Animal Helpers

Autumn has finally arrived. The wind is now from the north west and is bitterly cold. The dramatic sunrises and sunsets almost make up for the chill, but there are no more relaxing tea breaks in the warm sunshine as I go about my gardening chores. This month I am taking advantage of the offerings from the stormy weather and am clearing some seaweed from the cove and feeding the garden at the same time. Much of these chores seem like an exercise in futility as the dogs are busy undoing my work almost as soon as I have done. I found my most timid collie sitting in my salad bed munching on the fresh seaweed. Even worse, all three dogs tried to find some small creatures in my raised bed containing newly planted and mulched strawberry plants. I am not sure why this bothered me so much as Millie gets most of the strawberries this year, but I was full of good intentions and was busy designing a bird- and dog-proof cage.

The remains of my new strawberry bed. I still don’t know if the dogs found anything.

On a more positive note I am constantly amazed at how almost every shrub continues to produce at least one blossom well into winter. This buddleia is no exception. Despite the drop in temperature wasps, bees and bumblebees are still coming out on sunny days to take advantage of the small morsels of food that these provide. This bumble bee queen (Bombus terrestris) is one of the earliest bees to emerge from hibernation and I just hope that she has not been confused into thinking that it is spring. She was joined by a large worker bee so perhaps they are from the same hive.

It is not just the shrubs that continue to provide colour as this grass glistens in the early morning sun.

The Autumn colours have been very impressive this year and the crab apples appear to be growing on the dogwood shrub.

We are in the midst of our first serious storm this autumn as I write this and even my hardy collie has decided that it is better to stay indoors. I had been carefully watching the Staghorn Sumac in the prehistoric garden so that I could photograph it when it turned from vivid yellow to deep red. Overnight the leaves have been shredded to a pulp so I will have to wait until next year for that photograph and be content with the above pre-storm picture. I had small crop of courgettes this year and the plants decided to throw out a lot of flowers this week. These too have been shredded. My outdoor lettuce has also taken a battering, but it has served me well for months on end so I cannot complain.

As usual, I am fascinated by the path through the garden that the winds take during a storm. It is strange to see one shredded shrub beside another where the leaves have remained intact. Of course, some species of trees are more robust than others. I planted over eight ornamental cherry trees on the curved path beside the house. You can see from the photograph above how exposed their position is. What is so amazing is that this photograph was taken after the severe storm which denuded most of the other trees. The shredded sumac is in the top left-hand corner is a good example. I have so much respect for these tough trees that can produce such delicate looking flowers and such vivid autumn foliage.

Some of the ornamental cherries and crab-apple trees after the storm. It is hard to believe that these were planted last year as they have settled in so well. I did provide minimal support with small wooden stakes but none of the trees seemed to need them and were very firmly rooted within six months. The fact that the have withstood so many severe storms is a testament to this.

I am still mulling over my most successful crop to date. I can never throw away anything that has even the slightest chance of life. Many months ago, I planted a tiny piece of ‘shop bought’ turmeric which had a tiny sprout into an indoor pot containing a Christmas cactus. This week I have been rewarded with a nice crop of roots that are perfect for my post ‘sea swim’ tincture. This consists of sage, turmeric, ginger, honey and pepper and beats tea or coffee any day. I replanted a few small roots and they are already starting to grow. If only I could be so successful with my outdoor vegetables.

Twenty twenty-one has certainly been the year of the mushroom. I have found over seventeen different varieties in the garden, but despite my extensive research I can only definitively identify two or maybe three. I check the mushrooms each day taking a photograph of their rapidly evolving shape and size and then pore over the books trying to see if I can name it. It is one of the most frustrating tasks I have ever carried out and I am now becoming disheartened. The task is hampered slightly by the fact that something is eating the mushrooms at an alarming rate. If it is mice and voles as the books suggest then there must be hundreds in the garden including those trying to set up home in my strawberry beds. I cannot clear my mind of the picture of dozens of small creatures hallucinating after a mushroom feast. To keep myself amused I am inventing new names for the mushrooms that I find as it makes it easier to identify.

I call these apricot fudge and ice cream. The latter is less than an inch high but grows extensively under the trees in the garden.

This can only be called yellow spaghetti although I think that the correct name is Apricot club. Like many of the mushrooms in the garden it is very easy to miss as it is just an inch high.

I think that these are common earth balls and I am not sure why they were not given the name potato earthball.

I am a little more confident of the identification of this Blackening Waxcap and it is a beauty until it starts to blacken with age although I have seen some interesting examples of this as in the photograph below. While the name is accurate I don’t think that it does justice to the beauty of this little gem. I am calling it orange ice lolly in my new taxonomy.

The stormy weather and bitter cold can make gardening a challenge at this time of the year. However, the cold clear sky makes up for it as in this photograph taken late last month. I can almost forget the strawberry beds and hallucinating mice and voles.

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