Wednesday, 3 May 2017

still dry and cold ..

The family gather on the terrace in the spring sun to enjoy a mid-morning drink. We look across the garden to where the sun colours young silver birch trees' foliage into a Chartreuse mist beneath Scots Pines. Mum and dad are wrapped in blankets and thermal coats. My auction wins are dissected unfavourably. 'Rammel' is the Nottingham dialect word for rubbish. Crap. Until mum takes a fancy to the one-eared faux terracotta fox pushing a wheelbarrow that sneaked into a lot of plant pots. 'Freddy'. He'll adorn their patio. Attention moves from the latest additions to my collection of leaking galvanised buckets and watering cans as the drinks arrive.

Shoots have withered along hedgerow and on garden shrubs and trees.  Magnolia denudata is blackened and crisped. Walnut is whipped. In the orchard little yellow rattle is brown. The chill east wind has continued unabated, challenging. Burning foliage. And drying. Our sandy soils lose heart easily. Dust to dust.
Low rainfall is a boon to ground-nesting birds. We're expecting a bumper garden trampling from pheasant chicks and mallard ducklings later in the month. But low moisture levels in the soil can affect the whole food chain detrimentally. The nectar flow in flowers slows and bees make less honey. Beekeepers can provide supplementary fondant for honeybees. Bumble bees get no such cosseting. Their nests won't flourish.
A male kestrel hangs in the air, trying different pitches around the parched garden. Extended dry conditions don't favour small mammals and so kestrel young may face hunger.
Due to the dryness, there is little gastropod activity. Or are the slugs and snails simply fasting in readiness for the feast of dahlias we are preparing for them in the greenhouse? The two branches of my 'hog cafe' continue to be emptied each night. I want the hedgehogs to be as full and fat as they can be as they prepare to breed. The garden has hedgehog homes in readiness...

Stock dove eggs
There are now 133 gently down-curved flowering bluebells along the boundary with Crimea Plantation. We began planting bluebell bulbs in 2015 after I had found a single native plant. Grasslike seedlings now push through the leaf litter providing promise of greater things to come.
And in the orchard, the cowslip seed I cast in the same year and donated by Linda has produced 130 flowering plants. Pert, golden spikes and a rogue red.
Primrose too are more abundant now due to the plant dividers' knife. Many are hybrids between cowslips and primroses - false oxlips - challenging the plant fascist in me.

Message from Pete: he'd heard his first cuckoo over in Burton Joyce. No cuckoos were heard here in 2016. A sad local reflection of their national decline and fear that we'll never hear them here again. 

The garden nest boxes are now being filled with eggs. Blue and great tits are our best customers. The tawny owl is still sitting tight and tree sparrows probably have eggs in the colony box above the back door: I'm reluctant to disturb them. In the Woodland Garden a stock dove has three eggs in a box I made from an old drawer. Pigeons and doves lay clutches of two eggs. The third egg is a mystery. Perhaps an unhatched egg from a previous clutch? But there were no eggs when I checked earlier...

The garden has rewarded our return from eight nights away in north west Scotland with bountiful weeds.  Dad and I slog it out in the Woodland Garden clearing hundreds of thousands of sycamore seedlings. Dad is now 89 but still pushes that hoe to and fro with much more thoroughness than I can muster. I insist he sits to rest and he is hoeing from a seated position when I next look.
Jill hammers away in the Prairie beds where the imported heavy soil has dried to rock. She attacks the soil with a Portuguese azada like a one-woman chain gang.

We hope to welcome WWOOFers this year. A scheme where board and lodging is provided in return for honest toil on the land. Dad says the garden would keep thirty men busy. I hope they know what they're letting themselves in for.

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