The colours of June

Mine is usually a June garden, but this year it has mostly been a May one. That, I think, is mostly due to the frost-free winter. The June weather has not been wonderful, but the long evenings this far north mean that on the rare occasions the sun is out, the colours linger late._DSC0253

The wild flowers in the garden seem to change year by year. The wild hyacinths (bluebellls to those of you down south) have spread rapidly over the past five years, and have been spectacular this season. The Solomon’s Seal (that blurred number in the background above) has also been excellent. On the other hand there is no sign this year of the butterfly orchids which were speading  over the bank. None. Not even a leaf. I trust they are only taking a rest. Here’s one from last summer:P1010804

As regular readers know, I like working with large blocks of colour (and am lucky enough to have the space to do so). One of my favourite combinations is Primula pulverulenta against the blue of the himalyan poppies. That’s not a mix I would want to see indoors, but outside it works surprisingly well.

A fantastically useful plant for a big vibrant red/orange statement is Euphorbia griffithii ‘Fireglow’. Like all euphorbias, it is unpleasant to work with because of it’s corrosive sap, and it also annoys me because you can’t just snap off its dead growth in spring, but have to cut out each stem separately. But I wouldn’t be without it. I use it against a background of yellow whin.

Finally, here’s a combination of rhododendron and azalea that pleases me. Unfortunately the timing is always just a little wrong, with the yellow not reaching its peak until the lilac is past it._DSC0256 But I guess that’s life.

Egg wars

On of the plagues of keeping bantams is that when one hen goes broody, they all do. Whether or not there is any link to the controversial theory of menstrual synchrony, I am loathe to speculate, and – being a male – it’s really not my business. All I know is that having started off the season with collecting four eggs a day, I am now getting none, because broody hens don’t lay.

That is not the worst of it though. When one of the hens takes ten minutes out for a drink or a breath of fresh air, the chances are high that one of the others will decide she prefers the eggs of the absentee and will simply take over. This leaves her own eggs growing cold and the deprived owner strutting around in fluffed-up fury (but of course refusing to do a straight swap). The only hope is to separate them all into their own individual runs, but this involves a nightmare of hammering together bits of wood and wire netting, which I hate…

On a happier note, Fluffy has now become a mother. We last met Fluffy as a deprived adolescent, ripe for the attention of social workers.

During the winter she has grown through the awkward phase, and, though no beauty, is at least respectable.

She has one yellow/white chick (which must be hers)

One black chick (which is definitely someone else’s)

And two brown speckled chicks (which could be anyone’s)

These chicks are two days old, and virtually self-sufficient. When you think that, as a human, you have to hang around for at least a year before your offsping can even feed itself properly, you do have to wonder what claim we have to be top species…


What happens after a frost-free spring

I thought I was only taking six months away from blogging, but it seems to have become spun out into seven…

It has been the usual long, dark, wet winter – but in contrast to last year virtually no snow has fallen, and the temperature has seldom dropped beneath -3 degrees celsius. So, for once, the rhododendron and early azaleo buds have survived. In fact, I’ve seldom seen the early rhoddies cover themselves in blossom to this extent:

This is rh loderi ‘King George’ -a blowsy pink number with a remarkably strong scent (which you only get to experience on the rare windless day).  I planted this in entirely the wrong place where it doesn’t get enough shelter from the north, so not only is it growing more like a creeping shrub than a stately tree of 25 feet, which it can manage in more favourable climes, but its buds are normally shrivelled by sleet-laden gales. On the rare occasions it escapes, it does provide something of a wow factor at the entrance to the house.

The flowers turn from their carmine beginnings to a pink-tinged white as they open out – just the kind of colour that interior designers commend for ‘feminine’ bedrooms. The frangrance is also somewhat ‘feminine’, reminding me of expensive bath soap.

This is a bog-standard early purple – so bog-standard that I have forgotten its name (if I ever knew it). It usually survives the frost about one year in three, but when it covers itself like this, the weight of the blossom drags the branches almost to the ground.


Finally, the only respectable tree rhododendron I posess (again, no name, sorry). It has taken the better part of forty years to reach this height, but reliably rewards me with a block of colour before the blue poppies behind it come into bloom.

Even on a dull evening such as tonight, the view from the terrace is really rather exotic!

Return to reality

I’ve been away.DSC00012

Somewhere with a few mountainsDSC00036

And some blue seaDSC00013

But returning to a September garden is a reminder that there’s stuff to be done. It’s heavy manual work too – no more springtime wandering around looking for new growth and pulling out the odd weed. Instead, it’s cutting back the dying jungle of grass, hoping that this will pay back in a better wild flower display next year. The wet grass burns with that delicious autumnal scent; the thick smoke writhing up in the sunlightDSC00056

The there’s the firewood to cut, split and stack. But when these things are done, I shall contemplate the onset of winter with a degree of equanimityDSC00060.

If a tree falls in a forest……

A few weeks ago, I was minding my own business (hanging out the washing, since you ask), when a sequence of loud cracks made me turn around in time to see half of the large beech tree on the other side of the burn slowly collapse into ruin like a demolished factory chimney.P1010880

There was not a breath of wind. The weight of its summer foliage alone had become too much for it. A tiny number of extra cells built into a leaf or a developing fruit had tipped the scales and set off the chain of destruction.

Ancient beech trees have a habit of doing this. This is because the beech is an expert in spreading its canopy as widely as it can, and, given freedom to do so, will  push out branches at almost ninety degrees to the main trunk. As these develop into heavy limbs, they become massive cantilevers, depending on the huge strength in tension that wood has to stop them splitting under the weight. You can see this engineering in what remains on the right hand side.P1010885

Beech is a short-grained wood, so it has little of the springiness of spruce or willow, depending instead on the packed bundles of its cells to reinforce itself against gravity. But where water collects in the junctions of its limbs, and eventually penetrates the bark, it is fatally at risk.P1010882

The grey wood here has been penetrated by water over the years, and the bundles of cells have swollen, rotted in places, or have split apart. Each strand that can no longer support the tension places an added burden on the rest. Eventually, it all becomes too much…P1010886

A fallen tree disturbs. It is somehow wrong to find the vertical made horizontal; to be able to explore the canopy as if one were a bird. A fallen tree is a stranded fish – out of its element – all the wonderful fractals of its twigs, branches, and limbs lying with their balance destroyed and no longer a purpose to any of them.P1010888

In geological time, the life of a beech tree barely registers. But I am reminded of the mountain, split by frost, reduced by rain, crumbling slowly to mud.P1010887

But the mountain cannot reproduce. The beech tree can.

The sad tale of Fluffy

Between the thunder showers, I was putting new roofing felt on the bantam house, and giving it a coat of preservative. It’s luxurious accommodation: bantams are happy anywhere that is reliably dry and relatively well ventilated, and for many years my flock lived inside an old chest of drawers, (with the drawers removed). But about ten years ago, I relented and bought a flat pack chicken house (this was in the days before the ridiculously expensive and trendy Eglu made an appearance.) So this is where they have lived ever since.P1010855

The flock goes to bed very early: – by about six o’clock, they are all ready for sleep, even in high summer:P1010866

All, that is, except for Fluffy. Fluffy is now approaching adolescence, but still tries to creep under Madame Min’s wing at night-time. She is having none of it.P1010865

In fact, she’s always thoroughly disliked her offspring. And, as is the way of the world, the more she ignores Fluffy, the more the wretched creature runs cheeping after her. Possibly it has something to do with the name – for which I take no responsibility – but it has to be said Fluffy is not likely to win many prizes at a poultry show. I suppose, like the ugly duckling, it may turn out to be a swan, but I have my doubts.P1010858

As moral exemplars for your human offspring, chickens leave a lot to be desired. They not only indulge in child abuse, but refuse to share or play nicely. Plus, the cocks are flagrant practitioners of sexual harassment, and don’t even seem to care. Now and again, the hens become careless and stand on their chicks. They don’t care much either.

But give them enough space to get away from each other when they need to, and bantams eventually bed down into a grudging kind of flock mentality. And some of them even make good mothers. You can only see the back half of Ostrich, but she’s taking care of her three chicks. They obviously have a good future ahead, well-spoken with nice manners, while Fluffy….well, who knows?P1010862