Skip to main content


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

July - "I remember, I remember where I was used to swing, and thought the air must rush as fresh to swallows on the wing..." by Thomas Hood

Making progress with the cottage garden

July has been a month of mixed magic across Britain this year. The glorious summer weather has presented problems for many people while others have been in a good position to make the most of the outdoors. I've watched the hay and silage continue to be harvested around us and remembered tales my grandparents would tell of hay making in their day. I can still picture Grandad Bobby, with his scythe, mowing the grass along the edge of his orchard and me being told to stand clear!

In Lincolnshire there was, for many years, some division about the effectiveness of the scythe compared to the sickle. In the area known as the Wolds, the scythe replaced the sickle in the nineteenth century but, in the Fens, there was resistance. The sickle was used by women as well as by men. It required great strength to wield a scythe effectively. Of course there are some women who are able to use a scythe - but I'm not one of them! I tried when I was a Lincolnshire lass and I tried again with my son much later - and failed!

The image of Grandad by his cottage in Belton sticks with me though. He made it look as if he was slicing through meringue! And I can hear the swish-swish in my head even now. Every so often he would stop to sharpen the blade.

Hydrangea - my dad's favourite

Now I watch the tractor-led machines as they slice up the hay and leave it in neat lines along the fields. The farmer does that efficiently and most of us don't think about where the guinea pig's bedding for his sleeping quarters comes from. It's just another package in the pet shop. In the past, though, hay-making was a highlight of the year. Glorious summer weather to enjoy! I have a collection of photographs, taken by Peter Menzel and colleagues, which show families across the world, each seated outside their dwelling, with their possessions. It is notable that very few show evidence of tools such as sickles and scythes. One of my favourite pictures is of the Namgay family who live in Bhutan. They are a happy bunch but they have so little - a significant part of which demonstrates their involvement with the land. I'd accept their lifestyle over the Cavin family of America, with their spread of plastics and status symbols any day! But then, not everyone in America has the same lifestyle!

On Baillie Farm, men were cutting grass on 5th July and, on the 11th, we watched trailers going backwards and forwards on the Lythmore Farm road. Such a busy time for farmers! I wonder how they manage to attend the county shows in July. But they are all there - in their white coats - showing the high standard of their animals. Some of the animals are quite stoical about it - others are clearly displeased. I've never been able to accept leading a bull with a ring in its nose solely for the purpose of showing it. I know that cattle farmers have to be able to control their bulls and maybe the ring is the only thing that works for some but I don't like seeing them paraded around a ring like that. They look so frightened.

The show was a good day-out here in Caithness. It was great to see old friends and so nice to make new ones too. The weather was good - quite high temperatures for the far north of Scotland - and it was right to reflect on the reason for the show - a celebration of the agriculture and industriousness of the county.
Epworth County Primary School - and no doubt the church school too - were given free tickets for the schoolchildren to attend Epworth Show when I was a pupil there (1958-1964). It was smaller than the Caithness Show but a highlight of our year all the same. 

Summer is well and truly with us. The roads are filling up with tourists. The garden is an extension of indoors. We are still watching baby birds being fed by their long-suffering parents. Some of the little fluffy balls will grow up to be strong survivors but sometimes you can tell that a baby will struggle to reach maturity. It's very sad but I suppose the survival of the fittest supports the development of the species. Yesterday, at lunchtime, we watched a little sparrow hunched up and waiting to be fed by both parents. It didn't shout for food or move in any way and we were concerned for its welfare - but both parents were attentive and the little one flew away with them eventually.

A whitethroat has been regularly bobbing about in the Swedish Whitebeam. I think they are more often seen on cooler days but I don't know if that's a thing - or if that's because I'm more likely to be casually observing from indoors on cooler days.

Other exciting birds we've observed locally this month include a red kite near Golspie and a chough spotted by Keith up from the River Forss. The sparrowhawk has quietly and stealthily made a difference to the numbers dining at the feeding station and the siskins are quite reduced as a result. There are so many birds here and I am very grateful for both the numbers and the variety but one little bird which delights me all through the year is Bob Robin. He doesn't hang around much in the summer months but he keeps popping in to say hi! And I'm always glad to see him.

Although, further south, there have been high temperatures, here, in the north of Britain , the temperatures have been moderate for much of the summer. The fields of grain are ripening though and, in the garden, my little band of wildflowers is coming on very well - as are the roses. Roses have always been special for me. There were roses growing in all of the gardens which were my childhood playgrounds.

My East Halton pot filled with wildflowers from Jutta

Grandad Johnson, in Jeffrey Lane, Belton and, later, in Keadby, grew his roses in a precise military fashion. He planted standard roses in the middle of stone-edged squares which he laid out in a row along his front garden. I remember some of his roses - Piccadilly, Daily Sketch and Iceberg. In the corners of each square he had the same roses as the standard but the floribunda version.

Grandad Bobby, down Belshaw Lane, Belton, was quite a different rose grower. He let them tumble everywhere. The cottage was called Rose Cottage and there were pink and yellow roses growing up its old red brick walls.

When we lived in Aston House on Epworth High Street we had an archway of red roses in the garden at the back. Mum used to cut some and display them with white astilbe - they always looked stunning.
At present we're enjoying our roses at Stempster House. There are some real beauties - some standing alone and some cosying up to the garage and stone walls.

Gertrude Jekyll

The rose called Gertrude Jekyll is a stunner. It's an intense pink - large blooms with an old fashioned fragrance - and constantly flowering. I would recommend it. Another new rose we have here at Stempster is "Tottering By Gently". It's a relatively new rose and was introduced in 2018 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the weekly cartoon by Annie Tempest. It has the most delicate of yellow flowers and the friend who gave it to us for our summer birthdays knows well how to delight our family. There is a light fragrance but the wonderful charm of this rose is in the buttery lemon of the flowers and their exquisite simplicity of form too.


I've transported roses from the old town house - those which hold special meaning for me and which I was able to dig up without damage to their root system. Some of them are about to flower so I'll soon know what they are. There is one miniature rose with very bright-red flowers - I can recognise the buds on this one. A rose with beautifully shaped white buds has also survived transportation and relocation. This one was planted in memory of my school friend's lovely mum.

I didn't think I'd be able to bring any of my dog roses because the roots were quite big and well-established. However, one day near the end of winter, Lydia, Clemency and I had a go at getting the smallest of the four out - and succeeded! We were unsure as to the future of the dog rose but with a bit of love and a quiet prayer it's now growing up and out of the line of bushes into which I planted it. Lydia gave the dog roses to me some years ago because she knows how I love them. I would like to think that, when I am buried, the only flowers for me will be dog rose petals scattered on top of the coffin - or, if it's the wrong time of the year for roses, a scattering of pink and white tissue paper petals would be a reminder of the many summers I have thrilled to see the first wild roses blooming by the roadsides of my native Lincolnshire, Yorkshire and, later, Scotland. The other roses which are still in bud - and one which I grew from a cutting - have yet to renew my acquaintance! I shall know who you are shortly. You will have no secrets once you have opened your petals!

The wildflower border is doing very well just now. I was unsure whether or not my idea to dig small trenches around it to keep out the ground elder would, in fact, work. Well it has worked and I would recommend it to anyone. So, if you dig out a narrow and fairly shallow strip of soil around your patch, then check the trench every week and get rid of any ground elder that may appear - sneaky stuff is ground elder - then you will be able to maintain a delightful border - I used it to grow meadow flowers but you could use it for any collection. But don't be tempted to let anything at all grow in your trench - or you will have lost your look-out post!

Wildflowers flanked by cottage garden treasures

Between cleaning jobs today I had a little walk around the garden at the back of the house and thought I would do a bit of dead-heading. I was enjoying the scent of the roses when I became aware that a stone had started moving. I kept very still and looked down to my right. There was a blotchy toad slowly heaving itself up into the clippings by the wall. If it was in a hurry there was no hint of that. It's the same with the birds, the mice and the voles - they are not really afraid at all. I suppose the poor toad couldn't have hurried even if it had wanted to! They're not the speediest of God's creatures!

The Waking Garden

The morning dawned like paradise. I can imagine that millions of people over time have shared such a morning and think they have woken up in heaven! The gentle mist across the valley rolled up the hill to us and the summer sun squeezed through. The mist retreated and then, for a few brief moments, came back again. After a while the sun had gained in power and there was no competition. We've had some amazing mornings this summer - each one charged with hope. The evenings too are magical and, if I stay up late, I can see the bats flitting around the house and through the garden, across the fields in front of the windfarm narrowly - but always -  missing the wires along the road. A couple of nights ago we had a warm pink glow to the north at bedtime and, a little bit earlier that evening, when I opened the door for Orlando to go outside, I could smell that bonfire scent which you get at the end of summer. Slow down Summer - you're going too fast!

My friend, who lives by the riverside in Wick, has the most fabulous display of sweet peas. They are climbing up the front of her bungalow and trying to wreath their way into the bedroom window. How enchanting to wake up to that fragrance - a scent all of its own. I think that the scent of sweet peas has never been properly reproduced. I've been given a bottle but, although it's very sweet and pretty, I'm not sure how true it is to the smell of sweet peas.

Dot's sweet peas

Nature's like that! We can never quite get it right - it's always better not to try too hard but, instead, to enjoy what it is Nature gives us. And there's a world full of Nature to enjoy!

"Under the sweet-peas I stood
And drew deep breaths. They smelt so good.
Then, with strange enchanted eyes,
I saw them change to butterflies."
- from the poem "A Child's Vision" by Alfred Noyes


  1. Thank you, Susan, for sharing your delightful thoughts. It's been a treat to read as always. Your new garden already looks as if it has been there for years. It's a testimony to all your talents and careful planning.xx


Post a Comment