Spring can sometimes seem a bit reluctant at Stoneywell given our altitude. Though it does offer the opportunity to brace ourselves for the explosion of colour and sounds to come with a few days longer to get tasks done.
That said there’s plenty of bird song in the air already and plenty of drumming from the local woodpeckers too who have been particularly busy in the last few weeks. Quite often we’ll see Great spotted woodpeckers venturing into the garden onto the table to feed also, along with many other garden birds from Dunnocks to Nuthatch. Green woodpeckers can also be seen throughout the year though the best I’ve tended to see is the back end swooping off in it’s very characterful way. I’m no expert but they don’t seem to quite to be as brave as the Great spotted woodpecker and perhaps for good reason as they often feed from the ground where they’re far more vulnerable to prey but at the same time easy to identify.
Outside of watching the birds we somehow find time for some gardening as well, though perhaps not in the typical sense of the word at this time of year but then our garden is majority woodland. Stoneywell has 11 acres of woods but most of our work in it for the year has happened in the weeks just passed. Our efforts have been slightly limited in the years gone, a lot of the time for good reason as we allow the designated site of special scientific interest (SSSI) to in many respects do it’s own thing. Intervention at the appropriate points is still rather vital for the long term health and balance of a woods like Stoneywell however. Most of what we can do as a gardening team is concentrated on making sure invasive and often non-native species are rid from the woods. In our case this involves sycamore an introduced species probably in the 40’s at Stoneywell that Donald Gimson did well to diminish in the subsequent years. The hope is to do some larger scale works next winter, clearing pockets to allow light to the ground to improve the woods ground flora as well as planting some stronger young trees.
Back to the present and hazel coppicing is the thing that has consumed most of our time and attention, or rather the protecting of them. While the sight of Muntjac deer is something quite exciting, as gardener of Stoneywell the excitement is wearing thin! Like many pests though it is a problem to manage and work with, that’s why a lot of our coppiced hazel goes into creating defences for the cut stools in order for trees to reshoot without being eaten and what’s more it’s a slightly more attractive option to a brick wall, which sometimes feels like the only option. Having said that our more robust defences of last year have definitely seen results compared to the flimsy rubbish from the year previous (no offence to those gardeners who spent hours in there with me in sometimes freezing conditions) If you do a circular lap of the woods you’ll be sure to see our work maybe add some sticks as you go the thicker the better. The remaining cut wood incidentally goes towards our fires in the house but also log piles in the woods themselves, to encourage bugs and beasties. I should add that somehow I don’t think the Muntjac will starve however good we are, don’t worry! Maybe in fact they’ll get a taste for rhododendrons?!
I should also add… “here’s hoping not”, while in some parts of the country our landscape is plagued with rhododendron, not so at Stoneywell and I wouldn’t want to add to the bad press that species Rhododendron ponticum gives to what is largely a group of plants that shows very few invasive qualities. You’ll be able to see 150 or so at Stoneywell with quite a few to be seen flowering in March.
Next month our focus returns to the garden our incredible daffodil display and getting the kitchen garden prepped and ready for another season.