Networks in the garden

It's now near winter. The fig trees have lost their leaves, and I've been a slob in picking them clean this year; it would have been a poor crop anyway. They took time to ripen and many of them were full of worms. But I'm still planning to experiment with wild sloe jelly. I'll probably write how it goes one of these days.

I tried growing some more edible stuff this year, but the courgette and pumpkin plants I managed to sow didn't go past flowering stage. I should have harvested the flowers, but I just felt like gambling. Seems that I would definitely have survived longer in the Paleolithic than in the Bronze Age. I'm still better at observing ecosystems and figuring out what to get from them than at starting them on my own. Luckily, the garden is a great place for that.

When my parents bought that house, the garden was neat and well-tended, with tiny pine trees, a rock garden in the corner, and gree grass all over. The It didn't take long to figure out that the grass would have to go one day or another, as the climate is anything but right for fancy lawns. Also, the garden needed more trees. We planted a hedge, cherry trees, apricot trees, one solitary fig (the other came on their own), and trees with fancy names: tulip tree, gingko biloba, sophora japonica, robinia, mulberry tree, oaks and maples. Not all the experiments were successful. One former Christmas tree took off after years, and is now proudly standing in the back of the garden; the gingko never truly grew; and no one has yet figured out the patterns in which the apricot and cherry trees would bloom and bear fruit. But the most interesting creatures were the one nobody ever invited.

I don't think I can count every species in the garden now, but just thinking about it for a little while yields fifty plant species and about as many animal species, nearly half of which are vertebrates. They came, one by one, when they realised that there was plenty to eat and that nobody was kicking them out. The squirrels and doves love the pine trees. The hedgehogs settled once and for all when they discovered that they had gasteropods aplenty and plenty of dead leaves stacking under the hedge. The only predators are the cats, but they're terrified of hedgehogs, so a whole family of them came and settled. We attracted the smaller birds with seeds in winter. It's not completely natural, but I mean, come on, poor things. Then the sparrowhawk noticed that there were some big fat doves lounging in the pines, and it expanded its territory over our house. I only watched him hunt once, but saw the circles of feathers he left in the grass at other times. He's terrifying. He's barely bigger than a dove; yet he fended off two huge-beaked magpies with a shriek awhen they came near his prey. I didn't feel much pleasure in watching him slaughter the poor bird, but there was nothing that would have saved the dove at that stage. So I kept quiet, hoping he'd make it quick.

It was very fascinating, after a while, to see how much more skilled the garden was at regulating itself than we ever were with fertiliser and pesticides. It simply had to take its time. Now it's growing by itself, sprouting new leaves here and there, fennel on one side, hazelnuts on the other, and the ubiquitous figs and clematite. It takes care of itself. And it's so much better now.

When one is too clumsy to grow a simple courgette… it's humbling.

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