Bees have had a tough time in Europe, so it is excellent to read about this uninfected wild colony. I especially like the fact that these bees are so peaceful they can walk on your hands without stinging !
Bees have had a tough time in Europe, so it is excellent to read about this uninfected wild colony. I especially like the fact that these bees are so peaceful they can walk on your hands without stinging !
As a child I always considered the cold didn’t start until after Guy Fawks and this year the weather seems true to a long time ago in Cheshire.
Flowers are hanging on where they have been spared mower and strimmer and I have seen a handful of poppies, some hard heads and a spray of harebells still flowering on field edges. In the garden petunias and marigolds and a few geraniums are still bright. The dahlias have been touched by the frost but not yet slain and some very late gladiolus are a spear of colour against the falling leaves.
When I started gardening in a real garden ( as opposed to my previous tiny international balconies ) I thought I needed to be true to all the gardening manuals I had read and to cut down everything and to tidy and clean up, ready for the winter. Then I lived with my garden for a few years and realised that a “ tidy” garden was in fact a very boring and a virtually dead garden for far too many months of the year. There was no where for the caterpillars to pupate, no corners for the hedgehog to forage in and no where for the birds to perch and peck.
So I have learnt to ignore the outdated gardening manuals and to leave the clearing up the garden for as long as possible. Yes, I am encouraging slugs and snails and things that will eat my flowers and vegetables, but I am also encouraging life and trying to live with it. I don’t grow things that cannot withstand a few slugs and snails, white fly, black fly etc etc . I don’t use weed killer or insecticides not because I love all insects, but because why would you spray poisonous chemicals around your own home when you don’t have to? The world is full of enough noxious ness without adding to it just to conform to a very misguided and outdated concept of “tidy” .
So my garden continues to harbour the last flowers, the hedgehog poo that shows she is still feeding in the weedy corners and the caterpillars looking for a quiet spot to dream the winter safely away.
Capturing complex beauty is so difficult and I have the greatest respect for those who take wonderful photos with such apparent ease.
My garden is crammed with columbines at this time of year all of which have come from seeds collected in the woods locally. They cross and cross with one another and the variety they produce is mesmeric. Every May I try to capture them, but I am never satisfied by the result, as they hide in their five petaled whorls and I cannot begin to show the diversity of their colour and petals.
Some are pale, almost white and they stand out in the dawn light. Others are baby pink and innocent; next are the deep, sophisticated , rose-red flowers. Seemingly unconnected in gradation are the purple columbines: a rare few seem actually blue and are the smallest and most shyly flowered; then there are the work -a -day mid purples with the longest spurs; followed by purples rich enough for an emperor’s robe and finally, the most exotic of all: the midnight purples, so dark that they seem to absorb the very sun light around them .
Some flowers have just a single whorl of five petals: each petal contains a nectary to encourage the bees to visit and to pollenate . The nectaries are curled over and this has given the flowers their name, as they look like five doves or columbs facing one another in a delicate ring. They have also given columbines the folk names of “ladies in bonnets”and “old ladies” from when women kept warm and modest in complicated lace caps.
Bumbles bees cannot be bothered extending their long tongues into the spurs and they simply bite into the neck of the ”dove” and steal the nectar provided by the flower. Some plants are not satisfied with just one ring of petal doves and produce natural “sports” of flowers which are crammed with petals, so they look like pom-poms or little floribunda roses.
This variety is absolutely glorious.
I understand Gregor Mendel started our understanding of genetics by studying the way peas crossed with one another . I am glad he studied such a visually dull flower, as I think he would never have gained such important insight, if he had studied columbines – their beauty is just too distracting!
It rained heavily here after weeks and weeks of bright sunshine and the bees were driven in under the shelter of the dripping patio. Luckily there were enough tangled wall flowers half in the rain and half under the cover to provide them with nectar and pollen away from the falling rain. Listening to the bees I thought of Yeats lovely line of poetry and of all the wonderful sounds of the “deep heart’s core”.
This strange and terrible spring has been so beautiful.
The blossom has been unshaken by wind and untroubled by late snow or shrivelling frost.
In the soft, warm air each fruit tree has unfurled the most extraordinary foam and frill of blossom in its turn, against an eggshell blue sky.
First the blackthorn in the hedge, then the cherry, then the pears and now, the most lovely of all: the pink and white of apple blossom.
Each in its turn stirs the heart.
I understand the biology: I know the flowers are beautiful by chance and their purpose is to bring the bees, to fertilise the fruit, to set the seed, to grow the next tree; but that does not explain how my heart turns over; how they make my face turn up to smile and how my arms want to to embrace them, to enfold them, to be part of them.
This visceral response to beauty is part of our soul. We feel it when we want to pick up a child, to hug a lover, to scoop up a cat and when a whole tree is so lovely that our arms do not feel wide enough to embrace the whole extraordinary, heartbreaking beauty of its glory.
We are greedy for loveliness, greedy for beauty.
This pear tree was full of starlings in the autumn gorging on the ripe fruit and the sound was a riot of clicks, whirrs and chirrups.
The world is so much quieter now. The hiss of tyres has gone and the roar of easy jet overhead has faded. I can hear the tawny owls at night and the colony of jackdaws on the church tower is audible from my garden for the very first time ever.
It is impossible not to enjoy this peacefulness, but impossible too to ignore that the quiet has come at the price of loneliness, fear, economic crisis and terrible illness.
I listened to The Queen addressing Britain and the world beyond today and her calm, compassionate dignity suddenly made me cry.
The brouhaha tree is in full flower today. It is absolutely covered in bees and their buzzing is loud, sociable and full of life, as will all our lives be very, very soon.
It’s snowing here, but soon the sun will be out again and the dandelions will be in flower again – such is the fickle nature of spring. Faffing about flowers when the virus has us all enthralled seems absurd, but we must stay sane and nature turns unperturbed by our concerns.
Those of us fortunate enough to have lawns are watching them grow and as the world beyond the garden seems increasingly unsafe, we attempt to impose order on our own small patch. I think the first blog I ever wrote four years ago was a plea not to mow the lawn in the spring time and here I am again with the same plea for peaceful inaction!
Dandelions are beautiful.
Their huge golden flowers are the first food for so many bumblebees, honey bees and butterflies. If you are home instead of the office, then lie on the grass and watch a bee burying itself in the profusion of pollen that dandelions offer up. Watch the bee revel in the yellow gold, its whole body dusted in it and the pollen sacs on each back leg bulging with the riches it will take back to the hive.
Then put away the mower for a few weeks and let the dandelions be.
The English name for them is a corruption of the French “dent de lion” – lion’s teeth and they are “ lowen Zahn” – lion’s teeth in German too. Both names come from the shape of the seed, not the flower. The common French name is “pissenlit “ which literally means piss the bed, which is the diuretic result of eating too many of the delicious leaves!
I am eating a lot of dandelion leaves at the moment. I am eating them Greek style which is boiled or steamed for a few minutes and then dressed in olive oil and salt. You will be relieved to know they have not lived up to their French name so far!
So enjoy the spring flowers on your lawn: feed the bees: eat free greens and stay healthy!
We are staying home to save lives as the COVID-19 virus rips through Europe.
I take inspiration from the solitary bees that have made a home under the ripped roof of our shanty shed in the garden. When I peeked under the flapping plastic sheeting I found every hole had been made into a home by masonry bees with dark red tails. They are collecting pollen from the willow tree to lay their eggs on, which will feed them as they slowly go through the stages of their lives.
Such solitary bees are better pollinators than sociable honey bees. They carry more pollen than honey bees and do not suffer from the same viruses as their hive living counterparts .
Covid-19/Coronavirus is spreading at an alarming rate and it can be deadly for the infirm and for older people. Younger people catch it just as much, but for them it is much less serious. The problem is that these younger people can spread it even if they are not visibly unwell.
Europe is having to enforce draconian mesures to stop people from socialising and spreading the virus. No one wants to be confined at home for weeks, but if that is what we have to do to stop it, then that is what we have to do, and that means everybody, for the welfare of the whole of society!
If you are in Italy, France, Spain etc I am teaching my grandmother to suck eggs again. If you are in China, we need to learn from how you have dealt with this; if you are in the rest of our beautiful world, then please take notice of what is happening in Italy and beyond and stay away from the hive, stop travelling and stay safe.
Some days have felt like spring: warm sun and gentle air; some days have looked like spring; early bees and daffodils, but today was the first day that sounded like spring.
The air is still cold, there is snow on the mountains and bad news on the radio, but migrants have come on the wind and their song was lovely!
The edge of the woods were loud with bird song, thrushes and blackbirds, a skirl of starlings that could sing like kites and golden orioles and their own whirling popping selves. A raven chuckled over us, green woodpeckers yaffled, black woodpeckers deep drummed and a long eared owl wheezed unseen . There were blue tits, great tits, wagtails and coal tits and then best of all; most unmistakable and gorgeous a chiffchaff sang with its throat full of spring time and the promise of summer.
Two brimstone butterflies appeared, a fantastically edged comma butterfly found some sunshine and ludicrously, a pair of large ruddy shell ducks landed on the top of our neighbours chimney pot, called companionable to one another and flew away!
I dont have pictures of any of these things. Close you eyes and listen for them, though you may have to listen very hard to hear the butterflies!
The photos are from the woodland.
Heavy rain brings quiet mornings.
Snakes of pine needles on the path show where water flowed in the night.
Poppies are slow to open in the cool hours and there is time to watch them shrugging off their sepals to expose their dark hearts to the hungry bees.
Droplets cling to the folds of lady’s mantle leaves – the name from the shape of the folds in the Virgin Mary’s cloak.
And the birds: such a rich waterfall of music from the birds, as they take the cloudy day for dawn and sing each fresh washed note over and over again.
I have always wanted a rose bower.
The very word bower sounds secret and enclosing.
I have trained roses up wrought iron arches with varying degrees of success, but our wild dog rose has produced the longest, most exuberant arms of flowers to wrap around the old wheel barrow and make marvellous the compost corner.
Its simple pink blossoms are transient, perfumed and perfect. No dog ever wagged so wonderfully!
It is so peacefully easy to do something for the bees. Just leave the mower in the shed and let all the dandelions flower! The lawn is bright yellow with sunburst flowers and the air is loud with the humm of bees, that are so covered in pollen they are almost as golden as the flowers.
Inaction is a much underrated art. We don’t have to be improving ourselves, tidying the garden, living “our best lives” ( what ever that improbability should be! ) often the best thing is delicious sloth, quiet, environmentally friendly inaction: just letting the garden go. I have managed such masterful lack of movement that a dandelion is now poking through the slats of the garden seat. The only danger to it will come when I sit on the bench for a peaceful cup of tea!
After the grey of winter, the sunshine of the last weeks has been like mana from heaven. Cloudless skies, glittering light; the lid has been taken off and we all breath more freely. However, heat in February is fundamentally wrong, and the news of temperature records being smashed across Europe, makes this early sun disturbing, however welcome it may be right now. Children are leaving their classrooms to protest about adults lack of concern about global warming. Their future is being frittered away while we hum and haa about ugly wind turbines and expensive fuel taxes. It is hard not to close our eyes to the uncomfortable truth of what global warming will do to our lovely earth. It is much easier to just lie back and feel the heat on our faces.
What a shout! What a yell of life and light, after so much winter!
Spring is wonderfully early, the sky is scoured blue and burnished in sunshine.
Catkins of expanding hazel are pulled out in the unexpected heat and the bees appear from no where.
Pollen clouds of sherbet yellow are thrown up into widening, widening, wonderful opening sky!
There is a great desire to tidy up the garden at this time of year; to sweep away, to cut down and the housewife in me itches to do away with all the dying vegetation in a great autumn cleanup.
It has taken me a few years of enjoying my own garden to realise that this urge really stems from the mistaken belief that tidying away the old season, will hasten in the new. Old flower stems, mushy leaves and lank shrubs seem to cry out for a short back and sides, but having subjected my garden to such tidy mindedness in my first few years of real gardening, all I was left with was brown soil, bristling shrubs and flat grass. As there are months and months to go before the first bulbs appear and leaves soften the stark branches, I slowly realised that there is no rush to clean up and precious little point to loosing the interest bequeathed by the dying year.
Not being tidy means the seeds have time to ripen in the seed heads and the dry stems give architectural beauty lost in the tidy garden . Spiders sling their webs between the stalks and the first frosts jewel them with diamonds. The leaves shelter the worms, the beetles and the bugs that will feed the hedgehogs and the bushes are roost sites for sparrows and larders for bluetits. The unpicked grapes are pecked off by the blackbirds and the apples forgotten in the grass will feed the starlings.
The weeds that have escaped the tidy hoe in the vegetable patch find space to miraculously flower and prickly blue borage is noisy with the last honey bees. Nothing is to be gained by pulling them up. There will be time much later in the long, long winter to make space for next year’s explosion of life.
Until them I will resist the urge to tidy and let my garden move at its own pace: quietly, messily giving life to the winter world.
I found this great post and I just pressed the reblog button in my enthusiasm. I didnt have time to ask for permission and I really hope The Wildlife Gardener doesnt mind my hasty action, but it is a really good piece and it expresses the need to ditch the chemicals much better than I can!
It’s tempting to reach for the chemical sprays or powders when your walk into your garden and find your favorite rose overrun with aphids or Japanese beetles, or find your cauliflower beset by cabbage worms. After all, what harm can a localized spray possibly do?
The answer is quite a lot. The fact is 90% or more of all insects are beneficial and harmless, and no matter how “localized” the spray, the chemical will kill all insects, not just the “pests.” A diverse collection of insects in your garden/yard translates into good pollination and fruit development, and a natural, non-toxic check on the growth of “pests.” We need insects in the ecosystem. The alternative would be hand-pollinating our fruit and vegetables to continue our food supply; clearly not a viable or reasonable alternative.
Beneficial insects, if allowed to flourish, will curb the spread of pests. The two most effective ways to encourage…
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Stripping lavender flowers from their stalks is the most peaceful task I know.
As you sit beside a basket of trimmed flowers and rub your fingers along each stem, the seeds are crushed: gently releasing a perfume that soothes the soul and relaxes the mind as it rises. The bowl slowly fills with soft light flowers. Plunging your hand in and stiring releases more perfume, until you can taste lavender on your tongue and feel it on your eyelashes. The world is slowed down. You breathe deeply and everything seems safe and clean, fresh and very very young.
I always leave the lavender until it is seeded, as the flowers attract clouds of butterflies and bees that I would not deprive of their perfumed food. The seeds smell just as intensely as the flowers and this way I have the pleasure of their perfume and the sight of the butterflies too.
A few bunches are hung up for decoration and the rest will fill cotton bags to scent pillows and sheets in the linen cupboard. The smallest lavender bag will go in my work bag. When I need reminding of my garden I rub it between my fingers and I am back in the green shade inhaling the complex glory of lavender in a safe, perfumed summer garden.
The afternoon heat rises, the brown cases of lunilaria, peeled back to reveal the secret moonlight of the seed septum, scratch light along the stones.
Small bees vibrate in the Russian Sage . Blue tit fledgelings are unexpectedly insistent: hungry, hungry, hungry in the sallow.
And then again, the quiet.
The church clock dolles out the half hour of stillness, one note at a time . The crow with sore throat calls familiar.
A frill of swallow song thrown over head and then gone.
A car. The ravens roll distant above the forest .
The bees…the bees….. bee…. b…
( for James Wright)
I love being on holiday and having the time to spend whole days in the garden, not just snatched moments between work and sleep!
Evening primroses are wonderful flowers that uncoil themselves in the twilight and become luminous saucers of pale yellow in the darkness. Watching their opening from a garden seat, as the blackbirds fuss themselves down to sleep, is one of the great pleasures of high summer. The flowers are open all night and as soon as the bees and butterflies wake up in the morning, they throw themselves into the generous feast of pollen and nectar .
In the early morning, there is time to explore the fields that we usually blurred by in the morning commute.
Green finches wheeze companiably from the hedgerows; sparrows explode in raucous flocks from the ripe wheat and poured over everything, like thick cream, is the complex beauty of the blackcap’s song.
On the edge of the yellow wheat, poppies are starting to open. The green calyx of the bud is being shrugged off like an uncomfortable hat. The flower stem is vibrating visibly with the effort of releasing the petals. A moment’s waiting as the sun rises and the poppy is open; crimson petals still frilled with the shape of the bud. A moment more and a bumble bee has found it and vibrates in ecstasy in the brand new black pollened centre of this poppy, that will have dropped every scarlet petal by the mid day sun.
The opening of the flowers mark each wonderful, transient day of our holidays and of our lives. Enjoy!
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!
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 .
The garden has just started to wake up after a bruisingly long winter. The forsythia is about to burst into golden Easter glory, the daffodils are straightening up to trumpet the new season and the birds are all shouting their spring songs.
There is still snow under the hedge and birds are still very hungry. It seems to be the same every year: every shop in France, Germany and Switzerland has run out of sunflower seeds, bird seed and fat balls just when it gets really cold and the end of season birds need our help most of all to survive until the spring can feed them with insects.
There is horribly worrying research to show how insect numbers are collapsing in Europe because of our love of pesticides and desire to cut every road side verge, grub up every hedgerow and trim every garden shrub to a stump. Now the research shows that bird number are also crashing and especially here in France. Birds need insects and without them the birds will simply cease to exist.
I have been lucky enough to live in this corner of France for eight years now and in that time I have seen so many hedgerows grubbed up; old trees taken out and not replanted and ditchs shaved and shorn of every plant week on week in the growing season; so that there is nowhere left for wild flowers; for the insects that rely on them and for the birds that feed upon the bugs.
I hadn’t planned on this article being so shouty. Gardens are places to escape bad news, they are peaceful havens of good sense in a crazy world; but even our gardens are linked to the wider world. The birds that fascinate us through the winter feed and breed in the countryside around us. The butterflies that surprise us on a warm afternoon need flower filled meadows to feed on; the bees need orchards to sustain them.
We can’t control what happens in the countryside, but we are in control of our own gardens. I moved to France for space and for the ultimate luxury of a real garden and this has become my sanctuary and often my salvation. As we look forward to a new season and take pleasure in every unfolding blossom and every green shoot, let’s decide to make our gardens places of real beauty and wonder for as much life as possible.
cut down trees and bushes
be afraid of letting the grass grow
cover the soil we own in concrete.
Here’s to a fantastic year full of colour and fruit, beauty and life. Here’s to the gardens, allotments and parks of The World !
As the season changes I am just about to start feeding the birds in the back garden. Big bag of bird seed is on the shopping list for Monday and the bird feeders are out of the shed waiting to be cleaned.
I have a bird table on the other side of the house, which up until now has been the sole territory of the sparrows and has been filled daily with bird crumbs, leftover couscous, crumbled crackers and what ever else didn’t get eaten that day. In the last few weeks it has been taken over by blue tits, great tits and even a jaunty crested tit. There has obviously been some sort of turf war and I am curious as where my squabbling and normally numerous sparrows have gone.
Today, there was a new twist as I noticed honey bees rolling about in crumbs of discarded flapjack. The last flowers have secumbed to the first frost , but the warm weather has encouraged the bees to keep flying and the sugary flapjacks were obviously just what they needed to refuel on a still November afternoon.
This article from the Guardian newspaper explains the terrifying decline in insects that is happening in Europe. I heard about it on a radio programme as I was rushing out to work and like so much bad news, I jus hoped it wasn’t true.
Unfortunately it is true and I know it .
When I would drive home in dusk twenty years ago, the windscreen of my car would be covered in dead insects. Driving down a country lane in the summer was to push through all manner of bugs and butterflies, but now the glass is hardly dirty.
The air is empty. We have trimmed all the hedges and the field edges, we have patioed our gardens and insecticided every crop and plant that we grow. We have tidied up everywhere and now there is virtually no where left for a bug to feed, which means no bugs for the birds to feed on, no birds for the mammals to catch and so on up the food chain.
I don’t want to know this. It is too depressing, but that won’t stop it being true.
So in the spirit of the saying that it is better to light a candle in the night, that to curse the darkness, I will not be tidying my garden this weekend. I shall leave every over grown plant and tatty seedhead; every untrimmed corner of rank grass and every heap of uncollected leaves in the hope that a few hard pressed insects will find a home there and survive for just a little longer.
Here’s to not gardening in the dark!
Keats “ Ode to Autumn” must have been inspired by a day like today. Sunshine has spun out so many flowers, that it seems impossible cold weather will ever destroy them and frost crisp them: but it will.
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease…
When we moved into our home seven years ago, the drive was gravel. I think it must have been regularly sprayed with weed killer to keep it bare and tidy- so we stopped. We collected handfuls of seeds from local wild flowers in the first autumn and we threw them on the tidy, dead stones.
A blush of green appeared in the spring. Tiny pinks arrived first
and tentative wild marjoram. Dandelions scrambled yellow and I let them flower for the bees and then seed for the linnets to feed on. Yarrow sprang up eventually and garden lavender even set seed and bushes started to grow.
There is still a bare strip where the car comes in and out of the garage each day, but the rest is a riot of colour and life. Arriving home from work to drive through an explosion of butterflies and a wall of bumble bees is a million times better growling over dead stones and when I wake up in the morning, open my bedroom window and look down, I watch finches picking through seeds and house martins swooping through the insects that have found a home on our drive just because we let it all go!
We may know that the shape of a flower has evolved to attract pollinators, but to human eyes, their variety is an irresistible opportunity to day dream and to nick name.
My favorite flower at this time of year is Columbine ( Aquilegia in Latin). My garden is overflowing with them at the moment, all from local wild seed, they are a riot of pale pinks, mauves and deep dark purples.
The long tongued garden bumble bee is certainly attracted to their shape and in extracting nectar, faithfully pollenates each flower. Other species are lazier and if you watch carefully these nectar robbers just snip into the spur and steal the nectar without touching the pollen.
I knew that Aquila is Latin for eagle and some see the claws of the eagle in the curled spurs at the back of the flower, but I never understood the English name columbine. In a herbal I read recently that Columba is Latin for dove and when you look at the spurs of the flower in this light; the claws are suddenly transformed into a ring of doves with delicate heads and beaks all joined by touching outstretched wings.
A less ornithological name is grannys’ bonnets, but in the 21st century I don’t know any grannies who still wear such things to determine the veracity of this!
Take a close look at the photo. Tell me what you see!
The seasons are composed of arrivals and departures. The first house martin, the first swallow, the storks building nests, the first spring flowers, the first seeds being set and now the arrival of the wonderful sweet-voiced linnets.
Our garden is a riot of dandelion flowers. The lawn is a bouncy castle of pollen cushions on which every honey bee and bumble bee in the world seems to be rolling around in yellow pantalooned glee. In the sunniest corner of the garden the flowers are over and the seed clocks are spinning seeds into the breeze and this is what the linnets have been waiting for. Their arrival in our garden is timed perfectly for the seeds that they love and they proclaim their new territory from the top of the half dead plum tree.
Linnets are slight birds with bright red streaky breasts and a longish forked tail. They are easy to mistake for sparrows in passing until they sing and their rich warbling, trilling song. An irresistible roll of song that seems the very essence of spring make them completely unmistakable and earn them the adjective melodious in their French name.
Their favourite food seed is called pissenlit in French which means piss the bed, as if you eat too many of the tasty green leaves in a salad, you may enjoy their diuretic properties later that night. In English the name dandelion comes from the French too as the little seed looks like a lion’s tooth – dent de lion. Linnets get their Latin name from their liking for hemp seeds and their English name for their fondness for the flax that was used to make linen.
For the linnets, the dandelion seeds on our drive are simply breakfast, dinner and lunch until they are all gone and the melodious linnets are more than happy to sing for their supper in return.
I wake up to rave music.
The sickening machine deep thump like my own heart about to explode. I take deep, deep breaths. Windows kept shut, the rumble of the kettle and the calming sound of a teapot filling, restores some equilibrium, until the loathsome perpetrator of this insult lapses somewhere into unconsciousness and the cacophony stops.
Outside is birdsong.
The sparrows chattering companionably. A great tit proclaiming his territory. A marsh tit tapping open a sunflower seed on the the trellis. The electric cackle of a redstart . A chiffchaff. The first deep pollen furred rumbles of bumble bees.
The neighbour’s dog Harry is let out and barks . The first horse from the stable ambles down the road and Harry barks again. The horse shys and his hooves clatter sharp on the tarmac. Harry smiles.
In the garden the hum of bees is louder. The pear tree is in full bloom and every single tiny flower seems covered in honey bees. Blink and the tree seems still, squint and it is writing with pollinating frenzy.
Overhead a buzzard mews plaintively swinging into a swoop to impress his mate hanging in the paintbox blue sky.
A couple of frantic and obilivious cyclists whoosh by on thin wheels shouting . Another neighbour retrieves the beer can he left last night in the garden before his elderly mother peers out to admire her pink ribboned Easter rabbit decorations.
After lunch there is laughter under the trees over a cigarette. A desolutotry teenager bounces a basket ball for a few minutes.
Magpies cackle and four black kites glide over head in total silence, their universe so huge, so distant and unbounded.
My second rented garden was almost on the banks of the River Wye on the English Welsh border. Sand martins excavated holes in the crumbling overhangs of the banks and swans sometimes misjudged their flight over the bridge and landed inelegant and indignant in the midst of the traffic. Curlews picked over the drift wood of the broad river and king fishers flashed jewel bright over the green water.
I was there only for a winter and a spring. It was just long enough for me to be delighted by the masses of snowdrops that appeared and diligent enough to start waging war on the ground elder that pushed its way up everywhere. Appropriately yellow Welsh poppies flowered between the paving stones and I collected their seeds to take to my own first Welsh garden in the summer.
The first garden and until quite recently the only garden I owned, was oblong and uninspiring apart from one magnificent inhabitant: my oak. The oak was a surprising remnant from the farm land or wood land that had been lost to build our bungalow. It was entirely out of proportion to the little suburban plot I owned and it was utterly magnificent.
I dug flower beds along the lawn and grew tansy and bear’s britches. Fox gloves loved the red sandstone soil and appeared everywhere and I adored watching fat bumble bees push their ways into the speckle lipped flowers. I grew a buddleia to attract the butterflies and killed it by pruning it too hard. I grew a Russian vine and nearly lost a fence because I couldn’t prune it fast enough. My roses got blackspot in the wet Welsh weather, my drive grew a forest of moss and my lawn turned easily into a meadow by planting wild flowers in amongst the grass and only mowing it once a year, much to the neighbour’s dismay.
The Welsh poppies absolutely refused to germinate and no appeal to their patriotic duty convinced them to grow, but the oak grew slowly, but surely each year.
Grey squirrels loved the acorns and also the peanuts we put out for the birds. One particular squirrel would follow a trail of peanuts cross the lawn and into the sitting room through the French windows. My father was visiting one summer afternoon and was surprised to look up from his newspaper to see Charlene the squirrel, sat comfortably on the carpet watching the television with him in the sitting room.
The oak tree is still there and I have made sure it has preservation order on it to protect it from the tidy minded. The garden alas has now reverted to plain lawn and all the flowers I planted are gone. The poppies seeds still refuse to flower, but the warm wet Welsh weather has kept the drive sstill lushly carpeted in thick green moss.
Today is the autumn equinox and a day to sing the praises of michaelmas daisies
In my garden I have showy purple michaelmas daisies and simple white ones and I think I prefer the white ones for the way they blaze light against the dark bushes. Their latin name comes from the Latin for star and the simple flowers sparkle and are absolutely covered in hungry honey bees.
Their English name is an abbreviation of St. Michael’s mass and the prince of angels who is credited with defeating Satan, is celebrated on 29th September, when the flowers are in full bloom. I like the idea that such a biblical warrior should be commemorated in this unassuming flower. Old St. Michael’s day was celebrated on 10th of October and when St Michael threw Satan out of heaven, the devil landed in a blackberry bush and spat in disgust on the fruit, which is why traditionally you should never pick or eat blackberries after that date. The fact that they have gone mushy and taste bad has nothing to do with it!
On a French note, St Michael made an appearance in Normandy on a rock which is now the famous sea-girt Mont Saint Michael.
I wonder if they grow michaelmas daisies there?