Springing Out of Hibernation

April is one of my favourite months as cherry blossoms swirl around like confetti in the breeze, tulips burst into flower, the weather (usually) improves and it finally feels like we’ve shaken off another winter.

The first week of April was spent alternatively caring for and entertaining a toddler with chicken pox who was quarantined from nursery, soft play, playdates and play groups. I tried my hand at few sensory activities such as dying dried chickpeas and making pink sand (a big hit but very messy!), and we also made lots of no-bake treats like chocolate rice krispie cakes and rocky road, both easy enough that the little one could get involved with pouring and mixing the ingredients (and licking the spoon afterwards).

Then it was back to nursery, sensory group (just in time for the Easter party) and family swimming trips. We’ve also been going out for walks after dinner, and it really feels like we’re springing out of hibernation after a long, dreary winter.

We had an egg hunt in the garden for the little one at Easter, with eggs that I’d painted and a few mini chocolate eggs too. Our daughter probably got enough chocolate from her grandparents and our neighbours to last her to the end of the year.

We’ve been busy in the garden too. My father-in-law helped us moved one of the square raised beds into the back corner, a slightly shady area which we’ve struggled to fill with anything other than weeds. I treated myself to another climbing rose, James Galway, to fill the back fence alongside Crown Princess Margareta, which is already very well established. Our daughter helped me scatter wildflower seeds in the raised beds, and I’ve started off some sunflowers on the windowsill. I was very excited to see flowers on the plum tree and two of our four apple trees. My husband also found a greenhouse on gumtree, it’s a bit bigger than I had in mind but too good value to turn down.

Even though the garden is only just getting started, it’s been great to spend so much time outside pottering around, a real tonic for the mind and body. Already there are busy bees bumbling, ladybirds and even a couple of butterflies flitting around the garden – but most exciting of all is the return of the hedgehogs in the evening, we’ve counted three so far, and we’ve been leaving cat food out for them. I’m always slightly surprised and delighted by how much wildlife there is to be found in an urban environment and we try to make our garden as wildlife friendly as possible to support it.

We haven’t ventured too far from home lately, but it’s been a lovely month full of picnics and playdates at the park, and lots of fun in the garden. Have a lovely week. X

Autumn in the Garden

Blogging has fallen by the wayside over the last few weeks as we’ve all been off but not really enjoying much of a rest or holiday as our daughter caught hand, foot and mouth at nursery, and we’ve spent the last wee while taking care of her and pottering around the home and garden.

We’ve not managed to do much gardening this year as it was turned into a temporary building site while we were doing some home improvements. Nevertheless, it’s not looking too bad for this time of year. We’ve trimmed the bamboo, which has “clumped” since we planted it three years ago, and the climbing rose Crown Princess Margaret has been providing beautiful bouquets of peachy roses all summer. Hardy perennials like Crocosmia, Scabiosa, Asters and Geraniums are all still providing bursts of colour in the main flower bed.

The only thing I grew from seed this year is Crown Prince Pumpkins, which I trained to grow up over a frame my husband made to save space and protect them from slugs. This week I harvested three blue-ish pumpkins, the smallest weighing just over 2kg and the largest 5.1kg.

We’ve always enjoyed the wildlife that inhabits and visits our garden (with the exception of the slugs) but the upheaval and extra human presences during our renovations caused a temporary exodus, but over the last couple of months, the sparrows, blue tits and great tits have all returned. We’ve also had some bold grey squirrels coming right up to the window demanding nuts – much to our daughter’s delight. At the end of the summer, we also had a hedgehog wombling around the garden in the evenings.

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll know that I love light shows and I’ve added a few solar lights to enchant our little garden (though my husband thinks I’m at risk of causing pollution if I add anymore). As daylight fades and the city begins to quiet, the lights flicker on one by one, and the garden starts to feel more peaceful and mysterious.

No sooner had our daughter started to recover than the tell-tale spots and blisters appeared on my hands and feet, but I’m hoping I’ll recover quickly so we can all get back into our routine and out for some autumnal adventures. Have a lovely weekend. X

Five Sisters Zoo

Five Sisters Zoo in West Lothian was on my list of places to visit for a while but due to lockdowns and travel restrictions we didn’t have an opportunity to visit until recently, but it was absolutely worth the wait, turning out to be much bigger and with a greater range of animals than I expected from a family run zoo with a focus on animal welfare.

Five Sisters Zoo was founded by a couple who originally bought the land to open their own garden centre with a little animal rehoming centre for pets and rescued animals. While the independent garden centre struggled and eventually closed, the little animal collection, which started with rabbits, guinea pigs, goats and pigs, continued to expand until the local council granted them a zoo license in 2005.

I really appreciated the ethos of this family run zoo that has taken in animals from other zoos that have closed down, rescued and retired bears and lions from circuses and various other animals with injuries, illnesses and disabilities that would be unable to live in the wild.

We were really lucky and saw most of the animals during our visit with the exceptions of the rescued bears, the snow leopard and the wolves – all of whom were hidden away in their large enclosures. Our animal-loving daughter loved the otters, lemurs and meerkats best of all, and eventually had to be carried out of the zoo howling in protest after we’d spent a good three hours wandering around; while I was delighted to catch a glimpse of Rufio the red panda – a relatively new addition who arrived at the zoo in May.

We all thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the zoo and it’s definitely somewhere we’d return to. Have a lovely week. X

An Urban Wildlife Garden

Comma Butterfly

There’s a definite sense of slow down in the garden as the daylight wanes and temperatures drop. We’ve harvested the potatoes, carrots and kale from the veg beds though we’re still waiting for the sprouts and squashes. Most of the annuals have died back and in the next few weeks, we’ll plant snow drop, iris, daffodil and tulip bulbs to give us some spring colour until the summer flowering perennials like hardy geraniums and scabiosa start filling the border.

The scabiosa has been one of my favourites this year as it’s low maintenace with a long flowering period (prolonged by dead heading) and it’s a magnet for the bees and butterflies. This summer seems to have been a good one for our fluttering visitors as I’ve spotted Comma, Small Tortoiseshell and Painted Lady butterflies in the garden, as well as cabbage whites nibbling the brassicas in the veg beds.

We feed the birds all year round, and in addition to the sparrows, blue tits, starlings, magpies, pigeons and the odd grey squirrel that visit regularly, we’ve also seen long-tailed tits visiting our feeding station for the first time this year. Apparently, long tailed tits are very vulnerable to cold winters and I suspect the population has only just recovered from the Beast from the East last year, but I hope they’ll become regular visitors to our garden.

Given that we live in an urban environment, I’m always delighted by the diversity of wildlife that inhabit and visit our garden. Have a lovely week! X

A Walk on the Wild Side

A Walk on the Wild Side

Throughout the month of June, the Wildlife Trusts are encouraging people to get outdoors and enjoy nature, and I wanted to share a little photo round-up of one of the ways that I’ve been participating in the 30 Days Wild Challenge this year.

Near my workplace, there’s a park where I like to eat my lunch and stretch my legs whenever the weather permits. My lunch-break walks are a welcome interval during busy work days, providing an opportunity to slow down and gather my thoughts, and at this time of year, I particularly enjoy watching the damselflies flit around the pond.

These photos were taken on my phone, and required a combination of patience, stealth and speed, but I’ve relished the challenge of trying to capture some of the little details I notice on my wanders. Have a lovely week. X

Feeding Frenzy in the Garden

 

6 FeedingFrenzy1

Just tapping out a quick post before settling down for the evening as I’ve been working from home today because soft, powdery snow has been falling almost constantly since early this morning bringing widespread disruption to our part of the country. Yet while I’ve been safe and warm inside, our feathered friends in the garden have been out and about foraging for food, and it’s been lovely to look up from my laptop every so often to watch the birds visiting the feeding station and snowflakes swirling in the wind. Have a lovely week. X

Flora and fauna in the garden

Flora1

This was the first year that we’ve had a proper garden of our own and we’ve thoroughly enjoyed tending it. My husband and I weren’t really expecting many (or any) of the seeds we sowed to appear and vastly over-seeded all of our beds, next year we will be a bit more sparing with the seeds and also more selective about what we plant. This year, we scattered wildflower mixes and particularly loved the cheerful marigolds, poppies, corncockles, cornflowers and the striking mallow flower that appears to have self-seeded.

In June, we took part in the Great British Bee Count and enjoyed identifying all the different varieties of bee that visit our garden, such as early bumblebees, honeybees, tree bees, banded white-tailed bumblebees and red-tailed black bumblebees, all of which loved our very wild and colourful wildflowers. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen many butterflies, just a few cabbage whites now and again.

Although we suspect our rescue cat, Mara, has always been a house-cat she also loves sitting on the windowsill watching all the wildlife in our garden from the insects flying around the flowers to the sparrows nesting in the hedge, the odd cheeky grey squirrel that visits and the little family of fieldmice we spotted when the wildflowers started to die back. We’ve tried taking Mara out into the garden wearing a harness a couple of times but she seemed quite overwhelmed by all the strange smells and sounds, and seems to prefer the safety and shelter of the house; though that doesn’t stop her becoming territorial when other cats decide to pass through our garden, and it always gives us a fright when our gentle girl starts making angry whale noises at the trespassers.

This weekend, I put on the gardening gloves and spent some time tackling the weeds that have also flourished in the garden over the summer. Although we have a lot of dandelions and other weeds to deal with, my priority is halting the progress of the horsetail invading our garden; I fear we are fighting a losing battle as it grows prolifically in our neighbourhood but if any readers have advice on how to get rid of it or at least keep it under control I’d be very grateful.

Yesterday, we also spent a few hours with my parents in their gardens, admiring dad’s pumpkins – that are the size of footballs now – and helping mum pick white currants, we even spotted a little frog near the marjoram.

Gardening is a rewarding and mindful pastime, and now as summer falls into autumn we’re already making plans for next year, planting the bulbs for spring and making the most of the last of the light evenings in our little garden. Have a lovely week.

A Postcard from Argyll

Seals1

Over the last few years as part of our effort to simplify our lives and downsize our possessions, my husband and I have eschewed buying gifts for each other in favour of treating each other to experiences instead. This year for my birthday, my husband whisked me off to the Argyll coast for a little adventure together.

We traveled to the Isle of Seil about 20 miles south of Oban as my husband had booked a wildlife spotting trip by speedboat for us. We were provided with waterproof trousers and jackets, as well as a life-jacket and binoculars by our guides before boarding our vessel. Skimming along the waves in a speedboat turned out to be a thrilling albeit turbulent way to travel, and we were very grateful for our waterproofs by the end!

The tour lasted two hours and took us from Easdale, past the lighthouse on Fladda, before passing round Luing and Scarba.

We saw grey and common seals on Luing and Scarba. I’d only ever seen seals in sea-life centres or aquariums before this so it was lovely to see them wild and in their natural habitat, and they were not at all bothered by our presence. The seals were one of the highlights of the trip for me and I could happily have spent the whole day watching them laze on the rocks and splashing in the water.

The porpoises that sometimes visit the area were too shy to show themselves on the day we visited, but there were wild goats, as well as red and fallow deer grazing on Luing. Our sharp-eyed guides also pointed out a female hen harrier among the trees on Scarba, though she was a bit too far away for me to snap a photo of, but it was still wonderful to see such a rare bird of prey.

The final part of our speedboat journey took us to the Corryvreckan whirlpool which lies between Scarba and the tip of Jura. Local legends state that it was an old witch washing her plaid that created the whirlpool. This part of the experience probably wasn’t much fun for anyone prone to seasickness but it definitely impressed upon me the raw power of the Atlantic Ocean, and the skill of our skipper.

Back on dry land, we stopped to admire the Clachan Bridge, also known as the Bridge over the Atlantic, which connects the Isle of Seil to mainland Scotland. At first glance, it looks like a bridge over a river, but closer inspection reveals seaweed clinging to the rocks at the water’s edge and a narrow section of the Atlantic Ocean flowing between the two banks.

The nearby pub is called the Tigh na Truish Inn (or the House of Trousers) because defiant islanders used the inn to change out of their kilts into trousers before travelling over the bridge to Scotland, where the wearing of kilts and clan tartans had been outlawed following the Jackobite’s defeat at Culloden.

We stopped in Oban for something to eat, and as it’s been several years since we last visited, wandered up to McCaig’s Tower, which offers a view (Scottish weather permitting!) of the harbour below and the islands of Kerrara, Lismore and Mull in the distance.

I often lament that I live in a beautiful country with fascinating landscapes, wildlife and history but have explored so little of it, so it was a lovely birthday adventure and an experience that already stands out in my memory. Have a lovely week.