As the first rays of sunlight peeped over the horizon and the darkness started to ease, I noticed the silhouette of two small ears outlined against the white garage doors.
Looking out from the warmth of my chair by the kitchen window, I strained to see who was attached to these two most prominent ears.
Too small for Daryl the deer, the wrong shape for Monty the muntjac, about the right size but not quite right for Harry the hare…
They looked like they belonged to a very small roe deer, but it was October, not June, and in any case, we’d had no darylettas this year.
Who had moved in?
As the darkness slowly dissipated and my eyes started to adjust, I became clearer and clearer that yes, this was indeed a small daryletta roe deer.
But where on earth had he come from? We hadn’t even seen our large, non-parental roe deer over the last month or so.
I scoured the garden for a mum or a dad, but no, Daryletta was all by himself. He seemed terribly small to be out on his own; past babies had always stuck close to their parents until much larger in size.
Later that morning, he ventured out from his sheltered spot and it was clear that he was somewhat skinny and bedraggled and definitely on his own. All a bit of a worry in the land of the garden.
Thankfully, however, now a few weeks on, he is still here, looking much bigger and fatter and somehow better groomed. It’s a complete mystery where he came from or who his parents are, but we’re very happy to have a new friend here. Even if he does munch all the bark from my trees.
He’s in the good books though, as I’d been blaming his wider family for devouring my honesty over the last four years. One minute, I have gorgeous, dense, green winter foliage and the next, every year, just stalks. So much, just gone so instantly, I’d automatically assumed a large family of deer must be to blame.
But no. I had jumped to conclusions.
Having created a new bed on our boundary with the field, I planted it up with self-seeded honesty from elsewhere in the garden, for a quick, no-cost, instant display last month. I thought it was somewhat foolhardy – if they ate every last leaf of the honesty near the house, how on earth would honesty alongside the farmland fields fare?
But it remained. Each and every leaf. I assumed it was only a matter of time – there must be other delicacies around which would be exhausted soon.
Until I saw the remaining honesty near the house start to shake quite dramatically, on a particularly still day. Hmmm.
I peered in, to see a small mouse reaching up on its back legs, head angled so as to bite off as much of the leaf as was feasibly possible. Hmmm.
This is why it takes years and years of experimentation to create a wildlife garden, I told myself. A great excuse to have under my belt.
The mice have a lovely, dry, cosy home in the old stone wall with a bountiful supply of juicy honesty leaves on their doorstep. Yet out by the fields, where it’s much more exposed, those honesty leaves have a much better life, away from the hungry jaws of the mices.
Completely counter intuitive, yet my love of recycling and reusing and never throwing plants away led to this new understanding and of new possibilities for the garden. I could so easily have written honesty off as a bad bet.
Alongside the animals, the mushrooms and toadstools have been developing this month. There is such a range of shapes and sizes, colours and distribution; never a repeat year on year.
Some are the size of a dinnerplate, others appear like little naan breads scattered across the ground. All seem somewhat other-worldly, reminding me how much goes on underground all the time: only when each organism puts on its big display once a year – or less – are we consciously aware of them.
Whilst most of the garden is gradually fading to soft yellows and browns, it’s surprising how many plants seem to be at their very best. The Asplenium ferns at their fullest and greenest on a damp autumn day; the Salvia flowering its heart out despite the weakening of the sun.
We appreciate a somewhat dog-eared, self-sown pansy poking out in the tiniest of spaces, finding its little piece of light amongst larger companions in the bed. They would hardly be noticed in summer, yet now the garden is all about contrast and opportunity quite different things reveal themselves to us in new ways.
The trees seem to take on a whole new importance at this time of year. Never brash nor demanding, not an ego amongst them. Yet ever so gently, they draw your attention upwards come autumn, the dappled light from above slowly expanding, the outlines of the branches gaining definition, the mellowing of colours as they become as one with the land.
We’ve now reached the time of year when everything is perma-damp. The sun too weak, too low and too short-lived to evaporate the dew that forms in the dark each night.
But with a positive outlook, this can be a terrifically uplifting state. Everything is shiny, reflections bounce off each and every surface and the abundance of water all around somehow feels reassuring and safe and full of life.
That first look outside each morning, as you draw the shutters back, brings far more surprises than after a short, dry summer’s night.
It might be Daryletta who greets you from out of nowhere, or Sammy the spider showing off his new creation, but the mysterious world of long, dark, damp nights always brings something new and intriguing to the start of the day.
A whole new world of night-time that’s sprung up, in these now shortened, autumnal days.