It was -2C at 8am this morning. There was a heavy frost and it was misty.
By lunchtime it was sunny and 14C
By 4.15 the sun was going down and it lit up the willow tree.
There is something really beautiful about a low winter sun and we had a few of those days in January.
January had some cold snaps, heavy frosts and frozen pond. I found some ducks looking a bit lost on the ice.
But who decides its spring? Of course there is the official calendar view of March 1st or the astronomical view March 20th, but there is also the view of the plants and trees that decide its time to put up shoots and declare, at least for them, its time to grow again.. In the first week of January I spotted the first daffodils and seeds on the hazel tree so at least for them spring has begun.
These signs reminded me that it was time to 'prune' the hedges and shrubs that have been neglected for a long time. So I started with the beech hedge. Two sides of a 40m long by 5m high hedge, overgrown with ivy and in places tangled with brambles and a mass of creepers is a big job by any measure. I chipped away at it a couple of hours a day, most days for the best part of three weeks but by the end of January it was completed and burning what I had cut gave me a lot of satisfaction.
I came across a squirrel lying on the grass. At first I thought he was asleep but when I got closer I could see from the involuntary twitching of limbs that this squirrel was close to death. I watched him close his eyes and breathe his last breath. I have no idea why he died but it reminded me of a recent bereavement in my own family. I came across a poem by Michael Prihoda which provides a nice tribute to the little fellow.
I have often wondered what happened to our family of geese once they have flown away. I imagined they split up. But today our family of geese returned. Only for a short while but they let us know they were here and I was able to go out and take a photo. So now I know they stick together, at least for a while.
When I look back at my photos autumn was coming from early September when the dogwood leaves started to turn red. 6 weeks on and the dogwood has lost most of its leaves leaving the red stalks. We have a red maple rising above the dogwood and the scene is so beautiful that I got out my paints.
Astronomically autumn starts at the equinox (September 23) but meteorologically it starts September 1st so we are nearly 6 weeks into it. I decided to record the changes in my photos throughout the autumn so I will keep adding to my movie as we move through October and November.
Shorter daylight hours and colder nights are what trigger leaf drop – or senescence – but frost and rain can damage leaves and cause early leaf fall. Plenty of sunshine is needed to encourage concentrations of colour pigments which help to intensify leaf colour. Our cold spring and hot summer will have helped ready the leaves for a beautiful autumn display, but it also hinges on what the weather does now. Today was like summer again blue skies and temperatures in the low 20’s.
Leaf fall or senescence, is an “altruistic death” allowing the degradation and redistribution of nutrients produced during growth back to other parts of the plant. This strategy evolved to maximise the fitness and survival of the plant. Leaf senescence is highly complex, involving multiple genes and numerous biological, chemical and physical processes. At the heart of it all is a pigment called chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is what gives leaves their green colour, absorbing and reflecting different hues from the colour light spectrum, as seen in a rainbow. In leaves it absorbs mainly red and blue light, reflecting green, and it is this reflection that makes leaves appear green to the human eye. In autumn, chlorophyll, mainly in deciduous plants, is slowly broken down and reabsorbed by the plant, diminishing the green colour of the leaves. It is this reabsorption that ensures they spring back to life the following year. As chlorophyll is broken down, pigments called carotenoids and flavonoids are revealed and it is these, again, through the absorption and reflection of different colours from the light spectrum, that are responsible for the yellow and orange hues of leaves. Sugar concentration in the leaves also increases anthocyanin production, which causes some leaves to turn a shade of red.
So that’s the science…here is my film of autumn to winter watch.
But my most enjoyable experience was on the beach pottering around the rock pools with my daughter and watching the tide submerge and reclaim them. The deep crystal clear pools, on the north side of the beach at Portreath by the harbour wall, were ful of life - darting blennies, sea squirts, numerous varieties of seaweed, molluscs and other shell fish. Tide dependent rock pools are habitats that a gardener cannot create. But then I learnt that several of the pools had been carved out of the rocks to prvide a bathing place for Lady Bassett!!
I have always been fascinated by rhe idea of flying. My dream came true when, as a geologist working in Saudi Arabia, I spent quite a lot of time in helicopters. The advent of drones has opened up a whole new world and I often thought it would be great to get a birds eye view of the world through a drone. I finally bought one to add another dimension to my garden learning project and, thanks to the piloting skills of Navid, this is our first effort at filming the garden and surrounding area. What this film does is allow the garden to be seen in the landscape.
Over the next few days I made several trips to this location, and other flowering plants in the field and recorded the bees and hornets that were feeding on the plants. I found that there were at least five species of bee in this small area – honey bee, white tailed bumble bee (the most abundant bee), red tailed bumble bee, forest cuckoo bee, and a so far unidentified bee. There were also hornets and hover flies that mimicked the bee in colouring and behaviour. Two things struck me - the busyness of the bees and how all these differemt species were coexisting peacefully in the same small area.
I discovered that there are currently 24 species of bumblebee resident in Britain. Seven species of bumblebee (the ‘Big 7’) are widespread across most of Britain. These are: Red-tailed (Bombus lapidarius), Early (Bombus pratorum), Common carder (Bombus pascuorum), White-tailed (Bombus lucorum), Buff-tailed (Bombus terrestris), Garden (Bombus hortorum), Tree (Bombus hypnorum). There is only one bee that produces honey – honey bee.
Over the years we have come to know and love the cycle of arrival in April, pairing and mating, nesting for about 4 weeks when the eggs are hatched. First sight of the fluffy chicks, and then their steady and rapid growth to look like footballs and then dinosaurs, slowly transforming into mini Canada geese and then growing to a similar size to their parents. Then watching them learn to fly and soon after leaving us. The whole cycle lasts about ten weeks from first sight of chicks (April 28th this year) to when they fly away (July 10th this year) – probably to the large flocks in nearby fields.
In many respects we have the ideal habitat for geese.. A small pond with no competitors other than the occasional heron, a large closely cropped lawn that enables them to see anyone or anything coming from a distance. An adjacent field with an abundance of long grasses, and some trees for shade when it gets too hot.
I learnt that Canada geese mate for life and its possible that the same couple come back year after year. They are impeccable parents sticking close to the chicks all the time they are with us, standing up to anyone or anything that gets to close, and standing no nonsense from the chicks who obey every instruction. If another goose comes close the male becomes quite aggressive and if the chicks are old enough they line up behind the male in a show of solidarity and defiance. Their threat displays involve head pumping, bill opened with tongue raised, hissing, honking, and vibrating neck feathers as well as arching the back and flapping wigs. On one occassion I witnessed the whole family, led by the male, see off another goose who decided he also liked my garden.
The only downside of having geese in the garden is the enormous amounts of waste they produce. It doesn’t smell but it does attract flies in hot weather. I have to think of it as natures process for recycling.
This summer, as I have watched and recorded the life unfolding in my garden I have come to appreciate just how caring and attentive the geese are towards their chicks. They are always on the lookout for would be predators and are fiercely protective of the family who respond in a disciplined way when they sense danger. They have been the easiest subjects to photograph and film and their absence has left me with empty nest syndrome.
It's little wonder that artists like Claude Monet have been inspired to paint water lilies floating on a reflective pond. In 1890 he bought a house at Giverny and in 1893 purchased a meadow near the property which contained a pond fed by the Ru River. He hired at least six gardeners who gradually shaped the meadow into a garden of willows, irises and water lilies specially imported from Japan. He painted the gardens around the house and then turned his attention to the water gardens, painting them repeatedly between 1897 until his death in 1926. In all, he produced more than 250 oil paintings of his lily ponds and admitted "These landscapes of water and reflections have become an obsession." Monet's water garden and one of his paintings are shown above.
I would not be surprised if the gardener who designed my garden incorporated Monet's paintings of his water garden into his a vision for his own water garden, and I am the fortunate person to see his vision realised over 40 years later. Making my film prompted me to ask, who is the greater creator? - the gardener who lays out and stimulates nature to enable plants and animals to recreate his living cultural artefact decades later, or the artist who in a few hours or days makes an artefact that will never live or change. Perhaps its not something that can be judged, both involve imagination and creativity and that is enough.
But I do know that I am grateful to the gardener who invested his time, money, effort and creativity in creating a water garden that I can experience, enjoy and appreciate everyday, which provides a natural environment in which many plants and animals flourish, and therefore makes a valuable contribution to the natural world.
I wondered how Monet would have painted my water garden and came across an app called Dreamscope that contained a Monet artist filter. Here is the digital painting that it thinks Monet might have created.