We had recently moved into our new cottage, here in Suffolk. It was October 2009. We came to Suffolk in 2007 but we had not secured ourselves a place to live for the long term. We had a good feeling that this cottage would be a place to call home. As I write this, in 2020, I can say that we certainly have loved living here and that we have made significant changes over the time we have been here. I hope that you will enjoy this section of my blog, which focuses on how we developed our cottage garden. We moved in, along with our beautiful dog; Fred. The garden, back in 2009, consisted of a part-perimeter fence. It did not go fully around the garden and so the garden was really just a corner of a bigger grazing meadow, in which a variety of cattle and other livestock would be put out to pasture.
I relished the idea of gradually transforming this little blank canvas into something that would be a sanctuary for Kevin and I and which would give Fred a safe place to play outside. Most of all, however, I wanted to create a haven for wildlife. I wanted to provide habitat for all of the creatures I could and to help be part of the solution for nature, not a problem; as humanity increasingly seems to be.
I was at the beggining of a new phase in my Parkinson’s journey. Still undiagnosed, yet pretty certain what my illness was, I had started to learn to pace myself a little more and to take greater care in how I approached tasks. Symptoms were no means new to me; having had them since at least my early twenties and I think even before that. It was just that the onslaught of whatever this illness was, was really hitting hard and causing me difficulty. Getting the main structure of a garden in place was going to be essential to achieve, pretty quickly.
Sadly, as we began to make progress, Fred bacame ill and he passed away in January 2011. This was utterly devastating to us. He had been the most wonderful dog and beloved member of our family. For almost twelve years he had brought incredible joy into our lives (well, okay – he was a naughty nightmare for the first two years) and it was hard to countenence the idea of being without him.
We ploughed on with the garden, through the seasons until the end of 2012. We achieved a great deal in that time. We had fenced the garden, we had started to create planting structure, we had dabbled with growing vegetables and understanding how the Suffolk seasons and environment works. We knew that there was a great deal to do, ahead of us, but the beauty of starting a garden from scratch, is that you get to watch it evolve and you gain an insight into how the garden and how nature work together. Our family also enjoyed watching the garden evolve, each time they visited.
We selected and planted trees that would be good for bees and that would bear fruit. We selected shrubs that would be great habitat for as much wildlife as possible and we selected plants and flowers that would further help support insects and birds. Importantly, we planted a hedgerow. This was particularly important to my concept for the garden as a wildlife haven. It was formed of hazel, blackthorn, hawthorn, hornbeam, wild rose and forsythia, to name but a few components. It was literally a case of planting individual ‘sticks’ that would hopefully continue to root and grow. They were, at best, no more than a foot and a half tall and it seemed as though it might take a lifetime for them to ever form a hedge. How wrong I was!
Meanwhile, we were starting to receive visitors. We discovered mice, shrews, hedgehogs, frogs, toads, stoats, newts, woodpeckers, barn owls, tawny owls, all manner of beautiful English birds and a number of visitors who much have been migrating for the different seasons. Even rabbits came into the garden. It started to take life and we fell in love with it.
It was later in 2012 that we made a decision. We missed Fred terribly. We realised that life without dogs was just not the way to be and so we searched and found two little puppies; brothers from the same litter. They were Jack Russel and Shi-Tzu crossed or, as we like to refer to them; ‘Jack Shitz,’ Welcome to our lives in Suffolk, little Oscar and Digby.
There is a certain amount of chaos, and for a certain period of time, when puppies enter your life. Without much exception, it seems that the first two years of any dogs life are going to involve mess, naughtiness, chaos and a whole lot of fun. These two were no exception. They are, of course, now so intrinsically wrapped up in the memory of our garden, as it developed and this has been a complete joy. By the end of 2012, with our new little family members on board, our garden looked set for a bright future. Yes, we still had much to do but it was already a living, breathing sanctuary and wildlife haven. We were living the dream.
(C) Deano Parsons. 2020.