Friday, 18 April 2014


Nature makes the world go around; trees shade and shelter us, butterflies make us notice the sunshine, flowers help us express our feelings or love, regret, sympathy and joy. And birds? Birds are always there, mostly unnoticed, but around when you need them. 

It's the flickering of the morning sun on sleepy eyelids as it shines through the branches of the breeze-blown birch in the garden. 
It's the soothing song of the blackbird floating through the open window in the evening cool.
It's the childhood memory of the robin that followed grandfather's spade. 
It's watching children discovering the joy of tree climbing. 
It's the nettle sting on your knee.
It's the one house plant you've managed not to kill. 
It's the repeated notes of the song thrush as you walk across the car park.
It's the kestrel that perches on the telegraph wires at that bend in the road on the way to work. 
It's the daisies in the lawn on BBQ-ing afternoons. 
It's the first and last sight of swallows at each end of summer. 
It's that glimpse of bluebells in woodlands.
It's the singing of a stream.
It's getting up at dawn. 
It's the smell of the sea and that first holiday view. 
It's fresh strawberries; first of the summer.
It's purple-stained fingers after picking blackberries in the hedgerows.
It's the sunflower that grows taller than you.
It's the frost on your windscreen in winter. 
It's that Christmas-tree smell. 
It's playing conkers.
It's kicking piles of autumn leaves.
It's the wind that blows down the city street.
It's the pigeons that patrol the busy station platform, and the buddleia that grows by the rail track.
It's poetry and textbook.
It's classroom-window-gazing.
Its rain on the glass, and the rainbow that follows.
It's the ever-cheerful chirping of sparrows on the roof. 
Its the sunset on the horizon. It's the morning dew. 

Thursday, 10 April 2014

A Magical Moment

I was working from home today, with laptop squeezed on the kitchen table, as close to the open back door as possible, whilst trying to resist the lure of greening garden, packets of seeds and warming soil. 
Small birds were dashing back and forth from fence and tree and feeder, whist a blackbird sang from my neighbours weeping pear tree, filling the garden with beautiful melodies. 
I was just hitting save on my document with the aim of taking a short tea break when an excited voice from the garden called me outside. Mum had spotted an unexpected moment unfolding. 
Against the fence of our pocket-sized residential garden, is a climbing rose and clinging tightly to resist the breeze, on the pruned end of a stem of this rose was a beautiful butterfly. An inch below, a papery case glued to the side of the stem was all that remained of the pupa in which the miracle of metamorphosis took place throughout the winter months, unnoticed beneath our noses as we passed by intent on busy lives. 
The butterfly’s wings were still completing their unfurling; white and laced with mottled green beneath, and when opened to greet the warming sunshine, purer white and tipped with brightest orange; a male orange tip. 
I recently heard the orange tip butterfly described as 'Spring's happiest butterfly' which I think wonderfully captures the moment of brightest joy and colour when a fluttering vision materialises from a beam of sunlight to dash past on hurried wings and disappear into the hedgerow's distant reaches. 
This individual, so fresh and new to the world, gazed back unblinkingly at me through my camera lens. Suddenly an experimental flick of the wings launched the butterfly off his rose-stem perch for a moment, catching the wind before he found a moments rest and sanctuary on the cuff of my jumper-sleeve. He waited a few precious, magical moments there, gaining courage from the spring sunshine, before taking to the wing again in first solo flight, floppy at first but gaining strength. 
Purple flowers across the garden must have shone like a beacon as soon his tiny feet found purchase in the petals and, bathed in sunshine, he fed greedily on sweet energy-rich golden nectar. 
The last I saw of the orange tip was an orange and white flicker of wings, disappearing over the garden fence and away into the April sky. 

I saw an orange tip later that day, beyond the house and along the street; I wonder if it was the same male that brought a moment of magic to my tea break, and a smile to my day. 

Friday, 4 April 2014

Gardener's Birthday

This is Mr Sidney Barnes, a Brighton Corporation bus driver and conductor who through the war-time blackouts drove trolley-buses, trams and later double deckers up and down the streets and hills of Brighton. He was a great gardener, with a knack for flowers and veg, regularly winning prizes for his garden in the local corporation annual gardening competitions. I have heard he was a jovial, kind and generous man.
Sid also happens to be my Great-granddad, and today, would have been his 107th birthday.
I will always think of him when I see Auriculars, or straight rows of veg, or prune my roses (don't be afraid to prune them hard, or they get all straggly at the top, cut them right down low!).
Thanks Sid, time for a cuppa tea don't you reckon?
And hey! Great-Granddad? - Happy Birthday old timer xx

With Sid's Birthday in mind, and finding myself with a free day, I decided to visit a favourite local garden. West Dean Gardens is the perfect combination of formal and natural grounds and gardens, with a beautiful and perfectly proportioned traditional walled garden. Between the warm brick walls, spring flowers carpet the ground beneath heritage fruit trees, glasshouses sigh in the sunshine, and good earth is tilled so salad, veg and soft fruit run in rows or climb canes pointed towards the sky. 

I found a glasshouse filled with Auriculars, a secret warm corner filled with delicious scent of wallflowers, and bees nodding spring blooms. 


Thursday, 3 April 2014

Lunch Break

Beneath the rising hum of passing plane, hazy clouds drift, blotting the perfect sky.
Bees and insects buzz busily around the yellow fluffy buds on the willow tree and from the branches chiffchaff calls and pigeon coos.
A murmer in the rushes, soft breeze brushes skin and moves the waters of the lake. A ripple; fish rising. 

Eyes close. Sun warms. Sounds lull. 
Distant rooks, and further, far away sheep. Strains of robin song to the right, and blackbird to the left. And Chiffchaff, Chiffchaff, Chiffchaff.
Watch ticks. Insects dance over dark waters whilst butterflies bask, wings painted with unseeing eyes. Thoughts drift. 

A shiver in the breeze, a pheasant calls. 
The chaffinch now, sings for rain. And still above it all is the rising hum of passing plane.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Evening Walk

First sunset of British summer-time 

Friday, 28 March 2014

Whatever will the neighbours think?

Our little back garden on a quiet residential street has clearly gained a bit of a reputation the past few weeks, amongst the local feathered population, as a good place for meeting and courting single ladies! Despite the chill March winds, thoughts of nesting are getting many of the visiting birds in all-of-a-flutter!

Two grey-headed and drab dunnocks spend much of the day hopping around the garden in search of tiny seeds and insects and anything dropped from the feeders above. One of the pair, presumably the male, has taken to singing from a favourite perch in my neighbours pear tree; he busts into a string of high sweet notes, then appears to forget the words, coming to a sudden stop.  

The robins that paired during the late winter months have been cementing their bond, with the male feeding his demanding mate the choosiest morsels from the bird table.

On the daintier end of the spectrum, when the bull-in-a-china-shop woodpigeons are not careering about, the highly colourful goldfinches visit the garden. They sit on the perches of the feeder, one each side like bookends, tucking into the sunflower hearts; a favourite seed feed. Nesting fever has caught on here two however, as during this morning’s visit seed eating was abandoned, and the birds were seen collecting strands of cobwebs and cat-fur that had snagged on the top of the fence, to take it away to some secret building site.

A very short hop over the fence and yet more birds are busy with this nest-building lark! A pair of blue tits are enthusiastically stuffing a nest box with beak-fulls of moss and whatever they can find, whilst a glossy sequinned pair of starlings potter around the lawn, probing with open beaks for grubs, and collecting leaves and other material to fill their favourite nearby roof cavity.

Even the blackbirds have been sharing the bath water, splashing in the rain-filled plant tray that suffices as a bird bath, although the male didn’t look to impressed when he found his Mrs had emptied most of the water with her vigorous bathing before he had chance to enjoy it!

My quiet garden has become a busy dating-club; couples in and out at all times of day – whatever will the neighbours think?

Sunday, 9 March 2014

A spring butterfly made of spring sun

As we reach the end of the first week of March we appear to be settling into a spell of warmer and thankfully calmer and dryer weather. The kind of days where you want a t-shirt in the sun but long sleeves when standing for long in the shade. A few adventurous souls, determined to banish all memory of the long soaking winter, have dusted off their shorts for the first time this year, whilst all around in hedgerows and gardens, bees are buzzing, blossom and buds are bursting, and spirits soar at the sight of gold; brimstone butterflies and bank-side celandines. Reptilian beings are awakening; adders bask in sheltered sun-traps, grass snakes hunt dappled waters, my neighbour's tortoise is digging himself from the warming ground, slowly re-charging in the midday sun. 
I have been gardening. Our fence needs repairing; a good excuse as any to get out there and 'tidy up before the boys come to fit the new panels' or generally lift, separate, trim, prune, move and mulch. The energy-boost that spring has brought was just the thing I needed to spur me on with a long postponed job. Replacing a wooden raised bed that had disintegrated through a combination of rot and accidental sitting-on, with another, and redesign the neighbouring flower border. Pausing in my work, part way through this particular job, no doubt distracted by the buzzing of bees in the pulmonaria or the arrival of a cup of tea, I sat a while in the sun, gazing absent mindedly tea-mug in hand, at the mound of soil excavated from within the deceased raised bed. As I gazed a movement caught my eye, and when I looked closer I spied a woodlouse scaling what to it, must have been a sizeable mountain of crumbly loam. I watched as time and time again it fell, all 12 feet a wiggling frantically, and almost cheered out loud when it righted itself and at last reached the peak. 
Behind my left shoulder, where I knew the young oak reached tall and straight to the sky, the robin sang. A sudden flash of yellow, I turn and twist trying to keep it in my sight, a bright male Brimstone; a spring butterfly made of spring sun.
All day the queen bumblebees buzzed and hummed, wolf spiders basked on sun baked stones and fence panels, and the dunnock sang his short phrase and seemed to run out of words. 
I apologised a few times to the earthworms that writhed in the soil disturbed by my shovelling, gently lifting those I could to safety away from the danger of my fork. 
Physical work in warming sun surrounded by nature allowed the brain to rest, rejuvenate, recentre. the sun on my skin felt all the better for the long damp deary days of winter. The direct contact of hands and living soil, of knees and damp ground, of first grass cut scented air and sun-bathed colour that filled my senses, reconnected body to mind and soul to earth and rhythm to seasonal cycles. 
Now it has reached that time of day when the sky is a faded grey, evening blue sort of shade and the trees, still winter-bare, trace black filigree across the soft clouds. 
Colour slowly seeps from fields where fresh furrows run; a days hard labour, a job well done, and from the hedgerows that shiver in the march breeze, where a late wandering bumblebee laments the loss of the midday sun. 
Drifting through the upstairs window, are the rich fluid notes of a blackbird's song.

The week is ending cool and calm, stars emerge one by one in the darkening sky, thoughts turn towards Monday morning hopeful that the sun will shine again neutralising the effect of returning to school or work after a weekend of lazy hours.