"To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour."

From "Auguries of Innocence"

by William Blake

Tuesday 28 February 2012

Following in the Footsteps of an "Edwardian Lady"

I've recently been re-reading one of my favourite books "The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady" by Edith Holden.

In 1906, when she was living with her parents in Olton, she kept a diary of Nature Notes filling it with poems, observations and charming paintings of wildlife seen through the months of the year in the surrounding Warwickshire countryside and whilst on holiday in Dartmoor and Scotland. For 70 years the diary was undiscovered and when it came to light a facsimile reproduction was published in 1977 entitled "The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady.

Edith had also kept a similar diary in 1905 and this was also later published as a predecessor to the "Country Diary" and was called "The Nature Notes of an Edwardian Lady".

On 24th February 1906 Edith cycled from her home in Olton to Packwood Hall and she noted in her diary that the garden of the Hall adjoining the churchyard held huge clumps of snowdrops. She picked a huge bunch of these flowers and was also able to hold in her arms a newborn lamb shown to her by the farmer who then lived at the Hall.

Yesterday afternoon I decided to visit and see if the snowdrops were still there.

(Not the best of photos - it started to rain half way there and the light was awful!)

Here's the entrance to Packwood Hall and yes, there are still lots of snowdrops!

The Hall is now privately owned so I didn't really like to take the risk of marching up the drive to get a photo! but here's a picture of the moat which surrounds the Hall. Most of the house seen today is fairly modern but the east wing 17th century timber framing survives.

There were plenty of snowdrops along the path to the church

St Giles, Packwood, adjoining the Hall grounds. The churchyard was full of snowdrops and a few primroses were flowering.

I did have a look round the church which has some fascinating features but I will write about these in a posting later in the week.

Crocuses in the churchyard

Looking across the churchyard towards Packwood Hall

More than 100 species of wildflower have been recorded in the churchyard which is managed for wildlife and I hope to visit again later in the spring (in drier weather!)when the flowers are at their best.

I did drive round nearby lanes and, although there were plenty of sheep about, I was unable to find any lambs to photograph!


Edith Holden was born in Kings Norton in 1871, one of seven children. Her father was a paint manufacturer. She attended art school and worked as an illustrator and many of her drawings of animals were published in books. The Holden family lived in Moseley, Birmingham between 1871 and 1880 when they moved to Warwickshire occuping various houses in Darley Green, Kingswood, Dorridge/Knowle, and Olton. In 1911 Edith met and later married Ernest Smith a sculptor and lived with him in Chelsea, London. They had no children and tragically she died, aged 49, on 16th March 1920, when she slipped whilst gathering chestnut buds and drowned in the River Thames.

The places in Warwickshire mentioned in her diary are all fairly close to where I live so I am hoping to visit more of these over the course of the year.

Many thanks to the kind lady (sorry I forgot to ask your name) I met in the church who had come to replenish the supply of church guides and gave me such an interesting tour of the church and churchyard showing me many things I would otherwise have missed.

A Theatre Trip

I haven't been to the theatre for a while so it was nice to get the opportunity last night to go and see a new play called "Gravity" at the mac theatre presented by the Birmingham Rep. The publicity material describes it as a "contemporary and dynamic new play about provocation".

It is set in a school where David, a science teacher with a passion for physics, is struggling to cope with the stresses induced by today's educational environment. One student Kyle is interested in science and gaining knowledge but he is targeted by two of the school bullies/troublemakers. This sets off a series of events resulting in a shocking ending.

The acting was excellent and the play was incredibly thought-provoking. A really lovely evening out.

Publicity photo for the play taken from the Birmingham Repertory Theatre's website.

Saturday 25 February 2012

Brief Visit to Middleton Lakes

I paid a quick visit to the RSPB reserve at Middleton Lakes in the Tame Valley yesterday afternoon.

The herony was a hive of activity - I counted at least 14 nests. The feeding station was full of birds - chaffinches, blue, great and coal tits, blackbirds, dunnocks, house sparrows, greenfinches, goldfinches, robins and a reed bunting.

As I walked through Mill Plantation Wood there were lots of chaffinches, robins and blackbirds and a flock of long-tailed tit were feeding near a small reed fringed pool. Dandelions and lots of dog's mercury in flower and from the amount of bluebell leaves shooting through there will a good bluebell display in a few months time. The rookery in the wood was very noisy with several birds bringing in twigs and sticks to add to the nests.

I didn't have time to look round Fisher's Mill meadow or do the whole wetland trail but the first pool after Fisher's Mill Bridge had mallard, canada goose, coot, mute swan, black headed gull, tufted duck, lapwing and shoveler.

When I arrived back at the car park there were several pheasants nearby and dozens of redwing feeing on pasture as I drove out.

I managed to see 26 species in an hour and a quarter and greenfinch, reed bunting, lapwing and shoveler were new species for the year. Sorry no photos - it started to rain as I arrived at the car park! One of these days I will get some more photos of this reserve although I think bird pictures are unlikely as the birds are just too far away. Hopefully, they will build a hide there soon which might make photography easier.

Here at home - saw my first bumble bee of the year today but it whizzed past the kitchen window so fast I couldn't tell which species it was. After chasing away other robins who tried to intrude on his/her territory over the winter the resident garden robin has now paired up with a female as two birds were feeding amicably together today.

Friday 24 February 2012

Fisrt Moth of the Year and Inspiration

In view of the incredibly mild weather and the fact that the Garden Moth Scheme begins soon I gave the moth trap its first outing of the year last night in a test run.

The temperature ranged from 11.3 down to 8.3 degrees centigrade and I was rewarded this morning with my first moth of the year - a micro called Emmelina monodactyla (one of the plume moths).

It looks like a tiny plane about to take off in the photo below!

The imago hibernates and is often attracted to light early in the year.

I gather there is a new book on micro identification due out soon - can't wait!

I've been watching the recent brilliant tv series by Sarah Raven on Bees, Butterflies and Blooms. Concerned with the rapid decline in British bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects she has been on a mission to try and reverse this trend by the planting of nectar friendly plants in our gardens, countryside and towns. If you missed the series it is still available on BBC iplayer.

I've been totally inspired by the programmes. Although we get a lot of pollinating insects on flowers in the wildflower meadow and perennial bed, I shall certainly be rethinking the type of plants I put in my patio pots and will be scattering seed like cosmos in any bare patches of soil I can find in the garden.

Tuesday 21 February 2012

Miniature Worlds

Apart from an initial attempt taking photos of daffodils and amber, I haven't got round again to trying out the new olympus macro lens I had for Christmas and Birthday. This morning I spent half an hour or so using it to take some pictures in the garden. I really wanted to find out if it was usable without a tripod! I experimented using different ISO's (400 and 800 as although the sun was trying to break through the light wasn't brilliant) and various wide apertures.

Using the lens (when I get the hang of it!) opens up a totally different world with clumps of moss and lichen looking like miniature forests.


Hazel Catkins

Female flowers (they always remind me of miniature sea anemones)

Male catkins doing an impersonation of lambs' tails



I love the colours in this leaf

and a species of leaf miner on a bramble leaf

I really am going to have get my act together regarding focusing as the last photo shows although it does produce quite an interesting effect!

All in all I was quite pleased with the attempts although I think using a tripod would definitely improve results and I am going to have resort to more manual focusing I think or perhaps experiment with the different AF targets. One lesson I have learnt this morning is what a lot I still have to learn re: photography and my camera!

If anyone has any tips on taking photos with a macro lens I would love to hear them!

On a different note the lesser redpolls are still regularly using the garden pond for bathing and drinking.

And on a completely different subject I know that many other bloggers as well as myself are having problems with Blogger's new word verification. I did turn mine off for a while but found I was getting lots of weird looking spam so reluctantly I have turned it back on. I am just hoping that, with the problems it is causing, Blogger will reinstate the original version. So apologies in advance if you are trying to leave a comment and have problems!

Thursday 16 February 2012

Snowdrops at the Gardens

"Fair Maids of February"

I paid a visit to Castle Bromwich Hall Gardens at lunchtime today to see the stunningly beautiful snowdrop display. There are several other spring flowers starting to bloom too - winter aconite, crocuses, wallflowers,cyclamen, hellebores and primroses.


" A thousand bright flowers shall gladden the Earth,
When Summer comes forth in her beauty and mirth;
Yet none more delightful imaginings bring,
Than those that are first in our path-way to Spring.

Undaunted thou comest, 'mid snow and'mid sleet,
From Earth's sheltering bosom, thy Winter retreat;
Thou comest, the herald of pleasures to be,
Of the scent of the rose-bud, the hum of the bee.

Thou art not of those who delight in the rays,
The sunny resplendence of Summer's glad days;
Nor of those who look up to the bright skies of June,
Yet fold up their beauty beneath the mild moon.

Of such art not thou - no, an emblem more dear,
Of the friend that is kindest when sorrow is near;
The storm doth not cross thee - the rain doth not blight -
And thou pointest, like Hope, to a season more bright."

I found this lovely poem in "The Lover's Language of Flowers" featured in my last post but unfortunately it does not give the name of the poet.

Most of the snowdrops are found in the Lower Wilderness and in the Extra Grounds near the Stumpery.

Winter aconites are flowering too

The little white flower in the above photo is a close relative of the snowdrop - a snowflake (what a great name for a flower!). Many thanks to Graham for identifying this species!

There are far more blooms on the pansies and daisies in the trough in the Melon Grounds compared to my January visit.

North Orchard - buds are starting to appear on the daffodils

Part of the Lower Wilderness

Hazel catkins in the Nut Ground

When I visited last Spring this little area used as a "Digging for Victory" plot was full of butterflies - today it had a lot of bird species - great spotted woodpecker, robin, blackbird, blue great and long-tailed tits. There were quite a few other birds around today - another robin that seemed to be following me about, two jays, wrens, carrion crows, woodpigeons and magpies.

Part of the Stumpery

One of the lovely things about winter is that the lack of leaves on the trees gives you chance to note the structures of the trees and examine the varied tree barks.

I think this primrose bank is a new feature - its situated where the South Kitchen Garden meets the Holly Walk near the Summer House.

Part of the Upper Wilderness looking towards the Gazebo and New Trellis

Parterres and Upper Wilderness

Upper Wilderness with the Gazebo and New Trellis at the far end

I found this plant with beautiful foliage near the entrance. I am not sure what species it is but I'll keep an eye out for any flowers that appear.

For more information on these delightful gardens, including visiting hours, please visit the Garden's website at www.cbhgt.org.uk.

And to see some great snowdrop pictures and a lovely tale about "Luke the Snowflake" please visit the Castle Bromwich Hall Gardens Blog at http://castlebromwichhallgardenstrust.blogspot/com or follow the link at the right hand side of the page under "My Blog" list. There is also a great post on the blog featuring Plant of the Month which has lots of fascinating information and pictures of snowdrops.