What an extraordinary year 2019 has turned out to be!

Summer was late to arrive in June but arrived with a trumpet fanfare as temperatures shot off the scale and we woke day after day to sunshine and cerulean skies. it was wonderful but our 100yard long mixed border struggled for water and it became a daily preoccupation to preserve all the recent plantings.

With faint hearts we had replaced roses and herbaceous plants destroyed by herds of wild deer which had wreaked havoc in the garden. As a last attempt we bought wonderful roses from Just Roses near Northiam, East Sussex. Their quality is unsurpassable and in June the border was crammed with exquisite baby roses surrounded by vast peonies, hardy geraniums, campanulas, verbascums, lupins and delphiniums.

A nervous hunt on Google produced a new type of deer repellent. We have two, nicknamed the “Squawk Boxes”. They have detectors which pick up sound, heat and movement and give a seven second burst from an internal radio while a flash light switches on. In the dark one would really think there were people walking through the garden with flashlights.

Amusingly, they work most effectively when tuned to a speech station. We are demoralising our deer with a blast of Radio 4’s incessant Brexit coverage by day and informing them of the world at large with The World Service at night. Mercifully it cannot be heard in the house or the cottage but guests walking along the long path have been highly amused.

We’ve had temperatures soaring to above 37 degrees when we took to the shade of our lovely trees as our guests lounged on the cottage stoop. When the weather settled guests took the garden table from the stoop and set up on the lawn by the cottage bay window. Many spent long days there, lounging, reading and eating every meal surrounded by trees and roses.

More recently we’ve had high winds, which rushing through our mighty oaks. beeches and cedars of Lebanon, resembled Tolkein’s “ Ents” communicating with each other in an arboreal language of their own.

Sara Bernhart
Phlox, agapanthus and geraniums
Walking to the cottage the air was heavy with scent and  only the sound of birdsong.

Walking to the cottage the air was heavy with scent and only the sound of birdsong.

Is Spring on the way?

How variable our climate is!

This winter has been pretty mild, not too many grey rainy days, two of snow and most have been chilly but bright. Last week we made the most of the lovely warm days with primroses appearing in the banks, daffodils and crocus in bloom, sunny skies and the renewed pleasure of walking the dog without a coat.

Not bad, you might think.

How was this depicted on the front page of our newspapers? Cue for warnings of drought in summer, dire consequences for gardens and huge photos of fires on Ashdown Forest. Such fires are dangerous and, infuriatingly, frequently caused by carelessness or worse. But photos of people enjoying the balmy weather? Of course not!

Inevitably, Nature took back control yesterday as we met old friends and their two lurchers for a dog walk on the Cuckmere meanders. The rain bucketed down as we slogged along with filthy but ecstatic dogs.

In the way of life down here though, our walk ended in the car park of a lovely old Sussex Downs pub where they sensibly provide a hose by the rear door. A wrestling match involving our dog, two huge towels and my husband transformed Figgy into a reasonably clean furry mountain, albeit smelling like a damp rug. Clearly he felt the struggle was worth it as he paraded, head high, with the humans into the pub for lunch and all the affectionate fussing that invariably greets him in such places.

Will tomorrow’s papers carry stories of a “washout spring”?

We will keep a sensible look out now for any cold snap. The “Beast from the East” caused many bee losses last year. Our girls are our foraging the spring flowers and I managed a somewhat blurry photo of one on a snowdrop. The Cerinthe in the cutting garden is a big draw, its common name is Honeywort.

Time to take a deep breath and turn on the hose

Time to take a deep breath and turn on the hose

Isn’t he sweet, someone will say….

Isn’t he sweet, someone will say….

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Fuzzy bee

Fuzzy bee

Wonderful walk, stunning sunset

And so this glorious weather continues, at least until the end of the week, when colder temperatures are forecast. On the hill behind the cottage the hollies and the large cotoneaster trees are completely covered in berries. Meanwhile the golds and russets of the bracken glow in the sunlight beneath the trees.

Very often we have spectacular sunsets filling the view from the cottage, especially during autumn and winter. This evening the entire horizon lit up as the sun sank below the Downs in the far distance.

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A fabulous day out

We are always on the lookout for exceptional days out to suggest to our guests. This week we experienced a morning we will never forget and intend to repeat at the East Sussex Falconry at Herstmonceux Castle, about half an hour from The Cottage in the Garden. www.eastsussexfalconry.co.uk

It really is impossible to put into words the magic and the thrill of those hours. Gerard, the Head Falconer and his assistant Adam introduced our small group of six to three birds.

We walked into the ancient woods which surround the castle with the first bird “Ash” a Harris’s Hawk, a character of such intelligence and charm that he quickly captivated everyone. He showed his party trick of running up a wooden handrail on a steep flight of steps in the wood and then staggered us with his flying skills through dense tree cover to land effortlessly on a gloved hand. He is affectionate, relating to humans in an extraordinary way and with an intense, trusting relationship with Gerard.

Secondly we flew “Halo”, a Barn Owl. Despite his apparent bulk he is so light that landing on my shoulder I really could feel no weight, just the softness of his magnificent plumage which resembles the finest gold embroidered lace. He glided silently through the darkness of the trees and when we emerged into the open he floated over the fields, ghostlike, landing silently on a gloved hand.

Finally we flew a Lamar Falcon “Neo”. With the backdrop of the 15th century castle we watched him soar out of sight then swoop down at jet speed to catch his prey at our feet. The centuries fell away as we experienced the ancient collaboration between falcon and man.

For anyone who loves wildlife this experience is not to be missed.

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Gerard with Neo

Gerard with Neo

Sumptuous Sussex

Autumn is here in our beautiful Sussex woods bringing a bright tapestry carpet of leaves. The dappled sunlight through the canopy catches the mass of red hawthorn berries and the toadstools beneath. The squirrels are busy burying nuts in the soft earth. Walking in the woods yesterday along narrow frondose paths, we emerged overlooking a sunlit valley where the buzzards were wheeling overhead, mewing to each other as they circled in the thermals. Our dog was fascinated by the multitude of scents as the tracks of deer and badgers criss-crossed our path.

Meanwhile in our garden the roses are in a final flush and the recent warm weather has encouraged herbaceous plants into a second flowering. I picked armfuls of flowers and ornamental grasses to decorate the cottage.

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