It’s a beautiful day and if I can’t sit outside under the magnificent Indian bean tree to write my blog what is the sense of working from home? I don’t even need the excuse of a tube strike! Ever alert, the chickens have rushed over as close as their fence will allow, hoping in vain that my cup of tea might instead be tasty scraps for them.
The bean tree is laden with white blossoms, each little bonnet trimmed with a perfectly ruched edge.
I’ve just put my gardening shorts in the wash, domestic detail but by the time I’d laid out the contents of the pockets I sensed a quick sketch was in the air.... all those irresistible textures!
exhibit a. a net bag
We have a couple of young walnut trees from which I have never yet enjoyed the crunch of a single walnut. Oh yes, the trees produce plenty of nuts but the squirrels know that too and pinch the lot before they’re even ripe. Our lovely neighbour who has been growing trees all his life has the same problem. He already has a pair of step ladders parked by the trunk of his walnut tree and is contemplating his strategy. I sense we are locked in friendly combat and will be comparing our harvests come the autumn. Meanwhile I am salvaging every net bag that would otherwise be heading for the dustbin and plan to tie one around every walnut.
exhibit b. bee identification chart
Moderately useful, frustrating how most bees seem to be a cross between two or more of the illustrations tho’. So I’m not really much the wiser.
exhibit c. pencil stub for writing on seed markers
No matter how sure I am that I’ll remember where I have tucked an extra sowing of lettuce seed, I’ve finally learnt that a seed tag avoids the inevitable confusion.
exhibit d. strips of my daughter’s ripped school tights
Some women might carry a spare pair of tights in their handbag, in case of a snag. Well, frankly, I cherish the laddered ones! Cut horizontally into strips they make fantastic stretchy ties, indestructible and perfect for keeping my tomatoes erect.
exhibit e. feather from a Greater Spotted Woodpecker
exhibit f. a parsnip seed head
Waiting to be popped into an envelope ready for sowing next year. Now that wouldn’t have fared well in the washing machine!
Is it a tomato?
Is it a peach?
No it's a walnut but is that enough to fool the squirrels?
Loosed from the routine that reigns between nine and four term time, the parents are having difficulty adapting to the muddle that is seeping into the working week. Daughter number one is six thousand odd miles away but keeps us appeased with updates of camel trekking in Rajasthan. Boy ricochets between festivals pausing briefly by the well stocked fridge and the washing machine in the interim. Daughter number two has adjusted her clock to British Teenager Time which means I can at least hide in my studio until lunchtime before she has even breakfasted.
So in relative serenity, (unless it’s hot, and the window is open, and a fly has got in, and is eating my watercolours, that have honey in the binder to keep them moist... which means when I eventually manage to swat it, there’s a coloured splat depending on which blob of paint the fly has been eating, strange but true), I’m working on a lovely commission painting summer fruits. It gives me the perfect opportunity to dally in the garden choosing my subjects carefully.
Alpine strawberries are not actually on the list but they’ve been so prolific this year I had to paint them too. Now where’s that fly?
Week two at Wimbledon but that’s not the only venue where battles are being fought and results chalked up.
Up here in the country I am embroiled in a fierce competition of my own.
More than a month ago I had noticed that my chicken’s egg production had become unusually patchy. Most days there wasn't a single egg to collect. I was very suspicious of a pair of crows hanging around in the top of the oak tree with literally a bird's eye view of the chicken run.
The cheeky duo had sussed that there was not only a plentiful supply of food and water but freshly laid eggs in the coop too. Even better, after a chicken has laid an egg it will cluck triumphantly, thus sending out an alert to any loitering crow!
For a few days I found I only had one ear tuned in to the radio in my studio, the other was constantly cocked, listening for the cluck that was the starting pistol as I tried to out-sprint the crows.
Sigh. It’s no way to lead a tranquil, country life.
After much research, (including watching Youtube clips of crows entering hen houses and exiting, egg gently clasped in beak), I tried a string of flapping bunting as a deterrent and stood a glassy eyed predator on sentry duty.
What I really needed to repel the thieves, according to local farming wisdom, was a dead crow to hang up in the run. Not easy to come by but after a few weeks of scouring the verges I spotted a fresh roadkill, still warm, beak cocked in the air. Perfect. I slung him in the back of the car, briefly marveling at the blue sheen on his sleek back, his strong beak and impressive talons.... but smugly rubbing my hands in glee.
Now he’s hanging on the gallows over the pop hole and the egg score so far this week is a satisfying Mary 6 - Crows 0!
It’s early summer and although I’m a menopausal bantam, or maybe because my hormones are all over the place, I’ve been feeling rather broody lately. Wouldn’t it be lovely to hatch out just one more clutch of chicks before I smooth down my feathers for retirement?
I haven’t got any eggs left to lay so I’ve been fluffing myself up and hopping onto any available egg in the coop. The trouble is, Mary barges in every day, slides her hand under me and snatches the egg away then tells me not to be so silly and anyway she doesn’t feel ready to be a grandma. She’s explained something complicated about not having a cockerel so the eggs won’t be fertile, but I don’t know, an egg’s an egg as far as I can see.
Mary came skipping along today saying “SURPRISE!” I don’t think it’s my birthday. She stuffed me into the cat box. That was certainly unexpected and no way to celebrate... if it even is my birthday. I decided to go and sulk in the corner. SURPRISE!! There was a lovely pile of eggs all for me.
Evidently Mary had been talking behind my back with her friends who do have a cockerel and she borrowed some eggs for me. How thoughtful. Five beautiful pale blue ones from a Crested Cream Legbar and two small bantam eggs from “The Punk”... a quite ridiculous black and white bird with a brash tuft on her head. I do doubt Mary's judgement sometimes! But anyway, I’ve got twenty-one blissful days for the news to sink in.
sit, shuffle, sit, sit, shuffle, sit, wiggle, sit.
Mary will keep popping her head around the door and saying “peep, peep, peep”. I wish she’d give me some privacy. I’m absolutely fine, the last thing I need is a birth partner. She’d be much more use going to buy some chick crumbs.
7am. For the past few hours I’ve heard faint peeps from inside the eggs.
10am. At first tiny holes and then big cracks and I can even see a beak.
Sometime later. Phew triplets before lunch and twins after lunch, all fluffed up to perfection and ready to meet Grandma. Sorry too busy now to write any more entries.
P.S. Grandma is over the moon and is finally putting her nervous energy to good use. I can see her flailing around with hammer and nails making us a lovely new run.
P.P.S The bantam eggs didn’t hatch. I can only imagine the cockerel wasn’t going to be seen dating a mohican!
Wet weather stopped play on Saturday morning but at least I was up early to keep one step ahead of the approaching rainclouds. Just me, my trowel, the melodic quiver of skylarks overhead and the discordant bray of Sarah the donkey from across the neighbouring orchards. I thinned my swede seedlings, planted a row of leeks, sowed some more carrots and then let the rain water them in.
A chance to pause and plan.
The lupins and foxgloves are about to hand the baton over to poppies and peonies. Beyond, there’s a war raging with nettles and ground elder. Blackbirds, exhausted by parenthood are squabbling over the mahonia berries but soon the wild cherries will be ripe and plentiful for all.
I have a rainbow of irises in a nursery bed. Last week I labelled the stems of the withering blooms with masking tape, so as I divide them up around the garden I'll have more of a chance of knowing what colour I have put where!
There’s still plenty of clipping to do but that job needs a dry day. So I’ve time to mull over the tuft I’ve left in the far right corner… I think it needs to be sculpted into a bird.
I already have one batch of elderflower cordial underway, the hedgerows are teeming billowing with blossoms, but what I’m really looking forward to is picking the pinkish blooms from my recently planted black elder in the white courtyard. I’m jealously guarding the thirteen flower-heads… and yes I do keep a daily tally!
There should be just enough for a very small bottle of very pretty pink cordial.