Happy Easter from the Cosy Cottage residents! We are having an Easter break for a fortnight so will see you again on April 25. 🙂
I ventured out on another local walk recently, this time to a little patch of broadleaved woodland owned and maintained by The Woodland Trust. It’s called Clough Copse, a 3.95 acre site that is popular with dog walkers and joggers. Located in Fulwood, Preston, it sits amid steep valleys and is surrounded by a large supermarket and housing – yet when I’ve been there it feels as if urban and suburban life is many, many miles away.
According to the Trust, trees include oak, ash, sycamore, holly, beech, elder, hazel and cherry. It was the start of March when I visited so I didn’t notice any flowers but I’ve heard bluebells, dog’s mercury, and red campion can be seen here. The little stream flows towards Savick Brook, which can be seen in Highgate Wood, which I wrote about recently.
These little refuges are fantastic for wildlife, for flora and fauna, but they’re also vital for us humans to reconnect with nature and recharge our batteries.
A flashback to a previous blog post, written in 2017, when I first thought about adopting animals. At this point, I did not have any guinea pigs or chickens. Now it’s hard to imagine Cosy Cottage without them!
In 2015, I was all about the chickens. After seeing an article about ex-battery hens looking for homes, I could literally imagine them in my garden. My side garden wasn’t doing anything. It was just there, a spare piece of land filled mostly with stones or random plants, I knew not what they were. So that tiny plot was obviously waiting for my hens, right?
So I joined chicken internet forums, asked questions, made notes of the answers, bought books, became a regular visitor to Fulwood Library (great customer service, thanks Caroline and Chris!) read and researched, perused and contemplated. I saw images of poorly hens and dead roosters, articles on culling and roast chicken recipes, library book chapters on coops and breeds. My relatives told me about rats and smells and noise and neighbours who would report me for annoyances.
I attended jury service and bought a book one lunchtime from Oxfam about ultra-small smallholdings. Somehow during deliberation, among seriously talking about what verdict to reach, there was chat from jurors who knew people who had chickens. So many real people – that is people like me who had normal gardens, not acres – had them pottering about their patios.
For five months, I chatted about chickens.
In March, Simon asked me when I was getting them.
In May, he asked again. Had I got the garden ready for them yet?
Procrastination was in charge though.
I dithered because chickens seemed too ‘alien’ to me, too unusual. It felt like I would be giving farm animals a home rather than pets. I wasn’t a farmer. I shouldn’t have livestock.
And the pictures of poorly hens, queries about rats, criticism about smell… And then there was a case of bird flu not far from me! The last straw!) 🙁
So I rehomed Loco and Bugsy (I did not choose those names!) instead. Not hens, but two guinea pigs who are very endearing and cheeky, and were residing in a pet shop’s Adoption Section.
Loco, the black and white guy, thinks with his stomach and is a first class beggar. Bugsy, the punky red head, can be a tad irritable and reclusive (not as much now he knows there’s food around so it’s worth getting out there to see what’s happening!) but Loco is his best pal and he misses him when he’s not around.
I had guinea pigs as a child. I knew how to look after them. If you put in the time and effort, they’re pretty easy to care for.
2015 – the Year of the Guinea Pig. 🐹
Will there be a Year of the Hen? 🐔
A representative from Weight Watchers (aka me) decided it was time for a weight check on the residents of Cosy Cottage. Usually I do this with a glamorous assistant – well, Simon or my dad – but today I thought I would try it myself. Not an easy task when dealing with flighty chickens who mistake the scales for a sauce pan. But I got there.
So first the hens – all a healthy weight. How much they weigh varies throughout the year and even during the day. When they moult, if they’re about to lay an egg, illness, the season, even the time of day could have an impact. So as of February 2020, their respective weights were (in grams):
The guinea pigs are a simple matter in being weighed. They don’t immediately jump out or scramble out of the scales, which makes it easier to take photos too. Their weight tends to focus on how much they eat versus how much they move. Like humans really. It looked like Tom had lost a little weight and Tim had put some on but over 1,000 is a healthy weight so I was happy.
It’s a job I do periodically rather than regularly but it does give an idea of how healthy the animals are and whether they’ve put weight on or have lost it. The pigs seem quite nonchalant about the process but the chickens hate it. Which unfortunately means that it’s tricky to snatch a photo when they’re quite literally in a flap.
I’m sure they were having a celebration when they saw the back of the Weight Watchers rep leaving the premises while clutching the scales.
For many of us, lockdowns and travel restrictions have made us more aware of our immediate surroundings. Whereas in the past, going for a walk in the Lake District or Yorkshire Dales might be a common enough event for someone living in the north of England, at the moment there are restrictions and with it the fear of possibly being stopped by police for a ‘non-essential journey’.
So it’s been a time to stay local and this is when I realise that a city like Preston has a lot of little natural beauty spots, well hidden from the rest of the world. Today I visited Highgate Wood in the suburbs of Preston. Its entrance is on one of the main roads (Garstang Road) into Preston. Why I have walked past it on various occasions but never thought to pay a visit I do not know. But I’m here now. It’s not a large wood but it’s a very pleasant place to stroll, with Savick Brook flowing in the middle, paths either side and benches dotted around.
The woodland is located in Highgate Park, also the name of an old residence built in 1876 which was once situated here. A group of residents called The Friends of Highgate Wood look after the woodland.
I usually try to have at least one fitness challenge a year, as an incentive to get fit, as an adventure (see Chesterfield Canal), as something to look forward to… Of course, last year’s ideas of walking Lancaster Canal and climbing Ben Nevis ended up being pipe dreams. Even when my gym was reopened (for a brief period of a few months), I felt too cautious to return and so my fitness has deteriorated over the last year. But enough is enough. My fitness, my weight, my physical health, my mental wellbeing needs a helping hand and so it was that I came across a newspaper story about the charity Marie Curie looking for people willing to take on the Step into Spring Challenge.
Marie Curie cares for terminally ill people and their loved ones. The charity has nurses, hospices, a support line and a bereavement service. Marie Curie says:
We’re here to support everyone in the UK through all aspects of dying, death and bereavement – and to fight for a society where everyone gets to lead the best life they can, right to the end.Marie Curie
The challenge asks fundraisers to walk 10,000 steps every day during March. This can be in any way, whether walking up and down the stairs or doing a fitness class via Zoom or going for a local walk. It’s a tad trickier during lockdown as we’re not supposed to venture far for a walk. Oh, and then there’s the fact that I work from home at the moment so I can’t even walk to and from work.
So, interesting… I will let you know how it goes! Saying that, there have been various stories about fundraisers using initiative and resourcefulness to raise cash during lockdown, such as the 100-year-old Captain Tom who walked around his garden.
Here are some ideas:
- Walk the dog
- Walk to the shops
- Stepping while on the phone
- Stepping while watching TV
- Enjoying a local nature walk
- Walk with a friend
- Dance to some music
If anyone would like to sponsor or feels inspired to take part themselves, the web links are below. Maybe you don’t live in the UK or you have a different charity close to your heart, why not make your own Step Challenge for your favourite charity?
All my life I have wanted to learn the types of trees, to be able to identify them by their bark, their trunks, their leaves, their buds, their branches… To know their myths, history, ecology and more… I start off every new year with this unofficial resolution to learn my trees in the same way once, many years ago, I learnt my times tables.
But winter never seems a great time to learn once the trees have lost their leaves. Then by spring and summer, this resolution has fallen – like so many – by the wayside. And when it gets to winter again, and I embark on a frosty walk in the local woodland, once more I think “wouldn’t it be nice to be able to tell the difference between that tree and this tree?”
I love these majestic giants but how little do I know them!
So I will use this blog to act as an occasional tree journal to help jog my memory when it comes to learning about trees.
Once upon a time there were five seeds who each had the potential to grow up to become tall and handsome sunflowers. This was during a pandemic and a time when an entire nation was locked down; its population was getting weary and worried. But these five sunflower seeds had power. They had the golden opportunity to grow … And grow smiles on admirers’ faces.
So beginneth the tale of the Littlest Sunflower.
Back in April 2020, my friend Emma held a sunflower competition via a WhatsApp group called Battle of the Plants. We were all sent five sunflower seeds (I received mine on May 1) and a recording form and we took it from there.
There were ‘spot’ awards throughout the growing period and prizes for the tallest plants. Photographic evidence and vital statistics were needed. There was no entrance fee but a donation to our chosen charity. I met Emma while volunteering at The Monkey Sanctuary in Cornwall – a charity which would be desperately needing funds at this time – so I donated to them.
Contestants came from all over, Lancashire, Somerset, Devon, Wales, Portsmouth, near Heathrow. Romania was the furthest. There was humorous banter about the judges. Unfortunately Mr Titchmarsh declined the opportunity to join the judging panel but Charlie Dimmock’s brother Charles, along with Monica Don and Tom Attorney, joined the judging panel! 😉😂
One contestant started her sunflower’s life in a yogurt pot. Another had a M&S egg carton for hers. Then there was a milk carton, cut in half. I lovingly sowed mine in five colourful pots, trying to make sure I used proper compost so there would be no intruding weeds.
The first prize was for a seedling at least four inches tall. Some contestants’ seeds were doing well, with most sprouting. Others were still waiting for their first seedling. Like me.
Tips were given to fellow members such as: “I think mine were a bit dry and cold, have given them extra water and warmth and it seems to have done the trick.”
Some contestants got quite technical – and it paid off. The first spot prize went to “the lady who is using ‘aquaphonics and channelling the power of the super moon”.
There were disasters and near-disasters. Fellow contestant Linda told us: “I had to repot ours as we had a cat disaster. I carry them in from the conservatory at night when it’s chilly and put them on the kitchen window sill. Agatha our cat knocked them all down (on purpose I think). There were shoots everywhere and mud. I managed to find nine shoots from the carnage and repotted”.
And one day, lo and behold, I got seedlings! I happily sent a photo but was told that, alas, those pesky weeds had sneaked in after all and were busy posing as sunflowers. But these imposters were found out – their stems were too weedy to be sunflowers.
It was disappointing but I learnt a tip and that was to move the seeds further up, nearer to the top, so they wouldn’t drown.
But there was one seed which had promise, for this one had become a true sunflower albeit a tiny, feeble one.
All my hopes were on this guy now.
Other contestants boasted of great heights, already! Their seedlings were already growing up and getting moved out into the garden. Mine was a mere baby, still needing to be mollycoddled and even then ….
And even then a major disaster in June – my one hope, my only hope had snapped, breaking in two.
That was me out then. But kind Emma gave me another chance and I received five more sunflower seeds. Will these do any better?
While my five seeds started to sprout and grow, there was drama aplenty with the other flowers.
Some were murdered by slugs (Mr Dimmock recommends broken egg shells, cut hair or coffee grounds), others pelted by rain or blown by the wind. Mine were still indoors, carefully propped up in their pots with mini stakes.
My tallest was now 14cm. Then, like its predecessor, it snapped but its nearest sibling was now at 13cm. The smallest withered away but one continued to grow…
And then one day in the middle of October the little sunflower, the last one remaining of his siblings, woke up and started to flower.
A late bloomer indeed! Not long after, I received a certificate to celebrate my little sunflower!
When I was a child I read The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and, for a while after, I was convinced that one day, just one day, I may just pop into a magic wardrobe in MFI, or some other furniture store, and enter a magical world. (The wardrobes at home were disappointing to say the least). Unfortunately I never found this elusive wardrobe, or indeed Narnia. (I never found a way to visit the Care Bears’ Care-a-Lot either, childhood is full of disappointments!)
But a different sort of ‘magic’ truly exists, one that inspires us, thrills us, motivates us, makes us feel happy… Sometimes some of its ‘magical creatures’ may appear to be invisible as unicorns and when we eventually glimpse one of these ‘fantastic beasts’, it feels like a magical experience. So what is this wonder that heals our spirits and minds, that makes us smile?
Recently, I bought a copy of Rewild Yourself by Simon Barnes. Using the allegory of magic and the inspiration of fantasy stories, Simon Barnes explains in 23 chapters (or ‘spells’) how to make nature more visible. It’s a brilliant, easy to read, accessible book that would be perfect for those just getting into nature and inspiring for the well-established nature lovers. Each chapter feels magical – ‘We can make a magical transition from one kind of place to a completely different kind of place and do so, if not instantaneously, then certainly within astonishingly few minutes’.
And then there’s ‘so you can enter another country – the wild country – not through a wardrobe but by means of a Magic Tree. Enter, then, with joy. And after that, you can turn your mind to another spell’.
Yet along with this magical feel, thanks to Simon Barnes’ eloquent prose, each chapter has a handy practical – and often simple – hint to attract or discover wildlife. Do you have a pair of ‘magic trousers’ or have a ‘magic tree ‘ that attracts butterflies into the garden?
So while as an adult I know there’s little chance of finding a wondrous world at the back of my wardrobe, my garden on the other hand ….
Last autumn, Simon dug a pond in the newly cleared decking area of the garden.
The old pond, a large black container which was placed in the hens’ garden, had been dug out a few months prior. It was too deep, in an area which was sheltered with overhanging trees, hard to access or even see because of surrounding shrubs, and, perhaps worse of all, the chickens kept insisting on drinking from it!
The water had turned stagnant and smelt dreadful and I do not know what happened to the pond plants I had put in there a few years ago. The cobbles I had once delicately placed around had gradually slipped in over the last two years and there were no life forms living in or around this hostile environment.
So we took the large tub out, dug compost over the hole and relocated the pond – this time using a small (albeit heavy) sink. Duckweed and water plantain were planted in the pond and cobbles decorated the edges. It was all set and ready for wildlife to visit. In fact, a mere five minutes or so after completion, a little robin arrived and perched at the side of the pond as if giving his approval.
1. Wildlife loves ponds, whether it’s as a habitat or watering hole. In fact, I’ve heard that one of the best things you can do for wildlife in your garden is to dig a pond. For example, frogs are dependent on garden ponds as they need water to breed.
2. My first pond was in an awkward place, not helped by overhanging trees. Christine and Michael Lavelle suggest trying ‘to avoid a site that is shared by trees because they will not only cut out light, but their leaves will drop into the water, enriching it with mineral nutrients.’ This attracts algae in the warmer months.
3. There are three types of plants for ponds – oxygenator (for oxygen), deep-water aquatics (shades water from too much sunlight), and marginal/emergent plants (offers shade and cover for animals at the edge of pond. They are also used by dragonflies and nymphs to ‘crawl out’ and pupate).
Information taken from The Illustrated Practical Guide to Wildlife Gardening by Christine and Michael Lavelle.