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Archive for February, 2013


Six months ago I posted this entry, as I was made redundant from my old company. Well, it’s been a long half year, and I’ve spent a lot of time going up to the Summer House and spending time looking out at a snowy garden doing bugger-all except trawling the internet for jobs and sending off application after application.

Snowdrops

However, yesterday I went for an interview and they called me in the afternoon to ask when I can start, so on Monday at 9AM I will start my new job! It’s perhaps not very sexy being an accounts receivable clerk in a public educational institution, but it’s the kind of job I am good at and can enjoy. (I enjoy things I’m good at, and nobody beats me when it comes to a nice spread sheet…)

Aconites

It means, of course, that there will be less time to spend in the garden this spring than feared. (Because let’s face it, unemployment sucks, even if it’s good for the garden!) This, however, is just something to manage somehow. After all, the garden has always been intended as a weekend / holiday garden, so it must be able to look good – or at least decent – with only a couple of days’ attention every month. Even in spring.

Seedlings etc. will have to be grown in the apartment anyway, so the garden will not be completely neglected. And even though the Flâneur Husband pretended to be annoyed that there were seed trays in every window in the apartment last spring, he secretly admitted to me that he quite liked seeing the little plants grow – especially since they’d be adorning the garden in the summer. And when I get my dahlia tubers back from their winter holiday Chez Mum – it sounds so much ritzier than “in my Mum’s shed – I might also start them off in pots in the apartment so they can get a good start before I expose them to the slugs.

So even though it’s one day early I’ve changed the header from the winter image to the spring image, and I thought I’d end this entry with the un-cropped version.

Spring beauty

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Squirrel

Today for the first time I saw a squirrel come into the covered terrace, even though the blackbird tried to scare him away. However, what is interesting is that this was a black squirrel, whereas I’ve only seen red squirrels in the garden up to now.

squirrel

Apparently all squirrels on the Danish islands used to be black, but red squirrels from Sweden and Northern Germany were introduced in the 1930’s and have all but out-done the black squirrels. So a black squirrel is a rare treat, though perhaps he doesn’t look as glamorous as his red cousins with their fiery-orange fur.

Mind you, this little fellow is a clever one. Between the picture above and the picture below, he jumped down onto the terrace floor, grabbed one of the feed balls that I have left on the floor for the robin and the blackbird and other birds who prefer to forage on the ground, and in a second he was off over the low wooden wall, carrying the feed ball with him in his teeth.

As he was scampering across the lawn with his loot, a crow swooped down on him to steel the feed ball, but he deftly took refuge in the oak tree and eventually made his way to the hedgerow with his dinner.

Shortly after this incident the second feed ball on the terrace floor was attacked, this time by the pheasant:

Pheasant

(And yes, the windows need cleaning, but that will wait until spring…)

He managed to peck the feed ball to stumps before dragging it out into the snow and then sauntering off towards the hedgerow, leaving me to tidy up his mess. Now really, Mr. Pheasant? Was that quite necessary?

Apologies for the poor quality of the pictures, but that’s what you get with a phone camera. I guess some day I should ask for a proper camera for Christmas or a birtdhay or whatever, but for now I’ll just count on your imagination to make these pictures look like wonderful wildlife photography!

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I have several problems with the feed balls that I put out for the small birds in the covered terrace. They do attract all sorts of passerine birds – blue tits, great tits, nuthatches and a robin – as well as blackbirds and the occasional woodpecker. (Woodpeckers, by the way, look rather silly when hanging upside down from a feed ball suspended from the ceiling…)

However, it seems I am also feeding the local pheasant, a few crows, jays, magpies and even a field vole.

Pheasant

Now, I ask you, does the picture above look like a blue tit? A robin? Any other bird you’d feed with store-bought feed balls? Indeed not… (The picture, by the way, is from Wikimedia Commons, as my phone struggled to get a decent shot of the pheasant through the windows, in spite of it being only three meters away from where I was sitting in the sofa…)

And, well, if my phone struggled to get a picture of a pheasant on the terrace, you can imagine why the next picture is also from Wikimedia Commons:

Field Vole

For some time now a small field vole has taken to foraging for food on the terrace, hiding under the low wooden perimeter walls whenever anything moved, but today the little critter decided that rather than constantly running out, nibbling on a feed ball and then running back to the shelter of the wall, he’d drag the feed ball with him to the wall so he could sit under the wooden wall and nibble at the feed ball just in front of him. Clever, I grant him that, but of course hardly why I bought the feed balls.

Still, I guess my complaints are all just for show. In fact I’m thrilled whenever I see my little vole, and I love the fact that the pheasant cock has been on the terrace four times today, at one point lingering there for a whole hour, mere meters away from me. I even find it amusing when the crows come into the terrace, because let’s face it; crows really aren’t good at navigating in small spaces so they keep knocking into garden furniture and woodpiles et cetera.

It really is the best reality show to be found. I love how everybody has their own personality; the blackbird is the bully, that much is for sure, and she constantly tries to get all other birds out of the terrace, though when the pheasant arrives it seems she gangs up with the tiny robin to find strength in numbers. Though a robin and a blackbird really don’t seem to be enough to scare a large old pheasant cock…

The great tits have a clear pecking order; there is an older, rather dishevelled-looking bird that seems to have a mane of grey hair, if you can imagine what that would look like, and he/she is definitely the boss of the other great tits. The blue tits don’t care, though; they are playful and carefree, bordering on the irreverent, and they flutter merrily about whenever they are chased from a feed ball. They will also gladly perch three at a time on the same dangling feed ball, which does cause problems if they are scared away as their wings seem to get in each other’s way, occasionally causing them to drop as a ball of feathers for half a meter before they disentangle themselves and manage to actually fly.

Then, of course, there are the nuthatches. They seem to be entirely indifferent to all other birds on the terrace; they merely come to eat, and if there’s no room on any of the feed balls they fly back out into the garden. The woodpeckers are the same, though they don’t care if there is room or not, as all the small birds obviously evacuate whatever feed ball a woodpecker decides to land on.

The jays and magpies are, of course, rascals. They eat very little but make a great mess of things. It seems they’d rather play football with the feed balls than actually eat from them. They put on a great show, but I can’t help thinking they’ve sort of missed the point of the whole concept.

My favourite, though, is the little robin. The Eurasian robin is a tiny bird – unlike the American robin which is a thrush, I believe – and he seems so shy. It takes next to nothing to get him to seek shelter under the garden furniture, but for some reason he has decided that – unlike the rest of the birds – he will pay little attention to what happens inside the house. When I rise from the sofa the tits will almost invariably be scared away, but the robin will keep pottering about, pecking at a feed ball here and a pile of dead leaves there.

But personal favouritism aside, of course the pheasant is the star of the show, and he knows it. He is clearly proud of his appearance, and rightfully so. Also, there is something fascinating about such a large bird visiting the terrace and being only meters away from my spot in the sofa corner. And, of course, I reared a brood of pheasants once when I was a child. I bought 18 pheasant eggs and got one of my broody hens to lay on them. (Did you know pheasant eggs have the most beautiful olive shell?) She managed to hatch 17 of the eggs, which was far better than I had dared to hope for, and she was a wonderful mother to them, though she seemed very confused that their natural instinct was to run away whenever she warned them of a possible danger – like anybody coming anywhere near them – rather than cower down and hide as chickens would do.

I never tried to domesticate my pheasants; they were destined to be set free on my paternal grandfather’s farmland, and the more of their wild instincts they kept, the better for them. My grandfather loved to go hunting, so I sold the pheasants to him, and just in case you find me cynical, these pheasants got to live a great life outside in fields and hedgerows, and if they had the sense to stay on my grandfather’s land they will all have died of old age since he was a very poor shot and not a single one of them ended up on his dinner table or as a feather in his cap…

(Apart from pheasants and chickens I also had ducks at one point – they suffered an untimely death as I had bought the ducklings as an investment and thus put them all down and sold them off for Christmas dinners when they were nice and plumb. But they did have good lives, I assure you.)

However, now night has fallen, the birds have gone to where birds go to sleep and there is nought to be seen on the terrace – indeed the terrace itself is barely visible in the darkness. So now: Time for dinner!

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On Saturday I travelled over to Jutland to visit my Mum, and though the plan had initially been for me to help her with some of the work still to be done in her new garden (levelling soil, shifting a few shrubs that have keeled over in the rather harsh winds around her hill-top house) this was hampered by frozen soil and four inches of snow. Not much point in trying to do anything in the garden… So I ended up setting up her new smartphone, downloading some apps she might like and getting her a cheap data subscription.

However, I did get to check up on my dahlia tubers that I sent on winter holiday chez Mum. They are doing fine, it seems, in her frost-free shed, and I can’t wait to get them home and into the soil, though that will not be for another 3 months. I still find it silly that I’ve actually taken my dahlia tubers across the country to over-winter at my Mum’s, but then I just don’t have a frost-free place to store them in the Summer House – or at least not a place with a constant temperature, as the house itself is heated to 5 degrees Celsius when nobody’s there but 22 degrees when I go there… I think the changes in temperature would confuse the tubers and possibly stress them, so they are better off in my Mum’s shed.

I look forward to getting them back, though, and there are a few other plants that my Mum bought for her garden but then decided against (including a plum tree with the name ‘Anita’, which also happens to be the name of my Mother-in-law) that she will be bringing over to the Flâneur Garden some time in spring. I’ll need to think hard about where I might find room for a tree… Because clearly I’m not turning down a free tree! The other plants are smaller and can more easily slot into the garden wherever there’s room, but a tree that’s already 3 meters tall will need a bit more consideration, especially because it’s not going to be as easy to move as, say, a pot of heuchera or a dahlia tuber…

Anyway, after visiting my Mum for a few days I headed for the island of Funen to visit my Grandmother. She’s 89 and was recently in hospital for 5 days, so it was sort of a “enjoy it while it lasts” visit. Her “new” house where she moved with my grandfather in 1992 or 1993 has a small suburban garden, and it’s slowly becoming less and less intricate. She has hired somebody to keep it for her, of course, but she is accepting gracefully that it’s becoming a “survival of the fittest” garden where some of her specimen plants perish because they are out-competed by their neighbouring plants. It’s still a lovely garden with great variety, though, and of course the stunning view over Storebælt, the Great Belt between the islands of Funen and Zeeland.

She’s a wonderful woman, always was. My Mother-in-law insists that she is gentle and sweet, but while I admit that she is that, too, she is also headstrong and stubborn. She’s a Strong Woman, as farmer wives have to be. But in this context, it’s perhaps most important that she’s a Gardener. My grandfather was in control of the pigs, the fields and the orchards, but she was in control of the house, the garden and the vegetable garden.

Her vegetable garden on the farm was so large that, rather than digging it, my grandfather would use a tractor and a harrow to do the autumn digging. At the back there was a long row of berry bushes; raspberries, red currants, black currants, gooseberries and so on. They would yield hundreds of pounds of berries every year, and provided the resources for gallons and gallons of cordial, jam and freezer bags. Then came row upon row of leeks, cabbages, marrow, carrots, potatoes, beans (peas were grown as a commercial crop, so part of that was frozen for home-use), and of course various herbs. Everything was interspersed with flowers, especially marigolds; they weren’t there to attract pollinators but simply to be used as cut flowers in the house. The scent of marigolds always reminds me of that vegetable garden.

The garden proper was vast. There was a vast expanse of lawn, stretching down from the perennial borders by the house down to the shrubberies before the hedge towards the road. There were huge trees – 2-300 years old – and lots and lots of flowers, but most of all there was a feeling of hiding places. You could always find a corner that nobody could see.

Her “new” garden is much smaller, of course, but it’s still lovely. There’s a flat area around her house and then there’s a steep, densely planted slope down to a more gently sloping lawn with a single flowerbed intersecting it. The lower part of the garden is interesting because of the plants, but from the top part your eye keeps being drawn – literally – out to see.

Both my Mum’s and my grandmother’s garden have sea views, which obviously helps any garden, and both are very much based on “back bones”; shrubs and structural plants that makes everything look ordered and tidy, even if the smaller, more fragile plantings might have been overgrown by more vigorous plants. I guess that’s the key to any elderly-friendly garden plan; to have something that looks neat and tidy as long as you get somebody in to mow the lawn and cut back some bushes every so often.

And, incidentally, that is also the key to a low-maintenance garden for a holiday home, so I really want to emulate their current gardens, rather than the gardens these two women used to have. (Even if the latter remains my secret ideal, it cannot be my ambition.)

On a more personal note, my Grandmother is growing old, which is in some ways sad and in some ways just the way things have to be when you’re pushing 90. I spent less than 24 hours at her place, yet she repeated the same stories perhaps 3-4 times – many of which she has already told me over the phone within the past few weeks. It is what it is. She’s still lovely, and she still has a lot to offer, conversation-wise – even if some of it is repetition. In the evening she went out to the large dresser in her hallway and asked me to open the concealed drawer – SO COOL with a concealed drawer, and many of her large chests of drawers have that sort of thing built into the top console – and we spent two hours going through old papers, drawings, genealogies and various artefacts. My great-great-grandfather’s book of recommendations from various employers, my great-grandmother’s handmade book marks, my grandfather’s service records from the army… I do love family history, and I like knowing where I come from.

And yes, I can trace at least parts of my family back to the 1600’s – though there are very few claims to fame in there. It’s mainly farmers, pottery-makers and the odd dairy-manager… As for exotic touches, there are none. Through the past 13 generations it seems there are just Danes, Danes and more Danes… However, I have personal stories from my great-great-grandparents and onwards, so that makes it exciting. I know where they lived, what they did, what their hobbies were.

And yes, in the Summer House we have a picture wall where both the Flâneur Husband’s and my family are on display. His family is portrayed back to his great-grandparents and I have my great-great-grandmother up there as well – a widowed mother of 7 who managed to put all of her kids through school and who is generally considered to have been quite a character. I have two pictures of her; one of her as a young girl, trying to look serious before the camera, and one of her as a stern-looking old woman with her hair swept back into a tight knot. I never met her, of course, but I knew three of her daughters – who died at the ages of 97, 99 and 103 respectively – and you can’t help but have the greatest respect for a woman who raised three daughters who turned out so different from each other. From the farmer’s wife (my great-grandmother) to the Copenhagen debutante-turned-singing teacher to the first woman to be elected for the Copenhagen city council – and also the first female school principal in Denmark. The latter two lived together as spinsters to the end of their lives, and they bequeathed their rather significant savings to foundations for “young female performing artists” and “single mothers under education” respectively. How cool is that?

Of course, in my book case there are also the memoirs of several of my grandparents and great-grandparents. And I’m currently proof-reading my grandmother’s edition of my great-grandfather’s memoirs. They’re not published, but they are printed for the family to read and keep so the stories will not die out with the older generations. People live and die, but stories have the potential to live forever. Like the story about how my grandmother was taken on family visits by riding in the side-car of my great-grandfather’s motor bike, travelling 200 miles to visit my great-great-grandparents. Or the story of my great-grandfather stealing my great-grandmother’s diamond engagement ring to cut a heart and their initials in one of the window panes in front of the kitchen zinc as an act of apology after having – once again – spent too much of their savings on yet another painting… (That pane was removed when they moved from that house, and my mother currently owns it, though she hasn’t hung it anywhere at present. She must, or I’ll insist she give it to me. It’s the most romantic family heirloom I could imagine.)

Anyway, that was a very long entry with no pictures, so if you’ve read this far in this rambling entry, thank you. Have a picture of my Mum as a reward:

Mum in LA in 1972

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