Week 28th June

I almost forgot to post this this week. Better late than never!

Sunday 28th June – The weather begins to break. A little cooler and more cloudy. The sea is grey and clouded from our window, the horizon pale and luminous. Later in the day mist rises from the woods on Trow Hill and the air feels heavy and saturated. Headachey.

Monday 29th June – Yesterday’s gloominess has lifted and there are blue skies and a fresh breeze. We take a walk up onto the cliff gardens and find a sheltered spot to enjoy the sun and keep out of the wind. It’s still very peaceful here, but soon the tourists will arrive and our lockdown quiet will be gone. No more lunch takeaways from the garden cafe, the seats will be full and there will be more people around. Too many for us. We shall reschedule our walks to earlier in the day and keep away from the gardens. We shall enjoy being out of doors just as much.

Tuesday 30th June – Rain all night and all day. The parched garden will be drinking it up. We put all the pot plants from the conservatory outside for a drink and a wash and tidy them up generally. They look very much better for it. In a break in the rain I pick the first mange-tout peas, crisp and juicy, they lift tonight’s salad into something rather lovely. This evening it feels cold, almost cold enough for the heating. Cold enough for a blanket over the legs instead. No birds to be seen all day.

Wednesday 1st July – July is the month our Anglo-Saxon ancestors called Heymonath or Mead monath, the first referring to haymaking and the second to the flowering of the meadows. Sadly, there are precious few flowering meadows around now. Years ago July would have seen our countryside a kaleidoscope of flower-rich meadows and grasslands that were an intrinsic part of our farming landscape. Over 97% of our flower meadows have been lost since the 1930s, that’s 3 million hectares or 7.5 million acres, and just 1% of the UK’s land area is species-rich grassland. Even with this staggering amount of loss, a meadow is still a crucial habitat with often over 150 different species of flower and grass that support a whole eco-system of insects, small mammals and birds. You can contribute to the making of meadows by supporting the National Trust’s Meadows appeal here and by involvement with Plantlife, take a look here. Also, Saturday 4th July is National Meadows Day. I don’t ‘journal’ on Saturdays usually which is why I’m mentioning it here. Anyway, it’s much nicer than Stupid Saturday and rushing to the pub, as far as I’m concerned.

Thursday 2nd July – Cool and windy. All day. We’ve had a 12 degree drop in temperatures from last week, no wonder I’m feeling the cold. The birds don’t like it either, they’re not hanging around the garden for long. The blackbird is all alarm calls and tossing leaves around under the camellia. The young birds – greenfinch, goldfinch – are fluffed up and still doing that furious wing flapping thing, asking to be fed. The parents don’t oblige, they have to fend for themselves.

Friday 3rd July – The long-tailed tits have brought their babies into the garden. They are the cutest of cute things – tiny, mostly grey and white, and with a quite bewildered look. They manage their long tails remarkably well, finding their way through the coronilla, investigating the empty bird feeder, not straying too far from parent. Spells of sunshine tempt a few butterflies out – small white, speckled wood and a new visitor, a gatekeeper. More warm weather please.

The garden in June

June has been a real mixture of weather. Flaming at some points with temperatures up to 28C and then windy and cold down to 15C and plenty of rain. UK weather has always been unpredictable, but climate change has brought a whole new meaning to that. Differences in temperature of around 12 degrees between one day and the next are testing for woman and plant! More about that further down.

The vegetable garden is doing amazingly well. Warm sun and lots of rain are just what vegetables like and they are rewarding my patience at the moment. Where everything was a bit dry and sparse last month, this month they are excelling themselves. We are picking radishes, lettuce and spring onions. We have had one meal off the mange-tout and plenty more to come, the courgettes are cropping well and the pointed cabbages are almost ready. I’ve pulled half the beetroot today and they have been roasted before being made into pickle. The runner beans finally made it up the sticks, have flowered well and there are tiny beans showing. Also a blackfly problem, but hey – have runner beans, have blackfly. I couldn’t resist exploring one of the potato bags and we have a few beautiful new potatoes. They weren’t seed potatoes so I’m not expecting big crops – they were just a couple of old wrinkly potatoes from the food cupboard that had begun to sprout!

I wrote last time about the long east-facing border in the side garden, raising the crowns on the Camellias and doing some underplanting here and there. It’s starting to fill out in places although there is still a lot of work to do. The Hebe, Hydrangea and hardy Geranium combination is working really well now. We thought the Hebe was a purple variety, but now it’s in flower, it turns out it’s white. I’ve left the old Euphorbia flower heads on and I’m quite pleased with the effect. There is a startlingly pink Penstemon there too. It’s lovely and bright but I think it needs to be somewhere else. Come the autumn, it will get moved.

In the small rear garden we took down a very old and very overgrown Jasmine and planted Echium. We lost one, but the remaining three have settled in nicely. There are a lot of Fuchsia in this garden and some of them are doing really well. I cut them right back to the ground at the end of winter because they were damaged with gall mite. Most of them have grown back well and are full of flower. There’s really no treatment for Fuchsia gall mite so my strategy is to cut them right back hard every early spring and then keep an eye on them through spring and summer, nipping off any shoots that look affected. It’s worked reasonably well, there are plenty of flowers but one of the plants has succumbed again to the mite, blunting the shoots and distorting leaf and bud.

The spell of hot weather encouraged us to think about where we might relax in the garden. We have quite a big decked area – you will remember one of the first. projects was to clear a small bed and plant some roses in front of the deck – and have a simple table and chairs for eating outside, but nothing ‘comfortable’ for relaxing. We have invested in a corner seating area with a low table and a parasol to protect us from the heat of the sun. We have already spent a lot of time out here, reading and observing the garden, planning and relaxing. Money well spent.

Our plan for a ‘mediterranean’ terrace at the front of the house is progressing slowly. Since the garden centres opened up we have been along (carefully – masked and gloved and observing social distancing) and added to our stock of bright Geraniums. In terracotta pots and lit by the sun they look just as we hoped they would – colourful, vibrant, gay. At the same visit to the garden centre I was tempted by a beautiful Bougainvillea plant. Fresh green leaves and intense cerise flower bracts, it was just a perfect centrepiece for this display. Sadly, over a period of about ten days the blooms have been falling off. I’ve brought it indoors and hopefully can keep it alive. I guess south west England isn’t quite the French riviera.

That’s the garden in June. See you next month. Don’t forget to look at 6-on-Saturday and the Core Edge Journal!

Stay safe. Keep your distance. Wash your hands.

Week 21st June

Sunday 21st June – Midsummer’s day, the summer solstice, Litha. The time when the night is shortest and the day longest. The sun is at the height of its power and the earth is fertile and fulfilled. Many will have been out at dawn to see the sun rise and to celebrate and pay their respects. At the same time the power of the sun will diminish from today and the days will shorten, the nights lengthen. This is when the Oak King, in all his abundance, stands aside for the return of the Holly King, who will hold sway in the dark of the year until the winter solstice. The world, and the wheel of life turn again, as they have since the beginning of time. There is a stability and a reassurance in remembering and recognising these great turning points in the year.

Monday 22nd June – Another first in the garden – we saw our first Nuthatch today. It didn’t stay long but perched in the amelanchier for a minute and then flew through to the fir tree. Now I know there is one around, I shall look out for him in future.

Tuesday 23rd June – Rising temperatures. A walk along the beach feels about right. Watching 4 young men putting fishing rods and coolboxes into a rowing boat and then pushing it out into the waves. Problem is, it’s windy, the sea is quite shallow where they’re pushing out, and they will have to row through the breaking waves to calmer, deeper water before they can lower the outboard. They look like inexperienced rowers, there are only two oars and they’re pushing out by the rock island where the tide moves in awkwardly. Sure enough, they can’t row through the breaking waves strongly enough and they start to broadside the waves, in a second they are capsized. Fortunately, four heads bob up very quickly and they get themselves (and the boat, oars, rods and coolboxes) back to the beach. Fishing trip cancelled. Even on a very gentle beach like ours, launching a rowing boat is no easy thing.

Wednesday 24th June – Hot. Lots of butterflies on the wing today – small white, peacock, speckled wood, comma, holly blue. And a garden tiger moth. Sitting in the garden on the deck, a blackbird swoops across so low and so fast that I feel it brush the brim of my straw hat. Gave me a fright!

Thursday 25th June – Hot again. Clear blue sky. Lying back, I can see and hear a flock of swifts swirl over for the first time this summer. I’ve seen individuals but not a raiding party like this. There must be thirty or forty of them, swooping and gliding and screaming for insects that have made it up high in the heat. They circle in three or four waves right above my head and then move off. The only other life in the sky is a lazy buzzard being persistently mobbed by a herring gull. Can a single gull ‘mob’ on its own? This one does, and is eventually successful as the buzzard gets fed up with this long, black-tipped wing, screaming persecutor constantly diving straight at it.

Friday 26th June – Heat takes us to the beach. It’s quiet. The tide is in which means there isn’t much beach for people to sit on. High tide at the moment brings the water right up to the sea wall along the eastern end of the Esplanade. Further west, it covers the sand and far fewer people want to sit on the pebbles and wait it out. We buy take-out coffee and chips and people watch for a while. The sound of the sea sucking at the shingle is powerfully soporific, and coupled with the heat and the carbohydrates, makes me drowsy and lethargic. In the flowerbed next to our bench we give crumbs to a juvenile robin that seems already to be confident around people. A female chaffinch and a pair of pied wagtails also come along for a share. Eventually, we go home for iced tea.

6 – on – Saturday 27.06.20

Hot, hot, hot. I’m not complaining, but it does keep me indoors if it gets much above 23 or 24 degrees. As always, we’ve been enjoying the garden, digging after the heavy rain of a week or so ago means we now have a better flower bed and have made inroads into the permanent veg bed at the back. The veg are loving it in the front garden, but we feel the need to keep it scrupulously tidy. It’s like a Britain’s garden! (Those of you of more mature years will remember what a Britain’s garden is, and maybe their farm, and their zoo…). Any way, on with the 6:

First up, above. Good old Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’. It’s huge and is just coming into flower. It’s in a good spot in the herbaceous bed and so it will stay there. I might thin it out a bit.

Second, and quite exciting, is this Acanthus flower. I’ve been hoping it would flower and here it is, with a second spike just out of the picture. This show of floriferousness (is that a word?) has saved its bacon. Without a flower I would be digging it out in the autumn, as it is I shall leave this to be stately at the back of the border, and dig out the two or three others that have spread from it. There’s a lot of Solidago behind it – that will be allowed to flower this year and then rrrripppp – it’s coming out. There’s masses of it, as you can see.

Three is this very bright Penstemon. I have no idea what it’s called. It was very overgrown when we arrived last August and earlier this year I cut it down to the ground and removed a horrible hypericum that was growing all over it. It’s the only Penstemon in the garden, and I must get some more. Something a little less….brash.

Phygelius capensis. It’s lovely now and through til July/August time. Those scarlet bells have a custard yellow edge on the interior – you can only see it if you turn the flowers up to look. I wasn’t sure how to deal with it this year, but now I know to cut it down to the ground in February/March time. It’s a bit straggly so I’m hoping it will bush itself up a bit if I prune it and give it a good feed in due course.

I love this stuff. It pops up all over the lawn after a spell of rain. It’s called ‘self-heal’ (Prunella vulgaris). You can eat it in salad or make tea with it. Apparently its good for upset stomachs and mouth ulcers. That’s not a recommendation, by the way.

Last are these lovely bright geraniums. I can’t resist them when I go to the nursery. We have a little sun trap at the front of the house and I’m trying to make it look like a mediterranean terrace. These are part of the first stage. They’re in a group of pots with yucca and cordyline. In the sun they are a joyful sight.

That’s my 6 for this week. If you enjoy my 6 on Saturday you might like my wildlife/countryside blog too.  It’s accessible from the Core Edge Journal tab at the top of the blog.  Also on the In the Garden tab the June overview of the garden will be posted after the weekend, so take a look there too.

Readers who are new to 6 – on – Saturday can join in easily – If you want to get a glimpse of lovely gardens from across the world, and chat to lots of lovely gardeners, then go here https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2017/09/18/six-on-saturday-a-participant-guide/  and join in!

Week 14th June

Sunday 14th June – One of the young blackbirds is out on his own, tentatively probing around the vegetable garden. He hasn’t learned how to stop and listen before he probes, so it’s all a bit hit and miss. He doesn’t quite have his adult feathers. His wings and tail are the black of maturity, his breast, head and back still brown. He is the first of the garden fledglings we have seen feeding alone.

Monday 15th June – Very warm today so a walk along the beach seems like a good idea. The sea is flat calm, just rippling against the shore. Sun reflections are silvering the surface like escaped mercury, rolling and slipping towards the beach. Two cormorants fly west to east, barely above the water, then circle and drop. Immediately they make that little jump out and then under, disappearing completely before bobbing up some way away.

Tuesday 16th June – More youngsters around the garden. Two young greenfinches jumping at insects around the deck, still a brownish olive colour, a paler flight feather just beginning to show. One young goldfinch, body feathers coloured but still no red face feathers, follows its parents into the cherry tree. Calling to be fed, it is ignored and starts to pick at the lichen. These young birds are almost independent and will be finding their own territories soon.

Wednesday 17th June – There is a clattering of wings and a frantic squeaking, mewing noise, and a wood pigeon bursts out of the chestnut tree followed by a female sparrowhawk. Having lost the element of surprise, the sparrowhawk, all graceful wing curves and straight-tailed efficiency, gives up and banking round is away and gone. The woodpigeon – heavier and much more ungainly, escapes this time.

Thursday 18th June – Heavy showers all day long. The garden loves it, the vegetables especially – we can practically see them growing. The beans have reached the top of the sticks and we are picking courgettes, radish, lettuce and spring onions. The potatoes are flowering in their sacks and at last the tomatoes have grown enough to tie to the canes. Rain and warmth – the answer to a gardener’s prayers!

Friday 19th June – I can see one bird feeder from the bedroom window so I can watch the birds without even getting out of bed. We don’t feed them in the summer, that way they pick all the insects and aphids off the garden plants (except for blackfly, which they don’t seem to touch, sadly). The bird feeder had nyger seed in it and this morning a whole family of goldfinches are trying hard to prise out any remnants. They are joined by a family of greenfinches who are more rumbustious, flying in and trying to knock the smaller finches off the perches. A noisy squabble ensues with little birds fluttering and chirping in the branches, feet forward around the feeder. The fracas is broken up by the arrival of a great spotted woodpecker, duped by the noise into thinking there must be food available. The smaller birds are away and the woodpecker examines the feeder closely, red lower belly clearly visible. Realising there is nothing to be had, he (it is a he as in flying away he shows the red nape to his neck) adjourns to the amelanchier and prods away at the bark and lichen.

Week 7th June

Sunday 7th June – The wood pigeon that lost its mate earlier in the year – probably to a sparrow hawk – still potters about the garden. For a while he tried very hard to attach himself to another female, but they were all already paired, and would have none of him. Now he sits on the lawn or on the decking rail, keeping himself to himself. Maybe next year.

Monday 8th June – A black and white flash, a splash of red. A great spotted woodpecker bounces into the amelanchier and hides behind the trunk. A moment, and he’s gone, away across the gardens. This is the first great spotted woodpecker we’ve seen since we came here. In Norse mythology the woodpecker is the bird of Thor, the god of thunder and lightening. Thor uses his magic hammer, while the woodpecker drums on trees. Not quite the same drama, but you get the connection.

Tuesday 9th June – A cautious trip out today for a change of scenery for our exercise. Up on to Dartmoor for some wider horizons and quietness. From a parking spot just off the road between Moretonhamstead and Postbridge, the moor spreads out on all sides – the high north-western moor behind us, the slopes of Birch Tor and Headland Warren in front to the left and Soussons Down to the right. It is silent for most of the time. An occasional car passes but it is really beautifully quiet. We can hear skylarks and see butterflies lifting out of the heather, too far ahead to identify apart from a couple of peacocks. A pied wagtail scurries around puddles near the car, a buzzard lifts from nowhere in the middle distance and rises in circles above us, a raven flaps purposefully overhead.

Wednesday 10th June – A walk on Peak Hill today. The sweep of the bay is visible from Beer Heights in the east to beyond Otterton Point in the west and the Triassic cliffs are a deep rusty red on both sides. There have been three landslips locally in the past couple of weeks at both the east and west end of our stretch of coast. The cliffs are formed from soft rock and are prone to falls and landslides. They can (and do) happen at any time although the very wet February, and now a long dry period, make them more likely.

Thursday 11th June – Real rain today, torrential, bouncing off the ground rain, lightning and thunder. More forecast for tomorrow. It’s very welcome.

Friday 12th June – And again. Everything hunkering down and hidden away, apart from the plants which are stretching up and luxuriating in the downpours, the parched lawn especially. There will be purple self-heal punctuating the green after this, I’m sure.

Week 31st May

Sunday 31st May – Still very hot. Too hot to be outside, so watching the birds from the sitting room window. We don’t put food out for the birds after the end of April, so there is no ‘focal point’. Dunnock fledglings, greenfinch fledglings and house sparrow fledglings. The nursery is expanding. A sharp, loud call and the green woodpecker lands on the pathway, looks around and lifts off again.

Monday 1st June – The first day of meteorological summer. Hot. A single red kite over the garden again today, being mobbed by a buzzard. They are unusual in these parts according to the British Trust for Ornithology. When I submitted them as one of my Birdtrack birds at the end of last week they came up as ‘notable’.

Tuesday 2nd June – Added chaffinch to the fledgling nursery today. We seem to have a resident pair, which is lovely as they are in decline at the moment. Delighted to see that they have raised one chick at least. Walking to the pharmacy early this morning blackbirds feeding at least four chicks on the footpath. Dark and rounded, comical with their short tails, they scuttled off into the bottom of the hedge as we approached.

Wednesday 3rd June – Still hot but cooler weather on the way. A small flock of greenfinches, maybe 5 or 6 birds, in amongst the vegetables pecking at the ground. I hope they’re eating bittercress seeds.

Thursday 4th June – Suddenly colder, 8 or 9 degrees less than yesterday and becoming windy. The leaves are almost shivering on the trees. The blackbird is anxious and flighty, alarm-calling frequently and diving through the garden, wings outstretched. When he’s not panicking, he is furiously throwing dead leaves around under the shrubs, rustling and scrabbling about.

Friday 5th June – Found what looked like a large, dead worm in the garden. Surely too big to be an earthworm? Silvery black underneath, brown on top, and then there is an open mouth. It’s not an earthworm, but a slow worm. I’ve never seen a slow worm before. I wish the first one wasn’t a dead one.

The garden in May

First thing to say is that the garden has been pretty hot and dry throughout May. We have been mostly cutting back and pruning as early flowers go over and watching as new clumps of perennials get closer to flowering – and identification. Sadly, I think a lot of them are weedy – for example, there look to be huge clumps of solidago, not a favourite but we’ll see. The veg bed could do with a good dowsing of rain.

The veg patch is really coming on now. We’re on to second sowings of radishes, carrots and parsnips are growing away, beetroot doing well, the leeks are standing up strongly and have put good growth on and the courgettes are showing signs of flowering. We have put pointed cabbages in and they are protected under a net stretched over stakes from the prunings of the amelanchier with 3inch pots on top. We have small white butterflies and so better safe than sorry! The runner beans are slooooow. They look a bit stronger but are only about two thirds of the way up the poles. There are signs of flowering on them too. Also at the back of this bed we have been surprised by a large stand of Dutch irises, blue and white. We thought at first they were crocosmia leaves. A large clump of them will be moved to the main part of the garden when they go over.

The little rose bed that we created by the deck is also doing well. The roses (Gertrude Jekyll and Munstead Wood) have lots of flowers. The Munstead Wood (left) is not quite ready for such heavy blooms, the stems are still weak, so needs support until it has grown a reasonable framework of thicker stems. I’ve also done a bit of underplanting here (well it will develop into underplanting) with hardy geranium – Orkney Cherry, endressii, Rosemoor. Later in the year I will scatter some verbena bonariensis seeds too.

In the east border I have been thinking about the camellia. They flower well, but look a bit straggly. I don’t know how well they take to pruning, but I’ve taken my courage in both hands and raised the crowns a little on two of them. They look ok and it’s opened up the ground below for some underplanting. I’ve fed them well and am generally waiting to see how it goes. Come next spring – we shall see. This border is very neglected, full of Japanese anemone and small euphorbia, we are trying to sort it out about a metre at a time. Apart from the camellia, we have cleared a space in front of a large hebe and white hydrangea and put in a hardy geranium Rozanne. It’s a combination we had at the old garden and we thought it would work well here too.

The front of the house is clearly cut out to be a mediterranean terrace. It is fully south facing and in this sunny weather it is very bright and very hot, the sun bouncing off the paving stones. We’ve put the two yucca plants here in big pots, a cordyline, and the little olive tree has been repotted and is loving the warmth. We have a lot of very small zonal pelargonium which are now here in pots, their scarlet flowers are perfect, and next year when they are a better size they will be fabulous. Next year I think we will really make this area more bold and colourful – I’m thinking of replacing a bushy but wilting clematis with a bougainvillea and seeking out more vibrant flowering plants for pots.

The bed we had cleared in the main part of the garden is filling with surprise perennials. There are poppies (Beauty of Livermere), gladiolus communis byzantinus, day lilies not quite in bloom, clumps of solidago and a lovely hardy geranium which I think is Ann Folkard – a beautiful bright magenta. We are also learning that what we thought was a damp, clay soil here is proving to be a shaley, sandy marl which holds little or no water and bakes as dry as a bone. That has changed our planting plans somewhat!

At the back of the house, the overgrown and horribly tangled Jasmine is no more. We now have a clear fence just waiting for something to grow up it. In the meantime we are going to plant four echium here. They are very small, sad specimens, we were given them and they have been either overwatered or completely dried out, but they are wilted and dead-looking and I don’t know if they will recover and grow away. Another wait and see. If they do grow, then next year we can expect 15 or 20 feet high huge spires of flowers in blue and pink. Now, that will be a sight worth waiting for!

See you again soon for a tour around the June garden. Don’t forget to check out my other pages above: 6 – on – Saturday and The Core Edge Journal. Stay safe. Stay 2 metres apart. Wash your hands.

6 – on – Saturday 30.05.20

Hello. Hope you’re all ok, safe and well. Another week of shouting at the telly, cursing our politicians and feeling powerless. A hot one here in Devon, no rain, soil like powder, hosepipe working overtime. Can’t be long before we get a hosepipe ban. All very cheery. Not. But the flowers are lovely and the garden is, as always, my saving grace. Here are my 6 for this week anyway:

First up is this Hosta. It’s Prince of Wales and seems to be enjoying being in the sun. Later in the day it will be in dappled shade, so it shouldn’t completely fry.

Next are two lovelies that I have posted before at this time every year, but not from this garden. Right, of course, is Gertrude Jekyll, left is Munstead Wood. These are two of the David Austen roses I bought by mail order earlier in the year. They are covered in blooms. The Munstead Wood is lax as always, so that is MrOG’s hand just lifting its head. I must put some supports in. To be honest, I didn’t expect so many blooms this first year.

I’m not sure if you can see this very well, but it’s a Fuschia that is at the bottom of our front path. I didn’t prune it earlier in the year and now it has just gone wild. I love the reddish foliage and it’s a mass of these slender blooms. I’m not sure of the variety but I shall definitely be keeping this.

This is actually quite a small flower. I think it’s Campanula poscharskyana – a bit of a mouthful. Now I’ve been cursing this plant all spring, as it grows in low, leafy mounds, it’s quite invasive and there’s masses of it in the garden. I’ve been pulling these soft green mounds out left, right and centre. And then suddenly, it put out longish stems and all along them are these lavender blue starry flowers. I forgive it, completely. Although, I still think I’ll pull quite a lot out later on.

I couldn’t resist putting this in close-up. Last week, this was in the picture of the haul from the garden centre. It is Geum ‘Scarlet Tempest’ and is just a delight in the sun. Almost double-flowered, that lovely apricot-tinged red, and powdery yellow stamens. Buy one.

Last up is a wildflower. In fact, it’s two wildflowers. The main bloom is purple toadflax which seems to like our soil and is waving those lovely tiny snapdragon blooms in various parts of the garden. Photobombing it down in the left hand bottom corner is Torquay Pride – centranthus. I’m happy to have both of them in the garden.

That’s my 6 for this week.  No matter how nice the weekend weather – stay near home, keep safe, slap on the sun protection.  In England we still have pandemic conditions and you need to be careful, my friends. Remember – 2 metres.

If you enjoy my 6 on Saturday you might like my wildlife/countryside blog too.  It’s accessible from the Core Edge Journal tab at the top of the blog.  Also on the In the Garden tab the May overview of the garden will be posted after the weekend, so take a look there too.

Readers who are new to 6 – on – Saturday can join in easily – If you want to get a glimpse of lovely gardens from across the world, and chat to lots of lovely gardeners, then go here https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2017/09/18/six-on-saturday-a-participant-guide/  and join in!

Week 24th May

Sunday 24th May – Above the garden, the first swift of the season. At least, the first swift of the season for me. Just one black crescent against the blue, firing across the sky like an arrow, swooping and switching direction, and then – gone. There was no sound, I missed the shriek and scream that usually draws attention to these little sky-bullets. I hope it comes back. I hope more come back.

Monday 25th May – Bank Holiday. Very warm. The birdsong is the usual mix of chaffinch, greenfinch, goldfinch and of course, blackbird. The chaffinch is catching insects. From its perch on next door’s apple tree it darts up, flutters furiously as it grabs at some small fly and then back to the perch. For all the world like a spotted flycatcher, but I can see his pink breast and white tail feathers as he repeatedly forays out.

Tuesday 26th May – There is an overgrown patch at the south end of the garden. I have been investigating it for wild flowers. The rest of the garden has the usual weeds – daisies, buttercups (creeping and meadow), dandelions and the ever-present willow herb – but the overgrown patch has some rather more interesting ones. The most noticeable are the tall spires of purple toadflax, with flowers like tiny snapdragons, often bending with the weight of bees which love them, and happily seeding themselves everywhere. They seem to particularly like the base of walls here, where they bake in the sun. I like them and am happy to see them around the garden. The most prolific in the patch is wood avens, sometimes called herb bennet. One of the geum family, it tells me that the more desirable geums will like our soil and grow well. Wood avens has small, bright yellow flowers. Again, the bees like them but they spread ferociously and are all over our neglected garden. They’re said to be able to drive away evil spirits and protect from mad dogs and poisonous snakes. That’s all right, then. More exotic are a couple of plants of stinking iris. Their muddy yellowy/greeny flowers are well over but they are developing clusters of orangey red fruits which they will hang on to through autumn and winter. If you bruise the leaves, they smell pretty bad – hence the name. Closer to the ground is ubiquitous herb robert, a teeny tiny pink geranium-type flower with red stems and deeply dissected leaves. Again, present all over the garden and fortunately it’s easy to pull up. It has lots of uses in folk medicine – for nosebleeds, diarrhoea, toothache and healing wounds. If you crush the leaves and rub them on your skin, it repels mosquitos. Allegedly. Maybe I’ll do a whole blog on wild flowers one day. They’re fascinating.

Wednesday 27th May – A little fat, fledgling dunnock is hopping about, calling for food. The parents have raised just one, but it is noisy enough to keep them very busy. It has a beautifully spotted, pale breast and tawny upper parts, not a bit like the adult appearance. It’s like a tiny rock pipit.

Thursday 28th May – I notice the local crows making a fuss over the garden. Looking up, there are four red kite, lazily circling around, casually ignoring the mobbing crows. I’ve never seen them over the garden before, but their long, angled wings with ‘fingers’ spread and their forked tail are unmistakable, plus the fact that they are considerably bigger than the crows. I don’t know how common they are in the south west of England – the RSPB site doesn’t list them as a locally breeding bird, and the distribution map shows them in the south west over the winter rather than all-year. I hope they are establishing themselves nearby and we see them more often.

Friday 29th May – Too hot to be outside today. The birds are loving the warm weather. Don’t forget to fill your birdbaths so that they have somewhere to splash and keep cool. And to drink, of course. They’re singing their hearts out. If you’d like to be better at recognising bird song try this skill development course from the BTO. It costs £20 and looks really good.

stinking iris – pic in the public domain

herb robert – pic ©sannse

purple toadflax – pic ©jgirvin