November is the month of geese as they fly south to reach our country for a warmer winter just at the time of year when we begin to feel cold and find frosty mornings on our doorstep along with bleak raindrops and dying leaves.
Home for the Winter
I cannot resist watching them as they cross the sky, etching great zig-zag lines of dark grey as the call out excitedly to each other to announce their journey’s end – as much as 3,500 miles from Greenland, Iceland or Svalbard to Scotland. It is truly one of the wonders of the natural world as 360,000 of these birds choose to spend the winter months here. They leave behind the land of polar bears and covering huge distances fly across the ocean for hours, sometimes days to reach our island.
Whilst travelling they use stored reserves of fat from their tail area to sustain them on their long migration and you can tell which geese have newly arrived to overwinter because for a few days after the flight their tail droops on the ground as this fat reserve has been completely used up. They travel in family groups with the oldest and weakest bringing up the rear of the flock – a position which gives them a more sheltered journey, as they are slightly protected from the wind and turbulence by the formation of geese in front of them and they will stay till March or April before the siren call of the North pulls them back home.
Big leaves, small leaves . . .
We have been raking leaves. Big leaves, small leaves, brown leaves, tawny leaves, red and gold, yellow and purple, pointed and wavy edged, diamond shape and crinkly. It is fascinating to see the absolutely endless variety of leaves that trees produce. In summer, we are not particularly aware of them as they are all part of a green haze fluttering in a gentle breeze above but come November, chill blasts strip the trees of their leafy coats and we can compare their shape, size and colour on the ground.
One of my favourites is the cherry leaf. It has ragged edges and an oval shape with colours that resemble flames frozen in time. I sometimes wish I could paint to try and capture the amazing colours, but it would take an accomplished painter to be able to recreate the subtlety of the mingling shades of yellow, orange and red that create such fireworks on the garden.
Bannockburn House Resident
Our resident cat Susie is almost 12 years old and being an ‘Aristocat’ has lived at Bannockburn House all her life. Normally she is out and about from early morning till late evening and possibly half the night, but the recent damp, cold weather and longer nights have made her realise she is better off in her warm, dry shelter tucked up snuggly in her bed.
Going in to feed her in the morning, I have found her tightly curled up, fast asleep, the only sign that she is there being the sudden appearance of two golden tiger-eyes in amongst her black fur as she lifts her head to see who has entered her little house.
Susie knows the gardens intimately and takes a keen interest in our work, frequently following us when we are working, keeping watch over whatever task we are performing, calculating how she will cope without this tree, that branch, will she access that rabbit burrow, can she get in to smell this newly opened up patch and most important of all, can she get her head rubbed now please.
We Will Remember
Last year we planted a tree in memory of Lt. Col. James Thomson Rankin Mitchell, DSO, a son of the house who died in the Great War in 1918. This year, on Remembrance Sunday the garden team decided to come into ‘work’ 15 minutes early, so we could observe the two minutes silence at the Laburnum tree. At a few seconds to 11.00, as our chatter quietened down to observe the silence, a flock of geese flew overhead and just then, Susie, our precious little friend, approached from behind. She sat down silently to one side, waiting and watching throughout the two minutes, only giving a faint little chirrup of a miaow as the first minute passed. It was a really special moment that made us all love her that little bit more.
All animals are beginning to feel the changing temperatures and the effects that has on food availability. The deer are coming closer now as the winter draws In. We rarely see them in summer as to be honest I think they spend their time high upon the moors over to Carron dam. I have seen them every day this week – in the woodland and neighbouring fields where there is still a reasonable crop of good sweet grass but I daresay they will be creeping into the orchard to nibble any fallen fruit when they get the chance.
Cows changed to Sheep!
Our local farmer has taken her cows into the byre for the winter. One morning last week I was working out on the east field. The cows were grazing as usual and I thought nothing of it. A couple of hours later, I had to return to collect a tool that had been left behind and to my absolute surprise the cows had changed into sheep! I did a double take, but they were now definitely sheep. These ones had clearly just arrived in their new home and it was really sweet to watch them as they timidly explored their new field in a tight huddle. Not one of the 24 felt brave enough to break away from the group but they were determined to examine each corner of the field. It was as if an imaginary sheep dog was herding them expertly, in close formation, across the entire grassland.
They went en-masse into the south corner and then carefully picked their way across to the middle, up over the rocky bit and down into the soggy bit in the west corner. By now they had noticed me and stopped to have a good look for a really long time. Happy that I wasn’t a threat, they carried on their way up to the lee of the Doocot. It was then that I realised that although I had been watching them for at least 5 minutes, at no time had I seen any one of them stop to eat the grass. They were truly out to explore their entire new surroundings before they would relax enough to feel that it was safe to feed. If they have come down off the hills for winter, then lowland life will seem noisy and very different.
Yesterday, we had the treat of watching while the shepherd and his dog worked the flock in the field. He stood a long way off as the dog raced across the grass swiftly picking up the herd into a tight bunch and deftly herding them into the far corner against the gate. Then the dog lay down daring any sheep to move and awaiting a further command. The shepherd spent a few minutes checking all was well before letting the dog scamper off up the field and retracing his steps.
Digging for Apples
Recently we have been carrying out more archaeology – this time some metal detecting. It is interesting to hear the strange noises being created as the machine swoops across a possible hidden piece of metal. What could it be? Is it something valuable? Could it be treasure trove?
Every time we heard the high pitched ‘ooooh‘ sound we watched eagerly as the ground was quickly and carefully cut open, small stones and soil sifted till suddenly there was a nail, a buckle or some other scrap of discarded metal.
I was excited to find that one the volunteers had unearthed a fruit tree label. These old metal labels are beautifully shaped and have the name of the fruit tree clearly printed on them. This was an unusual name – “Jargonelle” a pear tree that was first recorded growing in 1629. It is the earliest known cultivated variety of pear and delicious to eat, ripening in August. So very unexpected to realise that it may have been grown here before and so reassuring to find proof of an earlier orchard as we intend to plant a new orchard in this space.
Soon after, we also found another label from that most reliable of cooking apples “Bramley’s seedling”. “Bramley’s”were grown from pips in Southwell, Northamptonshire in 1809. The original 200-year-old tree, although blown over many decades ago, still produces fruit every year. “Bramley’s” are one of the widest grown and best known of all British apples and we will be delighted to plant both of these trees in our future orchard.
We have Water!
Unfortunately, the rear garden is looking a bit messy at present. We recently had a modern water supply laid and the disturbance to the grounds has had quite an impact. It was raining for most of the time that the trenches were being dug and so the soil became quite a muddy mess. With it being November, it is unsuitable to try and sow fresh grass seed so we will have to live with the bare soil scars across the lawns for the duration of the winter months. However, once the Spring comes, the grass will quickly grow and we should be able to roll the surface flat and re-create our lovely, level lawn and paths. I certainly look forward to resuming normal service as soon as possible!
Blog written by Margaret in the Gardening Team