When the snow melts, the countryside looks flattened . There are tide marks of green along the wet ploughed brown shine of fields and not much else. But along the little stream between the rocks, the moss is in its element.
In the deep valley the moss is plump and luminously green. It covers the rocks and the base of the trees and where water drips down the face of the gully, it makes silent soft waterfalls of damp vegetation. In February, when nothing much else is growing, I am drawn to this wonderful moss, to the few ferns that cling amongst it and to the sound that is swallowed by the myriad fronds.
The Easter Island face of the rock looks down on this miraculous pulse of green in such a dead month and seems to be protecting it . Spring will come and the green will cover the little valley and the fields and the gardens. Until then it waits in this quiet waterfall of thick, thick moss.
If we are lucky enough to have a garden, then we are custodians of a tiny slice of the earth and we have control over it ( “up to a point Lord Copper”, as Evelyn Waugh’s character would say.)
The garden has a flat surface, that is the figure on the deeds of the house but how we cover up that space is up to us.
The most negative thing we can do for wildlife is cover it in tarmac or concrete. Black tarmac absorbs heat and actually contributes to global warming.
We can cover it in stones quarried from hundreds of miles away and then drench it in herbicide to stop any passing seed germinating.
We could lay plastic turf over it, or lay wooden boards over it made from dead trees and put plastic furniture on it and heaters and barbecues to burn meat, or reconstituted vegan burgers, surrounded by solar lights from China that stop bats and moths from ever taking wing, all in the name of being in the great outdoors.
All of these options involve buying stuff and making the planet a worse place for wildlife and for us all.
Or we could think in three dimensions. We could think not just of the flat ground we own, but of the whole cubic space above it and how we could maximise that for as many different species as possible.
The simplest thing to start with, is to grow tall plants . Tall plants make use of the sky space to provide food for bees and butterflies, moths and birds. The tallest plants are trees and if you have space to grow real trees then you can make the biggest difference possible to wildlife. Low growing plants are much better than concrete, plastic or stones, but they only make a few inches of life. Tall flowers are beautiful hollyhocks, delphiniums, dahlias foxgloves; what ever flourishes in your climate and soil. Flowering shrubs are wonderful: lavender, lilac, rosemary again what ever the bees like and will tolerate your climate. If bees don’t come to it and you need pesticides to keep it happy, then ditch it. You are doing more harm than good by growing it in the wrong climate. There are always better things you could grow!
Think of the borders of your garden. Could they be alive? Could you have real hedge? Could it have a real mixture of local shrubs that provide berries and nuts in the autumn for birds or evergreen shelter in the winter? If you have a chain link fence, could you grow flowers up that fence? Is there a gap in the fence for hedgehogs or other wildlife to pass between gardens?
Rather than a plastic awning or sunshade, why not sit in the shade of a tree? It is far cooler and more lovely! Plant one now for your future or even that of your children!
A garden can go up as well as down. I decided a pond dug down into my little garden will make a space for frogs and dragonflies and maybe newts and damselflies too and this is my project for the spring.
The earth isn’t flat . Our gardens don’t need to be flat either and by thinking of filling every millimetre of the land we own and the space above it with life will make such a difference to the fragile planet.
There really does seem little to look at in late January.
The ground is as hard as a stone, the water is all frozen and my greatest wildlife achievement is to put boiling water out for the birds. I pick out the flower shaped ice from the bird bath and fill it with water that stays liquid for half an hour. The great tits are the first to flutter down for a drink, a robin drinks and so too do the blue tits.
The “pond” we made from a sunken sink is glassy with solid ice and a big black cat sits in the middle of the ice and scrabbles with his claws at the ice to melt a corner to drink from. I decide it is interesting to see wild behaviour from semi domestic cats: it is something to see .
There are two greater spotted woodpeckers and a Siskin has turned up to eat the sunflower kernels. There are now 11 bramblings about in the garden. Last year we had none and the year before the sky was black with these bright birds. It all depends on how the winter is in the far north of Europe. The bramblings seem to say it is coldish, but not perishing yet this year.
A stork has returned to his/her nest site in the next village. He is early and as yet alone, but I take it as an omen of the spring to come and hope he will soon be a pair and the nest will be made even larger for the chicks and the thaw to come.
November is a month to read in. The garden has died back and after work there is no light left to admire what has survived.
And so I read. Serendipity has provided an eclectic selection recently thanks to a school book sale.
Firstly I am reading Peter Camenzind by Herman Hesse; then A Fool’s Alphabetby Sebastian Faulks; a biography of Jame Joyceby Herbert Corman and The Ascent OfMoney by Niall Fergusun. This may sound impressive, but I admit now that I am reading them with varying success.
The Ascent of Moneyis on its way back to the library. I am 60 pages in and waning. I started well. The introduction was arresting. The average salary of an American in 2007 was $34,000. The chief executive of Goldman Sachs, a man called Lloyd Blankfein, received $ 46 million dollars – per year. I cannot even conceive of such a sum, so I had to read on. Fergusun explains metal money the gold and silver of South America that fueled Spain and Europe in fascinating detail, but once he goes into the methods of banking and accountancy that grew out of Renaissance Italy, I struggle and start to skip pages. As life is short, I move on!
The James Joyce biography was written the year after Joyce died. The stamp in the front of the book shows it was bought in India and then the inscription shows it was given as a present. It was sold from a library, no doubt its outspoken opinions on everything from Irishness to politics, coupled with its lyrical description deemed it unfashionable, but I am greatly enjoying it . I savour it in tart, cool, evocative slices.
Peter Carmenzind was writen in 1904 by Herman Hesse, before either of the terrible wars ripped through Europe . The hero was born in a remote Alpine village, which was not considered romantic. He climbs his mountains, but no one skis down them and the concrete and the chair lifts of 21century are an inconceivable future scar. The descriptions of the Föhn wind roaring up from the soft south to rock the roots of the icy peaks are memorable.
The book that I read each night at the moment is however A Fool’s Alphabet. This shows the life of a child of a British soldier and an Italian woman; told over places which begin which each letter of the alphabet in order. To achieve this, the story is not chronological, but swings between settings to cover each letter in turn. Rather than being contrived or disorientating, this structure is unexpectedly pleasing, as it seems to mirror the random nature of memory. I know I am enjoying it because I don’t want it to end too soon!
It is odd to write about what I am reading, as I don’t aim to recommend these books to anyone. It is rather like introducing acquaintances to one another at a rather badly lit party.
Sometimes you glimpse another time in an unexpected place. On the dripping rock foundation of a fake castle, glorifying a fictitious romantic past I spotted liverworts: very flat; very green and really very old.
These simple and strange life forms predate all vascular plants by millions of years, have no internal means of transporting food and survive on the whim of a raindrop. Flat and granular against the rock, they glisten in their encasing film of water, surviving all human attempts at immortality, to out live us all in a single sheet of slime.
You must be logged in to post a comment.