to make hay for the pampered ponies of the rich girls from Basel.

Amongst the grass there are ox eye daisies, buttercups and tall goats beards, meadow clary, eggs and bacon, hoary plantains, hay rattle and clustered bell flowers.

The moth trap has caught a few equally beautifully named specimens to admire in the early morning quiet; great oak beauties, muslin moths, pine sphinxes and this pale tussock who came to rest on my cap over night. Evocative names, unfathomable eyes and in the case of the pale tussock moth: disturbingly hairy claspers!

 

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Putting your money where your mouth is!

 

On Earth day  I declared my garden pesticide free. Sounds good doesnt it? I think youngsters call it virtue signaling, or boasting in real speak.

That means no slug pellets and no chemi death to save my box hedge from the terrible china moth that has killed so many lovely box hedges across Europe. The slug pellets I am weaning myself off. I have found lettuces that they  don’t eat and  I try not to grow flowers that they like. However last night I found my irises being quietly shreded by little slugs working in tiny teams to saw through the stems of the unopened flowers and I felt my resolve slipping . Overhead a bat was stiching the night air and his clicks and whirs were ticking through my bat detector box, as he caught his night flying bugs. I turned back to the house and there in the dusk was a fat hedgehog snuffling.

They are the reason I made my rash pledge. I want my little patch of heaven to be free of the chemicals that are killing our wildlife. The world outside of my garden may well be going to hell in a handbasket, but I have control of this tiny space and I have to keep it clean.

Today  I spent another couple of hours picking revolting fat china moth caterpillars by hand off my box hedge. It was hardwork and the wretches kepts trying to wriggle out of the bucket before I could drown them. They are recent alien invaders and they have no natural predators in Europe. If  I ignore them, they will eat the whole hedge .  Then we both pressure hosed the hedge to try to blast away the ones  I had missed . Neighbours stopped to ask what we were doing washing the hedge.

Green gardening is proving to be a lot of hard work, but the hedgehog says it is worth it!

New season resolutions for Earth Day.

 

 

 

Life and Death (in the garden!)

A rushed spring produced record amounts of pollen. The birch and beech and oak all showered down together with dandelion, leaving a bright yellow slick of dust on everything for weeks. There has been a little rain and some has washed away leaving golden runnels on the pavements, visible proof of the pulsing life of spring.

The wild strawberries are out and the slugs are carefully sawing their way through the stalks of each iris flower. The box tree hedge is alive with China moth caterpillars and I have filled a bucket with the wriggling horrors. I rashly vowed never to use pesticides in my garden again, so now each fat black and yellow wretch must be picked off by hand. It feels loathsomely virtuous and tomorrow I am going to turn the high pressure hose on them and see how they like that blast of clean bio warfare!

New season resolutions for Earth Day.

 

Sulky ladies and leeches.

Snakeshead fritillaries have lots of names inspired by their nodding flower heads and extraordinary chequered pattern. Sulky lady appeals to me as I imagine a petulant girl with her face hidden in her bonnet, but I can also see the snake in the garden of eden with its head rearing out of the grass.

The wet winter has favoured this wonderful flower in my garden this spring and as its natural habitat are water meadows, this makes sense.  Before we drained so many meadows it was common in the south of England and great bunches of flowers were sent to market in London.  You can still admire them in meadows of Magleden College Oxford and other nature reserves where they are protected . The Oxfordshire village of Ducklington http://www.ducklingtonchurch.org.uk/fritillary/the-background-to-fritillary-sunday/.  has a snakeshead fritillary day on to celebrate their outlandish beauty.

On our walk through the fruit orchards today we spotted a newt in a pool and when peering down to get a second glance we realised that there were lots of leeches in the mud at the bottom of the clear water. It is the first time I have ever seen leeches . They had obviosly not fed on anything and were thin, but hungry looking! I took one out to admire it and it didnt have time to attach and feed. If it was a medicinal leech then it was a rare beast, as just like the snakeshead fritillary, they were collected almost to extinction. One for it beauty and the other for its blood sucking ability.

I know which one I would rather have in the garden!

Some Days.

Some days are full of possibilities. Some days the air is crystal clear, the tulips are perfect. Three kites wheel overhead and hang like a mobile over a baby’s cot. The dirt under my nails is full of seeds, bats shift imperceptibly in the eves.

 

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Slip sliding!

Cowslips were familiar to me from Welsh hedgerows. Taller than primroses with long carolla  they push their way up into the sun in a race with the lengthening grass. Oxlips were much less familiar. I had seen them occasionally in Oxfordshire many years ago. Here in the borders of France and Switzerland they are much more common and prefer shady spring woodlands. They are often the very first flash of colour under the bare trees. They are delicate  primroses on long stems as their latin name of primula elatior testifies.

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Since we started our French garden we have been trying to encourage as many wildflowers to grow here as garden varieties. When we arrived we noticed a single primrose in the lawn. By letting it seed and not mowing too hard we now have 45 primrose plants flowering in the grass. At the moment our lawn is yellow with dandelion flowers and flecked with cuckoo flowers. We have not heard a cuckoo yet, but we have had orange tip butterflies feeding on the flowers, just like it says in the book.  When admiring the “weeds” the other evening after work,  I was surprized and delighted to see a lone oxlip flowering on the lawn. It obviously doesn’t know it should be in a wood, but maybe it somehow it does know that it has set seed somewhere it will be perfectly safe.

P.s. assume the name “slip” is something to do with growing in cow or ox dung, but I could be wong!

 

Astonished.

Apparently this is now my third year of blogging on WordPress, which seems astonishing.

I started the blog on a cold wet day, when I just had to write about gardens to total strangers, to somehow compensate for the late spring.

The following spring was glorious, the best apple blossom I have ever seen and cherries already starting to form, when from a summer sky we had thick snow. Just as the snow melted, the temperatured plumeted and every flower and new leaf was coated in thick ice . The ice stayed for a day and a night and we lost every cherry, apple, plum and walnut of the year. It nearly broke my heart.

This year the spring was a little slow, but eventually the blackthorn came out, and now the cherries are in bloom again. They could all be frozen off for a second year, but the forecast is good. The sun is strong, the bees are out in force, even the rain has stopped.

So from my third year of blogging about the same garden in the same lovely corner of the earth, I send you pictures of the cherry trees and good wishes for a fruitful, peaceful year for us all!

 

 

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Weekend.

There is so much to write about at this time of year I don’t know where to  begin. Winston brought me a slow worm and dropped it delicately at my feet to admire. Pixie brought me a vole and chased around the kitchen and killed it. The garden is filling with flowers. There are orange tipped butterflies on the wild ladies smock blooming in the lawn. There are violets in the tussocks and wasps shaving the wooden garden bench to make their nests. The cat drug valerian is managing to grow faster than they can rub it back down in their ecstasy . We have seen our first swallows and our first house martins as they swooped on by . The ants have woken up . There are bee flies on the honesty flowers and humming bird hawk moths on the cowslips. The blackthorn is still beautiful . The peas and the potatoes are planted. The only absurd part of this wonderful race of fantastical spring glory is that some joker still expects me to leave it all on Monday and go to work!!

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Starting Afresh.

The Trees

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too,
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

Phillip Larkin

 

from The Collected Poems (Faber, 1993), by permission of the publisher, Faber & Faber Ltd.

 

 

The world is racing ahead.  The sky is sliced open with spring light and into the space  bird song is pouring. There doesn’t seem time to understand it, to count it, to measure it. This is the blood in the veins . This is life.

 

 

Covered in bees .

Gardens are ground level and sky level.

Today there was real sunshine and my willow tree was absolutely covered in bees. The sallow just self seeded behind the compost bin a couple of years ago and we decided to let it grow, as attracting wildlife is not just about the things you decided to plant! This wild willow made pearl white pussy willow flowers all winter and when the spring finally really arrived she erupted into a three dimensional banquet for the bees, as each blossom furred over in thick yellow pollen. This morning there were comma butterflies, tortoise shells and peacocks and hundred upon hundreds of wonderful noisy, noisy, noisy bees.!!

I am so glad we didn’t trim the tree in the autumn, but left this feast for the bees and the soul in the springtime .

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