Instant Lift

4th March

I went to let the hens out and feed them at just after six am today. It was still dark, but the local robins were already challenging each other with songs. Dunnocks and a woodpigeon or two were clearing their throats, while a blackbird tuned up in the hedge.


As I walked through the vegetable garden, a woodcock flew up from almost under my feet, and nearly frightened me to death! These birds search for worms and insects in soft ground at dusk and dawn. This one was investigating the patch I’ve turned over ready to plant potatoes, so the soil was soft and damp.

Woodcock are perfectly camouflaged for sorting through leaf litter. They would rather rely on their cryptic colouring, sit tight and “freeze” rather than fly away so I obviously got much too close for comfort.

Between the first days of spring and early summer we usually only see woodcock as silhouettes at dusk and dawn as they make their strange whistling and croaking calls. They do this to mark out their territory, and look for mates. We often see the birds chasing and scrapping with each other while we’re out looking for bats. When they start this ritual, it means spring really is here.

News about the Corona virus isn’t as continually bleak as it was when I started this page back at the turn of the year. The days are brighter and life, while still a long way from normal, is looking up. Once the woodcock start their roding flights that’ll be my cue to archive this page. I’ll go back to concentrating on my blog, so enjoy Instant Lift while you can!

25th February

I’ve had three lovely free experiences this morning, and it’s not even 11.30am!

shallow focus photo of european robin bird
Photo by Martin Dickson on

After what feels like weeks of rain, the skies cleared overnight and the dawn chorus was going strong by the time I finished my obligatory half-hour on the treadmill. There were dunnocks, wrens, and robins as well as four thrushes, including one that sang from the top of the golden cupressus as I did my my cooling down exercises, as well as a blackbird tuning up in the cherry tree.

Next, I was able to get all the washing pegged out the line in the sunshine. I wanted to get a picture of it blowing about in the breeze, but wouldn’t you know it—there wasn’t a breath of air moving!

Bee on hellebore, Copyright Christina Hollis, 2021

A few years ago I bought some Hellebore Orientalis (Lenten rose) seed from Ashwoods Nursery. The original plants have crossed and multiplied, seeding themselves all over the place. We now have loads, in the whole range of colours. This morning the patch outside my office has so many bees on it, I can hear them buzzing through the open window! Most are honey bees but there are also bumblebee queens. Some were gathering pollen, which means they must have larvae to feed.

Bumblebee washing its face, Copyright Christina Hollis 2021

I went out to try and take some photos, but nearly all of the bees were all too quick for me. I took about forty snaps to get these two! The honeybee with the shadow reminded me of Christopher Lloyd’s words about bees on apricot flowers being difficult to decide how many bees were visiting the apricot flowers in his garden, as it’s hard to tell when every bee has a shadow. The bumblebee stopped to wash its face, and stayed still just long enough for me to get this picture.

12th February

It’s been nearly five months since I squirrelled these potatoes away in paper sacks. We’re coming to the end of them now, but they’ve kept perfectly. The colour of this photo is a bit disappointing, as they look discoloured but they weren’t. They became creamy mash after I took this, and tasted delicious.

My seed potatoes arrived this week. I’ve set them up in seed trays to sprout, and covered the patch of garden where they’ll go to warm up the soil. Then they’ll get off to a flying start. We’ll be eating new potatoes with butter or mayonnaise by the start of summer. Seeing them lined up in the greenhouse is a real lift to the spirits!

It’s been absolutely freezing cold here for days on end. Summer holidays—if we’re ever allowed to take any—seem very far away. At least there’s always hope in the garden. Plants carry on regardless of our pandemics. One minute our window-boxes were showing nothing but a few little spikes of green. Then a few days of cold sunshine, and all these Cream Beauty crocuses popped up at once!

22nd January

Almost a year ago I ordered some new fruit trees to replace the ones killed by deer before we had new deer proof fencing put around our orchard and vegetable plot. A few days before Christmas I got a message that my new plants would be delivered during the next few weeks, and here they are!

It’s Christmas in January! ©Christina Hollis, 2021

Planting trees is an investment in the future. Fruit trees—especially apples—are beautiful all the year round. Their bold winter framework is followed by gorgeous flowers, and later by delicious fruit. When this box was delivered, it was like getting a late Christmas present!

Winter is the ideal time to plant bare-rooted fruit trees. The weather this year has been far from perfect but I finally got them all in.

It will be a couple of years before these young apple, pear, and plum trees produce any fruit, but there was also a bundle of autumn-fruiting raspberry canes in this parcel. They will grow fast enough this year to give us some fruit from late summer onwards. I can’t wait!

12th January 2021: Spring Really Is On Its Way!

© Christina Hollis, 2021

Look what I found in the hedge this morning—catkins! If that isn’t a sign that spring will soon be here, I don’t know what is.

We had some new deer-proof fencing put in last year, which meant we had to uproot a big colony of snowdrops. They were only a few feet from the boundary, and while the fence-builders were good and careful workers, they couldn’t have guaranteed the flowers wouldn’t get mangled.

It was safer to move the snowdrops, so Martyn dug them up with a huge amount of the surrounding soil and moved them out of danger. To be honest I’d forgotten about them until the first shoots appeared at Christmas!

© Christina Hollis, 2021

There’s an interesting story behind these bulbs. They’re descended from a clump of twenty rescued many years ago from Sir Stanley White’s old home, Hollywood House. The building had become offices, and a new car park was needed exactly where these snowdrops were growing. The caretaker asked if I’d like to give them a home. I have no idea what the variety is as Sir Stanley White was a great plant collector who bought all sorts of things from the old Giant Snowdrop Company, which was in Chalford, Gloucestershire.

Despite all the recent frost and snow, these snowdrops have kept going, and they’re now out in full flower. They’ll be going back to their original site as soon as they have gone over.

I hope you enjoyed these latest signs of spring!

5th January 2021

christmas gift boxes under fir tree
Goodbye to all that (but only until Christmas 2021)…
Photo by Oleg Zaicev on

The first week back to work after Christmas is always hard. Everywhere looks bare now that the decorations have come down, it’s a long time until payday, days are short, nights are long, and the weather has been foul. To cap it all, the whole country has been put into lockdown again because of Covid.

My PhD research is on a depressing topic and it’s in danger of dragging me down so I decided to create this page as an antidote to the world situation in general, and my Seasonal Affective Disorder in particular.

The idea is that if I come across any heartwarming or cheerful things to give us all hope, I’ll post them on here. If there’s anything that works for you, let me know and I’ll try to include it in a future post.

shallow focus photo of european robin bird
Photo by Martin Dickson on

Here are a couple of things to get the party started. Everybody loves robins, and Tweet of the Day on BBC Radio Four has featured their songs several times. Brett Westwood presents their autumn song here, while everybody’s favourite Sir David Attenborough plays their winter song while giving some likely reasons why Robins feature on so many Christmas cards here.

Lenten Roses (Helleborus Orientalis) seed themselves all around my garden, and usually flower in the weeks before Easter (the clue is in the name!). This one made an early appearance in time for New Year’s Day, and it’s lucky I took this photo when I did. We had an inch of snow that night, and the poor flowers were flattened with the weight of it! Luckily they rose again with the thaw.

What keeps your spirits up in lockdown? Let me know here, and I’ll include the most uplifting ideas in future posts.