Nesting bees

It was one of those days when you are sitting having your lunch, pondering the nature of utility and beauty and realising that your garden is not quite passing the William Morris test: ‘Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful’ – for more see here , where I argue that the test does not apply to the garden. In the garden there are many many beautiful things but also some that are not beautiful but are useful, mostly old plastic buckets and odd bits of wire caging which keep cats off the vegetables – example here

20190105_144328Not beautiful but definitely useful.  There are other things which fail the test but stay in the garden because I don’t know how to dispose of them in a sensible environmentally friendly way and anyway, we might find a use for them one day – the footballs from the monster hedge fit in this category:


Meanwhile an old shed door has lain about in the garden for ten years, being used for football practice and various other delights and has met a creative end as a pirate ship. Even old shed doors do come in useful one day.

Anyway, while pondering these higher things, we decided that the old garden bench had finally failed both tests. It has served us very well over twenty years but it stopped being beautiful a few years ago when its various cracks and unsafe bits were repaired effectively but somewhat less beautifully. It has also served as a very good cat scratching post – useful but making it less beautiful – pictured here complete with cat:


Now those repairs have collapsed and it really does not meet either condition. What to do with it though? We just added it to the pile of possibly useful garden things.  While doing this , I ventured into a bit of the garden I haven’t looked at for a few weeks and saw that someone or something had torn a huge piece of turf away from one of the fairy mounds. I immediately recognised the signs – last time this happened the mysterious something was attacking a wild bees’ nest – see here  The destruction was too great for it to be cats so it must have been a badger or a fox, I think. Last time I was too late to rescue the nest. This time, I’m not sure as the bees are still buzzing about. So I used one of my not beautiful but never-the-less useful wire racks to cover it up to keep the intruder out, and this time, also put up a sign to warn them off:


Beautiful? Useful? I don’t know but I was very excited to find that the bees had nested in my garden again.

Paradise reclaimed

This blog takes its name from Joni Mitchell’s song Big Yellow Taxi. My front garden is a reclaimed car park where previous residents parked their cars in front of the house. For more on this story, see my about page. Instead of parking cars, I grow plants and welcome the wildlife. Today I did a big tidy up in the front garden, updated the labels in my herb garden and revelled in the plants and creatures that would not have been there had I been parking cars instead:

I also found this frog in the back garden, lurking in the long grass around the raised beds

and this magnificent slug


I found these exciting seed pods


which came from this beautiful California poppy


Seeds are magical but the bees and the butterflies are just the best:



Paradise indeed.

Slow germination and deep roots

Two plants have appeared in my garden this week that I don’t remember planting.

First of all this orchid appeared in a pot of tarragon which has been at the kitchen door for several years.


I have no idea how it got there. Possibly the seed was in some garden compost and had been dormant for a few years or possibly it blew in on the wind or was deposited by a bird. Apparently these orchid seeds can take up to ten years to germinate. Whatever planted it, it is a lovely thing. I knew at once that it was a spotted orchid because I have a long dormant memory of these plants from my early childhood. When I lived in Shetland in the deep deep past, I collected the local wildflowers, pressed them and stuck them in notebook, unsorted and with no explanation but a careful labelling of each one.


I’ve kept that collection all these years and I knew that there was a spotted orchid in there, although rather smaller than the one in my herb pot. It was lovely to see one again. I hope it stays and makes more. Any advice on how to keep it, or move it to a wild part of the garden would be helpful!

The other random appearance was watercress in the pond. I noticed this the other day when I was looking for frogs.


I don’t remember seeing it before but I had a very hazy memory of having planted some unsuccessfully several years ago. I checked my (pre-blog) garden diary, regretting its lack of a word search facility, and found a reference to having sown some seed with little result in a pot in the seedhouse and then having moved it to the pond in 2011, a little more recently than my pressed flowers from the 1960s. Anyway, that’s taken 8 years to appear in any meaningful way. It should be edible, though I’ve seen some debate on the internet about this. Again, any advice would be helpful.

There wasn’t any watercress in the bogs and fields of my childhood but, in among the watercress in my pond, is a thriving collection of wildflowers, some also based on my childhood memories of the far north of Scotland – bog cotton:


bird’s foot trefoil,


or craw’s taes as I knew it all those years ago:

20190717_225227[1]I love these wild flowers, slowly taking over my garden in relatively unplanned ways. They connect me to my past and bring me new joys.

Frog season

I’ve been busy this weekend and not much gardening done, other than a frenetic couple of hours on Saturday evening, hacking back overgrown grass and weeds at the allotment. Still, there are signs of summer finally arriving. I harvested the first few strawberries from the allotment and the frogs have reappeared in the garden pond. They come out late in the evening and stick their little noses in the air, hoping to catch insects I suppose.



June is finally meeting my expectations

Thirty days wild

It’s June, so it’s time for #30DaysWild – an annual event run by the Wildlife Trusts  to encourage people to get outside and enjoy nature. I try to appreciate nature every day, not just in June, but the 30 Days Wild event makes me try that little bit harder. My busy city life doesn’t usually allow me time to do some of the more adventurous things suggested by the Wildlife Trusts but I try to find some joy in nature in my garden, my allotment and in the urban landscape. While it’s easy to find wildness in the garden and allotment, I can also find nature walking to and from work, taking a moment just to listen to the birds or to notice the wildflowers growing between the paving stones or the roses escaping from the gardens. I’ve followed 30 days wild for a couple of years now – see previous posts here and here and even tried to do it in December  to lift the winter gloom.


December was a bit of a struggle, but it’s easy to find joy in nature in June. The start of the month has proved a little challenging as I was travelling and busy with work but I shared the shelter of marble pillars outside an art gallery with a little bird, as a thunderstorm raged around us:

20190530_154555Now I’m home and able to enjoy the simple pleasures of a bee on the clover which has rooted in the paving in my front garden:

20190602_122638and the rose ‘Shropshire Lad’ which I planted beside the back hedge to provide scent and colour where there used to a conifer desert


I’ll keep tweeting some wildness every day on my twitter account @GreenBeanJackie  If you look at the #30DaysWild hashtag you’ll find lots of other people enjoying nature in extraordinary and everyday places. I hope you all have a wild month!



In other newts*

…the frogs are back!


We’ve missed seeing them in the pond since last summer but the sunny weather has brought them back. We spotted at least two but I am sure there are more lurking in the undergrowth. We also have newts, dozens and dozens of them. They are harder to photograph as they flit about just under the surface rather than sitting still like the frogs. Bella is intrigued by all this underwater excitement:


We also have an invasion of ladybirds:

I love these tiny creatures, even more so because they eat aphids. I’ve been trying to encourage them on to the roses which seem to suffer most of the tiny greenies but it’s lovely just to see the ladybirds, whatever they are doing.

It’s been lovely weekend, spent mainly in the garden, feasting our eyes on this glorious wildlife, entertaining a random collection of relatives and passing musicians and feasting ourselves on various delicacies, including an unseasonal Christmas pudding, bought in enthusiasm at a bargain price in late December. It was eaten outside, for an Easter feast. I was looking for an edible flower to decorate with – or at least something that wouldn’t poison us – rosemary seemed the most suitable


Happy Easter, or Happy Spring, or whatever you celebrate, I hope you celebrate it well

*Thanks to my older son for the pudding and the title of today’s post

Black and white and colour photos

Another lovely sunny day in the garden and allotment. I had been up since a silly hour in the morning, woken by bird song, so I went out when all was quiet and everyone else was trying to grab as much sleep from the clock change as possible. Bella came out with me and, sensing that her rival had been on top of the shed yesterday, decided that she would pose up there too:


I got some help from fellow residents to cut the grass in the garden and hacked back a few bits of hedge that were overhanging the raspberries and redcurrants.

Later I saw a tortoiseshell butterfly on a daffodil – a surprising but colourful combination.  I rushed in to get my camera but came back to find Bella chasing the butterfly round the garden. She didn’t catch it but I lost my chance to get a photo.

However, in the afternoon while weeding at the allotment, we saw our first frog of the season. It stayed still long enough for a photo. I was impressed by its camouflage, almost like a black and white photograph:


For a colourful contrast, we had rainbow curry for tea tonight, made from rainbow chard from the garden and potatoes and red onions from the local farmers’ market:



Big garden no bird watch

Today was the RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch day. I’ve counting the birds in my garden at the end of January for over twenty years and have found that the birds vary enormously from one year to the next. One of the variables has been the change in garden. My old garden attracted the usual sparrows and blue tits, blackbirds and robins but also starlings.  In this garden, where I’ve now been counting birds for nearly ten years, there is a wider variety, including magpies and wrens, but I’ve never seen a starling.  The other variables include the weather, the time of day but, most of all, whether or not I put out bird food. I used to feed the birds and took great pleasure in watching them but a few years ago I noticed that the bird food also attracted mice, squirrels, and at least one rat. The mice I can live with, the squirrels, I thought were harmless and the rat, I have only seen once when polite guests were visiting and we all looked out into the garden. ‘Oh what’s that?’ ‘There’s some kind of animal in your garden’. Cue ‘how about some more tea? let’s go into the kitchen’. I’ve never seen it since.  I  quite liked the squirrels.


They were fun and acrobatic but my sympathy for them disappeared the year that they broke into our roof space, ate their way through our electric wiring and built a nest above the bathroom ceiling. It’s a long story but the bathroom and the lights in the upstairs landing were out of action for months (pressure from my fellow residents meant that we had to wait until the baby squirrels had grown up before we could attend to them*) and getting all the repairs done cost a small fortune. So I stopped feeding the birds and the squirrels and the birds stopped coming into my garden in such great numbers. The squirrels also took the hint and have, so far, gone elsewhere to cause chaos in someone else’s house.

I still try to support the wildlife by gardening organically, leaving a lot of wild stuff, weeds, berries, seeds and what not in the undergrowth and providing a water supply with the pond. I’ve also got a bird bath in the front garden for any passing wildlife there.

For today’s bird watch I went into the garden, suitably dressed with several layers of thermal clothing (thanks to my lovely Norwegian friend who sends us thermal underwear every Christmas), a woolly hat, fingerless gloves and a big cup of coffee. I sat patiently for nearly an hour (until it started to rain). I heard lots of birds and I saw several seagulls, pigeons and crows soaring overhead but the only birds to land in the garden were one blackbird, one pigeon and a tiny bluetit in a tree. A pretty dismal collection this year. While I waited for the non-existent birds, I looked at my garden,  and made several plans for its development. While I was waiting for the birds, I noticed this ridiculous sweet pea, which is growing away bravely despite some recent very cold weather:


Then I came inside and did my annual seed census from my trusty seed box:

Seed box

I did a little fantasising about this year’s peas and tomatoes, sweet peas and marrows but it seems I have nearly all the seeds I need for this year’s vegetables. I’ll just have to be patient before I can start sowing them.

In the mean time, I spotted a fox in the garden earlier in the week, when we had a heavy frost:


So we may not have so many birds but we do have foxes and some silly sweet peas.

*no squirrels were harmed in the eviction – we just chased them away before destroying the nest and getting the ceiling rebuilt.

Advent calendar update

It’s been a bit of a long week but keeping my eyes open for snatches of winter joy has helped me get through. So here’s an update:

Day 8 – I was walking along the street, not feeling very festive, when I heard workmen singing Christmas carols as they worked. This prompted me to photograph some festive holly:


Day 9 – tiny signs of spring. Snowdrops peeking through the soil outside my mother’s new flat


Day 10 – frosted oak leaf lying among the frosted clover in my lawn


Day 11 Chelsea sitting under a broccoli plant


Day 12 Lovely morning light


Day 13 – glorious sunrise – one of the small advantages of the short December days


Day 14 I walked to work and heard birds singing in the trees. In this picture there is one fat pigeon but also lots of tiny sparrows, cheering me on my way

20181214_090843So, another week with no gardening but some tiny glimpses of joy in nature around us. I am constantly surprised by these beauties. Some days it has taken a real effort but there is always something if you look.

Wild and wonderful advent calendar

The first week of my wild and wonderful advent calendar has gone rather well. I set out to tweet something that struck me as wild or wonderful every day. This has forced me to go outside at least for a few minutes in the morning or in the middle of the day when there was still some light and to try and notice the world around me. Some days this is easy but others I have to really pay attention. So for your enjoyment, here is the first week of wildness and wonder:

Day 1 – the Viburnum in the front garden, in full flower and with a scent to knock your socks off


Day 2 – Chelsea decided to climb the apple tree, her wondrous colouring only just managing to not merge with the red berries on the cotoneaster


Day 3 – was a little gloomy but I made myself walk to work to look for wildness and wonder. I saw lots of things but I was waiting for something to strike me. The wonder came from a bush full of sparrows. I couldn’t see them but the bush was alive with chirping;


Day 4- frost was forecast, so I nipped out to the back garden to catch the frosty rainbow chard

20181204_082327Day 5 – was another glorious frosty morning. I went out into the garden to see if there was anything new and I hear a wren in a tree. Again, I couldn’t catch it in the photo but rather liked the dawn light through my neighbour’s apple tree (much bigger than the one that Chelsea tried to climb):

20181205_075130Day 6 – I caught the light at the end of the day. I’m usually stuck in an office at this time but yesterday I happened to be out and about and saw the light begin to leave the sky at 3.30pm:

20181206_153319Day 7 – my work took me out around central Scotland by train. I spent some rather chilly moments waiting on railway platforms. But the sun came out and struck one of these little wooden trains which often cheer me in these small town stations:


So my first week of looking for wildness and wonder in December has gone rather well. It has been more challenging than the 30dayswild challenge in June but has proved to be possible and perhaps even more joyful. It is easy to find joy in nature in June when the days are long and everything is at its best. It’s tougher in December, with such short days and plenty of gloom. Look out for more on my twitter feed and an update on here next week.