I remember an incredibly strong feeling of emptiness come over me during May 2018. It was the twelfth month at our new home and for every one of those twelve wonderful months, new, extraordinary and beautiful surprises had greeted us in the garden almost every day.
The front lawn gaining its expansive carpet of yellow aconites; the woodland one of snowdrops; the huge lawn past the washing line becoming awash with daffodils and so it went on.
The scent of lavender on a warm, July day
But that May, I knew it was all coming to an end. The following month we’d have completed a full year and surprises would be no more. I had a sense of grief, of loss. Sadness that this euphorbia [on edit, I think I mean euphoria!] was all but over.
I wanted the drug that had brought so many feelings of elation to continue. Why did it have to stop?
I love Echinacea at all its stages of development
But as I write, during our now third July here, I’ve discovered that, in fact, the surprises only get bigger and better as the years go by.
Perhaps not bigger in the physical sense, but certainly on an emotional level. As you get to know a space inside out, inch by inch, the degree of amazement as new curiosities unfold becomes noticeably greater. And, of course, nothing stands still in nature.
With the nettles broadly under control, not only have the wildflowers germinated and blossomed in their new found space, but with them have come the insects. Butterflies swoop up and down between flower stems, congregating in the muddy shallows of the pond to drink on a hot day. The sound of bees is often quite deafening; where were they all that first year? Aphids no longer hang around long on the roses, hoverflies and ladybirds ensuring they are all munched up and completing the circle commenced in May, the cinnabar caterpillars are out there currently devouring the ragwort.
It’s not only the butterflies that come to the pond to drink. In the record breakingly-hot weather this month, an incredible collection of footprints have appeared above the lowering water line. I couldn’t work out the almost cartoon-like rounded footprints bottom right of the photo, until our wildlife camera picked up a new animal for the very first time.
A stripey-nosed badger passing under the tulip tree
The pond has also had a seemingly magnetic attraction for dragonflies and damselflies. On one day this month, there must have been close to thirty sharing the water’s surface.
A golden female broad-bodied chaser dragonfly curled underneath a blue male
A female emperor dragonfly coming in to lay eggs
Males chasing other males to protect their territory; males and females mating on the wing; females repeatedly dipping their tails in the water laying a succession of eggs. The place was absolutely alive with them; it’s so hard to compute that this had all been facilitated by us collecting some water in a hole. Where were these species last year? And how did they find us?
The sheep have been moved away from the field closest to us this season, a field of spring barley being sown in their place. I was so sad to see the sheepies go and the grass ploughed, but what new joy the barley has brought. On a sunny morning the golden ears simply glow against the blue sky; their gentle swaying movement filling the air with life. And one of the greatest pleasures of all this summer, has been seeing the wildlife playing amongst it.
I remember the first time I disturbed a young fox cub snoozing at the margins of the barley. It leapt up when it sensed me close by, and jumped, surely three times its height as it sprang through the field, checking where it was going at the height of the leap and disappeared entirely on the bounce. Up it went, over and over again; me too mesmerised to pull my phone out of my pocket to capture it.
Another day I was gazing out across the field, when I suddenly noticed a small head. Daryletta the deer was standing in the middle of it, presumably having a bite to eat, when we both locked eyes. I’m not sure she thought I could see her and she stood quite still for some time. I naughtily moved a little closer along the track until she decided enough was enough and off she sprang too, her knees up high above her bottom.
And just this week, a new member of the family has arrived. Last winter we were blessed with a family of three deer living in our garden. Mum (Darylena), Dad (Daryl) and their little girl, Daryletta. Then, in spring, Daryl and Darylena vanished. One day there, next day gone for good. We assumed Daryletta had come of age and they had left her to a new life of her own. Daryletta became quite tame, coming right up to the house, her glossy red coat being too beautifully irresistible to scare away.
But early last week, we saw Daryletta zigzagging around the garden at high speed; a small, but antlered, male in hot pursuit. Would Daryletta succumb to his advances, or would she see him off? The next day the two of them were casually strolling round the garden together, looking like an old (dare I say, slightly bored?) married couple and have been inseparable ever since.
The new couple in our somewhat arid savannah
I say inseparable, meaning we’ve not once seen one without the other. But will they snuggle up together, or skip and jump in a mutually adoring manner, for me to capture the new garden romance? Will they heck! Always together, but not quite close enough for me to get a gorgeous photo of the two of them!
Harrietta the hare is also equally tame, coming right up close to me, so long as I am kneeling down reasonably low. She did cross the line the other day though: as I weeded the less desirable seedlings from the top border by the house, she commenced the ‘weeding’ of some of my favourites. Now I am, genuinely, all for sharing, but frankly eating flower buds just outside the window by my most comfy chair, as I’m tidying up right beside her, really is taking the mick!
The vegetable garden when we moved in
The vegetable garden today (you can see the same two apples trees, far left and far right and the big old oak tree beyond)
Two further exciting things have happened this month. One, we’ve harvested our very first homegrown vegetables. It’s taken a little time to get the old vegetable garden back into cropping order (and not without significant anguish, as you might remember back in February), but working it now is, with Paul firmly at the helm. He’s done the most magnificent job planting a huge range of seeds and – far more thoroughly than I manage – keeping all the freshly turned weed seeds at bay, to put utterly delicious food on our plate.
Collecting our harvests in the most beautiful, traditional, wooden trug, given to me by my most thoughtful friend for my birthday, the whole experience has taken our enjoyment of that little patch of land to levels we couldn’t have dreamed of.
Finally, in a month quite bursting with excitement, we had a visit from the lady of the house who made our garden the incredible place it is today. Mrs M lived here from 1973 to 2012 and it is she we have to thank for all our trees and most resilient shrubs and perennials. I feel she is such an integral part of this place and our shared adoration (love doesn’t quite seem strong enough) of each and every corner of both the house and garden is an incredible thing to share.
As we sat on the old aspen logs together in the dappled shade by the stream, our mutual joy and excitement was palpable as we eagerly shared our favourite stories of this magical, magical place. Every time I now walk past that spot I will think of and cherish that time we spent together, deepening my connection to both her and to the special, special home we have both been privileged enough to be the steward of for part of its history. I do hope I get to spend many more special hours here with Mrs M in the coming years, but those few this month will warm my heart and stay treasured in my memory forever more.
Happiness is…sitting in the wildflower meadow watching the sun rise
Even the old pile of kindling behind the garage looks quite magical at 6am!