Up the Garden Path

It was a gorgeous warm sunny day – blue sky, fleecy clouds, blackbirds singing nearby. As I went up the garden, to go and work in my shed, I passed the very small, but madly overgrown flower border that reminded me of ‘The Day of the Triffids’. It badly needed attention, and during the morning, every time I passed by, I yanked up a few weeds, or snipped a few stalks off the strange plants that were bursting out of their earthy bed – sprawling everywhere, all over the path.

Everything was growing like giants. Nasturtiums with huge leaves were shooting up and blotting out most of the sunlight from smaller plants, like the marigolds, overshadowed, struggling bravely to survive in the gloomy darkness.

Took a few phone photos of the nasturtiums. I was pleased to see that the garden bugs had enjoyed quite a few good meals from their enormous leaves.

The sunflower plants were doing pretty well too – now taller than myself (though no flowers as yet). But there were only 3 of them!  Only 2 tall sunflowers and one shorter one had survived and grown  from the 12 seeds I’d planted. There was also another huge plant growing up very close to one of them. I still haven’t a clue what it is, and don’t dare pull it up in case it makes the sunflower fall over.

I was so disappointed not to have a whole row of 12…  I blame the local birds . They just don’t care!

And what were all these other strange plants, that seemed to be literally doubling in number and size every day? I thought that many of them looked a bit like potato plants – but they couldn’t be, because I hadn’t involved myself with spuds for at least a couple of years. If they were indeed spud plants…. how on earth had they got there?

I cut back the biggest plants, and uprooted a few of the smaller ones – and told my husband I was going to uproot the whole lot, because obviously nothing was going to grow out of them.

I got to work with a small  garden fork, and was astonished (well, shocked, actually) to see a large, very healthy looking spud (Desiree) coming up out of the ground.

Later, indoors, with a nice cup of tea, I finally figured out the answer to something that had been puzzling me for a long time.  I worked out the reason for all those giant nasturtiums and the crazy proliferation of strange plants, as well as the healthy crop of spuds.

It wasn’t seeds from the patch of wildflowers I planted a year ago to attract butterflies.
It wasn’t some strange alien virus that was going to make the plants creep into the house at night.
It all came from the load of compost I had chucked on to the garden over a year ago, when we got rid of our old compost bin.  Of course! How silly!

I think I might give up gardening for now, and am wondering whether you can think of any other interesting hobbies I might take up?

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Points of View: Windmill Lane to the Torridge Estuary

Morning

Nine o’clock

Clear air. Warm sunlight.

View 1. looking across to the river…

All is calm and peaceful…

I lean over the gate at the beginning of the track, and gaze out towards the river and beyond. No wind. No sound.. underscored by a few quiet bird calls through the trees.

I become aware of faint, but pervasive noise from sky and land: planes, the dull roar of traffic from nearby roads, and unknown machinery from farther afield. It sounds like building or road works. The beginning of a working day.

View 2. … I make my way down through the trees towards the river.

I walk carefully down the wet muddy track. I’ve slipped and tripped too many times in the past here, over sharp stones and tangled tree roots, to risk being careless. I hear the birds. I see and hear them flitting above me and try to identify their different calls, but I am no good at this sort of thing. A blackbird scuttles across the path in front of me.

View 3

Down to a lower track. I sit down on the old wooden bench overlooking the river. A year or two ago, I could see right across to the buildings and fields on the other side. Now the familiar view is hidden by a mass of bright fresh summery green.

nearby, to the right – another gate…

View 4

Looking across the river

Planes still in the sky

Pervasive traffic noise now increased in volume.

From beyond the trees and foliage, I hear voices approaching from lower down the bank. I turn to leave, and as I turn, I hear two little motor boats on the river. Their irritating sound goes on and on and on and on and on into the distance until I can hear them no more.

I walk on through the trees, along the river’s edge. Then… back up the hill towards home.

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Fleeting Moments: Bickleton Wood

Leaving the car, I entered the stillness and silence of the woods.

A solitary fly buzzed past my ear

Small birds sang in the tree tops, high above.

Sunlight spread over the ground

In bright pools

Then, a slight flurry of a breeze and a scattering of golden leaves

Drifted down..

Thinking of the ‘balance of nature’, and its endless cycles and transformations… Without trees and the oxygen they give us, we would probably not be able to breathe.

PLEDGE
This post is part of my pledge towards supporting North Devon Biosphere‘s important Nature Recovery Plan.

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Close to the Ground

I sat down under a tree, and looked around. I admired the strength and power of the tree’s trunk and its rough craggy bark. At close quarters I peered, fascinated, into its patterns and crevices.

Clinging ivy snaked its way ever upwards, insinuating and hooking its tendrils into the crevices as it climbed – little by little, inch by inch.

A light covering of familiar palmate leaves almost camouflaged the tree’s massive roots: roots bound tight to the ground with ropes of ivy.

Crawling around on the ground, I saw a proliferation of plant life in all its phases: ivy leaves everywhere; a thick extensive carpet of dead pine needles; shrivelled up leaves; a large number of cones; thin brittle twigs; brambles; ferns; grasses; mosses; old disintegrating pieces of bark; a small holly seedling shooting up…. and a few tiny black insects scurrying busily around in the undergrowth.

As I turned and began to walk back out of the woods…

Lower woodland at Rosemoor.

… my eye was drawn up to the Light….

Looking upwards to the tree tops and the light from the sky.

PLEDGE
This post is part of my pledge towards supporting North Devon Biosphere‘s important Nature Recovery Plan.

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Review 2/2 – The Young Blackbirds

“I value my garden more for being full of blackbirds than of cherries, and very frankly give them fruit for their songs.”

~ Joseph Addison

(Joseph Addison. (1672-1719), Essayist, poet and politician).

A couple of days later, I saw two of the birds sitting on the railings near the kitchen window. They both seemed to be fully grown and identical in size and shape. One was getting fed by the other, and I would love to have got a photo… but by the time I had run upstairs for my camera, they had flown away.

I was seriously confused – there now seemed to be several young blackbirds hanging around here – all the same size, a little bit smaller than the original Mr and Mrs B (who seem to have disappeared), and with varying plumage colour – from mid brown to pure black, or a mixture of both colours.

It might have been a good idea to do a little bit of research online… but that wouldn’t have been nearly so much fun as just watching and wondering!

During the sunny days of mid-July, all the blackbirds have enjoyed running up and down the garden path, sunbathing, hiding behind various plants and bushes and taking little sips of water from their dish.

I would often see one or other of them come scuttling down the garden path towards the kitchen, sometimes followed by a little entourage of very young, very noisy sparrows. Everyone having a jolly good time.

I have decided that like human children, a lot of what they were doing was play, and learning life skills, including the feeding of each other. Of course, I might be wrong about this, along with many of my other ideas (which I am always willing to change)!

These days, things have quietened down, here in the garden. One male and one female blackbird have taken up residence under the azalea bush: a dark, well-camouflaged spot strategically placed close to the food and water corner and the kitchen door. They live sedately, occasionally coming out to sunbathe or to survey the neighbourhood.

I give them very little food these days (except when they come along and blatantly ask for it). I think they should be looking for their own! But I do worry about the sparrows – particularly since I heard on the radio recently that house sparrows are at high risk of extinction, and are on the RSPB Red List.

However, I will do my best to make sure they are all OK for as long as possible.


Here’s a bit of information from the RSPB website about the sparrows and other familiar, well-loved birds.
And here is an older newspaper article, showing that the decline has been going on for some time.


PLEDGE
This post is part of my pledge towards supporting North Devon Biosphere‘s important Nature Recovery Plan.

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Review 1/2: Self-Educating with Blackbirds


Now’s the time for me to review this blackbird saga: from unseen egg to lounging adolescent…

Back in July, I watched the clematis arch for some time, looking and listening for signs of continuing bird life and chicks – but day after day, all was quiet – no fluttering, no chirping from within. I began to wonder: are they all dead, or have they just flown the nest and gone away?

Mr and Mrs B seemed to have vanished too – although Mr B did turn up one day with a beak full of chopped worms and grubs. He stopped, saw there was nobody ‘at home’ and went away again.

I couldn’t figure it out… until one day a male blackbird came pottering about near the arch.  Who was he? Either a different bird, or Mr B had lost a lot of weight.

Then a brown one appeared. I wasn’t sure whether male or female, as he seemed to have some black patches amongst the brown.

The two birds seemed smaller, slimmer and sleeker than Mr and Mrs B.  And then I realised: of course – these must be the missing chicks!

A few days later, yet another brown one appeared!

This one followed the black one around closely, expecting to be fed….  ‘Blackie’ was patient for a long time as he kept trying to avoid this close proximity, particularly as he was busily occupied with a delicious grape. Eventually he got thoroughly exasperated, rammed the remains of the grape into the other one’s beak, and flew off.

Another day, the same thing happened. But this time, after a while, ‘Blackie’ led the other one over to their dish, containing one grape and two or three raisins. He quietly led him right up to the grape, pointed to it with his beak, then went away.

For a moment the brown one stood staring at the grape, made an attempt at getting hold of it, but then wobbled and retreated. I wondered whether he might be injured or maybe had a mental health problem… but by this time I had lost interest, and I didn’t wait to see!

PLEDGE
This post is part of my pledge towards supporting North Devon Biosphere‘s important Nature Recovery Plan.

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Gardening

An excerpt from my notes just over a week ago – on a dull-weather Sunday.

The restrictions of Covid this year have resulted in my having to spend a lot of time isolated at home: my attention has become closely focused on my immediate surroundings and the natural world just outside my back door.

In our tiny garden I have made some attempts to grow stuff, including  a few fruit bushes, resulting in much wrestling with garden netting, foil strips and old picture frames to keep the birds off.

Sweet Peas striving to get in to the blueberry bushes

I also seem to have produced a mass of monster nasturtium plants.  The huge leaves of their foliage are up to my waist, and proliferating all over the place, including up the wall at the back and right across the paving at the front.

 I know perfectly well that nasturtiums prefer poor soil – but, unfortunately I completely forgot we had emptied a load of rich compost over the site a few weeks ago. Now, the flowers are almost completely hidden by an overwhelmingly dense canopy of foliage. Pruning time, I think!

Nasturtiums

Alongside the nasturtiums, I planted some seed matting of  plants to attract pollinators, but so far, I have only seen one solitary bee. These plants too have grown to enormous height – actually I think most of them are weeds, amongst which I have discovered a few potato plants left over from last year’s adventures.

I enjoy the physical activity, the fresh air, the bird songs, the scent of green leaves…

I enjoy crawling around on the ground; the earthy scents; feeling the texture of the soil as I crumble it in my hands,  and the black grime under my fingernails.

If you are a keen gardener, you might be interested to join the ‘Superfood Garden Summit’, running live from 21st to 24th July. I have just seen the first episode on Zoom, which was fascinating – and you can also join their Facebook Group (same title/name) to catch their recordings.


PLEDGE STATEMENT

The North Devon Biosphere (where I live) has launched a massive Nature Recovery Plan as their contribution to tackling the ecological emergency here in Northern Devon.  I won’t go into detail here, but, if interested, you can read all about it on their website:

https://www.northdevonbiosphere.org.uk/nature-recovery-plan.html

They are enlisting the help of local communities, or indeed anyone with an interest in this part of the world.

As my contribution, I have pledged to write blog posts about my personal experiences in nature: all sorts of random thoughts, feelings and observations as I meander around the area – starting right here at home, crawling about on the ground in my own back yard.

My idea is that people will recognise and resonate with the same thoughts, moods, feelings, or insights, however weird, which will help us all to become more connected with nature and each other.

COMING UP NEXT – more about the blackbirds 😊

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A Morning Routine you might like to copy (or not)!

Still not quite my old self, I wake up at 6am.

Spend some time

On deep meditation and various kitchen tasks etc.,

Contemplating my indigestion – caused, I think, by drinking a large glass of lemon water followed by two even larger cups of Yorkshire tea…

The sun has come out – such a relief after the cold weather and incessant rain and winds we were experiencing recently.

I can hear Mr B (blackbird) in the garden, calling for his breakfast

Mrs B joins in the chorus from further along the fence

I dig out a couple of blueberries from the fridge. Warm them up by placing them in a little dish on top of my teacup.

Continue preparing breakfast

Muesli for me; ‘Buggy Nibbles’ for Mr and Mrs B… plus the odd raisin or two.

Blackbird with Blueberry 2021

——————————–

Creep around outside the back door for quite some time, trying without success to get photos – hoping the birds won’t notice what I am doing.

Of course, they do, and disappear.

Indoors again. It is such a lovely day I decide to do some washing.Upstairs to fetch load of washing. By the time I get back, Mr B is demanding more breakfast –

Things go quiet.

OK – I will sit here on the garden bench and I will not move until I have got at least one decent photo of Mr B. (That’s when I have figured out how the ** camera works).

Mr and Mrs B come along to their food area once again for second breakfast. I am sitting motionless. I have slowly and carefully got the phone camera at the perfect angle and focus.

Unfortunately I lose concentration and cross my legs just at the critical moment – sending Mrs B running up the path as fast as her little legs can go. Mr B gives me a dirty look for frightening his wife.

I give up.

Upstairs again, I do about 30 mins of qigong practice

I come down for my own breakfast, but suddenly remember there was a  load of compost in bins, tin baths and buckets that all needed drying out – now is the ideal time.  I had accidentally allowed the baths and buckets to get seriously flooded with rainwater, thinking the boards I had balanced across the top were enough to stop this from happening.

Heave bins of compost into the sun. Also the 2 blueberry bushes in containers, that I had been protecting from the wind behind garden furniture (ever-hopeful).

Rescue a bunch of worms that fell out of the bottom of the containers.

In the kitchen, the washing cycle in the machine has now finished. Decide I might as well hang it all out to dry in the sun before finally coming indoors for my breakfast.

——————–

Mrs B, terrified of the washing, takes a nose dive into our once-beautiful clematis arch where the happy couple have built their nest…. I am waiting for chicks!

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Sunshine – home dry – Lockdown

A year of lockdowns seems to have greatly narrowed my horizons,
and had a strange effect on my state of mind…

After breakfast  daffodills, verge
Brighter today
Sun shining. Cold and breezy.
Gas man cometh.
Walk to pharmacy for A’s meds.

 

Crisp cold sunshine
Along Fore Street, people are out jogging
Crocuses and daffodil spears are pushing up
through the soil of the flower beds.
New life growing out of death.
I like the way nature is allowed a certain amount of freedom here, here along the old stone-walled verge
of the street

I like the friendly mix of ‘nature and culture’

Back home, Mr B is perched waiting for me on the railings and has brought along all the sparrows – making rather a lot of noise.
I have run out of grapes, but tell him I am expecting a delivery tomorrow. Meanwhile a wood pigeon is munching away at our once lovely clematis arch.

 

Hand wash A’s jersey, and put outside to dry in the fresh sunny breeze

Go up to the top of the house (two flights of stairs), sit down at my computer, and see through the window that it has started to hail.

Go back down again, out into the wind and the hail and the sleet, and bring in washing.

Make myself a nice hot drink and think about lunch.

Chimney man cometh, closely followed by the window cleaner.

Chimney man dismantles the gas fire, and requires old sheets to protect the carpet. I can only find an old tablecloth, so go out again (now raining) and fetch several old duvet covers from my shed (studio).

Then out into the cold wet street (though now sunny again) to confirm payment details with window cleaner – fortunately, missing the worst of a hosepipe spray of cold water from above as I step through the front door.

 

Return just in time to hear the chimney man giving A a rather alarming quote for the work that needs doing…  A is not feeling very well.

Sit down quietly with a nice glass of Australian Merlot.

 

blackbird

Mr B.

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The Insects

   “The latest scientific research shows that insects are dying out up to eight times faster than larger animals with 41 per cent of insect species facing extinction.” This is what I read on Eventbrite’s announcement for an online event that took place about a week ago.

The event was organised and hosted by Moor Meadows, a Dartmoor-based community group devoted to restoring and creating flower-rich grasslands on every scale.

I was intrigued. I had been hearing for quite some time (on news media etc.) about the alarming, ever-increasing decline of insects in our world –particularly of concerns about pollinators and other beneficial insects that are becoming extinct. So, I registered for what turned out to be a fascinating online presentation: ‘The Garden Jungle, how to save our insects’ by Prof Dave Goulson .

I am writing this purely from the perspective of an ordinary UK resident in Devon as, apart from a few nasty experiences in other countries – I know almost nothing about foreign insects (actually, nothing very much about our own either). What I do know is: insects, of course, are an essential part of our planet’s food chain; they are crucially important pollinators, and utterly necessary in terms of biodiversity.

Apart from their usefulness, the beauty and character of many of our insects, such as butterflies, bees and dragonflies is of huge value in itself – lifting our spirits and helping us to remember that life is fundamentally good and abundant.

It seemed important for me to learn a bit more about what is going on.

Photo by Shelly Pence on Unsplash

Dave Goulson is an eminent bee expert and author, and founder of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust. He is Professor of Biology (Evolution, Behaviour and Environment) at the University of Sussex.

It was good to listen to his clear and accurate account of the insect situation, and what we might do about it.

He began by reminding us we are creating a number of serious inter-related problems here on our planet, such as climate change, which tends to get the most attention.  One of these problems is that of wildlife species disappearing fast.

It is known by science that we are in the middle of what we call the 6th mass extinction: species, large and small, are going the fastest for 65 million years, the time of the dinosaurs. The dinosaurs went extinct because of a meteor crash: this time the cause is us humans and our predatory behaviour. Dave reckoned that on average, about one species an hour is going (which is most likely to be an insect).

Why are they declining?
There are many reasons for this, including loss of habitat, which is the main cause, together with the widespread use of pesticides and insecticides.

Loss of wildflower meadows has had a massive impact upon insects, not to mention other life-supporting systems. Research shows that we have lost at least 97% of our flower meadows since the 1930’s. Here’s a 2018 article from The Independent, and there are many similar reports online.

We have lost our flower meadows to widespread arable monoculture and so-called ‘improved grassland’. Much bigger fields, growing mechanisation, and increased use of chemicals for the sole purpose of killing insects – all of these aspects are major contributing factors towards our sad loss.

Why is it so important if insects disappear?
Well, it is important because if they were to vanish, the planet would be in deep trouble, as insects are involved in almost every ecological process (meaning that if they all vanished, the Earth’s vital processes would simply stop).

Of the many helpful functions of insects, the best-known is as pollinators – they pollinate not only wildflowers, but also ¾ of our food crops that we find in supermarkets. As Dave said: We need to look after the insects. The truth is: if they were not here, millions of people would probably starve to death.

Photo by John Cameron on Unsplash

Clearly, we need to change way we grow food. Our mainstream methods are unsustainable. They generate greenhouse gas emissions, are responsible for much soil erosion, and are the biggest drivers of biodiversity loss.  

What can we do to turn things around?
Dreadful though things appear at the moment, Dave explained, it is completely possible for all of us to make even the smallest of changes to the way we tend our gardens and outdoor spaces. Ways that would help the insects recover and begin to reverse the downward trend. There is a huge number of gardens all over the country, which could become a network of small insect habitats.

We can be careful about what we plant or use in the garden. We can allow our gardens to run a little bit wild, let the grass and weeds grow a bit, and plant flowers that attract butterflies, bees, or other insects.  This will not only provide a welcome resting place for these creatures but give us much sensory pleasure and satisfaction that flat green lawns and concrete paving cannot provide.

It is easy to search online for books and websites on attracting butterflies and other beneficial insects to our gardens – including Dave’s own most recent book, “Gardening for Bumblebees”on choosing the best varieties of plants and herbs. Everyone can do something, even if we only have a window box or a few plant pots at our disposal. 

Then there are the council-run areas like parks, cemeteries, verges that could be planted with areas of wildflowers. Many people are already giving nature a helping hand in places like these.

Dave gave us a few tips on managing these public grassy areas. Rather than just allow it all to go wild, show that it is being responsibly managed by defining a particular area of interest where wildflowers are allowed to grow, or by perhaps mowing a visitors’ pathway through the middle of that area.

There are lots of great pictures and information about plants and wildlife from the many Nature, and wildlife organisations, such as Moor Meadows.   There is some very useful information from the Tarka Country Trust: ‘Wildflower Verges – Getting Started’ and there is also the Road Verge Campaign run by Plantlife.

Importantly, of course, there are the Wildlife Trusts.

Currently, there is considerable alarm concerning the government’s decision to allow the ‘temporary’ re-introduction of highly poisonous neonicotinoid pesticides, that are known to kill bees, whether or not they feed off the plants that have been sprayed. You can find some more details about it on this page from Devon Wildlife Trust: https://www.devonwildlifetrust.org/news/bad-news-bees-government-reverses-ban-bee-killing-neonicotinoids .

The Wildlife Trust’s Petition is on this page too, requesting the government to reconsider their decision. Other organisations also have similar petitions, including Petition Parliament: https://petition.parliament.uk/.  It goes without saying, that the more petitions that are signed, the better!

Photo by Venkata Suresh on Unsplash

My blog post here has just skimmed over the surface of Dave’s talk. I hope it will arouse your interest in finding out more.

It pleases me to imagine a new ‘grassroots’ movement slowly but inexorably growing underground – to be known as Reclaim the Streets for Plants and Insects.  This would be a quiet army of gardeners meeting in potting sheds and allotments throughout the country, working unobtrusively on grass verges, roundabouts and other council-run areas, nurturing and encouraging wild plants to flourish once again for the benefit of all of life.

Not forgetting the petitions… Given what we have learned about the causes and potential consequences of our rapidly declining insect population, the petitions are vitally important, and I am certainly signing all that I come across. Here’s hoping we get an appropriate and intelligent response from the government authorities.

For further information:

As well as his range of fascinating books, Dave Goulson has many videos on YouTube on bees and other insects, biodiversity, flowers, food crops, and why insects are dying out.

Moor Meadows will soon be hosting a talk on the importance of flower-rich grasslands. All their events are announced on their website.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decline_in_insect_populations  – Decline in Insect Populations
This Wikipedia page has good information, and an easy to navigate List of Contents.

 

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