How we crowded to find a place in the sun that Easter weekend. Perhaps it was the clocks going forward that nudged it into making an appearance. There had been nothing but snow and frost so far.
Oscar found the prime spot, on top of the shed roof. Sooty settled for the back door mat where the sun slanted in through the glazed door and I sat with my second cup of tea in the conservatory. This was a sensible decision as a ginger fur coat was an essential precaution against the fresh easterly breeze. After a while I slipped on my crocs and ventured outside. Sooty decided to join me and I watched her delicately pick her way around the back door mat. Sooty only treads on a carpet if it is red and made of velvet. The sun was heating things up now and with the sheer delight of surviving another winter, Sooty rolled this way and that gathering bits of twig and dirt in her fur to take back into the house.
I decided to check on the hibernating geraniums. I undid the zip-up fleece and pulled each tub out onto the garden table. I was delighted to find that there had only been two casualties. Although they looked dead, I placed the pot with the two brown sticks out in the sun anyway, as you never know. The other plants all had small green shoots peeking out from the joints of otherwise dead stems. These stems were so dead that a brown ooze seeped out from them as I cut them off with the secateurs. Amazing how new life can spring from old. I left them all on the table to stretch out their leaves and soak up the rays. The next day a gentle rain fell which moistened their roots giving them a top to toe spa experience.
The following weekend we decided to clear out the shed. In amongst the bric-a-brac there were several mice nests. Cosy cavities made largely with chewed up plastic bags. They hadn’t touched the straw I’d left out for them. Post modernist mice are clearly not averse to using man made materials. I’d stowed some old cotton sheets under the shelves which we used for decorating. They had become damp and reeked of mildew. I decided that they would go straight to the dump, but as I rolled them round in my hands something sticky caught between my fingers. I stopped to inspect it and saw that it was a tiny transparent egg with an obvious foetus maturing inside. I unfolded the dust sheet and found more of them, stuck together in a group and then I saw a single woodlouse which was wrapped around one of the eggs. This had to be mum I thought and these tiny eggs must be baby woodlice. I carefully gathered them up into one hand and placed mum alongside. I looked again at the tiny half-moon embryo developing inside each egg and wondered how I could keep them alive, since I had effectively evicted them from their home. I looked at the conditions mother woodlouse had so carefully chosen and decided that as long as I could find somewhere both damp and dark then they had a pretty good chance of seeing their first birthday. I took them over to the redundant potato grow bag and flipped open the tarpaulin lid hoping not to waken the still hibernating caterpillar. I put them gently onto the damp earth, which wasn’t easy, as they didn’t want to let go of my hand. I slipped mum in with her brood and covered them all back over.
Once the sun started shining there were signs of spring all round the garden. The Pyracantha had new emerald shoots curled up like folded tongues and even my lavender bushes rewarded me with fresh green spikes of life. I have tried in the past to cut the lavender right back; they died, or to cut off the top stems; they died, or to put them in the shed for protection; they died. This time I ignored them totally and left them big, bushy and unruly to gather all the frost, snow and hail stones and apparently they have thrived on it. To be fair this is a technique I have used successfully with my husband for many years.
I’ve stopped feeding the birds whole peanuts in preparation for the spring babies. I always crushed some of the peanuts on the ground for the robin, but decided to put them all into a mesh feeder so that none of the birds could fly away with large pieces. Although they love the peanuts when they are spread on the ground, few of them can be bothered to hang from the feeder in return for one tiny morsel at a time. The crow however, is not deterred by this obstacle and they have found a way to cling to the wire mesh like an acrobat.
I saw two great tits checking out the garden by repeatedly flying low in a reconnaissance manoeuvre. They were particularly interested in the coconut matting strawberry planters. I didn’t actually see them take any, but I think they marked it down on their wish list. The next time I looked out I saw a kestrel sitting on the fence. Large, brown, hooked beak. I’ve no idea what is going on out in the countryside, but more and more wildlife is deciding to take its chances with us city folk. Urban back gardens may well provide a valuable lifeline for a lot of our native species. Where gardens back onto each other they can give space for animals to forage. In urban gardens there are fewer chemicals, more hidey-holes, and less threat from machinery. Providing habitat for wildlife is the best excuse yet for not being over tidy in your garden. Let the grass grow long, the weeds grow high, keep the pesticides out and wildlife will thrive.
Have you ever tried to put your geraniums into hibernation?
Urbanwildlifediary brings you top tips: How to over-winter your geraniums.