Daily Decoration: dire tinplate squirrel

Christmas tree decoration representing a squirrel sitting in a red boot

Things are getting a bit desperate here. I had to get this squirrel out of the box and hang it on the tree today. It didn’t go up on Christmas Eve because I don’t actually like it very much. But I think I’ll just about manage to find a decoration for each of the last few days of Christmas.

Today has been the last day before I start work again and, after weeks of dense grey cloud alternating with heavy rain, it’s been beautiful. I went out for my first bike ride of the year in the morning (who needs hills when you have Fenland winds?) and this afternoon Tony and I spent a cheerful hour and a half pruning the most awkward of the apple trees and destraggling the wisteria and the vine that grow over the pergola.

Hence the squirrel. We have a couple of visiting grey squirrels who scamper along the fences and steal from the birdfeeders. Today I saw one of them squatting on the pergola, nibbling away at something, I couldn’t see what.

Having spent a significant part of my life on the Isle of Wight, I’m honour bound to disapprove of grey squirrels, invasive species that they are. Particularly when they start stealing from the birdfeeders. On the mainland, however, I have to admit that I quite enjoy watching them. It’s particularly amusing when the Slinky that we installed on the birdfeeder pole does its job and stops them climbing up it from the ground (the squirrel’s own weight stretches the spring and deposits it gently back on the floor), though they’re quite capable of reaching their goal from any of the nearby trees and bushes.

As for the birds, we get sparrows and starlings, great tits (I think), blue tits (I’m almost sure), robins, blackbirds, goldfinches (occasionally), collared doves and wood pigeons, and once, very excitingly, a green woodpecker. Although since it was neither pecking wood nor looking particularly green I had to ask the internet for confirmation. I’ve heard what I think was a hedgehog and have seen what was definitely a hedgehog – twice. The second time was in daylight, though, which is a bit worrying. I put some cat food out for it. The cat food disappeared, but that might just have been cats.

Anyway, it’s been very pleasant to spend some time outdoors today, and I intend to do more of that this year. Perhaps in three months or so I’ll take a deckchair out, and a book.

December Reflections 16: plant love

the trunks and branches of four bare pear trees growing against a red brick wall

The pear trees were what caught my imagination when we viewed this house. The first time, back in November last year, I think I only noticed that there was a garden that someone had clearly worked hard with. The second time, I noticed that the bare trees that had been trained against the garage wall were still wearing their tags: Williams Bon Chr├ętien; Concorde. Pears. The Twelve Days of Christmas went round my head well before and long after the twelve days.

We moved in half way through March, and things were beginning to happen in the garden. There were no bulbs (there are now) but there were plenty of other things to find. I discovered plum trees at the back; the trees growing up against the trellises turned out to be apples. I found a self-seeded holly and decided to let it stay. The pear trees blossomed. I took photos of everything I didn’t recognise and asked Facebook for identification.

I planted out the faithful herbs that had come with me in their pots from the old flat. I sowed nasturtium seeds in a pot. I know how nasturtiums can get. The garden centres were shut, but I wouldn’t have been able to get to them anyway. I bought plants from tables with honesty boxes (or letter boxes): cosmos, lady’s mantle, passionflower, foxgloves. I started runner beans off in eggboxes in the conservatory.

Digging a hole to plant the foxgloves, I found another label. Morello. The thing I’d written off as a boring shrub turned out to be a rather sad little cherry tree. Growing up around an actual boring shrub were some raspberry canes. The thing that was climbing up over the pergola was a wisteria. The other thing that was climbing up over the pergola was a grape vine.

The thing that I’d thought was a hart’s tongue fern flowered and was an arum lily. The things that Facebook had told me were Peruvian lilies flowered and were red and beautiful. The wisteria and the grapevine climbed everywhere, making the whole back wall startlingly bright green. I pulled ivy down from the back wall. I planted out the runner beans.

The cherry tree yielded just enough fruit for a sauce. The raspberries ripened a few at a time: some I froze, some I ate. The plums went into crumbles and chutneys and the freezer. Apples became apple sauce and crumble and chutneys. The pears came later: more puddings, more chutneys, and the occasional one that was so perfect that the only possible response was to eat it. The grapes were small and sour and full of seeds. I considered a home winemaking kit. Maybe next year.

The roses came in ones and twos, one bush with white flowers, two with pink. The white one put out a shoot from its rootstock and shot up skywards. The ladybirds came and marched along the leaves and the stems.

I bottled the last of the pears and blew the fuse on the oven.

The dark shiny leaves of the pears turned to astonishing reds and yellows. The apple leaves were quieter about it. I trimmed back the wisteria and the grapevine, the apple trees, the pear trees, the spiky shrubs.

Now it’s almost back the way it was when we first saw it. Except for the extra rosemary bush. Except for the tubs planted up with bulbs. Except for the decrepit greenhouse which isn’t there any more. Except for the Peruvian lilies, which are determinedly continuing to bloom, even after the snow and the frost we had the week before last.

One would assume that after the first year there won’t be anything new to discover, but this garden has surprised me enough times for me not to be too sure of that.

deep red lilies with green leaves