Life is full of surprises and isn’t it heart-warming when they turn out to be lovely ones? I’ve been delighted to find all sorts of new volunteer seedlings popping up around the patch this week as if the garden is quietly taking responsibility for planting itself; I had to smile when I discovered nature had beaten me to it with everything from basil in the polytunnel to tomatoes in the mandala bed. A self-perpetuating garden and me redundant once again ~ perfect! Roger’s hedge-laying activities have thrown up several surprises, too, with the appearance of new wild flower species in the hedge bottom and the waxy white flowers of a medlar which is a real bonus as we had no idea it was there. One of my greatest sorrows when we moved here was the way in which so many mature trees had been abused in the past; there is a difference between pruning or coppicing carried out with care and skill, and the downright brutal chopping of large branches which in some cases has completely done for the trees in question. In a run of hazel hedge close to the house, there was a hawthorn ~ very old, given the girth of its trunk ~ that had nothing more than a bunch of twigs growing from the top; it was a sad sight and we weren’t sure it had much of a future but when he laid that section of the hedge, Roger left it to see what would happen. Well, nature has a way of healing when given even half a chance: last year, the tree put on healthy new growth but didn’t bloom, this year it is covered in flowers and what a wonderful surprise to find they are pink! For me, hawthorn is the essence of the season; it was late to flower this year but has certainly made up for it since with an incredible show of snowy blossom in our hedgerows. Now we have a pink beauty to add to the mix. It’s been well worth the wait.

Well worth the effort of laying those long runs of hedges, too. They are leafing up quickly and forming thick, dense bottoms which are precisely what all good hedges need. With the hazel no longer dominating the scene, the wider range of species is far more visible and I’m pleased to see dog roses and honeysuckles weaving themselves through the greenery. With wide margins of uncut grass left on either side, they form lush, green corridors that are full of life and offer the perfect travel routes for our resident wildlife; several times this week, we have both had to stop at a hedge gap while a huge grass snake made the crossing and continued along the hedge bottom, very likely en route to checking out the compost heap for voles and other goodies.

It’s amazing just how many flowers and grasses are flourishing beneath the hedges, the more closely I look, the more blooms there are to see . . . and some very interesting visitors, too.

Minstrel bugs are particularly fond of pignut flowers.

It’s our aim that eventually, all the boundary hedges will be as thick and abundant as these and after all the problems of last year, it’s a relief to see the young hedging plants we put in to plug gaps finally putting in some strong and healthy growth. Even in the spaces between the awful conifers on our eastern boundary, the hawthorn, hornbeam and beech are starting to make an impact, for which I am very grateful. I shouldn’t malign the conifers too much, I know they are good places for ladybirds to overwinter and there has been a goldfinches’ nest in one of them this spring, I shall just like them more when they are diluted with deciduous natives and (hopefully) blend in as part of a mixed hedge rather than a ridiculous row of dark pillars.

Unfortunately, the internal hedges we planted to add structure, break up the spaces, protect the potager and screen the polytunnel (essential but ugly!) haven’t fared so well. They are a curving eclectic mix of native trees, flowering shrubs and ‘edibles’ which really should be making a positive impact by now but they have been struggling badly on two counts. First, last year’s heat and drought created more stress than such young plants could cope with and despite Roger’s valiant efforts with seemingly endless buckets of grey water, all struggled to grow and some died. How can it be such a battle to establish willow, it’s normally impossible to stop the stuff from growing? Added to the weather issues, the far too regular attention of visiting hares and roe deer and their frustrating habit of eating the tops out of everything ensured that even the plants that had managed to grow were pruned right back to where they started so that we’ve had to make guards for pretty much everything in the hope it will give them a fair chance. We’re also continually lifting tree seedlings that we find around the patch, putting them in as replacements when necessary and also spreading them around in the hope of creating small woodland areas. Like our former Welsh smallholding I wrote about a few posts back, my vision for this property is that eventually there will be living and growing spaces in the middle of a beautiful woodland. We just need the weather and wildlife onside!

Young birch tree grown from a found seedling.

One hedge that is certainly doing the business this spring is the white-should-be-red rosa rugosa curve around one end of the flower garden; there’s still some way to go but with the cardoons looking very enthusiastic on the other side and the little shrubbery starting to fill out, I can almost believe this will mature into the enclosed, more intimate space I had planned. From the western end, it’s impossible to see over the roses now apart from little glimpses of colour here and there and once the honeysuckle and rose have scrambled up the trellis Roger has built at the entrance, there should be an ever-growing feeling of going into a special space. All I need now is to organise a seat for quiet contemplation amongst the wild blooms and insects.

Establishing any kind of living structure in a garden is a game of patience, we just have to sit back and wait for nature to work its magic. The fruit trees we have planted are growing well and some of them even have tiny fruits on this year and several clematis and climbing roses are at last beginning to make colourful screens. Roses round the door might be a bit of a cliché but they’re a very beautiful one and look just right against the soft stone walls of the house. Roger spent hours last autumn unravelling an ancient wisteria growing in a tangle of hedge and pulling the branches out and over a trellis and a post and wire fence; it has only ever had a small handful of flowers on each spring so we weren’t sure what to expect but it has been absolutely gorgeous for several weeks and full of bees, particularly the blue-winged black carpenter bees who seem especially attracted to it. Hopefully, the wisteria will go from strength to strength now and enjoy mingling with a couple of climbing roses we’ve added for good measure.

Of course, structure isn’t just about height and hedges. Creating a pond has been one of our slowest projects ever thanks to various factors but at long last, we have just about done everything we can as finally, new season’s aquatic plants became available from a specialist nursery last week. We have planted a mix of floating, oxygenating and marginal plants, all native species including frogbit, brooklime and bogbean; they look a bit stark in their planting baskets but they should grow pretty quickly through the summer and provide an enriched habitat for a wider diversity of species. I was very excited to see what at first I thought was the silvery flash of a newt’s tail in the oxygenating weed but it turned out to be a great diving beetle larva, a voracious predator with a fierce pair of jaws which looks like something straight out of science fiction. I’d forgotten just how fascinating pondlife can be! The idea behind the location of the pond is that it sits at the far reaches of a wild patch, hidden from view by high vegetation (including a mixed willow hedge if it ever happens) and the hump of a hügel bed which creates a rise in the land. It’s something unexpected, a little gem to be discovered . . . I believe gardens should be full of surprises!

Floating frogbit

Libraries, too. I was a bit crestfallen to see the ‘natural gardening’ display in the local library had been taken down last week as there was one particular book I’d seen on my first visit but hadn’t been brave enough to borrow (is it a British thing, feeling nervous about removing items from a display, I wonder?). Accepting that I’d missed my chance ~ I think the books had all come from elsewhere ~ I started to look around and lo and behold, there was the very book sitting all alone on a table, still available for borrowing. In actual fact, it’s a very weighty three manual tome of which I am probably only likely to make it through the first book as my reading in French is a bit slower than in English. It’s ‘Vivre avec la Terre’ by Charles and Perrine Hervé-Gruyer of the Ferme du Bec Hellouin, whose book ‘Miraculous Abundance’ is one of the most inspiring I have ever read.

One of the things I love most about these authors is their unfailing sense of optimism; they have such a positive, can-do attitude towards a future of regenerative farming and food production, sylviculture, strong local communities and abundant biodiversity in a world no longer reliant on fossil fuels. It’s the sort of uplifting read I’ve been in need of this week. Despite strong winds, the fields of wheat and maize around our property have been sprayed several times in the last couple of weeks, filling the air with the stench of noxious chemicals. Worse, when we were planting the pond plants, the farmer came round on his quad bike spraying the vegetation in the hedge bottom on his side of the shared hedge; the smell was so strong, we had to abandon planting and move away until the air had cleared. He repeated it the next day, so that every blade of grass and wildflower on his side are now dead. On Monday, I walked a short way along the lane to take pictures of the verges which were a stunning show of wild flowers, especially the carpets of various species of orchid; the next day, a tractor came through and mowed the lot off. Mmm, that was a surprise of the less welcome kind.

This I suspect is on account of the Tour de Mayenne cycle race which is passing along the lane on Friday as the same tractor has been back sweeping every inch of the road several times since. I suppose I should feel a sense of honour or excitement about the event and I have no doubt it’s all being done in the name of safety but a huge part of me is grappling with a mix of frustration and sadness at what is going on. How many more reports do we need to see about habitat loss, decline in biodiversity, endangered and extinct species, the serious and alarming fall in insect numbers, the dangers of pesticides, herbicides and synthetic fertilisers and the destruction of topsoil before we apply some proper joined-up thinking and start doing the right thing for everything, not just the human species? It’s so easy to think our own efforts are futile but then, what’s the alternative? I refuse to stop trying to make at least a small difference and I know we are not alone; traditional hay meadows like the one in the picture above are disappearing locally, but where they still exist, they are full of an abundance of biodiversity and life.

Our ‘wild’ garden.

My favourite cheese comes from an organic farm a few kilometres away where Montbéliarde et Normande cattle graze in fields like these and we buy pork from a similar enterprise where high animal welfare and respect for the environment are key principles. This holiday weekend will see many outdoor markets where small producers will be selling sustainably-produced local foods of the highest quality. Like Charles and Perrine Hervé-Gruyer, I don’t blame farmers per se for what they do, they are cogs in the vast machine of industrial agriculture driven by the growth mantra I’ve talked about before; they’re trying to make a living and feed the nation, after all, and it’s all too easy to paint them as the baddies when the picture is far more complex than that. The authors point out that numerous farming practices and attitudes remain based on the ideas of fifty years ago arising from the post-war Green Revolution, and that many French farmers simply don’t have the opportunity to learn about different approaches and how food could be produced in ways that are kinder to the environment (and the farmers themselves!). I’m in no way qualified to offer solutions but it is my greatest hope that things will change and that there will be the education, support, encouragement and positive attitude needed to bring that about, not just in the agricultural sector but society as a whole. Great to have cycle races, but all the fossil fuel being burned in its honour ~ we are braced for hundreds of support vehicles and several helicopters! ~ seems a bit ironic, somehow. In the meantime, we will carry on doing our bit and appreciating all the joy that our precious patch of land brings. This morning’s headline: the first courgettes are ready for eating. Now there’s the kind of surprise I like. 😊

24 thoughts on “Surprises

  1. Wow, what a transformation! Never seen a pink hawthorn before, beautiful. And I see you’ve got some Solomon’s seal so you can try the shoots next spring. All these sporting events have shocking carbon footprints, grrr. I feel your pain about your neighbour’s practices, so frustrating and infuriating.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There are a couple of huge pink hawthorns along the road to St P and every time I’ve seen them, I’ve thought how lovely it would be to have one ourselves . . . so I’m a tiny bit pleased about that! 😊 Yep, all so frustrating but after an enormous rantfest, I have to put my positive head back on and focus on what we’re doing. I’m actually planting the tomatoes out today, it’s cloudless skies and not a drop of rain in the forecast so I think we’re OK on the blight front. 🤞 Slightly worried about the possible beginnings of another drought, though. 😥


  2. Hi Lis,

    I’m sorry I can’t keep up with reading your blog (or writing my own), but a quick scroll through your images shows me a super lush and colourful piece of land buzing with life. And that, just made me smile. So, thanks ^_^

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re very welcome, Marita! Don’t worry, your blog space will wait for you (and your avid readers will, too 😉),I imagine you are very busy in your lovely new garden. Hope all is well in Galicia and you are having the weather you need!

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      1. Oh yes, the garden and weather are lovely. I’m finally starting to see what is working well and what needs to be adapted. Long mornings and afternoons of just observing – it’s a pleasure!

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  3. I’ve always believed that doing something is better than handwringing and waiting, and small actions add up. I think gardeners have an real opportunity to make a difference both protecting wildlife and biodiversity, and in fighting climate change. We’ve built a pond too, so far only common diving beetles, a pond skater and a lot of mosquito larvae but planted with natives so maybe we’ll get some amphibians or damselflies when it’s better established. I think your garden looks wonderful and full of life, don’t get discouraged. 😊

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    1. Thank you! 😊 Yes, I totally agree that gardeners are very empowered and all those green spaces add up to so much. It doesn’t even take a lot of effort and I hope that when others see what we’re doing, they’ll be encouraged to join in. Your pond will be such a magnet for your girls with all the life it’s bound to attract! I’ve just spent a couple of hours planting out tomatoes, listening to the birds and endlessly distracted by the busy insect life around me . . . it’s the very best therapy, I think!

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      1. Couldn’t agree more. We live in the middle of a city and yet we have a garden full of birds, insects and even the odd wandering hedgehog. It’s my little oasis of calm in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the city.

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  4. So lovely! Nature always wants to thrive, and when we let it we are both amazed and delighted!
    I love volunteers. When I had my very large kitchen garden when the kids were small, we always found pumpkins growing from our compost pile! Usually, there were just enough for jack-o-lanterns and the odd pie!

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    1. I think anything that decides to grow of its own accord is welcome! I also think on a more serious note that these tough pioneering survivors are the very ones I should be saving seed from, they obviously thrive in our conditions so it makes sense to encourage them. What’s really strange is that I planted 10 melon plants in the tunnel all grown from saved seed and suddenly what looks like another has appeared on its own through the mulch, right in the middle of the patch as if it knew. It’s possibly a cucumber but whichever, it can stay as it looks very happy to be there! 😀

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      1. Don’t you just love those bees? 🥰 I’m hoping one of my volunteers might turn out to be a cross between the Glossy Rose Blue cherry tomato I grew last year (pretty but a bit tasteless) and Black From Tula which has the most amazing flavour . . . that would be the most perfect grazing tomato ever!

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    1. Yes, I struggle to find a sense of peace in much of what is going on around us but sadly, it’s not unusual. However, I hope that what is happening within our boundaries is positive, nature is without doubt the best teacher. 😊


  5. Oh, you two are doing lovely and important work! I’m still surprised that people find that growing grass (and mowing it, and spraying it, and fertilizing it…so much work for…grass, which serves virtually nothing in the environment) is their place of pride. I am doing my part by planting gardens for biodiversity, and talking about it when I get the chance.

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    1. Yes, the lawn obsession is quite something, isn’t it? We are experimenting this year with leaving large swathes uncut at different times of the year, then scything for hay. It’s fascinating to see how many different plants and flowers emerge when given the chance. Talking about what you are doing is so important and hopefully will encourage others to have a go ~ keep spreading the love! 😊


  6. Beautiful work you are doing with your “piece of earth”🙂. I totally understand your frustration with the things you have mentioned. We will soon be entering rice planting season- one of my favorite times. The fields are flooded and an amazing array of wildlife moves in. It’s so beautiful here….
    And then one day as the rice is growing and frogs are croaking…. The farmers show up with their tanks of pesticides and begin to blow streams of it all across the fields. It’s so darn frustrating. so we continue on trying in our own ways to do better.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Like you, we’re trying our best! 😉 It seems things are the same the world over and you have to wonder why but you’re right, we just have to keep trying to do better. If we end up being a green oasis of life and biodiversity surrounded by industrial agriculture, then so be it. Apart from anything else, I think we get to have more fun! 😊

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