Due to all the rough weather we have been experiencing lately, and also due to the indoor work which we were completing I had not been much in our garden to check on things and certainly did not do any work in it. But between the two latest storms I did go out and took stock of what needs doing and what is growing right now and it seems that we have quite a bit going for us, there is more food to be found there than at first one would think. And so I have become encouraged and excited to get going. I plan to grow as much as I can fit, because my plan is to preserve some surplus harvest and to that end I bought some Kilner jars today. When I was growing up every housewife used to preserve a variety of foods in those jars. My mother did this until she was well in her eighties.
New to our bird feeder is the blackcap bird, a female. She has been visiting the garden now for several days running. The first thing that took my notice was the hump on her back, I thought oh what an unusual bird, maybe it is deformed, but then I also noticed the sharp beak and the chestnut brown cap on its head, and I immediately knew that we had a bird not seen on our feeders before. I have not yet heard it and am curious how its song will sound as people tell me that the Blackcap has a nice song, and the guidebook describes it as a series of melodious warbling notes.
Yes she does like the seedcake and I see her more on that than on the peanut feeder. I read that she will have one or two broods per year, laying four to six eggs at a time. What I found interesting is that this little bird would be a summer visitor from Africa and that over the last 25 years Blackcaps have been overwintering in Ireland in increasing numbers, but apparently they come here not to overwinter from Africa but from other colder European countries, meaning that they are a different breeding population. These Blackcaps from the population that breeds in Central Europe migrate here to Ireland to spend the winter.
Even here in this country they will breed in mature hedging which is exactly what surrounds our garden, so I hope that they will indeed breed. Blackcaps are found where there are a lot of Ivy berries and indeed in our Boreen close by there is a wealth of Ivy and the berries are plentiful this winter.
Birdwatch Ireland also tells me that the majority of the Irish Blackcap population migrate south to winter in Iberia and North Africa. But that there is a small wintering population, mainly in the east and south of Ireland, and it appears that this is what our female Blackcap is a part of.
January is a good month around here for birdwatching and as we are feeding them we see a lot of them in the garden. We have residential Collared Doves, many Finch, many Blue Tits, Dunnocks, Sparrows, Robins, usually at least one wren, Blackbirds, Jackdaws and Starlings. Overhead are flying Seagulls, rooks and hooded Crows. It is amazing the diversity found in an urban garden. One type of bird that I would love to see more of are Thrushes, but they sadly disappeared from our gardens years ago.
These brown and white false turkey tail fungi are presently growing on the cut off but very much alive trunk of our chestnut tree. They surprised me this Sunday morning while taking a stroll around the garden, and I thought they looked beautiful. The garden at present is very wet, but to my delight tender new growth is appearing everywhere.
It was the beginning of spring of this past year that I decided to let our garden become an Ark, and to let everything that wanted to grow be there without interference from me. And it worked, the garden became one large ecological wonder, Thistles, Foxgloves, Nettles, Comfrey, Dandelions, and so many more wild plants seemed to be in competition with each other to produce the most foliage and flowers. Needless to say the garden became a haven for insects and the butterflies were found in abundance too. Everyday I was out there filming and taking photos of all these delightful creatures, too many of which I don’t quite know the proper name of. First time seeing the Orange tip butterfly and also the Meadow Brown. At some point the Leek flowers were visited by several Peacocks, Red Admirals, and Small Tortoiseshell butterflies. Besides the ordinary Whites I also had a visit of a Green Veined White, and of course not to forget the Painted Ladies of which there were several this past summer. I had a Meadow Brown which was also a first here in the garden, and of course the yearly Speckled Wood. Such a delight!
And even though we had such an abundance of creatures in the garden in this past year, I am having to re-think my gardening plan for this coming season 2020, the reason for this is that by now the garden is totally overgrown. I have let it get out of hand and now will find it hard to find space for vegetables, the growth has been so enormous and so I will be planning differently but still with insect life in mind.
Let me know please what you do in this regard, do you just let every wild plant grow where it wants, or do you keep some order in your garden or plot. I would be very interested in learning from your experience my friends. Thank you.
So right, we live in S.W. Ireland, and that means that we experience a micro climate due to the gulfstream passing by these shores, and normally we do have a mild winter, it seldom snows or freezes here, though we do get some light frost during or after January.
Even though it is quite cold just now, and the mountains in the distance have their tops covered in snow, in the garden the plant growth reminds me more of early spring. The temperature of the soil seems normal enough, it was 6 degrees Celsius the other day, and at night the outside temperature is between 6 and 8 degrees Celsius. And even today the cold wind made it feel very chilly. But yet something seems out of kilter, and I cannot actually put my finger on it clearly. Questions like; Is the planet really warming up? Is the climate changing? beg for answers everyday and all around us now. Here are some of my own observations.
And taking stock of the garden the other day here is what I found.
PS actually Oca is only harvested after the first night frost, they are a reddish sweetish little potato-like vegetable. I have found them relatively easy to grow but hard to peel or clean before eating. They are a nice plant though. Check this website if you are interested in them. https://www.thejournal.ie/readme/how-do-you-grow-oca-3113951-Dec2016/
Today the temperature went up to 28C which is very warm for West Cork. Beautiful sunshine and blue sky added to our pleasures, and a little breeze made it so that I could work in the garden. Our very overgrown and wild garden, our Ark, has attracted an enormous number of insects and butterflies during the summer months, and still there is a great number of hoverflies, a fair number of bumblebees, and many smaller flies, as well as butterflies visiting and making life very pleasant especially knowing that we are helping with the upkeep of biodiversity in Ireland. Very necessary.
The photo to the right above are the seeds of the Greater Celandine (Chelidonium majus), a medicinal plant that I grow in the garden, it is not for use as it is a highly toxic plant and not suitable for self-medication. The flower is pretty though and I get satisfaction from growing any herbal plant. The photo on the left are the seeds of the broad-leaved plantain (plantago major) I have one large one growing in the garden and it is beautiful. I use it mainly for treating insect bites, as a compress.
While looking over the garden for seed-heads I found this green shield-bug nymph, and not only one of them, the garden is full of these beautiful little creatures, and that is no wonder either as earlier this summer there was a multitude of the adult type mating all over the garden. This common shield bug is native to Ireland and feeds on tree and plant juices. They are harmless.
The nettles grew very tall this summer, they are now in seed. I used quite a few in cooking, but mainly I grew them for the caterpillars of Red Admiral butterflies.
I love growing feverfew, it is not only a great herb, it also looks beautiful in the garden among the lavender and the marigolds.
Among all the wild and garden flowers this summer I am still also growing some vegetables, and many herbs too of course. The large garlic was a succes this time, and the garden peas are doing real well.
This is just a little update at the end of this month of June, midsummer has just passed and I love the very early bright mornings, awaking at 4 o’clock very often while the first light appears in the Eastern sky, and the birds are singing, wonderful! And while the countries of continental Europe are scorching hot, we had a mellow feel to the day this afternoon with summer scents wafting up from the damp but warm earth, such a delight.
Henry James knew about these happy feelings when he said ““Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.”