So it’s official. Wales (and Northern Ireland) have had the warmest autumn ever recorded. This certainly confirms our impression. However the whole of the year has been very strange, weather wise. The PV inverter record for the year confirms the very sunny and bright spring, but as so often is the case here, by July things were becoming gloomier than one had hoped for.
But in spite of a distinct lack of strong sunlight in the latter part of the year, the overall rainfall level is way down on a typical year. June to November monthly readings of 133,116,76,155,158, 92 mm (thanks to Dave Bevan for these). In the previous 3 years when I was keeping records, we’d have expected a couple of 300mm plus monthly totals at least. More specifically there have been very few deluge days, with over 35 mm per 24 hours. However just to prove me wrong again, I’m writing this on Sunday when we have indeed passed this 35mm daily figure today. As a consequence of this lack of heavy rain we have rarely had the phenomenon where a spring suddenly appears from beneath our barn this year. An interesting event, since it always starts to flow in a torrent some time after the rain has actually stopped following one of these deluge periods. (To compound my first inappropriate comment above about a lack of rainfall, Sunday’s 35 mm was followed by 36 mm rain on Monday, so the spring has appeared today on Tuesday).
Our first mild frost arrived in part of the garden on December 2nd but many flowers are still performing including the Camellia sasanqua. C. ‘Jean May’ and C.s. ‘Narumigata’ in particular have many developed many more blooms since I first included photos.
The leaves are still on several Zelkova serrata planted in a more sheltered spot, but are now off most of the Willow and Cornus varieties which we grow.
This really is the time of the year when the stem colours light up the garden in these short, mainly grey days. I’ve also noticed for the first time just how attractive the stems of Miscanthus are, as the outer dry husk like cover peels away to reveal an orange-red layer. This will only be a temporary interest I guess, since the first hard frost will see them off.
I’m also pleased I left on a few empty seed cases of white honesty, which shimmer above the Cyclamen coum flowers, now out in abundance. The very first Galanthus elwesii snowdrop flower is open on our Southerly slope, and we’ve had several second flushes of mushrooms around the garden.
The appearance of these and a rare dry day persuaded me to get the chainsaw out to shape the 2 Douglas Fir stumps into mushroom like forms.
The plan is to encourage moss, lichen and ferns to colonise them to create large-scale organic forms, but as a first step I’ll slap on something dark to tone down the fresh-cut pale wood. How long they’ll remain as mushroom shapes in this climate is a moot point, but with luck they’ll age and decay gracefully over several years, as other trees planted nearby develop to attract the eye.
Apart from this second fungal flush (actually more like 4 flushes over several months with some species like the Fly Agaric), I’m always intrigued over the winter months by the double flush of colours in the sky at dawn. It probably happens throughout the year, it’s just that I’m up and about to notice it now. On a good morning the first hint of pink in light levels so low that photography is difficult, dissipates to bland colours often being replaced with the spectacular richer red tones about 40 minutes later, washing out through golds and yellows. It may even happen at dusk in reverse order, but because of the Gelli topography, dawns are always more spectacular than dusks.
On Saturday, I caught a moving BBC Radio 4 programme on the life and poetry of Ted Hughes, who had the posthumous honour of a plaque and place in the Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey after a service this week. I knew little of his work before listening to this, although earlier in the day my brother Mark, who lectures in English at Ted’s old Cambridge college, Pemroke, had told me that he’d been fortunate to be asked to attend the ceremony. Moreover he’d recently discovered, by a bit of detective work, that one of Ted’s most famous poems about a visitation by a Fox in a dream (whilst he was suffering from writer’s block as a Cambridge student) took place in the exact room which Mark had been allocated in his first year as an English Fellow at Pembroke. I discovered a wonderful You Tube link where you can read the story behind the Thought Fox Poem, as well as Ted reading it.
Ted Hughes’ poetry was hugely influenced and steeped in his observations of the natural world, and another of his poems about ‘The Crow’ made me include the photo below of one of a pair of brooding Carrion Crows which have appeared in the garden over the last couple of years. And this year they even nested in an old magpie nest at the top of the tallest Norwegian Spruce which was felled a few weeks ago. Since then, often at dusk, they appear at the tops of larch trees in our copse, and maintain their silent vigil for minutes on end.
So there’s only one thing for it at this time of year with so few daylight hours and weather like this, its time to enjoy some quality time in front of the wood burners, and look forward to the new gardening year.