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.

Solstice soup

Today’s the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year but the one where we can start looking again for light and the promise of spring. It’s rained for most of the day but I went into the garden in the rain and hauled out masses of overgrown stuff from round the pond. The frogs like the overgrown weeds but I know that there are spring bulbs underneath it all and so worth hauling some of it out. It felt quite therapeutic.  I was called away from this task by a horde of musicians who have returned to take over the back room, having not quite finished the recording they started in the summer – for more on the musicians see here. The musicians are lovely, but hungry. We raided the freezer and found soup, made when the summer vegetables were in full production. Here is the courgette and pea (and are there any marrows in this? – well maybe). It doesn’t look very green in this photo but that’s because I photographed the steam.

20181221_130010[1]The courgette and pea was consumed rather quickly and then more musicians appeared so we had to unearth a tomato soup from the freezer as well, this one looking a little more festive:

20181221_131155[1]There are still no festive decorations up here at Reclaiming Paradise but a house full of young people eating their way through the summer’s vegetables feels like a good way to celebrate the Solstice.

Advent Calendar Days 15-20

Today I’ve been at home in daylight and even done some gardening.  I forgot to take any photos in the garden  but here’s a wee update on the wild and wonderful Advent Calendar this week. On Saturday the 15th, snow and hail and all sorts of wintriness was forecast. I spent the day delivering mince pies to my mother and helping her to eat them, while sorting out her Christmas card list. By the time I got round to thinking about the advent calendar, it was dark and it was hailing. So here is a picture of the pond in the hail:


On Sunday the 16th the sun came out and it felt quite springlike. I went for a walk in the park and watched people feeding the birds in a rather bigger pond than mine:

20181216_113535[1]I got along to the allotment in the afternoon to do some weeding and harvest some beetroot and check that the Brussels sprouts were doing ok. We only succeeded in growing one plant but I’m hoping it will provide enough for Christmas dinner. A friendly robin joined me and became my advent window for the 17th

20181216_184438On the 18th I was stuck at work all day and never saw daylight. I got home very late but Bella was able to inspire me with her feline ability to concentrate on her own concerns and show no interest in my woes:

20181218_214111Yesterday I walked past the writers’ museum in Edinburgh on my way to work and noticed the inscriptions on the flagstones in the courtyard. I thought this one from John Muir seemed apt for day 19:

20181212_093003And today, I finally was able to take a day off, mooch round some charity shops, go swimming and appreciate the little garden outside the swimming pool, and the birds chirping in the trees for day 20:

When I got home it was still light and I did some much needed tidying up and weeding in the front garden. This year has been very busy and lots of garden duties have been neglected but it was good to feel my hands in the soil and notice some tiny signs of new growth appearing on some of the shrubs. I also spotted some bulbs pushing up to bring us hope of spring. Tomorrow is the winter solstice, then the days will start slowly to lengthen again and spring will come.

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.


End of November – bah humbug

The thirtieth of November has crept up on me. I’m not one for celebrating St Andrews Night, a relatively new invention, but all joy to those who wish to do so.  This is the night when I usually have a mad dash to make an advent calendar. This annual creative endeavour is an example of necessity being the mother of invention, started about 15 years ago when I discovered late on the thirtieth that we hadn’t organised an advent calender for our two then very small boys. So I made one and have been doing so most years ever since – for some examples see here

For the last couple of years I’ve done one for the blog and tweeted the pictures – see here for last year’s effort. But this year, I’m going to do something different. I looked on line for ideas for alternative advent – but, I warn you, just don’t even look. The results were terrifying ‘Are you bored with chocolate?  why not have an advent calendar with: gin, cat food, socks ‘adult’ items, pork scratchings, lipstick, ’24 days of stationery’.  …. it gets worse and worse.  Or there is the idea of the reverse advent calendar, where you donate something to charity every day of advent. That’s fine but not what I was looking for.  Then I found lots of children’s activities. Closer to what I wanted but I’m not at that life stage.  And of course there are actual religious advents, which is what it’s about I suppose but not for me.

I’ve got quite Scroogish in my old age and find most ‘festive’ stuff difficult, while still thinking it would be nice to get through December by doing something cheering. So I’ve decided to follow the principles of the #30dayswild project and try and find something wild or wonderful for every day of advent.  I promise to tweet something every day and provide summaries on here every few days.  You can look forward to something a little wild or a little wonderful – there won’t be much tinsel or tasteless consumerism but there may be cats. Here are some slightly festive things from previous years to get you in the mood:



When we first moved to this house, the front garden was bare: a paved over parking place for up to three cars.  Since then, I’ve dug most of it up and planted bulbs, roses, herbs and a couple of small trees.  But in those early days when all was bleak, we needed something to grow up the bike shed (much more useful than a car park for a no-car, cycling family) and provide a little height.  Taking advice from the family collective, I bought a rose – Benjamin Britten to keep the musicians happy:

It has done rather well and grown into a lovely mature bush but it is mainly a summer and autumn pleasure.  To cheer us in the winter,   I also bought a chimonanthus praecox.  Its common name is wintersweet  which is much easier to remember.  This would grow up the side of the shed, providing greenery in summer and would be covered in sweet scented yellow flowers in winter.  Eight years on it has produced its first flower:

WP_20180203_16_39_08_ProIt does have a rather nice scent but it is not quite fulfilling its promise.  Maybe next year it will manage two flowers.

In the meantime, the other winter scented plant, winter box, is beginning to come into its own.  There is  whole bush of it hiding behind the wintersweet in the photo above. This little cutting (dug up from my mother’s garden while we were making lemon curd) smells gorgeous, so I’ve put it up beside the herbs at the kitchen door so it can greet us as we come in and out:

WP_20180203_16_40_46_ProThe onion sets, which I planted a couple of weeks ago, have nearly all sprouted. I moved them out to the seed house so that they would get enough light but the temperature is set to plummet again tonight, so I’ve given them, and some sweet peas which I sowed at the same time, a little extra covering with a propagator lid:

WP_20180203_16_44_18_ProMore sweet scents to look forward to in the summer.

Onions in the snow

Everyone else in the garden blogging and tweeting world seems to have started sowing their seeds.  Well not here. It’s far too soon, too cold, too dark but I thought I should at least have a look at my seed tin and start to think about this year’s vegetables.

Seed boxIn it I found the usual packets of last year’s seed which is probably still viable, a few empty packets, a few that are so old that they haven’t got a hope and half a packet of autumn onion sets.  Oops, these should have been planted about three months ago.  Well some of them were, they went under the cardboard in the raised bed:

WP_20171029_15_42_38_Proand some of them are peeking through the snow.  I don’t know if they’ll survive:


Time to do something about the neglected onions in the seed box.  It was far too cold to plant them outside, so I put them in paper pots to transplant at a later date.  I made these using one of those pot maker things which were fashionable a few years ago.  It really is the most simple device and makes compostable pots quickly and easily out of old newspapers:

WP_20180120_15_57_37_ProI made thirty pots and planted an onion set in each.  I hope that will work and that the paper will decompose in time to let the onions fatten up – otherwise we’ll get very long thin onions:

WP_20180120_15_57_48_ProI’ve kept them inside tonight as it’s still pretty bitter out there.  It’s supposed to warm up next week – to 5 degrees or something tropical like that so I’ll move them out to the seed house then to grow slowly before planting out.

Meanwhile there are some tiny signs of spring in the sunny front garden:




Summer garden/Winter garden

I took part enthusiastically in the twitter #summergarden thing over the weekend.  The idea was to post photos of your garden in the summer to cheer everyone up. I don’t know if these were the exact photos I posted but you get the idea:

It was lovely.  I saw some people complaining but I find it hard to object to flowers at any time of year really.  Everything was a bit grey otherwise but last night we had proper snow and everything turned magical:

I sneaked out about 11pm to take these while the snow was still falling.  Bella was not happy.  These are the pawprints of a fast moving cat:

This morning it was still magical:

I walked cheerfully to work through the snow, loving every minute and spotting these snow people on a bridge:


It’s gone a bit grey again tonight but that little boost of snowy wonderland will keep me going until the snowdrops come out:wp_20170201_08_50_48_pro(these are last year’s)

Season’s Greetings

Happy Christmas to all my readers.  It is seasonally warm, windy and wet today. These icy glories are from a couple of weeks ago when we had some proper winter frost. These beauties were on my garden shed. For those who have been following the advent calendar, here is the final, opened, store cupboard with all its joys available to see. In the last few days we have had crystal lemon cucumbers, nasturtium salad, green tomato marmalade and, of course, appearing on Christmas Eve, the Christmas Pudding (made with garden apples and therefore qualifying for participation in the advent calendar)

WP_20171126_17_41_17_Prowp_20171224_09_33_00_pro.jpgThank you for all your follows, likes and comments.  I’ll be back soon with my review of the year at Reclaiming Paradise. I hope you all have a few days of relative peace and happiness, however you celebrate this festive season.