Nightingales with megaphones

Posy of June flowers  Garrigue

Freshly picked from the Languedoc garrigue in early June

How time flies! Two weeks ago I was staying with a friend who runs a chambres d’hote in the Languedoc. The house is in the garrigue. Garrigue is not just low growing shrubs and plants like rosemary but also comprises trees including pines, juniper and evergreen oaks interspersed with the occasional vineyard. The stony golden earth is home to a rich flora.

The highways people have been stripping areas back from the road of scrub (presumably a fire thing?), and other plants have taken advantage of this. Clematis flammula was growing in fresh dark green humps over the ground, the small white flowers just coming out (lost mine this winter along with a C rehederiana – why?). Lonicera etrusca with fine spidery scented trumpet flowers is covetable for the garden, the stem appears to pierce through a series of twinned cupped leaves. Phlomis lychnitis is definitely something I’d seek out for the drier garden as well. Low growing with silvered furry leaves and clear lemon flowers. An odd tightly growing little shrub with small cream flowers was Daphne gnidium.

Some grasses and other plants were already dried, a form of wild oat? bleached almost white looked gorgeous in the lowering evening sunlight.  Various helichrysums were also just coming into full-flower, tuffets of silver leaves topped with pale yellow bobbles. Also very close to home I found a splendid Lizard Orchid over a foot tall which the French call Goat Orchid as it apparently smells of goat.

Nightingales with megaphones
Nightingale song could be heard not just at night, they seemed to be everywhere and were even more noticeable over the Spanish border in the area around Girona. Whilst it can be lovely it’s also LOUDER than anyone else too. I also heard hoo, hoo and fleetingly saw the chestnut back and a glimpse of the raised barred crest of a Hoopoe. It flies like a Woodpecker in short dipping bursts. Also I heard Cuckoos – on their way back to Africa from elsewhere or local and staying longer? The sound of newly emerged Cicadas was also being added to the soundscape, the temperature had got high enough to trigger their hatching.

Meanwhile in Languedoc gardens
Oleander was in full flower in many colours, used mainly as hedging. In one town we passed through a really intensely dark blue Morning Glory tumbled over a gateway and in another a Caesalpinia gilliesii cockily strutted its stuff.

Very jealous of Dan Pearson who wrote about his visit to Annie’s Annuals in California in last week’s Observer. And shame on Joe Swift for not embracing the hanging basket ethos fully on Gardener’s World this week.

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Moving on swiftly

Iris Gingerbread Man

Miniature iris Gingerbread Man

Yesterday was sunny and blustery after the previous two weeks when we had frost every day followed by skirling winds and rain. I looked up into a cloudless blue sky when I heard the scream of swifts and above me in a layered cloud the underwings of the lower birds flashing as they caught the light, over 50 Swifts, 30 seconds later they had gone. I presume they’re coming in on the south westerlies.

In the last week the world has become more 3D as leaves have been filling out trees and hedges, all is at its brightest green. The first big iris, Katie-Koo is in flower, English Cottage is close behind. The first rose looks like it will be R Devoniensis the rest are still immature green buds.

The greengage hasn’t flowered this year but the rather forlorn quince has loads of pink flowers. The only wisteria of those planted last year with flowers is Prolific.

The starling babies calls are becoming deeper as they grow. The magpies are becoming a nuisance again raiding the hen house and gashing holes in the eggs. Last week they had enough time to get one out, I found a crushed shell in the chicken pen.

I was going to dig out a bit of Bergenia ciliata and brushed back some old leaves, there in a mossy cup a single wren’s egg, I tucked the leaves back but can’t think it will last long on the ground.

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A hare is a very fine thing

Blackbird's nest

Newly built Blackbird’s nest in the cold frame

A few weeks ago one evening contemplating the emerging shade loving plants in the woodbed I saw a rich brown something making it’s way down the byway to the side of the house, at first I thought it was a small terrier but it moved oddly – a hare was making speedy but not rushed progress along the road.

This morning at 7:30 in the parish field in front of the house a brown shape I thought it a small fox at first, but no the hare again. Seeming to be aware it was being watched it ambled around the field at one point up on it’s haunches the silvered ears swiveling to catch any sound, and then spooked by something it was off, streaking through the new fence. Gone the large quite bulky creature, transformed into the streamlined hare.

The new parish field fence has also allowed us to discover a badger path. Yours disgusted Mr Brock soon dug a scrape under the annoying fence to allow him on his way. Whether its a nightly ramble or an infrequent path we’ll soon find out.

Last weekend seems to have been au point for many birds. I discovered a beautifully built nest in the cold frame still heavy with wet mud built in the three days I hadn’t visited to water. Eschewing the nice new home we put up the Starlings have gone under the eaves again. After a screeching courtship last weekend they’ve settled down to nest building. The finches are hogging the sunflower seeds, Greenfinch is at the top of the pecking order (5 of them this morning) then a Bullfinch pair, the Goldfinch occasionally and the Chaffinch pair flutter around on the edges. Having not seen the woodpecker for months he (we presume) is drumming everywhere, a very old abandoned nestbox in an apple tree was a perfect amplifier to break the stillness yesterday morning.

I seem to have peony wilt on at least one P Rockii and a bit of die-back on another cultivar which is a pity if I have to abandon tree peonies. Two aquilegia I bought from a garden centre last year also started off well but looked dodgy so they’ve been burnt, I hope that doesn’t transfer to the other aquilegia.

After a warm and sunny few days the plum blossom has broken.

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Let’s hear it for the crocus

Crocus chrysanthus Herald

Crocus chrysanthus Herald

I can boast two daffodils out in the garden on St David’s Day, but a whole lot of crocus embraced the sun in the spring weather a whopping 11C. A few bees were seen out and about on their travels.

The copse, spinney, bit of wood at the end of the garden is a wash of snowdrops which are just over au point, spring is quickening.  I noticed two richly coloured violet flowers out, no primroses yet, but I’ve seen them palely loitering in the hedgerows already.

Crocus biflorus Blue Pearl

Crocus biflorus Blue Pearl

A rainy squall has just passed through putting paid to any thoughts of gardening. The season is already hastening away from me, weeding to be done, seeds to be sown, the last muck to be spread, too wet, too tired, no time.

It’s also the time of year when plants that look as if they’ve toughed it out against the frost simply don’t have the energy to jumpstart themselves into the spring thing and reveal themselves as dead or on the way. The jury is currently out on the Beschorneria but one Coronilla glauca Citrina has had it.

At Bath Spa station yesterday I sat staring up from the south facing platform into the wooded cliff that rises across the river. How many times in how many seasons have I been on that platform and looked into it in over 16 years? On this early spring day the many browns of twigs and branches were at their best, smudged here and there with the yellow of hazel catkins. One loses a sense of scale, it looks intimate and close, until a small, small buzzard lazily drifts up into the sky a long way away and a tiny flashing grey dot of a pigeon passes across the canvas and disappears. Then its seems vast and special so close to the centre of this city.

Jackdaws have rediscovered the bird food fatballs now thoughts are turning to nesting, three are currently sitting in a sumach tree, one balancing precariously on the wire tube stretching out a balancing wing. Earlier the sparrowhawk was on its rounds diving into the honeysuckle after a tit but missing.

Crocus Orange Monarch

Crocus Orange Monarch

The sun is out again now golden highlights against a grey sky. We’re 43 minutes away from sunset.

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It started with a hungry caterpillar

Aeonium arboreum

Who’s nibbled me aeonium?

Well actually the weekend was all about hungry things. First the mystery of the Aeonium arboreum muncher. A few months ago small caterpillar poo appeared on the leaves just after I had brought it in for the winter from the garden. OK you think, it will pupate soon, no worries. However a few weeks now down the line and this weekend large poo, bigger than mouse poo, but definitely caterpillar! So I had to find it, it was getting ridiculous -one big fat green, very torpid caterpillar was found and dislodged.

But a new discovery,  who’d have thought aeoniums have scented leaves? It appears some do, in my caterpillar probings a pleasant sweet scent could be detected, and a few times I’ve walked into the conservatory and thought, where is that scent coming from? Now I know.

Other hungry things – two Sparrowhawks, a grey backed male and brown backed female calling and making sorties past the bird feeders every few hours, seemingly not too bothered by my presence in the garden.

Mouse corn stash

Someone has been hiding corn

Voles are eating crocus corms, the shooting tops lie scattered on the soil. Many of the summer pots have become repositories for fist sized stashes of stolen chicken corn, probably field mice. Some stashes show themselves through a telltale shock of green sprouts, others by the stinky mush of semi rotting / fermenting grains, as I found when re-planting a peony that had been in a pot all summer.

After a night of rain and wind,  today the flooding came higher than it’s ever been up the garden, in the half light this morning silvered lakes of water occupied most of the garden, by 4:30 pm the water had retreated back to the swollen stream leaving tidelines of old hazel leaves to mark its passing, and a certain squelchiness underfoot especially the swollen mole runs. Where have the garden’s moles retreated to I wonder?

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No prizes to be won

Carpe Diem tile

Frosty sun

I wouldn’t do very well in the Cottage Garden Society most plants flowering on Christmas Day competition. My garden appears to be in lockdown and maybe we are colder here than other parts of the West Country as we’re on the flat with cold rolling down from Salisbury Plain? There is very little to look at flower-wise.

Trad is musing on tidying and order in the garden. I think there is a difference between tidy and order, tidy is a state, order is something potentially more decorative. My garden is neither!

Carpe Diem apparently originally meant ‘Pluck the day’, more appropriate for the garden and less aggressive than ‘Seize the day’. Today’s frost (after rain last night) is not as pretty as the previous post, a workmanlike freeze which isn’t going to lift much despite the sun. Some parts of the UK have had a snowfall but not here.

The first tentative ribbons unfurl from Hamamelis Westerstede

The first tentative ribbons unfurl from Hamamelis Westerstede

Witch Hazel Westerstede is one of only a couple of flowers attempting to bloom today. The other is Daphne Jacqueline Postill which is not quite ready to open although the buds are showing promise.

Gardening is supposed to be on the agenda today but with soggy and frosted soil it’s not much of a prospect – oh well.

Maybe it’s a day for planning the summer borders,  seed catalogues are starting to drop through the letterbox and Avon Bulbs are tempting me with snowdrops.

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Frost. What frost?

Eaten apple

Food for Blackbirds and Fieldfares

Yesterday another hard frost laid a glamorous mantle over the mouldering leaves and shaggy lawn. As I shut up the shed in the near dark the frost had crept back silver in the half light giving a slight crunch underfoot.

Today a big gold sun is just appearing over a line of trees having been officially up for 29 minutes accompanied by a strengthening south westerly wind. Green world is emphatically back.

We don’t have gently lowing cattle round here, this morning I can hear them shouting, complaining and bellowing more than grumpily as they do, the wonky Donkey in the village is sawing away, a distant cockerel is welcoming the sun and a couple of ducks are waak waaking in the waterlogged field.

Plants have had a few more rounds with The Frost and look further battered, more have succumbed or fully retreated. In hollows and by hedges plants didn’t see the sun all day and the frost didn’t lift. I tidied up my frozen auriculas, pulling off rotten leaves with numbing fingers, the sun fleetingly graced them in late afternoon.

I savour the still, light falling moments on clear cold days in the run up to the shortest day. Last night I stood under an ash tree, stubby twigs with arthritic black knobbed joints stood sharply defined against the last of a pale darjeeling tea coloured sunset. I was hoping like last Saturday to see a tawny owl swoop low across the field, but not last night.

In the garden the Jackdaws are back having been out in the country since early summer. They are hanging around the chicken run as are the Magpies who are getting cockier again as the food sources get fewer. Yesterday there was a squawk of Blackbird alarm by the replenished bird feeders and the Sparrowhawk came through, unsuccessful I think.

I set-to on the Merryweather Damson planted nearly two years ago, taking off lower branches and tipping back top branches, it already looks taller with its skirts lifted a little. I had a couple of damsons this year, more flavourful than an insipid Victoria Plum, just that little hint of pleasurable sourness even at their ripest.

Trees can be scary. From a not too distant perspective the old apple trees which have had major butchery at some point fairly recently are now covered with water shoots, they are getting towards their last probably, but are familiar and friendly. The closer you get to the trees with pruning in mind and look up into the network of naked branches, the higher the trees become and the likelihood of being able to get at most branches without a ladder recedes.  Now the leaves are off one of the apple trees I can see climbing rose The Garland has clambered higher than I had expected, sprays of small hips adding a faint air of festive jollity. A mole has had a field day running rings around the tree under the cover of a worm attracting hazel leaf carpet and rotting apples.

Skimmia japonica reevesiana

I shall have to make do with Skimmia instead.

Last year the birds left me plenty of holly berries, not so this year, suddenly they’ve all gone, none for me.

This time next week it will be the shortest day – the year turns again.

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I feel pretty…

Bittercress in frost

The gardener’s bane bittercress takes on a frosty glamour

I feel pretty and witty and bright!

Boy, does frost change everything. Even weeds look spiffing.

That was yesterday, today is windy with fitful rain, all is green again.


More tender plants have been battered into final submission, the newer growth on the myrtle has been taken but surprisingly Pelargonium sidoides is still with us, the rest of the pelargoniums have succumbed.

It is starting to brighten, pockets of blue amongst the grey can be seen and now shafts of sun are illuminating the garden.

Yesterday the frost stayed in the footprints of my random trails round the overgrown lawn, and as darkness fell a big gold moon heaved itself into the sky and a fire roared, its orange flames providing warmth and a focus in the darkening night.

Pennisetum Red Head

Pennisetum Red Head – the foliage is dying back but the fuzzies remain

In the frosty stillness of the day the loud clattering of individual leaves ricocheting off hazel branches as they fell startled me. Today the wind is making a restless soundscape and challenging the last few leaves still hanging on, mainly apple, oak and some hazels.

The Pennisetum and some of the other grasses are still holding their heads others are looking somewhat battered, although planting bulbs a few weeks ago I found my jumper had gathered quite a few embedded pennisetum seeds which had to be teased from the wool.

Hydrangea Crug So Cool

Iced flowers of Hydrangea Crug So Cool

The last sale bulbs are finding homes but as ever I’m digging up others in my quest to find space.

I finally shelled out for the white Allium Mount Everest mainly because
Avon Bulbs  had reduced them in their sale. Crocus Ladykiller has been added to the white border and daffodil W P Milner has taken up residence with Muscari Peppermint. Snowdrops and daffodils are already pushing through in the spinney, copse, brake.

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Say goodbye, wave hello

Tulbaghia Hazel

Tulbaghia Hazel

It was 14C today with rain on and off and still. The garden is pervaded by the scent from the green but gradually dying foliage of Tulbaghia Hazel. The leaves have a not entirely pleasant foxy garlicky scent but I can’t complain about the show all summer and its made a huge clump which may succumb in a harsh winter but dominated the front of the border for the second year.

Bred by the UK Tulbaghia National Collection holders and named in 2004. They say the flowers have a lovely evening scent, there must be a lot of moths in South Africa, at least two pelargoniums and Zaluzianskya are evening scented as well.

Final blaze of glory
Cornus Midwinter Fire is lighting up the tawny bed with pinky golden leaves echoed on the boundary of the garden by the richer yellow of the Hazels which have still to drop the majority of their leaves, the theme in turn picked up by the oaks in the field beyond. The Ash however is bare, its blackened leaves litter the path to the stream, and the Stag’s Horn Sumach went fiery red and dropped to bony winter hornage within a week.

I couldn’t help myself
This has been an autumn of bulbs, some have still to go in. In the summer I ordered quite a lot especially of tulips from Jacques Amand at full price and then some autumn crocus and other bits and bobs from Broadleigh Bulbs and then Crocus had 50% off and Avon Bulbs had 25% off – Yikes! But this is about lots of different types of bulb not quantity, allium, Iris reticulata, scilla, muscari, hyacinths Delft Blue, Miss Saigon, Roman White and Sky Jacket, Anemone blanda, Anemone coronaria, tulips Don Pedro, Queen of Night, Montreux, Monte Carlo, Prinses Irene, Apricot Beauty and Spring Green, more autumn crocus, narcissus, Silver Chimes, Thalia, Topolino WP Milner and Elka, Snake’s Head Fritillary, Wood Anemones and so the list goes on.

Now most are in I’ve forgotten where I put them so hopefully I’ll be surprised and delighted come spring!

When planting up one large terracotta pot a couple of weeks ago I found wood mice had made a nest in the polystyrene at the bottom of the pot under the summer bedding having made an access hole in the compost down the side of the pot hidden by the then still burgeoning white heliotrope.

Arum creticum is pushing through and pats of the rounded leaves of spring flowering Cyclamen coum appear amongst those of C hederifolium. There are flower buds on Melianthus major.

Galvezia speciosa

Galvezia speciosa

And finally…
Grown from seed sown this year and now resident in the conservatory, a Californian native, Galvezia speciosa, loved by hummingbirds apparently. The seed was from Derry Watkins Special Plants, also from SP this year, Dolichos lab lab, the first time I’ve got it to germinate, it whizzed up the Kiss Me Over the Garden Gate but failed to flower. The jury is still out on Dahlia australis, it looked better in a bed that received full sun than those in partial shade.

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As I was saying ….

Thunbergia fragrans

Thunbergia fragrans

Part of the late, late show, Thunbergia fragrans from Crug Farm Plants. The headline refers to the fact it looks like the trumpet is ‘chatting’  especially when viewed at a larger size. Apparently it was collected at 2150m in Northern India and for the last two years this potted specimen has gone into the just above frost free conservatory as it’s said not to be reliably hardy in the UK, big dilemma there’s not going to be permanent room over winter for it in the conservatory this year.

So far it’s only ever flowered on one twining stem, the flowers running in pairs either side of the stem. It grows very vigorously through spring and early summer so maybe the bits I have to hack back then to contain it are the flowers I’m losing. I can’t detect any fragrance, perhaps it needs more warmth to give of itself?

Aster White Climax

Red Admiral Butterflies on Aster White Climax

The Red Admiral butterflies in particular are enjoying the Aster White Climax in this ‘unseasonably’ warm weather. Peacock Butterflies are trying to take up winter quarters in the house, inevitably some will succeed to reappear come March / April. Also spotted a Small Copper Butterfly out and about on the aster as well. White Climax is a bit of a thug growing to over 2M tall and now flopping in great swathes with the rain but certainly an insect magnet.


Iris unguicularis has started flowering, unfortunately the lovely crystalline petals are pushed in by the rain.

We cleared the stream of foliage and Yellow Flag this weekend which has it running lower and faster now, will this affect the habits of the Signal Crayfish whose burrows in the banks are now more obvious?

We stopped feeding the small birds in mid summer and have now put out the feeders again – absolutely nothing not a tit or a bullfinch to be seen.

Iris foetidissima

Iris foetidissima

Pretty but not to be eaten Iris foetidissima seeds, apparently they ‘purge’ the body somewhat. Sources often refer to the dull purple and yellow flowers and one of its common names, Stinking Iris, doesn’t help. Dull is unfair, the mauve and yellow finely petalled flowers are appreciated by me murmuring in summer from the dry shady corners it puts itself in. The strong upright foliage is a good shade of green and then the seeds go ‘pow’, what’s not to appreciate? Geoffrey Grigson in The Englishman’s Flora is also a little kinder, apparently in some counties it’s known as Roast Beef as the crushed leaves smell of beef – OK, just done a bit of field research, the crushed leaves just smell ‘leafy’  to me not particularly distinctive in the way that say Meadow Sweet and Salad Burnet foliage are when crushed. I do remember pressing Walnut leaves once, they had a very distinctive spicy peppery smell.

We’ve been told to expect the remnants of Hurricane Gonzalo to pass through tonight and early Tuesday morning so I expect the garden will be a complete flopped mess by tomorrow evening. Apparently they’ve got much better at predictive forecasting since The Great Storm of 15 – 16 October 1987 as we’ve still got lots of leaves on the trees as we had then! Reading Wikipedia it suggests that Meteo France also ‘got it wrong’ initially too and the severity was much more than expected.

“Blow the wind southerly, southerly, southerly,
Blow the wind south o’er the bonny blue sea;
Blow the wind southerly, southerly, southerly,
Blow bonnie breeze,  softly  (orig: my lover) to me.”

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