And what will early February bring, I wonder?

Well – a very hard frost on one or two mornings – and frequent bright clear sunshine to gladden our hearts. January had the most sunshine on record, and 60% less rain than average…

This means the allotment is workable ! The soil isn’t sticky so onion sets and garlic cloves are going in. At home, the replacement compost bin – the third of a design we first purchased in 2004 from ArchWood Greenhouses of Goodrich, Ross on Wye – has arrived, and the rotting, first incumbent is now dismantled to make way for its successor. Photo to follow – once it’s built!

Candlemas – 2nd February – puts Christmas well and truly behind us, and there’s a hint of spring as celandines and snowdrops, hellebores and even the odd crocus appear

Frost and sunshine make photography easy ! Some plants have amazing powers of recovery…

And others – eg Pittosporum Tom Thumb (or red dwarf as it’s known at home) – are indomitable !

This week’s place is very local: Watermills Park, across the river at the bottom of our garden; one-time town rubbish tip, now local amenity, running along the river to Rookesbury Lakes (formerly a trout farm and now proud guardian of several otter holts) and towards the precious allotments.

It lies beyond the line of trees which line the riverbank and furnish our ‘borrowed landscape’. The majority are Ash or Crack Willow or Alders, with some Horse Chestnuts and other odds and ends. They have recently been surveyed, and radical coppicing (to ground level), pollarding (to three metres) and felling has begun in response to their perceived danger to the public, and in an attempt to renew the underfloor.

The path behind them has seen a fourfold increase in footfall during the covid years, and probably as large an increase of dog use. What has served as a vital wildlife corridor for bats, trout, ducks, geese, swans, water voles, otters, wood peckers, kingfishers, and herons is under threat from over-exposure, and increased attrition of the already compromised banks.

Look carefully – the cull has already begun! (I can see this month’s blog is going to be full of ‘before and after’ shots although this pair from L to R are really ‘after and before’ shots!) The work will take six weeks

This week’s bird is the swan – a frequent visitor to our banks, and several pairs have nested near here on the lake for several years. Here are two of last year’s ugly ducklings, with a proud parent

This week’s book? Impossible to choose a single volume where trees are concerned! I have my favourites: Peter Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees: What They feel, How They Communicate: Discoveries from a Secret World was mind-bending, and as an international bestseller, changed the way thousands of people think and feel about trees; Richard Mabey’s Beechcomings: The Narratives of Trees certainly helped me re-shape my understanding of forest and woods, written in 2007 twenty years on from the greatest English storm for three centuries which felled 15 million trees across Southern England.

And there are many, many more to keep us informed: Fiona Stafford’s The Long Long Life of Trees; or Glenn Kleator’s The Life of an Oak; and certainly Julian Evans’ What happened to our Wood : The story of a small Hampshire woodland at the end of the twentieth century. Where on earth do you start??

Well, if the number of books on trees feel overwhelming, then reach for a poem! And needless to say there are hundreds of those to choose from… Relatively recent is Clive James’ Japanese Maple – as impressive – if less complicated than its author; or perhaps fall back on longer established, celebrated poets: Rudyard Kipling’s The Way through the Wood; Robert Frost ’s Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening; or Edward Thomas ’ Aspens or A E Houseman’s Loveliest of Trees – all of which celebrate natural beauty and harmony.

I’ll settle for Philip Larkin’s The Trees, written in 1967 and published in his collection High Windows, of 1974. Those seven years were a very important part of my life too…. The first verse seems innocent enough – until its last, unsettling word…

The trees are coming into leaf/ Like something almost being said;/ The recent buds relax and spread,/ Their greenness is a kind of grief……

The standout person this week MUST be Sue Gray…. Who??? The civil servant with the tricky job of bringing the Prime Minister to book – she’s shaken the trees and all sorts of things are tumbling out….

Finally the music: Mozart’s Mass in C Minor written as a wedding present for his wife. The Choir of the Earth (aka the Self-isolation Choir, born during lockdown) is learning this on line with Ben England. It is a brilliant format to teach and to learn. Phrase by phrase, voice by voice…. terrific!

And here’s a wonderful sight ! Found this morning in our grass, sparkling in the morning sunshine

One thought on “And what will early February bring, I wonder?

  1. Nice piece, darling!

    David Way Work in progress: The Wines of Piemonte for the Classic Wine Library

    Senior researcher and writer of study materials for the WSET Diploma in Wine

    My engagement with the wines of Italy, France and more:

    9 Redbridge Drive, Andover, SP10 2LF, England

    +44 7973 817 994


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