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MARCH: “Pincushion moss growing in the crevices of a stone wall. A stretch of freshly turned earth, fingered over by frost.”

“Pincushion moss growing in the crevices of a stone wall. A stretch of freshly turned earth, fingered over by frost.”   From “Ten Delights of a Garden” - part of her book, “Through the Garden Gate” by Susan Hill. Flowering currant - almost there! In this March 2023 blog, I’m writing about a fortnight of very wintry weather! I take the journey from the first of the month to the sixteenth and I hope that the second half of March will see off Winter and welcome Spring! Maybe the weather is less wintry where you are? So where are the daffodils please? We have so much snow at present that ours have all disappeared. Socrates, my old pipe-smoking friend and Granddad-Bobby-lookalike, is slowly disappearing too. Even the topiary is up to its terrible knobbly knees in snow! I love snow but, frankly, I had hoped for that first mild day of March by now! Crystal ball photography To My Sister It is the first mild day of March: Each minute sweeter than before The redbreast sings from the tall

APRIL - “Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.” - Pope John Paul II (Karol Wojtyła)

Progress in the cottage (back) garden. Dinosaur topiary by Clemency.

I'm a little bit too optimistic about April weather. The word "April" conjures up a soft sweet warmth which may just be apparent on a couple of days - if you don't blink! I've always loved "April" as a given name - but none of our children was born that early in the year. That's the point really - it is still relatively soon after winter - which this year ended on March 20th. So Easter Sunday is on April 17th - the first Sunday after the first full moon (April 16th) on or after the vernal equinox.

Forsythia waking in the first full light of the morning

There is warmth in the sun though. When it shines it is already working its magic on living things. After a few days of cold, wet and windy weather, I check on the things I have planted - and there is no change. After just one day of warm sunshine, there are new buds on trees and roses, the clumps of herbaceous plants have increased in size and the centres of some seemingly dead plantings have tiny green shoots amongst the dry twiggy bits.
On the first day of April, it was cold at both ends of the day and the weather was wintry throughout - but it didn't stop the birds from gathering building materials. The next day we were down to - 0.6 in the early hours but the temperature rose quickly and we then had a good day for gardening. I planted my new Gertrude Jekyll rose which is my 2022 Mothers' Day present from Clemency. I've never had that rose before. The pictures are beautiful and it is a fragrant rose which makes it even more special. No perfume in a bottle can ever really match the fragrance of flowers.

We have been busy in the garden regardless of the weather. It was a rainy day when I started levelling the path edge to the cottage garden at the back. It's taken a few goes and I finished it on Palm Sunday in glorious sunshine.

Leave it out long enough and it becomes a planter!

My Granny Ivy used to take us for a walk up on "Hilltop" on a fine Palm Sunday. The purpose of the walk was to gather "palm". I simply loved those walks. They are amongst the happiest memories of my childhood. But - it wasn't really a hill top - and it wasn't really palm! We were walking along a carr - fenny woodland - in North Lincolnshire - and the land was a little higher before it dropped down to the small withering mere. So, "Hilltop" was the slightly higher land. And palm? Palm is the pussy willow which, being water-tolerant, grows well along the carrs of the Isle of Axholme. Today we have willows in our garden in Caithness and I feel the same delight I felt as a little girl when the sun plays on the yellow pollen and the bees drift from one tree to the next on an April afternoon.

Pussy Willow

The swallows and martins are on their way. They are somewhere between their winter quarters in South Africa and our flying-insect-rich islands in the North Atlantic where they will breed before returning in the autumn. They may have arrived further south but I haven't seen any in Caithness so far this year.
"Oh, how this spring of love resembleth
The uncertain glory of an April day!
Which now shows all the beauty of the sun
And by and by a cloud takes all away."
(William Shakespeare, "Two Gentlemen of Verona")

April in a nutshell! There is no telling how an April day will pan out! On Tuesday last week, Ginny, Orlando, Jess and I walked along the edge of the windfarm. I photographed the lambkins. The next day I walked with Clemency and Orlando - through flooded countryside.

Flooded burn with Clemency and Orlando

That night we had unholy weather and I lay awake listening to it - very worried that my fleecy new acquaintances would not survive the night. But I had a report from that day's dog-walkers and they saw no casualties. All through last week's bitter wintry showers, the birds just kept coming to the feeders and tanking up on niger seeds, nuts and mixed seeds. We had Bob Robin, chaffinches, sparrows, dunnocks, siskins, gold finches, great tits, blue tits and cole tits. The dove strutted along the wall and the blackbirds and thrushes scurried along the ground searching for titbits. They just couldn't stop and find a nice warm corner - they had to do what it is birds do in Spring. No time! No time!

Our neighbours

"Stay close! We get some odd types around here!"

We drove to the garden centre in Castletown and were relieved that they have restocked since our last visit. Judith has made a little raised bed where Clem has planted the alpines she bought there. The bed is just by the entrance to the house and really cheers up that area. I bought some plants too - I really shouldn't have - but I did. It isn't as if I don't have enough in the new border - and you'd think I would remember that herbaceous plants spread! I saw a pink astilbe, a reddish saxifrage, a mauve scabious and a red anemone - and I just knew that, come June, they will make the border truly zing! So there they are - settling in well so far.
As well as planting her collection of fruit - which is becoming quite impressive - Clemency has put in the onions. Her plan is to get the potatoes in on Good Friday - a day for quiet reflection and, in many areas, the traditional day to plant potatoes.

Clemency and Judith are using the soil which they are digging out to create a pond, to enrich other parts of the garden. The soil here is very good. The pond is an ongoing project and won't be ready any time soon but it is a useful source of topsoil!

There are so many jobs to do! The funny thing is that we don't feel overwhelmed. One of my favourite quotations is by Thomas Masson - 
"I believe in miracles. I have seen too many of them happen not to know they are true! And I think one of the greatest miracles is that, in a crisis, when we just do our best, and go even a little way with God, he always does the rest. It is almost incredible how he helps us when we start to help ourselves!"

Early morning, early Spring - with sheep

Because we love the world we live in - the planet, the country, our own little corner - caring for it comes as naturally as pulling back the curtains every morning. We find ways of making things work by getting started - making mistakes - trying again. Here we are, collectively, doing all that - and finding things we didn't expect. Our planet does appear to be in crisis at present but we are now aware of the changes we need to make.

It's a marvellous time of year for spotting changes.

A group of Whooper Swans flew over last week. I wonder if they were leaving their winter lodgings for their breeding grounds in Iceland. It's all-change in Britain now! Some birds are going and some of them are just arriving.

The swans may be noisy but nothing beats the pheasant for forthrightness. No refinement whatsoever! He just shouts at us! He is rather handsome though - with his stunning plumage and his endearing little tufts at the side of his head. Madame Pheasant has the advantage over her partner though - as she is able to blend in with her surroundings.

Our deer family - "The Roe Family visits The Crow Family" - continues to make us smile, both on the trail camera and in the flesh so to speak. We weren't looking for anything else in the deer line - but last week we saw, in the distance, as the farmland becomes moorland, a group of red deer. These are the first we have seen from Stempster. I know they are not everyone's friends but I think there is something quite majestic about them.

Shining through

Gorse, near where the deer live

When we pass through the garden gate into the little wood we have to keep an eye on where we tread. The hare spends so much time in there that we are afraid we will step on a leveret. Since we have a neighbourhood fox, I'm not sure leverets would stand much chance in there really. We still find feathers around the possible fox hole but we've never caught the fox actually going in there. I wonder if there may be another entrance which the fox will use if it feels threatened? This morning, though not early, the vixen was heard clearly from the garden.

The badger signs are more frequent at present. Their toilet area is filling up and, a little way along the path from this, running into the burn, is a small ditch with a muddy bank where claw marks are easily seen. The parallel wire fence has been pushed down from about half its height - at exactly the spot where the claw marks are obvious. And the really exciting news - Ginny spotted a badger print in our wildwood -  amongst pine needles.

It's painful to contemplate the cruelty in nature. I resent the sparrowhawk as it weaves like a fast bendy arrow through the trees in search of Little Blue. I'm very fond of the blue tits - they are such plucky little acrobats - and I don't like big things shoving around the little things - but I'm constantly being reminded that the sparrowhawk family needs to eat too. Yeah - whatever!!

April - T. S. Eliot's "cruellest month" - seems to me to be best thought of for its potential. Longfellow, in "April Day", is lyrical in his optimistic view of the month,

"From the earth's loosened mould
The sapling draws its sustenance and thrives.
Though stricken to the heart with winter's cold
The drooping tree revives."

And then there's Easter Day!  How powerful is that! For Christians, it's about the resurrection - choosing life over death. For everyone, it's about signs of life - new birth from a fully developed source - maybe the blossom on the blackthorn, a tree which can live and fruit for one hundred years, or maybe twins born to a ten year old ewe. Surprise!

Baby animals come in all shapes and sizes!

I loved, when I was young, that old people seemed to be very smiley on Easter Day. Smiles are so infectious and I soon understood the joy of it all. It wasn't the new coat I wore to the Easter service - first at Saint Andrew's in Epworth and, later, at All Saints' in Belton. It wasn't the chocolate eggs which were given to me by my grandparents. They were quite wonderful though!  It was the newness. The buds on the trees, the daffodils in gardens, the expectant parent birds sitting on their eggs. It works so well to celebrate life conquering death at the time of abundant rebirth.

Today is the first anniversary of our viewing of Stempster House.  Later, we are going to watch the video we took on that day. This has been some year! On that day our lives took on a new dimension. We've had some adventures in the past but this was something quite different. This is very much a shared dream with our adult children. Getting out of the car a year ago, our collective excitement was tangible and we wandered from room to room, and through the garden, under a spell! We had the sense that we just had to be the next custodians of Stempster House. And here we are!

Home at Stempster

This morning dawned grey and wet. I'm an early riser and I stood looking out from the kitchen to the other side of the valley. The River Forss is in the valley so it can't be seen from the house. It was under a pearly silver blanket of light rain and I thought of the benefit to the growing things in the fields and in the gardens. A female blackbird hopped into view, followed by her coal-black mate. They were looking for anything the rain had turned up. I spotted a jackdaw on top of a post, then two more flew across behind it. April rain is not going to stop them - they're on a mission!

Stop press! It's Good Friday morning and our regular diners have been joined by a brambling and the brightest redpoll you can imagine.

"You have heard it often, alone at your desk
In a green April, your mind drawn
Away from its work by sweet disturbance
Of the mild evening outside your room."
  - from "A Blackbird Sings" by R.S.Thomas


  1. Dear Suzy, this is an inspired and an inspiring blog. Your enthusiasm for nature and your surroundings is uplifting. We must all try harder to appreciate, as you do, the world arround us. Thank you xxxx

    1. Thank you Dolly. You are very kind. Hope you are enjoying your garden and the riverbank xx


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