Category Archives: plantlife

Like snow in …

The may blossom begun to open around our holding. First we have the blackthorn, which is more ethereal, and more important to us. A good flowering well fertilised by the insects will give a good crop of sloes for sloe gin, the spirit ordinaire of the holding. The go-to after failed poetry competitions, and declined books, disastrous lambings and sheep found in ditches. So you can see it is essential.

Actually the sheep in the ditch ended well for the sheep and was only a disaster for my wife’s dodgy shoulder. And the fruit trees which nourished the sheep as she recovered.

We have a number of sheep on the holding who have arrived after getting themselves into difficulties. One is now fully recovered, but in her first days here she was the cause of much sloe gin consumption. The sensible decision would have been to cull her to improve the health status of the herd. But she had been let down by human kind, and we felt unable to do it. Our (lovely and wonderful) vets comment that with us it can be hard to know if they are treating a pet animal (please save this, whatever it costs) or a farm animal (well we are planning to eat it later, anyhow). It was an astute comment, for we rear both lamb and turkey for the freezer. Ironically, the companions cause sloe gin consumption as we worry, and the farm animals home made elderberry wine to wash them down.

But I digress. Blackthorn is ethereal but may is the true glory of early summer. Pouring over the place from hedges and up trees. It is there for a week, maybe two. Then it fades, and one knows that the year will never rise to such heights again. When it comes, I look and look, but I have never managed to see enough before it goes.


The green fire

The green fire is spreading up the hillside, but it has not reached me yet.In this latest of years I have been watching hopefully as the fuse first lit down at the coast has been edging slowly but firmly up and up, in and in. Now the valleys are blazing with new grass, budding hawthorn, and black ash buds.

Not here, not yet. Soon though. There are signs of its coming. Buds not yet broken are still swelling. A sudden riot of coltsfoot and celandine has broken out. Not the green, however, not yet. Not that sudden lushness all over the fields and hedgerows that means spring feeding, and lushness and the renewal of life is here.

Happiness is a warm hosepipe

The hosepipe was limp and warm in my hand this morning, which was a first since some time in February. Upland Ayrshire has not been exempt from the cold weather that has frozen the UK for the last month. The hosepipe has been stiff and cold.

The truth is that we have neither had the coldest conditions not the warmest. We have had snow, and one day thanks to drifts I was snowed it – and the drifts have only just thawed, though it was tiny frozen rumps that were left, like melted snowmen.

It has been the mis-match with the light which has been most strange. Some of the usual spring events are triggered by light. The geese, for instance, have been laying since February, and one is now sitting, and the curlews have arrived, poor things. Dear knows how they have managed to keep themselves fed, because the ground has been frozen solid, and I should not think they could have got their beaks in even in the ditch edges. The pied wagtails are here too, to breed. But the tits all fled, despite fat balls to feed them. It was just too cold, and they went further down the hill side.

There are, as yet, no frogs, and most of the time the pond has been frozen solid. However, the heron has arrived to frog, so I suspect she thinks things are stirring, and the pond is now thawed, because the nights have only been down to minus two, and the days up to a giddy 6 or 7.

Plant life has pretty solidly followed temperatures, and interestingly so have the guinea fowl, who have not yet laid an egg (I kept them in for a few days, to be certain of this. They were not amused …). The fields, not just mine, but all around, are bare and grey and brown. At the very best it will be another month before there is any grass at all, even if this week we get the few days of mild wet weather we so badly need.

This weather doubles, perhaps trebles, my work load. I am still damping hay for the ponies, and the poultry get little supplement from either insects or plants.  The sheep cannot be safely left out, and need to come in at night, and need to be fed hay and ‘cake’ (sheep muesli), and got buckets of water.  I am not alone in having extra work and expense, but I and the thousands in the same boat will not half be glad to see a real spring.

A tale of two farms

The other night I dined like a monarch on a chanterelle omelette, something I thought never to eat again when I moved here. Chanterelles are among the finest of wild mushrooms, and the come up during the first wet weather of autumn. They do not grown on what used to be the land of this farm, but on the quite different land, a quarter of a mile away, which used to belong to the neighbouring farm. There the edges of the fields still bear rich traces of the biodiversity which it used to enjoy before it was overwhelmed with sheep. There are still double field boundaries, too, where the two farms were divided.

On the other farm, there are still orchids in summer, and violets in spring, and vast swathes of marsh marigolds. Now in the autumn, there are wonderful fungus, so many that despite a fine book on them, I simply do not have the spare time to identify all of them. There are a few field mushrooms, and some boletus of staggering size, closer to a serving dish than a dinner plate. There are the striking and unmistakable fly agaric.

On my land, where I would so welcome something striking, the only interesting thing is mace reed. The thing which amazes me is that the boundary is very sharp. There is a ruined gateway between the two farms, and a fence. Below there is great richness – above almost total sterility. Three good paces and one is in a different world.

Surprised by joy

The three weeks since my last post have been pretty fun-free, really. Work on the copy-edit of my book which is tedious and de-skilling in the extreme, leaving me feeling that I simply cannot write and should quit trying, and work on the house, either the ceiling – which was back-breaking and rather ended in tears when the finish on the ceiling mysteriously turned white (it should have been a clear finish) or sanding, which results in needing to shower and change every stitch of clothing since one ends covered with grit and dust.

However, as always there are moments of joy. The rescued orange tree in my bedroom has recovered form the hormonal growth-stunting spray applied to make it a bush for Christmas 09 (not by me, I rescued it in Jan. 10) and is putting out new leaves and flowering … an orange-grove in my bedroom. The azalea I rescued in B & Q this year for 10p is growing very well, though it will take a year to look normal, I think.

Outside a family of coal tits have been using my nesting box and delighting me – a reward for finally getting the feeding right this winter. Best of all, mysterious noises come from the nest box put up for the barn owls and I see the parents regularly.

A good week

I have had my fair share of Jonah weeks – weeks when everything that could go wrong did. This week I got the opposite.

The sun shone. The new little keets were able to venture out and enjoy it. They are growing, although it does weigh on their minds that they are delicious. They are very cautious.

Bernadette too is putting on weight. When she arrived she condition scored one (out of five, where five is obese) and now she scored three (which is the ideal weight). It has taken good feeding to get her there. The least said about what it has done to Martha’s condition score the better. They too have been out in an electrified pen enjoying the sun.

I have also been able to see good progress with the plants. The tomato seed my son and son-in-law gave me has turned into nice little plants. So have the aubergines, who turned out to have enchanting purple flowers, and as you can see, the pepper my daughter gave me flowered and then set fruit.

Then the buddlia from last year and the lavender from this year, given by another daughter are both flowering.

And then an agent felt they would like to represent the big biography. A good week.


I freely admit I have stolen this idea from Kelvin’s head. People go there looking for posts on baptism. They come to mine looking for asparagus.

I posted a couple of times last year on my baby asparagus, grown from seed, and am happy to report that they come through the winter fine. It was less fortunate that I had no sooner established them outside in a trough than ‘something’ scratched them up. Re-planted it turned out I had only lost a couple of them They are tough cookies indeed.

This is as well, for it turns out they are my totemic vegetable.

Most people have one totemic animal. I have one friend for whom it is owls, and another has bats. I was discussing this with her, and she commented ruefully that while most people have just one totemic animal, I have several (pigs, horses, dogs and sheep head the list). Then I have totemic fictional animals (dragons and now brass eagles). Then I have totemic birds (curlew, turkeys).

It never occurred to me until recently that I am so given to totems that I have acquired totemic vegetables. Asparagus. Good thing it IS the asparagus, because Puddy Em has killed all but one of the globe artichokes by using their trough for an out-door cat litter tray (for the times when coming in would inconvenience her).

Biodiversity and Morgue Row

Today is biodiversity day. I have been contemplating the wonderful diversity of plant life in the Ayrshire hedgerows and roadsides. We have blackthorn, hawthorn, and apple, the latter cut into hedging as well as allowed to be bushes and trees. We have water avens, and marsh marigold, primroses, bluebells, and bushels of cow parsley or Queen Anne’s Lace, as my father knew it. We have stitchwort and campion. In and through it we have a myriad of bees and hoppers and flies. In consequence, we also have swallows and finches and warblers. Each tier a joy.

As I drive to work on Tuesday and Thursday I go through a particularly delicious and rich stretch. The narrow lanes at this time of year burst with colour. Until I get to Morgue Row. In Morgue Row some tidy-minded farmer has decided the weeds must go. He has, and I suspect it has taken years, knocked most of the diversity out of the place, but until a few days ago the cow parsley was flowering bonnily. Now there are tortured remains, and agonised twisted shapes. He has sprayed each and every inch of the wayside with weed-killer. It makes me wretched to pass it.

Biodiversity is not something for others, biodiversity lives or dies on our own roadside.

… all silver white

The wild-flowers in Ayrshire this year seem far more spectacular than last. I am pretty sure it is not my imagination. For a start there are many primroses, and I know I looked hard for them last year and did not see any. Then there are the marsh marigolds – they were here last year but not in the profusion I am finding this year. They are one of the flowers which really cheer the heart, and they are in massive drifts this year. There are many violets, too. But they are all capped by the drifts of ladies smocks. Shakespeare put them in a song with ‘daisies pied’ and adds a cuckoo (to taunt married men. He is not good at keeping sex out of things, Shakespeare. Sad he found it the expense of spirit in a waste of shame.) I even have the cuckoo.

No this photo does not do justice to the field that was silver and purple and pink with them and if I get sunshine I will try again. Meantime, imagine.

The promise

They have come again.

And the days are getting longer.