Thursday, 27 March 2014

Forest Ponies on a Cold Morning

On a recent chilly morning, I looked outside over the fence to see a little group of New Forest mares. Grass is beginning to grow again, but their winter diet of gorse and holly had brought them down to the old field hedge, to find holly leaves for breakfast.

The grey mare was right down in the ditch and rooting around in the undergrowth.

A return to colder winds and rain has delayed the coming of spring. Most of the trees on the hill are still bare and light catches the greens of lichen on branches of old wilding crab apples.

This group of young mares have been together since they were naturally weaned. I think they are rising four this spring. Non of them seem to be in foal, which is a relief as there are too many unwanted foals each autumn during these recessionary times.

The mare below is a niece of our New Forest pony Woody and her colouring and facial markings are similar. She also shares his friendly, inquisitive nature and came over to see me for a while.

She is growing a moustache to help her to cope with eating gorse, holly and brambles.

Life can be tough for the New Forest ponies, but this group of "Girls" are doing well after the return of a cold Blackthorn Winter.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Homes for Wildlife in a Forest Garden

Last summer we had builders here for months, replacing an old tumble-down outbuilding, and doing some roof repairs on the house. When they had finished and gone away, Mr DW used some of the left-over tiles and wood to make a wildlife hotel. He based the design on several that we had seen on wildlife websites, trying to make a shelter that has numerous nooks, crannies and hiding places for insects and maybe small mammals or birds. 

It still needs two more ridge tiles on the roof, but it seems to have kept dry inside, despite the relentless heavy rain of this winter.

Most of the holes and tunnels were filled with natural material such as hay, straw, dry autumn leaves, sticks and pieces of bark. Horse hair and moss were added so provide warm bedding.

Wild rose hips, crab apples, acorns and chestnuts were scattered inside to provide food.
Upturned flower pots may give a home to some small creature.

Hopefully the narrow gaps between these tiles might be a place for a chrysalis to hide.

This garden is on the edge of New Forest heathland and would become a wilderness if left to nature. Seeds from Forest trees would drift in and germinate.

We try to compromise. Nature is encouraged and there are plenty of "wild flowers in the wrong place".
Ground elder is the only plant that we have to work really hard to control. It drives Mr DW mad.........!

Over the winter, leaves are left under some trees so that birds can root around to find insects and earthworms. Blackbirds, thrushes and starlings love this area underneath the liquid amber tree.

In wild corners of the garden there are several piles of old logs and branches rotting away. This pile has been here for years and we have seen stag beetles nearby.

Under the fence beside the yard there are several rodent holes this spring. Probably mice. We do have shrews, pigmy shrews and voles in the hedgerows.
Old mouse holes are valuable nests for some species of bumble bee.

A dead hawthorn by the pond has supported honeysuckle and ivy for some years. Sadly, it all fell down in the Valentines Day Storm.

The partially hollowed trunk will be good insect food, so we need to find an unobtrusive place in the undergrowth for the old tree to rot away and still be useful.

The raised vegetable beds need sorting out for replanting, but over the winter we left some areas fallow.  A few overgrown courgettes have provided food for mice and insects. Some teasels have stayed over winter and the seed eating birds have loved them.

A few years ago, a large conifer fell over in a storm. Some of the logs were used to make a log wall. The old boundary hedge above it is a mixture of hawthorn, holly, bramble ivy and honeysuckle. This hedge is always full of birds, whatever the season. Blackbirds and thrushes perch to sing in the overhanging oak and a family of sparrows gathers to cheep and chatter.

Ivy grows in most of the hedges and both its flowers and seeds are valuable to wildlife.

It has been a chilly start to spring over the last two days, but a few early flowering plants are in bloom.

Flowers  give nectar to butterflies and bees, while the hazel catkins are a feast for blue tits.

The tightest tree buds are beginning to swell and early willows are showing green leaves.
Even when the wind blusters cold again and rain showers blow in, the sight of bright garden flowers lifts the spirits. It has been a long, wet, grey winter here. Watching the birds begin to nest and butterflies visiting flowers has been a very welcome sight.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Spring Comes to Kingston Lacy

Sunday was a warm, bright day and perfect for another visit to Kingston Lacy, the National Trust`s house and park near Wimborne, Dorset, that was originally the home of the Bankes family.

The snowdrop display was almost over.

Our two little Granddaughters and their Mum joined us for the walk.
So did Upsy Daisy.

Snowdrops were going to seed while primroses, aconites and crocuses were at their loveliest.

We walked through the walled garden....... find that several long established trees were missing in the park. The wild storm of Valentines Night felled some of the finest old trees. The remains have been cleared to leave space for new planting.

An oak is holding up its neighbour that was uprooted in the storms.

Some of the oldest trees in the wood seem to have survived.

Along the woodland walk, snowdrops have given way to drifts of daffodils.

Celandines were giving nectar to a newly hatched comma butterfly....

...and a shiny green fly.

A Brimstone butterfly was feeding, camouflaged on the right of this clump of primroses. 

We passed striking green bamboos.......

.....near the Japanese Garden.

....and walked back through the wild wood, where camelias were bursting into bloom in the unexpected sunshine.

Across the woods, a faint pale sheen of silvery green showed that leaf buds were ready to open for another spring.