Swallows At Barleycorn
Along with this gift came the blessing of optimism, which helps me to look at the broader picture in life, and, in times of adversity, helps to sustain me. I believe that we are the stewards of the earth and that we are meant to live in harmony with Nature in all its glory. When I contemplate the difficulties facing a pair of swallows returning all the way from Africa in order to rebuild their nest in the same place in our barn, year upon year...well, that blows my mind!
How do they do it? Each Spring I await their arrival with bated breath, and my spirits soar when I hear their excited twittering overhead. Our barn doors have a space at the top where they swoop in and out to their nest, like trapeze artists, with perfect ease, never missing the mark. Taz and Cookie, the barn cats, are well-used to sharing their quarters over the Summer months with two messy broods of chicks.
Mecanopsis Cambria, Welsh Poppies
Even though the path behind our barn is 70 foot long, it is a mere metre in width. When we came here, almost eighteen years ago, it seemed appropriate to sow wild flowers along the length of it. Some years biennial foxgloves grow in profusion, their long tapering spires offering tunnels of delight to foraging bees. This year, it's the turn of the Welsh poppies to hum with droning bumblies.
Cepaea Hortensis, Banded Snail
And what about the place of the humble snail in my garden? Loving all God's creatures as I do, I could not possibly imagine that my duty should be one of extermination for the entire population, for how else would the beautiful song thrush, which serenades me each morning, thrive? Or, for that matter, the colony of frogs which breed in the two ponds? And what would our resident hedgehogs feed on?
Wildlife will only thrive in a nurturing environment and form part of the magical web of life in our gardens with our help. That does not mean to say I skip for joy when I discover a row of seeds has disappeared overnight. Instead, I grow some of my salad crops in pots and in long containers, as well as in the earth. That way, there's always some to spare. I find eggshells and coffee grinds helpful deterrants, as well as a border of Scotch marigolds or alliums.
Another exciting visitor to arrive in our garden from Africa each year is the Painted Lady butterfly. This year there seems to be a mass migration, here in the UK. This one is feeding on the bistort, Polygonum Superbum, which I grow as an early nectar border plant beside the pond at the front of the house. Some people find the bistort a noxious weed, and, on first appearances, it does not seem to have the wow factor, but my feelings positively warm to it when I observe so many butterflies, bees and insects foraging on its flowers.
The colour palette in the garden consists mainly of shades of pink, blue, mauve, lavender, violet and purple, with some yellow and white, here and there. But, all that subtlety changes dramatically in the month of June, when the Hallelujah Chorus of the garden - the Oriental poppies - punctuate the otherwise muted tones. I am not alone in feeling attracted by the enormous vibrant redheads, with their striking inky-black anthers, for the bees pay them frequent visits too.