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Sunday, 6 November 2016

Treasure hunting

According to the months of the year poem by Sara Coleridge


  "Dull November brings the blasts,
 Then the leaves are whirling fast"

I certainly won't disagree that the leaves are falling from the trees more quickly than I remember them doing last year, but "Dull November"?  Not in Winwick!  

We've had stormy skies and rainbows (small daughter took this picture from the car window on the way home from school) ...


And we've had beautiful blue skies and bright leaves.  


Two days haven't been the same and I've noticed it getting colder as each day passes too.  There was even a mention of snow in the Scottish highlands on the weather report last night, so perhaps we're in for a cold winter.  Now that the farmers' harvests are safely in, November always feels like a time for gathering in ourselves; for checking radiators, coal supplies, tidying up inside and out and battening down the hatches ready for what winter has in store for us.

That's not to say that there aren't still some sparkles to be found as we get ready for winter to descend on us.  Out in the garden the other day, I went treasure hunting as I cut down plants and shredded them to make mulch to cover the soil.  I make a special effort to go treasure hunting every time I'm in the garden, otherwise I can find myself getting swamped by the list of jobs that need doing.  Gardens never stop growing for a bit whilst you catch up, do they?!

I found this little chap in a part of the border that I was clearing.  I think he (she?) was a toad as he had a lumpy back rather than the smooth skin of a frog, but I'm not well up enough on my amphibians to be sure.


I covered him (her?) up with an old plant pot to make a toad hotel whilst I carried on working my way along the border and hoped that they would be happy enough in there for the time being at least.  I haven't been back to look whether it's become a permanent residence - after all, none of us would like our roofs removed to see if we're still in our houses, would we?


I found the leaves of the Witch-hazel (Hamamelis) turning yellow in stripes down the veins of the leaves.  Some of these will turn red as the autumn progresses and when all the leaves are gone, the little curly scented flowers will be left.


In another Witch-hazel, I found late-flowering roses.  I thought we'd had our display of these earlier in the year but there's still quite an abundance of them tucked under the bushes that this rose grows through.


I love this tree, it's a Staghorn, or Rhus typhina, so called because the new branches are covered in a fur-like substance which feels just like a new horn growing on a stag's head.  It's been in a pot near our front door for years but I noticed that it's doing it's best now to break out and put down roots through the flag stones so it's time for it to move to a border.  My husband helped me to move the pot to the border where I think it's going to live in the future as it's got ridiculously heavy and it's always good to have extra muscles to call upon!  Staghorns can spread; they produce suckers which grow into new trees and before you know it, you've got a whole herd of Staghorns just where you don't want them.  I'll need to think about whether I re-pot it above or below the ground as just one tree will be enough for our garden.  The leaves have been brilliant colours this year, and for some reason they always make me think of Tibetan prayer flags, even though they're the wrong shape as prayer flags are rectangular, not triangular.  


Down in the back of the border are these Lords and Ladies (Arum maculatum) berry spikes.  I don't like these plants at all, but some people find them very attractive (presumably the people who lived here before us who planted them did!).  The berries are poisonous and I think they look sinister without you even being told not to eat them.  They have resisted my every attempt to get rid of them, so now I just try to admire them for what they are and wait until they disappear. 


Moving on swiftly, there are just a few Japanese anemone (Anemone japonica) flowers left, tucked safely under the black elder (Sambucus nigra) for shelter.  I've tried a few times to grow these and finally I have some that seem to have survived in pots so far, so I'll see how they fare once I get them into the ground.  Fingers crossed, they'll do very well.


The garden is very generous in sharing it's treasure.  I tend to leave more than a few windfalls for the birds and the squirrels.  Sometimes the dog eats them, despite being told that he is neither a bird nor a squirrel, but he doesn't seem to care.


We've had lots of apples this year, compared to last year when we got so few that I thought the trees were on their last legs.  A lot of the apples stay firmly fixed to the trees, even when they're so obviously ripe that they should be easy to pick.  It's always quite a challenge to get at them!



Underneath the apple trees is a large and rather ancient Hydrangea bush which I am sure changes colour depending on it's mood each year.  Winwick naturally has rather acidic soil, well suited to Camellias (there are some beautiful ones in the village each spring) and therefore Hydrangeas should be blue as that's the colour they tend to flower on acid soil.  As you can see, ours ignores all the rules.  Some years it's pink (and you can see them remains of a pink flower behind the blue one), this year it decided to be blue.  It's not something that I worry about; I learnt years ago that plants do whatever they are going to do despite our best efforts and sometimes you just have to leave them alone to get on with it.  I quite like the surprise each year!


I've saved my favourite treasures till last.  I found this long-abandoned nest in a bush that I was cutting right back.  At first I was horrified to think that I'd exposed something that was still in use, but a good look assured me that it wasn't.  I don't know what sort of bird would have used it, but it would have to be a very brave one - it's quite close to our front door and not too high up either, so definitely within easy reach of inquisitive cats and dogs.  I like finding nests, although I would never dream of going looking for them whilst they're being used.  I like to see the work that's gone into building them, and I marvel at how the collection of grasses and twigs keep their shape.  Did you ever try building a nest out of twigs as a child?  I did, and they certainly never looked as good as this one!


Finally, another rose.  I never used to be a particular fan of roses but we've got quite a few in our garden now, some inherited and some given as gifts.  This one came from my Dad's house in a pot, a particularly ferociously-thorned beast which attacked both my brother and me as we tried to tame it long enough to transport it to our house.  It has definitely lived up to it's name of "Braveheart"!  It was worth the effort though, as I've been rewarded with this late flower, and I have another rose to add to my collection.  I may be a reluctant rose grower, but I can't deny that I am one!


It's time to light the fire and keep warm for this Sunday afternoon now.  Once Bonfire Night is over, it feels like Christmas isn't too far away and I need to sit down with some lists and see exactly where I'm up to with preparations (clue: not as far along as I'd like!).  I hope you enjoy your Sunday, whatever you're doing, and that you find some treasure for yourselves.  It's always there, you just have to look for it!


11 comments:

  1. I think hydrangeas "color" themselves depending on the iron content in the soil. When my mother planted hers years ago, the tag said if she wanted blue flowers to put a few nails in the soil, and pink flowers to plant as is. They flowered blue for years, but now seem to be a purplish, so I'm wondering if the iron is fading out of the soil? Either way, I think they're beauties--so full and frothy and feminine!

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    1. The nails will have made the soil more acidic and hydrangeas flower blue in that type of soil. It's quite fascinating to see how you affect what a plant does so easily, isn't it? Yes, you're probably right, the soil is turning back towards alkaline which is why the flowers are changing colour - you could always try burying a few more nails! xx

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  2. If you want to know if it's a frog or a toad is to get it to move. If it hops its a frog, if it walks its a toad.
    Hope it helps
    I love looking at your garden!

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    1. I didn't know that, Susan, thank you! I didn't move it at all, I just covered it up with the plant pot so I don't know whether it hopped or walked, but I'll make sure to look next time! xx

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  3. Your garden is full of treasure! I love spending time in my garden too as there is usually a small nugget of treasure somewhere even during the winter months. My mother's neighbour has a Staghorn which is gorgeous at the moment but we spend quite a lot of time trying to stop it invading! The blue of the hydrangea bloom against the fading heads is wonderful.

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    1. That's exactly the reason why mine is in a pot! You've convinced me that it needs to stay in one too, as invading Staghorns are not the best way to endear yourself to the neighbours! xx

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  4. OMG! It looks old like you have had a beautiful fall. I loved seeing all your lovely autumn photos. Last week we had a real down pour but now the rain has escaped us. I know you are an expert gardener; my hydrangea refuses to grow. I think it's too warm here in southern California. I wish you and your family all the best. Hugs, Pat xx

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  5. We have been blessed with an amazing Autumn, haven't we? Here is Scotland it remained mostly dry so far, with one or two days of rain. Your garden looks like a dream come true, even at the end of the growing season. x

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    1. Thank you! Just wait till next autumn when your own garden has grown back again after your building work - yours will be fab too! xx

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  6. I agree, once Bonfire Night is over my thoughts turn towards Christmas and crafting and all the things I need to make and do over the next six weeks. I enjoyed touring your garden with you - that November garden tidy up is so satisfying, isn't it? Lovely to see how much you still have in flower. xx

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  7. I loved this post! I always love seeing what people take pictures of in their own yards, what they find beautiful or interesting. Very fun. :)

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