What.a.year.

The past years were special, each in its own right: 2018 was hot and dry. 2019 not as bad as 2018 but still hot and dry enough. And 2020 was totally different. With all studio-and-book arts-related fairs and events just not happening, there was a lot of time to spend on something else.

Next to printing and making books comes the garden. So here we go.

February came with an icing. Winters have not been too hard lately, this one was not much of an exception. Even though I am not a fan of lots of snow and long icy periods, I have started wishing for conditions reducing the number of root voles to a healthy level. And I mean healthy with respect to our fruit trees, beet root and kale – all of which have suffered from the beasts.

Pheasant visiting in February

I would like to stress that most of our animal visitors or full-time and part-time residents are welcome. The colourful pheasant keeps coming every now and then. There are a great many of small birds, and, guessing from the great variety of droppings, there are many fury visitors as well.

March gifted us with the colours of the hellebore plants.

In May the tulips were still beauties in their own right. There was nice company from our black pansies.

We put up the bean poles while the broom was in bloom.

We had a colourful early harvest – and tasty, too, while the kale was only just starting to go strong.

June brought abundance to the flower beds. It felt like if all the flowers were frolicking that, after two years of hardship, they were allowed to grow and bloom properly again.

We could watch our first own quinces to slowly grow and start developing their bright yellow colour and their lovely scent.

Bryony

However, there is always a “but”. The rhododendrons were suffering. They had been planted some two years ago and the past two summers had been far too sunny and too dry for the still not quite established plants. Normally they would have been able to do well underneath the huge old oak trees. But in fact they did not. The question was: where could they go instead? The only spot that could provide some shade over the sunny daytime hours was in the back of the former pig stable. We knew we would unearth rubble once we started digging down to prepare a bed for the rhododendrons. But the amount of rubble still came as a surprise.

Within one month, June, we dug out some 5 tons of rubble. We had ordered a container, so it could go right in there straight away. All the broken bricks and roof tiles and floor tiles and bathroom wall tiles and bits&pieces of concrete went. An endless stream of wheel barrows filled with compost went in to replace the huge volume that had gone by taking out all the rubble. On the last day of June the rhododendrons had arrived in their new and hopefully forever home. So far they seem to be happy and thriving.

We are happy to provide a sip for whoever is in need. Our resident sparrows and robins and tits love to come for a bath in the puddles we create on our patio floor over the summer.

As one of our apple trees had been badly mauled by the root voles and we still do not know whether it might be beyond recovery, we decided to have another one and went for the variety “Kaiser Wilhelm”. It appears that the heat of the previous two hot summers has done something to the structure of the sandy soil, at least in some places. So we dug out a plot of approx. 2 x 2 metres and exchanged most of the soil in there. We wanted to give the new tree not only a good start but also provide for a strong growth afterwards.

Late in autumn we planted a number of old and wild plum varieties as part of our free growing hedge along the main road. These are to replace the losses of shrubs we had, caused by root vole activity since we first planted the hedge in late 2017. We hope the plums will have more strength to grow back roots that have been eaten away. We welcomed a number of newcomers: a nicely grown pine tree and a special sort of elm tree, some roses, a hydrangea and two white forsythias.

There was still more digging to be done. The summer hedge made up from common mugwort we used to have on the perimeter of the house garden was to go. Not only had it gone shaggy it was also showering the garden with its seeds and we had mugwort growing all over the place. We decided we wanted to have irises instead. So all the mugwort had to go and irises had to come in. We already had some bluish ones, but we gave them company with white ones and dark purple. So we are looking forward to next spring, when they hopefully will show off all their colours and beauty.

As I write this the days and nights have become chilly. We had a number of mornings with white frost already and some days with lovely November fog. There is still some colour in the garden with very late cornflowers and some golden-brown chrysanthemums. Lotta has grown into a jolly, playful, loving family dog. She will be three years old next week.

On the Brink of Winter

Full Moon in January

After the dry and rather hot summer of 2018 we had hoped for less heat and more rain during 2019. Obviously 2019 was different from 2018, but it was another dry year at least over some periods. However, there was more rain in total. From August onwards we did have more rain than average, in October it was almost twice as much. Add to this: 2019 was not as hot as 2018. This, plus the cloud cover we had, meant we had less evaporation. Over the past few weeks the soil has been moist on the surface almost permanently, either by rain or from dew, fog or the odd white frost.

Early in the year our barn kept us busy. All the old straw and hey had to go. In early March the last load left on a trailer, leaving us with clearing out the rest. Right on the bottom of it all was a layer that could be rolled up like a large carpet. This was all to go on to our compost heap.

8 April 2019

April looked quite promising. The daffodils are going strong and the meadow looks green again, at least in places. Even though: much of the green is in fact moss covering the places that burnt blank during last years heat. And then there was some late snow in mid April enchanting the garden.

13 April 2019
13 April 2019

Luckily it did not do any harm to our pear trees that were in bloom already.

May colored the rhododendrons and the irises joined in.

And then along came June. It gifted us with a wealth of poppies, cornflowers and corn campions. We bathed in seas of red and blue and purple.

7 June 2019
7 June 2019
7 June 2019

A wall of foxgloves stood out in the back between all the rhododendrons radiating in all the colours they could think of.

7 June 2019

Let me introduce you to Jacquelin du Pre. She is a beauty in her own right and a rose dearly loved by hover flies.

24 June 2019

With the sun getting strong some plants needed a bit more shade. During the past three years I had been to basket weaving workshops at Kerstin’s. All my baskets were meant to go in the garden for shading plants in need. And they did a really good job. The one I made this year reminded me somewhat of the Sorting Hat at Hogwarts.

24 June 2019

The rye we had put out the year before was going strong this year. It was almost 2 metres high and it got itself infested with ergot. They, too, grew impressively strong.

21 July 2019

We do have a number of fruit trees in our garden, but we had been fancying a mirabelle tree for quite a while. And this year we came across one we felt wanted to be part of our orchard. We planted it in spring and it grew well. It came with a couple of wee little green fruits. To our great surprise they took another route than we had expected:

21 July 2019

We rang the nursery to ask whether there was any chance that there is a blue variety. But they said no. So, now we have a plum tree with no name. We decided to keep it.

21 July 2019

We thought the old balcony pots might look nice mounted on what used to be a stable door. The nasturtiums quite liked it there.

8 September 2019

These are our climbing beans prior to the root voles having a go at them. We still did harvest some of them and they were nice and tasty – the beans, even though I would like to get rid of all the root voles, I do not fancy having them for dinner.

20 September 2019

In late September we checked all the nest boxes. One pair of blue tits had their own ideas as to nesting. They chose to nest behind this old little door. During the times pigs were kept in that stable, this door was used for mucking out. We walled it up from the inside to keep unwanted rodents out. But, to some there is room in the smallest chamber. See you next spring, lads.

21 October 2019

As I write this the mole is working eagerly its way through all of our meadow doing its job regarding the grubs. There are mole hills all over the place. The bird feeders are crowded, which makes us hope some of those little ones will be there in spring for the nest boxes again. It is still mild, which leaves the soils open for the rain to trickle away and go down to fill up the store of water in the depth.

An almost endless summer

This summer was a challenge for two reasons. Firstly: it started in mid April with temperatures rising to 30 degrees and lastet well into October. And even though November has seen the odd morning with white frost it is still too mild for the season. Secondly: there was hardly any rain.

Since we moved here in 2016 we have planted more than 30 trees and well over 40 shrubs and bushes. Most of them had been in the soil for less than or not much over one year, so the ongoing lack of rain was putting them at considerable risk. Starting from April until well into October watering the bushes and young trees was a main concern.

During spring and early summer there was a wealth of poppies and cornflowers and bees and bumblebees were feasting. I desperately tried to keep the crimson clover alive and it started flowering in early autumn. We had a large plot of buckwheat which the bees enjoyed and once the seeds appeared the plot got invaded by sparrows.

We had a patch with rye which mostly succumbed to the drought. But the crown-of-the-field was going strong. The patches with flax were doing well. Some of the rhododendrons kept struggling and some even did not manage to open their flowers due to lack of water.

After last year’s failure to bear fruit due to a spell of rather late frost, this year the fruit trees went bonkers with blooming and making apples and pears. Unfortunately the latter became gradually more difficult due to the lack of rain. Most of our young apples got infestated by insect larvae. Some just stopped growing and ended up as miniature apples eventhough they were meant to grow into propper edible fruit. But we got a fair share of pears and a few apples.

Our sunflowers were thriving. At first they were full with bumble bees and once they started building seeds they got raided by the birds. They all came to feed: blue tits and great tits, goldfinches and greenfinches, sparrows and willow tits. The goldfinches came as a family with three youngsters. Later in summer they all were joined by chaffinches and the little wren came back – no idea where it had spent summer, but it had been there in early spring already. In November a cheeky robin appeared feasting on the left over elder berries.

The climbing beans waited out summer and started flowering and producing beans once the days got shorter and the worst heat had gone around September. We did have a bumper crop of beet root and black currants and a fair share of sweet corn. And pumpkins. This year it was Hokkaidos, Sweet Dumpling and White Acorn.

In late May Lotta came to complete the team. Back then she was around half a year of age and we picked her up at an animal shelter. As far as we know she had not been living with people so far, and a lot of pretty ordinary things were completely unknown to her. On a first encounter she decides to sit down and think about it.

She chewed up a couple of things but luckily she learned pretty quickly to keep her teeth off cables and she did not ruin any of our shoes. She has grown into a friendly funny little mate and we love her to bits. There is still a lot she needs to learn but she is young enough so there is still time. We have started attending dog school in summer and she is making good progress.

With having the dog we now get out and about much more. This is lovely because we do live in a beautiful spot and in autumn the cranes come to rest and you can see them feed in the fields – which is not to every farmers liking. Nevertheless they are impressive birds.

Our house garden was getting along fairly well in the dry weather, apart from the hydrangeas. They are thirsty plants and wish for a fair share of rain. I kept watering them but they did not manage to grow to their usual size. The roses, though, and the grasses could take advantage of the dry weather, mainly because we did have no strong winds or gusts. So the grasses still stand in their beauty as they did not get torn to pieces by gales.

We almost lost one of our medlar trees to root voles. The roots had gone alltogether. I put the young tree in a pot with good compost soil and kept it in a sheltered place on the patio. It dropped all its buds, but kept its leaves that were far too tiny. At some point in summer it started growing new leaves of normal size. Now its leaves are golden and it prepares for winter. Next spring we will plant it out again. From our second medlar tree we got a nice first harvest which made for three jars of medlar jelly. We had our first three walnuts but their size does not seem right.

By the time I write this it has gone dark outside. Not all of the resting cranes have left by now. Autumn has coloured the foliage of the trees bright yellow and golden. They days have gone short and rain is falling every now and then. We could do with a couple of weeks of ongoing rain to moisten the dried out soils.

Summerly spring

When we moved in here two years ago, there was no garden. The whole plot was a meadow cut several times a year to feed cattle. It was an ocean of green forage grass. No trees, no bushes, no flowers.

We planted our first trees in late 2016. Among them were a walnut tree, a pear tree, a few apple trees and two medlar trees. We put up a raised bed for herbs and over the past two years a number of bushes and flowering plants have been planted as well as black and red currants and gooseberries. We have come much nearer to something that can be labelled a garden.

Spring this year is giving our garden a hard time in a way. To begin with there was the „Beast from the East“, or as we called it here „March Winter“. It came with two bitterly cold snaps, and to make things worse, there was somethig like a week in-between with pretty mild temperatures. By the time the second Siberian snap hit, some plants had already switched into end-of-hibernation-mode. To make things even more challenging, shortly after the rather late winter frost there followed a period of summerly temperatures reaching up to 30 degrees in April. Add to this there was not much rain over the whole of April and we have had barely any rain in May so far. Instead, we are having blue sky, sunny days with an at times gusty wind and temperatures well over 20 degrees for weeks. There are a few newcomers in the garden planted only recently, which now need some shelter from the sun and the wind. The willow baskets I made last year during a workshop come in handy now.

Sheltered rose

We have had losses and near-losses. And a considerable number of plants can clearly be seen fighting through the challenging conditions. Some of the herbs, mainly thyme, which is very much to the liking of a great number of butterflies and bumblebees, have frozen back to almost nothing. They are still struggeling to recover, but, pretty surprisingly, it looks as if most of them would be back for their visitors in time. The two buckthorns went strong after the winter, but one of them went all floppy recently and needed to be watered. Of the two wild pear trees we have, whose home are the dry regions in Turkey and the Balkan peninsula, one suffered from the dry conditions and needed to be watered. The wild pears are, as is our common juniper, supposed to be drought tolerant. They both seem to be approaching their limits these days.

Somebody checking the cover of a new bed

All the new beds we laid seeds in need to be watered almost on a daily basis. Something that has been ongoing for several weeks by now. It means getting up at 6am and going out to water the beds and plants in need, as later on the sun will be shining from a spotless sky without mercy and the wind will take up speed over the day. When preparing the new bed for parsnip, beetroot and mangetout, we, again, unearthed bricks, roof tiles and beautiful broken floor or wall tiles, shards of glass panes and all sorts of rusty somethings.

Unearthed treasures

Oriental poppy

We have, well, I’d prefer to say: almost, lost one of our medlar trees to a hungry root vole. We realised the tree had stopped growing its leaves any further and took it out, finding there were not even traces of roots left. For whatever reason the vole managed to overcome the wire basket we had planted the tree into, to keep it safe from any root predators. We now try to nurture the medlar tree back to health in a pot placed in a shaded corner. Fingers crossed.

Young apples

Pumpkin

We are going for sweetcorn, broad beans, mangetouts and pumpkins again. And we are having a go at carrots, parsnip and beetroot this year around. It looks as if we were expecting a nice harvest of black and red currants and gooseberries. There is some hope for our first home grown apples and some pears. We might even have medlars again, the second tree has not been mauled by the root voles and there has been no disruptive late frost during bloom, but many bees and bumblebees busily pollinating.

Red gooseberries

Mangetout

The rhododendrons are in bloom now. We planted them last autumn. Even though they were exposed to the bitterly cold winds in March they are still going strong. But the continuing dry conditions are not quite to their liking.

Perennial flax

Chrysanthemum with rosechafer

The sunflowers are growing rapidly. The perennial flax and chrysanthemums are in bloom, as are the many varieties of sage. The lupines, that were lucky enough to not end up as dinner for the hare, are now showing off their whites and pinks and purples. And the poppies have opened their bespoke simple red flowers. There are so many more visitors then we had in our first summer. We have honey bees, solitary bees and bumblebees, all sorts of butterflies and moths, dragonflies, hover flies, black lice and lady birds, spiders and grasshoppers. The hornets have become regulars since last autumn, when they discovered that our mature ivy is a pretty good hunting ground. We do have beetles. Lots of, particularly cockchafers. This is no surprise knowing there are legions of their grubs in the soil of our garden.

The onions I put out last spring as a vague experiment to chase away root voles are now getting ready to push out their flowers. And, after all, we managed to give our bryonies their long time home. It is a raised bed of sorts and is secured against soil living rodents. The bryony instantly started to grow vigorously and is now in bloom already.

Bryony

As I write this, I have already spent over an hour with watering early in the morning. There are clouds in the sky but they do not carry the promise of rain. The swallows and house martins are feasting out there. The sparrows are chatting happily, they have discovered our huge compost heap only recently. And the wee blue tits, who readily moved in at the nest box we had put up in late winter, are bringing in eagerly caterpillars of all colours to feed their chirping young.

Scarlet lily beetle on imperial fritillary

Late Winter

Time is flying, even though winter has been clinging on for quite a while this time around. We have seen snow in February.

And even before the snow came there were birds coming to our feeders. They did not do so during the previous winter. But they seem to have developed some sort of liking for our young garden. We have great and blue tits visiting, a pair of wrens, a pair of chaffinches has started coming only recently. There is a robin, and blackbirds. And the cheeky magpies are clearing the crumbs off the ground. Even some crows come for the larger bits that dropped off the hanging feeders.

We did not cut the sunflowers in autumn, but left them for the birds to feed from instead.

Can you spot the onions? I was eager to find some winter onions to put in the beed . Not only did I have an early harvest in mind. But I’m still  trying to keep the root voles at a good distance. Some say the scent of onions and leeks is not to their liking. Others say the voles don’t really care.

The old oaks along the small street are utterly unfazed by the snow. They are beautiful throughout all seasons.

And right over there, in the northwesterly corner of our garden our rhododendrons wait for spring to come. Their buds are large and strong and we hope for a colourful April and May bringing out whites and deep purple and golden yellows.

One of the rhododendrons got some special decoration: a black nightshade chose to grow over the strong branches. It still carries plenty of its berries.

We have had a sparrow hawk visiting our patio. Casually sitting on the rim of one of the plant pots trying not to look to where the feeders for the little birds are. We have put up the nesting boxes regardless.

This is what the daffodils looked like in mid February. The cold has been following us far into March. Two periods with bitterly cold air from the east swept over the garden – one almost a week long the second one slightly shorter. I had wrapped up many a plant pot and some of the herbs. But the rosemary bushes still suffered and will need to be cut back. During a short slightly warmer spell in March we managed to plant a few ferns as companions for the rhododendrons.

Elsewhere people have put in a lot of effort to beautifully lay a hedge. We saw this along a road in Oxfordshire, some miles north of Burford, after staying on a few days following the Oxford Fine Press Book Fair in late March.

As I write this the sun is out again after a little bit of early spring rain. I have started digging out new beds for new flowers in our meadow. There are many lovely seeds that want to be given a space that suits them. There will be a wealth of flowers for bees and birds and butterflies – wind and weather permitting.

January full moon

 

 

Late Autumn

November morning

The days have become short and the trees are balding. Some mornings come with a hundred shades of grey and silver while dense fog flows like a giant’s veil over the barren fields. Summer has gone, winter is not yet here. A few of the many cranes have not departed so far.

The untimely frost in late spring did not allow us to have apples or medlars. But we did get a wealth of pumpkins instead. We had beans and mangetouts and many a cob of maize. We had small forests of sunflowers. The place got invaded by butterflies, bumble bees and lady birds.

We had a stoat visiting in early spring. We had hares boxing in dusk. And we had three little ones in September at the foot of one of our apple trees.

Young hares

Where the beans and maize were grow winter onions now. Many of the sunflowers are still standing. The birds were quick in finding them devouring their seeds.

Bird feeder

October sunflowers

And there are still flowers – even in mid-November. The nasturtiums shine in bright yellow and orange and a beautiful brown-burgundy.

November orange

The white dead-nettles are still in full bloom. They are the first to go ahead in late winter feeding the early bumble bees. They still fed those large bumble bees when we were working outside in early November. There is a second generation of borage flowering right now. And we had butterflies baking in the autumn sun in late October. A large oriental poppy braved the autumn storms.

Oktober poppy

Hops

Our garden has changed. Some of the changes result from the change of season, some have come about through us working. It took us almost four days to get all the shrubs planted that will grow into our hedgerow over the next couple of years. Most of the time we had to spend on clearing the strech from weeds, mainly quitch. The long striped roots in some places looked like a pack of spaghetti. There is sea buckthorn now, and broom, juniper and cherry laurel, elder and a young birch tree. All of them with their roots neatly safeguarded by wire baskets to prevent the root voles raiding the newly planted.

As I write this we have not had frost yet. It is mid-November and it was a day of heavy showers and strong blustery winds. However, there was the odd sunny spell. The oak trees have not yet lost all their leaves. Some mornings the dew looked as if it was white frost. It was not, but it might well be any time soon.

 

On the Brink of Summer

Lady od Shalott

It is only late May and it is still some time to go until we’ll have summer proper. But the light and the atmosphere feel like summer already. The huge oak trees have put on their full green coats. The tulips and daffodils are long gone. Now is the time for the poppies, the wild ones and the garden varieties. The first roses have started to bloom just recently. A dark blue larkspur shines next to the huge white oriental poppy.

Oriental poppy with visitor (white tailed bumblebee)

Bumblebee feeders

We have a large population of dead nettles alongside the old stables and in the odd far corner. Presumably, they have been dwelling here for a very long time. They are our bumblebee feeders. They start flowering early in the year and will feed the white tailed bumblebees (who are the earlybirds amongst the bumblebees at the very start of the season) while temperatures are still rather low. The abundant white flowers keep feeding them and their cousins including honey bees and solitary bees for months. All the bees and bumblebees here have done a fabulous job: One of our apple trees is determined to deliver fresh apples in its first year with us. The others have tried but were too early and their flowers got caught in a late spell of severe frost. But this one tree waited out the frost period before opening its buds. There is still a long way to go before we can pick our first apples. Fingers crossed.

Gooseberry youngsters – they are supposed to turn red at some point

We have put up the netting over the berry bushes these days. There are red and black and white currants and red and green gooseberries. There was good reason to do so, because our meadow welcomes a great variety of diners as regulars. We like our little helpers that come day after day and browse our meadow for grubs and wireworms and whatever they can find to fend for themselves or feed their chicks. Our guests are rooks and starlings, magpies and fieldfares. There are wagtails and black redstarts on the ground and martins and swallows in the air, there are sparrows and tits and a pair of goldfinches was checking things out the other day. However, we’d rather they stick to browsing the meadow than picking the berries off the bushes.

A very young ladybird on garden sage

Some of our little helpers are even smaller. These are ladybirds and hoverflies and all sorts of butterflies. So far I’ve seen peacock butterfly, small tortoiseshell, brimstone butterfly, a small emperor moth and many others.

Slightly longer ago we put up little fences around our fruit trees. At the foot of the tree we keep a circular patch free of weeds and grass. It is here where we decided to sow crimson clover. The sandy soil is poor in nutrients and the clover’s rhizobia will improve soil quality over time by fixing nitrogen straight out of the air. The clover is not hardy and come winter will wither and leave its roots in the soil and thus share all the fixed nitrogen with the roots of the trees. We needed the fences because apart from the feathered diners we als have hares coming in at dusk feeding on the green stuff on our meadow. They even had a go at the broom bushes which I cannot appreciate. The books say broom is poisonous to hares and other wildlife. But those hares might not have read the books yet. We also put nasturtiums in with the clover. They are said to attract black lice and also they have nice flowers. The hares are welcome to munch the dandelions and daisies and sheperd’s purses in our meadow, but we wanted to make sure they leave the clover and nasturtiums and lupines alone.

Flax

Bryony

The pumpkins are going strong on top of the compost heap. I put them out much earlier than last year so I’m hopeful we’ll have a nice harvest. I had an experimental go at what is called The Three Sisters, that are maize plus climbing beans plus pumpkins. As we have strong winds pretty often and I wanted to grow climbing beans I felt it was a nice solution to have the maize as posts for the beans (with the pumpkins growing elsewhere). However, the beans are outgrowing the maize so I had to put up bamboo poles nonetheless. I’ve had to water this bed on a daily basis and it still looks like a bit of an adventure. But the broad beans nextdoor are doing well, and I had some old seeds of purple Mangetouts which are growing surprisingly strong.

We had a furious storm on Monday night. Tuesday morning the rain gauge revealed that just under 16 litres of water had fallen on to each square metre of ground. The pinks looked somewhat bedraggled. Some of the climbing beans succumbed to the strong winds, still not having attached themselves in time to either the maize plants or the bamboo poles. There were gaping holes in the soil where the water had hollowed the burrows of root voles and moles.

Iris

But most of the garden is fine despite the very strong winds and violent gusts dashing the hail against the window panes. We live on sandy soils and the large amount of water was welcome after what had been a rather hot and slightly windy weekend. We only just missed out on 30°C and it started getting humid.

As I write this dusk is closing in. It is after 10pm – the days are long, the sun rises early. The rooks that sleep in the oak trees wake up around 5.30am and straight away start telling each other the dreams they had last night. Soon the foxgloves will open their flowers, and the large bush of oxeye chamomille, too. And there will be more roses.

Patio rose Yorkshire Princess

First Winter

Neighbourhood in January

We are settling in gradually. There has been a nasty cold spell rather early in November that left us wondering what winter would be like here at our new home. We had expected it to be milder than where we used to live.

Cookies

We’ve had a number of tasty cakes, there have been stews and biscuits and flapjacks – which, for as long as I shall live, will remind me of Keswick youth hostel, where I had them for the first time.  But, basically, our first winter in the new home is still quite busy.

New windows

On a sunny day in November the new windows were built in on the front facing east. Originally there had been glass bricks in place. After breaking down the glass bricks the yard was covered in shards. The large door will be replaced next. The hinges are worn and each time we have strong easterly winds the door keeps rattling.

Medlar tree

In mid December we discovered that the young medlar trees we had planted only weeks before quite obviously were to the liking of the resident rabbits. So we needed to quickly build some protection for the young stems from the wire mesh we had used to keep the root voles off of the tulip bulbs.

In December there was not enough time for the painters to get all their work finished in the pressroom-to-be, so they resumed their work in January. The last task was the varnish for the concrete floor. There was no chance we could move the type cabinets and presses in any sooner than mid January.

Some snow

The builders had left part of their machinery in our back yard and in January some snow fell covering it all nicely. In the following days temperatures stayed low, there was no more snow but we had fog.

Fog in January

Now this is when you realise that there is a peat bog not far. Over a few days there was fog and frost and the fog set out to freeze on to all surfaces. It froze on to wire mesh and barbed wire, branches and twigs, leaves and spiderwebs.

Oak trees in January

The scenery became magical and almost surreal.

Front garden in January

The view to the west changed once more.

Into the west – January

We live in a very beautiful place all year round. The rooks still come for their lunch browsing our meadow. A family of magpies joins them every now and then. Geese travel to and fro over our farm. They might be roosting in the bog and feeding elsewhere – or the other way round.

As I write this the woodpeckers are hammering their trees and the little birds have started to sing their songs again. There will be another cold spell. But days are much longer than they were during winter proper. Soon spring will come and the tulips will start to grow and colour the garden.

Sunset early December

 

 

 

Garden Reloaded: The Raised Bed

 

Old bricks

Old bricks

At a fairly early stage I had the idea of having a raised bed for my herbs. With so many bricks having to go from the stable (during the process of turning the stable into the print room) it was tempting to have the raised bed with a red brick wall made from the old bricks, that had served as flooring in the stable for at least decades.

Shower of sleet in late April

Shower of sleet in late April

Our herbs sat waiting in their pots on our patio. In late April they got showered with sleet. There was a meadow to begin with, and a rumble strip with demolition waste, that I don’t know how many generations had a habit of dumping there. In the first place the debris had to go and the grass. The grass was easy to remove compared to all the rubble. The latter had to be dug out and this took me weeks. It was rusted keys and shards from cups and broken bricks and tiles and bits of concrete. And bones. Old bones, from cooking broth so I believe.

Weeding

Weeding and digging

Mr blackbird

Mr blackbird on the outline

In June I could put down the outline. The bed is facing southwest. It will have full sun from one side and the small pig stable in its back. The stable’s wall heats up considerably on hot summer days and reflects the heat of the sun until late in the evenings. Mr blackbird was very torn: the open soil made it so much easier for him to find food for his chicks, but that lady digging was a bit of a nuisance. This was when Mr and Mrs blackbird were raising their June chicks.

Windmill in Levern

Windmill in Levern

Raised bed in July

Raised bed in July

The village Oppenwehe is part of a municipality consisting of 13 villages and hamlets altogether. The municipal administration is located in the village Levern. It was there that I first saw that red bricks were used in traditional gardening around here. There is a little gathering of historical housings in Levern. They nestle around a large windmill, in which couples can get married. One of the old homes shows off a traditional farmer’s garden. And all the margins of the beds were neatly laid with red bricks. Putting in that margin around my bed-to-be took a while during July.

Raised bed in July after rain

Raised bed in July after rain

For some time there was very little progress as to the raised bed. There were so many other things on the agenda. In August we hit the road to fetch the bindery, but work resumed in September. We started to mix mortar and build the brick wall. By this time the old bricks had been waiting piled up on the site. They had got washed down repeatedly. We’d had torrential rain on one or two occasions. And all of a sudden there it was: a raised bed made from red bricks. We filled in the rest of the rubble for good drainage. Then we put in the sand that had been sitting in heaps around the bed. And on the sand we put a layer of garden soil mixed with compost.

Brick wall growing

Brick wall growing

Raised bed from red bricks

Raised bed from red bricks

Sand goes in

Sand goes in

By late September the herbs at long last could abandon their tiny pots and move into their new bed. Here they have plenty of space and all the sun they can wish for. There is two small bushes of rosemary, one sage and a variety of thyme. There is caraway and oregano and marjoram and parcel, which is a cross between parsley and celeriac.

Raised bed with herbs

Raised bed with herbs

Red Admiral

Red Admiral

Some fellows are quick in making friends: the red admiral butterflies seemed to love the place from the start. A number of them kept coming back sitting on the bricks in the sun. And the bumblebees came to visit the lavender which is still in bloom.

sunflower-bronze

As I write this it has gone chilly outside. Temperatures have dropped rather quickly these past days. The swallows and martins have left for warmer regions. I have seen more geese flying in formation. The starlings are still here, though. The sunflowers show all shades of bronze and golden-brown. In the barn the nest of the white tailed bumblebees seems abandoned at last. And dusk sets in so much earlier in the evenings. But the sunsets are still as stunning as on our very first evening here.

Sunset September

Sunset September

Wildlife around our new home

Blackbird virgin flight

Blackbird virgin flight

We have moved to the countryside and it goes without saying that we are surrounded by what is commonly called wildlife. Some so far have not introduced themselves in person. They prefer to leave their business card. And they do so in numbers, well, we could have done with less.

Fresh molehills

Fresh molehills

Some make themselves heard in the darkblue very starry nights we have here. Quite certainly it will be some kinds of bird of prey. We hope to learn their names over the course of the years. Just across the small road to the west there is a field of maize and from out of there a pheasant has made its voice heard every now and then. Also, the area is home to bats. They come in the latter part of the blue hour hunting for whatever dares to be in the air at that time of the fading day. In spring it was cockchafer. Cockchafer grubs are living in the soil in good numbers and all sizes. There is a lot of oak trees around.

Cockchafer grubs

Cockchafer grubs

dead-beetle

wildlife-puppa

Swallows and barn martins are treating us to their flight shows. On a good day they chase off the falcon and after their success seem to give eachother what looks like a flown high-five. For the past two weeks or so every now and then they gathered on our roof chatting cheerfully and with a lot of hubbub – as they always do, even while hunting. I was wondering whether this could be some ritual to prepare for their upcoming migration. A family of redstarts is living in and around the barn. And wagtails search the meadow each time it is freshly cut. Up in the oak trees lining the small road magpies live and crows. And bussards draw their circles on the spotless summer sky – every so often chased away by either the crows or the magpies.

Wood pigeon

Wood pigeon

 

Heron

Heron

There are pigeons. Or doves for that matter. Currently, which is late August, the wood pigeons have their ramshackle nest from sticks in the back part of our barn. They have at least one chick, fluffy and dark grey. We have had a grey heron visiting and a stork in spring. A flock of cheerful sparrows is living in our front garden. The two purple hawthorn trees are theirs and the yews next to the hawthorns too. And we had blackbirds breeding in the corner of our patio. They had three clutches and raised twelve chicks.

Daddy blackbird

Daddy blackbird

 

Blackbird flegling in June

Blackbird flegling in June

Some wildlife has failed to leave while it was still time. I found the mumified carcass of a marten in the old hey in the barn. It was stuck between an almost ancient bale of hey and the brick wall, baring its teeth. A somewhat eerie sight in the twilight of an old barn. And our neighbour’s dog managed to cut one lad’s life short by catching a root vole in what is to become our back garden.

Late marten

Late marten

There have been butterflies almost right from the start. But with the meadow now having more flowers than grass they seem to have become much more abundant. Also there are two large bushes of privet in the front garden which have attracted a great many and all sorts of insect visitors during bloom. Plus we planted some flowers in our garden-to-be, amongst them lavender and sage, a white hollyhock and a few roses. The white butterflies obviously cannot resist the little yellow flowers that have sprung up in our meadow, presumably some kind of hawksbeard. It is their place to look out for a date. They dance in pairs or threes or fours up into the sky.

white-butterflies

butterfly

But other butterflies, like the small tortoiseshell, seem to clearly prefer our white Echinacea. The species that seems to be very abundant is red admiral. It is very eye catching with its brilliant black and red wings.

Red admiral

Red admiral

There are hoverflies as well and of course bumblebees and ladybirds. We have had a nest of white tailed bumblebees in a stack of old straw in the barn all summer. It seems abandoned now, as could be expected by September, but there are still bumblebees around. Some built their nest in crevices of the brick wall of the house. And there are midges or rather mosquitoes. I have seen the majestic hornets, the tottery daddy longlegs, and only recently, some golden-brown very delicate dragonflies have paid their visit. The place here not only is rural, but there is a peat bog not far, too. So dragonflies do not come as a total surprise.

Borage visitor

Borage visitor

It was to be expected that a certain proportion of our plums would be claimed for dinner before we could harvest them. Tiny pink larvae were eating them up from within. We have put up large barrels to collect rain water from the downpipes. The vessels got inhabited in a blink. Almost from the start little swimming beetles raced around. Later the larvae of great diving beetles caught whatever they could catch. They are known to be greedy.

Bumblebee

Bumblebee

As I write this it is a sunny late summer afternoon. Temperatures have gone down to the mid-twenties. The old ivy on the wall of the little stable is in its early bloom – much to the solitary bees’ liking.