27 December 2013

New Toy

I've been such a good girl this year the man in the red coat rewarded me with a new Ipad with a camera.

Luckily for us this means we can now have pictures and videos instantly up on our blog. You will know the moment anything happens in Garden65. This is going to be cutting edge journalism: breaking news, livefeeds, realtime commentary, the works. Shame nothing actually happens in the garden, but still, we must keep up with the times.

So here is a short clip of the wind in the park, and a hazy picture of some ducks. Both have been edited, themed and app-ed to the limit of my current expertise. And then uploaded on the actual Ipad. What a palaver.

24 December 2013

Low Winter Sun

The view from my kitchen window when I'm washing up the breakfast things.

At this time of year, if I time the washing up right, I can have a short moment with my hands in hot water and the sun shining brightly into my face. I close my eyes and enjoy the contrast between my warm hands and cold feet, while the sun, like a miracle, beams out comfortable pleasure.

It doesn't last long. It's surprising how low the sun travels across the sky in winter. These images were taken about quarter past 10. Look how the sun is just about to slide behind the neighbour's house. Poor Garden65 is doomed to shade for the rest of the day. No wonder gnats swarm over a mossy lawn.

However, to be generous there is a spare kind of beauty to the scene. A bit Stanley Spencery, if you see what I mean - twisting tree limbs, an over-white sky with dramatic clouds, cold, and wind, and red bricked houses. There is a whiff of Auden and Larkin; not quite Orwell (being in Didsbury we're cushioned from real poverty) but with a definite early 20th century air about the place. I'm picking up a kitchen sink drama vibe: This Sporting Life, A Taste of Honey, Look Back in Anger, Saturday Night Sunday Morning.




It's something to do with the quality of light that makes things a little starker. And why, perhaps, we like to blot it out with the excess of Christmas.

And here's my Christmas pressie for you - Richard Harris in This Sporting Life  ;-)

21 December 2013

Winter Gnats, or Christmas Angels?

Have you ever tried photographing gnats? Impossible!

The swarms of little flies dancing over your lawn at this time of year are the aptly named Winter Gnats (of the Trichoceridae family).

The swarms are made of male gnats stretching their wings, having some fun with the boys, before they pair up with a female and sneak away from the group to mate.

Luckily for me, as I stood around trying to photograph the little blighters, the males don't bite. It's the females who suck your blood, because they need the extra energy for egg laying.

The eggs are laid on decaying wood and the larvae feed on decaying matter - Ha! plenty of that in Garden65. It's worth noting (if you're at all interested in garden invertebrates) that the wiggly larvae in ponds are mosquito larvae.

Here's a short spooky film I've cobbled together:

The music is from John Dowland's 'Lachrimae', composed in 1604. I guess 'lachrimae' has something to do with tears (lachrymose).

And though the title doth promise teares, unfit guests in these ioyfull times, yet no doubt pleasant are the teares which Musicke weepes, neither are teares shed alwayes in sorrow, but sometime in ioy and gladnesse.

Happy Christmas Everyone   Jx 

11 December 2013

A Surprisingly Exuberant Information Board

Fog Lane Park in December

Here is my local park, Fog Lane, on a balmy December morning.

You can see the wildflower beds mentioned in October in the middle ground. Alas they have succumbed to time and are now stickbeds. It will be interesting to see what happens in spring.

In the foreground is an information board. This sometimes has a map of the park highlighting the location of specimen trees, or a list of the birds you could find in the park. If you wanted to explore the park, or had to entertain a child, I imagine this information might be useful, and it is a good sign to see evidence of someone in some council department engaged with the park beyond trimming its budget.

Generally, though, these displays are simple lists of species of plant or animal you may see. I was surprised then to see the new winter board describe in really quite poetic language the experience of being outside in nature in winter time:

I wonder who wrote this.
'the first frosts deter all but the hardiest of dog walkers'
'occasional snow can transform the park into a cold, hazy, beautiful place'
What chutzpah to suggest getting up early!
They add a list of things you could do.  Look at the word 'chuck'.  Surely not an official council-speak word?

'Leave a trail of footprints on frosty mornings'.  You mean it's OK to be frivolous in Fog Lane Park?

And when the writer returns to the old practice of listing species they manage to give an impression of a lively place containing forgetful birds, busy squirrels, and spontaneous fruiting bodies.

An impressive and reassuring information board. The park has someone working on its behalf who appears to have a genuine enjoyment of nature.

8 December 2013

Tidying Up The Front Bit

Tidying up the front garden is a different experience from doing the same to the back - or rather, the - garden.

For one, tackling the garden at the back of the house is done either when it has become aesthetically unpleasing, when an expert horticulturalist in a newspaper says I should, or when I can be arsed. Tending to the front garden, however, is usually done when it becomes apparent my garden is the only one in the road giving out a 'Miss Haversham Lives Here' vibe.

What and when is done in the back garden is a private personal affair, but that done to the front is generally prompted by the pressures of social anxiety.

The trouble is, I like the overgrown look. I like leaf litter, naughty Heathcliffe weeds, and scary insects. To me, as long as I have some control over where they occur, these things mean Life lives in my garden. Yes, I realise a well ordered neatly pruned garden could also make this claim - a plant, be it an exotic bought from a garden centre or a windblown weed, is always Life - but it's being able to see nature going through its seasonal and daily cycles that gives me joy and gives purpose to what little actual gardening I do.

Look at this leaf litter and earthy stuff under the hebes in the front. Today it was swept away because I thought the neighbours would think me lazy if it was left there. I was muttering 'what a shame' under my breath, though. There were worms in there, and little white hoppy things, and a startled earwig. It was a perfect feeding ground for robins and wrens, and maybe hedgehogs. What a shame that Life, that Realness, had to go for the sake of social embarrassment.

This little internal tussle highlights the whole concept of garden and gardening. Gardens are artificial constructs and gardening is a matter of control. Here I am championing wild nature, yet I want it confined to portions of my land. Letting nature run its course would demonstrate my commitment to these ideas of Life and ecosystems and beleaguered birds, but then I wouldn't be gardening, and it wouldn't be my garden. It would simply be a patch of land. I wouldn't own it.

And how would that affect my social standing with my surrounding neighbours? You have to be seen to have some control over your garden. It seems most people demonstrate their mastery by paving over the ground or confining plants to bordered borders. Even my messy garden in its early successional state is tolerated (I think, I haven't actually asked) because it is understood I'm 'wildlife gardening' and not simply neglectful.

The city ... nature ... humans ... wildlife  - interesting ...

5 December 2013

Queen Bee

That Cat's sister and I found a bumblebee in the grass.

That Cat's sister
The poor thing wasn't well. It was wet and shivering and having great difficulty walking through the grass.

I guessed we must be witnessing the end of its short life. The weather was cold and damp and there were very few flowers left to feed from. This is nature red in tooth and claw I mused, but it was horrible to see suffering, so I suggested to Sister Cat, who was equally intrigued by the bee, that she put it out of its misery by eating it.

Of course, she was offended by the suggestion but I pointed out I had seen her and her sister munch plenty of insects through the summer. Could she deny she'd crunched a few butterflies in her time?

Reluctantly she couldn't, so she gave the bee a closer look. She gave it a pat with her paw, sniffed it, turned her head from side to side to avoid the sting, but no, it wasn't possible. The bee was too big.

The bee was a queen we concluded. Since bumblebee queens hibernate in winter we decided she  may not be on her last legs but simply a bit cold.  I shooed Sister Cat away and picked up the queen to have a closer look.

I think she was a Tree Bumblebee.

Her little feet were so delicate and her shivering pathetic, it was magical to feel her move over my hand; a privilege. It is easy to see why conservation charities emphasise the loss of bee numbers rather than those of less attractive insects, who are equally important pollinators and members of the wider ecosystem. I felt a great deal of sympathy for the poor animal.

I went to put her under some shrubs in the hope she could dry out and find a safe place to hibernate. But like other similar attempts to help bees I dropped her rather than softly placing her, and managed to add to her problems.

The last I saw of her she was bravely crawling into the dark.