This is the second of our monthly garden wanders designed to give an insight into what is going on each month. Our February wander will be a colder one so don those thermal gloves and woolly hats with silly bobbles and join us. We hope you enjoy what our garden offers in the second month of 2012.
The day dawns frosty but with a bright blue hat on. A lovely fresh winter’s day, with the quiet plaintive song of the Robin as company – he always comes around the garden with us and entertains us with a song. Overhead Buzzards call from their thermals high above the slope of the hill. It feels a perfectly calm day to us but these big, broad winged predators always find movement in the air. Why does the call of the buzzard always sound further away than the bird itself? Have they mastered the art of ventriloquy? We see them most days but we never lose the desire to watch them enjoying their freeform flight.
I fed the chucks and topped up their frozen water with some warm, before collecting their eggs from the nest boxes. Today the hens’ contribution to our larder had added benefits. Handwarmers! Holding these little warm parcels of food felt more special than usual. As I passed the shed on my way down to the chuck pen three Wrens burst out of their roosting pocket – late risers. A pair nested in here in the summer just a few inches above the shed door. They took no notice of our comings and goings. They filled the roosting pouch with moss, feathers and delicate grasses which now insulate them on cold nights.
The garden is full of birds once more after a quiet few months. We were beginning to wonder where all the birds had gone, but today Goldfinches have reappeared in busy red and gold flecked flocks. mixed feeding flocks of titmice invade every tree and shrub and Linnets sit on the highest branches. Long Tailed Tits in groups of a dozen or more flit from tree to shrub and from feeder to feeder, never still, always fidgeting like a class of infant pupils awaiting a favourite story. The odd Bullfinch and Blackcap conduct their business more quietly.
On the feeders Jackdaws attack the peanuts dropping morsels for the Dunnocks and Chaffinches waiting below. Jackdaws are long-lived and today two old favourites are to be seen, one with a white wing and one with a wing that droops low when he settles. Overhead their much larger relatives pass over, a “cronking” trio of Raven flying effortlessly with outstretched fingers.
It is noticeable that the clusters of berries on the Hollies and Cotoneasters are much depleted as greedy groups of resident Blackbird and Mistle Thrush are joined by migrant members of the thrush family, the winter visiting Redwing and Fieldfare. The small yellow crab apples on Malus “Butterball” have now been stripped by these members of the thrush family.
There has simply been plenty of natural food for our avian friends this winter. It has been mild enough for insects to be on the wing, for invertebrates to be creeping and crawling, and the hedges and trees have heavy berry crops. We want to see them in our garden but we are being selfish. They come to us when they need to and not before!
The re-appearance of the Goldfinches gives us close-up entertainment as close to the conservatory window grow Onopordon, the Scotch Thistle, and its seed heads tower into the blue sky. Goldfinches love them and soon dig in for seeds, bursting the heads open as they do so, and the white fluffy insides overflow like raw cotton.
The intensifying of the cold sucks structure from leaves and hardens the ground beneath them. The accompanying frost layers the ground and plants with lines and layers of frozen crystals. The blueness of the skies on a clear February day is more intense than earlier in the winter. The sunlight seems brighter.
Something special happens to light in February. There is something about the quality of light that changes. It makes you feel better. It makes plants look better, their flower colours intensify. If, like both “The Undergardener” and I, you suffer from SAD (Seasonally Affected Disorder) then you will feel and experience this change. You feel the tunnel of winter has brightness at its end. Monty Don, in the book “Fork to Fork” refers to this improvement in light quality, writing that February displays a “tangible promise of a better time” and talks of a “surge of energy and hope running through the garden”. This will be tangible from about the middle of the month but even now the hint of that promise is in the air. It isn’t just S.A.D. gardeners who believe in the wonder of February however, as we have a pair of Blue Tits taking up residence in one nest box and a pair of House Sparrows in another. Spring is in the air! Well, maybe not! No, these two pairs are just like serious sun-bathers on a busy sandy beach, just getting there early to “bag” the best spots.
Nowhere is this new hope more obvious than in the flowering of the bulbs and the bright green signs of new growth of perennials. Snowdrops, Crocus and Aconite, the pearls of the month.
But some new life is out of sinc. Buds appear and surprise. The blue anemone with its metallic sheen on its indigo bud is a special treat and is reflected in the blue berries of the Viburnum davidii. The last of the rose buds however that gave promise of flowers have given in to winter’s grasp.
No February garden can be complete without Hellebores so here are just two of ours. But my true favourites to finish our February wander around our garden are the Witch Hazel “Jelena” and Cornus mas.