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Last Month in My Garden, November 2018

Buzzards have always flown over Brockamin but rarely land. They live in a wood to the south and hunt over the hill to the north. However, recently, one has been frequently perching on a good vantage point – the branch of a dead elm in the hedge opposite my gate or atop a telegraph pole. Conversely, magpies, which some years have been a nuisance, are less frequent visitors; perhaps there is a connection. There are certainly plenty of voles in the garden to feed predators and, unfortunately, the occasional rat. I would be happy to see the latter go. A report on world wildlife concluded that it has decreased 60% over the last 50 years. When I first came to this garden (1980) there were flycatchers, blackcaps, warblers and goldcrests. I saw one of the last a few weeks ago but, otherwise, none of those birds visit now. Similarly linnets, greenfinches, chaffinches, starlings and house sparrows have gone. Green woodpeckers, the greater spotted woodpecker and jays have been sighted regularly this year and a nuthatch is a rare visitor to the peanut feeder but it is a long time since I have seen a mistle thrush. Thrushes used to sing from the top of a tall conifer next door but last month the tree was felled. It stood in a small orchard but that has been cleared, along with a hedge; all that remains is open grass.


The heron still visits;
Nov 8th from the kitchen window

Herons have been irregular visitors since a formal pond with fish was built near the house (c. 1990). I saw one taking off from near the pond on November 4th and it came every day for several days, sometimes more than once. A visit from a heron usually results in the fish hiding in the depths and not appearing near the surface for about 3 weeks. The pond is full of water-lilies – too full. I should have removed some last spring. The fish have been invisible all summer but now frost has hit the leaves which are dying back. I need to cut them off (so that they do not rot in the water) and then net the pond. When the heron stopped visiting, I did nothing but it returned with increasing frequency. I threw a piece of fleece over the end of the pond which had open water and thought that had solved the problem. However, it is not beautiful and now the heron is back!

I have always had some amphibians in the garden. There are frogs, although I do not see them often, and slow-worms, which used to be plentiful but are now much rarer. I was pleased last month to see a toad for the first time – in a compost bin I use for leaf-mould. Common newts turn up sometimes, often in winter when I find them between flowerpots or underground; their orange bellies are distinctive. I have seen grass-snakes but a few times only; I once found an egg in the compost heap. In 1980 the mammals included weasels, which frequented the stone wall lining part of my ditch, but it is many years since I have seen one. The garden was mainly mown grass when I moved here, so I have increased the variety of habitats, and the common is less kempt than it was then but, despite that, wildlife certainly has declined.

The dominant plant in the garden this month has been a large hornbeam, which I planted as part of a beech hedge in the 1980s. The beeches died but this tree persisted. It is midway along the northern boundary and visible from large parts of the garden and the house; since November has been a sunny month, it has been outstanding.


Hornbeam, Carpinus betulus

Oak, Quercus robur

A hedge on the western side includes an oak. I found it as a seedling when we first moved here: it was 15 cm tall and growing by a conifer. It was a novelty to me so I carefully transplanted it. Since then, oaks have become weeds and this year squirrels have been busy burying more acorns but the tree has looked glorious. Most flowers were killed by severe frosts on October 29th and November 2nd (with minor frosts in between) so I do not have late dahlias, etc. Even nerines and chrysanthemums were affected. However, leaves have provided brilliant colour, red coming from hardy geraniums.


Geranium dalmaticum

Nerines after frost, November 5th

Geranium macrorrhizum ‘Bevan's Variety’

My shade borders have more subtle interest. Polypodiums are now at their best: they are wintergreen and some are summer-dormant. Polypodium cambricum ‘Richard Kayse’ is one such but P. vulgare ‘Bifidocristatum’ and P. glycyrrhiza ‘Longicaudatum’ have been evergreen.


Polypodium vulgare ‘Bifidocristatum’

Polypodium cambricum ‘Reginald Kayse’

Polypodium glycyrrhiza ‘Longicaudatum’

The ferns are accompanied by Cyclamen hederifolium, their leaves enlarging through the month; I particularly like the elongated forms. Basal pulmonaria leaves have also been growing in November; the plant in the photo I showed in August and there is now a marked difference. Growth has been happening over the last month: early snowdrops have come and gone and, although we are nearly into winter, there is always something of interest.


Cyclamen hederifoloum

Pulmonaria ‘Julian's Findling’ 22.8.18

Pulmonaria ‘Julian's Findling’ 5.11.18

Margaret Stone

Posted by Margaret Stone

Vist Margaret's garden on one of the NGS open days.

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