If you asked all Brits to name their least favourite month, I reckon February would be top of the pops. Winter is dragging on, there are no public holidays; it’s like an annoying, short aberration of a month with nothing going for it at all.
But for such a short little month, and one in full lockdown at that, it’s been surprisingly eventful over here, with a number of firsts in the garden.
It started off cold. Really, really cold. With bitter Siberian winds blowing and temperatures struggling to reach zero, it felt colder than anything I’d ever experienced, anywhere in the world.
The pond freezing over is quite normal, although the icy patterns were something new, as was the depth to which it solidified this year. But parts of the stream actually froze this month; little icicles forming along its meandering path.
My work had to be confined to the woodland, with its extra few degrees of warmth and substantially calmer winds.
But oh, how I love being confined to my woodland. There is no question that working closest to nature is me at my very happiest.
I pulled nettles to create a new little clearing, moving a fallen tree trunk to form seats overlooking the stream.
I cleared a little gully that’s always been full of leaves, to expose a tiny, flowing tributary stream.
And I collected thousands upon thousands of fallen twigs and branches, using them to feed the wood burning stove all month.
I feel lucky that my birthday falls in the first week of February. Whilst I have wonderful memories of summer birthdays in Australia, it’s good to have something fun to punctuate a slightly more punishing time over here.
That day I woke up to the brightest, brightest sky, as if even the weather gods had decided to make it special for me.
The snowdrops were just starting to peak and I felt pretty lucky to be working surrounded by carpets of these long-established, dewy, sparkly white jewels. Such a privilege to be their guardian for a few short years.
As the month progressed, much warmer weather returned and with it, more and more colour. The Iris reticulata a particular highlight, especially as it bulks out more and more each year, despite it supposedly being difficult to retain. It’s wonderful to discover those plants that really, really want to be here.
There’s a definite feel of spring about now, with blues and yellows dominating the show. Even Paul noticed how much more birdsong is about, although he manages to sleep through Woody the woodpecker starting up just a little too early in the old cedar tree.
I’ve seen nuthatches and greenfinch for the first time in my life, and this week the three mallards have returned. Always three: two fighting males and one female. Do they not reproduce with a roughly 50:50 split? Perhaps the fighting doesn’t always end well?
But the big event in the animal world was Harrilena acting really quite peculiarly. Watching her whole body contract, it suddenly occurred to me that maybe she was giving birth. I watched from indoors, not wanting to disturb her, but desperately wanting to investigate! Plus, all my gardening tools were stored close to where she had been – how long did I have to wait?
Eventually I went out there. Slowly, slowly, keeping my distance, but trying to see if any leverets had appeared. Hares give birth to up four offspring at a time, leaving each in a different location to improve survival rates, but somewhat alarmingly, all above ground.
But no, I checked all the spots where she had been and nothing there. It is a bit early in the year after all; wishful thinking on my behalf!
Three days later I was clearing a few bits of ivy I’d abandoned by the back door earlier in the week. I grabbed the pile, only to see fur within it. Ugh! I dropped the ivy, expecting to see something gruesome.
But no. It was little Harrietta, the leveret. Sitting on the flagstones by the back door perfectly still, acting as if some huge monster hadn’t just appeared and taken her entire house away!
I quickly snapped one shot of her on my phone, then placed the ivy really gently back on top of her, trying not to get it in her eyes. I then pulled a bit more ivy from the wall to disguise her further and just prayed she would be OK.
That night, we set the wildlife camera and at 7.05pm, along came her mummy to feed her. Just before the video stopped, there was little Harrietta, going in to be suckled. What a wonderous, wonderous thing to observe.
The following night at 7.01, there they were again, having their short, daily, mother and baby interaction. Isn’t nature amazing?
A few days on, and Sammy appears. We’ve seen Sammy the stoat only a handful of times, although three times during lockdown this year.
He’s a truly beautiful animal, but very, very fast. For a voracious creature, who can capture prey far bigger than his size, he seems to like his cover, stepping out for just a few seconds, and only very occasionally. But yesterday I had my camera beside me. I just got his bottom as he literally dived into the undergrowth.
But oh, so patiently for me, I waited and waited and sure enough, out he came. He very thoughtfully posed on the bank for a second or two, before leaping off again.
Stoats and leverets aren’t necessarily a happy pair. At least, not as far as the leveret is concerned. It’s funny though, I adore little Harrietta, and yet I still feel all is fair in love and war. Two native species, both with their needs, I feel what happens in nature happens. I’d hate to see the demise of Harrietta, yet I wouldn’t feel angry toward Sammy in his home habitat, doing what he does.
In general, I adore watching different animals interacting. I find it fascinating to watch and see whether the deer or the ducks are most afraid as their paths converge. Most of the time, both species look up, make eye contact and then carry on doing their thing.
I’ve really got the bit between my teeth this month and I’ve been cutting back all the perennials and weeding morning, noon and night. The garden’s so much further forward than normal, with the extra time that lockdown brings. And longer days, with the odd one in just one layer of clothing, makes the world of difference to how you feel and what can be achieved in the time between dawn and dusk.
That little – almost imperceivable unless you concentrate hard – bit of warmth in the sun for the first time in months, is the most glorious, appreciated, wonderously welcome thing.
Who could possibly think February wasn’t a fantastic time to be alive?