• Blog,  Day to Day

    Sunday Chat, 22nd May 2022

    Welcome to the first Sunday Chat 🙂

    It’s Sunday and the perfect time for a bit of a break and a chatty, probably overly-long post! Brew up and come and join me for a few moments as I type away. On my old blog I used to quite like doing these sort of chatty posts, I called them my ‘morning brews’. I think I’d quite like to carry that on here, as more of an off topic weekly ramble! So ramble on I will, haha! Please join in the comments…

    It’s a blustery day, hot in the south apparently, from looking at Instagram stories. Here in Yorkshire it’s mild but with a slight chill in the wind. The newly flowering lilac dances in the breeze as blue tits chirp angrily at Agatha as she wanders about below the tree. It’s a lazy kind of day, the best kind. I’ve scoffed a Sunday treat of a pain au chocolat and am now sat in the conservatory next to a tray of plants, bouncing away in my freecycle Poang. Lovely!

    The lilac and bee tree in flower

    I’ve spent the morning attempting to set up a new login for my laptop, to separate my blog from my uni work – I was beginning to dread turning on the laptop in case I spotted emails, or Teams started pinging away. I wasn’t enjoying having a visual reminder of all the work I have to do, when all I want is to log into my blog and type away happily!

    After wading through two hours of Windows bloat, I’ve finally sorted out a nice, calm area with just the essentials for blogging. It’s really nice not getting distracted by a million things and having a separation between uni and blog. I’ve been swearing at the screen all morning as it kept putting loads of pop up news things, weird apps that have nothing to do with anything, and bizarre notifications, all of which you have to manually delete one after the other. So hopefully I’ve got them all now and nothing else annoying is going to sneak in and remind me of all the horrible things happening in the world without me asking it to.

    It’s been a quiet week – I’ve just felt like hiding at home and doing small things. Repotting, sitting in the shed, getting lost in social media too many times, cooking, watching plants flower and leaves turn ever greener. I used to fight against weeks like this, but now I embrace them a little more. Everything comes in waves, after all, don’t you find? The slower weeks are just as important. A positive was that the new Permaculture mag plopped through the letterbox and I had plenty of time to immerse myself in it. I also sat down at my piano for the first time in ages and had a tentative hour or so playing my way rustily around some pieces I haven’t touched for a year.

    After lockdown stopped my lessons and my teacher then retired, I gradually stopped playing as much, and then as other things filled my brain, little by little I found I’d stopped totally. Without an external structure I find it hard to keep going – but it was nice to sit back down in front of the keys. Kind of like a hello after a long time. I’m finding a lot of things are like that, at the moment. After lockdown, it feels we’re doing a lot of things for the first time again. Do you feel that? I’m finding it rather strange, a little excited and apprehensive in equal measures.

    I feel like something is missing though, somehow – like we have this huge, shared experience, this shared trauma, and no-one is talking about it. We’re just ‘back to normal’ here in the UK, but of course, it isn’t normal. I wonder how long it will take to trickle out. How things will turn out in the coming years for people.

    The fab cat topiary at Scape Lodge!

    Back in the garden, I’ve been repotting ferociously, if you can do such a thing! (Image of wild ginger-haired woman flinging compost madly around the greenhouse, surrounded by 4000 seedlings and absolutely no medium-sized pots anywhere to be seen!).

    It’s that time of year when I regret planting so many tomatoes. Does anyone else have the tomato regret? I don’t know how I ended up with so many, I’m sure I only planted 4 seeds. Even though one was a frankenseed and ended up producing five plants out of the one seed which I couldn’t separate, so it is now growing away happily in a single pot. I’m wondering if it will produce some exciting franken-matoes?!

    We also popped into Scape Lodge’s NGS Open Garden last week and got loads of inspiration from their absolutely stunning garden high up in the hills. I took so many photos! There were tulips galore, exciting nooks and crannies and incredible trees making a beautiful scene every way we turned. Oh, an a cat-shaped topiary! They’re open again in June and I fully recommend a visit. (There was also a delicious selection of cakes!).

    On that note, I think it’s time to finish my coffee and potter on. I think I’ll try and make these as regular as possible, and maybe get them up at a specific time each Sunday, like a proper cuppa and a chat?

    Shine on,

    Sal 🙂

    This week I’m:

    Listening – to The Scotland Yard Confidential podcast on Spotify – I’m not usually a podcast person but this new crime podcast kept my attention the whole way through, full of dastardly deeds, detective’s intuition and entertaining narration that made me giggle.

    Buying – I finally began getting through a pile of free wax melt samples I’d amassed. Unfortunately the scents weren’t for me (bit headache-y, does anyone else get that with certain scents?) so I ordered A Slow Sunday’s Morning Coffee scented ones instead – I’ll report back once I’ve had the chance to try them out.

    Refilling – my UpCircle face cream. On the third refill now, I think! The cream itself smells amazing and really helps to soften my dry skin up. I’m also a huge fan of the coffee eye cream (can you see a coffee-related pattern here) which I also use the refill scheme for. They come in glass jars with metal lids, so plastic free too.

    ReadingHelen Lewis’s The Bluestocking newsletter – excellently written.

    Ag disappointed that I have interrupted her nap in the compost!
  • Blog,  Home,  In the Kitchen,  The Cottage

    Lovely Coffee Cake

    What else does a day need when you have coffee cake? Here’s my favourite recipe, from the no-longer-there/now something else Cegin Llynnon tea rooms in Anglesey.

    My little recipe book advises it was created by the proprietor Dilys Hughes, so thank you Dilys for many years of amazing coffee cakes. All in old school ounces, so you may need your conversion heads on. An ounce is 28 grams, apparently.

    Cake:
    6 oz sieved self raising flour
    1 tsp baking powder
    6 oz soft margarine
    6 oz caster sugar
    3 eggs
    2 oz walnuts
    1 tbsp instant coffee
    1 dessertspoon hot water

    Filling:
    2 oz butter
    4 oz icing sugar
    1 tsp instant coffee
    1 tsp hot water

    Topping:
    2 oz icing sugar
    1 tsp instant coffee
    1 tbsp hot water
    Walnut halves to decorate

    Pre-heat your oven to Gas 3, 170C. Lightly grease two 7″ sandwich tins and line the base with greaseproof (I use cake release and don’t bother with the lining!)

    Dissolve the instant coffee in the hot water, then place all ingredients in a mixing bowl, including coffee mixture. Beat well to creamy dropping consistency. Divide between the tins and bake for 25-35 mins until spongy. Leave to cool a moment in the tins, then turn out onto a rack to cool properly.

    Buttercream – again, dissolve the coffee in the hot water. Cream butter until soft, then gradually beat in sugar and add coffee liquid. Beat well then use to sandwich cake layers together.

    Topping – you guessed it, dissolve coffee in the water. Place icing sugar in a bowl then gradually add coffee mixture until the consistency of thick cream. Spread over cake and sprinkle your walnut halves on top.

    Notes: I usually make 1.5 times the topping as the original is a bit stingy with the quantity! I also put more instant coffee into pretty much all of the stages as I love a strong coffee taste. Definitely remember to sieve the flour, it makes a big difference. Cake also freezes pretty well, if there’s any left…! Coffee beans in photos for hashtag aesthetic purposes only. Although you can munch on them whilst making the cake, of course 😉

    Enjoy! 🙂

  • Blog,  Words

    Warm Rain

    The rain is warm, a rare treat in the UK, and falling hard, fat raindrops plopping into hastily formed puddles, battering against earth that a few moments ago was dry dust. That smell, petrichor, floating joyously through open windows, the sun and heat of the morning suddenly dark, suddenly grey. The rain hammers against the conservatory, a thousand drumbeats, loud and insistent. Come outside, warm rain says. Feel alive.

    I dance through open doors and turn my face to the sky, a relief after this dry spell. With water butts  running dry and just a few drizzly days over the last six weeks or so, the weather has broken and it’s time to celebrate, even in a small way. Plants seem joyous, water battering green leaves, finally. Rivulets rush from the steep lawn, over the driveway, onto the road – the earth is too dry to absorb this sudden river. I stand, with heavy rain hitting my scalp, soaking through my clothes, raising hands to the sky and laughing, laughing.

    This morning, everything is greener, brighter, fresher. The day dawns with blues and pinks and those fluffy clouds that rush across the skies as though chasing each other. The breeze brings a coolness and trees stretch into themselves, lazily reaching to the sun, refreshed from the energy of just a few hours ago.

    The UK is no stranger to rain, of course. But those big, swollen raindrops after a hot morning – where the skies are leaden but the downpour still has warmth – those are the rare days. We are used to freezing pinpricks, cold mizzle, slate grey and shivering. I feel alive in warm rain, I need to run out in it, be part of it, rather than hiding away. There’s something primal, freeing, standing in this suburban garden but feeling some ancient reminder – an echo, a shadow – of what it is to be a human, standing in a downpour, for no other reason than to feel alive. Water for life, water for the soul.

  • Blog,  Places

    Porth Nobla in the Rain – Seaweed, Stones & Oystercatchers

    Staying in a leaking tent in a downpour is pretty miserable, I admit. As much as I like to be ‘one with the elements’, when the elements start dripping through the roof onto your socks then it’s time to make a move. So, embracing the downpour, we scuttled into the car and headed for one of our favourite beaches on Anglesey. 

    There’s a small layby for parking which has become a lot busier over the years. Even in this weather there were a few other cars already parked. Down the track, past a bush covered in knots of tent moth caterpillars, we spotted the few other hardy souls wandering through the downpour in the distance. Not just us that likes a bracing walk! As the sodden sand mingled with the surf, we tracked footprints along the shoreline, rain dripping from our noses. 

    Porth Nobla is along the coast from Rhosneigr, just before (or after, depending which way you’re coming!) the better known Cable Bay. Down a small track, there is a nice sandy beach, plenty of rockpools, and a path around the headland to the Neolithic burial chamber Barclodiad y Gawres. The burial chamber is amazing, although the entrance is barred off. Peering into the gloom you can make out artworks, and there is usually an lovely array of gifts left just through the bars too. 

    This time, the rain was driving and we stayed on the beach. Clambering over rocks, pointing out anemones and winkles, wandering up shingle to find dragons eggs (definitely not just a pebble). I was more than happy to find some exciting coloured seaweed. I’m sure one day I’ll learn to identify it! An oystercatcher flapped at us as we stumbled near its nesting site, and we wandered back down to the sand, not wanting to disturb it. I’ve been coming to this beach for my entire life. Seeing how it changed between each visit is always interesting, tinged with a little nostalgia as I remember family holidays as a small child, a teen, a young adult. Now I’m approaching middle age, walking the shoreline with Mr. GF. Anchoring a bit of myself with each footstep, hearing the echoes of years past.

    I’ve always wanted to stay in Tyn Towyn, the little white cottage at the top of Porth Nobla beach, but never have! Every time I wander past I think I’d love to stay there. Winter would be fantastic, rain lashing at the windows and no mobile signal. Right up my street! It looks great in any season, and I imagine early morning swims in the summer and books and blankets in winter. We have wild camped on this beach previously, lying on sand above the high tide line with the milky way hanging in the dark above and waves breaking along miles of coastline. Good times, and way less rainy. 5am camp coffee with the rising sun, bacon butties and sand in sleeping bags.

    Back to the present and by the time we got back to the car, we were the only ones left in the lay by. We peeled our wet coats off, dripping onto the car seats. As the windows steamed up we were looking forward to hot chips from Rhosneigr on the way back. We planned paracord washing lines to dry our clothes once the rain had passed and headed down the road, leaving the wild waves behind.

     

     

     

     

  • Blog,  Wild Garden

    The Garden at Beltane – Nests, Tadpoles, Tulips and More

    Hello,

    It feels a little weird as this is the first proper post I’ve written in a few months now. But with the spirit of the season, a burst of activity on the blog is long overdue!

    I’m a little late, Beltane was a few weeks ago now, but the spirit of the season is strong – that rush of proper spring, where plants are pushing through soil with vigour. The first tentative greens of early spring are deepening, with leaves almost shining as they unfurl, trees luscious, tulips almost glowing. Isn’t it heady? The explosion of life. I feel it waits and waits and then suddenly withing a couple of weeks, some invisible dam breaks and it all comes rushing out at once. I love it.

    Here in Yorkshire, the days are noticeably longer – last night there was still that faint greenish glow on the horizon at past 10pm. I love this feeling – my soul season. Long days, colour, that expectation of summer just around the corner. Do you feel it, too? I spend the winter longing for these days, a little unsettled, out of sorts. The last few weeks, suddenly I fit in, and I languish in the smell of blossom, the buzz of the first bees, the wriggle of tadpoles. My soul stretches out like the daylight. The garden brings me solace each season, but the garden at Beltane is really getting into its own.

    We lost a bird box in one of the storms earlier this year, but blue tits have moved into the remaining one, and this week we could hear the first hungry cheeps of the tiny hatchlings inside as the parents pop in and out with a relentless supply of creepy crawlies, from dawn to dusk, it seems. Occasionally, they’ll rest a moment on a bird feeder, bedraggled and exhausted, snatching a few bits of peanut or seed before setting off again.

    Magpies have tried to nest at the top of the fir tree for the last few years but succumbed to the winds that blow in down the valley. This year, they’ve moved into the willow and successfully weathered a few storms with the nest staying put – and again, this week, we hear babies squawking quietly in response to the parent’s croaks.

    The tadpoles are wriggling furiously in the pond – we were planning on having a good clear out of the pond however the day we planned to do it, we awoke to find it full of frogspawn! So a gentle plant trim and scoop of duckweed was done instead. Of course, the duckweed is back in full flow and has covered the surface entirely. Ah well!

    We had our first successful tulip year as well. We treated ourselves to a myriad of beautiful, exciting ones from Farmer Gracy, as well as some extras from shops around and about. What a show! I put some tubs by the front of the house to welcome us as we came home, as well as some optimistic ones in the lawn (all came up but at different times!) and more pots around the back. They made such a difference, bringing such colour to the garden and really lifting our spirits. We also managed to plant a bargain bag of reduced mixed daffodils from B&Q which again, gave a really good show, especially since I think it was £3 for the whole bag!

    I think investing in the tulips was a great idea. I’ve never bought bulbs from a ‘proper’ place before, and we were so impressed. I think we spent about £25 including some crocuses as well (amazing orange ones!) and just to have that bit of joy and colour as everything else was getting going was really worth the money. I’d love to hear what you’re growing at the moment – if you’re a tulip fan, how did yours get on this year? Where do you buy your bulbs?

    We’ve been busy in the veg patch too, but I’ll save that for another post! Hope you have a lovely day,

    Sal 🙂

     

  • Adventures,  Blog,  Miscellany

    What’s In My Mini Emergency Kit?

    I have a penchant for interesting things in old tins. There’s something fascinating about the possibilities that could be contained within, the individuality, the tetris-like placement of items. The myriad of options. Any number of small things could find their home in that familiar, pocket-sized container.

     

    In a recent issue of Ernest Journal, writer Tanya Shadrick shared her ‘concentrates of place‘, beautiful memories nestled in old tobacco tins. As a fan of making treasure to remind me of places, reading about her tins enthralled me. The possibilities an old cigarette tin has are endless and always intriguing.

     

    I’m happy to have my own old tin, snuffled from eBay, a gold Nosegay tobacco tin in which I keep my tiny emergency kit for when I am wandering about on the moors. Said kit has slightly expanded out of the tin, but joyously, a teeny little IKEA bag does the job of carrying the expanded items just fine.

     

    I am by no means a long distance walker, but enjoy an morning or afternoon’s plod accompanied by my thoughts, ideally in driving rain, damp drizzle or gusting wind, when most other people are sensibly indoors and the only people you meet are people just as enthusiastic and daft as you, raindrops dripping from their noses, exchanging eye rolls and grins and that unspoken wildness just below the surface.

     

    Up on the moors, there are dips and holes and bogs and a myriad of places to fall into, off and through. With this in mind, I put together a little kit, just in case on day one of these hazards creeps up on me and catches me unawares. These days I never get so far as to be miles from civilisation, but having a little backup just in case puts me at ease. Plus, I get to put things in a tin, which is always the real reason for doing anything.

     

    This is my current mini emergency kit all packed up:

     

    Flatlay of a mini emergency kit showing an old Nosegay tobacco tin, a mini ikea bag, some clips, vaseline, kendal mint cake and a rolled up homemade sitting mat, all on a wooden table.

    The mini IKEA bag gives me an immense amount of joy, honestly. The perfect size to pop in your adventure rucksack.

     

    In addition to my two containers, I also take two clips that came with my walking poles – they just look useful in case I need to hang any soggy socks off a nearby branch. There’s a tin of Vaseline – in addition to helping chapped anything, it can also be spread onto cotton rounds to help them burn slower if you need to start a fire. And of course, no walk is complete without Kendal Mint Cake (a quick mint-flavoured rabbit hole has led me to discover no less than 4 mint cake brands, although the packaging of Romney’s is tip top. They also do tins! Huzzah).

     

    The ‘thing in the bag’ is a knitted mat (I spun the wool, terribly, then used my knitting skills – also terrible – to make this rectangle. The good thing about both those things is that the wool is very thick and the knitting is very tight. Happily, this makes a comfy, warm sitting pad!) Popped in a carrier bag, it is a smug way to sit on rocks/grass/damp ground and not get a numb bum.

     

    Unpacked, my mini kit looks like this:

     

    flat lay of mini emergency kit containing tin, small bag, knitted sitting pad, plastic bag, fire steel, gauze, alcohol wipe, swiss card, paracord, clips, vaseline, mint cake, emergency details, paracetamol and a silver survival blanket

    In addition to the items I talked about, my mini emergency kit has a couple of first aid bits – gauze bandage, cleansing wipe, paracetamol. The moors are damp and mossy, sphagnum moss makes a great poultice. The aforementioned cotton pads for if ever I needed to start a fire (absolutely banned on the moors, for good reason) and a small fire steel. Practically, I have some paracord and a Swiss Card containing a small knife, tweezers, pen, screwdriver, bottle opener and file. I used to have one with a magnifying glass and scissors, but stupidly forgot and left it in my hand luggage on the way to Iceland one year. You can guess the rest.

     

    Lastly, I take a bit of paper with emergency details on – who I am, who to contact, car reg & description, any meds/health conditions. In summer, I’d add Factor 50 (ginger) and insect repellent if I’m about around dusk.

     

    Of course, I always take a bottle of water, usually a quick lunch or snack and some fruit/nuts. I charge my phone before I go and if I’m going to be a while I take a battery pack and lead. App-wise, I have What3Words (also useful for marking interesting places) and a first aid app, and use the free version of OutdoorActive as my map and route tracker – it works on GPS too if there’s no reception.

     

    For me, this is an easy way to make sure I have something useful on me if I encounter a calamity on a boggy adventure, and means I can help myself a little whilst I wait to be rescued. It also satisfies my ‘things in old tins’ penchant.

     

    Do you have a mini emergency kit (or large emergency kit) you take with you on walks, no matter how long they are? Of course, longer adventures require different essentials. I’m interested to know what you class as essential for your adventures. Also if you love keeping things in tins, or is it just me…

  • Blog,  The Pond,  Wild Garden,  Wildlife

    Early signs of Spring

    It’s March now, somewhat unbelievably. 2022 seems to have sped by so quickly, January and February feel so distant, like I missed them somehow. It’s been a quiet time, hiding from the news, watching and waiting and trying to make some sense of it all, and all that has happened in the last few years.

     

    Against this backdrop of big, unsettling thoughts, I can notice our little garden and the changes that emerge. The light still returns, the shoots still emerge, the world still spins on and on. And in that there is comfort, for me at least.

     

    Equinox is approaching, finally that tip into the lighter half of the year. Impatient, I see pictures from those further South, of bulbs flowering and finishing before ours are even above the soil. I know, though, that soon the leaves will bud and the insects will return. The early signs of spring are showing – slowly now, but I can’t wait for that heady rush when the season tumbles into life, changing day by day, with vibrance and energy and that riot of life.

     

    Life in the pond

     

    In the pond, leaves are growing and ripples start to twitch the surface, evidence of movement in the mud underneath. Yesterday, a frog popped its head above the surface for a few seconds, caught in a sunbeam. I felt a rush of relief that they have survived the winter. I check my Biotime diary – this time in 2020 there was spawn in the pond. Things are a little later this year, for sure.

     

    The pond is overgrown, roots and duckweed all tangled together in clumps. Leaves from the holly tree above have fallen in copious amounts over winter. Now the frogs are up and about, I will wait for a warm day to clear it out and tidy up a little, before spawning. I usually find a few grumpy frogs still hiding in the mud at the bottom.

     

    a small overgrown pond showing early signs of spring. Made from a black liner, there are pot pipes around the edge and a brick for wildlife to climb out. The pond is filled with duckweed and overgrown pond lillies.

    Along with the mud, they spend a few moments in a bucket, before mud, plus frogs, are tipped back in. It’s good to keep a nice layer at the bottom for them to hide in, and to keep a good dose of microbes there. The pond has established over a few years now, with clear water and healthy plants. I don’t want to clear all of that away, just give the inhabitants a little more room to move.

     

    Every year I put a few handfuls of barley straw in a bit of chicken wire. As the straw rots it keeps the water clear (through some magic of science!) and provides a place for snails, larvae and the occasional frog to hide in.

     

    Bulbs and birds

     

    On Christmas Eve we planted bulbs in the lawn – crocuses and tulips – and they are pushing up through the moss now. At one side the crocuses are flowering, nestled underneath the Birch, tiny happy colours hinting at what’s to come. The snowdrops have finished for the year and daffodils are waiting for that perfect time to pop into bloom – not just yet, they say.

     

    I feel that a little myself. That waiting, through the winter. It’s not time for action, just yet. Nurture those seeds planted, physically and mentally, in this world and in others. I always feel a disconnect with the whole ‘new year’ push. In the dead of winter, it is time to reflect, to hibernate a little. I used to push against this, but falling back into the rhythm of the seasons over the years has helped me to go with the tide some more. It’s ok to slow, to wait out the dark. We are still animals, part of that huge, glorious interconnected web. We still feel the pull of the earth.

     

    Back in the garden, the birds are busy singing for mates, gathering twigs, filling up on seed before the still-cold nights. The hedgehog has happily returned, wandering past our wildlife camera in the dead of night, snuffling for nourishment after waking from a long sleep. It’s a noticeable shift – something has changed. That rising anticipation for warmer days and the sumptuous joy of those long, light nights. I know soon that the bees will return – I miss their background hum during winter.

     

    We’ve planted our first seeds in a propagator – it’s our first year of having one and wow! The difference! In a few days, shoots were exploding with life. I’ll write a post about the propagator in the future. It’s brilliant so far. I worry for the potting on and transferring of those small plants to outdoor life, but it will happen as it will – I’m sure we will manage.

     

    As the light returns, I feel myself starting to wake a little more with the longer days. Planting, moving, creativity.

     

    A few sparks signalling a shift in me, too.

     

    A small patch of yellow and white crocuses grow out of a mossy lawn

    a black and white tuxedo cat, Agatha, leans against a Hebe bush with light shining on her fur

  • Blog,  Day to Day,  Home

    Snowdrops and the return of Spring

    Amidst the wild winds of Storm Malik this weekend, I glanced out of the window to see the first little snowdrops of the season dancing their heads in the gales. Small delicate white petals nodding this way and that as the wind whipped over the low stone wall beside them.

     

    Amidst the storm, a reminder that soon the days will lengthen, the sun will warm us, the endless UK grey will give way to bluer skies and louder birdsong. I do not mind so much the days before winter solstice. The darkening and quieting of all, as we settle down to winter. It is the drawn out waiting of January, February and into March – that all pervading greyness, the damp cold, the washed out colours and brown twiggy borders. The trees that seem to take forever to bud, the waiting, waiting for those promised spring days that are always just around the corner. My mood settles with the grey. That something just out of reach.

     

    I am impatient, as always. I want summer, with the heat and 11pm light and heady scents of honeysuckle in the dusk. I thrive with that rush of energy. My soul stretches out to fill those long, bright days. Here, still in winter, I feel small, drab, as if those days will never come. But they will, I know, and even now signs of change are popping up, however small.

     

    A small group of snowdrops with the sun hitting their petals grow from a messy winter flowerbed

    The snowdrops are accompanied by the sun peeking back over the top of the valley in mid-January, shining into the windows to the back of the house, even just for a few minutes each day. I rush upstairs and throw the windows open, close my eyes and bask my face in the weak rays, the pale golden light.

     

    Bulbs planted in Autumn begin to poke tentative leaves above ground – tulips, daffodils, crocuses – bringing the promise of colour and flower and those insects that love to feed on their pollen.

     

    I miss the busy buzz of bees in the background, that soundtrack of spring and summer. Soon the tree bees will return (hopefully) to the attic, buzzing around the stone roof, whizzing around the garden, mating in piles of legs, wings and fuzz.

     

    It is time, too, to begin to move myself. It is all too easy to sink into stasis when everything around you is deep in winter slumber. Although yes, stasis is needed. Winter of the soul. Balance in all, the ever-turning spiral. Now, along with the slowly awakening land, it is time for me to awaken, too. To fall back in love with the area I live in. To take those little sparks of energy, when they appear, and direct them into a life, into enjoyment, laying bases for things to come. Like the turn of the earth, to wax and wane with the seasons.

     

    Now the snowdrops are here, spring will turn ever quicker, a reminder that even when all seems silent on the surface, inside little bulbs life is continuing to thrive. Even in the frozen dead of winter, deep down under the soil, plants and animals still feel the change of the days and ready themselves. I hope I can do the same.

     

    With that, I re-fill my mug with tea and pull on an old jumper. I head outside, in search of more signs of spring.

    A small group of snowdrops are growing from a January flowerbed. The bottom of the plants is in shadow but the petals are in warm sunlight.

  • Blog,  Garden Projects,  Wild Garden

    The Garden Project: Beginning

    We’ve lived in our cottage for a decade this year. When we moved in our garden was clipped and manicured and mown, and we promptly set about doing absolutely nothing to keep it like that. As we learned more about the decimation of wildlife by the overuse of pesticides and the loss of habitat (Dave Goulson’s ‘The Garden Jungle‘ is a great read about this), we made a conscious choice to stop fighting to keep things ‘perfect’, and in a way, created our own kind of perfect. A collection of plant pots in January. There are some plants with no leaves, and some plastic flower ornaments sticking out of a large terracotta pot. In the background there is a black railing.

    The garden has really started to relax into itself once more. Clover began to grow through the gravel driveway. Couch grass is taking over. The lawn grows wild, mown maybe twice a year. About three years ago, we noticed the insect population was flourishing – more ladybirds, moths, beetles, flying things and crawling things were returning.

    Frogs croak away to each other in the pond. Wasps lived in the attic for a year and we left them to it (although slightly regrettable, as we are still finding bits of them in the water tank). The next year, and every year since, tree bumblebees have lived in the other side. Bats flit around in summer and mice live in the garden walls.

    It’s been amazing and rewarding to see nature coming back. We haven’t used a pesticide for years now, and seeing the return of insects, followed by bigger animals – hedgehogs, foxes, badgers, a cheeky squirrel – is one of the best feelings. We have an ongoing large housing development being built right next to the garden, and although it has been silent since the start of lockdown, building will recommence imminently. I worry for the animals that have made their homes in the abandoned site -shrews, voles, the badgers, even a herd of deer – so want to make our little patch of land as wildlife-friendly as possible.

    A lot of people would call our garden a mess. There are piles of stones and logs, leaves everywhere, grasses left long through the winter, mining bees nesting in mud. However, wandering round with a brew in my hand, I’d say it’s more ‘interesting’. There’s always something to look at, even now in January. A messy corner of a garden. There is couch grass everywhere, and a pile of rubble to the right against a stone house wall. To the left there is a pile of wood and blue plastic tube leaning against an old green shed with peeling paint.

    However, we do want to make some changes this year. The couch grass is running rampant, and we have a pile for the skip that has been home to some spiders for the last few years – but the bags of rubble and old pipework really need to disappear. I’m also excited to grow more flowers, sort out a shady area, and maximise the sunny spots. This bit by the shed has become a dumping ground for the remnant of all the house DIY we have been doing.

    Believe it or not, under the grass is a gravel driveway! This area gets really boggy since the new building behind us has stripped all the natural drainage away from the field. The plan is to plant ferns, foxgloves, hostas and other shady plants as this area only gets sun in June around midsummer. We will probably re-gravel the driveway due to the poor drainage.

    I love all the piles of logs we have dotted around. Something definitely lives in here, but I didn’t want to disturb whatever it is! We’ve heard it snuffling a few times. Maybe it’s the hedgehog? A pile of logs with long dead grass outside.

    A thin strip of ‘field’ we have adjoins houses in front, and still has our hastily erected fence, consisting of a few bits of wood and some straggly hornbeams. This means there is hardly any privacy, and I don’t like going in that part of the garden. We will re-fence this and open it up to the rest of the garden, increasing space.

    The veg patch has been okay for the last few years but not overly productive. We dug up the existing crazy paving, however we discovered an old road underneath which meant we had to make it into a raised bed. We’ve been filling it with compost for the last few years and this year we’re going to increase the height, too.

    We made the edges from old sleepers we found hanging round the garden (there were lots of exciting things left when we moved in). We’ve found that there are a few things that grow well, mainly potatoes and field beans, but the amount of slugs and super-snails means a lot gets eaten. You name it, we’ve tried it. Copper, fluff, garlic spray… Last year we had beer traps, which seemed the most effective thing so far… An unkempt cottage garden with a raised veg patch and lots of overgrown grass. There is a rose bush and a privet hedge, and a shed painted light blue with a large window.

    Here you can see where the couch grass is really taking over. Everywhere! It’s fine but means other plants can’t really get started. Next to the veg patch is self-sown marjoram which the bees absolutely love, so we’ll keep those there (plus it’s useful for cooking). I half-heartedly started putting cardboard down for the weeds but gave up after two bits, so excuse those! I’ll finish it off soon I’m sure!

    This part of the garden is very windy and exposed as we’re on the side of a valley, plus in the summer it’s sunny, getting heat and light from mid morning right through to sunset. Self-seeded borage grows at the edge or the raised bed which keeps the wind off a little, and feeds the bees! There is both blue and white borage, no idea where it came from, but it is welcome, if a little thuggish.

    Our plan is to have a nice area for sitting out that’s more private, as the houses in front look straight into the garden. We would also like to have even more insect-friendly flowers and a better veg-growing season! We’re going to plant more of the things we know will grow, and maybe try some containers. Any tips appreciated, especially friendly slug-busting tips! Even the hedgehog and frogs can’t keep them at bay.

    So this is the beginning of the garden project plans for this year – I will update regularly as we plod along, tidying up whilst making room for wildlife to thrive, and hopefully growing some flowers and food, too.

    A patch of wild strawberries growing next to an old greenhouse

    A small tuxedo cat, Agatha, is standing on a mossy stone wall next to a steep lawn. There is a bare apple tree in a planter, and an area with dormant honesty plants behind her.

  • Blog,  Miscellany,  Stories

    Pink Seaweed and Exciting Finds

    Wandering along the shoreline is one of my favourite pastimes. I was born at the edge of the Peak District, as far away from the crashing waves of the shoreline as possible in the UK. I’m not sure if that explains the feeling that pulls me to the sea, to the edge of this island, where the legends and tales are saltier, the winds a little wilder. My husband hails from the long coasts of Norfolk and regales me with tales of boats, bridges, coastal erosion and longshore drift. He talks of waves and tourists and the sea as a constant. It is another world to me, a child of peaks and plains. When we visit, we park up, eating chips in the car, watching the blink of ships miles out to sea in the inky blackness.

    Now we live in Yorkshire, with wild moorland, rocks, peat and those liminal spaces, but again, far away from the coast. The occasions I get to travel to the beach are special, and I roll up my trousers and wander amongst the froth of breaking waves until my toes are numb and raw pink from the cold.

    On the beach, I look for treasure. Sparkly sea glass, shiny shells, even a coin or two after a storm. Maybe even real treasure – eye to the ground, eyes open to the possibility of a doubloon or two sparkling under a pile of drying seaweed. Who knows?!

    A small colection of seven pieces of pink seaweed lie on a grey rock. There are a mixture of sizes of seaweed, and some sand on the rock.

    Anything can be treasure, though, on a beach. I love the different seaweeds, although am no naturalist and can never remember the names. The big horsetails, with their sturdy roots and giant fronds. Long, string-like pieces that whip back and forth in sea breeze. Familiar bladderwrack, interspersed with nameless chunks of yellow or lime green, slime, plastic, rope, and the occasional dead crab. The unmistakable tang of low tide.

    Last visit I spent time spotting the most vibrant pink seaweeds, contrasting starkly with the dull brown lying along the tideline. Pink seaweed! Another piece, and another! I collected them in my hands, slimy and wet, and laid them out on a nearby rock. For me, that day, pink seaweed was the best treasure I could find.

    My husband picked up an old pulley, washed up by strong winds and huge waves. Orange brown rust bloomed all over, tiny shells and stones sunk into the metal. We wondered where it came from – a ship, a small boat, part of a cargo? Was it broken and thrown into the sea somewhere miles from land? Was it lost by a local fisherman bringing in the catch? The pulley stained our hands orange and made rusty mess everywhere, but we still brought it home, to wonder over.

    The coastline is wild in a different way. Finds can be from anywhere in the world transported by the currents. Shells and animals from deep below the waves, places humans haven’t yet discovered. A beach is a place of meeting, of the known and unknown, earth, water, air. A place of treasure, always.

    A rusty pulley, found on the beach, is placed on some smooth pebbles. The pulley is very rusted, with small stones stuck in the rust.

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