A self-set Buddlea has grown in front of the garage door. We've tried everything to move it. We dug out all the roots that we could find. When that didn't work - with the alternative being to dig under the floor of the garage - we hammered copper nails into its roots. Still, it refused to die.

Or did it.

Last year it was the colour of a common Buddlea. This year it is the purest white. I think it's a ghost.


This year in the yard.

My first view of what would be the Night Planted Orchard was not auspicious. The front yard was an expanse of dirty, crunchy gravel designed to park multiple vans and protect them from marauding brigands. There was not a living thing in sight. Within a few weeks the decrepit fences had mysteriously fallen down, all on one windless day.

From its position, we guessed that the yard would get little light. We decided to plant a Tombstone Rose to soften the Stalinesque front and hide the miss-matched brickwork in the extension. As we repaired the fences we removed several large peices of concrete which had to lay where they wished. We planted a few herbs around them, scattered some seeds and left it to its own devices while we coaxed the Night Planted Orchard from its long sleep. We were wrong about the light, and under the gravel is fen soil, rich and unused. Water drains through the yard and because there is a steep drop on one side, it doesn't hang around, but it's not completely arid either. The weeds that sprang up in the first year should have been a clue.

The Tombstone Rose established itself in a season. Perhaps its closeness to the lair of the Water Spirit has something to do with that and now it smothers one wall with relish. I have to prune it three times a year to keep it going onwards and upwards. I could say that the rest of the planting was slow to establish. But that would be stealing credit. The yard self-seeds like nothing on Earth. Indeed, sometimes I think tiny plants rain down from heaven when we're not looking and establish themselves overnight.

Over the years this self-perpetuating garden has grown like a child that you meet once a year. One year it's tiny and inconspicous. The next it's feisty and running around. The next time you see him he's filled out and is a rugby player. So it is this year in the yard. Amongst the ferment, a couple of pretty little Silver Birches set themselves in altogether inappropriate locations. We decided to move them to somewhere more fitting. So it was that I found myself sitting among the growing gravel garden, trying to persuade roots out from under the garage. The Hunter came snuffling about and was surprised to find me hiding among the plants.


I realised with a certain amount of shock that the plants had spread enough in height and width to provide me with a hiding place. I am not a small person. What's more it had integrated itself into some coherent whole. It had 'clicked'. I was surrounded with Lavender, Rosemary and a stray Buddlea. Thyme crunched under my hands. Poppy heads caught my eye as I sat and the tall spires of Salvia spread all around me. In the heat the scent was strong and muscular, a genuine herbal immersion. California Poppies line one wall. Welsh Poppies brought from our old garden flourish. A couple of Nigella have popped up by the water butt. Grannies Bonnets nod everywhere. The Banksia is now in full flower, a solid wall of tiny cream blooms. it occurs to me that we have never had a garden where plants self-set so abundantly and in series, year after year. My usual experience is that one year's planting brings a second, smaller flush the next. Here each year doubles the number of plants. The self-setters don't creep, they detonate.  Lady Snoutingdingle resolutely pulls up all the Forget-Me-Nots when they finish every spring and every year they come back. Even the Winter Flowering Jasmine, a plant I see in my mind's eye as a tangle of ugly bald branches for most of the year, looks lush and comfy against every wall. We have two pots of sedums and even they have self-set in the gravel, spreading like a lime-green foam. I laid back among the herbs and let the Hunter snuffle sloppily at my chin. Content. 

When I returned to the house, Lady Snoutingdingle sniffed my herb-washed jacket and said that she was inspired to make pizza. The Hunter wagged his approval.


The Bashful Demoiselle 

Our Cornish hideaway has acres of immaculate grounds, including some fast flowing streams left mostly to nature. I'd hoped to photograph a Silver Washed Fritillary but a kerfuffle high in the trees distracted me. A squirrel, ever hopeful, flushed a pair of tawny owls from hiding - or perhaps it was the other way around. I followed them into the trees, looked up and saw a beautiful demoiselle perched in the sun on a chestnut leaf. It was an immature male, its wings still coppery but its body was the same metallic blue.

The Night Planted Orchard is home to a few Banded Demoiselles, which I consider to be our most beautiful native creature. They prefer the slow, sluggish waters of The Fens. The Beautiful Demoiselle, on the other hand, prefers faster flowing waters, preferably with few nutrients. It's always nice to set eyes on a new creature, especially one as beautiful as this.


Velvet Snoutindingle's Old Nut Sack

Roger will not be rushed. If you try, for example, to give the Night Planted Orchard a quick mow because of rain followed by warm sun and you are about to leave for two weeks well earned rest, he will not co-operate.

It's my own fault. On removing Roger from his shed I discovered an old nut lying in the grass. It was worn and rusty and could have lain there for years. I should have known. I put the nut on a shelf and proceeded to mow the top half of the garden which is not an orchard. Yet. There were no incidents other than the usual blocked chute due to a particularly thick blade of grass, or forgetting that mowing in reverse causes Roger to sulk. No wheels fell off. There were no punctures. Roger even ran healthily and filled two baskets of cuttings. I took the nut off the shelf and threw it into the little sack of old nuts in the garage. 

The next morning I decided to finish the orchard with a hard deadline before leaving for Cornwall. A long journey and not one that could be sensibly delayed. I had not reckoned on the power of dirt, rust and years of accreted grass clippings to do the work of a well tightened nut. At the very furthest point of the orchard Roger's steering failed. A simple connection which needed a nut curiously like the one I'd found the day before was waving uselessly between two wheels, previously inseparable, now sulking and staring in opposite directions. I searched my nut sack for almost an hour and couldn't find it. None of the others fitted. Perhaps it was a curious Canadian nut somewhere between metric and imperial. As I struggled to drag Roger back to his shed, one of the rear tyres went flat and refused to stay inflated for more than a few minutes. Between draggings and pumpings, I noticed that the temporary front wheel was behaving oddly. The original wheel was away being repaired - it takes me hours to replace an inner tube with my rebellious hands - and I'd replaced it with an old one. Silly me. As I investigated the centre portion with the bearing which connected to the axle neatly popped free of its wheel and fell useless in the grass.

Poor Roger will spend May under a tarp, with a sorry list to starboard and sorely exposed to the elements. I hope he learns his lesson.



Orion, descending

I watched the hunter trot toward the back gate and I realised that he was walking like an old dog. It's hard to describe exactly what has changed, but he's slower to start moving. He no longer springs into action. His muzzle is white underneath now and those pale hairs creep up the sides of his face. He noticeably pants from pain, from time to time and his hips sometimes click as he walks. When Lady Snoutingdingle walks him, he will often stop or slow down. When I walk him, he carries dogfully on, hiding any discomfort from me. I'm learning to tell the difference.