Gardening with Nature on the Edge of the Atlantic

The drought continues

10 June 2020

The onset of the Covid-19 restrictions meant that I was unable to shore up a hole in the eaves just above my kitchen door. It was not long before a starling took advantage of this – she and her partner are now feeding a very noisy bunch of chicks. I am in awe at their stamina as they go back and forward from the nest to the fields in front of the house over and over again all day long. No wonder the one in the picture looks a little frazzled. It was not easy to get a picture of them as they fly to the protection of the nearby trees whenever I appear. I also take a risk whenever I go out the door as the nest is directly above it and these birds are very particular about not messing their own nest. My three dogs are in a frenzy whenever they appear. Between the chirping of the chicks, her indignant squawks (still possible with a full mouth) and the dogs barking it is not a quiet place at the moment.

My male pheasant is at the opposite end of the spectrum when it comes to work ethic. He is spending his summer marching back and forth across the field in front of the house calling to all and sundry and appears to just preen himself and eat. I don’t know why he is running in the above photograph as it is the one and only time that I have seen him exert any energy at all. The three females that visited the garden throughout the winter are not in sight but I have heard some cheeping from the bushes and presume that they are nesting in the grass there.


A section of the herb bed at the side of the garden.

I have just two formal herb beds, one at the side and one at the back of the house. These are two very dry sunny spaces and most herbs do very well here. As you can see in both photographs, I allow some wild flowers to creep in but don’t let them get out of hand. Rosemary, sage and oregano thrive. My thyme plants are a bit hit and miss as they often do not last the winter. I am not having much success with English lavender but the two French lavenders in the photographs have been flowering continuously since last summer. The bees are particularly fond of them. At the back of the border at the side of the house I planted a spare bay tree seedling fully expecting it to expire with the dry ground and severe cross winds. It is now five feet high and managing very well. Parsley does not really like these dry beds and it has been most successful in the back of one of my shrubberies.

The view from the herb bed at the side of the garden.

I have been using golden oregano in other parts of the garden. The shrubbery at the top of the hillside tends to get very dry on the southern edge and it is becoming clear that there is very little soil in this area. In fact, three extremely dry summers have led to the rocks appearing above ground and in places replacing the grass path. The oregano seems very tolerant of both the dryness and the exposure to the winds. I find chives very useful as edging around vegetable beds and it is another bee magnet and attractive to boot. I have been very fond of horseradish since my childhood and should have remembered how it could take over a garden. Instead I planted it in in the first free space in one of the vegetable gardens. It is now a monster and spreading like wildfire. I will have to get help to remove it and also try to find a suitable place to try again.

Golden Oregano providing a nice backdrop to the New Zealand Leptospermum Scoparium martini.

Flowering shrubs

The Common Elder Sambucus nigra is thriving in the garden and my elderflower cordial making is keeping me busy. The Sambucus Nigra Blackface Eve has not done so well and I have moved it to a more sheltered spot in the garden. It has a very attractive flower and makes a perfect companion to Sambucus Sutherland gold. I have placed them together at the bottom of the driveway but have not had the courage to plant one closer to the exposed area around the house.

I have developed a great fondness for hydrangea although I disliked them intensely in my childhood. The first blossoms are starting to make an appearance despite the lack of rain for many weeks. I have planted as many varieties as I can find as they do so well here and provide essential protection to some of my borders in winter. I am beginning to wonder if this is a mistake. After nine years of plentiful and nourishing rain it looks as if we may be experiencing another very hot and dry summer. So far, the hydrangeas are bearing up but they are taking a battering. They can withstand the salt storms when there is plenty of moisture but it is asking a lot of them to stay healthy when this is followed by long windy, dry periods.

Work in progress

Whenever someone praises the garden, I have a pang of guilt as of course I tend to show it at its best. Not only is the garden a work in progress but its appearance is also affected by the ‘work in progress’ in the house. Well it was work in progress until Covid -19 intervened. Here are some of the least attractive parts of the garden although the wild flowers do soften the look.

Creating a new bed at the bottom of the driveway.

I am hoping that my chimney can be repaired as soon as the Covid-19 restrictions allow. Meanwhile the sheep’s-bit and Cat’s eyes are doing a good job of ‘beautifying’ the scaffolding materials on the drive behind the house.

Wild flowers

Honeysuckle on a wall at the bottom of the drive.

Stonecrop Sedum anglicum.

This little fleshy plant is thriving in all of the dry areas in the garden and is almost impossible to kill. I am very fond of it and have taken to placing it on the walls of the garden whenever I have to move it from its current location. It survives here with little or no soil and without rain for months on end. Recently it has been joined by what appears to be White Stonecrop Sedum album. This is an ‘introduced plant’ so I have no idea how it has found its way into my garden this year as there are no other gardens close by.

We have had three very dry summers in recent years. In a number of parts of the garden there is obviously only a very thin layer of soil covering the underlying rocks. These have changed in character as the grass has died, the soil shrivelled up and the rock exposed. The above area beside my garage has now been taken over by stone crop and Sheep’s-bit. They seem very happy in the new environment and may be a sign of the changes that will take place as a result of climate change.

The flowers are not the only beautiful part of the summer show of wild flowers. This is the time of the year when I have to exercise patience with regard to my ‘weeding’. If I am to continue to have spectacular shows I need to let all of my wild flowers spread their seed around the garden. However, the temptation is to ‘tidy’ everything up as soon as the seed head appears. I am now starting to appreciate the beauty of the seed heads themselves the cat’s ears seed head above is such an example. The goldfinches love the seeds of the groundsel – reason enough for letting it go to seed undisturbed. So, I will continue to tolerate the ‘mess’ for a few more weeks to keep the birds happy and ensure a good display next year.

17 June 2020 Thunder clouds building up to the east.

Yesterday I should have been delighted at the forecast of thunder showers. All of my water butts are empty and I am always reluctant to draw on the well too much for the garden. These long dry spells are becoming more common here and if the climate continues to change, I may have to reconsider some of my plans for the garden. In the meantime, I have ordered more butts to increase my storage capacity. So, for once the sound ‘torrential rain’ was music to my ears. After six hours of non-stop thunder and not a drop of rain the temperature was still at 22 degrees and the dogs were a bundle of nerves. Since then there have been a few light showers which have had little impact on the garden and I have to wait some days for the likelihood of more. I could accept all of this with some equanimity, and did, until I went into the local village for some groceries. Everyone was talking about the persistent and heavy rain and how it had been most welcome. This tiny strip of land by the sea seems to be the only place that did not have rain. Perhaps another sign of climate change.

19 June 2020 7 AM

The garden is very quiet today. The starlings must have left at the crack of dawn. I would have loved to see the hatchlings first flight but I guess leaving early is the safest thing to do. I will miss them.

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