Day 22 of 30 Days Wild and it’s Wednesday, which means pub lunch with my Dad – today it was the delightful little town of Presteigne just over the Welsh border. It always feels like we’ve stepped back in time when we go there – Presteigne seems to run at a gentler, slower pace of life than anywhere else.
Anyway, don’t know if it was the Presteigne effect or what, but I decided to go back in time and explore Dad’s garden looking at things like I did when we were kids. My sister and I spent an awful lot of our childhood knee deep in mud and water in the stream that ran alongside our garden or just generally mucking about outside. The joys of a 1970s childhood!
We grew up in Herefordshire in a small village in a house that had been built on an old orchard. Our garden still retained quite a few apple trees which, when we were kids, were still quite productive – we even earned money occasionally picking the apples and selling them to a local farmer; we probably only got a few quid, but as children it seemed like we’d made a fortune! Now (more years later than I care to calculate) most of the trees have gone – mainly fallen in high winds as they got too old and brittle. There are a few left, like this cider apple one, which is still fairly sound and producing apples.
Several of the others though are little more than tall hollow stumps. This one had bits of wool around the hole, so unless the local sheep have started climbing, I think the hollow trunks are being used for bird nests, which is great.
Several of the trees have clearly been choked by ivy growing up them. It’s probably a good job they weren’t like this when we were kids, or we’d have tried to climb them. (I’m old enough and heavy enough now not to consider this today!)
All the apple trees are covered in mistletoe. It is a little family ritual still that every year we pick big bunches of mistletoe from the apple trees for Christmas – there’s something lovely about growing your own Christmas decorations!
I was really pleased that the elderflower was in bloom in the garden. This too brought back childhood memories. We used to fill buckets with the flowers then turn them into “Elderflower Champagne”. No idea whether it was actually alcoholic, but we drank it as children (may explain a lot about my later life!) It was quite explosive – I seem to remember being woken in the night by bottles exploding in the kitchen on a fairly regular basis. As smaller children we used to make elderberry “pies” – basically a bowl of mushed up elderberries that no-one would eat.
The bottom of the garden is a bit overgrown (just how I like my gardens). One plant that is doing particularly well is Cleavers – or as we called them as kids – sticky buds. Childhood days in the garden always ended up with both us and the cats coming back inside covered in these.
Dad’s garden is always full of birds and today was no exception. As I walked down to the bottom, a buzzard flew out of a tree – he’d clearly spotted me before I spotted him. Needless to say he was too quick for me to get a photo. I had more luck with a pheasant that was wandering by the stream, but they don’t feel like much of a challenge.
I could hear lots of the birds this afternoon in the garden, but there’s one that really evokes childhood for me. It’s nothing fancy or rare – just the sound of pigeons cooing at each other. You can hear them on and off all day. Even now if I hear them in my own garden and close my eyes I am transported back to my parents’ house – for me it’s always been a very comforting sound. One thing I noticed while trying to get a recording of them today, was that there’s a lot more traffic going past Dad’s house than there was in the 1970s – I suppose that’s inevitable, even though his house is pretty much out in the sticks. So it took several goes to record them without too much traffic noise in the background.
They say smell is a very evocative sense when it comes to recalling memories. Dad’s garden has a lot of old fashioned roses – ones that are actually scented and smell like roses should. They are big, blousy varieties – one of which Dad took from his mother’s garden back in the 1960s! Sniffing them today reminded me of the garden in summer’s past. Roses today from shops just don’t smell like this.
The stream that runs alongside the garden was one of the main sources of entertainment for us as children. The stream is still there, although it’s a bit harder to get to now. Of course it could just be that the middle-aged me is less flexible climbing through fences than the childhood me was! It is only a small stream that feeds into the River Lugg and it’s possibly not the most picturesque (the various deposits from the farm next door add to the ambience shall we say!), but for me it will always be a special place.
We used to spend endless hours fishing for minnows and sticklebacks, which we’d then keep in an old paddling pool. With hindsight the poor things probably didn’t enjoy the experience very much, but we (and the cats) were enthralled by them. So in honour of my childhood I borrowed a kid’s fishing net from my sister (who also kindly took a photo of it when I realised I’d forgotten to do so). It was quite a deluxe model compared to the ones we had as kids, which just had plain canes and nets that were always getting torn and having to be repaired!
Grabbing the net, I scrambled through the fence and down to the stream. Standing there, net in hand, peering into the water I was 10 years old again. Happy Days. And much to my surprise (and his) I caught a stickleback. A Spineless Si of my very own (if you didn’t watch Springwatch last year you won’t know what I’m on about here), except this one did indeed have spines. He didn’t look very impressed by the experience though.
This Spined Si was of course released back into the stream as soon as I’d photographed him (no overheated paddling pool for him!) and I hope the whole experience wasn’t too traumatic for him.
Of all the things I’ve done on 30 Days Wild – I think fishing in the stream today, with a cheap plastic net, catching a stickleback, is probably the best. It’s easy to view your childhood with rose tinted spectacles, but I do truly think we were very lucky to grow up where we did and how we did. It was things like this, that left me with a lifelong love of nature and set me on the path I’ve taken for the rest of my life – all thanks perhaps to a few small fish.
And to finish as always the latest weed in my 30 Lazy Garden Weeds – the Bramble, seen here with a Honey Bee making the most of it. We have a dense thicket of brambles at the end of our garden, separating us from the neighbours. When the brambles are in flower they are abuzz with bees. And of course in the late summer we are rewarded with a plentiful supply of blackberries – the beauty of organic gardening is we don’t need to worry about there being any chemicals on these – although I do make sure we only pick those out of reach of cat’s scent marking the garden!