Week 13th June

Monday 14th June – We have so many baby birds in the garden – blue tits, coal tits and long-tailed tits, greenfinches are re-lining their nest in the viburnum for a second brood, baby robins are hopping about – so many that we made a decision to refill the bird feeder this week. Normally we don’t feed the birds after the end of April/early May and the garden gets picked clean of any unwanted pests, but this year spring was so late that I’m not sure there are the same numbers of insects and caterpillars about to feed hungry broods. It’s had plenty of attention already, even a Great Spotted Woodpecker stopped by.

Tuesday 15th June – A good long walk in the parkland at Bicton, such lovely views across the arboretum tree-tops, the colours were lovely, many shades of green, glaucous blues and bright yellow from the conifers, deep red copper beeches. We sat for a while and just enjoyed it -the red Devon soil in the surrounding fields and the eye-catcher obelisk pointing straight into a clear blue sky. A woodpecker was drumming really loudly and a pair of buzzards spiralled up and up. Back home we sat in the garden and were thrilled to see four tiny wrens fledge from the nest at the base of the eleagnus hedge; two of them were still really fluffy and unsteady. The adult called furiously to them and they lined up one by one on the decking rail, squeaking like so many little mice, they shook their feathers and were away across the garden.

Wednesday 16th June/Thursday 17th June – Quiet days. Mr OG had a cataract removed on Wednesday so I have been playing guide, driver and helper.

Friday 18th June – Still on helper duty, but all is going well. In the garden we could do with some rain. We have been promised showers, even torrential thunderstorms over the past twenty-four hours, but we haven’t felt a single drop here. It’s humid today, although there is a breeze, and the pollen count is high because I’m sneezing and dry, gritty-eyed. We shall have another quiet day and then back to relatively normal in a day or two.

Week 6th June

Monday 7th June – More lovely weather for this week. Half-term is over so everywhere is quieter. We do a bit of shopping – I need a new straw hat, my old one is relegated to gardening and is falling apart, I leave little cascades of straw behind me wherever I go. Freshly hatted, we walk along the beach. It’s really warm and there are people sitting on beach chairs and lying on rugs. The sea is barely moving, the tiniest ripple of waves lapping against the shingle. Two cormorants are drying their wings on the rock island, herring gulls sit and watch, and a third cormorant flies past, wings beating furiously as he just skims the surface of the water.

Tuesday 8th June – A day in the garden, still fighting the couch grass with my trusty trowel. We have also planted some canna and a few dahlias in last year’s veg bed, plus some good perennials – kniphofia, digitalis, silene, and we’re trying a melianthus major which may or may not survive a winter. The sky is lovely with wisps of cirrus uncinus just drifting across the blue. These clouds are better known as mare’s tails, so called because they resemble mare’s tails, obviously. I’m not so sure myself, but they are delicate and ethereal and quite lovely.

Wednesday 9th June – A day out today – National Trust’s Knightshayes. We went specifically to see the huge working kitchen garden, and it didn’t disappoint. Two and a half acres of vegetables, fruit and flowers enclosed by walls on a south facing slope, it is beautifully kept and very productive. The gardeners use green manures rather than bringing in rotted manure from outside and it was good to see some beds laid down to red clover and phacelia. The phacelia especially was full of every type of bee imaginable. We chatted to a very helpful gardener about overwintering canna and dahlias in the ground, and complimented him on the garden. It’s often very small numbers of staff managing these gardens at the moment and they work hard so that visitors can see something special. On the way home we made a slight detour to the village of Kentisbear as I wanted to visit the grave of the writer E M Delafield, author of the The Diary of a Provincial Lady, one of my favourite read and re-reads. It’s easy to find, just through the lych gate of the village church of St Mary (which, incidentally, has a lovely chequerboard tower), and immediately on the left. A tiered granite cross on a slight rise, under a yew tree.

Thursday 10th June – Overcast today but very warm. Driving to Honiton we were enveloped in mist and fog as the road crossed higher ground. The mist curled across the fields like smoke, blotting out the tree tops and creating a ghostly, semi-transparent atmosphere, added to by circling crows appearing and disappearing in the swirling whiteness. Later in the afternoon the mist lifted and the skies began to clear to the palest blue, leaving a pattern of cirrocumulus known as ‘mackerel sky’ and a portent of continuing fine weather.

Friday 11th June – Overcast and warm again. On a cliff top walk we saw a falcon just sitting in the updraft from the cliffs, too high to identify from the underside, it was mobbed by a gull and soared away, twisting its body away from us, and without a wingbeat travelled further along the cliff. It was swift-like in shape, narrow, pointed wings, shortish tail, slightly smaller than the herring gull attacking it. Was it small enough to be a hobby? Large enough to be a peregrine? I just couldn’t say. But it was a delight to see it, so comfortable, so completely unperturbed by the gull, such a master (or mistress) of the elements.

Week 30th May

Monday 31st May – The warm weather is set for the rest of the week. We are working hard in the garden – weeding as a priority, and finishing some heavier work (moving stones, large pots, clearing and reorganising the shed) as Mr OG will shortly be having a cataract removed and that will put paid to any gardening or heavy lifting for a while. Stopping for a rest we listen to the blackbird and chaffinches singing, and watch a pair of Holly blue butterflies, Celastrina argiolus, dancing along the hedge, then spiralling up high. One of our smallest butterflies, they produce two broods a year, the first emerging in April (in a normal year!) and the second in July/August. Food plants include Holly (of course), Ivy, Forget-Me-Not, Bugle and brambles. They have a tendency to fly higher – at around head height – and it’s a good way to distinguish them from the Common Blue which scoot about lower down.

Tuesday 1st June – Another lovely day. Blue skies and warm sun. We take a break from working in the garden and sit relaxing in it instead. Having uncovered and cleaned the furniture on the deck we are able to sit facing the view to the east across the garden. In the distance is Trow hill with it’s deciduous woodland in shades of green, small fields striped by mowing and hedges white with flowering hawthorn, nearer is a field recently ploughed – it’s red earth dusty in the heat. There is the occasional bray of a donkey, and we can see the traffic climbing Trow Hill on the road east into Dorset and beyond. Closer to us there are the mature trees in neighbouring gardens – oak, cherry, cypress, maple, horse chestnut. It’s a fine view and we love it.

Wednesday 2nd June – A day out today, a walk in Powderham Park. Powderham Castle is actually a 14th century manor house set in a lovely park with walks down to the Exe estuary. There is a big herd of fallow deer, Dama dama – about 600 – and they have been maintained at the park since before 1723. Fallow deer are very elegant, they have a longer face than other breeds and larger ears, plus they have the archetypal ‘bambi’ markings with their reddish brown coats, spotted with white. The males, bucks, are the only UK deer to have the flattened, palmate antlers, set wide on the head. We watched them feeding quietly as we walked, quite unperturbed. The weather closed in a little, dropping the temperature quite a bit, so we wandered back to the restaurant and farm shop and had a very good lunch of fresh, locally caught fish.

Thursday 3rd June – A day in the garden fighting the weeds. Not content with a scattering of barren brome we now have more couch grass than a couch grass farm. At the moment it’s confined to one bed, but seems to have grown overnight. I dug some out, but I think I will be resorting to the dreaded glyphosate to try to completely clear it. I don’t like using chemicals in the garden, but for couch grass I might make an exception. On a more positive note, the veg plants are doing really well and all the seed is up. It means a watering routine, but I’m looking forward to eating our home-grown veg!

Friday 4th June – A beautiful day, the sky is cloudless and completely blue. It’s reflected in the sea which is a dark blue, just a touch of white foam here and there as a breeze comes in with the tide. The town beach was busy this morning, with lots of people in the water on paddle boards, kayaks, and body boards – which is lovely, but there’s not much room if you’re a toddler wanting a little paddle. We did our bit of shopping and came home – too busy for us to be out for long, and we have the advantage of being able to relax in the garden (when not thinking about the couch grass!). There was a Red Admiral feeding on the choisya blossom, and the air was full of the hum of insects zipping about; bees and flies enjoying the warmth and the nectar.

Week 23rd May

Monday 24th May – A drive up to Bristol today to pick up my sister from the train. A day’s much needed retail therapy at The Mall then we bring her back to Devon for a couple of days. It rains for most of the journey up and back. Fortunately we are undercover for shopping. I don’t expect to have much time for writing until she’s left on Wednesday.

Tuesday 25th May – Still cool and overcast but it does feel a little warmer than of late. We wander round town, coffee and cakes, walk up to the gardens and shelter from the cold wind, watching the sea. Seem to spend most of the day laughing.

Wednesday 26th May – Drive into Exeter to take sis to the station. Much waving and blowing of kisses as we see her off from the platform. I’m trying to remember when I was last inside a railway station – it must be some years. We rest for the remainder of the afternoon – I am worn out with concentrated chatting and laughing. I actually had a sore throat on Monday and Tuesday night from talking so much!

Thursday 27th May – Blue sky, sunshine, HEAT!! We finally get into the garden for some much needed weeding, assisted by a robin and a very friendly cock blackbird. I spend two hours clearing the weeds from a rose and hardy geranium bed, but it’s just a drop in the ocean. The main perennial bed that we cleared for planting last year is now full of grass again, I think it blows in from the surrounding agricultural land and from internet investigation it looks like barren brome. Some work needed to clear it and keep it cleared. Weeding makes my thumb joints ache and my back stiff from bending. Feeling my age tonight!

Friday 28th May – More cloud today but still warm. We take a risk and uncover the garden seating on the deck for the first time this year. It needs a good clean which will be a job for the weekend. We walk along the sea front in the warm. There are a few people on the beach enjoying the change in the weather, faces turned to the sun, a few people swimming, some children paddling. It’s suddenly a different world.

Week 16th May

Monday 17th May – Very heavy rain showers, hailstorms, thunder, lightning….not what we expect in May! The back garden is finished and I managed to put some veg plants in before the rain started. Purple sprouting broccoli, leeks, beetroot, and parsnips and carrots seeds in. Then the heavens opened. Still, no need to water them in!

Tuesday 18th May – Out in the garden early to try to avoid more of the torrential and persistent rain forecast for later. Runner beans in, tomatoes planted out, courgettes planted and a bit of a frame made for the peas to scramble up. Sadly it started to pour with rain again before I could plant the peas, so they will have to wait until tomorrow when we are promised one day of dry weather before it pours again on Thursday. Maybe manage a walk tomorrow.

Wednesday 19th May – Sunshine! And it’s supposed to be forecast for most of the day. Well, sunny intervals really, to use the meteorological speak. The woods on the hill across the valley are turning so many shades of green. They seem late this year, but the change is very welcome. There are cows turned out in the small fields below, and horses in a paddock out to grass for the summer. At the top of the valley is a field of oil-seed rape, the brightest yellow amongst the green cereal crops and grass. The hedge banks and verges are hazed with bluebells and the cow parsley is beginning to froth white. All this visible from the garden – so lovely.

Thursday 20th May – Pelting rain again, this time accompanied by gale force winds with gusts up to 50-odd miles per hour. Wordsworth wrote of May:

All Nature welcomes Her whose sway Tempers the year’s extremes;

Yeah, right. May’s not doing much tempering here. Another day at home, with the windows too streaked with rain to see the view, the sea merged with the sky, the cloud low and squatting on the trees on the hill.; BUT in spite of everything, the blackbird is still singing (in the rain).

Friday 21st May – Gale force winds continue, with showers of light rain. We go into town for a bit of shopping and walk along the seafront. The sea is responding to the wind – cresting waves on grey water, nearer the shore it is dirty brown with churned up sand, the waves crashing the same colour and sandy spume pushed up the beach and blown in the wind. There is one lone surfer, probably not too sensible in this weather, and the waves are too messy for any satisfying surfing. We walk up to the cliff top cafe and huddle in a shelter out of the wind and rain, alone in the gardens, drinking hot tea and watching the gulls float past, and the smaller birds shoot by on the wind.

Week 9th May

Monday 10th May – Cold winds again so we don’t venture far. Another trip to the saltings at Budleigh – it’s easy to birdwatch from the car and the fresh crab sandwiches from the beach café are very good. Lots of shelduck today and a single oystercatcher probing the mud. Possibly my favourite wading bird, smart in black and white, with his red bill and legs. The old name for an oystercatcher is ‘seapie’ – like magpie. It suits it very well.

Tuesday 11th May – Brighter weather today, but still a cool wind. Such a contrast with the same time last year when we were basking in warm sunshine. We make a long-planned trip to Mapperton gardens in east Dorset. Less than an hour away and somewhere new to us. The gardens have been made in a wooded valley and have that romantic feel of fading grandeur. Fine topiary, lovely terraces and a sunken garden with slightly crumbly stonework and statues make for an interesting stroll. The planting is pretty – still good hellebores and a mass of different euphorbia giving good value. Ancient wisteria in bloom and an arbour of old apple trees full of blossom and bees. Lower down in the valley the arboretum has magnolia, rhododendron and azalea in flower, hawthorn and apple trees, all under-filled with blowsy cow-parsley and bluebells – it was beautiful in the sun.

Wednesday 12th May – Our own back garden is coming along nicely. The hard landscaping is done, mostly brick paviours, and two biggish raised beds, one against the back fence and one at the bottom, nearer the house. The one at the back will be warm (south facing), the other will be shady except for the summer months, but I am planning to use them both for fruit and veg. and for the whole space to be more of a ‘kitchen garden’ courtyard. There is a flat space for the greenhouse now; although it won’t be delivered util September time, at least we are ready for it. It’s looking fresh and so much better than the sloping muddy grass that was there before. The paviours should also be an improvement on dealing with the rain run-off.

Thursday 13th May – Wet, wet, wet. All night, all day.

Friday 14th May – A quick walk today after being confined to the house yesterday because of the persistent rain. We went up to the town gardens and checked out the herbaceous border. The gardens give us a good idea of what will grow in our own garden as they are also windy and right on the coast. We have two fatsia japonica in pots but as they seem to grow particularly well in the gardens I’m going to put them into our border and see how they do. We also went along to the local garden centre and picked up some veg plants. Now that I feel a bit more confident about overnight temperatures I’ll plant them out. At last.

Week 2nd May

Sunday 2nd May – Yesterday, Mayday, was the start of the season of Beltane in the old calendar, a time of bursting fecundity. The Goddess and the young Oak-King meet and represent the Great Marriage between earth and sky. It is a time of the year to bring ideas, hopes and dreams into action. Beltane is also a fire festival – traditionally  all the fires in the community were put out and a new fire set for Beltane, to encourage the support of the Sun to nurture the future harvest and protect the community. People jumped the fire to purify and bring fertility. Couples jumped the fire together as a pledge to each other. Cattle and other animals were driven through the smoke as a protection from disease and to bring fertility. After an evening of celebration, people would take some of the fire to start their own fires again. Sometimes I think it’s a shame we have lost these old celebrations of the turning wheel of the year.

Monday 3rd May – Pouring rain, severe winds and cold. Heating back on and fire lit. A really awful day. The sea is grey and would be indistinguishable from the sky if it weren’t for the white tops to the waves. The blossom is pouring off the cherry tree, tulip petals are ripped from the blooms, and the trees in the garden are swaying and tossing in the wind. It’s more like November than May and really miserable. The saving grace is that I can sit in the warm and read all day. We had booked to visit a local National Trust garden tomorrow but I’ve cancelled. The forecast for tomorrow is still cold and windy, and tramping through mud and wet grass doesn’t appeal.

Tuesday 4th May – Surprise! Sunny and not quite warm, but better than yesterday. Topsy-turvey weather. Our walk around Bicton takes in the cherry blossom and the late camellias and azaleas which are still lovely, and then through the arboretum where the planes and the sweet chestnuts are leafing up. Tufted duck and mallard on the lake look busy but there are not many ducklings – I think the crows and herring gulls take them when they are too small to escape. A pair of swans has a successful brood, seven grey downy cygnets are clustered together on the bank, the pen grazing close by, the cob raising his wings at anything that gets too close, particularly wary of the herring gulls.

Wednesday 5th May – A walk along the Saltings at Budleigh Salterton today. Sunny but still a really cold wind. Watched a little egret feeding along the muddy creek, their yellow feet always make me smile – they’re like bright shoes over a pair of black tights. Egretta Garzetta (sounds like an Italian film star!) is slowly extending it’s territory northwards, and they’ve been resident on UK southern coasts for about 30 years. They still feel like an exotic visitor to me. There were two pair of shelduck working the creek too, mallard and wigeon gathered on the grass banks, and a few of the Canada geese that are so ubiquitous now. I thought I saw a whimbrel take off and circle away; certainly it was a biggish brown wader with a down-curved beak, and I thought too small to be a curlew. Whimbrel are passage migrants around the coast here in April and May so it’s possible, but my inexpert identification skills mean I’m not completely confident.

Thursday 6th May – Yesterday’s 2nd Covid jab doesn’t seem to have had any side effects this time so we take a trip to explore a new nursery (new to us) called Urban and Rural Plants. They have a site at Powderham Castle but the real treats are at the Exeter nursery at Matford. They supply plants for immediate impact so, big pittosporum bushes, cloud-pruned and spiral box, pleached photinia and lime, huge agave and yucca, tree ferns – it’s an absolute magic kingdom. We didn’t buy anything but we gave ourselves lots of ideas – and a long wish list.

Friday 7th May – Sunny this morning, but a cold wind is still taking the edge off the sun. Down on the sea front it’s really cold so we walk up to the gardens on the Peak and find a sheltered bench and watch the sea for a bit. There is one fishing boat, a long way out. The rest of the bay is silver and grey with rolling waves breaking on the shingle, the sky is bright blue, but over the town, away to the north west a huge bank of purple cloud is forming, the edges rolling and building, mirroring the rollers on the beach. We head for home before the rain starts.

Week 25th April

Monday 26th April – We were so taken with the World of Plants nursery last week that we made our way back there today to buy more plants. The crimson bromeliad Fascicularia bicolour, Silene asterias, Echium fastuosum, Lychnis coronaria, and a beautiful purple-headed Angelica gigas. Some a wee bit tender, but all lovely. We had a very traditional lunch of chips and Fanta sitting in the car on the Den at Teignmouth, watching the tide come in. It felt like 40 years ago…

Tuesday 27th April – We booked a visit to RHS Rosemoor for today and made an early start to get there for our booked time. I’ve never been before and I was really surprised at the size and scope of the gardens. Beautiful formal gardens sheltered behind exquisitely clipped yew hedges and a large park organised less formally, but with just as many interesting species. I was particularly taken with the stumpery and a lovely garden showcasing plants for mediterranean conditions. So many ideas for us to bring home and think about.

Wednesday 28th April – Much needed rain this morning and the air is full of the scent of damp earth, a mixture of dust and soil – petrichor is the term used for it. The sky is iron grey, almost purple over the sea, and the rain soft and persistent. Enough to put a stop to the garden work and the bird song. The chocolate-box pink cherry blossom is unaffected, dripping quietly onto the decking, its vibrant colour bright against the grey sky.

Thursday 29th April – There is such a lot of ash die-back around here. Every time we go out we see the stumps of freshly felled trees along the verges, or gangs of workers felling. Die- back is caused by a fungus called Hymenoscyphus fraxineas and affects trees of any age. It can kill a young tree in a season, more mature trees over several. There’s no treatment, so the trees have to go. As ash trees are often part of hedgerows and banks it is denuding these areas, and to see so many white-faced stumps is quite shocking. As someone old enough to remember the loss of our native elm trees from the countryside, to now be losing our native ash is sad indeed.

Friday 30th April – A little more rain today, enough this week to have made the weeds sprout up with a vengeance. Creeping thistle, dandelion, herb robert, bittercress, herb bennet, green strawberry, all of these spreading rapidly in our borders and all of them almost impossible to get rid of without resorting to chemicals – which really is a last resort. There are some slightly more welcome weeds – purple toadflax with its tiny, dainty snapdragon-type flowers, a pink oxalis and a pale blue, creeping campanula. All tolerable if well controlled, especially the pretty toadflax. The other two can be invasive and overwhelming if not kept in check.

Week 18th April

Monday 19th April – A beautiful, clear day. A little warmer than of late, but still cool out of the sun. In the hide on Bicton’s nature walk we sat and watched great, blue and coal tits flitting to and from the feeding station. A nuthatch entertained us for a while, as did a grey squirrel feeding on the ground, as cute as a button. I spotted a warbler of some sort, it may have been a chiffchaff but it made no attempt to sing so identification was not really possible – small, light brown, pale breast, narrow beak. Could be any one of them. A stately cock pheasant stalked through the clearing, languorously herding two females ahead of him, occasionally shaking his feathers and scolding ‘kerrkuk, kuk’.

Tuesday 20th April – A trip to a specialist plant nursery today – Plant World, a little way outside Newton Abbott. We are having some work done in the garden at the moment and have plans for growing things rather more unusual than is found at the garden centres; palms, exotic, large-leaved plants, plus a selection of the more unusual varieties of herbaceous perennials. If you’re ever near this place, I do recommend you pop in and have a look around. There is an interesting garden with plants set out according to the part of the world they come from, and a lovely nursery with a great selection of really healthy plants on sale. The plants are decent sized specimens and not expensive. We couldn’t resist a digitalis ferruginea gigantia, a giant foxglove with orangey-brown flowers and reaching almost 2 metres tall; an unusual form of red hot poker, kniphophia uvaria; a white goose-neck loosestrife, lysimachia clethroides; and a spiky bromeliad, puya berteroniana. They should all be ok in our bit of mild, temperate climate if we find the right spot, and I’m looking forward to seeing how they do. There was also this bucolic view across the fields towards the Teign estuary. How very Thomas Hardy. It just needed Gabriel Oak to step into the picture.

Wednesday 21st April – A real treat today. A trip to Abbotsbury Sub-Tropical Gardens just across the county border into Dorset. I’ve never visited here before but we will be sure to visit again and again. Fabulous gardens – even this early in the year when the sub-tropicals are not really doing their thing, there was so much to see. Huge tree ferns, palms, magnolia, rhododendron and azalea, really interesting ground cover plants and spring bulbs, delightful sculpture perfectly placed, a restaurant, a shop and a small nursery. Having loved the gardens, the nursery was a bit disappointing and we didn’t buy anything. If you are in this part of the world, I highly recommend the gardens, well worth the (current) £10 entry charge. We have so many fabulous places within easy distance, everywhere mentioned this week is less than 20 miles from us.

Thursday 22nd April – Today we visited our most local National Trust property – Killerton House and Gardens. You may be wondering why we’re out visiting gardens so much. Well, apart from the general pleasure of a garden visit, we are having work done in our own garden at the moment and so we’re spending this week on ‘home holiday’. Out every day so we’re out of the way of the work, no housework, no cooking allowed. Just seeking garden inspiration and eating out. What could be nicer? And we have such divine weather for it. Today cloudless, deep blue skies, the zinging green of freshly unfurled oak leaves, bluebells nodding over the grass with primroses at their feet. Tiny violets reflecting the sky, the last of the cyclamen under the trees and birdsong everywhere. It’s good to be alive.

Friday 23rd April – Another lovely day and another drop in the temperature. After an expensive visit to our local cheese shop (so many things are irresistible -Nanny Goat, Manchego, Dolce Latte) we picked up coffee and tried to find somewhere to sit out of the freezing wind. There was warmth in the sun if the wind dropped a little but blimey, it was cold otherwise. After freezing near the east beach we drove up to the town gardens and found a sheltered bench overlooking Jacob’s Ladder beach. Much better. We watched the unending, soporific roll of the waves, felt the sun on our faces (and on my ankles, exposed for the first time this year), and spent an hour in quiet relaxation. A lovely end to a lovely week.

Week 11th April

Monday 12th April – Such a cold weekend. Short-lived snow showers, hail, sleet and beautiful blue sky and sunshine in between. Much the same today, still unseasonably cold, with sharp but light rain showers. Very ‘April’ – we dodged showers on our walk, a budding tree canopy was enough to keep the drops off, and the cold air a reminder of winter not quite passed.

Friday 16th April – I apologise for the lapse in the blog this week . Still struggling with vertigo and post viral fatigue. Hopefully be back next week.