February 2019 – and a dramatic change in the weather

Last year we had the ‘beast from the east’ – snow – melt-water and a flooded lower garden. This year temperatures reached an unprecedented high and dry weather allowed us to make progress in the garden. Clad in summer clothes, and with Richard’s help, I marked out a bog garden, stripped the turf and began the long job of extracting heavy clay, mixing it with sand and compost and adding it to sunken borders. A very fat frog appeared on the lawn, obviously ready to spawn but we don’t yet have a pond and don’t know of one near by so that is now added to our ‘to do’ list.

The lower lawn was scarified and the other lawns had their first cut of the year. We have had a change of plan for the river garden. We had intended it to remain wild with just a cut in early spring and autumn. But it soon filled with Cock’sfoot, Creeping Bent, nettles and creeping buttercups so we will mow the central area and leave wild borders around the edges and on the river bank.

We made three further visits to Stevenshill to see the snowdrops.

The last on a glorious day alive with bees and with the unexpected appearance of two comma butterflies, a red admiral and a small tortoiseshell.

There are many flowers that I could call favourites but snowdrops must be at the top of my list.

Their appearance at the beginning of the year always lifts my heart and I’m delighted that the ones brought from Islay are thriving on our lower lawn. However, despite some welcome rain and lower temperatures for the last few days of the month they faded faster than usual and by the end of the month were all but over.

The Prunus pissardii burst its buds on the 14th and primroses and tiny daffodils brought from Islay soon followed

The number of birds visiting the feeders dropped dramatically but a very persistent grey squirrel foiled all our attempts to stop him from taking peanuts. He demolished one new feeder but we have just replaced it with a squirrel-proof cage and seem to have foiled him at last. He can still access the fat balls and we think he must be a dominant male as he is the only one venturing up to the feeders.

The greatest joy of our location has been the river garden. Mallard and moorhen are around most of the time, two pairs of goosanders are frequent visitors while cormorant and heron appear occasionally. But the highlight is the male kingfisher which regularly uses the perch we provided. The loan of a portable hide enabled me to get a much better photograph and to show the brilliant stripe down his back as well as his orange breast.

Visits to bookshops in Church Stretton and Shrewsbury mean that my books are now available in Shropshire and I have a list of other independent bookshops to contact.

A day at Bishop’s Castle Arts Festival for a poetry workshop with Jean Atkin gave me the opportunity to attend a willow weaving workshop. It was fascinating to see the skill of the tutor and I came home with a mini-obelisk. Sadly I won’t be repeating the process as my arthritic fingers made the process both difficult and painful.

So, as the month ends it’s back to work in the garden. Soon it will be time to sow seeds, plant perennials and a row of thornless blackberries and loganberries. I may lose some of the fruits to birds and passers-by because the site for the latter runs between the river garden and the public footpath. But it seems to be a good use for an otherwise bare fence and as long as they save a few for me I’ll be happy!