May already: although it doesn’t feel like it yet. A few warm, sunny days towards the end of April were balm to the soul – and to the garden, which put on a growth spurt (mostly of nettles). Last week, however, swept out the month with snow and hail. You can get all seasons in a day at this time of year.
Yesterday morning, it being the May Day bank holiday, my husband suggested we plant the rose bushes which I bought recently in a fit of extravagant optimism. I think he was looking forward to a morning’s pleasant labour together in the spring sunshine. It was sunny when we went into the garden, certainly…but by the time we’d fetched the spade and the sack of manure, a sudden squall had got up. It’s not that easy trying to dig a two foot hole while holding onto your hat. The emptied plant pots went bowling across the grass, along with my husband’s cap. Meanwhile another couple of slates slid off the castle roof onto the garden path…sigh… At least the rain, the first in several weeks, was welcome; although we wouldn’t have minded if it had arrived an hour later.
It is satisfying to have got the roses planted, whatever the weather. Two generations ago there were rose beds dotted all over the garden: before the First World War, apparently, my husband’s great-grandfather had two gardeners whose job was just to tend the roses. Changing labour patterns in the middle of last century took the total number of gardeners from eight to one: perhaps inevitably, most of the flowerbeds were grassed over to make maintenance easier. I’ve always had a soft spot for roses, however, and wished we had more, despite their reputation for being high maintenance. In planting some new ones (actually relatively ‘old’ varieties like soft pink ‘Gertrude Jekyll’) into one of the remaining beds, I’m hoping firstly to bring some more romantic prettiness to the expanse of lawns, and secondly to save myself the job of having to plant out dozens of bedding plants twice a year, as was done in the past.
We shall see. The great thing about this time of year in the garden is that it’s still full of promise: this year, you tell yourself (every year) will be the best ever. Look how tidy and healthy everything looks!
Actually that moment of perfect promise lasts about five minutes. This year it was two weeks ago on Thursday. The tidying up of the winter borders was finished; the beds were dug over with rich brown earth; the fresh new leaves were just beginning to look as if they meant business. Then came the two days of warm sun – and lo, the next time I looked, every flower bed and path was bristling with weeds. And then last week’s snow and frost put paid to several tender seedlings (though not the weeds, obviously), including my son’s neat little row of nasturtiums, planted out optimistically early. We will have to start again with those.
Such is the joy of gardening. It is the triumph of optimism over experience. At least the busily growing weeds, and all the planting still to be done, keep me from idleness. And oh, look, the apple blossom is coming out against the western wall of the garden. Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May – but I’ll still hope for apples come September.
You might enjoy The very hungry caterpillar: a tragedy in three acts
and also What colour is your May?
During my lengthy silence here, the seasons have moved on at last. Spring is indubitably springing.
In the fields, the new grass is grown enough for the cows to have been put out to pasture a few days ago. Every morning now we spy another calf, born in the quiet of the night. The swans are building a nest on the lochan; the oyster-catchers are digging scrapes in the garden urns to lay their eggs. And I have been busy in the garden, clearing and digging, planning and planting. For the first time since we took over Castle Beastie thirteen years ago – for the first time in my life – I find myself the head gardener. Quite a thought if you are as ignorant of gardening as me. Still, that surely means that I will learn by doing – the mistakes as well as the (I hope) successes.
We are still immersed in the school holidays, but my intention is to write here from time to time with reports from the front line of horticultural ignorance. It must be the sap rising that has made me want to return to blogging, if only occasionally, and with the usual haphazard subject matter apart from the garden. So with that gloriously British piece of enthusiasm said – onwards! And may the joys of spring be yours.
Hello, how’s your winter going so far? Are you as fed up of the weather as I am?
Rain, snow and storms in a Scottish winter are not news. They are just a Scottish winter. But torrential rain, repeated flooding, and storm system after storm system…that is news. Indeed, the only fun in watching the otherwise depressing evening news on telly these days is the ‘weather porn’ feature, when we can watch the BBC getting over-excited about the latest bit of extreme weather. Usually led by some poor reporter standing in the dark, drenched with rain, their hair whipped about their face as they gesticulate at the waves or the swollen river behind them. (One daft thing which has me shouting at the telly: they never wear a hat.)
It’s supposed to be El Niño behind all this meteorological turmoil, isn’t it? We were warned in the autumn that a bad winter was on the way, but I at least hoped that meant days of crisp snowfall, not the endless wind and water. Anyway, enough grumbling. Other countries are faring much worse. We have had a few snowy days, and very pretty they have been too:
The many wet days have given me a reason to make my first ever batch of Seville orange marmalade. It looks like sunshine in a jar: a very satisfying thing to make in this dreich season.
Our first snowdrops are flowering, encouraged perhaps by the warm December we had, and unperturbed by wind, rain or snow.
At the moment, however, the wind is our main news. Storm Gertrude, which hit us on Friday, brought down an alarming number of heavy slates from the castle roof and half of one of my favourite beech trees. We have lost several lovely beeches in the past few years; trees two or three centuries old which, sadly, have reached the end of their lives on our watch. I hope that the saplings we have planted around the place will have the chance to bring as much pleasure to future generations as these fine old trees have brought to us.
Friday’s storm has also smashed one of the antique cast-iron urns which adorn the grounds, and brought down masonry from a chimney stack on the sixteenth-century tower of the castle, so there will be some repairs to be done once the wind has dropped.
Not yet, though. As I write, the wind is rising again and we have barred the shutters in preparation for a story night. Storm Henry is forecast to be a bad one, with winds reaching their peak in the wee hours of tomorrow morning. Westerly gales worm their way through every chink in the old walls and chimneys of the castle. Your feet get cold from the draft as you sit at the kitchen table, and our bedroom is Baltic as the wind moans and whistles through the sash windows. I’m off to bring in some firewood now for the evening. Stay warm!
My first ever ‘tree’ post was about beeches (not this fallen one, but its neighbour): The inaugural Tuesday Tree.
Other stormy adventures are to be found in Many of these trees were my friends.
What a relief: the snow which I was expecting in early December has finally reached us! I know that snow is seen by plenty of people as an inconvenience but honestly, after the last month, anything other than torrential, interminable, relentless rain is a pleasure. Particularly exhilarating was today’s crisp cold, feathery snow, and clear, cloudless sky.
We had almost forgotten what blue sky looked like. The rain has truly been phenomenal this winter. The river burst its banks here three, or was it four, times in three weeks. The access road to the fishing hut has been scoured away by the floods. Some fields (not ours) have been under flood water since the first week of December: wild geese and swans seem to have taken up semi-permanent residence. Part of a railway embankment near here was washed away, bringing the main north-south train route to a halt. Sheep have drowned. Floods and landslips have blocked roads. Homes have been inundated, some several times over: I can hardly imagine the misery for those poor people. And our little bit of the country has not even had the worst of the flooding.
So you can imagine the silly grins on our faces this morning when, in place of the usual murk, we woke to a cloudless sky and bright snow. At long last, a ‘proper’ winter’s day! The dogs and I were actually eager to get out for our morning walk. Even our elderly, stone-deaf Westie volunteered to come for once, cosy in his old gentleman’s Harris tweed jacket.
Just a smattering of snow had sifted down in the night, each snowflake settling featherlight against its neighbours, so that you could make out individual crystals in the puffs decorating each twig, each rosehip.
The white page of the ground was scribbled with hoof- and paw-prints, each line hinting at a nocturnal story. Here was a busy rabbit crossroads:
and here there seems, unmistakably, to have been an encounter between a rabbit and a roe deer, who each turned aside to sniff the other. How I’d love to have seen that!
Against the garden wall there are always one or two roses which struggle on through the winter. In the snow, this red bloom is a bittersweet tale in itself.
I couldn’t be melancholy in such weather, however. Through this landscape of marvels we sauntered homewards, filled with clean air and frosty sunshine. Apparently we are getting another few days of the same: winter at last!
You might enjoy Winter colours: red, russet and grey
In the rush of Christmas preparations, a moment of stillness. If you click on the linked words below, you will have the chance to listen to the choir of King’s College, Cambridge singing Morten Lauridsen’s sublime setting of these words of a chant from the Matins of Christmas, ‘O magnum mysterium’.
Thank you for sticking with Dancing Beastie this year; and may I wish you and yours a truly merry Christmas!
O great mystery,
and wonderful sacrament,
that animals should see the new-born Lord,
lying in a manger!
Blessed is the Virgin whose womb
was worthy to bear
Christ the Lord.
*(translation from Wikipedia)
You might enjoy Christmas cheer.
A friend from the south of England was looking at some of my photos on social media a few days ago.
‘You do have a lot of weather!’ she commented.
Well, I know what she meant. At the end of November it snowed: enough to build a couple of snowmen. Two days later – the beginning of last week – several more inches of snow fell; perfect, fluffy flakes piling up rapidly to make a Christmas card of the landscape. We were outside that day with guests, all marvelling like children at the beauty of the transformation. We began to think half-hopefully of the intensely cold, white winter of six years ago, which also began with a heavy November snowfall.
Then it began to rain.
When we opened the shutters the next morning, there was hardly a trace of the white stuff to be seen. All had washed away in an overnight thaw and heavy rain. It continued to rain all that day and most of last week. On Saturday, it really began to rain. The Tay burst its banks and flooded across the fields, submerging the fishing huts and the access roads to them.
The burn became a swollen river, the lochan doubled in size, the river became a vast menace of rushing water. We saw huge round hay bales tossed along it like corks in a bath. The stretch of our woodland beside the river was now in the river, the young specimen trees in their wooden cages almost completely submerged. The water was full of little bubbles rising up, as if there were fish in the grass: actually, water bubbling up from the saturated soil.
We retreated to the house, thankful to be in a home well above flood level. Still, we were anxious for those in our wider neighbourhood whom we knew would be more affected. In the end it could have been a lot worse. While it seems that some farmers and gardeners have lost out – those hay bales in the river, for example, and allotments inundated – I don’t know of anyone whose house was flooded around here, thank heavens.
Of course, our neighbourhood was only a tiny part of the swathe of Britain affected by flooding this week. As anyone who has seen the UK news will know, the north-west of England and the Borders have had a far worse time. The flood waters really must have seemed apocalyptic to them at times, and our hearts go out to them. To anyone who loves the Lake District or who has never visited Carlisle Castle, for example, I’d say get planning your next trip to beautiful Cumbria! The county will need our support in 2016.
For most of us here in Perthshire it has not been nearly so bad, despite flooded roads and railway lines bringing travel disruption for a few days. Since the weekend the water levels have receded, risen after more rain and then dropped again. But what do you know, coming full circle, we now have snow forecast for this evening. At the moment it is heavy, sleety rain – which I am about to head out into with the dog – but snow is coming.
So I think it’s fair to say that yes, while we may have got off relatively lightly, we have had quite a lot of ‘weather’ recently!
As usual at around this season, I feel as if the year is suddenly rushing towards its close with the majority of the things I meant to accomplish still unachieved. Good Lord, it was Hallowe’en at the weekend and Bonfire Night only last night, but the media is full of Christmas adverts already, with the Big Day looming ahead like a brick wall at the end of a motorway. (Christmas absolutely shouldn’t feel like that, should it? There is always time to reflect on peace and love and acts of kindness at some – many, ideally – point in the Christmas season, but in November I bet most mums have the same growing feeling of mild panic about all the planning still to be done.)
However. Enough about the C-word. Busy though it’s been, this autumn has been a lovely one. September was warm; October was bright and golden. Now November has come in with lingering mists and dense fog, like a November from central casting. It is beautiful too in its melancholy way. We are in the middle of the Perthshire Amber festival, a feast of traditional music and community events organised by musician Dougie Maclean and his family. With visitors drawn to our part of the country from across Europe and North America, it is a pleasure to share something of our autumn with them.
The Danes have that wonderful word, hygge, which means something like a feeling of cosiness and good cheer. We don’t have an equivalent word that I can think of in either English or Scots; but we certainly have the feeling of hygge in this week of music and laughter, friendships old and new, morning walks in the glowing, dripping autumnal woods and afternoons and evenings filled with songs and stories shared over a pint or a warming mug of tea and a freshly-baked scone. Wrap up warm and come and join us next year!
You might enjoy Whirling and paddling: just another week in the castle or An amber autumn.