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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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….

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