Apples on a leafless apple tree, November 2004

Above: Apples against a blue sky, November 2004

Garden diary: October

20 November 2005

The frosts have arrived this week - rather a shock after the mild autumn full of bright days. I don't remember this much sunshine in previous years in November, which is a month I normally associate with rain and gloominess.

Waxwings in the apple tree

We had some glamorous and exciting bird visitors this week, as the weather turned cold. On Thursday morning (17th), we saw a waxwing - and then two waxwings - in the apple tree branches near the bathroom window. I've never seen a waxwing before anywhere, and I don't think they're that common in these parts.

The bird we saw first was eating the ripe apples that are still on the uppermost branches of the tree. These apples look beautiful on the bare branches but don't last long once the weather turns cold, as the blackbirds and starlings love them. Usually, on each apple, there's a blackbird or starling attached. So it was a surprise, after the birds with the brown and black plumage, to see this rather unusual-looking bird with the touch of red on its wings - which does indeed look rather like red sealing wax (hence the name waxwing, of course).

After eating the apples, and being chased off by the blackbirds, it ended up on the outhouse roof where the honeysuckle grows, where it reached up and delicately picked one of the bright red honeysuckle berries. These are rather translucent, and look beautiful when lit by the winter sun.

Another waxwing joined the first, but they weren't around for more than five minutes or so, probably because of the blackbirds, which do seem to chase off other birds (and each other).

Unfortunately they weren't near enough for me to take a photo, and I had just woken up, and generally don't like to do anything complicated until I've had several cups of tea. I also thought that if I went out with my camera I might scare them away, but later read that they're not too bothered about approaching humans, and seem quite fearless.

For more information and pictures of waxwings, see this page on the RSPB site, and a nice account on the Birds of Britain site.

Other garden observations - mahonias, arums, etc

It's startling how quickly the garden changes once the first frosts come. There wasn't much flower around, but the foliage was still looking reasonably lush and full. The frosts made the leaves of the Parthenocissus henryana suddenly drop, and of course blackened the foliage of the dahlias and heliotropium, which are both tender plants. The nasturtiums, by this week mainly just leaves, with the occasional, brave flower (all of which look rather pinched and small, this late in the season) turned to a mass of crumpled-looking foliage. This was easy to remove with a few tugs, and the rather slimy mess went onto the compost heap.

The Mahonia x media 'Charity' has been flowering for a week or two in its pot in Kitchen Corner. I think it may be rather too large for a pot now, and am trying to work out where I can find space for it in the garden. It is a very wide plant, with rather spiny leaves. But very statuesque, and impressive at this time of the year.

The other plant looking handsome is the Arum italicum 'Pictum', which in the autumn produces fresh leaves, while everything else is apparently retreating back to earth. I've mentioned it as if I've got just the one plant, but in fact it's everywhere, and does seem to spread rampantly, presumably by small pieces of tuber that get disturbed when you're digging. My website search stats showed me that someone had arrived at my site this week via the search term 'how to get rid of Arum italicum Pictum', so it looks as if it's spreading well in other gardens too. I wouldn't want to get rid of it, as I like its glossy, healthy-looking veined leaves, but I guess it might be a good idea to pull up some of the smaller new plants, as it does seem to be springing up all over.

5 November 2005

It's a sunny Saturday morning. The apple tree's golden leaves and remaining red apples are lit by the low autumn sunlight, against a pale blue sky. It's very clear today. Everything seems very clear today. The robin is singing in the apple tree, his rusty red breast against the yellow leaves. The garden and surrounding ones seem full of birds. Blue tits and blackbirds flit between trees and feeders and earth and sky, and the blue tits call loudly as Rosie the cat ambles past below, among the fallen apples. The man walking past in the street is whistling.

Back to November highlights and diaries


Berries - pyracantha and viburnum

Above: Berries of pyracantha and Viburnum tinus 'Gwenllian'.

Garden diary: December