Tag Archives: sparrowhawk

January 2017 garden diary

The wood pigeons gather daily in a threesome on the apex of the shed roof to court, squabble, kiss, argue and for mutual preening. In the midst of the winter freeze, they’ve started to collect twigs for nest-building. I call that keen.


But in the distance, the unmistakeable call of the sparrowhawk reminds all concerned that the price of life is constant vigilance. When a sparrowhawk is in the area, the cries that can be heard are most often warning messages; but on other occasions they’re the screams of a poor bird being consumed alive by the raptor. pigeon1Nature, as Tennyson famously pointed out in Canto 56 of his epic poem In Memoriam A.H.H., will always be “red in tooth and claw”. For a dove, it may not be too wise to sit out in the open, even if one’s feathers match the colour of the background.

Three grey squirrels use the roof as a runway to the big old horse chestnut tree. These too congregate in threes. It’s fun to watch them scurry at such breakneck speed, around and down, up and across the gnarled branches, where their colouring camouflages them so well that sometimes they seem to make the branches come alive. Although they’ve got their furry coats, I’m sure running helps to keep them extra warm.

The waxy leaves of the spectacular Phormium are equally well covered against the cold – they put on a fine display even in the depths of winter …


… whilst the visual effect of the similarly-enrobed, variegated Holly is more muted, though just as welcome.


In truth there are not too many flowers to be seen at this time of year, in our new garden. We’ve solved the mystery of the bulbs by the foot of the Twisted Willow, though – Snowdrops, of course.


Elsewhere, blossom is just breaking on the ornamental Cherry


… and the Viburnum seems rather coy, slow to establish the anticipated snowstorm of white blooms.


Our Penstemons are looking ‘leggy’, as (being new to the garden) we didn’t get round to pruning them last autumn.


So, it will be interesting to watch as things develop through our first Spring here.

But Summer certainly seems a long way off …




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October 2016 garden diary

The mighty Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) tree that has its home at the end of our garden, where it has probably lived for well over a century and maybe two hundred years, is making its presence felt in a big way.

Legend has it that the term “Horse Chestnut” comes from the scar that’s left when a leaf parts company with a branch. It resembles an inverted horse’s hoof, complete with nail holes. In days of yore, Horse Chestnut fruits – conkers, to you and me – were ground up and fed to horses as a medicine when they had colds. In our garden, the main customer is the notoriously forgetful squirrel, who digs small holes in the lawn and buries them, for future consumption (or not, as is more often the case).


Dealing with the hundreds of large, palmate leaves that are falling every day can be time-consuming. The obvious ways to clear them are to rake them all together and carry them in a trug to a suitable refuse bin; or maybe collect them in a pile in a safe place and burn them. I prefer faster methods. Although mowing the lawn at this time of year is ill-advised if there are frequent conkers2frosts, whilst the ground is still frost-free any injury to grass stalks is likely to heal and damage to the grass plants is likely to be minimal. An even better method is to use a garden vac, which shreds the leaves just as finely as a mower but has the advantage of being able to be used in and around flower borders, too.

Leaf shreddings are very valuable if stored somewhere dry – under the very same tree is a good place – in a black plastic bag for six to twelve months. The resulting compost can be added to garden soil as a soil enricher or used as a mulch to inhibit weed growth.

Many horse chestnut trees grow by the side of roads, of course, and are still, even in these days of video games, Pokemon and VR a source of great seasonal fun for schoolchildren wanting to collect conkers.


It amazes me that the traditional game of conkers continues to thrive, with the 2016 edition of the annual World Conker Championships in Northampton earlier this month having attracted significant national media coverage. The secret of success in the sport is to find the best way to harden one’s conker and there’s a whole mythology about how to create a really hard conker.

In other news …

FirethornPyracantha (berries very popular with the blackbirds)

Miniature rose

ViburnumViburnum Tinus – fragrant plant just coming into bloom – should flower till June

Virginia creeper – night-time shot to highlight colour variations

Maple – young tree, showing off spectacular golds and yellows

Strawberries – baby plants (aww …), propagated via runners.

Tomatoes – still lots of small ones left; the Black Cherry variety is really (really!) tasty

Crime scene … Oh dear, no escaping the dreaded Sparrowhawk.




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