Wednesday, December 22, 2021

The Only Way is Up! (Baby)

 December 22nd. 

Despite the doom and gloom of the never-ending Fun-With-Covid, the morning has dawned clear - the first in ages that hasn't been weighed down by the miserable December grey. Yay! And it's December 22nd - which means that today will have minutely more daylight than yesterday. Yaaaaay!!!

Not only that, but it is a mere 3 days until Christmas, that most loathed of all compulsory-fun holidays - so I might make it after all! My youngest looked me up and down last night and accused me of `being the most festive of us all.' It's true (sort of). She and I made a wreath for the front door. It wasn't quite the scale or ambition of those of years gone by - but a wreath it is and quite pretty too. (Last year the bulk of the greenery came from a lovely big rosemary bush, but it has since died and so the greenery this year is a bit of this and that, scavenged from the hedges.)

We also made our annual gingerbread cookies. This is a tradition we started when we were living in Mozambique, because we couldn't find chocolates to hang on the tree. Turned out it was quite fun to bake and decorate gingerbread together, so we carried on with it when we got back to the UK. Our gingerbread no longer lands up on the tree - but we like to take some to our neighbours and it has turned into our own little family tradition - one that I hope my daughters will continue.

So on the face of it - yes, I suppose I am quite festive. BUT - and this is a proper capital BUT - I suspect that my motivation has little to do with festivity and more to do with distraction against the bleakness of the December weather. Which is probably why we all go so full-out at Christmas any-way. But I will let my youngest continue in the delusion that I am actually a closet Christmas fan...

A day I do appreciate is the midwinter solstice. This marking of the middle of the dark days - the promise of better days to come. This is a day I can get behind! As a furthering of my festive persona, I made a vegetable wellington for dinner last night, which I served with roasted veg and mulled wine ( the latter which was drastically underappreciated by the family). A reluctant cook at the best of times, I have to admit to being rather pleased with my Veg Wellie! There are loads of recipes out there, but I wanted to use sweet potato, so I went for the one in the Guardian (How to make the perfect vegetarian wellington – recipe | Food | The Guardian) which actually uses butternut squash (small detail...) I think the best approach is to look at the basics of the Wellington and then adapt to fit what you have. The mushroom mix in the recipe was, I thought, a bit boring, so I added red wine and fig chutney. And next time (should I ever feel the ambition again), I will leave out the cranberries, since the consensus was that they were `a bit weird'.

And now, the only way is up! Up and up until Spring and Summer. Yay! This morning saw the first frost of what has been a soggy year and the dog and I were out early marvelling at the light and the wonder of it all. C'mon 2022!

Oh - and Merry Christmas, Everyone.

Monday, December 13, 2021

(Almost) Bleak Mid-winter

 And so Autumn has slipped into Winter. Its not been the best of years: a rainy Summer became a rainy Autumn, is now a rainy Winter. The good news is that temperatures have been mostly mild and, until this last week, my greenhouse tomatoes were still offering up fruit. I think their days are now numbered and not even the mild weather can keep them going for much longer, but they have been a bit of salvation for what was rather a dismal year in terms of produce.

The lack of produce has meant a bit of a lack of kitchen activity - other than the fruits of my most magnificent crab apple. What a fantastic little tree! I know I have gone on about it before, but it really is the tree that keeps on giving: gorgeous blooms in the spring, lovely foliage and then hundreds of little red cherry-sized apples from September all the way through to now (the blackbirds are just finishing off the last). It really is a fantastic tree and every garden should have one!

This year my efforts at making crab apple jelly were particularly successful. I put it down to two factors: patience (never my strength) and the addition of home-made pectin. Although crab apples are quite high in pectin, the addition of the latter certainly helped. I made my own from the peelings and cores of apples (from my brilliant little apple tree), froze it and added it to my jelly. Voila! I'm not sure what recipe I used, but this video will give you general pointers: Making pectin for jam and jelly Its easy! - Bing video (Note - he uses crab apples too - but the general principal is the same.)

Not only have I made crab apple  jelly, but I also have two lots of crab apple
gin brewing away at the back of the kitchen cupboard. I tried crab apple gin for the first time last year and it turned out to be even nicer than sloe gin, so I'm making it again! The added bonus of using crab apples is that, after you have strained the gin off, you can cook them down for jelly and you get the most delicious gin-flavoured crab apple offering. Bargain!

But that really is the sum-total of the produce endeavours - jelly and gin. 

I actually have some kale growing in a tub in the greenhouse (there is a HUGE difference between the tender leaves of kale picked from your garden and that chewy chopped stuff found in the supermarket) and some token carrots in a tub in the corner of the garden. Otherwise, everything is a muted shade of mud - or very overgrown. The garden is pretty much out of bounds until February/March.

Which means that I might not get to work it again.

Yes, after much soul-searching, we have decided to move closer to our grown-up daughters. I can't say I'm not sad - I love this house, this garden, these fields - but life is a series of adventures and so we must look forward to the next one. For now, I can only hope that the person who takes over this lovely bit of land, will love it as much as I do...

And now I'm off to scavenge greenery and whatever rosehips I can find, to make a wreath - it is almost Christmas after all. More importantly - its very close to the Winter solstice - which means that the days will start getting longer. Yippee!

Saturday, September 4, 2021

Finding Nature

 I recently read an article in The Countryman that has irked me more than a little. Titled Access to Nature for All the article made some very relevant points about the benefits of open spaces on mental health and had some valid arguments about making national parks wheelchair friendly etc, but the overriding message was that certain groups are excluded from access to the countryside and Nature in general. Central to my irritation is the idea that Nature is something that is only found in rarefied, far flung places, whereas the truth is that we have a huge amount of `countryside' and nature available to us in the UK. Every city has significant green space. The country is criss-crossed with footpaths. Playing fields have edges of wildness. Country parks are commonplace, with parks such as the Lee Valley Park stretching across vast (mostly urban) areas. If I have missed something, I humbly acquiesce, but it seems to me that the only thing stopping anybody from accessing a bit of nature is a bit of local knowledge. 

And before I get labelled privileged (I am - I know I'm extremely lucky to have a garden and be surrounded by fields)  and out-of-touch, I'd like mention that I spent the first half of my life in South Africa - a vast country where almost all the land is privately owned. There is no such thing as the right to roam and national parks have paid entrance. I have found it an absolute wonder, since I first emigrated to the UK, that there is so much land accessible to the general public. Which is why the article irritated me....and led me to ponder that fact that schools are missing a very big trick: why doesn't every school spend time exploring the parks, footpaths and green spaces that are so prevalent in this country? Surely it should be written into the curriculum. If the school is near farmland, walk the footpaths across the farmland - look for mini-beasts, talk to the farmer about the crops. If the school is urban, walk to the local park - log the wildlife, talk about how we impact our environment. It seems simple and a little education of the greenery and nature around us would (hopefully) educate people about littering (anyone remember those awful scenes of beaches and parks piled high with rubbish after the first lockdown?) and the value of insects and birds. It would mitigate- and perhaps reverse- the relentless march of paved gardens and fake grass. On that topic, have a read of this: The strange death of the English garden | The Spectator

And let every garden centre sponsor a plant for a little child....

Talking of garden centres: I was astonished to see that yarrow, labelled under its posh Latin name achillia millefolium is being sold in the local garden centre at £10 a pot. Gobsmacked! It grows in abundance on just about every verge and self-seeds quite happily into most lawns. I have it in my veg
patch where it arrived all by itself and it grows in great frothy patches alongside the tractor tracks in the local fields. What a canny garden centre! I suppose that, in the year that a garden featuring ragwort won a prize, even erstwhile weeds are having a look in. And all those paved backyards could do with a pot or two of yarrow...

My own garden never ceases to fill me with joy, despite the failed veg crops (will I EVER get a tomato this year!) and onslaught of the super ninja slugs. My latest slug battle revolves around my second attempt to grow cauliflower. Having successfully sprouted a bunch of very robust looking seedlings, I planted the strongest out - only to have them stripped overnight. I tried a different area of the garden. Same story. Then I read an article about growing cauliflower in pots - apparently very viable as they don't have deep roots. Ha-ha, thought I - this will sort out the slugs. So I planted several cauliflower seedling in separate pots in the greenhouse. I think you can probably see the conclusion coming: Slugs 3 - Me 0. On the bright side, I seem to have foiled the pigeons by planting some late beans in a rubble tub in the green house.

After reading yet another gardening piece, I have planted carrots in my second rubble tub. They came up fantastically at first, but have since started disappearing at an alarming rate and there now appear to be about five left. I have no idea what happened to them. On the up side, the cucumber is producing at a rate of knots and my Autumn raspberries are giving me a handful of raspberries a day.

Then there are all the tiny animal wonders. When out tidying last week, my daughter and I were distracted by the antics of a group of little caterpillars on the willow tree. It was easy to give them personalities as some huddled together and others took off on their own. I think they were probably cabbage white caterpillars. Then we were distracted by the tiny toads that we spooked at we mowed - and again by the variety of bees on the lavender.

Not in the garden, but out walking, I was extremely excited to encounter a devil's coach horse beetle. This fiesty little creature looks a bit like an earwig and takes on the stance of a scorpion when it feels threatened. Apparently they are capable of a decent bite too. I've never seen one before, so found the
encounter very exciting (I told the dog - but he was unimpressed).

I have seen a lot more beetles this year than in past years, probably as a result of the wide uptake of No Mow May and farmers allowing the tracks and edges of fields to grow wild. In fact, despite the non-event of Summer, I have seen an abundance of insects this year. Its wonderful! Have a look at this:‘Map of dreams’ reveals scope of English rewilding project - Positive News 

I am extremely lucky to live where I do. I am so privileged to have a garden, to be able to walk through fields. Wherever you are, I hope you have found your patch of green too. Its good for the soul.

Friday, August 6, 2021

Adventures in August

I began writing this entry when it was all quiet in the garden - a sleeping sunny afternoon. In the capricious way of the British weather, it is now once again `changeable'. In moments of lull, a gentle breeze stirs the leaves of the grapevine and butterflies abound on the buddleia, lavender and leek flowers. Two minutes later, clouds roll in like spilt ink - and rain scatters the scene. Sigh. Its been one of those summers - where you're never quite sure what is going to happen next.

The deluges of the past month are the stuff of legends. Our house, despite occupying a relatively flat spot, seems safe from flooding thanks to the system of ditches along the edge of fields and parkland - unfortunately, not everyone has been so lucky and our new neighbours spent one downpour frantically brushing water out of their garage! Out in the fields, the grass and wildflowers have grown waist high and there are places where paths have become quagmires. While all the rain seems to have been fantastic for everything wild, it has been terrible for most things cultivated. After a bumper tomato crop last year, I have had to bin most of my veggie patch tomatoes as they have gone black and rotted. There are still some in pots that I hope to salvage, but its not looking good. 

And the wet has been so excellent for the slug population, that my beans have been reduced to a couple of skeletal stalks. Hats off to the plucky beans which seemed to have tried extra hard, producing blossom even without any leaves, but the resulting bean crop is miserable and thin. As for the cauliflower - those that I planted way back in the Spring and coddled under enviromesh - gone to ruin every one. Well, except for the one that I have left as a sacrifice to the butterflies who have laid eggs all over its leaves. I might say, wholeheartedly, that I have given up on cauliflower....but then I saw a packet of seeds. Romanesco Green....Any-way, so here we go again because I am nothing if not optimistic (or stupid).

I did manage to harvest some onions. (Tarrara!) From a commercial point of view, I suspect the effort of actually planting and growing onions is a bit of a waste of time since they are cheap to buy, but I did enjoy having the onions tied on twine and hanging from a line in my greenhouse, for all the world looking like I know what I am doing! The onions were an attempt at out-of-season gardening for me and it was quite nice to have something to grow in the winter.

The potatoes planted in old rubble tubs have been harvested as new potatoes - and I seem to have done quite well. No big potatoes, but I suspect that in my panic to ensure that some potatoes sprouted, I planted too many. I'm never sure when the right time is to harvest potatoes either, so they might well have done another week or two. 

After foiling the pigeons by planting beetroot in a planter instead of the veggie patch, I am delighted to report that I have actually managed to harvest some beetroot. If you are looking for a lovely veggie addition to a BBQ, try wrapping some beetroot with feta in greaseproof paper. Wrap again in foil and cook on the coals for 20 minutes to half an hour. Very tasty.

E's medicinal garden, which she approached with such enthusiasm, has now morphed into a wildlife garden (because the weeding was proving impossible.)The marshmallow are out in bloom and so, one of these days, we will be able to experiment with the roots to make cough syrup and, erm, marshmallow. As part of creating a wildlife garden I found a good bowl in a charity shop to convert to a birdbath - and was delighted to see a little frog trying it out on only its second day!. We have a solitary bee house too, but I suspect it is a bit commercial because the bees don't seem interested ( yet, I hope). I am particularly pleased with my DIY hedgehog house. Mr W. and the child have created a hedgehog house before, in our last garden. But Mr W. does like a plan. I, on the other hand, like a half-formed idea and getting things done as fast as possible. I saw a tutorial about creating a hedgehog house out of a clay plant pot. Needless to say, I didn't have a clay plant pot of suitable size - but I did have quite a large plastic one of the sort with no holes. So I made some ventilation holes on the sides, cut out a U-shaped bit on one edge to accommodate  a smaller plant pot with the bottom cut out (a tunnel), excavated a hollow which I filled with twigs and leaves and - Voila! - with the addition of some sticks for log-pile dressing: a budget hedgehog house! Of course, I realise that it is highly unlikely that a hedgehog will fancy it enough to move in - but I had a great deal of fun making it and maybe a toad will find it appealing.

On the wildlife front, a pair of blackbirds have managed to rear a family in the Virginia Creeper and the rumpled fledglings are hanging round the garden like untidy teenagers. One fluttered into the apple tree right by my head just the other day. It and I contemplated each other for a moment before I informed it, quite sternly, that it should stop pecking at my apples. Its bright little eye flickered at me and then it hopped a couple of branches away where it lurked under some leaves until I left. Hmmm - familiarity is not the friend of the fruit harvest. 

The garden can be a bit Disney at times. I was sitting at my desk at the beginning of the week when a squirrel strolled past .the open door .

 `Oi!' I yelled.

The squirrel paused, front paw poised. It looked at me, then casually continued its journey towards the house. I leapt up and headed it off at the pass, sending it scuttling down the driveway - all while the terrier snoozed within spitting distance. I had barely sat back down when a crow arrived in the apple tree and I had to be sent packing too! 

I complain in jest, of course. I know how lucky I am to be able to complain and laugh about my garden. It is such a privilege to live here, to watch the jackdaws, the crows, the blackbirds and the wren (that, incidentally, makes a lot of noise for such a little bird), the swallows that suddenly swoop  above me as I walk with the dog through a wheat field.. The wide-winged red kites that hang in the thermals, effortless. The butterflies that seem to have exploded into the garden in the last week. The dragonflies, the bees, hoverflies, moths. Even with the terrible weather and the pointless exercise of tomato growing. Even though the cauliflower have all failed. It is all wonderful.

Wonder full.

Friday, July 9, 2021

A Time of Raucous Chaos

 It is. It really is - a time of raucous chaos. My garden has, quite simply, out-manoeuvred me on every front. It is a jungle. Which is not an entirely bad thing, especially given the current re-wilding trend. And I sort-of like it...

It has been a different kind of year in most gardens, with garden legend Monty Don  and the National Trust putting their weight behind No Mow May (and beyond). No Mow May is the idea of Plantlife, an environmental charity. The big idea is that, by not mowing the lawn as the growing season begins, a range of pollinating insects (which are in steady decline in the UK) get the chance to boost their numbers. In fact, a neatly mown lawn is often compared to a desert  in environmental terms, with no places for insect populations to thrive. No Mow May has shown positive results since its inception in 2019 and this year, perhaps because Covid has forced us to rethink our environment, the no-mowing has spread in popularity. My personal garden-guru, Margaret has embraced no-mow as have many others (I see these lawns on my walks) - and I have too. Weirdly, I've never had so much fun with a mower.

It is now July and I have been playing games with my lawn since May. Unwilling to entirely give up on a mown lawn, I have compromised, initially mowing about half. This compromise has changed slightly as my most un-mown bits of garden now have paths mown through them and my most mown bits of lawn have unmown patches. It really is great fun - I'm working on a giant heart-shape in the back garden and there is a teardrop in the front. I think my new neighbours (who like a VERY neat lawn) think I'm some sort of reprobate, or have a weird visual complaint...

So the jungle starts on the lawn. My daughter's medicinal garden (I call it hers because it was her idea, but really she barely sets foot in it) has become a wildlife garden. Yes, I call it that because its overgrown. Every now and then I go in and weed around the plants that we have put in, but I almost always disturb a creature. The last time I pulled out a chunk of vegetation, a little frog jumped out! It is a hive of life, with insects all over and the rich soil full of earthworms. No wonder the frog has taken up residence.

In fact the garden as a whole, unkempt as it is, is bursting with life. After raising a brood in my shed, the blackbirds (maybe the same pair) have built a nest in the Virginia Creeper and, judging by the activity, are raising another clutch. I have seen a goldfinch in my garden for the first time and the dawn chorus is so loud that it wakes us up. Most exciting of all, my neighbour reported seeing a hedgehog on the edge of the hedge that borders our properties. How amazing is that! If not mowing and not weeding results in a hedgehog taking up residency, then a manicured garden is something I am only too happy to give up.

In the veg patch, I have harvested my first onions, currently laid out on a rack in the greenhouse as per RHS website instructions. I have eaten some beetroot and the ones left are growing well (I planted them in a planter this year following my defeat by the pigeons two years ago). The mangetout have outdone themselves in jungling over  - growing with great gusto, making a show of lovely white blooms and delivering a huge supply of pods. The strawberries have also done particularly well this year. Although many have rotted in the humid wet conditions, I still pick a large bowl's worth every day. And the raspberries are just beginning. I even have blueberries this year. Technically, I always have blueberries, but the birds usually get to them before I do. This year, they don't seem so keen. Maybe because I have encouraged insects and so they have more to eat?

Much to the dog's delight, the apples are swelling on my little apple tree, transforming it into what the dog clearly thinks is a thing of miracles - a ball tree. Once again, our house is dotted with windfall apples in various states of chewed.

Cucumbers are doing well and I have a glut of tomato plants - many of which I think are too late to fruit- but hey-ho, the fun is in the growing. As an aside, 
I am experimenting with growing upside-down tomatoes, planting cherry tomatoes in old containers and hanging them up. So far so good, but we will see what happens when (if) they bear fruit.

As for the cauliflowers. Well, I think I can safely consign them to the disaster heap. After being warned to protect them at all cost from butterflies, I built them a tent of enviromesh, which quickly became a slug safe-zone. So I removed the enviromesh. Those that have actually formed a `flower' are very un-cauliflower-y and so I have begun to pull them out. (I need space for tomatoes!) It is an experiment I don't think I will repeat.

The door of my office is open as I write. I can see the daisies in my heart-patch and the abundant green of my overgrown garden. There are birds on the lawn and a bee is buzzing around the sweetpeas just outside. Someone is mowing in some place that is not my garden. 

I feel enormously lucky.  

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Grow, grow, grow

 I cannot believe the change since last I wrote! With astronomical summer still a week away, Mother Nature has roared back to vibrant life and all of England's green and pleasant land is transformed into lush and verdant fruitfulness. Every year, I am newly amazed at how quickly the land transforms - one minute is seems all mud and cold and the next it is all heat and colour!

Here in my garden, everything seems to have grown a foot overnight and what took weeks to sprout a mere month ago, is now doing all that germinating and growing in just days. In the last day or so, the mangetout have flowered and formed pods, the beans have finally taken and the beetroot are beginning to look promising. The mixed leaves have already gone to seed and I find myself in the awkward position of thinking about pulling them out (it is, after all, only June!). And that's just the edible stuff. All along the hedgerows, flowers are in bloom. Low down, the lovely delicate stitchwort have given way to buttercups and higher up, the dog roses dot the road-side with pink and white. Even the nettles are flowering and the grass is tall and heavy with pollen (pity the hay-fever sufferers!)

In the garden, my astonishing poppies are even more astounding than last year. With blooms the size of saucers, their rich dark pollen is a magnet for bees. After the early warm snap followed by more cold in April/May, I feared for the bees. They seemed to have woken up too early and I wondered how many had died off. This seemed justified with very few bees out at the end of May, but they are back! And loving the floral banquet set out for them. They
particularly seem to enjoy the poppies, rolling around in the purple pollen, making delighted buzzy sounds. (I am sure my neighbours think I'm slightly unhinged as I stand staring at poppies and giggling at the bees' antics...)

It is all a bit Disney out there with the proliferation of life. Not only are the bees out in force, but a clutch of blackbird chicks have just fledged in the garden shed. I love blackbirds and usually have a fairly good idea of which ones are about, so when I heard their alarm call in early May and saw a magpie close to their nest, I feared for them. Sadly, the magpie did, indeed plunder their nest (along with that of the pigeons nesting in a creeper) and I watched the brown female blackbird hopping around on the lawn with a definite sense of loss. Fortunately, nature is resilient and it wasn't that long after that I spotted her (and I'm convinced it was the same one) sitting on a nest tucked into the corner of my garden shed. The nest itself was a work of wonder - very round and crafted out of grass, apparently glued together with mud. When and how they built it is a mystery - but there she was!

It was all a bit inconvenient for a while as I had to vacate the shed for the bird. And then I though the nest had been abandoned because she seemed to leave it for long periods. So imagine my utter surprise to see four little heads sticking out of it! Astonishingly, the  babies didn't seem to make any noise at all. I have had nest of blue tits and sparrows about before, and the chicks are very vocal, but I never once heard the blackbird babies make a sound - almost as if they knew they were hiding.

 They grew quickly and last weekend I peeked in to find them gone. With no feathers or evidence of pillage, I have to assume that they fledged successfully - and my neighbour rescued a young bird from his greenhouse , which seems to support this idea. What an absolute joy and privilege to have seen these little birds grow.

And so, the sun is out and the world is great and good! I hope all is well wherever you are.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Come on Spring!!!

 I've been holding out for Spring since...well, a long time! And Spring seems slow in coming this year. Last year at this time, we were in the full throes of the first pandemic lockdown. The weather was glorious and the garden was in full bloom. This year - not so much. Here we are at the end of April and I have had to haul out a sheet of garden mesh to protect my newly planted seedlings against yet another late frost. It's sunny out, but the North wind is up, the nights are nippy and the blackthorn is still the dominant bloom. 

All quite frustrating given that I am raring to go, fired up by all those months of wistful, waiting lockdown. (And I suspect that there are many others like me as we emerge from lockdown number three). Admittedly, in my eagerness, I probably started the season too early. If the seed packet said `sow March to April' I sowed in early March. Which means that I now have lots of seedlings that need to get into the ground - hence the enviro-mesh and frustration. I have never been very good at patience.

On the experimental side, I have given up the quest to grow sweet potatoes and have re-purposed two rubble-tubs into potato planters instead. Lots of gardeners don't bother with potatoes as they are cheap to buy, but a potato straight out the garden is a very tasty thing indeed. I have tried to grow them on and off since I have had my veggie patch. The rubble-tubs in question are recycled laundry tubs whose handles broke. Fortunately, potato planters have no need of handles and so, with a couple of holes drilled in them - voila! So far, so good: the potatoes are sprouting and the tubs are holding up. All the literature promises loads of lovely potatoes in an easy-to-harvest format. Hmmm - I will keep you posted.

While the garden is taking its time to burst into life, the local fauna are having a field day. We appear to have a ratty resident under our decking once again. The dog told us it was there long before we saw it, but I know it to be a rat, because I opened the curtains one early morning, so see it sitting out in full view. To be fair, it is quite a good-looking rat and  I do have a soft-spot for rodents, but we are not so na├»ve as to think that it can set up home. Getting it to move on has, however, become a dilemma. When we had a rat a couple of years ago, we set traps, but kept catching mice (we are in the countryside). Now we have a humane trap, but despite baiting it every night and finding the bait gone every morning, Ratty has eluded us and our only catch has been a traumatised blackbird. Many years ago, when we lived in Messina, South Africa, the standard way of discouraging unwanted visitors (from rats to scorpions) was to wash down the area with Jeyes Fluid. Presumably the potent smell is too much for them. So I have a tin of Jeyes fluid which will be the next experiment in getting the rat to move.

And the rat has not been the only visitor. The husband arrived home one afternoon to report that he had had to drive around a dove on the driveway. Further inspection found it to be a juvenile ring neck that seemed to have become too cold. It was unresponsive, but alive, so we took it inside and let it overnight in a box by the radiator. The next morning I let it out and was pleased to see a parent bird appear almost immediately. The youngster, with a lot on encouragement from its parent, flapped onto the hedge and away across the neighbours garden.

Then there was the juvenile blackbird that suddenly appeared at the sliding doors. Confused, it kept flapping into the glass. It had to be caught (a case of walking up to it and enclosing it in my hands) and turned around so that it could fly away, chirping loudly at the indignation.

 And then there was the bat. I was raking the garden early last week when I heard a high-pitched screaming. There, quite disguised against the soil, was a little bat, shrieking away. I was convinced that I had raked it although there was no sign of injury. I put it in a box and called the Essex Bat Group who have been absolutely fantastic. The bat is a pipistrelle and after collecting it, bat rescuer, Steve found that it was covered in glue. Apparently the glue from fly papers sticks to these little bats and can ground them, making them easy prey to cats. Where I thought the bat had lost an ear, it turned out that his ear was glued down, as well as one eye being completely covered in glue. Happily, my little bat turned out to be quite determined to live and was eating almost as soon as the glue was removed. He was brought back by Steve and his partner at the end of the week and released, well-recovered - a magical micro-second of a tiny bat against the full moon. I only hope that he is successful at avoiding any other glue!

And finally, over the weekend morning, an amazing bloom of spiders happened in my green house. I was astonished to see a hammock of tiny little yellow spiderlings spun between an old container and a seedling where I hadn't noticed a web before. They appear to be garden spiders and mass hatchings are common at this time of year, but I have never seen one before. The little spiders seem to have spent much of their time sleeping, but blowing on the hammock results in much movement - like skittering gold dust. Now, a couple of days in, the hammock is emptying out - presumably as the little spiders go off to find their own areas of the garden to populate. They were hard to capture in a picture - they look like little grains of dirt on the left.

So maybe Spring is here after all - and hopefully the warmth and great growing are just around the corner!

The Only Way is Up! (Baby)

 December 22nd.  Despite the doom and gloom of the never-ending Fun-With-Covid, the morning has dawned clear - the first in ages that hasn&#...