December, in my memory, is white as Lapland, though there were no reindeers. But there were cats.”
– Dylan Thomas, A Child’s Christmas in Wales

That sounds all very nice, were DT not to have spoiled the image by then going on to write “Patient, cold and callous, our hands wrapped in socks, we waited to snowball the cats.”

Minor changes …

Some minor changes to the way this web journal works are being implemented this week. Previously, if we have been busily adding posts all week you get an email on Sunday with half a dozen or so links and it’s evident that maybe the first one or two are opened and read while the others are left for later and often overlooked. We don’t want to overload you, but it has caused some editorial pondering.

And so … from this Sunday, unless something outstanding happens here at the Sparroworks, your lunchtime email will normally provide just two links. One to a compendium journal entry (like this) and one to a single, carefully curated gallery of photographs instead of individual posts for each feature image. Certainly fewer clicks for you, anyway.

Closing in on the Solstice …

Special treat. There’s a sugary-sweet cliché ridden tune rolled out everywhere at this time of the year that, frankly, is too often somewhat emetic. Little Drummer Boy. But it doesn’t have to be so awful – thanks to the wonders of the internet and Facebook and Alan Freshwater down in the antipodes I have found a version performed and filmed by some by students at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim. Against my better judgement, I have to say I like this … including the unusual replacement of the traditional cherubic choir boy by a Norwegian Ice Maiden.  Anyway, enjoy the video below:

In the garden with birds

This being winter, not a lot is happening in the garden other than the wildlife working hard to make a living. The heavy snow of a week or two ago has been sporadically thawing with a couple of days of mixed rain and ice pellets and grass has reappeared in patches … we are scheduled another ‘big dump’ in about ten days however and flurries between now and then. It’s also jolly cold and the ground very hard.

You will recollect that we have a couple of flourishing milkweed patches for the butterflies to enjoy. Like most plants, we leave the stalks to stand throughout the winter so wildlife can have some extra seeds. A few milkweed pods ripened and released their seeds a month or more ago while the others remained determinedly closed. As the hard cold arrived however, the remaining pods have burst open (see photo to the left) and are gradually releasing their seeds to blow around the neighbourhood where, we very ,much hope, some at least will settled down, germinate and in a couple of years add to the milkweed flower population of the town.

The pair of Carolina Wrens are now established as very regular visitors to the garden, being seen most days – once venturing close to the hose and checking out the heated birdbath on the handrail of the deck. At least three House Finches have adopted our feeders as well.

We appear to have been adopted by a lone(ly) Mourning Dove that flops between the trees and the feeders with occasional late evening visits to the heated water bath. This is unusual as they normally travel in flocks and this fellow seems to be all alone. On the other hand we have more than once seen groups of >15 Mourning Doves around the feeders we maintain at the MBO, a location where we have seen few at all in previous winters. Generally they have been forest edge birds but recently they are making good use of the MBO feeders.

Mid-week temperatures fell again and we enjoyed watching a rather small, certainly not fully grown, eastern cottontail rabbit happily hopping about the garden and resting up in Molly’s Dell. He/she is very welcome provided that we have no repeats of the bark nibbling issues a couple of years ago. If he needs shelter there is plenty in the stumpery in the back corner.

Eastern Cottontail Rabbit

Garden Celebration

The Garden at Fritz ( and ) celebrated the end of another very successful year during which we grew and distributed a record quantity of fresh vegetables to a couple of local food banks. That’s five years experience under our belts and once we have digested the excellent pot-luck dinner we enjoyed at the Fritz Community Centre we can look forward to starting work on our plans for 2019 after the new year. Good project, good company, good friends.

From the archives – this time six years ago (2012) …be you native plant lovers and gardeners or not, there is a fairly good chance that several readers of this journal cultivate potted bulbs indoors during the winter. Six years ago I wrote an informational piece … anyway, it recently came back to my attention and things being quietish outside I thought it worth repeating because, well, this stuff is just interesting. So … let’s have a bio-nerd moment.

A couple of centuries ago Linnaeus classified two species of, on the face of it, similar flowering plants – one from South-Africa and one from South-America.  One was put into the genus Amaryllis and one into Hippeastrum.  The flower millions of people have in their houses right now, was almost certainly sold to you, and is known by you,  as an Amaryllisbut it isn’t.  Back in the 1930’s the botanists of the world realised that nobody knew which was the type-specimen that Linnaeus had studied and after 50 years of back and forth discussion it was agreed by all in 1987 that the South American plant is really the Hippeastrum while the South African one is the Amaryllis. This would be all well and good were it not for the fact that the one the florists sell and we grow and enjoy is the South American species and so should be named and sold as a Hippeastrum yet the floral trade resolutely and totally incorrectly have stuck to calling them Amaryllis.

After some 80+ years you would think that the bulb trade might have caught on my now and got it right, but no, too much trouble.  After all, what could these botanical taxonomists possibly know about it? Anyway, this Christmas when your friends commend you on your skills at growing your splendid specimen Amaryllis you can inform them that what they are looking at is Hippeastrum and they will depart the better for having been put right.

And a final useless factoid … the name Amaryllis is taken from the name of a shepherdess in Virgil’s pastoral Eclogues, (from the Greek amarysso, meaning “to sparkle”).

A card that J has been cherishing since 1954

The lonely Mourning Dove