Lizards and sunshine

Today we started preparing the ground for the imminent arrival of 1400 hedgerow plants which will be delivered next week. Glorious sun, blue skies and completely calm; a complete turn-around from the last few days.IMG_3515Clearing is a multi-stage project; first is the removal of bits of wood metal and corrugated iron, then its strimming, then raking away the strimmed remains, then mowing with a close blade to get as much of the grass and weeds out as possible. Its a long process, but on day like today enjoyable and rewarding. At sundown we had completed about a third of the area – luckily I will be able to do more during the week. IMG_3517Lifting some bits of metal I disturbed 4 lizards in their cozy winter hibernation home. They were completely drowsy in the bright light so we quickly relocated them to another part of the garden for the rest of winter. I’m really excited to see them here – lizards in England! IMG_3512The warmth of the sun today transitioned very quickly; sunset brought cold air which flowed down the field and chased us indoors to a warm fire. I hope the lizards will make it though this cold.IMG_3516

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Weather watch

February days change so quickly; today we had the full range. Weather watching is an enjoyable Sunday sport. Here’s some of what I saw:

Hazel trees with dangling catkins looking striking against the cold blue sky. IMG_3448.jpg

Silver birch mothership trees are combed by the wind.IMG_3493

Dark clouds highlight the whiteness of Himalayan birch, backdropped by the classic Kentish scene of ancient church and oasthouses.IMG_3487

The sun emerging after a dramatic 10 minute hailstorm.IMG_3428

Three blokes in a field, about to get soaked by a passing shower.IMG_3495 (1).jpg

Freezing February

The February freeze, a stark reminder that winter is not yet over. Snow, sleet and bitter cold make it uncomfortable to be outside, even in the weak sunshine. The ground is frozen and hard, growth of early bulbs suspended. A time for being indoors, under glass or in front of a fire lit at sunset. The alpines wear the cold well, looking completely at home in snow and ice.

A new hedgerow

Very pleased to receive confirmation of arrangements for our new hedgerow earlier today. This will be subsidised by the Woodland Trust as part of their ‘MOREHedges‘ scheme. A total length of 253m, the hedgerow will be planted along the side and then right across the top of the field. The plan is (once established) to keep it trimmed to around 8ft, with bigger trees growing through around every 25m. The plants are a mixture of blackthorn, hawthorn, dog rose, dogwood, hazel, crab apple, field maple, oak and rowan – aka a ‘traditional native mix hedgerow’. There’s about 1300 plants to go in, each with a rabbit guard and a stake. The area will need to be prepared by strimming,  removing large weeds, filling in various holes and moving the skeleton of an ancient poly tunnel. The pics below show the wire fence as it is now; the new hedgerow will be planted along the entire length of this fence.

 

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The primary aim of planting this hedgerow is to encourage wildlife into and through the area. It will also provide a buffer against wind and create an additional barrier for when we eventually get a dog (dogs)..

Birth of a woodland

Snakesbury is roughly divided in 2 – there’s a 3 acre field and 2 acres of garden with the house and various outbuildings. For many years now the field has been used growing hay . A local farmer harvests it once a year and gives us firewood in return. Last year we had a very poor harvest – probably only 60% of a normal yield. We put this down to the dryness of the winter/spring, but also to the bunnies. There’s a lot of bunnies, they’re breeding like bunnies.

So unfortunately the local farmer decided that it’s not really worthwhile harvesting a low yield of hay. Which was a catalyst for action on the field. Since we came to live here we have discussed various ideas for the field – everything from soft fruit to hops. More recently we have settled on creating a woodland on part of it. The woodland would be used for firewood but mainly for wildlife and for legacy. It seems like every day more of the countryside is lost to development and our thinking was that by creating a woodland we would be able to hold back this ever-encroaching tide, even if only in a small way.

I approached the Woodland Trust, who are currently funding schemes to help develop more woodland and hedgerows. They’re a brilliant organisation. Our local tree officer arranged a survey and we spent a very interesting morning discussing options. He was really helpful and a few days later reported back that the Woodland Trust were prepared to fund 60% of the cost. So far so exciting! Unfortunately doing the sums I established that I couldn’t really afford to do the full project this year. It is disappointing, but we should be in a position to do the woodland next year. In the meanwhile we are going ahead with the hedgerow, which will be planted along the top and side of the field. A native mix, it will consist of blackthorn, hawthorn, field maple, dogwood, dog rose, rowan and hazel. All with rabbit guards. Hopefully we should take delivery in the next few weeks – stay tuned.

Today I started planting trees – these are trees that I have grown in pots and ones that have been kindly donated by friends. My idea is that the ones planted now will be pioneers for next year’s big woodland planting session, creating shelter belts from the vicious wind that pumps across the field. I planted about 60 today – mainly birch and oak. This has hardly made a dent in the field – not surprising when you consider that the big woodland plant of 2019 will be 1600 trees! Still, the start of a fantastic project and I’m really excited to get it going.

IMG_3379Some of the silver birches – planted in groups of 3, 5 or 7 roughly 2-2.5m apart.

Frost

An icy start this morning. Some plants have shrivelled and wilted and will stay that way until the sun warms them up again. The temperature in the poly tunnel went down as low as -3. It looks like the tomato seedlings found it too cold, but others seem fine. Frosted leaves are a wonderful, transient thing – melting away as soon as the sun moves into a high enough position.

 

Clear blue sky, sharp cold air and sunshine – the best days that winter has to offer. A perfect day for planting trees.IMG_0696

Daffodils and seasons pass

They’re not quite flowering in the garden yet – Al bought these daffodils from the Coop yesterday.IMG_3340.jpg

When I first moved to London in 1990 I was fascinated with the daffodils that came up out of nowhere in the parks and gardens. They were so bright in the general greyness of winter, almost out of place in the darkness. After the first year I learned to anticipate their arrival. The daffodils arrival broadcasted a change; it may still be a while until spring but things were moving in the right direction. That moment made the rest of winter OK.

Of course there’s many more subtle signs of season change when you start to look a bit more carefully – like these crocus. Change is coming.IMG_3346IMG_3345IMG_3342