Tuesday 14 June 2011

Hand In Hand With Mother Nature

A Corner Of The Barn

Every moment spent in the company of my family is precious. For though I write, once a month, about what is happening in my garden at Barleycorn, nothing matters more to me in life than my family. When they are here, it is as if time itself stands still, for my whole world revolves around them. The month of May whizzed past in a flurry of exciting trips to London and Paris, and a blissful week of having family staying here. Hence the reason for no posts from Barleycorn.

Primula Florindae, Himalayan Cowslip

However, when they had all gone home and I had time to lift my head and look around me, I saw that Mother Nature, during three days of 100 mph gales, had managed to create an altogether different pastiche from the one I had envisaged. In place of tall, graceful plants such as Cirsium thistles, Filipendula and climbing Honeysuckles there is a new architectural madness...and yet, with a beauty of its own. Nature can surprise us in the most unexpected ways, and bring about a transformation which surpasses anything we could have imagined.

The Cog-Wheel Beside The Barn

Two Winters ago, a lengthy period of snow and severe frost killed off tall shrubs growing in front of the Barn. 20 years' growth was decimated in one fell swoop. That Summer, I sowed a wildflower meadow of annual Poppies, Cornflower, Corncockle and Nigella. This year, all sorts of new seeds are growing there, many of which I did not sow. The wind, the birds and insects have brought seed, and Mother Nature has enhanced my original vision and created an amazing array of wildflowers amongst the cultivars.

Mecanopsis Cambria, Welsh Poppy and Hoverfly

As well as the original seed I sowed, there is a scattering of Pink Campion, Welsh Poppies, Ox-Eye Daisies, Forget-Me-Nots, Honesty, and White and Blue Polemonium. Although I do have these growing in other parts of the garden, the wonder and beauty of their appearance in the flower meadow is the magic that Nature has created. It reinforces the idea that gardening with Nature can be inspirational...another force at work with us.

Lunaria Annua, Honesty Seed-Pods

As gardeners, we cannot help but see that nothing stands still. Always and everywhere, there is constant change. Each plant has its season, followed quickly by its seed-time. No sooner are we admiring a flower in full flow, then it is gone.

' But pleasures are like poppies spread,

You seize the bloom, the flower is shed'

Robert Burns

Honesty is one of those plants which is every bit as exciting in seed-form as when it is blooming. In fact, it spends more time with us in seed-form and sheds its outer skin in Autumn to reveal the silver 'coins' so loved by floral artists.

Under A Weeping Birch Tree

Many years ago, I scattered a packet of Forget-Me-Not seed around a tiny Weeping Birch tree. Twenty years later, we have a carpet of those seeds, mixed with Pink Campion, Ox-Eye Daisies, Oriental Poppies, Welsh Poppies, Alchemilla Mollis, Wild Strawberry and Foxglove. And yet, I did not sow any of the other seed there. It is all due to the magic of Mother Nature weaving her tapestry.

Purple Iris

We have Yellow Flag and Blue Sibirica Irises growing happily in and around our ponds. Their rhizomes enjoy being in boggy ground or in water. We do have several Bearded Irises, whose names, sadly, are now lost in the mists of time. These do not flower faithfully each year, because, as my cottage garden gets busier, their rhizomes are not getting enough sunshine to bake them. When they do flower, however, they bring such luxurious colour, it takes our breath away. I love their shape and form, the the melange of colours and the velvety touch of the petals. For all those reasons I enjoy creating watercolour paintings of them. They are definitely in my top ten favourites.

Orange Oriental Poppies, Johnson's Blue Geranium and Alchemilla Mollis

June is the month when our Oriental Poppies bloom. So far, we have had fierce gales and cold temperatures of 9 degrees...not what anyone would desire for Summer weather. That's why I love my Poppies. Their vibrancy and beauty cheers me up no end. Their transience reminds me to enjoy each day, as life passes all too quickly. Later this month we also have scarlet ones, called Curly Locks; white ones, called Perry's White; and pale pink ones, called New Dawn. I adore their deep inky-black anthers and their dinner-plate-sized heads, and especially when Bumble Bees nestle in their centres, as if they had landed in Paradise.

Cirsium Thistles, Alchemilla Mollis and Aquilegia

Once the fierce gales had stopped, we went out to survey the damage. There was no sign of the Circiums, which, two days previously, had stood 8 foot high - tall and proud - creating an architectural feature at one corner of the front pond. Instead, the stems were lying prostrate on top of the surrounding plants. Everything looked spoiled and washed out. Yet, from the debris came a myriad of heads which lifted themselves upwards, towards the light and created a pleasing blend of colours against the lime-green of the Alchemilla and blue of the Aquilegia...and the gales saved me the job of staking them.

Rodgersia At The Front Pond

When I look at all the shades of green in this photo, I see the promise of Yellow and Blue Irises to come and a pond filled with beautiful Water Lilies. But, right at this moment, I love the different greens. Everything goes with green...even red. Green is such a peaceful colour...a perfect foil and background for everything else in the garden. Rodgersia is another of those great architectural plants to have in a garden... and the texture of the leaves is another bonus.

Orange Oriental Poppies

I did not plant these Oriental Poppies. I have a cluster growing opposite them...and, through time, the wind blessed me with this splendid group. Over the years, everything I have growing opposite them, has taken up position adjacent to them and supplied me with a carpet of flowers growing all the way along a hedge bordering the drive.

Oriental Poppies And Blue Centaurea

As you can see, both sets of Orientals have been blown over by the gales, and yet, they look graceful and natural, having lifted their heads up to the light. I love their hairy leaves; their large buds; the way the flower-case opens; the play of light on their petals, which can change them from fiery red to orange to transparent golden yellow; and the pepperpot seed-heads in Autumn. There is even beauty in the fallen petals lying on the ground.

Aquilegia Nora Barlow

A few days ago, when it was windy, I went out for a leisurely stroll around Barleycorn to take video snippets and the photographs I have used in this post. You will see all these flowers, and lots more, in the footage. Taz, the Barn cat, led the way, as always, and stopped where I stopped, and seemed as if he, too, was drinking in the beauty of it all. I hope the video plays all the way through. If not, try it again.

Taz, The Barn Cat, Asleep In The Sun

The music I chose to accompany the video is Karl Jenkins' 'Benedictus' from The Armed Man-A Mass For Peace. It has a measured pace and is quiet and contemplative...music to soothe the soul. I enjoyed my walk, and I hope you do, too. My video is called A Windy Walk Around Barleycorn in June, 2011.

Monday 11 April 2011

April Quickens My Heart

Pheasant At Barleycorn

In our garden calendar, April is the month, which calls forth our trumpeting Daffodils to herald the onset of Spring. For, though the months of January through to March have bestowed us with beautiful carpets of Snowdrops and sunny banks of Aconites, they are the Winter bulbs which precede the joy and beauty of Spring.

Siskins At A Feeder

Being in the heart of the countryside affords us many pleasures, some of which are occasional visits from colourful Pheasants with iridescent, ultramarine feathers. Having a large wood in the vicinity enables us to identify a wonderful variety of birds, which also frequent our feeders, forage around the garden, and drink and bathe in our ponds. This month saw the return of striking Siskins with their black crowns, green and black feathers and gold wing-bars.

Tractor And Plough

The combination of longer daylight and warmer temperatures make conditions right for the farmers to plough their fields. It's wonderful to observe the straw-coloured thatch of last year's crops being turned over by the ploughshares, and so a new farming year begins. Lambs bleating and gamboling beside their mothers, the warmth of the sun on our backs as we clear away the spent foliage of last year's perennials, the childhood joy of seeing rainbows after April showers...simple pleasures that bring us so much joy after the long, dark days of Winter.

Purple Hellebores

Hellebores are such elegant, stately plants, which spread well of their own accord, without needing to be cosseted. Over the years we have invested in white, pale green and pink varieties and each year they greet us like old friends. I love cutting away the old, leathery leaves to make way for the fresh lime-greens of their Spring foliage.

Pagoda Lilies

Pagoda Lilies bring a touch of the exotic to any garden. We have posies of these growing next to varieties of Trilliums. We planted them at the front of a large bed next to tall, majestic Camassias, though the latter do not bloom till next month, which helps to prolong the Spring garden. Considering that bulbs involve little effort in planting and tending, we can never have too many in our gardens. To this end, we try to plant new varieties every Autumn.

Mixed Daffodils
One section of our garden runs adjacent to a farmer's field. We share the stane-dyke wall, which acts as a border between us. Couch grass and nettles run the length of this wall on the farmer's side. Rather than try to cope with these invasive plants, I decided to plant lots of mixed daffodils and a variety of grasses interspersed with wild flowers...Pink Campion, Annual Poppies, Primroses, Aquilegia, Corncockle and Cornflower. Although we still get tall Couch Grass growing through, everything looks naturalised and saves me a headache.

Orange-Centred Daffodils

Because we have invested in planting bulbs every Autumn for the past 20 years, our Spring garden now boasts hundreds and hundreds of Daffodils. Each one is a cup of cheerfulness and a testimony to the happy years spent here at Barleycorn. I do love their nodding heads, the variety of colours and species and the heady scent of the star-shaped white Narcissus. The Queen Bees serenade me, buzzing in and around the heads from morn till night, getting their all-important sustenance after their Winter hibernation.

Double-Petalled Daffodils

Every which way I turn in our garden in Spring, I am greeted with bouquets of Daffodils; some white, others creamy-yellow, others still, orange...some with large trumpets, some multi-headed, like the tete-a-tete, some shaped like stars...so many varieties. I belong to the generation of children who learned to recite poems by heart at school. And each Spring when I gaze upon my host of Daffodils, I feel an affinity to Wordsworth's sentiments, 'And then my heart with pleasure fills, and dances with the Daffodils'.

Ripples On The Pond

The play of light on the ponds offers constant fascination. This is the month when we have Frogspawn. In March 2010, we had six weeks of snow with temperatures so low the ponds were mainly frozen. This resulted in a downturn in our Frog population. This year there was no Frog Chorus to speak of...and, yet, we still have some spawn in both ponds. The front pond is shallower and, therefore, warmer, and so the Frogs always mate there first.

Spawn Beneath The Surface

However, we now have some spawn in the back pond too. As the local farmer has been draining the pond in his field again this month, I am so glad to offer habitats to the Frogs. We are hoping the spawn will have a better chance to develop this year and that, in time, our colony of Frogs will be replenished.

Spawn In The Front Pond

It is always wonderful to be able to watch Nature unfold before our eyes and ponds are a good way of affording this opportunity. Now that the spawn is here, the Newts will follow, and, along with them, the myriad of pondlife. The many oxygenators keep the still waters clean and healthy, and the many marginals and Lilies offer shelter. Later, in the Summer, we have two species of Dragonflies, as well as the smaller Damselfies which live and breed in our ponds.

After The Spawn

After the eggs have hatched, the jelly turns a greenish colour and the Tadpoles hide amongst it and live off it. Soon we might be lucky enough to see the Newts appear...to feast on the Taddies. They always look like dragons compared to the miniature size of the Tadpoles, and they suddenly pop up from under the jelly, like Crocodiles in a tropical river.

Hoverfly On A Dandelion

The gardeners will recognise that the hairy leaves in this picture belong to Oriental Poppies. Why on earth allow a Dandelion plant to grow up amongst them? I am trying to encourage wildlife in my garden. That is the raison d'etre for its existence in the first place. It's the wildlife which brings a garden to life. Queen Bumble Bees need sustenance after their long Winter hibernation...hence the reason for allowing the Dandelion head-room. In the video for this month, you will see the Hoverfly feeding on this Dandelion. In return, it will feed upon any aphids and nasty bugs, and, like the Bees, will help with the pollination of my garden.

In Front Of The Barn

This is the biggest log-pile I have in the garden. The top is made up of fallen twigs and small branches, which are tweaked out and specially chosen by our five pairs of resident Jackdaws for replenishing their nests in the chimneys of the Barn. We leave some of the moss we gather from around the garden, spent chaff from last year's plants and any other material suitable for nest-building. Then we watch as Robins, Blackbirds, Jackdaws and Thrushes fly in to choose their pick-and-mix from the pile. In return, they feast on bugs and pests and serenade me the whole year through.

Spring Garden At Barleycorn, April 2011 is the title of this month's video, and the music to accompany it is Beethoven's Symphony No. 6 in F, Opus 68 'Pastoral', Awakening of cheerful feelings in the countryside. I hope you all enjoy it.

Friday 11 March 2011

Time Marches On

Taz among The Snowdrops

The month of February was mainly one of birdwatching, as nothing much stirred in the garden. Most of our plants are still dormant, and most of the garden sports the chaff of last year's blooms.

A Drift Of Snowdrops

Our first flowers are always Snowdrops - those sturdy, though fragile-looking, bulbs, which force their way through the soil each Spring, regardless of however fierce the weather may be.


Just when we think the weather is improving, and we might get our hands in the earth again, the arrival of snow puts paid to any such notions. The past week has seen gales as fierce as any we have experienced over the recent Winter, with showers of sleet and snow.


Joining the Snowdrops we have a small bank of Aconites which raise their heads skywards whenever we have a peep of sunshine. They, too, are a joy and delight and greet us like old friends.

Mixed Crocuses

Winter always seems so long, and Spring slow in coming each year; and, yet, the plants in the garden come to life at their alloted time, with everything in its season.


Our first Hellebores have just opened their heads. Later the deep-wine ones will carpet another area and colour an otherwise drab landscape.


We continue to have visits from the Sparrowhawk. She is a large female who finds her favourite perches while keeping a watchful eye on the whereabouts of Taz, the Barn Cat. Whenever the latter appears, the Sparrowhawk swoops low over the field and is gone, as quickly as she appeared.

The short video this month, called - Taz Among The Snowdrops And A Sparrowhawk - was taken throughout February and the beginning of March. The music which accompanies it is taken from my CD of Bach's Aria From Goldberg Variations.

Monday 31 January 2011

January Ode


You shall go out with joy and be led forth with peace,
and the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you.


There'll be shouts of joy and the trees of the field
shall clap, shall clap their hands,

Chaff---Spent Perennial Stems

And the trees of the field, shall clap their hands,
and the trees of the field shall clap their hands,

Chaff---Spent Stems of Flag Irises

and the trees of the field shall clap their hands
and you'll go out with joy.

S. Dauermann

First Snowdrops of this New Year

What shall we do to combat the blues during the dark days of Winter? Why, sing, of course! Sing for joy! Look at the flock of Yellowhammers which came to greet me! I admit you have to look carefully at my first photo to see their yellow heads...but, they are there. Look at the vibrant green and black colours of the Siskins who visited the feeders one day! Most of the garden is covered in chaff...all the spent stems from last year's perennials. But! In a few months, these beds will be a kaleidoscope of colour. And...the first Snowdrops are through. What's not to cheer about a New Year?

In this month's short video, you will see the diligent Farmer doing his daily round of feeding his sheep, collie by his side. The sheep are overwintering in the field adjacent to Barleycorn., which gives us something new at which to wonder and marvel. Enjoy!

The music accompanying the video is Sir William Walton's Touch Her Lips And Part, from Henry Fifth Suite.