Diary: The garden in December 2000
The wet and windy weather continued into December. Hopes of a late respite that would enable urgent jobs to be done in the garden are dashed. A visit to the dry wood store on the 2nd, during a brief drier interlude, along a soft muddy path only confirms the view from the house. It is extremely wet outside! The rooks are very noisy; they are paying one of their visits to the nests at the top of nearby trees. Just perhaps to confirm ownership, view any damage caused by recent gales and make a lot of noise. The nests seem remarkably secure when viewed from the ground. Perhaps a 'rook's eye view' would reveal an insecure structure, places here and there that need repair in the spring. They seem to do little or nothing to the nests this time of year that I can see. On the way back to the house, with a barrow load of logs for the fire, I made a quick check of the greenhouse. All is in order. The pots of chrysanthemums look very bare after the blooms that have filled the house since October have been cut. Patricia recently picked Brian Kirk and only the late whites Snowshine and Arctic Beauty remain. Soon they will all be cut back leaving about 10 cm of stem to await emergence of new shoots that will be next year's cuttings and plants. After unloading the logs it is nearly dusk so the curtains can be drawn and the damp scene hidden from view.
Birds give the greatest amount of interest in the garden at this time of year. Bird watching can be done from inside the house. I put food out and top up the hanging feeders just after the morning weather observations. The birds gather up about this time, they know to expect the food! Several nuthatches visit the feeders, there must be at least 3 pairs around and we sometimes catch 3 individuals together near the feeders. We regularly get 15 greenfinches and this year the number of house sparrows 11 has been greater. The number of feeding blue tits (4) and great tits (1) has been down and we fear that the poor summer may have taken its toll. There are a few more around the garden and it is possible that they do not need the extra food at the moment. Consumption of peanuts, favoured by the tits, is down from last year. But so is the number of squirrels! Squirrels are mad about peanuts and in the past have destroyed plastic feeders. We now use the stainless steel sort and while these are better in time they can get through the mesh. There is plenty of natural food around (beechnuts) but the numbers of squirrels are down by a third this year. There has been a policy of removal of grey squirrels (poison baited food and experimental food laced with contraceptive!) in the area in order to support the population of red squirrels. Anyway the number of greys is down significantly and we are still hopeful that we will see some reds in the near future. The tawny owls are busy. We sometimes catch sight of one at dusk or dawn. They will answer to a reasonable imitation of a hoot and come to investigate! Around the fields next to the house we see the odd few curlews. Slightly further away groups can be seen on low lying damp fields and are often accompanied by lapwings. The best time to see them on the fields is when mudflats and salt marshes are covered with water at high tide. We have not seen such large groups as last year; they seem more spread out this year. We have been disappointed not to see any bramblings this year. We have had a few redwings in the garden with many more on the fields.
The morning of the 17th was quiet and still and with the sun just rising over Carnedd Llywelyn it was one of the better days this month. The birds thought so too and many were starting to sing. The rooks were at their nesting trees making a lot of noise and there were ravens croaking at the top of some pine trees. A look around the garden found several plants with a few flowers. There was hollyhock, a yellow wallflower, a pink cistus that seems to have flowers all year and the seemingly ever-flowering Pelargonium in the sheltered corner of the house. The 'Brittany' sage still has flowers while the Erica December Red is now in good flower on the rockery bank. A good plant for this time of year here is the Kaffir Lily Schizostylis a moderately hardy South African rhizomatous plant. With us it flowers in November and December, there are good pink flowers out at the moment, and dies back thereafter. The Welsh poppies have all died back but will soon be sprouting new leaves from the base. One can always find a primrose or two out in flower somewhere in the garden and this day was no exception, there were several. So far this is the fourth mild and wet winter in succession. While one gets interesting out-of-season flowers in such years it does not suit all. The alpines in particular do not like mild damp conditions and it is difficult to grow them in the garden. They much prefer the cold on the mountaintops.
Since the 'storm cocks' (mistle thrush) arrived they have been keeping a low profile. Occasionally seen in the garden, they and redwings and blackbirds finished off the holly berries a while ago, they can be seen nearby feeding on the fields, usually in pairs. On the 20th, at the dawn of another fine day they started singing from the top of the tallest trees. One near the house was in fine voice already but another, further into the wood, was not so fluent. Perhaps he is a younger bird yet to find the right notes. They sang for about an hour then were silent for a while, probably feeding, only to resume later. Preparations for Christmas are more or less complete. The mincepies, puddings and cake are ready made. The Christmas tree part of a pine in the garden that was planted as a dwarf type, and turned out to be not so, was cut back as it grown right over a path and steps through the rockery bank. It had been reprieved for 2 or 3 years, but it had been decided this year that enough was enough and it had to go. It was sad to cut a nice looking tree but it was the wrong species in the wrong place. This is sometimes the way with gardens. We have a vase of chrysanthemums Arctic Beauty recently cut from the greenhouse. The buds of the other late variety Snowshine have yet to open properly and will not be ready before January. In recent years we have started doing a large Christmas jigsaw puzzle. This year it is of an old library scene that proved quite difficult. Everyone in the house for Christmas must have a go at it, but it is usually down to one or two of the keenest to complete it in the end. This year it was finished by New Year's eve!
With the recent mild winters I thought that I would complete this account of the garden without seeing it under snow. Well I was wrong as on the night of the 27th we had a heavy snowfall. The morning of the 28th found the garden blanketed with snow. All the trees were covered with snow 'tinsel' that unusually remained on the branches until the 30th. The snow was crisp and dry and, with hard frost at night, a covering was on the ground until late on the 31st when it had all melted. Before dusk I had a look around the garden. The grass was back to its usual green colour, all was well in the greenhouse and the owls were about hooting to each other from nearby trees. Indoors I put another log for the fire and got out the new seed catalogues that had arrived during the month. Thoughts of another year, another season, and hopefully drier!
Document dated: 15 February 2001. This page is part of the site maintained at http://www.llansadwrn-wx.co.uk
Copyright ©: 2000 Donald and Patricia Perkins