Jul 29 2018

Gardens Drought and Donkeys

This very strange year continues: snow in March, torrential spring rain and now soaring temperatures and the most severe summer drought for nearly fifty years. It’s as if we dreamt of our tractor stuck in snow drift, wellies coming off in the mud, water draining off the fields, the stream overflowing its banks and roaring through the valley. And now this: no rain for weeks, a parched brown landscape, no grass, nothing green at all. Straw and hay prices rocket; farmers feed next winters’ forage to livestock. The stream is drying up. How long, I wonder, will it be before the spring water feeding our troughs in the fields runs dry?

Each day Millie and I climb the hill to the top fields searching for dusty hot sheep and fat unshorn lambs. In the day they lie huddled in the shade of the hedgerow around the water troughs trying to keep cool.

They creep out at dusk to munch the dry chaff left on the fields in the cool of the night. I try to tell them the rain will return. Millie races across the fields chasing imaginary rabbits. They are gone; the fox was there first. I watched him pacing the parched landscape in the heat of the day. He’s hungry too I warn the chickens.

It was four weeks ago today that I went up to the yard as usual on a Saturday morning to see my two donkeys. They too had been grazing at night and spending the day in the cool of the big barn. Gemma, the equine dentist, was due to arrive at 9.30. I walked into the barn and saw a forlorn little Nutmeg. There beside her lay dear old Luke, dead in the straw. No warning, no sign of illness; just a very old boy who left us suddenly in the night: peaceful for him, shocking for me.
Donkeys are prone to hyperlipaemia when a companion of many years dies so it was important to leave her with Luke until we could arrange for him to be taken away on Monday. I spent the weekend back and forth to the yard checking her by the hour and on the phone to the Donkey Sanctuary. Ten days later a horse box rolled into the yard and my new boys arrived!

Nutmeg wasn’t sure; at first she eyed them suspiciously. But curiosity got the better of her. Her ears pricked up again at last, she tossed her head and cantered across the field with them. I held my breath but all was well. Then, for a week or so, she kept her distance eyeing them from afar. But bit by bit she moved in to have a closer look.

Slowly she is bonding with Christos and Tiny Freddie, two big gentle youngsters. A new era has begun.

Meanwhile as donkeys settled in together the days flew by to our Village Open Garden Weekend in aid of the National Garden Scheme Nursing Charities. The Community Bus was booked, the volunteer drivers recruited. The local garden centre, Garden Time, donated the scones. The Dartmouth Dairy gave us kilos of clotted cream and gallons of milk once more. Tea would be served in the Village Hall. Friends rallied round to serve and wash up and we were even lent a field as an extra carpark.

And of course the gardeners were the heroes of the hour. Without exception they had been working towards this moment for months through all the vagaries of this year’s extraordinary weather conditions: a challenge indeed!
Eight glorious village gardens, each with stunning river views and all quite different from one another, opened their gates to visitors from all over the country. And the people did indeed flock in. They came from far and wide clutching the NGS Yellow Book. We had nearly two hundred visitors and raised well over £3000, an astonishing amount of money for charity in the two afternoons; altogether a huge success.

It is said one should be careful what one wishes for: today, suddenly torrential rain glides sideways across the parched valley!

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