Outside the Backdoor

Observing what can happen in your own garden even in suburbia!


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Now the holly bears a berry …

It’s already looking rather festive outside our front door and has been for several months since our holly decided that it was going to produce an impressive crop of berries this autumn!

Holly bush

Holly bush (c) Elizabeth Malone

When it comes to the run up to Christmas, I confess to being a bit of a Scrooge, grumpily commenting on any pre-Advent lights and tutting at any tree decorated before the 1 December. I will enjoy putting up the Christmas decorations when it’s time but ‘time’ as far as I’m concerned is not until the middle of December. In the meantime, I will continue to enjoy the natural decorations adorning the garden and this autumn seems to have been particularly fruitful.

“Now the holly bears a berry as black as the coal” according to the Cornish Sans Day Carol but I can’t help wondering if they really meant Sarcococca? Although you could never sing that in a carol! But ours have been turning from a strange mix of red and black into dense shiny globules over the past few weeks.

Sarcoccoca

Sarcococca berries (c) Elizabeth Malone

Meanwhile our cotoneaster berries are being raided by the birds. You can’t blame them really and the warm red glow must surely be an open invitation to come and feast?

Cotoneaster berries

Cotoneaster berries (c) Elizabeth Malone

When it comes to feasting, we had a lovely surprise last weekend when John discovered a small, very late crop of autumn raspberries. In fairness, they weren’t the most flavourful or the sweetest of the season but we still appreciated this last hurrah of home grown produce this autumn.

Raspberries

Raspberry Autumn Bliss (c) Elizabeth Malone

A few weekends ago we spotted fruit of rather a different kind when this rather spectacular ‘fairy ring’ appeared on the lawn. I’m afraid we had to capture it quickly in a photo and then remove it for fear of an over-inquisitive cat taking a nibble – it’s happened before with most unpleasant results! I am no fungi expert so am happy for anyone to tell me what they are.

Toadstools

Toadstools on the lawn (c) Elizabeth Malone

And finally, a reminder of the heady days of that scorcher summer we had. Our olive tree has, not one, but two real olives on it! This happened once before when they summer temperatures were just enough to convince the tree it was perhaps living in the Mediterranean after all. That said, I don’t think I’m going to be celebrating my own bottled olive oil any time soon!!

Olive tree

Black olive – just one! (C) Elizabeth Malone

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Dark at breakfast, dark at tea

"The Advent wind begins to stir
 With sea-like sounds in our Scotch fir,
 It's dark at breakfast, dark at tea,
 And in between we only see
 Clouds hurrying across the sky
 And rain-wet roads the wind blows dry
 And branches bending to the gale
 Against great skies all silver pale ..."

John Betjeman’s Advent 1955 is one of my favourite poems of the season.  I don’t have a Scotch fir but I do overlook the tall poplar trees along the railway line and they certainly bend in the gale, their skeletal forms looking particularly wintry against the early morning skies.  But it’s that “dark at breakfast, dark at tea” line which for me sums up the essence of this time of year outside the backdoor.  It’s the fate of the working gardener.

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As I head off to work at 7:30am, it is just getting light and I am sometimes treated to spectacular sunrises as I approach the station.  By the time return at 6.00pm it has already been dark for a couple of hours.  Closer to Christmas, the walk home is brightened by the various lit decorations and last year I found myself running my own ‘best door wreath’ competition in my head!  However, this means that I don’t see the garden at all during the week and my first view outside on a Saturday morning can be quite a revelation!  For example, the sudden realisation that the winter clematis is in full flower or that some over-eager bulbs have started to shoot.

Over the past 6-7 years, we have ensured that we plant winter flowering shrubs near the house so that we can easily catch a glimpse of them either from the dining room on a cold / wet day or see them illuminated by the glow of the Christmas lights.  For the last two winters, I have made a deliberate effort to plant a large pot with a winter flowering display that will catch the light, using pale cream or lemon violas, white hellebores and either silver or gold leaved ivies, avoiding anything with dark petals or dark leaves that won’t reflect what light there is.  I’ve positioned it beyond the kitchen window so that it catches some of the light from the house when we’re cooking.

I will also enjoy the moment when we can head outside to decorate our Christmas tree which has been sitting in its pot all year waiting for its moment of glory.  It’s grown a lot this year, entertaining us with its bright green shoots in Spring and growing by at least six inches!  We started this tradition of an outdoor tree on the patio when our cats were kittens but now it’s become a habit and we actually rather enjoy having the tree outside and the way its decorations sparkle in the winter sunlight or twinkle away as the wind causes the branches and lights to quiver.  We will also weave white lights around our olive trees on the patio and through the hawthorn, although this might be a bit of a challenge this year as we’ve just had the hawthorn pruned back quite substantially which, in itself, is letting more light into the house.

I am the first to admit that I am quite a fair-weather gardener so I would be lying if I said that I am looking forward to the long Christmas holiday so that I can get out into the garden and do stuff but I always hope for a few dry days in the run up to Christmas so that we can raid the garden for Christmas greenery without the need to dry it off before bringing it indoors.  Any holly that has real berries will decorate inside whilst holly, ivy and laurel will make up some swags to adorn our side gates.

However, I am looking forward to the long holiday as it will enable me to be at home in the daylight so that I can really appreciate what is sitting just outside the backdoor.  I will enjoy sitting in the warm looking out at the active birds flitting between feeders.  If it’s mild, I may even spot an occasional bumble-bee seeking food amidst the clematis flowers or ivy, and like many of you I’m sure, I will sit mulling ideas of things to do in the Spring!