John and Margaret Cooper submitted the piece below, with photos, for the FFON Armchair Naturalist, from their friend Dr Jennifer Whybrow BVSc MSc MRCVS.

Jennifer’s notes reflect changes during April, during the first few weeks of the Covid-19 lockdown. She enjoys her garden but, like all of us, has to strike a balance between maintaining it as an attractive place in which flowers and fruits grow and allowing wildlife to flourish. Should snails be left to multiply unhindered, or is it reasonable to reduce their numbers? And what about so-called “weeds”? Many are in fact delightful wild flowers. Shakespeare was aware of how they are viewed by gardeners when he wrote “Now ’tis spring, and weeds are shallow-rooted; suffer them now and they’ll o’ergrow the garden”.

Cat marking territory up tree

Jennifer is a veterinary surgeon and understandably is also interested in the interactions between her cat and the garden. Her photo of scratch marks on a tree is correctly labelled “cat marking territory”. Cats have scent glands in their paws (and elsewhere). Scratching a surface is a sign that the cat is delineating where it lives, not that it needs to keep its claws clean and sharp!

Here are some of Jennifer’s observations:

Thursday 2nd April 2020

Ground quite dry. Have been having to start watering.

Pulmonaria in flower and pomegranate seedlings have survived winter and coming into leaf coming into leaf here. 

Chinotta (bitter orange) overpowering and I saw the beesseemed to prefer the cyclamen. Apricot cherry peach in flower here and apple coming out. Citrus have flowers coming. No sign of turmeric or ginger shooting yet though. 

Tuesday 14th April 2020

Bumble bees recognising citrus now and apple blossom smelling delightful. I’m so lucky to have this garden.

Citrus cutting that dropped its leaf seems to be producing some flowers. First cutting I’ve managed so far. Will be interesting to see how it grows without rootstock.

Thursday 16th April 2020

It’s like June weather here today.

Realising now how ignorant I am with lots of bees and fuzzy flies about. I think my peonies need bigger pots too but one I planted last year has some buds so quite exciting as no idea what colour it will be. 

Am glad you both keeping well. Can’t believe it’s almost 23 years since the (veterinary) conference I met you at with the babies. Much longer since John put a hissing cockroach on my hand and I almost fainted. 

Monday 27th April 2020

Citrus cutting that dropped its leaf seems to be producing some flowers. First cutting I’ve managed so far. Will be interesting to see how it grows without rootstock. 

Thanks for identifying it (bumblebee). I’ll try and get some more photos. Have felt very guilty throwing my snails out over the fence across the road.

Ant on horseradish leaf

Birds are on the apple blossom. Hope they’re picking ants.

It’s getting to 30C in the garden but very pleasant today.

Photos from around the garden:

New growth on ‘coppiced’ hacked off hazel
Snail – probably white-lipped snail (Cepea hortensis)
elderflower flowers
Web sprayed with mist of water
Early hazel nuts
Olive flowers
This has been eating my Victoria Rhubarb
a pupa of a moth

These notes confirm the value of recording changes over a period of time – in this case, during the month of April. It has been said that spring time is when the earth laughs in flowers, and Jennifer’s observations help confirm this. If we return to William Shakespeare, “April … hath put a spirit of youth in everything” – a sentiment that is much-needed during these distressing days of Covid-19.

Submitted by John and Margaret Cooper on behalf of Jennifer Whybrow.

2nd May 2020