Some time ago, when I was recovering from one of my episodes of depression, my children nicknamed our garden “Mum’s Therapy”. It’s certainly proved to be a mental shower each morning, a gym equipped with rakes and spades, a place to honour memories.
But in those visits, which have become a daily habit, sitting under our enormous cypress tree, hands wrapped around a mug of coffee, I have learned so much from simply watching the world of this small space.
It started with taking photos of details of plants – bulbs shooting, apples blossoming and fruiting, acorns developing, potatoes flourishing – to my children locked down in other cities. Our Garden Updates became a regular feature of our online chats, a way to bring home to them when they couldn’t come home.
Joining the Garden BirdWatch | BTO – British Trust for Ornithology , taking a weekly count of birds and other animals visiting our garden, gave me a purposeful, lockdown project and rekindled a childhood love of ornithology.
Doing that led me down two paths of further learning:
I’ve started to recognise birds by less obvious means: their flight patterns, their colouring underneath, their song.
And I’ve noticed other fascinating details about them, for example the stately courtship of wood pigeons as they bow low with tail feathers fanned to a potential mate, or how they follow the same circular flight path to gather nesting materials, how they sidle and hop to access their nest hidden in a junction nearer to the tree trunk.
I’ve become decidedly fond of these often unappreciated birds.
Or who would have thought that the bright yellow and blue of a blue tit would be such excellent camouflage among the bright green of oak leaves?
Then I’ve started to realise the range of other wildlife in my garden.
I’m learning to recognise different butterfly species and pay close attention to bees. My husband is a beekeeper but I’ve developed a love for their undomesticated cousins.
Did you know there are so many types? A litany of their names is like a joyous tongue twister: White Tailed Bumblebee, Red Tailed Bumblebee, Buff Tailed Bumblebee, Broken-Belted Bumblebee, Common Carder Bee, Moss Carder Bee, Red-Shanked Carder Bee, Broken-Banded Carder Bee. I never thought I would spend time getting up close to examine the back end of an insect with such interest!
And for Christmas, we bought a trail cam. So now we can observe the night visitors. Two domestic cats, foxes, a barn owl, and badger are regulars. To add to the daytime squirrel families who treat our pergola as their private jungle gym and practise free running along our fences and between our trees.
It’s made me more observant day to day too. Here’s something we noticed on an evening walk in the gutter as we crossed the road:
Even when there’s little to observe, there’s a lesson to learn. When I don’t understand or recognise something, it drives me to research what I’ve seen and why. So when the bird numbers declined in January, I discovered it’s likely because a mild winter means they don’t need to forage in domestic gardens for food.
We’re all sick of lockdowns and pandemic restrictions. But in among the gloom, I’ve been blessed to find joy in the stillness of observing the natural world. I’d recommend it.
(This post was inspired by the weekly prompt of OBSERVANT from FMF Writing Prompt Link-up :: Observant – Five Minute Friday)