That Circle of Life

Every now and again something occurs in my gardening life that makes me sit up, look and listen and examine things a bit closer. By drawing together a string of seemingly unconnected events into a bigger picture I am forced to conclude that nature does provide and that when we allow ourselves to be drawn into it that we too are part of that magical connection of earth, and all the creatures upon it. These are the events…

P1060518

Last year, last summer (2011) I saw an incredibly bountiful production of fruit in my garden. Trees simply heaving with pounds and pounds of enormous apples and plums. So many in fact that three trees lost branches that snapped under the weight. I took steps to remove some of the fruit to prevent further damage. The fruit was the product of the previous cold winter that stimulated the trees into producing fruit buds a plenty. A warm, early and dry spring allowed good pollination  and fruit set and was followed by a pleasant summer and then an unusually long and warm autumn. The harvest from the trees was stupendous, basket after basket  was filled with rosy ripe and healthy fruit, fit for long storage.

DSCF0034

We ate and ate as much as possible of fresh apples every day well into December. By January, each stored box contained a number of apples that had started to develop rots, these were removed. A regular supply of slightly rotting fruit found its way back into the garden, distributed amongst the flower beds and under the trees for the resident birds to enjoy. By late January 2012, I had several large baskets in the shed full of remaining apples in reasonable condition. With all good intentions to cut up and freeze them for pie fillings I left a box of sorted fruit out over night by mistake. That night we had a heavy frost, rapidly followed by a harsh cold spell with snow and freezing conditions for 10 days in early February. Once damaged by the frost, I decided to use the fruit to feed the birds, tipped out the box and a plentiful bounty of fruit was made available all in one go, a heap of gently rotting apples.

Well, word got round amongst our avian friends, and gradually more and more hungry mouths found their way to our garden. How do they know? where do they come from? it is a mystery, but one presumes that they spot resident birds feeding and one by one as a larger flock accumulates then more birds find the food source.

P1060523

Hungry fieldfares flocked to the bounty, and an unusually laden crab apple tree with rosy red fruit also caught their eye. It was set upon hungrily, birds gobbling and pecking the fruit down, wood pigeons too gorged themselves amongst the feeding blackbirds and fieldfares. I counted a flock of over 150 individuals at one point, perching in the trees, flocking on the ground, staking out territories amongst the apples, chasing each other away and flying up into the trees to await their turn to feed again.

P1060506

Day after day for 10 days the birds came, I kept putting out apples and they kept eating and entertaining us with their feeding and acrobatics and family squabbles. Temperatures dipped to below -10C at night, bitterly cold days followed, nothing thawed and the apples kept the birds sustained. Gradually, as each fruit was pecked from the top down, the hollowed out skins remained scattered across the lawn, under bushes and trees, around the compost heap. Each morning I wondered if the birds would reappear, and they did, gathering in the trees, flying down and feeding, and occasionally the whole flock would be spooked by sudden noise or the neighbours dog bounding out for its daily exercise. Quite a sight it was to see as they all took to the air. Over time I began to notice that not only were the apples disappearing, but something new was appearing, all over the garden. Stains on the snow, brown and plentiful, dotted everywhere – poo, yes bird poo, masses of it. Of course as each bird ate to its fill, and then perched amongst the trees and in the bushes and hopped about searching out the fruit, it deposited its  droppings everywhere. Multiply that by 150 and times by 10 days, that’s an awful lot of poo! So there we have it, the magical and amazing circle of life – my apples, the bounty of a particularly fruitful season have not only provided us with many tasty snacks and puddings, they have kept alive a large flock of hungry birds who in turn have returned the fertility to the garden in their droppings that will feed the worms and soil creatures to be taken up by the roots of the fruit trees to be in turn made into more apples for seasons to come.

P1060520

Of course this cycle is happening all the time, normally we don’t see it because it is a subtle and quiet ‘getting on with things’ approach that goes unnoticed. This bounty of fruit, this overwhelming quantity of life, brought the birds flocking and pecking and casting their droppings on the garden, the process of life simply magnified into a spectacle that can’t be ignored. For me this represented my role as a gardener, a guardian of nature on my patch. What if I had kept all the apples for myself, stored them and not shared them? I suppose I wouldn’t have even noticed the fieldfares, indeed they wouldn’t have even visited my garden. Would they have died and gone hungry? Who knows, but the fact that we were joined together by this circle of life and they have left the bounty of this fertility in their droppings makes me feel connected and alive and looking forward to many more such special encounters. And who knows, what will the bounty of this fertiliser bring to this seasons growth of plants , I wait with curious expectation to see and observe any more unusual beginnings….

P1060521

422109_230173580408536_100002476865550_467152_190094704_n

Teasel hedge!

Teasel hedglet

Teasel hedglet

This spring I noticed an abundance of teasels pushing their way up between the paving slabs where I sit in the sun to enjoy a cuppa whilst surveying the awesome garden growth and living world around me. So I looked and decided to leave them be and I have to confess a soft spot for this plant, it grows tall, has unusual spiny leaves cupped around the stems trapping pools of water and hapless insects that fall in.
teasel and hover
The flower head is egg shaped and softly prickly, green in bud with a band of tiny flowers opening in a purple ring around the centre at first and then progressing up and down giving a longish flowering period. There’s a wonderful tactile feel to the whole thing.
ladybirds
The flower heads are probed by bees and butterflies, the stems crowded with sucking aphids and their predators the ladybirds, adults and nymphs feeding on the bugs, the whole plant a veritable ecosystem in itself!
I left these plants to grow and went away for some weeks on holiday. When I returned they’d reached for the sky, one and half meters tall, ox-eye daisies had joined the fun and there between the paving slabs had created a little screen growing in a straight line by my chair, a mini hedge that I enjoyed all summer long watching creatures come and go until in the autumn cutting the plants down to hang up to dry.
Teasel hedge lives on, winter decorations too!

Teasel hedge lives on, winter decorations too!

And now the seed heads sit with me indoors over the winter reviving those summer memories and decorating my winter hearth indoors.
DSCF0084

You will reap just what you sow!

Mini meadow

Mini meadow

Weeds are the joy bringers of my gardening day, there I’ve said it now, i’m obviously a nutter, a lazy gardener that allows these rank invaders to take over my plot whilst I sit in the sun with my rose tinted spectacles perched precariously on the end of my nose!  It’s true, I don’t believe in making gardening hard work, digging and hoeing everything into oblivion but I do the necessary jobs and then go with the flow, try and be flexible…I should explain that I’ve been pondering the virtues of weeds for some days now as I write my latest talk, ‘The wonderful world of weeds’ and I actually find that these sturdy vagabonds, these untamed mongrels lift my heart as I potter about doing my best to create a colourful, lively garden full of living things.

There are two sayings that come to mind when i think about weeds but with a slight twist on the interpretation i think they rather sum up my style and approach to managing my garden:

‘one years seeding, gives seven years weeding’.

And the second is: ‘you reap just what you sow’.

Poppies popped up

Poppies popped up

Usually these are quoted to somehow lead us to doomsday scenarios, the weeds ruling over everything in the garden, total disorder, loss of produce, a scene of neglect and dereliction. But,think about it for a moment, supposing you manage the weeding in a careful way that favours ‘good plants’, the ones that seed yes, but that you know and love and then learn how to recognise those seedlings and plants at all stages of their growth.  I sowed the mini meadow in a tiny corner of my veg plot, they flowered beautifully, set seed, I cut them down, composted them, spread some seeds along the way and hey presto, mini meadow pops up in a newly dug piece of ground nearby. It’s different character and make up of plants is the happy surprise. I recognised the seedlings early on, I was careful with my hoeing, took the decision to let them stay and was rewarded with a colourful profusion of chancers. If we take the latter quote first and also combine it with a healthy dose of careful composting, then the possibilities are positively joyous and combined with the first quote, a veritable recipe for wonderment in the garden for years and years to come!

Lovely compost to share

IMG_0184

IMG_0188

IMG_0190

sharing the spoils of the compost heap

sharing the spoils of the compost heap

friendly garden companion, the Robin

friendly garden companion, the Robin

compost feeds the garden

The Wonderful World of Weeds

Image

I’m writing my latest gardening club talk, title as above, and indulging my passion for research into all things botanical and generally digging up some interesting facts and figures.

Little wonder our gardens become blanketed by these opportunist vagabonds, the seeds of creeping buttercup for instance can survive dormant in the soil for 20 years and have still been recorded as viable after 80! Weed seeds are even eaten by earthworms, never mind all the other clever ways that plants have evolved to disperse them.

Thought for the day, the old wives saying, ‘One years seed, seven years weed’, has a definite ring of truth behind it when you consider that up to 12,000 seeds per meter sq have been recorded lying in wait in the soil seedbank, just needing a spade to bring them to the light, break dormancy and germinate. So not a lot of point worrying then about the odd dandelion parachuting in on the wind from your neighbours garden!