Tree following: November, and farewell to the hawthorn

Oh boy, is it November or what…

I looked at the weather forecast and decided to photograph my tree a little early. About a week early, in fact, and it’s just as well I did. The wind is storm force (Force 9, to be specific, though it is lessening a little); the rain is horizontal and the clouds are so low, despite the wind, that I can see about a hundred metres. Lovely.

A week ago it was a completely different story:


I don’t expect any of these are still there now. They may be in England, they may have been blown as far as Norway, but I’m pretty certain they won’t be here. I’m not going up to check, mind – the little car park I use was so squishy a day ago that it might as well be under water (it probably is, now) and the path I would take as an alternative to driving is mud. Sorry, that should be Mud. It definitely deserves a cap M. And this is essentially why, although I’ve enjoyed ‘following’ my hawthorn, I will pick a tree a little closer to follow next year.

Anyway, here is my best-beloved, looking lovely in the sun of 1 November:

hawthorn and dolmen

When I started following the hawthorn I said that the tree’s association with the dolmen did seem to give it a special significance, and I had more confirmation of that. This was, of course, the day after 31 October, Halloween, Samhain, call it what you will – and in the foreground you can just see a blackish area between a few stones, directly below the white spot on the capstone, right at the edge of the shot. It was the remains of a fire, evidently recent because there was just a hint of warmth to it. Not surprising, though hawthorns are more traditionally associated with Beltane. But I expect the tomb is the draw… or, of course, it could just have been fellow archaeologists up there to check any solar alignment.

So what has changed since my last despatch (I didn’t make October as I was away)? Well, there are now no leaves whatsoever, and the haws are patchy – some parts are still covered; others have none, or only very shrivelled ones. Exposure again: I spent some time just leaning against the hawthorn this time and realised, for the first time, that the pressure of the wind can be felt quite strongly, even on the thick branches – and that’s why it has developed so many trunks and roots, I guess.

There are signs of a lot of life in the tree – or perhaps that should be sign of a lot of spiders using it. The low angle of the sun really emphasised that, though it was very difficult to show just how bedecked the tree was with single filaments and whole webs:

spider webs

The sheep are back, rather more obvious and considerably more noisy:


They’re also considerably less flighty – possibly because the lambs are now huge, possibly because they’ve got used to me (don’t laugh; sheep can recognise a significant number of humans – there’s been academic research into this. Really). Once again, though, I noticed how much more battered this hawthorn was than its neighbours and decided to take a brief tour around some of its companions.

A little further down the hill is an Iron Age hut circle. There are hawthorns which guard the entrance:

entrance hawthorns

and they’ve been stripped of leaves too, despite being in a more shetered position. But notice the oak at the top? Here’s another shot of the whole thing:


All the oaks are like this, still with leaves. I’m intrigued, mind, by the fact the upper leaves are still green; without really understanding in detail, I’d have instinctively expected it to be the other way round. Particularly when you consider the exposure element (oh, yes – the dip in the middle, behind the oak, is the hut circle – it’s huge, would probably have housed an extended family plus some animals).

Quite a few of the trees are ivied, and when I say ‘ivied’ I mean it with a capital letter again:


And the tree still lives.

The gorse is just beginning to flower again, in parts,


though a lot of it is being cleared by the farmers. It had got very overgrown, and it will be back, and so I can’t really lament the extensive cutting back – especially as it is making it a lot easier to see some of the extensive archaeology up here. I’d not really realised how much the gorse had grown up until I took another look at the aerial photograph in the March tree-following post. You can still see grass in that, amongst the gorse. Until the hacking back, you could barely see any; just gorse, and you couldn’t push through it. So what is there, underneath all that? An irregular field system which is probably Neolithic, as is the dolmen; lots of clearance cairns and burnt mounds, some of which are very old, Bronze Age; some old terracing, maybe Neolithic; an old trackway, ditto; traces of huts, both prehistoric and Roman period; lots and lots of medieval stuff. And  the old pack-horse routes, of course.

It’s a wonderful landscape, a scheduled ancient monument, and I’m very glad I decided to visit it regularly to follow this tree. But visiting a tree a bit further away – even though it’s not exactly miles and miles away – has also been problematic; I’ve not observed the hawthorn as frequently as I did the birch from last year, for the simple reason that I could pop out of the kitchen door and be at the birch within, oh, twenty steps. So I will go back to following an even more local tree next year. What, or where, I’ve not decided (but it probably won’t involve encounters with feral goats, unlike this one).

And in the meanwhile, farewell sheepies:


I’m up here a lot, so I know I’ll be back. But I definitely got more out of tree following my birch -as a tree following exercise, that is, as opposed to archaeology following, plant hunting, goat avoiding, lichen photographing, mud squelching… oh, hang on, I think that last one would apply with the birch at the mo. Hm.

Apparently some people in this small country are enjoying sun and t-shirt weather, right now. All I can say is this is coming your way. Get your wellies out. And you’ll need vests.

PS: Huge thanks to Lucy at Loose and Leafy who has hosted the tree following meme for the last three years, and hello to Pat at The Squirrelbasket, who is the new host. It’s brilliant.

Oh wow – updating the Garden Tour

It’s been needing doing for some time, but it’s rather like hoovering the loft – you can put it off for ages. A while ago I created a ‘garden tour’ page, and I’ve not looked at it for ages. The other day I decided that there’d been too many changes. It had to happen. Spring cleaning. In late October.

I mean, it’s not as though the changes have been minor:

tree surgeons

They’ve made quite a difference, really…

It has been interesting, too. There are now so many more beds than there were, and much less lawn. There’s a heck of a lot more colour throughout the season, not just in the spring. The vegetables have ceased to spread around the garden and are confined to the veg plot and a small bed by the greenhouse. There are all sorts of plants that were just not here before, from heleniums and verbena bonarensis to grasses, dahlias, echinaceas and actaeas. The meadow has gone from strength to strength, despite the fact that the birches which were small trees then are now all big (and, in the case of one, huge).

So I feel I can say ‘do please come and walk around the garden’ – here. And, of course, it will all need updating again soon…

dill and broom

Winter jobs (sigh)

All right, I admit it. It’s not that far away. The garden is covered in leaves, logs are chopped and stored in part of the greenhouse and I haven’t seen Next Door’s Cat for a bit (he’s gone to ground, possibly in a duvet, possibly at his actual owners, though not necessarily). We’ve had the semi-annual Bonfire of Irritation though this time, owing to a lack of planning on my part, without the equally traditional baked potatoes on which to burn our hands.

Time to do the rounds of the garden and work out what needs doing. Lots, is the answer. This is the point I feel a sudden urge to run away to sea.

There’s this:


which is allegedly a flower bed. It’s right in front of the house and contains hardy geraniums, a huge osteospermum, a parahebe and various other things. In actual fact it’s a couch grass bed, and I’m going to break with organic gardening to try and deal with it. I’ve been trying to be organic for the past ahem, ahem years – about ten? – and I’ve given up. I’ve tried mulch, I’ve tried black plastic, I’ve tried everything (though I did refuse to let P play with a flamethrower, citing health and safety and the desire to still have somewhere to live). It’s right in front of the house so it drives me bonkers every time I walk by. In the past I’ve wrestled with ground elder, I’ve had a terrible time with convolvulus, horsetail has seriously pissed me off – but none of them compare with fecking couch fecking grass. Fecking.

And there’s this:

the iris bed

This is the iris bed. Oh yes it is.

And this is also the reason why it will no longer be an iris bed. The problem, however, isn’t just that it looks good for about a month and then spends the rest of the year looking as though it’s had a rough Saturday night and just staggered downstairs for a Red Bull. The real problem is that when you confine one plant to a particular bed, disease and bugs can really get their teeth in to your precious darlings. And they predictably have.

So it’s time to sort out the good rhizomes, throw most of them out, and replant. They’ll probably go into pots first. I know you’re not supposed to do that, but I’ve always misbehaved with my irises and they’ve always been good – until I decided to clag them all in one bed, that is. They originally ended up here because it was the one place where they could really sunbathe, but since I’ve had a couple of trees down – one deliberately, one not – there’s much more light elsewhere in the garden.

Like on this bed, the bed at the gable end. South facing; huge climbing rose on the wall, plus a Parthenocissus henryii which has finally taken off.

gable end bed

Here the problem isn’t couch grass. Yet. It’s Japanese anemones. Oh, and Geranium macrorrhizum album which I’ve finally got under (nominal) control, but which constantly threatens to run amok. There are yellow flags in here and they seem to love it – strangely; it’s a bit dry – so this is one of the places where my saved irises are going. In fact they were here originally but failed to thrive because the bed was in deep shade. Not any more.

Oh yes, I also have a path to salvage:

path. honest

I do. It’s under those lavenders.

They are now over ten years old, and last winter one of them took itself off during a storm (literally: I saw it further down the hill, about to blow over the main road, when I went down to the post office). They’re magnificent, but they are on their very last legs. Cuttings have been taken, cuttings have died; more cuttings have been taken, cuttings have damped off, but I’m having one last go. I don’t mind buying new plants if I have to, but they won’t go here. I’m going to seize the chance to rework this bit of the garden, which one expert gardening friend said now ‘looked as though it belonged to a different garden’. It does; since I planted the path huge areas of lawn have turned into beds. Curving beds. The path’s staying put – it was repaired with such dedication that if the house is washed away in a tsunami the path will remain – but I’ll soften its edges. Or rather P will.

But it’s not all dead leaves and planning. It’s dahlias suddenly deciding that they are going to flower after all:

pretty pretty

Thanks goodness for that. I had to have something fab!

Oh, what a garden – Plas Cadnant

I know, I should be tree following, but I forgot. Zooooomed up there for a quick look, not much change except fewer leaves. But I have visited the most lovely garden, and it has lots of trees in it, even if I’m not following them specifically…

Excuses, excuses. Understandable? Look at this:

Plas Cadnant 1

This is Plas Cadnant on Anglesey, just over the Menai Straits from Bangor. I had a business meeting, but since the web designer concerned also happens to be a keen gardener (hello, Janet aka Plantalicious, whose post on the day was considerably more prompt and rather more professional), guess where we decided to meet up? Guess how long we spent on business? Yup, about five minutes. Possibly less than we spent on cake. Certainly much, much, much less than we spent on the garden.

It’s stunning, and it’s right up my street, and I couldn’t (as is obvious) stop taking photographs. The planting, particularly in the less-wild parts of the woodland areas, is so intelligently unobtrusive and so much in harmony with the extraordinary setting that it blew me away. I also love ferns, which helps.


and rocks, and mosses, and silent pools reflecting the planting, and lichens…


Did I mention tree ferns?

tree ferns

Huge tree ferns. Tree ferns you can walk under easily.

Then there’s colour. Colour, bright in contrast with the formal planting:


autumn colours in the shade of the woodland,

baby leaves

and which are even more startlingly bright when backlit:

acer colour

I don’t know, I give up. Plas Cadnant almost left me speechless – suffice it to say that I upgraded my entry into a season ticket, and that we’ve already made arrangements to meet here at the end of October.

In the meanwhile – and do visit Plas Cadnant’s website as well as Plantalicious for more actual, real, hard information as opposed to the blogging equivalent of someone going ‘WOWZER!’ – here is a gallery of some of the things that had such an impact on me. Wonderful place.

PS: The cakes are pretty good too!

Summer’s back, in white and blue…

Oh, this has been a silly year. And, just to top off the most peculiar growing season, summer appears to be back. Except at night, mind. But that does mean that the garden is having a final flash of colour, though intriguingly there’s been a bit of a colour shift.

I normally associate this time of year with oranges and reds (heleniums – over) and yellows (rudbeckia – thinking about flowering but still not sure). Oh, I’ve got some, yes: marigolds and (I suppose they count) grasses, and for the reds a surprisingly late Bishop of Llandaff dahlia. But I’ve gone white:


with a good big clump of echinacea which is quite unusual for me. (Yes, I know they’ve been chewed. Everything’s been chewed.)

I’m putting their success down to the fact that I went berserk in one of my post-work evening forays into the garden this summer and ripped out all the sidalacea which has been running riot. I didn’t know this would improve life for the echinacea; it was a happy accident, but a fortuitous one. I learned at our village garden club that echinaceas like air and light at the base (thanks to Christine ffoulkes Jones of Hall Farm Nursery for that info). They’ve certainly got that now that the ******* sidalacea is dust.

The cosmos have finally decided to flower,

cosmos and bee

and are attracting a lot of attention from the bees, even if this one didn’t hang around to be photographed in situ. The sheer number of cosmos partly accounts for the whitening of the garden, but I really wouldn’t have minded in the slightest if some of them had decided to flower earlier, honestly I wouldn’t.

The garlic chives are also late, but they’re providing a nice allium note in what is really autumn, so I don’t object in the slightest…


and nor do I object to another late performer, the agapanthus. We split a huge clump last year, brutally hacking it into four and leaving one quarter where it was. Three of the quarters flowered at roughly – very roughly – the normal time; one didn’t. It’s only just gone over.


It’s the transplanted quarter which is probably in the most sheltered position, or so I thought. But in actual fact we had some vile east winds earlier in the season, and this is in the direct line of fire (look at the pittosporum on the left; that’s suffered a bit too). That is the only possible reason I can come up with, but it’s probably rubbish.

And then there’s a random blue which I love:


Chicory – just came up spontaneously. And I’d love it a lot more if it wasn’t so huge and didn’t sprawl everywhere, but it is a most beautiful colour so I daresay I can forgive it.

But the most notable plants in the garden at the moment are the actaeas, aka cimicifugas. It’s not just the sheer height (this one is almost as tall as the giant hedge which makes it about 2.5 metres),


it’s also the scent and the sheer presence. Even if mine are not as completely covered in butterflies as one in Karen’s (The Artist’s Garden) was last night:

karen's butterflies

Or at least if it has been, I’ve not noticed it. Direct sunlight would seem to be the key to butterfly madness (I’ve got bees, and so has Karen), so I shall go and watch mine closely in the middle of the day. Fingers crossed!

Haws on my hawthorn – tree following, September

It’s been a madly busy summer but things are finally beginning to calm down, on every level except the weather. We have had some gorgeous days, though – really autumnal ones, too, with mist gathering in the dune slacks first thing and a definite nip in the air. I took my chance on one of them and went up to visit ‘my’ hawthorn. It was much windier up at the top (dur – logical) though the sea was surprisingly calm, but clouds were beginning to gather.


There was a marked drop in temperature when the sun disappeared behind the clouds, but there were some splendid seascapes as the sunlight was blocked and revealed: quite stunning and impossible to photograph. There is no doubt whatsoever that the views of the landscape up here were critical to the Neolithic people who set up the chambered tomb (right next to the hawthorn and vaguely visible about as that sort of lump in the middle); study after study has shown how clear the alignments of such monuments are, and how rooted they are in the environment. Ahem.

Despite all these foreshadowings of autumn, I was still quite shocked to see the huge change in the hawthorn, at least on the windward side. Leaves, what leaves?

haws but no leaves

Well, OK, there are some – but very few. The landward side of the tree is a different story but, though the leaves are hanging on the branches somewhat more, they are still very tattered and brown. I didn’t think it had really been that stormy in the month’s gap since my last visit – perhaps this is a consequence of the stormy weather even earlier in the season?

Unsurprisingly, the haws on the windward side are showing signs of battering too:


but there are plenty of them. You only need one to produce viable seed and survive – now, I wonder if I could… hm. Well, it worked with the birch; I’d love to have a child of this hawthorn. I must have a crack at it. There’s an excellent short video from Monty Don with a useful tip on checking viability – better get back up there before the birds scoff the lot.

Some of the lichen is peeling off in great chunks, but a lot still remains.


I’d been wondering about the peeling maybe having, er, assistance – and this time I found evidence:


There are hairs caught in it.

Cows are kept up here, but this year it’s been mostly sheep (and the occasional wild billy goat). This hair is too high for either sheep or goats unless they rear way up, plus it’s the wrong colour for these sheep. There was plenty of dried cowshit around as well, so we may have a clue. Scraching? I wonder – I’d have said it was too low and branchy and cluttered under the hawthorn for cows to be comfortable, but I don’t know cows like I know sheep (and I have no desire to know the wild goats at all; far too chancy and if I want something temperamental and male and hairy and smelly in the garden I know where to find it anyway).

Looking at the tree again made me think about it in a completely new way.

I had a art tutor once who made us draw the spaces between things – some of us thought it was mad, some of us thought it was interesting, and some of us went ‘wow, man’ and fell off our stools. I fell, boringly maybe, into the middle category – and I’ve never forgotten what he said about spaces. Looking at the hawthorn against the temporarily blue sky I felt a strong desire to draw the spaces:

So now I want to get up there with a sketch pad (and a bag for some haws). It’s not raining, and today is set aside for cleaning the house, so what am I waiting for, I wonder? And it’s not just the shapes; it’s the colours as well, and the particularly autumnal quality of the light:


Fat chance of being able to capture that. And, as a gardener, I’m not sure I should be given bracken that sort of attention anyway. Ripping it out brutally sort of attention, yes.

It’s been very interesting following a tree that isn’t immediately easy for me to visit, and I will see it through to the end of the year, of course: I love this tree. However, I just haven’t been able to give it the sort of close attention that I gave to the downy birch in the garden last year, and I miss that. I’ve not spotted so much insect life, for instance – does that mean it isn’t there, or am I just not seeing it? (Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, as archaeology dons are very fond of reminding their students.) OK, there’s life which I wouldn’t want to have in my garden – the wild goats and cattle, mainly, and the picnickers I found up there one time – but I miss the shield bugs and the interesting butterflies. I shall have to think about this for next year…



Summer summary

What a summer – not that the weather’s been spectacular, because it hasn’t, but because I’ve been very busy indeed. When you freelance, you’re used to being busy in the summer because in-house publishers and journalists go on holiday like anyone else, and work doesn’t stop. Now I’m much better (thanks to intensive physio), I’m back working like a loony during summer. It pays for the Maxicrop, that’s what I say.

But all this means the garden has been somewhat neglected. I’ve tried to make sure I got out there for an hour a day, just to try and stay on top of the weeding as well as keeping sane, but It’s not always possible. So It’s great to have whole areas which look after themselves, like the meadow:

meadow July

which has been very good indeed this year. It will soon be time to mow it – mow it, what am I saying? Strim it. Using a big strimmer and a big strong man (flattery will get you everywhere). But the tendency to be about three weeks later than normal this year is still the case – usually by now everything has set seed, but I still have some meadow flowers in bloom.

One of my highlights this year has been the ‘random seed’ bed. Last year it was a little disappointing, and this year I thought I was in for the same – and then I realised that even disappointing plants self-seed:


and it’s been lovely.

The nigellas have come up in two marked clumps, white and pale blue, and I have tried to perpetuate this when scattering seed as the heads ripen – but I’m sure I won’t have managed it. One thing this has taught me, big time, is the value of autumn sowing – so give it a couple more weeks, and I’ll be out there with my seed packets. The things which I sowed in seed trays in the spring have just not cut the mustard. Some of them – cosmos, are you listening? – have still to flower.

I’ve added some new plants, though I have been quite restrained… this is my Salvia Amistad (I do like to keep up with trends, even if I’m a couple of years late):

Salvia amistad

and my penstemons have been consistently good:


This one is a mystery, and if anyone knows what it is, I wouldn’t mind knowing too. At least I wrote it down this time; the only problem is that I’ve written ‘mystery penstemon’. That, Kate, is not the point of keeping records. Must remember this.

On the veg front – meh. Some things have been good – I’m regularly picking a kilo of beans at a time, and I actually reduced the number of plants this year – and some things have been terrible. (Courgettes. Again. Thought I’d cracked it. Wrong.) The spuds have not been good but I do seem to be setting a good number of squashes. My artichokes have also finally been in full production, and one of them won the ‘any other veg’ class at the village show:


And, and, and I have finally managed to grow aubergines – or perhaps that should be ‘I have finally managed to grow aubergines without having the whole greenhouse infested with white fly’. That’s thanks to Green Gardener and their Encarsia, which I strongly recommend (and which I bought and have not been paid to push – used it before; this time it really, really worked). Evidently, because I have this

aubergine vincent

instead of a load of plants in the compost bin.

On the fruit front, a lot of apples are dropping but my new pear tree looks promising. Unlike the plum, which is coming out. Not in the sense of revealing to all that it’s a gay plum, but in the sense of being dug up and put on the bonfire. Terrible infestation of plum mites and though it’s laden with fruit now, they are manky and nasty inside. Plus, it’s wasp central. Who cares when you can have Japanese wineberries instead?

Japanese wineberries

Ok, there aren’t enough for a crumble, but who’d want to eat them any other way than off the bush, warmed by the sun? Not moi…

The wildlife has been much in evidence, and that includes Next Door’s Cat who has been a fairly constant companion, at least until feeding time when he vanishes completely, or until I trip over him for the sixth time. It’s also been a great year for the spider population:

spider web

though I realise not everyone will consider this a good thing, and I’ve even heard plenty of crickets which is amazing given the weather.


But personally I could live without the dead rat that NDC gave me last week. Nice. That’s what your real owners are for, Fluffybum.

Hopefully the arrival of autumn heralds a rather more organised and less frantic pace, and I’ll be able to blog more regularly. I haven’t even been taking lots of photographs – a real indicator of just how busy I’ve been. Right, let’s break out the camera!