Wednesday 28 February 2007

Flying mammals.

One of the joys we experienced as a family during our first Summer here, was the discovery of pipistrelle bats. These tiny, harmless creatures, small enough to fit in a matchbox, would appear, seemingly out of nowhere, just before sunset each evening, and would fly around the house and over the ponds catching insects, moths and gnats for a couple of hours at a time.

There was always a frisson of excitement whenever they flew, twisting and diving, really close to where we were standing, yet never actually touching us, due to their echo-location. Their rapid, agile, acrobatic flight entertained us all. The more frequent their visits, the longer our boys stayed outside to watch the nocturnal display. This gave me an idea.

One evening while our boys were busy indoors, my husband and I crept out of the house to collect two of the lounger chairs from the outhouse and set them up in an open area in the garden. Then we brought out two sleeping bags and two pairs of binoculars.

The look on their faces as they crawled down into the sleeping bags and lay on their backs looking up at the bats, as well as at the stars in the night sky through their binoculars, was one of wonder and excitement. In this way, they were able to stay snug on chillier evenings for the duration of the acrobatic display, and escape midge bites.

To this day, we have never discovered where the bats live. We have neither seen evidence of them in the outhouse, nor in the loft of our house, nor in the belfry of our nearby church. Perhaps they live in the old trees which border the field across the road from us. Wherever they are roosting and hibernating, their secrecy keeps them safe.

Tuesday 27 February 2007

Humble bumbles.

Strolling in the garden this morning, I followed the sound of a busy bumble bee to where it was flying about the crocuses, aconites, primroses and snowdrops, feeding on nectar. It made me think how much I enjoy listening to their humming in the flower borders, from early Spring through to the first frosts of Autumn.

With all its myriad of flowers, our garden depends on the pollination of honey bees, who dash about hither and thither, and their distant round, furry cousins, the humble bumbles, who trundle slowly and gently collecting pollen and nectar. A decline in their numbers could cause large-scale changes to our garden.

Their greatest threat is from pesticides and any chemicals, which, if poured on the earth, would affect also the welfare of invertebrates, insects and the birds who eat them. As a nature lover, wishing to live in harmony with all the creatures who visit our garden, it’s important to me to be as organic as possible.

To this end, I grow as large a variety of pollen-producing flowers as the garden will hold, even leaving early dandelions here and there to feed the queens. In Autumn, my husband helps me gather up all our leaf litter to ensure we have a good supply to put under our hedges where a queen might choose to hibernate, and, in early Spring, build her nest. In return, the bees buzz about keeping me company, all the while humming their soothing songs, as we go about our separate business in the garden.

Monday 26 February 2007

Under the gleaming Summer sky.

As a child, full of fanciful imagination, I always thought of damselflies, mayflies, dragonflies, moths and butterflies as the fairies who came to visit our garden. There was always something magical about them. Perhaps it was because they could fly. Perhaps it was their amazing diaphanous, iridescent, technicolored wings. Perhaps it was because they always came on sunny days. At any rate, they always lifted my spirits and made me feel happy to see them.

Wishing to continue my acquaintance with the fairies, I have established lots of nectar borders within our garden. As a result we have frequent visits from a variety of butterflies and some of the species find suitable habitats to lay their eggs too. It means there has to be a compromise, of course – lacy foliage on some of the annuals and perennials – but my intention is to encourage them to visit and, hopefully, to breed and continue the species.

The cabbage whites like aubretia, nasturtiums and ragged robin, whereas the small tortoiseshells prefer scabious and Michaelmas daisies. In late Summer we often see as many as thirty butterflies – a mixture of peacocks, red admirals, cabbage whites and tortoiseshells - feeding on the inula daisies for days on end. We have only occasional visits from the orange tip, though I grow honesty flowers especially to attract it. The meadow brown is a rare visitor too because I don’t have grass, which it prefers. But fleeting visits are better than none.

Sunday 25 February 2007

Summer snowflakes.

While working in the outhouse yesterday, a tortoiseshell butterfly fluttered up and down one of the windows, frantically trying to free one of its wings from a strand of cobweb to which it was attached. It’s fight for survival took me back to the first year we came here, when the farmer, whose field adjoins our garden, grew a border of rape around the barley in his field, as supplementary food for his sheep.

In late July and August, hundreds of cabbage white caterpillars, crawled from the leaves of the rape, over the stone-dyke wall, across the bare expanse of our garden and up onto the walls of our house where they set about making their chrysalises. This gave me an idea.

After our boys had gathered little twigs from the garden, we placed them inside a large plastic aquarium. Then we set about collecting a fair number of caterpillars before they reached the walls of the house, and put them inside the tank, whereupon they began attaching themselves to the twigs. When they were all safely inside their cases, we covered the tank with clingfilm, making lots of breathing holes on the top.

We put the aquarium in a dark cupboard till the following April, when we transferred it to the patio window, from where, over the ensuing weeks, we watched fascinated, as, one by one, the caterpillars emerged from their chrysalises, dried their wings in the sun and flew away to freedom. Each year, I leave patches of nettles growing amongst our herbaceous borders for the cabbage whites to lay their eggs on, but they always prefer my nasturtiums.

Saturday 24 February 2007


Foxgloves are flowers which I associate with my childhood, when our family made an annual pilgrimage - 300 miles each way - sometimes by train, sometimes by car, followed by a boat-crossing, to spend the Summer holidays on the island where our grandparents lived.

I preferred the train journeys, looking out at the ever-changing panorama of wild flowers - the most striking of which was the foxglove - growing along the embankments, whereas our car seemed to crawl along at a snail’s pace, often with only large tracts of moorland for miles on end, and little of interest to break the boredom of the journey, barring the beauty of those striking flowers.

The tall, elegant spires – in shades of white, pink and deep purple - grew in profusion along bankings, in deciduous woodland areas and under tall fir trees. Their fascination stayed with me and I have been growing them for many years now. In one of the early years here, before we had lots of established perennials, our garden was awash with a mixture of single foxgloves and the taller, double-headed hybrids.

Friday 23 February 2007

Elegant perennials.

With seeds such as delphiniums, I sow them into trays initially. When they are about an inch high, I thin them out and transplant the larger seedlings into root-trainers, where they grow to form deep roots, after which time I pot them up till the end of the season.

The young plants, even though sturdy-looking by the time they are planted out in Autumn, are a great favourite of slugs and snails. Many of the delphiniums tend to be gobbled up over the Winter months. I make it a habit, therefore, to grow a few of these plants most years as a precaution.

To help combat the effect of the molluscs on the young plants - though not wishing to destroy the slugs and snails as they are all part of the magic web of life - I spread fine grit around the young plants which deters some of the guzzlers, thus ensuring the survival of some of the delphiniums till the following Spring.

In this area where it is open and windswept, we have to stake taller plants, such as delphiniums. However, neither gales nor the threat of gorging slugs and snails prevent me from growing them. I love their tall, tapering, graceful flower-heads, and the tones of the muted ones create a subtle colour scheme within our garden.

Thursday 22 February 2007

A splash of colour.

Nowadays, the spread and growth of the perennial plants in our garden has left insufficient space for some of the annuals to reach maturity. I have to be careful, therefore, where and how I sow them. Seeds such as poppies, corncockle and cornflower are sown broadcast near the front of borders in areas which have ox-eye daisy and wild campion growing there already.

For smaller seeds such as violas, fennel, dill and marigolds, I grow them firstly in trays, thinning them out when they are about an inch high and potting them up until they are sturdy enough to be planted in the garden. For larger individual seeds, such as sunflowers and artichokes, I use plastic trays called root-trainers, which facilitate the growth of a deep root system on each individual plant. After that stage, I pot them up, and transplant them when they fully grown.

Climbing annuals such as nasturtium, convolvulus and canary creeper are planted in situ, often where they will grow over arches, up trellis or through a hedge. The speed with which these tiny seeds grow, as well as the height they achieve, and, best of all, their vibrant palette of colours, never fails to amaze me.

Wednesday 21 February 2007

Annual delights.

Having spent a few evenings browsing through seed catalogues mulling over which annuals to grow this coming season, I decided finally upon a mixture of flowers, herbs and salad crops and have in my possession now several packets of seed including poppies, cornflower, corncockle, convolvulus, violas, nasturtium, sunflowers, calendulas, dill, fennel, sage and artichokes.

I like to see a combination of cultivated and wild flowers growing cheek by jowl in our garden as my interest in gardening grew from first admiring the beauty and simplicity of wild flowers growing in the countryside as a child. It has something to do with the idea of marrying the wild flowers with the cultivated garden plants, thereby ensuring continuity and harmony with nature.

In the early years of the garden it was easy enough to sow the seeds in situ where I wanted them to grow, as there was a fair amount of space between the perennials, thus allowing sufficient sunlight and rain to reach the tiny seeds and help nurture them to maturity. At the end of the season when the annuals had finished blooming, I would collect some of the seed-heads and store them in order to repeat the pattern the following Spring.

Tuesday 20 February 2007

Springing to life.

Although it is still officially Winter until the 22 March, we have snowdrops, aconites, primroses, crocuses and jasmine in flower, and buds appearing daily on honeysuckle, flowering currant and spirea, which are all early signs of Spring.

At this time of year leading up to Spring, probably the busiest season in the garden when plants are waking up and Winter clean-up has to be done, I become smitten with Spring fever. Most of our herbaceous plants have already formed new crowns, which creates in me a feeling of urgency to go out and clear away the chaff of last year’s growth.

Casting my gaze around the garden, I am conscious of little patches of cleavers, more commonly known as Sticky Willy, and areas where ground elder has sprouted. Both of these pernicious weeds are most easily uprooted in the Spring, when the herbaceous plants are still small enough to allow me ready access.

The weather feels milder. Each week we are having longer daylight. The Dawn Chorus has started. Bulbs are in bloom, although it’s mid-February still. It feels as if the worst of Winter, with its shortened days and long evenings, is gradually receding. There is an air of expectancy, which re-awakens in me, once more, feelings of renewed hope and interest in the delights of Spring to come.

Monday 19 February 2007

.....Flock together.

Sometimes blackbirds and thrushes nest in the higher branches of our mature cedar tree, or in the densely-compacted growth of the viburnum growing against the outhouse, or in our beech hedge, from where we often hear the blackbird making its piping alarm call when our cats trespass near the vicinity of its young.

Occasionally we have visits from a cock pheasant pecking at heather shoots; a family of partridges looking for seeds; wood pigeons and collared doves resting in the trees; magpies harrying young chicks; a pair of bramblings eating the fruit on the cotoneaster; a grey heron after a juicy frog; screaming swifts flying over the ponds, catching insects on the wing; a flock of fieldfares getting drunk on fermenting apples; a pair of bullfinches prizing open the buds of the crab apple tree; a flock of siskins feeding on the fruits of the hazel and alder trees; a female sparrowhawk swooping in on a tasty sparrow; and a barn owl, whose pellets we mostly find in Summer, catching a juicy mouse.

In the adjacent field during the breeding season, we regularly see groups of oystercatcher, rook, crow, lapwing, magpie, grey heron, wood pigeon, curlew, black-headed gull, lesser black-backed gull, golden plover, a pair of buzzards and a few skylarks, whereas in the Winter we see greylag geese, mute swan, whooper swan, and Bewick swan.

Each little flower that opens,
Each little bird that sings,
He made their glowing colours,
He made their tiny wings.

Cecil Frances Alexander.

Sunday 18 February 2007

Birds of a feather....

Throughout the year, we count ourselves fortunate in having a great variety of birds visiting our garden to feed, drink and bathe in the ponds. Regular species to be seen include the robin, blackbird, chaffinch, greenfinch, goldfinch, blue tit, coal tit, great tit, sparrow, starling, dunnock and wren.

Amongst our Summer visitors are the song thrush, mistle thrush, great-spotted woodpecker, long-tailed tit, linnet, spotted flycatcher, pied wagtail, grey wagtail, goldcrest, yellowhammer and treecreeper, whereas jackdaws, swallows and house martins come for the breeding season and build nests in the chimneys and rafters of the outhouse, and on the eaves of our house.

Each evening, we enjoy the friendly chatter of huge numbers of sparrows which fly in to roost in the ivies growing against the walls of the outhouse, where some also build their nests. Often, a pair of wrens nest there too, although last year, one pair built their nest in the honeysuckle climbing over a nearby arch.

The kiss of the sun for pardon,
The song of the birds for mirth.
One is nearer God's heart in a garden,
Than anywhere else on earth.

Saturday 17 February 2007

Up with the lark.

Since my biological clock wakens me early every morning, my favourite alarm call at this time of year is the Dawn Chorus. Only the male songbirds sing. Their songs are either to attract a mate or to say, “Go away! This is my territory!”

Strong males are the only ones able to sing well after a night without food, and, therefore, able to demonstrate their fitness to potential females, because it requires a lot of energy to sing extended songs. Weaker males would not be chosen because females prefer the most complicated songs.

When other males in the vicinity hear the songs, they know that the male who is singing is claiming and defending his territory, and that they are being warned to stay away. Every so often the males leave gaps in their song to listen out for the songs of rivals.

The birds sing at dawn because the transmission is better early in the morning before the world awakes. I find their singing very beautiful, quite spiritual in fact, and when I’m walking in my garden very early on a morning in Spring, as far as I’m concerned they are singing to me.

Friday 16 February 2007

The pleasure of birds in the garden.

Growing in our garden are specimens of alder and hazel, planted for their catkins, cones and nuts, which attract siskins and goldfinches; many birches which support large numbers of insects and caterpillars, which are eaten by titmice and finches, and rowans for their berry-laden branches in Autumn.

Beside the outhouse is a willow bearing catkins in the Spring, which attracts insects and butterflies. At the other side is a beech hedge which, although only attracting small numbers of insects, makes an excellent nesting site for chaffinches and blackbirds.

In the early years we also encouraged birds by establishing bird feeding-stations and made use of old tree stumps to scatter food upon for ground-feeding birds such as the robin, blackbird and thrush. It was only a matter of time before this pattern of regular feeding encouraged the birds to come and sing their rapturous songs and stay to build their nests in the outhouse, the ivies, the eaves of our house and in the conifers and trees.

Thursday 15 February 2007

Vacancies - Birds Welcome.

In order to attract birds, we began by planting a few trees, shrubs and climbers as a backbone to the garden. Initially though, these plants were merely resting-places, as they were all fairly small and spindly-looking specimens. Each successive year, however, we added more, bringing the total to approximately sixty trees and eighty shrubs.

When the growth was small, the birds searched for insects in our herbaceous borders. Annuals such as poppies, cornflower, sunflowers and foxgloves, as well as Solomon’s seal, primroses and thymes, all of which bear flowers which attract all manner of insects - butterflies, bees and hoverflies – were planted to feed hungry birds and their young.

As the trees and shrubs matured, the birds began to use them as places to roost and feed. Many of those, such as the rowans, cotoneasters, dogwoods and honeysuckles, were specially chosen for the berries they carry in the Autumn, while others, such as the conifers, ivies, and our beech hedge, have made excellent nesting sites.

Wednesday 14 February 2007

Attracting the invertebrates.

The main purpose in creating our wildlife garden is to live in harmony with the biodiversity - all the various insects, birds and small mammals - which come to visit, as well as with those which have taken up residence here. To that end, we have been creating little habitats to attract them over the past sixteen years.

Since all these creatures’ lives are interdependent, each being part of the web of life, when we came here we had to find ways of attracting invertebrates and insects, so that they, in turn, would feed the birds. We knew once they had taken up residence, the larger birds of prey and the mammals would follow.

Dotted here and there around the garden are log piles, tree stumps, old branches, piles of stones, bundles of twigs and patches of rotting leaves. Initially the logs were bought from a nearby saw-mill, but we also make a habit of collecting branches from trees, which are blown down in gales, from a friend’s wood.

Insects such as woodlice, beetles, slugs, snails, centipedes, millipedes, earwigs, and spiders all enjoy dark, damp places for their homes. The spaces under the large boulders around the ponds and in the cracks between the mortar in the outhouse are also ideal conditions for attracting invertebrates. Over the years we have enjoyed watching the birds foraging in all these areas rooting out succulent grubs, crunchy bugs, and slimy slugs to feed their hungry broods.

Tuesday 13 February 2007

The scree bed.

While my husband and our elder son were busily occupied laying the patio, I was working nearby, building up a scree bed for our alpine and rockery plants. In the wild, these hardy little plants grow in very little soil with their roots firmly embedded in the gravel of hills and mountains, where they withstand adverse weather conditions.

In order to create suitable conditions in our garden, the soil for the scree bed had to be raised fairly high and then shaped to make sloping sides. Where the bed borders the patio, there was a high bank of soil, which gave me the opportunity to create a little wall of boulders through which I would plant trailing alpines to form a carpet of colour.

In their native habitat, alpines are protected in Winter by a layer of snow, which actually keeps them dry. When the area of our scree bed was free of weeds, all three of us walked up and down firming the soil. After that, I covered the whole area with a deep layer of cream-coloured gravel, which would protect the foliage of our alpines from wetness during the winter.

Alpines are very easy to grow as they are quite hardy and require very little maintenance. Interest need not be limited to Spring, as there are species available to give colour and variety throughout the year. Gentians, helianthemums, orchids, phloxes, lithospermum and aubretia are some of the alpines which grow well in our little scree bed.

Monday 12 February 2007

A passion for poppies.

It would not be an exaggeration to say I have a passion for poppies in general, as I make space in our garden for yellow and orange Welsh poppies, several varieties of the oriental species, peony poppies in shades of red, pink, white and black, as well as many kinds of annual poppies.

Amongst the latter, I grow Ladybird, Danish Flag, Fairy Wings and the magnificent black papaver somniferum. Their oriental sisters, some single-skirted, some double, come in pastel hues of white and pink, as well as plum. Even more dramatic, the pillar-box red ones, growing here in profusion, form the hallelujah chorus of our garden.

For me, poppy petals hold their own merits, some like the diaphanous wings of a butterfly, others resembling tissue paper, while those of the double-petalled orientals are like the skirts of Spanish dancers doing a fandango. Each, though ephemeral, is given house-room, each beautiful in its own individual way, each making my heart sing. But, if I had to, I would forfeit them all, without a moment’s hesitation, for a fleeting glimpse of the annual cornfield poppy.

Sunday 11 February 2007

Remembrance poppies.

Had we not stopped on that dirt track to consult our map, and had not enquired of the dustman we met, we would have never discovered the whereabouts of the poppy field, as it was completely hidden from the road. Winding our way slowly up the track, trying to avoid getting bogged down in deep ruts, we approached the brow of the hill as the first trickle of poppies came into view.

Driving a little farther, the whole field opened out in front of us. I can hardly begin to describe the impact of that beautiful panorama with the scarlet carpet of poppies. To say it was a sight to gladden the heart is faint praise. Feeling fragile, as I did after the gruelling months of mum’s terminal cancer, the sight of those poppies took my breath away. Feelings of euphoria swept over me, and, in a way I can’t quite describe, the more I drank in their beauty, the more I felt a sense of healing and wellbeing.

It was one of Nature’s wonders, a part of life’s rich tapestry, as far as I was concerned. So extensive was the field, that the wide-angle lens on my camera could not capture the whole scene in one shot. I was enraptured, using superlatives to wax lyrical about the beauty of poppies, an outpouring of emotion about how I felt about them in general, and this field, awash with them, in particular.

This superseded anything I had seen before. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, a red-letter day for me in particular, looking at those blood-red poppies, with heightened feelings of elation mingled with sadness, while thinking about my unforgettable mum.

And from the ground there blossoms red,
Life that shall endless be.
George Matheson.

Saturday 10 February 2007

A little pilgrimage.

Many years ago when our boys were small, my mum was told she had a massive inoperable carcinoma. To help ease the pain, she was prescribed tincture of opium, the drug derived from the poppy. I thought to myself how poppies were making an impact on me for the second time in my life, though not solely for their beauty this time, but for their use in medicinal purposes.

My sister and I nursed mum for five of the longest and most harrowing months in our lives, during which time she fought her illness with every ounce of strength she had. Three months after she passed away, we packed our caravan and set off on a much-needed family holiday.

One day, while surveying the surrounding countryside through my binoculars, I saw in the far distance a red swathe of colour, which I thought might be a field of poppies. Excited at the prospect of going on a little adventure to find them, we set off early next morning with map, compass and a picnic lunch.

After a few fruitless hours driving hither and thither, we pulled off the road onto a little dirt track and parked the car to consult the map once more. Looking in the rear-view mirror, I saw a dustcart come lumbering slowly down the track behind us. As it approached, I decided to ask one of the men if he knew of any poppy fields in the vicinity. To our amazement, he gave us instructions to carry on up the track to the top of the hill.

Friday 9 February 2007

Poppy Fairies.

After browsing through a seed catalogue recently, I found myself returning to a page where one particular species of flower was displayed in all its glory. The richness of the colours dazzled my eyes, and sent my mind racing back to the first time I can remember seeing them growing in a barley field.

The crop was golden, ready for harvest, and I remember the rustling sounds of the stalks swaying in the Summer breeze. I can picture them now, so vivid is the impression of those deep red cornfield poppies, growing along the edges and scattered throughout the field.

The more I gazed at the page, the more I saw myself standing in that field, though now with palette at the ready to capture their vibrancy with a few strokes of my brush. The flowers in question, without hesitation, are my favourites. From the day they first mesmerised me, they captured my imagination, and I became hooked for life and have been growing them ever since.

Thursday 8 February 2007

Share and share alike.

Every year, as well as transplanting a few runners to increase our crop of strawberries and thus ensure good harvests, I weed out the older plants which become woody through time. Just as our kind neighbour shared her bounty, we, too, have been able to share our runners with family and friends, who, in turn, have begun their own strawberry plots. That way, these invisible lifelines continue to spread out like little veins from one garden to the next.

Strawberries are a very good crop for the amateur as they require very little maintenance, but yield amazing harvests. We chose a sunny spot in the garden away from the wind. In Spring, at the first sign of flowers, we give the plants a dressing of bonemeal around their collars and then weekly feeds with a general fertiliser. When the fruits start to appear we cover the plants with netting. Thereafter it’s a question of clearing the bed of any weeds which might compete with the crop.

Apart from our main crop, we also have a few individual alpine strawberry plants growing along the edges of paths so that we can enjoy picking some when we take a morning stroll through the garden. Since these ones are not under nets, we share them inevitably with hungry birds.

Wednesday 7 February 2007

A shared harvest.

When we first came to live here, we struck up a friendship with a neighbour who, as well as being the oldest resident in the village, was also a keen gardener. On many occasions that first Summer, while we were hard at work clearing our plot of pernicious weeds, she would often ask our boys to call at her house, whereupon she would send them home with a tray of the most delicious strawberries, hand-picked from her enormous crop.

One afternoon, as well as receiving a share of her bounty, our kind neighbour offered our boys a handful of runners to start their own strawberry bed. Unsure of how to begin, I worked alongside them helping to plant the runners in little rows. Then my husband laid little stepping-stones between the rows to ensure a firm foothold whenever we worked in the strawberry plot.

So open-handed was our neighbour, that, by the end of the Summer, having feasted on so many strawberries, I half-expected us to waken up one morning with little husks growing out the top of our heads. Later in the year, after the strawberry season was past, each time we visited our neighbour, we were sure be given a pot of her delicious strawberry jam to take home, such was her generosity.

Tuesday 6 February 2007

I spy with my little eye.

Looking out over the landscape this morning, stretching out before me is a veritable Winter wonderland, where, as if by the magic of a fairy’s wand, the frost has created a crystalised garden, complete with glassy ponds through which I can see floating lily leaves suspended in time.

Nestling under the trees beside the outhouse is a carpet of sturdy snowdrops and beyond them, barely showing, the tips of yellow and purple crocuses, future promises to come.

Hungry sparrows, finches and titmice squabble over the nut and seed-feeders hanging from the filigree branches of the silver birch trees growing alongside the stone-dyke wall.

Behind them on the horizon, just visible to the naked eye because of their amazing camouflage are three plump partridges, their red beaks pecking at the stubble in the barley field, searching for leftover grain.

What a privilege to experience first-hand the wonders of nature in all its glory, each one a survivor in the battle against the ravages of the freezing temperatures of Winter, each one a promise of the Spring to come.

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
William Blake.

Monday 5 February 2007

Container gardening.

When digging in a corner of our plot, sixteen years ago, we came across thirteen animal feeding-troughs, which had lain buried for many years. It was a huge find for us, not only because of the historic value of the troughs, but also in terms of their monetary value, as we had seen similar ones with an asking price of £100 each.

As we wanted to use them as plant containers, the first thing my husband had to do was to drill drainage holes. This proved more difficult than he had envisaged and it was after having broken several drill-bits, and, as a consequence, having invested in a more powerful drill that he finally achieved success.

After sharing a few troughs with our family, we decided to use some of the remainder for planting up alpines, and the rest for growing annual bedding plants and Spring and Summer bulbs. The alpine troughs, a great addition to our garden, create features of interest while the Summer bedding brings a splash of colour.

Sunday 4 February 2007

A sensory experience.

Amongst the herbs I grow are sage, lemon verbena, fennel, marjoram, several of the mint family, chives, artemisia, thymes, hyssop and tansy. Each year I like to add new ones to our collection. Sage is one of my favourite herbs and I have grown several different varieties including the purple, golden and an unusual pineapple flavour. They are an excellent addition to various dishes in cooking and also when making stuffing for game-birds. It is such an attractive-looking plant in itself, with its textural foliage, and need not be confined to the herb bed.

Another which I like to see growing around the garden in general, as well as in the herb beds, is the yellow-flowered fragrant fennel, both the golden and the bronze varieties. I love its habit and the ferny foliage marries well among the cottage garden plants. It has a look of filigree when the morning dew is on it and I like the way it moves in the breeze.

Mints are great fun too. I grow eau-de-cologne mint, which echoes its name, and is great in pot-pourri. For refreshing teas I like the varieties of apple, spearmint and peppermint. These all have a delicious flavour, hot or cold, and are aids to digestion. In Summer we enjoy sitting in the garden, having a glass of mint tea with our friends.
Dark-spiked rosemary and myrrh,
Lean-stalked purple lavender,
Hides within her bosom too,
All her sorrows, bitter rue.

Walter De La Mare