From Furry Slippers to a Bad Hair Day


My Mount Aso willow is still providing me with a lot of cheer on these windy days. The furry slipper catkin changed to a very dignified deep wine/pink and then it opened up to this grey, orange and yellow creation. However, it remains a furry slipper at heart and in its last throes looked like one that has been carried about by one of my dogs for some considerable time. This willow is one of the many plants that has taught me to look very carefully, and very often, at each stage of growth. There is always beauty and the changes may only last for a moment so you need to be alert to catch them.

The final metamorphosis looks like an drenched dog/slipper but has a charm all of its own.

The stormy, cold weather limited my access to the garden to carry out any kind of serious work for over a week. The birds still required a lot of attention, although I did think that they would lie low during the high winds. In fact while they were very quiet during storm Franklin I noticed that on all other days the small birds were huddling under the shrubs waiting for me instead of perching on the larger trees as usual. They devour my homemade fat-instilled food and now all I have to do is find a way of keeping the crows away, as the damage they are causing is no longer amusing. I will devote the summer to trying to find a solution even if it is just partial.

My lovingly restored bird feeder has not survived the salt winds and is now back to its usual rusty looking self. The birds don’t seem to mind and I am not sure that I can afford to have it blasted and painted every year. I do make an effort to clean the house windows after a particularly salty gale but even that seems an effort in futility at this time of the year.

A rare sign of unity from three of the twenty plus goldfinches who wait for me to arrive with the bird food each day. They all seem almost tame and are often first to the feeders. I doubt that they will spend the summer here and am curious to know where they go for half of the year.

To my surprise this double white Helleborus Orientalis Anna is flourishing in the willow garden. It is covered in perfect flowers and unblemished leaves despite growing just ten feet from the mangled stubs of another Hellebore. It is not protected by my famous chicken wire protectors so I am puzzled as to why it is surviving. Perhaps the thieves do not like white or maybe the surrounding evergreen shrubs give it some protection. In fact I almost missed it as it is now so well hidden but don’t dare to move it to another location in case I bring attention to it.

This is the third and last uneaten and unprotected hellebore. For some reason the rabbits seem to be disinterested in the more exotic varieties allowing me the opportunity to appreciate them through their full life cycle. As they also tend to have an abundance of flowers they are a cheerful sight on a cold and windy day.

When I arrived here I struggled to identify this tree which was one of half-a -dozen or so that were planted on the driveway to my house by the previous owner. As they seem to be storm- and salt-proof I wanted to use them in my planting around the garden, so I searched the web for trees with unusual bark thinking that I had something very exotic on my hands. I am embarrassed to say that it was some time before I discovered that these were common ash trees and that the unusual markings were lichen which had completely encased the trunk. Since then, I have noticed a number of different combinations with some trees being predominantly gold and black and others sage green and light grey. In all cases it is a sign of very clean air so in addition to being beautiful works of art they also bring good news.

Details of the lichen on an ash tree trunk.

The wildflowers are gradually making their appearance and this lesser celandine does well in the willow garden. It is one of the first forest flowers of the year and provides a carpet of yellow and heart shaped mottled leaves.

This flower appeared just before the recent storms and seemed to know that it made a perfect contrast to the heather in the background. It was demolished by the winds before I had time to study it properly but I think it may be a Narrow-leaved Hawkweed judging by its leaves.

This eucalyptus is continuing with its metamorphosis as it is in the final stage of shredding its bark. I presume this is why the main trunk does not have any lichen growing on it although you can see some small growths on the branches. Eucalyptus do very well here and you can also coppice them if they are growing too tall. I am enjoying sourcing different varieties to trial in my field as the two I planted last winter seem to be doing well despite the exposure.

I have learned so much from my early days of planting in this exposed site. I did assume that this Magnolia Stellata would require some protection but underestimated the size of the plants that I planted around it. It is now completely hidden from sight unless you push through the surrounding shrubs. This means that it also has less light. However, this year as usual it is a mass of buds and the flowers will attract dozens of peacock butterflies if the weather ever improves. As with most of my other horticultural mistakes, plants seem to be very forgiving.


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