THIS morning I watched the heron lift off from its morning river patrol. It rose gradually but gracefully into the morning mist and glided gently towards a position further up stream. The water was teeming with small fry so I am sure it must have eaten heartily for breakfast.

Herons are one of those creatures that make me feel incredibly small and insignificant. They look mightily prehistoric, and I'm sure that they and their ancestors have been around for many millions of years longer than mankind.

In flight they beat their wings with a long, laboured sweep that propels them along at deceptive speed. As they fly they appear to be judging what passes beneath them with a time-worn apathy. I can almost hear them sighing at the disintegration of the planet, and how they have seen us selfishly destroy acres of nature's wilderness.

You can see just how much we have intruded on the natural routines of our wild birds and animals by counting the number of squashed carcasses on even a short stretch of road. Birds often suffer collisions immediately after hedge-cutting time (which seems to be all year round now). They get used to skimming the tops of the hedges, but when the height comes down by a foot or so it can also mean crashing into the side of a vehicle.

The yearly emergence of the perennial flowers though is a touching testament to the brilliance and resilience of nature. Take the common peony. Just after Christmas it pushes up quite suggestively from the frosty clutches of the winter ground. The leaves carefully unfurl like giant green hands and form themselves into tidy symmetrical mounds. A small bud forms at the base of each leaf branch. This swells and swells, creating such anticipation, until late in May the green casing breaks open to reveal a velvet bowl of deep magenta petals.

The flower carefully continues to uncurl from it's long sleep. Just at the point when it is almost fully ripened, down comes a heavy spring shower and smashes it all to smithereens. This is the heartbreaking moment when you try to pick up all the fallen petals and cradle them in your cupped hands in the hope of breathing them back to life. It's futile, of course.

You may have missed out on the opportunity to gaze upon and proudly show off one of nature's many exquisite creations, but the plant itself is unharmed and will do it all again next year.

The more that you take the time to look at and really study the natural wonders of this world, the more you realise how unimportant and yet dangerous mankind's part in it.

To a Hawthorn

Hawthorn, as you show your beauty,

Blossoming in prolific May,

Aroused by the feel-good sunlight,

Of a freshly breaking day,

You sense that Arcadia has risen,

And why it is a pleasure to grow

In a place that will always gladden the sky,

Where feather-light fairies come and go,

Sprinkling dreamlike, delicate thoughts in the air

While spreading their radiance around,

This special spot where a well of wishes

Has given its watery boon to the ground.

David Coates, Shildon


Sow beans

Plant runner and French beans directly into the outside soil. Ones sown under cover earlier in the year must be hardened off first before planting out.


Hang pheromone traps in the tree branches in order to catch any male codling moths. This helps prevent maggoty apples.


Carefully pick off dead flowers once they have faded, taking care not to damage developing leaves.