A few weeks ago we visited a private house and gardens that we had never been to before, the Montalto Estate near Ballynahinch. Although it was cold the day remained dry. Here are some of the photos that I took.
We have a very small garden, more like a back yard, so earlier this year I did a short survey to discover how good our garden was at attracting pollinators. The results informed me that our garden was really only as good as a window-box! I couldn’t believe it and so made a great effort to add pollinator friendly plants into the two existing borders and many more into pots. Foxglove, Scabious, Hebe, Hardy Geranium and Verbena to name a few.
Now here we are in Autumn and lots of pollinators have been visiting.
A windless day —
On top of every flower,
Small Tortoiseshell on Verbena bonariensis
It worked! Also, because of the pandemic I thought it would be wise to plant some vegetables in pots and containers. Salad leaves and radish have been a success, they are so easy to grow, but I experimented with beans, turnips and carrots. Some successes, but the turnips have had all their leaves eaten by a huge army of caterpillars.
The butterflies we’ve seen are Small Tortoiseshell, Large White, Peacock, Red Admiral, Holly Blue, Small White and Speckled Wood. Seven different species is probably still a low number but it is an urban garden, but if I can find a few more spaces to plant some more pollinator friendly plants, then next year might be even better. More pots too! On one particular afternoon I counted at least 15 butterflies. It was such a joy to see them and a blessing to have them fluttering all around us whilst we sipped afternoon tea.
Of course, there are lots of other pollinators like bees and hoverflies visiting the garden but I don’t know many of their names.
Are you trying to encourage nature into your garden?
Along with the butterfly in this photograph, a Speckled Wood, there are lots of bumblebees on the Hebe. They are all harvesting what they can for the winter season to come.
The days are shorter but still they are warm. In the background, I can hear a Wood Pigeon calling, also Swallows and House Martins chittering above me as they search for food. A solitary Buzzard whistles as it circles on the thermals high, high above and the bamboo wind chimes on the fence, rattle lazily.
I haven’t been able to write much, so far this month, as I have been busy in the garden. So, as the sun is still shining, I’m able to sit between chores and absorb the sights and sounds of the afternoon. In one of those moments this ‘sound-bite’ came to me. The wording in my verse may be a little odd but it works for me, if it is said slowly.
As I opened the study window, there was a freshness in the air, a definite change. A different scent.
Cool morning air
Pours through the open window,
As a wood pigeon calls,
And a bumblebee hums.
Sun, lights up the sky,
Streaming into the room –
The first days of autumn.
It was a dry morning, for a change. A chance to take a walk along the towpath which lies a few miles from our home. Breakfast first, then off we go! By the time we left home, the day was warming up. Here are the pictures I took:
And finally, we arrive at Moneypenney’s Lock, where, with a group of friends, we once toiled in the bee garden. I think this last photo is my idea of heaven.
Today is all about air!
For a long time, I have struggled with an idea; a wish to write something about the wind which this year seems to have been constantly rushing across this island. So many times I have been in the garden and found myself thinking that I live by the coast! I wish! What I’m hearing are the oak trees in neighbouring gardens, their green boughs rising and falling as the air moves through them. Then, when the wind drops, the only sounds are a mixture of birdsongs, mostly Blackbird and the cooing of Woodpigeon.
Aerial displays –
High in the sky!
Looking up, the sky is streaked with long, thin trails of cloud that are being pushed up from the south-west. It is there, high in the sky that the Swallows are feeding. Their view of the world, I almost said “our” world, but of course, it is not, it is their world too, must be so different from ours! How thrilling it must be to have that amount of power and energy in the muscles of one’s body! I suppose the closest we could get to their physical gyrations would be as a pilot in the Red Arrows!
Around the oak trees –
House Martins feeding!
As the wind drops, the movement of Atlantic air slows to a gentler pace, and I watch the House Martins circling and criss-crossing around and under the oak trees. A very different display! I think of how we take for granted the air that we breathe, it is only in our lungs for a short time and yet it gives us life.
Vital for our lungs,
Enabling us to breathe!
It dances all around us.
Air, we cannot own,
Without, we cannot exist!
Air! The greatest gift!
I’m reading Jim Crumley’s latest book The Nature of Summer and he has just quoted something that John Muir wrote: “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe”.
I took these photographs of a woodland near Crossgar almost exactly a year ago. It was once part of the Great Wood of Dufferin that lay between Downpatrick to the south and Bangor to the north. This remnant is just over 14 acres and is a haven for birds and butterflies. The trees are mainly oak and ash with willow and alder in the wetter areas.
Today whilst the gales are blowing in from the south-west I can only dream of this lovely woodland and hope that it won’t be too long before I can return there.
Another bright sunny afternoon and although I’m in short sleeves, when the breeze picks up it has a nip in its touch. The cloud is high, thin and wispy and in places, it looks like smoke drifting in from the northeast. I have just put my jerkin on again and turned the collar up as a large area of cloud looking like cotton wool closes off the direct sunlight for too long.
There are a couple of big oak trees in neighbouring gardens and they have begun filling up with the lovely fresh greenery of new leaves. I can still see the branches though and on one high branch, a hooded crow strains at its perch to call to its companions in the next tree. Three hoarse calls but there is no reply, and then they all take off at the same time heading towards the fields by the river.
As soon as the crows have gone, Woodpigeon begin calling, two quite close by, although I cannot see them, and another much further away, its call filling the gaps in the calls of the closer birds. Woodpigeon (Columba palumbus) are so common now, even coming into my tiny garden when I put food out through the winter, although they prefer the ivy berries in the hedge.
Here is something I wrote a few weeks ago in the early days of spring:
Plucking the last ivy berries
From the top of the hedge –
Photo by Ashley
My apologies for the photograph but I only had seconds to capture the scene and the birds would not stay still, falling over each other trying to grab the berries.
I am trying to train myself to write only spring nature-verses when it is springtime and so the above verse is in my spring notebook. When summer begins, in only a few weeks at the beginning of May, I will open a summer notebook and hopefully find lots of lovely summer things to write about there.
Beside me, I can hear the mumbling buzz of a bumblebee as she extracts nectar from the tiny flowers of Rosemary. The plant was overlooked last year and now its three-foot spires are covered in delicate lilac flowers. Lovely!
Photo by Ashley
It’s difficult to believe, but a couple of evenings ago not far from here the temperature dropped to -5.8c and the violas that are in the ground were all touched by the cold. I was able to protect one small hanging basket moving it into the garden shed and today their lovely flower faces are enjoying this spell of warm sunshine. And so am I.
Photo by Ashley
Enjoy what’s left of spring and stay safe.
Is she drunk, this bumblebee,
as she stumbles and crawls
inside the crocus flower?
She is certainly bedraggled,
having just woken
from a very long sleep,
and in the urgent need
to drink a flower’s nectar
she forgot her usual early morning cleansing.
I love this busy Moma,
this fuzzy beastie, little Queen,
all hum and quiver,
full of vigour.
This morning, at sometime between 03.00 and 03.15am, I woke up feeling completely refreshed and fully alive! It was only when I turned onto my back that the searing pain returned! It took another 30 minutes before I was able to stand by the bedroom window and peer into the street where the darkness was diminished by the street lights. It wasn’t raining but the tarmac glistened.
I left the bedroom, and with the aid of 2 walking sticks I shuffled my way down the hall and into the kitchen. I turned on the small, softer lights, those above the worktops. I sat at the kitchen table with a glass of cool water and waited. It would be another hour before I could take medication. It was 04.00am!
Whilst I sat there massaging my right leg, hopelessly trying to reduce the pain, I remembered that today was the Winter Solstice, mid-winter! From today the sun would once again be slowly climbing higher above the horizon, imperceptibly bringing more daylight into our world. This return of the light is part of the cycle of life, of increasing daylight and warmth.
It is shocking that at nearly 70 years of age, I am being reminded about the earth’s cycle of celebration (www.glenniekindred.co.uk). In a little, illustrated book she writes about this time as a festival, of roots that have been growing within us, bringing stability:
The days will lengthen..…we can bring our inner wisdom out of the dark unconscious, to grow with the increasing light..…It is time to birth our visions, name our dreams and make our resolutions…..Winter Solstice is an opportunity to come out of hibernation, be loving, generous and sociable…..The old year has died and the way is now prepared for the rebirth of activity and expansion into the outer world.
Whilst it was still dark outside, I lit a candle. Here in NI it was exactly 04.19am and surely a time to hope for a better future. To all who pass this way, HAPPY YULE!
From A Nocturnal upon St. Lucy’s Day by John Donne:
‘Tis the year’s midnight, and it is the day’s,
Lucy’s, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks;
Since she enjoys her long night’s festival,
Let me prepare towards her, and let me call
This hour her vigil, and her eve, since this
Both the year’s, and the day’s deep midnight is.
On the return leg of our recent Tollymore walk, a group of people emerged from the woods! Long cloaks, fur collars, staffs!
We couldn’t work out why they were dressed so; what was going on? It was only when we returned to car park and saw them boarding a tour coach: Game of Thrones!