Wednesday, 5 June 2013


I've had a blog absence caused by summer finally arriving. The garden is just too magical to resist. After all the rain and extended cold weather there is a lot to do outside.

When we moved to the cottage there was an ugly but functional pond at the back of the garden. It had a cement brick border and no plants around it. What had once been the lawn had been covered with black plastic and then piles of pebbles. No doubt the previous owner liked the beach, but this was more like a desert. There was a small border, overgrown with ivy, and brick planters had been built all around the whole back. No shade for wildlife to hide and live.

The old pond, in the desert. 

 We were surprised that despite this inhospitable environment there was life. Before the pond began to cave in we discovered two species of Newt and several common Frogs. We decided that eventually we would build them a new home and in the meantime we moved them to a safe place where they could hide and hibernate under some large stones.  The cottage needs as much work as the garden and so the Newts and Frogs have had to wait. until now.

The beginning of a new pond.

It is a work in progress but as soon as we had the liner down and water in the Newts reappeared.

The bright and dark 'Jewel Garden'

Nature never ceases to amaze and delight me. Suddenly the garden which only a few weeks ago was dead stem is lush green and dark moody bloom, full of buzzing.

Mrs House Martin sitting on her eggs.

Our cottage is very simple, nothing grand. But it has charm not just to us, but for the House Martins who have nested here every year since Victorian times. Those raised in the nests on the cottage return from their long and perilous journeys from South Africa in April and build new nests around the village. This year we saw a few, then a storm raged and they disappeared, then a few returned. One nest on our cottage remained empty and a source of constant sorrow for me. It had been built two summers ago, by a House Martin who had fledged from our cottage. Last summer she and a mate raised a brood there which were only ready to fledge in October. We worried that the dangerous journey they make may have come too late and they and their small offspring had perished.

The first week of June we heard excited chirping and there they were! A flock of both House Martins and Swallows had returned and joined the earlier arrivals in excited flying and talking. There are now a few new nests on the side of our cottages. The Swifts returned this Spring to their homes in the church, but sadly only a few. Numbers are really down. Last summer was disastrous for them and they returned to South Africa having been unable to raise any young due to the torrential rain. If this glorious weather continues this summer might be a good one for them.

A Poppy seed head. A perfect work of art, by Nature.

Oriental Poppies about to bloom

As soon as we moved here I planted a lot of Poppies. They are such a romantic plant.  I love everything about them, the buds, the fern like leaves, and best of all the big blowsy blooms in fairy tale colours. But we must not forget the seed heads either. After the blooms are gone the plant creates such magical shapes to hold it's seed. I love the way it has a small crown on the top and inside is beautifully marked and furrowed.
The borders at our cottage were covered with ivy which when removed revealed ancient varieties of plants with blooms in shocking colour combinations. Their jewel like shades of orange, magenta,  midnight blue, acid green, purple and deep red glowed. We were inspired by BBC television gardener Monty Don. Monty was a jeweller before becoming a gardener and has what he calls a 'Jewel Garden' at his home. Monty has written a book about his garden and how it saved him after his business failed. I think most gardeners would agree that there is something healing about being amongst nature and creating a personal haven. We really loved the idea of his Jewel Garden and how he had chosen plants in jewel like colours. Throughout my life I have thought of my garden as a kind of jewel box, full of exquisite surprises, provided to me by Nature. We decided rather than dig out all of the old plants and start anew with a more subdued colour palate, we would keep our Jewel Garden and add to its dark and moody ways. I have begun to think in jewels instead of colour and now see the garden in terms of Citrine,  Pink Quartz, Sapphire, Lapis Lazuli, Peridot, Emerald, Amethyst and Ruby. I added a lot of white scented climbers to diffuse the brightness and attract Moths and Butterflies.


  1. Your garden idea sounds wonderful, I love Monty and yes I have read his book too...
    Such a heartwarming note to hear the Housemartins have returned, it has been such a struggle for the birds and wildlife these last few years..
    I have been watching a pair of Blackbirds nesting in the garden, and their babies fledged today..I just find it so humbling to be surrounded by nature
    Happy warm days
    Thea x

  2. What a beautiful post. Poppies have that effect - I think it's because they are so fleeting - but even the seed heads have such beauty. Glad to hear your birdies are doing well x Jane

  3. Wonderful post. You have a magical garden -- filled with new, old and returning birds. I love when my doves return ... I always know it's *them*! they almost knock on my back door to ask me "where's the food"! Mother Nature really is something special.

  4. Nature will always find a way. Such a lovely post full of rebirth, life and hope. Your new lush pond is just sumptuous and I know you have some grateful creatures using it. I am charmed by your House Martins and their history with your cottage. We had Wrens that used to return each year (well, at least I felt they were the same family - I've been wondering about them since we've moved and miss them), Thank you for sharing the beauty of your garden. Ann

  5. Your post has inspired me to find and read that book by Monty Don. I love your pictures of your garden- it is such a wonderfully exciting time of year isn't it? Jane xx

  6. Goodness me, what a transformation. It looks so natural and established! xxx

  7. How wonderful… your flowers are magical! Some day, I will have to draw that poppy seed head, if I may?

  8. We have a lot in common, small cottage, housemartins and swallows, liking of poppies Monty Don's writing, cats and fairies to name a few. And I adore your fairy on the wall!

  9. I am glad your garden is calling you to play and create .
    We have swallows nesting in our barn this year and I am so amazed with them .
    I am so honored that so many birds feel comfortable nesting on our small farm.

  10. Ah Minerva,
    your cottage and garden are indeed gems! I loved them when I visited you, and wow, what a transformation of the pond!
    I think the newts and frogs have been waiting patiently for you to sort it out and make it livable again for them. It's amazing that they stayed around when the pond was like a desert.
    I'm so pleased that you are bringing your garden alive again with beautiful flowers and blue pots. It is time for you to finally put down some roots and stay in one place. Things do happen and grow in a positive way if we spend time in nature! x;-)

  11. Mike found a newt hiding under a stone in the garden. We have no pond. Your photos are lovely! I love the poppy seed head.There are fewer swallows in Canterbury this year. I look forwards to see the development on your house martin family!

  12. What a lovely post! I too have recently started digging and planting in my teeny weeny garden, helped along by a dear friend who has green fingers and loves to garden! already this week I had a butterfly perch on my vintage white chair and a bumble bee visited my sage flowers for a drink. I am in constant awe of nature...lovely post Minerva. xx

  13. I really enjoyed reading your post, and learning about the development of your garden, and lovely pond.
    I also enjoy gardening, but in the past few years, now living in an apartment, do less of it. So for me, this was a treat to read.
    I like poppies too, including their dry seed pods, once I saved all the pods, and used them in my work at the daycare center, where I worked - the children painted with the tops, using their distinct star shape; I added a "field" of dry pods to a Remembrance day bulletin board by stapling them to the board; and placed the pods in vases around the room.
    I as well love the sound of wind swishing through dry pods still on the stem, in the garden. :)
    The idea of a Jewel garden is very nice, indeed.
    P.S. Herb and Art wish to give their greetings to Mrs. Black, and hope she enjoys the garden too.

  14. Poppies are wonderful, though too short lived for my taste. I am always surprised and amazed by wallflowers and aubretia - jewel like enough for anyone, though hardly original (but, does that matter?)

    I didn't know that about Monty Don, who sounds interesting from the snippets I've picked up - wonder if he has written an autobiography.

    this is a lovely post. Your blog is not merely pretty, but interesting and thought provoking as well.


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