The wild world is relatively easy to observe at close quarters when you live in the country, but there’s close and there’s close.
I mentioned in a recent post that I’d seen a stoat in the garden – not quite unprecedented, but extremely unusual. One morning the other week I was washing up at the kitchen sink and glanced out of the window in front of me. The stoat was standing on the sill outside the window, barely two feet from me with only a pane of glass between us, and watching me carefully with its bright little eyes. After a brief moment it turned and scuttled off across the roof over the cellar steps. It hasn’t returned (as far as I can tell); with so many birds nesting around the place it could cause a lot of damage, so fingers crossed.
|"What are you doing in my pot, Lefty?"|
Our other close encounter was with one of our baby blackbirds. We put out the last of our cooking apples into one of the larger pots on the patio to keep the apples away from four-footed creatures, where Dad blackbird gratefully fed them to his two youngsters. They took to visiting the pot in the hope of being fed, although it wasn’t always Dad who was there! The photo shows a rare visit to the pot by Lefty the lame pigeon, with a rather bemused young blackbird waiting for Dad. The end of the apples coincided with Dad deciding that his fledgelings were old enough to fend for themselves, although one of them was still hesitant about finding food. For a day or two I put extra food out for him (crushed bits of fatball, breadcrumbs) into places where he could see it, and he became quite trusting, following me hopefully around the garden at a discreet distance. On the third day he was so used to us that he would come up close, chattering quietly to us, and even sitting on the summerhouse veranda steps by our feet. And the next day he was gone. Initially we feared the worst (the stoat!), but it’s quite likely that he has joined his little sibling in seeking their own bit of territory; two young blackbirds who look very like our two are now hanging out in the bottom hedge and the young male is content to come fairly close to the summerhouse. I hope they’re our two little friends.
Not quite so close and not as friendly are the great tits, who are taking food into the nest box on the summerhouse wall. They were rather apprehensive when we started sitting out there as the weather warmed up, but have persevered and are raising their family, quietly and inconspicuously and presumably hoping that we haven’t noticed.
The weather is gradually getting warmer, although that chilly wind has come back from time to time. Yesterday was warm and sunny, with lunch on the summerhouse veranda, today wet and drizzly (but any rain is, quite genuinely, ‘good for the garden’ – overall it continues to be a dry spring). Flowers are coming out relatively early: lily of the valley for cutting on May Day, and the first rose of the year (‘Mary Queen of Scots’) opening the same day. There has been a good display of the big red tulips, which seem to have bulked up over the years, and the honesty is spreading a little; I’ve noticed that the orange tip butterflies seem to be attracted to it (laying eggs?) so I’m reluctant to remove too much of it.
|First bloom on R. 'Mary Queen of Scots'|
|Bright red tulips (variety unknown)|
|A posy of Lily of the Valley for May Day|
The dahlias are being wheeled out of the greenhouse during the day to harden them off. Last autumn, forbidden to bend down too far, I had to leave some dahlias in situ, either in the ground or in their pots; a couple of pots were taken into the greenhouse complete with their contents, which protected the dahlias over winter, but the others had to take their chances outside. Those in the ground are looking rather dead; there were three ‘Bishop of Auckland’ dahlias in the biggest pot on the patio (too big for the greenhouse door) and I was confident that even the mild winter would have been too much for them, but I’ve recently noticed that all three are showing the first dark purple leaves at the base. They are sharing the pot with a couple of white osteospermums and some self-sown violas which are providing a bit of colour at the moment; I’ll leave them to cohabit over the summer, with a little fertiliser to perk up the compost, and try to disentangle them in the autumn!
My next task will be to find some red, white and blue, and purple, flowers for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee (purple being the Jubilee colour). White, blue and purple I can manage, but the red tulips will be finished by then and I think I’ll have to rely on whatever I can find in the shops!