Saturday, 29 August 2009


These tiny loiterers on the barley's beard,
And happy units of a numerous herd
Of playfellows, the laughing Summer brings,
Mocking the sunshine on their glittering wings,
How merrily they creep, and run, and fly!
No kin they bear to labour's drudgery,
Smoothing the velvet of the pale hedge-rose;
And where they fly for dinner no one knows -
The dew-drops feed them not - they love the shine
Of noon, whose suns may bring them golden wine
All day they're playing in their Sunday dress -
When night reposes, for they can do no less;
Then, to the heath-bell's purple hood they fly,
And like to princes in their slumbers lie,
Secure from rain, and dropping dews, and all,
In silken beds and roomy painted hall.
So merrily they spend their summer-day,
Now in the corn-fields, now in the new-mown hay.
One almost fancies that such happy things,
With coloured hoods and richly burnished wings,
Are fairy folk, in splendid masquerade
Disguised, as if of mortal folk afraid,
Keeping their joyous pranks a mystery still,
Lest glaring day should do their secrets ill.

By John Clare

Small tortoiseshell butterfly and bumble bee on Tithonia rotundifolia.

Hover fly.

Bee on Eucomis.

Small tortoiseshell butterfly on Tithonia rotundifolia.

Fly on Eucomis.

Comma butterfly on Verbena bonariensis.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Living Two Lives.

Veg garden August 2009

It's Wednesday. Wednesday's mean work. I dragged myself out of bed this morning at 5am got washed and dressed, stuffed a few belongings in a bag, kissed Stilton goodbye and stumbled to the car. By the time I had managed to get moving the sky was beginning to brighten with pale pinks and mauves providing a prelude to the sunrise. I take the back lanes to Peterborough. It's a slow route, but I enjoy having the road to myself and seeing the wildlife at first light. The Fens stretch out before me, flat as far as the eye can see. All the wheat fields are reduced to stubble having been frantically harvested in the recent good weather. The newly harvested landscape reveals pheasants and partridges scratching around in the stubby fields with their broods of chicks. Cotton tailed rabbits dart around and the odd majestic hare can be seen leaping gracefully across the fields melting into the horizon. I stopped briefly to watch a barn owl hunting above a ditch. It swooped down and caught a small rodent with great ease, rested on a fence post with it's catch before seeing me watching it and taking flight with it's prize held tightly in it's talons.

By the time the golden sun was visible in my rear view mirror I had reached the city, it was starting to drizzle and I smiled at the rainbow peeking through the cloud and early morning drizzle. From here each week I leave the countryside behind me, travelling from South Lincolnshire into North Cambridgeshire, then Northamptonshire and finally Oxfordshire. A busy route filled with lorries and white van men driving six inches from my rear bumper. After a long drive and the usual 40-minute queue on the M40 in order to get the joy of reaching the Oxford ring road, I eventually reach work nestling in the middle of a busy commercial estate. I am worlds away from the quiet Fenland landscape and Tumbledown Farm.

Having downed my mug of strong black coffee I am ready for work and already engaged in a conversation about sampling for human parasite eggs on archaeological sites with the head of the Graphics department. Next I'm looking at the records of animal bones from excavations at Hampton Court Palace, reviewing samples from Roman remains at the London Gateway, dealing with Radiocarbon results from prehistoric skeletons in the Cotswolds and researching medieval high status diet in Oxfordshire. This is how the week will continue.

Yesterday was different. Yesterday I was free to roam Tumbledown Farm. I smiled at the goats as they snoozed in the sun, nibbled the apple trees and wondered why I was poking a camera at them.

Rosie and her mother Ruby keeping a close eye on me.

Baby April as usual was keen to get into the veg garden and wreak mischief. It doesn't matter that she has acre's of grass to graze, she is far happier nibbling her way though the string on the veg garden gate.

April making a bid to open the gate to the veg garden.

When I'm on the smallholding the cares of the world and worries of the working week seem to be a lifetime away. I've been particularly busy in the vegetable garden and although it is exhausting it really is so enjoyable. It doesn't matter that I ache from top to toe and covered with stinging nettle stings.

Vegetable garden August 2009.

It is my first ever vegetable garden. A project started at the end of February this year. The veg plot is organic and has a mind of it's own. I could have been one of those people that has their veg in neat, highly organised lines, but I'm not. I like to let things develop in their own way. Tumbledown farm has always been a free spirited kind of place. It's very wild and unkempt around the edges, but that is the thing I love most about it. It is in many ways a reflection of the way my parents have approached life and raised me. They have allowed me to discover things for myself, to wander around care free and barefoot and find my own way in life. That's why the Kiwi scrambling 20ft up the hawthorn tree in the goat paddock always makes me smile.

Kiwi in hawthorn.

I know it won't be to everyone's tastes, but I like to see things left to grow their own way. The courgette plants I sewed earlier in the year have sent 20ft runners in several directions across the veg plot, and although their monstrous tendencies did at first alarm me I have let them run their course. Now I just carefully step over them as they intersect the paths. Having this vegetable garden has been as much about being out of doors and enjoying the fresh air and freedom as much as producing vegetables for the house. It is my own personal escape.

I even let some of the weeds stay!
Plantain and hoverfly.

I've kept the plot organic and it's been somewhat over run by cabbage whites. They are fluttering about all over the place and leaving their children behind to play. I don't really mind though, you could say I was expecting them. That is why I planted a sea or nasturtiums.

Cabbage white butterfly.

Cabbage white caterpillars.

There are plentiful aphids too. But they seem to have enough predators to keep them under control. Over the last couple of days I have seen several ladybirds enjoying themselves, the veg area robin is never more than a few feet away and I've spotted some odd bugs lurking on the Sweetpeas chatting up the aphids.

Alien invasion!

Unknown visitor having aphid for breakfast.

The whole area is teeming with life. The flowers have been particularly beautiful this month. I have had several bunches of dahlia's and sweet peas for the house and the sweet summery aroma of the sweetpeas is heaven when I am working in the garden.

Vegetable Garden August 2009.

Gladiolus murielae

Hollyhock 'Creme de Cassis'

My gadioli are finally out and the hollyhocks are keeping the bees very happy. Yesterday I cleared one of the beds to make way for my baby leeks. I finished off the day with a tremendous haul of kohlrabi, cabbage, beetroot, potatoes, giant marrow's, french beans and runner beans.

Rich pickings! Yesterdays haul.

The whole time I am out there slogging away Stilton keeps me company. He snoozes on his Lloyd Loom chair occasionally opening an eye to check on me or he sits in the greenhouse waiting for trapped butterflies to cross his path. He never goes far.

Stilton watching a cabbage white in the greenhouse.

So as you can see I live a somewhat split life right now. I am loving every minute of it but sometimes I feel there just aren't enough hours in the day to get it all done, but each week holds a new adventure and that's what makes it all worth while.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Waving the Flag!

Mina lobata (Spanish flag)

I adore Mina lobata. It is just so vibrant, I am always drawn to it whenever I see it. I failed miserably to grow it from seed this year, but I will be trying again next year. I spotted these ones waving in the afternoon breeze at Peckover House Gardens.

White on White -Butterfly of the Week #2.

Cabbage white butterfly on bench in Peckover House Gardens.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009


As usual it's been a busy week. Everything is growing at an alarming rate. Tumbledown Farm is beset by builders and Ma Tumbledown is due in hospital at the end of the week, so tensions are a little high. The goats and cats are oblivious to it all and and the garden is buzzing with an unusually high number of hover flies this week.

Hover fly on chocolate cosmos.

Hover flies on Echinacea 'White Swan.'

Hover fly on cosmos.

Hover fly on fennel.

Hover fly on cow parsley.

The Tumbledown apple trees are growing heavy with a bumper crop of apples this year, much to the birds delight as they are always the main beneficaries.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Butterfly of the Week #1.

Speckled wood butterfly (Pararge aegeria) on Rubus Cockburnianus 'Goldenvale.'

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Get down on your knees!

Melianthus major

Over at Gardening Gone Wild they have been encouraging us to get down on our knees and take photo's of our gardens. So that is what I have done. Stilton and I went for our usual stroll around Tumbledown Farm this week and I got very muddy knees! I'm not sure I can pick a favourite shot; If I have to choose a plant related one then I suppose it is the one of a the honey bush leaves (Melianthus major) above although, I love the shot of my blue eyed boy in the old hay store the best.

Agastache 'Painted Lady'

Salvia muelleri

Salvia macrophylla

Salvia patens 'Guanajuato'

Salvia microphylla 'Hot Lips'

Ipomea 'Sweet Heart Purple'

Hover fly on Verbena bonariensis.

Dahlia 'Aloha'

Elderberry berries


Arucaria arucana

Raoulia australis

Sedum album 'Coral Carpet'

Sempervivum 'Jacquette'

Sedum sexangulare, Sempervivum 'Jungle Fires' and Sedum 'Lemon Ball'

My blue eyed boy in the old hay store.