Nature’s Details & Distractions

I’d planned to talk about so much for the month of May: flowers, birds and insects, or the days that celebrate them such as Dawn Chorus Day and World Bee Day. But after a challenging couple of months with physical setbacks and three out of four parents needing hospital treatment there hasn’t seemed the right time or headspace to write or blog. My anxiety increased and when my ‘lamp post challenge’ walks were curtailed, it left me to really focus on what’s in the garden.  

The light changes in spring and by mid-morning areas of the garden lit up creating spotlights on floral beauties. I then started to look at shapes, colour and patterns more. When your world shrinks your field of vision does too. But it doesn’t have to be a bad thing…

… I looked at the detail from the side and above.

As I’m not up to the things I once took for granted; holidays, long walks around nature reserves and being on my feet for hours whilst meandering in art galleries, I find myself focusing on details right under my nose…

…such as hedgehog poo. My husband laughed when I became overjoyed at discovering the precious find in the garden, ‘Oh wow!’ I said, ‘there’s some really interesting poo here!’ He remarked only I could say something like that. This dropping was around 5-6 cm in length by 1 cm wide. I thought it could be from a hedgehog as I spotted one in the garden just several nights before. However, not trusting my dung identification skills I got in touch with the PTES, (the People’s Trust for Endangered Species) and they confirmed, ‘yes, the size and appearance – dark and crinkly is typical of hedgehog poo’. Yay! A hedgehog sighting and it’s poo in one week. It’s great to have positive sightings especially when taking part in the Living with Mammals survey.

The shape, colours and texture of unfurling ferns is full of detail…

and when fully open.

The colouration and folds within the bluebell petals were stunning close up. We tend to think of them as just one colour but when the light is right and you get your eye in, you can see a multitude of blues and stripes.

Our small ornamental cherry tree over the years has gradually been reverting back to its original species. And this year around 80% of the tree had open white flowers instead of compacted pale pink blooms. Good news for the bees!

I’ve been enjoying looking at the close-up detail of dandelions.  With up to 200 individual flowers in each dandelion head they are a wonderful pollinator plant and perfect for spring bees. When you look really closely you can see the individual miniature floral trumpets. According to my Plants for Bees book, those single tiny flowers can vary from 3 to 7 mm in length.

They’re delightful to admire close-up on sunny days when open. But what I found fascinating was the detail in dandelion seed heads…

The shapes of individual seeds build up a wonderful pattern…

… This structure enables them to be carried on the wind for miles.

The arrangement of seeds within a dandelion clock has always drew my eye in, but after reading up on the science behind how they disperse encouraged me to pick one, pull off the seeds (of which there were over a hundred) and look at it through my hand lens.

This photograph doesn’t do it justice but the fine feathery filaments at the top allow this much maligned plant to scatter its seeds. Scientists call this little parachute a pappus. Unlike a parachute though, these threads have wide spaces between them, up to around 90%. The nature of these filaments means dandelion seeds create a vortex causing low pressure which takes the seeds upwards.

Photo by HG Fotografie Pixabay

The seeds open and close depending on the weather, for example, with high humidity and low wind the furry parachutes close. But once favourable conditions arrive, such as dry or windy weather they open up which aids seed dispersal. And I discovered they can even travel over 100 kilometres!

Dandelions value to wildlife is not all about when they’re in flower as recently I’ve watched the goldfinches enjoying the seeds.

Dandelions have deep tap roots which helps aerate the soil and bring up nutrients from below – a perfect natural fertiliser which lends a hand to keep the lawn lush and green.

So learn to love your dandelions! The tenacious wildflower that’s full of science and a banquet for wildlife.

“Turn your garden into a peace zone – befriend dandelions”

– Jonathan Tulloch naturalist and nature writer

Until next time enjoy the peace, details and positive distractions of nature.

All photographs by The Back Garden Naturalist unless otherwise stated.


Glimpses of Eden by Jonathan Tulloch

Plants for Bees by W.D.J Kirk & F.N Howes

April Showers and Nature’s Sponge

So far April has been living up to its reputation. Between downpours I’ve managed to get out for my ‘lamp post challenge walks‘ to admire the buds and blooms in front gardens. But no matter the weather or time of year there’s one plant that always catches my eye – moss. Or ‘spongy mounds of loveliness’ as I like to call them. They are inviting to touch and like most things, once an interest is piqued, you see them everywhere.

From pavements to rooftops…

From walls to a woodland floor…

And growing on my garden Buddha…

Moss is amazing and the more I learnt about this damp and shade loving plant, the more I discovered how magical it is.

Moss comes under the group of plants called bryophytes, together with liverworts and hornworts they are one of the earliest plants to occur on earth. They are non-vascular plants, meaning that water and food is not moved around the plant or obtained from the soil but instead, they acquire moisture and nutrients from the environment.

A close up of Buddha’s new mossy coat. Cypress-leaved Plait-moss Hypnum cupressiforme. Thanks to kind help from the British Bryological Society, I was able to get confirmation of this and my other moss sightings.

Moss needs damp conditions to grow and scatters spores to reproduce. If they do dry out, as if by magic, once it rains these simple plants revive themselves and can start reproducing again. So this explains why the moss I thought was dead last summer after the extreme 40°C heat now looks lush and green again.

Grey-cushioned Grimmia, Grimmia pulvinata sits behind Wall Screw-moss, Tortula muralis, both are aptly named for their appearance and where they occur.

Moss stems back to the Ordovician period, some 470 million years ago  – a time of varied marine invertebrates when the climate was mild and atmosphere moist. As they were one of the first plants on land, they gave us oxygen in the air, thus, allowing other life-forms to evolve.

The British Bryological Society refers to them as ‘jewels of the plant kingdom’. And I can see why when I look closely at this little patch of moss, it’s like nodding emeralds on ruby stalks.

Mosses aren’t parasitic so do no harm. And as well as soaking up water, they provide spongy plant material for nesting birds and within this miniature forest lives tiny creatures. Animals so small you’d need a microscope to see them. Moss is home to tardigrades, also known as moss piglets or water bears – the toughest critters on earth. They can live up to 30 years without food or water by becoming a dehydrated ball, and like moss, they can be revived after drying out for decades. They can tolerate temperature ranges from – 200°C to + 150°C! And it’s said they could avoid asteroids, supernovas, gamma rays and will be here for as long as the sun shines. Another 5 billion years then?

Moss can grow anywhere on trees but here in the UK and northern hemisphere it favours the north side. Whereas in Australia for example and southern hemisphere countries the south side of a tree would be preferable – a reason moss has been used as a ‘plant compass’ in years gone by. But the Woodland Trust does state, ‘prevailing wind and rain can influence where moss grows’ so perhaps it’s not the most reliable tool if you’re lost in a woodland.

I watched an amazing program the other week, The Magical World of Moss. It featured many experts including a British ecologist, Peter Convey who studied global warming in the South Pole and during his research he discovered moss in the Antarctic grew about half a centimetre per year. So the 2 metre moss banks he analysed were several centuries old. That’s what I love about nature; it not only tells us so much about our living world and connections now, but can often take us back in time. Peter even revived a 1,500-year-old Moss!

I enjoyed this peaceful quote from a Japanese research bryologist –

“When you fully immerse yourself in this uniform green and through it find peace of mind, you realise that this imperfect beauty is the very essence of a perfect beauty.”

Professor Oishi Yoshitaka

Image Pixabay, Kanenori

In Japan moss is respected and considered sacred – representing beauty, simplicity humility and refinement. Gardens are lovingly cared for with moss in mind. It’s encouraged in courtyards, between paving stones and is kept weed free. It’s such a shame we don’t think of it in the same way here in the UK.

Japan’s Saihoji temple, known as Kokedera ‘Moss Temple’ near Kyoto looks magical. Home to over 120 species of moss many of which are given delightful names relating to their delicate characteristics such as: spiral, shining branch and weasel tail.

Grey-cushioned Grimmia, Grimmia pulvinata.

How amazing that this simple plant that’s been around long before the dinosaurs still thrives around the world on every continent, but how sad then, that in many countries like the UK, we don’t see its value. When I visit garden centres there’s often shelves upon shelves of insecticides, pesticides, fungicides and herbicides – moss killers. These chemicals are not only toxic for the intended target but the wider environment too. The moss programme also featured a French biologist, Professor Emmanuel Baudouin who is working on a natural herbicide from a liverwort species Radula, a common moss in forests. The programme said the moss produces a molecule Radulanin A, which has the ‘same devastating capacities as glyphosate’.

As I looked more into the natural chemicals found in this group of plants, I learnt Jürg Gertsch from the University of Bern discovered Radula marginata contains a substance called perrottetinene. This type of liverwort is found across Japan, New Zealand, Tasmania and Costa Rica. Interestingly this compound has the same effects on the brain as THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) found in marijuana, triggering the same cannabinoid receptors. And the good news is, it appears to be less psychoactive. Could this be the new painkiller and anti-inflammatory?

Who would have thought this humble plant could be home to miniscule creatures, provide bedding for birds, and have the potential for great pain relief and medicinal purposes as well as be calming and Zen.

“And when thou art weary I’ll find thee a bed, Of mosses and flowers to pillow thy head.” 

John Keats


A Field Guide to Bryophytes by Dominic Price and Clive Bealey

The Magical World of Moss

Spring – Season of the Blackbird

I thought I would dedicate a post to the world’s best bird (okay, just my opinion). The Blackbird Turdus merula. And here’s why I love them so much…

They may not have the epic migrations and mind-boggling life on the wing such as Arctic terns or swifts. They may not have the flamboyant colours of kingfishers or tropical birds. And they don’t have the wooing artistry skills of bowerbirds. But as I live in built up suburbia this songster’s serenade transports me to woodland and does wonders for my mind. I recall a recent episode of Winter Watch and Dr Amir Khan stating that birdsong helps us release serotonin and dopamine, he described these as ‘happy brain chemicals’ and a study by the National Trust showed that people who listen to birdsong for just ten minutes are at least 30% more relaxed after. I certainly agree with that. When I listen to birdsong I can physically feel my shoulders drop, my breathing slows down and no doubt my heart rate too. And Mr B’s song is sublime.

When I hear Mr B, the sound of aeroplanes, mowers and drone of distant motorway or nearby roads isn’t as prominent. I just focus on a multitude of notes. Just recently on my late afternoon walks around the housing estate I heard the chipping and chirping of Mr B, like he was warming up for the season. And within a few weeks he will be in full song, morning and evening.

Female blackbirds are dark brown and can have pale and lightly speckled throats and breast. The male’s orangey yellow beak and eye rim against his sleek black feathers is rather striking. I discovered that first year males are a duller black and their bill is not as bright. It is said the more orange the beak the more attractive to females, as apparently it signals his good foraging skills. And I found out from Animal Diversity the pigment in a male’s beak comes from the quantity of carotenoids in his diet.

Juveniles are brown and have more speckles.

I often used to see Mr B with his young.

Found across Europe, North Africa and introduced to Australia and New Zealand during the 1800s, blackbirds like a variety of habitat, including gardens, parks and woodland, and over the last couple of centuries they’ve moved into more urban areas.

According to the Wildlife Trusts there are over 5 million pairs in the UK but numbers increase during winter when blackbirds from Scandinavia join our resident birds to escape the extreme cold.

In years gone by ‘our’ Mr B, has given us many fanfare blasts, my favourites were: ‘Deed-up, Deed-up’ & ‘Doo-doo-doo-do’. Then a long melodic piece with all the complexity of an 18th century composer, followed by a delightful ‘twirling, twizzle’ on the end. That year I referred to him as Mr Twizzle. His repertoire varies slightly from year to year. I doubt it’s my original Mr B, given that they only live for around 3-4 years, but could it be one of his descendants?

Young male blackbirds can sing as early as January but the more mature birds join in around March. I know in a matter of weeks he’ll be belting out his song and firmly staking his territory.  Whilst not the first bird that comes to mind when we think of mimicry, blackbirds certainly mimic sounds and phrases such as car alarms and even human beings. I recall my parents telling me in years gone by that their resident blackbird sang the same tune as the fans on the terraces of their local football team!

I read a delightful story in the Guardian, about a family in Colchester in the 1940’s and how the mother would whistle four notes to call her children back in. The resident blackbird’s chosen vantage point was close to the house and he’d copy her tune. It got passed on to other blackbirds in the area and the ditty was sang for another thirteen years!

Blackbird numbers appear to be stable despite a decline of 15% since the 1970’s but be complacent with this bird at your peril. We need to take heed from catastrophic losses with birds we once took for granted – Migratory birds such as the Nightingale; the bird with a thousand sounds has declined in the UK by 90% in just over fifty years and can now only be heard singing in isolated pockets of the south-east. The soft ‘purring’ of the Turtle dove has declined in the UK by 98%, it could be gone from the British countryside altogether in my lifetime. How sad.  Garden birds I used to see regularly or in abundance such as the Starling have now declined by 71%, Song thrush by 56%, Bullfinch by 53% and countryside birds I grew up with; Skylark down by 52% all within thirty years. The UK is one of the most nature depleted countries in the world and sadly it’s not alone when it comes to drastically declining bird numbers, nearly 3 billion individual birds have gone from North America since 1970 and up to 620 million gone across Europe since 1980 according to Discover Wildlife. And can you guess what is responsible for that decline? Yes, humanity – destruction of habitat, pollution, intensive agricultural methods and cocktails of pesticides, invasive species and climate change. Cherish the birds that sing and visit your garden. Whatever the species.

What can we do to help?

  • If you have the space plant with nature in mind – shrubs, hedges, climbers and trees are excellent nesting sites and berries are a great food source.
  • Whatever space you have available, bird boxes are an ideal option. See RSPB’s advice on hole size and location.
  • Put out birdfeeders – fill and clean frequently with warm soapy water.
  • Provide a clean water source daily and if it’s a dish or a bird bath, again clean regularly.
  • A variety of bird food will attract different species: seed, sunflower hearts, suet nibbles, peanuts, fruit such as apple, pear, sultanas and raisins (away from dogs though as dried fruit can be toxic).  
  • Bird tables are great for ground feeding species, like the blackbird.
  • Leave many plants to go to seed, such as teasels and dandelions – our goldfinches love them!
  • For more details on attracting garden birds and types of food the RSPB and BTO have helpful tips.


Male blackbirds set up a territory in their first year and occupy this for the rest of their lives. He’ll defend his area as this will be for pairing up with a female and raising chicks.

The nesting season is from March – July and they rear 2 – 3 broods but can have 4 broods in a good year. I read nesting starts earlier in gardens than in woodland and the RSPB says ‘weather determines the timing of the breeding season’. I wonder if this goes for their song too? As when I’ve been out on my early evening walk down the street, I didn’t hear the blackbirds when it was really cold but on more clement evenings they’ve been very vocal.

Nest building is undertaken by the female, it’s cup shaped and made of straw, plant materials and mud. She then lines it with fine grass and around a fortnight later when it’s complete it’ll be ready for 3 – 5 eggs. The female incubates them and hatching happens 13 – 14 days later. Both parents feed the chicks and this is when I see Mr B deserving ‘Dad of the Year’ award. Constantly back and forth to the nest, beak full of worms, defending his territory, seeing off rivals and voicing loud alarm calls when cats are about. Interestingly, garden blackbird chicks are mainly fed earthworms, where as chicks raised in woodland have a diet largely of caterpillars.

Blackbird Folklore

I’ve mentioned in a previous post, Sleeping Plants and Lively Birds the lovely Italian folktale of the blackbird but one nursery rhyme that’s really intrigued me is, Sing a Song of Sixpence. I remember my Nan’s blackbird pie whistle…

…And it got me thinking of this old nursery rhyme. Where did it come from? After some research I’m still none the wiser as there are different theories. It appears in mediaeval Europe, live birds were put into pies so they could fly out when the pie is cut! Hmmm, think we’ll leave that one in the history books. I discovered the cook would bake an empty pie; put the blackbirds inside then a pastry lid on top, thus, a culinary surprise between courses. Like a show off piece.

Sing a song of sixpence a pocket full of rye.
Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie.

When the pie was opened the birds began to sing.
Oh wasn’t that a dainty dish to set before the king?

The king was in his counting house counting out his money.
The queen was in the parlour eating bread and honey.

The maid was in the garden hanging out the clothes,
When down came a blackbird and pecked off her nose.

Old English Nursery Rhyme

Another belief is that the Queen represents the moon, the king the sun and the number of blackbirds are the hours in a day. Or that blackbirds symbolised monks during the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII, with his first wife, Katherine of Aragon symbolising the Queen, and Anne Boleyn, his second wife as the maid.

Another theory seems to relate to pirates. Suggesting the rhyme was a coded message to acquire new crew. It’s said, the blackbirds are in fact the famous pirate Blackbeard’s men and the pie is their ship where they hide.

Lastly, the Museum of London says during the late 1800s dockworkers had their own version of Sing a Song of Sixpence when they went on strike.

I often daydream that in another life my amateur interests and passions in this life would be my work and vocation. I’m either an entomologist specialising in bees and hoverflies or an expert on the blackbird – we can dream can’t we? It’s a world where my body is healthy and pain free and I travel to places to further understand the delightful blackbird. My PhD would be on his song. I would decipher every trill, pip and whistle. Then an element of sadness falls upon me, because in the spring of 2018, just after completing my first assignment on bumblebees with Manchester Metropolitan University I was about to embark on my next project – birds. And of course, you’ve guessed which bird I would have focused on. But by the summer of that year I became so ill I was unable to walk. I don’t want to get sad or angry as that’s not healthy, so often I swallow it down. But that’s not healthy either. When things fester they manifest elsewhere in the body or mind and it’s certainly not good for mental health. This all led me to find a community of people like me in the UK, Quintox Support. I’m not always in touch with them as I don’t want this painful condition and debilitating circumstances to consume my life. However, when it feels overwhelming, that’s when it’s good to have a community that understands. The rest of the time I bathe in nature and this time of year has to be my favourite. From treetops to rooftops the blackbird warms up his song. And like the unfurling buds around him, the beauty of spring unfolds.

I leave you with a wonderful quote from one of the world’s best crime writers just before his death, Swedish author, Henning Mankell –

“I have heard the blackbird. I have lived.”

Henning Mankell


From The Earth To The Sky

Biting winds, the possibility of snow, combined with it getting noticeably lighter in the evenings and emerging buds, makes February the month that has a foot in both winter and spring.

Amongst the leaf litter and dandelion leaves, Winter Aconite has burst through like floral suns. This flower is a good early source of pollen for short tongued bees.

Close by is Red dead-nettle. They appear from February and can flower right through until November. Their Latin name, Lamium purpureum is derived from the Greek word Lamia, which stands for ‘devouring monster’, signalling the ‘open jaws’ of the flower.

Red dead-nettle’s ‘open jaws’.

On zooming in on the Red dead-nettle you can really see the beauty that could be missed with the naked eye. The flower is more purple than red and because it blooms so early and through much of the year it’s an excellent food source for long tongued bees.

I first noticed snowdrop shoots 2nd January – it does seem like spring is getting earlier and these delicate white flowers are a sign of spring, hope and rebirth.

Some flowers are associated with the months of the year and these connections have their roots in the East; China and Japan. Here in the UK, snowdrops are January’s flower and they can sometimes be called ‘Candlemas flower’ due to them blooming around Candlemas day – 2nd February. As many Christians see Jesus as ‘the light’ traditionally Candlemas is celebrated by taking beeswax candles to church and having them blessed on this day. 

In times gone by it was tradition to clear the Christmas greenery away from churches by Candlemas day or else the goblins would overrun the church!

To dream of the snowdrop flower signifies to share your secret and no longer keep it to yourself – lightening the burden and becoming happier for it.

Should you be looking for lasting love and want to pick snowdrops, in folklore it is said to collect them before Valentine’s Day if you want to be married this year!

I particularly like the folk tale that badgers come out on Candlemas day to test the weather! Which brings me to a lovely sky I recently saw…

A friend visited last week and during our little walk around the housing estate we noticed these beautiful clouds. We both thought they were reminiscent of damp sand on a beach after the tide has gone out. I believe they are referred to as a ‘mackerel sky’ for their ‘fish scale’ appearance.

“Mackerel sky, mackerel sky, never long wet, never long dry.

The meaning behind this old saying is that these altocumulus or cirrocumulus clouds combined with a drop in air pressure meant rain was on the way, but a warm front would soon follow.

And on several evenings lately just before dusk, the sky has been bejeweled with colour.

I’ve been following and enjoying many blogs over the last couple of years and just recently I’ve discovered a wonderful term to describe this kind of sky from Natur auf dem balkon (Nature on the balcony) blog – ‘When angels bake cookies’. What a beautiful saying.  

I took this photo on the ‘Dusk & Dawn’ setting on the camera, which automatically gives it some kind of filter, highlighting the colour. I think I prefer the original though, it’s more delicate, more subtle, more ‘angels baking cookies’. 

I’ve always read almanac websites and decided to treat myself to this beautiful book. It contains tide times, the solar system, nature through the seasons – this year focusing on the garden pond each month and one of my favourites – Moon cycles. In fact, there is a section each month on gardening by the Moon. A guide of when to plant certain produce, such as the New Moon to the first quarter, 20th – 26th February and from the first quarter to the Full Moon, 27th February – 7th March. Both phases are when the Moon is waxing with ascending vitality. The book suggests these windows are the best time to sow seeds for produce that grow above the ground. In contrast, the Full Moon to the last quarter, 6th – 13th February is the ‘drawing down’ energy phase and therefore the best time to plant crops that develop below the ground. As I’m not able to bend I now have a veg planter, so ‘Moon planting’ is something I want to try.

I have the seeds ready!

February’s Snow Moon on the 5th, named after the weather that can be found this time of year. It’s also known as the Hunger Moon and Storm Moon.

It was a clear night for February’s Full Moon and many craters could be seen. The dark areas, the bits I think of as the ‘Man in the Moon’ face, are the Lunar Seas. They’re not seas, but the remains of regions that were once covered by molten lava billions of years ago after meteorite impacts. One of the most well-known seas, thanks to Neil Armstrong and the crew of Apollo 11, is the Sea of Tranquillity – it’s where ‘One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind’ took place.

I discovered in my, All About Space magazine, the huge pale crater I often see at the bottom of the Moon is called Tycho. Like a giant paint splat radiating outwards the emanating lines are referred to as rays. They are rock and dust that spattered out after the 53 mile wide crater was made. Apparently these rays are fairly new (when it comes to astronomy – around 108 million years old!) and over time these lighter rays will darken. I enjoy learning about the Moon; it gives another dimension to its beauty – just knowing that those whitish sprays of dust covering the darker seas, in time, will create another feature to the face of the Moon.

The Waning Moon 9th February – According to my Almanac book, the time to plant root vegetables!

So whilst this month carries hope and light there is still the essence of winter – rest, be kind to yourself and take heed from this sleepy grey squirrel that spent over an hour just chillin’ on the poplar tree branch.


All About Space Issue 111

The Almanac A Seasonal Guide To 2023 by Lia Leendertz

An Encyclopaedia of Plants in Myth, Legend, Magic and Lore by Stuart Phillips

Lore of The Wild Folklore & Wisdom From Nature by Claire Cock-Starkey, Illustrated by Aitch

Plants For Bees, by W.D.J Kirk and F.N. Howes 

Telling the Seasons by Martin Maudsley & illustrated by Alison Legg

Sleeping Plants & Lively Birds

The garden looks a little lifeless at the moment – rust hues, bare branches and the odd evergreen. But something is going on beneath the soil…

Many garden plants have evolved to withstand cold winters and as temperatures drop their metabolism starts to slow down. And so does everything else. Dormancy allows plants and nature to rest before day length and temperatures increase again. Something we can learn from our gardens and green spaces. We live in a fast-paced world that never stops. But maybe if we just rest, eat and sleep well, we can replenish a little, like the garden in winter.

On reading up on plant dormancy, I discovered photosynthesis stops and as there are no leaves, flowers or fruits, no food is made. Even in evergreens. So the sugars that were formed last spring are now stored in a trees root system. And I was surprised to discover that this time of year is when tree roots can do most of their growing. I’m no gardener, but there’s something special about knowing how plants in our garden get through the winter. Their familiarity soothes and seeing how they change and develop throughout the seasons is comforting. A bit like a friend that is always there.

Despite the plants being sleepy there’s been lots of activity from the birds…

My favourite garden visitor, songster and beloved Mr B is back! Okay, it may not be my original Mr B, given that the average lifespan of a blackbird is three and a half years but he’s adorable all the same and I look forward to his song in spring and wonder what it will sound like as each year his repertoire seems slightly different.

I’ve discovered a charming Italian folktale about this time of year and the blackbird. It was once thought blackbirds had white feathers and this legendary tale starts in Roman times when the yearly calendar was quite different – January had twenty-eight days and February thirty-one. One January it was so cold the blackbird, with its white feathers chose to stay in the nest until February. January was most upset about this and asked February to grant him three extra days. January avenged with ice and snow which buffeted the blackbird in its nest. The blackbird flew from the nest and into a chimney to hide from the storms and came out three days later once the bad weather had passed. And now the last three days of January are known to be the coldest and blackbirds’ feathers will forever remain black from the soot.

There’s been plenty of visits from the cheery robin too. The distinguishing feature of ‘our’ robin is the upside down heart-shaped red breast.

There are many myths, folklore and superstitions relating to robins and they are known for being helpful and holy. I learnt, if you cracked a robin’s egg your crockery would break. And Christian stories tell of Jesus dying on the cross and the robin doing his best to peck out and remove the thorns, thus, staining the robin’s breast feathers with blood. Other robin tales relate to fire. There’s a Christian story of the robin burning his breast when he used his wings as bellows when trying to keep baby Jesus warm in his manger. Again, the robin is thought of as caring in Welsh lore too, as it is said, the robin flew down to Hell and carried water in his beak for the souls that were trapped there. But the robin got too close to the hellish flames and burnt his breast, marking it permanently red.

With less foliage in the garden, winter seems to be a good time for birdwatching. Not only do I like to see which species visit the garden but I enjoy watching their mannerisms. Mrs B seems the dominant of the two at the moment and tends to shoo off Mr B. The woodpigeon often stands guard and many other birds don’t get a look in. When starlings appear the bird table gets busy and like bank robbers, they fly in, grab the goods and go – too quick for me to get a photograph.

Just last week I had an exciting visitor – my first grey wagtail in the garden! A deceiving name as the grey wagtail has lots of yellow. A birding friend advised me it could be female or a first winter bird.

Not the clearest photographs as I had to take them through the window. The last grey wagtail I saw was at the nature reserve where I used to volunteer. How wonderful this water loving bird should visit our garden.

There are three wagtails in the UK: The pied wagtail, a delightful black and white bird often seen in urban areas, the yellow wagtail, a stunning yellow and green bird that migrates to the UK in summer all the way from Africa, and the grey wagtail, which frequents flowing rivers and feeds on midges, ants, snails and tadpoles in shallower water. On reading up on them I found out they can also be seen in farmyards and towns in winter – so that’s the idea for his (or her) recent visit!

“Tame birds sing of freedom. Wild birds fly.” – John Lennon

Enjoy the birdlife and natural world where you are. And don’t forget if you’re in the UK, it’s the RSPB’s Big Garden Bird Watch 27th – 29th January – the UK’s largest wildlife survey. Whether you’re counting birds in your garden, balcony or local park, it’s a great citizen science project to be involved with. If you’re elsewhere in the world (or in the UK too) and want participate with helping monitor global bird populations, next month is the Great Backyard Bird Count, 17th – 20th February in association with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Audubon and Birds Canada.


Lore of the Wild, Folklore and Wisdom From Nature by Claire Cock-Starkey,life%20expectancy%20is%203.4%20years.

Winter News & Garden Creativity

The days have been cold, damp and dark. I know we shouldn’t wish time away, but I do look forward to spring. Good news then, as the shortest day is around the corner.

From the 21st December onwards (in the northern hemisphere) the days will get longer and nights reduce. The shortest day, based on sunlight, is nearly 9 hours shorter than the summer solstice. Just knowing that will make me savour those hours in June. Early cultures recognised this day and celebrated the returning of the light. I feel there’s something deep rooted within us that looks for the light. Not only in terms of survival and planting but spiritually too, just like our ancient ancestors.

“One must maintain a little bit of summer, even in the middle of winter” – Henry David Thoreau.

Winter has its beauty though, often in the form of skies. When I’m up sometimes in the early hours I gaze out of the window and observe the moon’s calming presence. I’m not sure why I love the moon so much? Maybe in this ever-changing world, where there is much unrest and uncertainty the moon is there, constant and reassuring. I find its presence soothes my mind and after viewing it in the middle of the night, I hold its silvery image in my head and drift off back to sleep.

December’s full moon was on the 7th and is known as the Cold Moon. And it’s been freezing cold here since! Those temperatures have done wonders for bird sightings in the garden though.

Spot the Sparrow…

The Long-tailed tits have made an appearance…

In winter Long-tailed tits go round together in flocks – made up of parents, offsprings and ‘helpers’ (these are the birds that lost their own nests in spring and helped raise other chicks).

Adult Lesser black-backed gulls often visit the rooftops here in the suburbs. Thanks to identification tips from the RSPB, I now know this gull is older than two years, as their first and second winter plumage look very different.

Blue tit camouflaging in the remaining leaves.

I’m putting out seed, sultanas, buggy nibbles and fat balls for the birds. They need all the extra calories they can to keep warm this time of year. When reading up on birds in winter, I discovered Blue tits have only enough fat reserves to get them through one cold night! They then spend 85% of daylight hours foraging for food. The BTO states both, Blue and Great tits can be 5% lighter at dawn than they were the previous night when going to roost.

My parents discovered Blue tits are plucky little birds too as they’ve heard mysterious tapping sounds coming from the bat box in their garden? My dad got in touch with the Bat Conservation Trust hoping they could help solve the mystery. The response was the knocking noise was unlikely to be bats because they would be hibernating. It was suggested Blue tits will often get in through small openings meant for bats, seeking shelter from the cold. Blue tits will not only use the boxes to roost during winter but are also likely to feed on an array of invertebrates looking for shelter too, such as spiders and earwigs. Good to know the Blue tits can seek shelter and have a banquet!

A Great tit inspecting the bird box.

Festive Garden Creativity

I saw on Twitter, gardening and wildlife correspondent and fellow bee enthusiast, Jean Vernon has made an all natural, biodegradable Christmas wreath. There’s no plastic, wire or foam and once Christmas is over the wreath can be hung outside to naturally degrade. Jean advises to use pliable strands such as red dogwood, willow or hazel. If you want to have a go, her full instructions are here.

A friend kindly asked her neighbour to prune their willow tree so I was able to make circlets!

I then built the wreath up in layers using holly, ivy and snippets of a neighbour’s fir hedge. Whilst it may not be the most professional looking wreath I’m pleased with the result and it was worth having a go despite some neck and shoulder pain when looking down.

The only non-natural material I used was the ribbon to hang it up with and I can keep that for another year.

Good luck if you give it a try but mind the prickly holly!

So as the year draws to a close I’d like to share some positive news. Since being on the journey of chronic illness and limited mobility it’s given me the time and headspace to write – something I’ve always wanted to do. So during the Covid pandemic I hooked up with like-minded nature writers online after attending a nature writing course with the FSC and the excellent Emma McKenzie. Her experience and encouragement enabled the group to produce some wonderful nature writing. And the work is now published in an anthology, Seeds of Promise, available on Amazon, £8. All profits will be split between two charities: The Wildlife Trusts; a wildlife organisation that has 2,300 nature reserves across the UK and the Bumblebee Conservation Trust; a science led nature organisation with many projects helping bumblebees and highlighting their plight. BBCT’s work raises awareness educates and engages people so more spaces can be made for bumblebees. This also helps all pollinators.

If you enjoy reading about the natural world and nature writing, please do consider purchasing a copy as the funds go towards great causes and help protect our natural world.

The book contains exercises we completed on the course so you can write about nature where you are and have a go at poetry and fiction too. There are also stunning ink illustrations from Sharon Williamson, a writer on the course.

Lastly, I thank you very much for following my blog this year and wherever you are in the world have a peaceful Christmas and very best wishes for 2023.


Bird Therapy by Joe Harkness,offspring%2C%20plus%20the%20nest%20helpers.

Weekend In Wales

At the beginning of the pandemic, I was fortunate enough to hook up with some storytellers online. These weekly sessions opened up my world, as two years prior to that, when chronic illness hit, things became very isolating physically and mentally. But during our weekly meet ups, I listened to poetry, songs and the old tradition of oral storytelling. Yes, ‘Once upon a time’ is not only for children. I’ve listened to folktales from the British Isles and faraway lands, moving true stories and mystical fables.

Humans are hard-wired to the art of storytelling. We can share problems, emotions and learn lots from each other. So when it was suggested in the summer we all meet one weekend, I got rather excited! Could I go? Would I be well enough? Could I cope staying in a hotel? What would the journey be like?  The questions and doubts were endless but a venue was chosen in North Wales – a good destination for people in England, Scotland, Wales and those just across the Irish Sea to get to. Storytelling friends that couldn’t make it and those from further afield, such as the USA would join us on Zoom for the storytelling sessions.

After making phone calls to the hotel ensuring, yes, there was a lift, yes, there were rooms with a walk-in shower, not over a bath, and yes, I could have an extra duvet and pillows if need be. I was ready to go!

Not only was I apprehensive about meeting people I’d only ever known as little boxes on a computer screen but also how my body would cope out of its comfort zone and routine where everything is just as I need it at home. Being a passenger in a car still raises my anxiety, following the accident. But I made it! Huge thanks to my husband of course, I couldn’t have done it without his help and kindness.

Photographs of Wales wouldn’t be complete without; mountains, stone walls, slate and of course, sheep.

In fact there were plenty of ‘sheep themed’ items about and I particularly liked this sheep toilet roll holder in the hotel’s accessible toilet…

Arriving Friday afternoon we had a free evening and met some of the group. I was often known as ‘Charlotte in the red room’. It’s funny, these people have been in my life, albeit virtually, for a couple of years and although I’ve only just met them, I know the pattern of their lounge curtains, their love of books or whatever else is in the background where their computer is set up.

A joy to see this juvenile gull both mornings.

Saturday we had a free day so visited RSPB Conway, an accessible nature reserve on the Conway estuary. The reserve was formed from burrowed materials when the main A55 road and tunnel was built. Nearly 30 years old, this man-made reserve is now home to much wildlife.

Garden birds galore, including Blue tits and Great tits visited the birdfeeders situated close to the car park.

Also a very colourful, resident feral pigeon…

There are different trials to be walked and we managed just a small loop which was part of the Blue tit and Redshank Trail. The paths are flat and either boardwalk or compacted gravel with benches dotted along the way and many of them run alongside reedbeds.

I was so grateful the reserve had flat paths and a short distance to viewing points. It’s been so long since I visited a nature reserve and my birding skills, (which were never the greatest) have become even rustier – so a huge thank you to the kind gentleman in the hide that helped me with my wetland bird identifications and staff at RSPB Conway.

Lapwings are one of my favourite birds. Whenever I see them I imagine stroking that beautiful long feathered crest. They’re also known as the Peewit after their distinctive call. They look black and white from a distance but if you get close you can see iridescent greens. Look out for their characteristic wide wings when they take to the air in flocks. Their flight can be quite floppy and their Latin name, Vanellus vanellus translates to ‘little fan’. They are often visitors to grasslands and wetlands but sadly now a red list species and are one of the UK’s many declining farmland birds and vulnerable in Europe. 

Whilst not the clearest photograph, you can see the Snipe’s characteristic long bill, which is used to probe in the mud and find insects. They’re quite stout and rounded birds and known for having ‘sewing machine-like’ feeding methods. And the below right photograph shows how good they are at camouflage – to the right of the Teal.

A petite and attractive duck, Teal are the UK’s smallest duck and can be seen in large numbers in winter. They fall into the group known as ‘dabbling ducks’, which means they feed at the surface instead of diving underwater for food. Nevertheless, you can often see dabblers’ bums in the air as they stick their heads underwater – a position Mallards commonly take.

I love the curled tail on the male Mallard and like all ducks I find them rather comical. I discovered from the BTO, because the male and female are so dissimilar, they were once thought to be a different species. And I was surprised to learn they are on the amber list of conservation concern due to winter population declines. A stark reminder to never take any species for granted.

A little blurry as some distance away but I was over the moon to see this wader – the Black-tailed Godwit. In summer they’ll have a brighter orange-brown plumage but their grey-brown winter feathers camouflaged well into the surroundings and this bird’s Latin name, Limosa limosa translates to ‘muddy’ – apt as they fed on the mudbanks. According to the BTO it’s regrettably another red list species and near threatened globally.

After viewing the many wetland birds and on heading back to the car park, I was drawn to this rambling feathery plant…

I checked my PlantNet app and discovered it’s called, Old Man’s Beard, Clematis vitalba, also known as Traveller’s Joy. It looked to be a scrambling climber and the white feathery ‘beards’ are the seeds.

I discovered from Plant Life, it’s our native Clematis and when in flower it produces a vanilla scent. There are many other charming names for this plant, such as: Hedge Feathers, Grandfather’s Whiskers, Maiden Hair and Virgin’s Bower, thought to have gained its name from sheltering Mary and the baby Jesus during their flight into Egypt. But I found the name, Devils Guts rather intriguing. It’s thought to have come from the plant doing ‘the devil’s work’ by being invasive and killing other plants as it outcompetes. Despite being thought of as a weed, when in flower it’s a great nectar source for bees, hoverflies and moths.

“One touch of nature makes the whole world kin” – William Shakespeare

Wherever you’re viewing wildlife, be it a balcony, park, garden or nature reserve enjoy its beauty and give it space.


An Encyclopaedia of Plants in Myth, Legend, Magic and Lore by Stuart Phillips

Bird Therapy by Joe Harkness

Collins Complete British Wildlife Photoguide by Paul Sterry

Catch Up & When Things Don’t Go To Plan

The last couple of months have been strange. It’s a long time since my last post. Too long. I planned to do a post for Folklore day in August and one for late summer in September, but things change and don’t always go to plan.

Mid August I was in a car accident and suffered concussion. I’m still suffering with migraines and this post has been put together in ten minute bursts as screens make me feel so nauseous. I really miss reading, writing and TV is out too. Has it always been that glaringly bright? Since my last post, here in the UK Queen Elizabeth II has passed, we’re well into autumn and all is quiet in our garden – where are the birds? These recent events have left me in a rather reflective mood. I feel like I need to rest, be slow and replenish. Fitting for the time of year as nature slows down too. So here’s a back garden catch up.

Butterflies Galore!

Towards the end of summer we had visits from two blue butterflies – the Common Blue and the Holly Blue.

The Common Blue flits among the grasses low to the ground and enjoys feeding on Bird’s-foot-trefoil. In more southern areas of the UK they are said to have two broods; laying eggs May to June and August to September but further north one brood flies all summer.

The Holly Blue flies higher and lays its eggs on holly in the spring and the second generation lays eggs on ivy. They often enjoy aphid honeydew, take minerals from moist mud and can be seen on carrion too. They overwinter as a chrysalis, so don’t be too tidy this autumn and leave areas where overwintering insects can complete their lifecycle. Because of their flighty characteristics, I was pleased to get this photo when it eventually settled on the rosebay willow herb after dancing around our ivy wall.

Like other blue butterfly species they have an association with ants. The caterpillars give off a smell which attracts ants and they then produce a honeydew-like liquid for the ants to enjoy. In return, the ants guard caterpillars and pupae from potential predators. What a great relationship!

The most well-known blue and ant relationship is between the rare (in the UK) and globally endangered Large Blue butterfly. The Large Blue lays her eggs on wild thyme or marjoram whereupon the caterpillars feed for several days then drop to the ground, giving off an enticing smell of red ants. As worker red ants pass, they are tricked into thinking this caterpillar is one of their own larvae and return it to the brood chamber in the ant nest.  How sweet. But then things get grisly. The ants tend and feed the caterpillar like it’s their own. But as the caterpillar grows and needs more food it devours the ant grubs, enabling it to fatten up and pupate underground during winter. Despite the size difference, the ant colony is capable of killing and evicting the caterpillar. But they don’t, as the caterpillar makes a clicking sound, imitating a queen ant. So the ants’ nest ignores the consuming of their colony.

We’ve had plenty of Small and Large Whites visit the garden. Large Whites are, as the name suggests bigger with darker wingtips. They have two broods a year and the caterpillars are ferocious eaters of brassicas, making them unpopular with gardeners. It seems that Small White caterpillars don’t devour cabbages with the same intensity as the Large White and they also have two broods.

Numbers of white butterflies can greatly increase when migrants arrive from mainland Europe. Something I find quite extraordinary – that these delicate insects travel great distances and make it across the channel.

Not the best photograph I know but I was overjoyed to see this long distance migrant resting on our windowsill. The Painted Lady butterfly makes its way from North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia. Once they arrive in mainland Europe, UK and Ireland they lay eggs and the caterpillars feast upon nettles, thistles and viper’s-bugloss. The offsprings then return back to warmer climates in the autumn as it’s not possible for them to overwinter here at any stage of their development.

Another migrant butterfly is the Red Admiral. It’s a distinctive large butterfly that often visits gardens and makes its way from southern Europe and North Africa from May through to August. They’ve been known to successfully overwinter here in the south and I’ve seen them in our garden into November  – good reason to not cut back ivy and leave it to flower. The adults also enjoy rotting fruit and the caterpillars’ main food plant is nettles. 

When I zoomed in close, I wanted to stroke this stunning Red Admiral butterfly!

As ever, my garden and its visitors have been a great source of comfort whilst having sickly migraines and further physical pain. But one day I discovered a practice I’ve now called…

… Hoverfly Meditation!

As I sat with my eyes closed, sunglasses on and wide brimmed hat pulled down like a hung-over vampire to keep out bright sunlight, I noticed a buzz nearby. Not the low hum of a bumblebee but higher pitched. I opened my eyes and there was a hoverfly, Eristalis tenax – aka the dronefly. It’s a honeybee mimic and I find there’s something rather adorable about an animal that pretends to be scarier than it actually is. What a great way to keep predators at bay by faking a sting and having similar colouration and markings as a honeybee. This type of mimicry, whereby a harmless animal mimics a more dangerous species is called Batesian mimicry, named after the nineteenth century naturalist, H.W.Bates.

My scalp throbbed and eyeballs ached after watching the hoverfly for some time so I closed my eyes and listened. Hearing the breeze in the drying summer leaves was calming and after opening my eyes again, he was still there. I say he because those large compound eyes touched at the top and this signifies a male. Momentarily a showy green-bottle joined him and then took off in a hurry. No doubt on its way to a corpse, dung or somewhere else more appealing than flowers. But in the meantime the dronefly enjoyed the golden petals of rudbeckia. I closed my eyes again, enjoying the air on my skin. I played ‘peek-a-boo hoverfly’ for some time. And whenever I closed my eyes the image of the hoverfly on the rudbeckia replaced the image and sounds of the car accident – the crash of metal and squawk of police radio.

I often think about the connections of every little wild animal I come across in our small suburban garden – their journey and purpose, which is usually food for something else. And it’s recently been discovered by research biologists at the University of Exeter more insects than originally thought undertake incredible migration journeys. I find insect migration extraordinary. I discovered more about it whilst attending an online webinar with the Fields Studies Council. Insect migration scientist, Will Hawkes is doing his PhD on the subject and witnessed insects migrate in their billions, through the Pyrenees and as far away as Cyprus and beyond to the Middle East. Do check the film out; it’s called The Most Remarkable Migrants of All. How truly amazing that these little insects with a brain no bigger than a pinhead migrate across huge distances laying eggs as though go. I think of it like a relay race but instead of a baton being passed they are reproducing. So next time you see a hoverfly pollinating your flowers, have a think of its journey – it could be the great great grandchild of one that left another continent.

I may not be able to change things for nature globally and on a large scale but by putting out bird food, water for wildlife and growing pollinator friendly plants I may just be able to help passing migrants and local wildlife. So I leave you with a few words from a previous Christmas speech by Queen Elizabeth II…

“…thousands of small acts of goodness can be bigger than we imagine.”

Queen Elizabeth II


Extraordinary Insects by Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson

Pocket Guide to the Butterflies of Great Britain and Ireland by Richard Lewington

The Garden Jungle or Gardening to Save the Planet by Dave Goulson

As Summer Flutters By

We’re into August and the crazy hot spell has passed. And Mr B’s lyrical song has been replaced with worn out feathers.

I’ve sat in the garden on many days reaping the results of the #NoMowMay campaign – oxeye daisies and a lawn full of clover. Grasshoppers stridulated like tiny percussionists and together with bees they played the rhythm of summer. And I was happy to listen.

The Common Carder bee Bombus pascuorum is one of the UK’s most commonest bumblebees, but they can vary in colouration. I’ve seen some that are creamy and others a deep chestnut. And this time of year, they, like Mr B can get a little worn and bald.

Teasels are a great food source for the bees and once summer is over we’ll leave them to go to seed for the goldfinches to enjoy.

Amongst the low drone of bumblebees I had the joyous summer sight of Leafcutter bees.

These solitary bees that fly on their ‘magic carpets’ (cut leaves) seem to love bee nesters and we’ve thankfully had them most years.

Leafcutters are one of the largest bee groups with nearly 1,500 species. And the world’s largest bee belongs to this group – Wallace’s Giant bee Megachile pluto from Indonesia. But here in the UK there are currently just seven species. I find identification between the different types difficult but the visitors to our garden this summer are likely to be the Patchwork Leafcutter bee Megachile centuncularis, due to them favouring bee hotels and also the rich orange pollen brush underneath the female’s abdomen.

Nesting alongside the Mason bees, this Leafcutter bee has started constructing its leafy cells, ready for its egg to pupate over autumn, hibernate during winter, to then hopefully emerge next spring.

Mud and Pesto…

The bee nester shows evidence of two types of Mason bees: The Red Mason bee Osmia bicornis – a spring and early summer flying bee that builds its nest cells from wet mud. Below these muddy entrance caps the photo shows a different kind of substance – a sign of what is likely to be the Blue Mason bee Osmia caerulescens. They fly into late July and can visit urban gardens. Their nest cells are made from chewed up leaves or petals. The leafy entrance when fresh reminded me of pesto!

Too Hot!

This summer’s extreme temperatures appeared to be too much for Hebe bush. It’s usually still in full bloom this time of year and has often had flowers going into October, even November. The street Buddleia however, is faring better than our Hebe.

Known as the ‘Butterfly Bush’, the Buddleia has had very few butterflies on. I was quite concerned as butterfly numbers in the garden have been so low this year. And Butterfly Conservation stated last year’s Big Butterfly Count revealed the lowest number of butterflies ever recorded since the count started twelve years ago.

Butterflies are sensitive to climatic changes and together with habitat destruction and pesticides have resulted in a huge decline. In fact, Butterfly Conservation states 76% of butterflies have declined since 1976. But they have a vision – ‘A world where butterflies and moths thrive and can be enjoyed by everyone, everywhere.’ But of course our help is needed and they can’t do it alone. Even if we only have a small area or window box, to plant nectar rich flowers in a sunny area such as; marjoram, wallflower and lavender, will help adult butterflies greatly. We also need to refrain from using pesticides and insecticides and if space allows, leave a ‘wild area’ such as nettles and grasses so caterpillars can feed. Even if space is limited, do check out Butterfly Conservation’s tips on gardening for butterflies.

A Large White basking in the sun and nectaring on wallflower.

A Small Tortoiseshell looking leaf-like on the Hebe…

A Gatekeeper feeding on Echinops…

And the similar looking Meadow Brown refuelling on Buddleia.  Notice the white eyespot in the centre of the larger blackspot – the Meadow Brown has one, whereas the Gatekeeper has two. The Meadow Brown is also slightly larger and its orange colouring isn’t as bright.

One of my favourite butterflies (if it’s possible to choose) is the Ringlet. They feed from different flowers and are one of the few butterflies that fly in overcast or dull weather. I find their wings are like velvet and together with the striking eyespots identify this glade and hedgerow loving butterfly.

There is still time to join in with The Big Butterfly Count if you’re in the UK as it ends 7th August. It’s a great citizen science project where you watch butterflies for fifteen minutes and record any sightings.

Whilst some butterflies were easy to see, feeding upon nectar and fluttering in the air, others could be mistaken for a fallen leaf…

Can you see it? It’s the darker looking ‘leaf’ in the centre of the picture.

And other wildlife was easily camouflaged too…

A sparrow in the Cherry tree.

At first I wondered what was making this rustling sound amongst the leaf litter, then noticed the baby blackbird. Was it one of ‘our’ Mr B’s?

And lastly, (a dull photo as it was at night) I sat outside one evening watching the bats aerial display, I heard a rustling sound coming from the shrubbery and was delighted to see this prickly visitor…

As summer flutters by, enjoy the wildlife, day or night.


Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and Ireland by Steven Falk, illustrated by Richard Lewington

Pocket Guide to the Butterflies of Great Britain and Ireland by Richard Lewington

A Holiday in a Day

Back gardens come in all shapes and sizes – from window box, to balcony, from back yards to acres of land. But whatever the size it’s what you do with it (or don’t do with it) that makes it wildlife friendly. And at the end of June, my husband had a couple of days off and suggested we went out for the day. Humm… But where to? I can’t sit or stand for long, walk far and get fatigued, so where? Maybe I’ll just stay home? I thought. Until my husband offered to take me to Wales, and visit friends we hadn’t seen for years. Oh my! Could I?

Yes I did, and this day out felt like a holiday. My friend’s garden is uphill and on many levels. There’s a produce area overlooking countryside, a farm and the estuary. Turn a corner and there’s an orchard, full of pollinator friendly trees and below, an unmowed meadow…

… full of clover and grasses.

Different areas to sit with various views…

A shaded garden with an assortment of hostas…

…to a giant oak tree.

The tree’s outstretched twisted branches welcomed us, along with our friends that we hadn’t seen for so long.

Oaks are the best UK tree for sustaining a variety of wildlife and the Woodland Trust say ‘326 species depend on oak for survival’ and ‘229 species are rarely found on trees other than oak’.  The Purple Hairstreak butterfly and Dark Crimson Underwing moths are just two of those species.

Living to over 1,000 years, oaks provide centuries of shelter, nesting space and forage to over 2,000 species. It’s said the number of species an oak calls home is even higher than 2,300 as bacteria and microorganisms haven’t been included.

Supporting more wildlife as they age, an oak tree is thought ancient at 400 years old. We talk of ‘gnarled oaks’, but its twisted branches with crevices and cracks provide shelter for so many animals and once a branch drops, that deadwood is home to a myriad of invertebrates on which birds and mammals can forage. And below the ground a fascinating relationship takes place to gather more nutrients beyond the oaks’ roots – the mycorrhizal fungi. The word, Mycorrhizae derives from ‘fungus and root’ in Greek. The fungi cast out fine filaments known as mycelium. This network of threads mean a plant can absorb up to 1,000 times more moisture and nutrients. Vital for a tree’s survival in dry spells. And there can be many miles of these fine tendrils in just a teaspoon of undisturbed soil. They can also help combat disease that invades a tree’s root system. It blows my mind to think of the life below ground that helps sustain these majestic trees.

Each area of the garden had more trees and further surprises…

The reddish plated bark of a Hinoki tree.

A sacred tree and native to Japan, hinoki means cypress. The essential oils from this tree have an abundance of aromatic compounds and its wood is used in Shinto ceremonies. Historically, hinoki wood has been used for building shrines and temples and is still used for flooring and walls today, however, its main usage is high end products. It’s a strong wood and its hardiness prevents warping and splitting. It’s said to be so durable that well built structures made from hinoki can last over 1,000 years.

I don’t know the age of the hinoki tree in my friend’s garden, but together with the surrounding ivy, ferns and old stone wall, it gave off an ancient quality.  A feeling of calm. Grounding me with Mother Earth.

The areas I wasn’t physically able to get to, my husband took photographs…

Turn another corner and there were areas of wildflowers…

Tormentil, Germander speedwell and a Foxglove bank…

Followed by planters and pots of Erigeron…

An ivy clad courtyard where bank voles frequent and hidden within the dense foliage an old bird’s nest…

The old nest appears to be from a Dunnock.

In contrast to the back garden, the front is a small area consisting of lawn, herbs and four bird feeders. And wow it invites the birds! Our friends have sighted thirty-six different species of birds in their front garden.

On our visit adult and juvenile birds dined out on the feeders – Goldfinches, Siskins and Blue tits.

The day was not only to see friends – it had become the most comfortable and perfect place to go ‘birding’.

I was able to step outside their front door and sit in the front garden watching the birdlife. Birds I’ve not seen for years, such as Siskin…

Siskins have characteristic small forked tails. They’re delicate looking birds and one of the UK’s smallest finches. The males are bright yellow with black bars and cap, whereas females are paler with a green hue.

They happily fed alongside the goldfinches and blue tits.

The last time I saw siskins was several years ago, again in Wales. You’re more likely to see them in Scotland and Wales as they favour coniferous and mixed woodland. They are seed eaters and forage amongst spruce, pine, alder and birch but take insects in summer. I discovered populations can increase in winter due to the arrival of migrants from northern Europe and this is when you’re more likely to see them in England.

Making an appearance for National insect week, was a spotted longhorn beetle Rutpela maculata. I haven’t seen one for years. The last time was prior to becoming ill when I was out walking in a meadow. So I was over the moon to comfortably be sat in a friend’s garden watching this handsome insect.

You can’t miss their bright colours and distinctive ‘long horn’ (anntenae). The yellow and black spotted longhorn beetle can be found from May to September and enjoys feeding on cow parsley, hawthorn and oxeye daisy as above. Do look out for them and contribute to the citizen science project, The Longhorn Beetle Recording Scheme or on iRecord if you’re in the UK.

I was out of the home less than twelve hours but it felt like I’d had a week away. So if something prevents you from going on holiday, be it health, physical limitations, finance or distance, then maybe just sit in a friend’s wildlife friendly garden and let nature come to you.


Collins British Tree Guide by Owen Johnson and David More,use%20other%20types%20of%20tree.