Friday 31 December 2010

An Early First Foot

Brambling And Sparrow

Although tonight is the Hogmanay festival in Scotland, when we might expect our First Footers to pay us a visit, we had our first-ever visit - in 20 years - from a pair of Bramblings this month.

A Corner Of The Barn

Bramblings are similar in looks to Chaffinches, though their breasts are dark russet on top with white underbellies. Though we have seen several sightings of them on Winter walks, we have not seen them at Barleycorn before.

View From The Back Door

The reason for their proximity to the house was the freezing temperatures and the heavy falls of snow. The low Winter sun on the snow made for picturesque scenes in the garden, and the Big Freeze meant we had the pleasure of feeding more birds at the stations than in Summer.

Taz Indoors

Not only did we have the company of our feathered friends, but also Taz, the Barn cat, who preferred to snuggle up beside the radiator for spells each day and forego his occupation of the Barn.

View Across The Field

This did not stop him catching the mice in the Barn for his supper. For while he has the camouflage of the trees in Summer when he goes a-hunting, he has to rely on nocturnal mammals in Winter.

The Bird Station

Each morning, we could detect the tracks of the local cats, the early birds and a Fox in the fresh snow. Perhaps it is our friend from earlier this year scavenging once more, now that we have had more snow.

This Winter the local farmer has sheep grazing in the adjacent field. The artesian well has filled again bringing Mallards each morning, flocks of Crows and Rooks and hundreds of Pigeons gorging themselves on the grain left in the furrows.

The video this month is called Garden Birds In December 2010. The music which accompanies it is from my CD Pan Pipes Of The Andes and the track is Llamada Se Los Buitres which I chose because it reminded me of whistling birds. The Bramblings are at the end of the video.

I hope you enjoy it...and, as we say in Scotland at Hogmanay, Lang May Yer Lum Reek, which, roughly translated, means... May you always have enough fuel to keep your fire going to keep you warm...and what more could we want during a cold Winter?

Happy New Year, Everyone!

Saturday 27 November 2010

O, For The Wings

Female Sparrowhawk

At the beginning of November when the harvest bales had been gathered in and the adjacent field lay empty, a female Sparrowhawk graced us with her presence by landing on the post next to our bird feeders, where flocks of Sparrows graze for hours on end. With so much food on tap, she is becoming a frequent visitor.

The Barn

This morning's weather has brought us a light dusting of snow and temperatures of minus 6 degrees. Brrr! indeed...but, with it comes the company of our feathered friends. From a very young age I have always marvelled at the infinite beauty of our garden birds; each with a different set of claws, feathers and beaks; each created for a different purpose.

Bird Tracks In The Snow

My Hubbie rose early and braved the freezing temperature - his breath visible in the chilly air - to top up the feeders and the already groaning bird-table with seeds, nuts and dried fruits. For, though a sudden fall of snow is always a bit of a shock to the system, what better way to spend a cold day than watching the antics of the birds at all the feeding stations?


As the day wore on, the Chaffinches perched high up in the Rowan tree to feel the warmth of the sun. They are with us all year round, but perfectly camouflaged when the trees are covered in leaves. And what a wonderful sight they make on a snowy day with their plumped-out chestnut feathers.

At The Bird Feeders

I love the bare bones of the garden in Winter, the silhouettes of the trees and shrubs, the frozen ponds, the outlines of birds. Rather than finding the garden boring at this time of year, the birds bring it to life once more, feasting on the remaining berries, gorging on insects around the eaves of the house and prizing open teasels and other perennials to extract seeds.

Male Blackbird

Part of the secret of having a garden is to find pleasure all year round, and not solely when the trees, shrubs and flowers are in bloom. Close observation reveals so much. Snow is a perfect backdrop for intensifying the colours of the birds. As they come closer for food, we are able to tell their food preferences, where they like to feed and be entertained by the behaviour of the pecking order.

Robin Redbreast

In surveys, the Robin is often chosen as Nation's most popular bird. Partly, this is because it is easily recognised by everyone, is common the length and breadth of Britain and never leaves our shores. It's daily appearance is a reminder of God's constant presence, and so the Robin has been chosen as a symbol of the ever-present God on our Christmas Cards, for, like God, he is always with us.


Robin is a ground feeder. He is not designed to be an acrobat, suspended upside down on the hanging feeders, like the Titmice. He, and his friend the Dunnock, are often found scrabbling under shrubs for grubs and insects. I love his habits, as he bounces upon his legs and cocks his head to one side.

Female chaffinch

Chaffinches also sing wonderful songs to us, and, as they prefer safety in numbers, we always have huge flocks of them at any one time. But, whatever the bird, each has its own charm, its own beauty, its own reason for being part of the ongoing life of the garden. Birds don't cost much to feed and the pleasure they bring supercedes any effort required by us to have their presence in our gardens. I love 'em all!

The Bird-Table

This month's video is called Our Feathered Friends. The music is Giovanni Pierluigi Da Palestrina's Mass, Missa Papae Marcelli, for 6 voices, Kyrie. It begins with the Sparrowhawk, moves on to footage of hundreds and hundreds of Crows and Rooks foraging in the adjacent field, followed by the antics of the garden birds at the bird-table, and, lastly, skeins of Greylag Geese flying in formation over Barleycorn. Enjoy!

Monday 1 November 2010

Pause And Reflect

Sunset At Barleycorn

October began with a few breathtakingly beautiful sunsets which made me pause and reflect upon the past 20 years we have spent in this paradise of ours. And though I have mentioned some of this before, many new bloggers will not have heard the reason why we came to be here. It was not the newly-built bungalow, pretty though it was, which caused me to turn the car and return for a second look.

Tractor and Baler

Rather, it was the adjacent barn with its high-pitched corrugated roof and crumbling stone walls which spoke to me. Its decay had a story to tell and I wanted to hear all about it. The more I gazed at it, the more I felt drawn to the bare patch of ground which was crying out for a steward to lovingly bring it to life, though, little did I expect that steward was to be me. I say steward on purpose, for we only hold the keys to our gardens for a time.

Seasons of Mist

My vision was to create a garden for wildlife where insects and birds and mammals would be encouraged to come and visit or, better still, live in harmony with us. The house is mostly hidden from the road by tall indigenous trees and shrubs, but, once you have walked down the long drive and turned a corner, it is like finding a secret garden.

Fairy Necklaces

Our two ponds are the jewel in the crown of the garden, for they attract all the wildlife which comes to drink and bathe and feast. At first they were empty except for a soup of green algae. Nowadays, however, they support a colony of frogs, toads and newts which live and breed in them and gorge themselves on the myriad of pondlife creatures.

Autumn leaves

The remainder of the garden is made up of many island beds which contain trees, shrubs and nectar borders to give sustenance to insects, butterflies, birds and our all-important bees. At this time of year everything is either wearing or shedding its wonderful Autumnal coat of colours and I find pleasure in the dying back of the season.

Joseph's Rock Rowan Tree

Now is the time to appreciate the bare bones of the garden - the trees and shrubs in silhouette; the fairy necklaces left by hundreds of the most amazing nocturnal architects of the garden; the magical change from green to yellow, red to bronze; humdrum paths carpeted with a bed of soft colourful leaves; ponds frozen in time or the drip, drip of trees whose frost is melting in the misty sunshine. What is not to enjoy?

Hosta Foliage

And did I mention the songs in the garden? Our frogs serenade us on sunny days with their deep croaking. The bird-feeders have become magnets to hungry birds and their many and varied songs waken me each dark morning. Best of all the thousands of Greylag Geese have returned from Greenland to overwinter on adjacent fields. Each morning I hear their cries and rush out of bed, like an excited child, to watch their magical arrows moving across the sky.

Pond lilies and Foliage

Skein after skein passes over our house and I watch the repeat performance each evening as they make their way back to the shores where they nestle down each night. I especially love their cries when they are invisible, flying through fog, calling out to one another for safety and guidance. How do they know where to go? We have all heard the explanation, but, it is still a wonder of Nature and a pleasure to behold.

Balloon Over Barleycorn

The balloons which fly overhead are so low we can call out and have little conversations with those in the basket. Visitors come from all over the globe. A few years ago some of our family took such a ride and flew over my garden and the village. It was a magical experience, though interesting when the wind took us down to land in a field with a herd of cows, instead of a fallow one adjacent to it.

A Tiny Shrew

Even after 20 years I am still amazed at the variety of wildlife living next door to me. Taz, the barn cat, brings us presents and leaves them on the doorstep... sometimes a Fieldmouse, sometimes a Vole, occasionally a little Shrew. Late at night we sometimes see or hear Foxy who comes by hoping to find some chicken carcass which Taz has left. On red-letter days we might even see a Weasel or a Stoat, a Barn Owl or a Tawny Owl, a Badger or Hedgehog crossing the road.

Taz, Asleep In The Sunshine

Everything is welcome for each plays its part in the magical web of life here at Barleycorn. Every creature brings the garden to life and fills my heart with pleasure, for, what was once a derelict plot of ground, has now been transformed into a garden for wildlife. I am living my dream and sharing it with all those who enjoy coming here to visit.

The first short video is called Autumn At Barleycorn. The accompanying music is Erik Satie's Gymnopedie No 1.

The second short video is called Fairy Magic At Barleycorn and the accompanying music is from A Midsummer Night's Dream. The track is Between The Cold Moon And The Earth.

The third video, much longer, is called Barleycorn Ode To Autumn. The accompanying music is Brahms' Violin Concerto in D Major-11 Adagio. I hope you enjoy them all. They were taken throughout October.

Align Centre

Wednesday 29 September 2010

September Song At Barleycorn

Woolly Bear Caterpillar

During September walks around the garden, I greeted old familiar faces...lavender and purple Michaelmas Daisies; orange Montbretia; pink, white, and purple Phlox; exquisite blooms of Japanese Anemones, and colourful Summer annuals which will linger until the first frosts arrive. I am so thankful for these late-bloomers, for the garden season would be so much shorter without them.
Rainbow Over Barleycorn

We have had a relatively dry spell of weather recently, resulting in many parched plants. When the much-needed showers came, they refreshed everything the garden - trees, flowers and the ponds themselves - and painted the sky with magical rainbows, which never fail to make me smile and look up in wonder. We all know the science, but nothing transcends the intrinsic beauty of rainbows.

Garden Orb Spider

On one of my trips to the gazebo I found this beautiful Garden Orb Spider. She had spun an intricate web across one corner and was hiding under a flap in the curtain I made to shade us from strong sunlight. Because I leave a little window open, she finds lots of insects to satisfy her hunger. Recently there have been Jenny-long-Legs, Harvestman Spiders, Flies and Wasps.

Summer Meadow Nasturtiums

On Sunday morning we awoke to our first frost of the Autumn. I am so glad I took this photograph the previous day, as, although the Nasturiums are sheltering against the barn, they will begin to wilt soon. I have gathered and already shared so many seeds from my Summer meadow with eager friends...Poppies, Nasturtiums, Cornflower, Corncockle, Cerinthe Major, Ox-Eye Daisies and many more.

Rose Arey Pond Lily

The longevity of the lilies is always a bonus, and, unless, the frosts come in quick succession, they will continue to bloom till early November, even though the leaves are displaying signs of their Autumn coats. The next job at the ponds will be to cut down the wilting leaves of Irises and Ranunculus.

Pink Phlox

Phlox is such a robust flower and very good for use in floral arrangements as it does not easily wilt. I planted a group of pink ones in a dark corner of the garden where they shine out like a beacon on moonlit evenings. They are also self-supporting and have a sweet perfume.

Rosa Glauca Rosehips

Now that we are into early autumn, it is wonderful to have so many different kinds of berries for the birds to eat. We have several species of Rowan trees - Cashmiriana, Chinese Lace, Joseph's Rock, Silver Sorbus and ten native Rowans - which are covered in white, yellow and red berries respectively. The branches of our Rugosas are heavy-laden with those wonderful tomato-shaped hips; the Rosa Moyseii is sporting a harvest of deep red flagon-shaped hips and there are lots of fruits on the honeysuckles.

Frost on Nasturtiums

It has been another wonderful Summer and now we can look forward to glorious Autumn colours beautifying the garden. The local farmer, who tills the field adjacent to Barleycorn, has just finished harvesting his barley, though the rain has prevented him from making roly-poly bales of straw for Winter bedding. Perhaps I will have footage of that next month in the Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness.

The first video this month is called September Song At Barleycorn. The accompanying music is Bailero, sung by Renee Fleming, from Songs of the Auvergne. Each month the videos are visual accounts of what is in bloom here in our garden.

The second video is called September Harvest. The accompanying music is Hoedown from Rodeo. I hope you enjoy them.

Saturday 28 August 2010

Bobby-Dazzlers, Every One!

Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly

The month of August is high Summer for us, the time when the garden has a blowsy, overgrown appearance. Foxgloves hang heavy with next year's seed. The majestic stems of Verbascums, stiff Oriental Poppy pepperpots, and the tangle of spent growth on the Geraniums, all now wizened and brown, conspire to say that Autumn is creeping in. But, into that tangled mess fly all the fairies, with their newly-painted diaphanous wings.

Peacock Butterfly on Inula Daisies

Their magical appearance never ceases to amaze me as I gaze upon their beauty with a heart full of joy and wonder. The fact that we are 225 metres above sea-level, and, therefore, colder and wetter, must have a bearing on the infrequent sightings of butterflies. Considering the layout of the garden has more nectar borders containing host plants for several species, than anything else, it has always saddened me to find so few sightings.

Red Admiral Butterfly

Throughout the Summer we see Small Whites and Large Whites on a regular basis. They lay their eggs on the patches of nettles, to which I give house-room especially to encourage butterflies. If I have grown Nasturtiums, as I have in my Summer meadow this year, their leaves will look like lace curtains by the end of the season.

Small White Butterfly

But...towards the end of August, we have this magical rainbow of, russet, azure blue, orange, bronze and creamy-white. They all congregate on the Inula Daisies. I have spread these around the garden over the years. But, it is always the patch on which the sun shines for most hours in the day which they prefer. Each probosis goes at it, hammer and tong, so to speak, as they gather their much-sought nectar. Each season many will breed, lay eggs and die. But the magic they bring is worth the brief visit, and, possibly, because of their infrequent appearance, much more appreciated than if they were flying around every day...though, for me personally, I would never tire of the company of wall-to-wall butterflies in my garden.

Hoverfly on Inula Daisies

Competing for space on each flowerhead are the Hoverflies, Bumble Bees and Bees, as well as Wasps. They are no less welcome as each has a part to play in the web of life which keeps my garden organic and chemical-free and thus better for the environment. Every one is a pollinator, though most people are surprised when I tell them that applies to Wasps too, and that they are not simply here on earth to torment our picnics.

Small Bumble Bee on Teasel

Only today, I was reminded of the story, by Simon Barnes in the Times, of the importance of Wasps and how it is they who invented paper by chewing woodpulp, and how the Chinese cottoned on to that ...and the rest is history. In fact there would be no history, no Shakespeare, no poetry without the Wasps inventing paper. So, perhaps we should salute them and sing their praises, rather than destroy them with the newspapers which we read from, thanks to them.

Banded Shell Snail

I have said this many times before in my journal...but, I allow Snails and Slugs to roam freely in my garden. I found this little fellow with his broken shell crawling away for safety under the patio. They are the dustmen of the garden, feeding on the rotting plants, and, in turn, becoming food for Thrushes and other birds, and the colony of mature frogs in our two ponds. I know they can be naughty and eat new seedlings. But there are ways around that. I use coffee grinds and crushed eggshells to deter them and I grow many seeds in large pots with vaseline around the rim, which also hinders the Snails and Slugs from crawling into the pots. In that way, we live in harmony and they survive by eating spent leaves and rotting plants.

Blue Nigella, Love In A Mist

The Summer meadow I grew has continued to mature and grow, and grace the garden with much colour...reds, oranges and pinks of Poppies; blue, white and pink Cornflowers; blue and white Nigella; baby-pink Cosmos; inky-purple Cerinthe Major; several Sunflowers and hundreds of Nasturtiums. In the two videos I took this month, I have included more footage of the Summer meadow as it developed and matured.

Golden Barley In The Field Adjacent To Barleycorn

I leave you with this quote from Ecclesiastes 3 Verse 11.

He has made everything beautiful in its time.


The first video, called Fairy Magic At Barleycorn, August 2010, is of the Butterflies, Bumble Bees, Hoverflies and other pollinators which have paid us visits this month. I used Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade to accompany the dancing insects.

In the second video, called High Summer At Barleycorn, August 2010, I walked around Barleycorn at various times to give an overall impression of what is in bloom throughout August. Jay Ungar's The Ashokan Farewell is the accompaniment. ( I hope both will play continuously...if they pause, try hovering the mouse over Play. It works for me when they stick. Happy Viewing...Enjoy!)

Friday 30 July 2010

Contemplation In The Garden

Annual Poppy

Silence gives us a new outlook on everything.

Raindrops On Poppy

Nature, trees, flowers and grass grow in perfect silence.

Hoverfly On Poppy

See how the stars, the moon and the sun move in silence.

Flemish Poppy

God is the friend of silence.

Mixed Annual Poppies

In the silence of the heart God speaks to us.

Long-Horned Beetle On Poppy

In silence we are granted the privilege of listening to His voice.

Bumble Bee On Poppy

In silence He speaks to our souls.


We need silence to be able to touch souls.

Danish Flag Poppy

Souls of prayer are souls of great silence.

Cerinthe Major

The essential thing is not what we say, but what God says to us and through us.


In that silence He will listen to us; there He will speak to our soul, and there we will hear His voice.

Long-Horned Beetle On Cornflower

When you have listened to the voice of God in the stillness of your heart, then your heart is filled with God.

Mixed Annual Poppies

Mother Teresa quotes from No Greater Love

Six weeks of heavy snow slithered down the high-pitched roof of the barn like an avalanche and flattened the tall shrubs which had been growing there for 19 years. Instead of moaning about my losses, I decided to create a little summer meadow. I chose mixed annual poppies, cornflower, corncockles, nigella, nasturtiums, sunflowers and packets of 'butterfly' seed. The results are to be seen in this first video, Summer Meadow At Barleycorn, July 2010. There are two pieces of musical accompaniment. The first is Vaughan Williams' Fantasia On Greensleeves, followed by Butterworth's The Banks Of Green Willow.

The Second video, called, Cornucopia At Barleycorn, July 2010, has one piece of music, Brahms' Violin Concerto in D major, 2nd movement. I thought there were too many flowers to talk about this month as July is one of the months when the garden is in full flow. I think most of you will recognise the plants apart from one which is not as commonplace as the others. I have only ever seen it once, growing in a friend's garden. It is a white bell called Codonopsis Convolvulacea. In one of the still images I am holding a bell so that you can see the pretty colours inside it. I hope you enjoy your walk around Barleycorn with me.