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 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