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February’s Changing Seasons ~ Shots From The Plot

 

Way-hay – it’s spring, or so it seems, and now I feel I need to garden on the run in order to catch up. Much earth moving must be done at the allotment – all the jobs it was too wet to do in the autumn. All the jobs that it’s still to wet to do now. But at least the temperatures are kinder.

And the light is so promising. I’m celebrating that fact in the re-composed top shot of an allotment sunset, captured through the neighbouring hedgerow.

In fact every day now you can see the over-wintered plant life responding as light levels and temperatures rise: purple sprouting sprouting, cauliflowers hatching inside their leaf-folds, chives shooting, rhubarb unfurling, spinach expanding. Then there are carrots to pull from their bucket in the polytunnel, and Chinese mustard and Russian Kale; the autumn sown lettuce are starting to fill out.

Meanwhile inside the polytunnel a big makeover is also afoot. He-who-makes-raised-beds-out-of-old-pallets has been dragooned  into  commissioned to reorganise the planting zones. Instead of wide beds along each side and a path up the middle, the plan is to have one continuous narrow but deep bed on one side, a narrow raised bed down the centre for tomatoes, and three separate raised beds down the far side.

After two days slog establishing the first and second phases, HWMRBOOOP heroically informs me that the stage 3 separate beds are now ready, flat-pack style, for the final part of the installation. The only problem is that it is now windy and raining and we don’t feel like leaving the house. Also this last part of operations will require shifting tons of soil from the old side bed into the new beds, and there’s only so much heaving and hauling one can do in a week.

I’ve already shunted and prepared the soil in polytunnel beds 1 and 2, turned over three big squidgy compost heaps (my compost making technique leaves a lot to be desired), sifted out enough usable stuff to cover several outdoor beds, while starting a new heap with all the stuff that needs to go round again. I have another six heaps to deal with.

At the moment I have one and half allotment plots, but I’m aiming to dispense with the top half of my oldest plot this March when the rents are due. Ultimately, I’d like to retreat altogether to my polytunnel half plot, by which time I should have a fully functioning NO DIG raised bed/terrace system. The theory is that since this system will be more manageable and productive, a half plot should be more than sufficient for our needs. However, as I’ve mentioned several times in other posts, this approach does rely on making loads of compost every year, and that takes up space. Anyway, one step at a time.

And in between compost turning,  moving the gooseberry bush, and pruning the autumn raspberries, there is always time to take a few photos. So here follows a gallery of shots from the February allotment, one of which makes me realise that my polytunnel now also needs a good wash. Heavens to Betsy – is there no end to the gardener’s toil:

To take part in the monthly Changing Seasons challenge please visit Max aka Cardinal Guzman.

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Traces Of The Past ~ And Who Do You Think Lived In This Little House?

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Well, I’d never seen one of these before.  There it was outside the walled garden at Attingham Park, one of Shropshire’s grandest historic houses.  Closer inspection and the spotting of an information panel inside one of the half-moon ‘windows’ yielded the knowledge that it was in fact the bees knees in accommodation – a grand house commissioned specially for the Second Duke of Berwick’s bees.

The house was originally sited in the Duke’s extensive orchards to encourage the pollination of the fruit trees. Behind each opening there would have been a traditional hive or skep – an upturned, domed basket made from coils of straw. This apian ‘des res’ apparently dates from the early 1800s and is only one of two known Regency examples in the country. The great landscape designer Humphry Repton and architect John Nash were both employed at Attingham around this time, and so either one could be responsible for the design.

The hall and park are in the care of the National Trust, and it is currently one of their most visited properties – over 400,000 visitors last year and growing. Millions have been spent on the house, and the next huge project is the recreation of Lord Berwick’s pleasure grounds. Nor have the bees been forgotten. There are a quarter of a million honey bees in the Park, and the Trust has recently established a large, new apiary in the Deer Park. There is also a National Observation Hive in the orchard where you can watch the bees coming and going. Attingham honey may be going on sale soon. So a big cheer to the National Trust for championing the bee cause, this in the face of determined eradication of the species by the Big Unfriendly Pesticide Giants. We’ll all be very sorry if bees become ‘a thing of the past’.

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The walled garden in winter: a restoration project in progress. You can just glimpse the orchard beyond the far wall.

Black & White Sunday: Traces of the Past Now visit Paula for her fine entry.

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Against The Odds ~ The Wenlock Edge Sky Painter Steals Raoul Dufy’s Paint Box

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I was in primary school when I fell in love with Raoul Dufy. In those days there was a state schools’ travelling art scheme, and at regular intervals our classrooms would receive a new reproduction of some striking painting. The said artist would then feature in a piece of project work: we would learn something of their life, and diligently copy or create our own versions of the picture.

Vincent Van Gogh featured often, and for a long time I was overly fascinated with the man, the loss of his reason and his ear, and was also visually transfixed by his chair.

But it was one of Raoul Dufy’s many images of La Promenade Des Anglais in Nice that captured my imagination. As I painstakingly copied the never-before-experienced palm trees, the balustrade, the blue, blue sea beyond, I became aware of quite new sensations: of something excitingly foreign, but above all, and I could not have put this in words at the time, of a sense of unfettered joi de vivre, something I had never felt before, since it was definitely never a sensation to be experienced in my home-life. And so when I see this sky, I have that same sense of the joyous liberation of the spirit, and think that this is possibly all I need to know about the universe. It simply IS. And I am glad to be here.

Dufy Le Casino de Nice

Daily Post  Against the Odds

Thursdays Special ~ Les Quatre Saisons En Rouge et Noir

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From top to bottom: winter witch hazel, spring tulips, summer oriental poppy, autumn crab apples.

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The flowers on our little witch hazel tree are already brown and shrivelled. It was flowering back in January, and on bleak grey days the ragged clusters of russet petals made it look much like a tree invented by aliens. A welcome sight nonetheless. Otherwise the garden is presently dank and soggy – a scatter of snowdrops and one or two hellebore flowers opening.

But there are other signs of spring – tulips and daffodils shooting up several inches tall, and the oriental poppies making their first leaves. Also the  Evereste crab apple tree which we moved last year, and feared we had killed in the process, is covered in tight little buds; so fingers crossed.

Indoors, I’m fretting to start sowing – packets of seeds, old and new, in piles on the window sills, seed potatoes set out in trays in the conservatory. But it’s all too early to do much outside – the Shropshire soil still too cold and wet for sowing. I’m told by a fellow allotmenteer that the acid test for knowing if the soil is warm enough for growing is to sit on it with your pants down. Yep. Bare bottom pressed to the earth. If you can bear the baring, then it’s OK to plant. But this is not a procedure I could recommend for communal gardens, not unless one’s fellow gardeners are suitably forewarned.

And so, keeping my pants well pulled up, I’m stemming my impatience by starting off globe artichokes, coriander and basil in the kitchen, and nurturing my sweet pea seedlings. They don’t mind the cold conservatory, and probably could go outside now. I shall also sow some leeks in pots, and maybe do the same with beetroot.  And if I were truly organised I could also sort out my seed packets into month order so as not to miss the boat as I did with several things last year.

But it’s all so exciting – another seasons’ round in the offing. More things to learn; more things learned to put into practice. It is, after all, the gardener’s way – to travel hopefully.

 

Paula’s Thursday’s Special ~ le rouge et le noir

Interesting The Things Your Stats Tell You

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Actually this is probably just an excuse to post yet again this very old photo of me at Great Zimbabwe. We were living in Lusaka, Zambia at the time, Graham on a year’s attachment to the European Delegation, in charge of food aid distribution. You can read that story at the link.

Towards the end of this posting we drove down to Zimbabwe, and spent a couple of weeks touring around. Back in the 1990s it was a fabulous country to visit. We simply followed our noses, and drove on near empty, but well-kept roads, one of which brought us at last to Great Zimbabwe. We pretty much had the place to ourselves too. It was astonishing.

Anyway my stats of the last few days suggest to me that somewhere in the U.S. a bunch of students has been given a Great Zimbabwe assignment. I know this because they’re all opening a post I wrote 3 years and 2 blog themes ago: Abandoned: Great Zimbabwe. This happens periodically, although sometimes it’s Zimbabwean students searching for material on why the place was abandoned. It’s one of my perennial posts – not so much viral as chronic. Every year the traffic has doubled. Last year 1,311 people dropped in there.

But nothing gets as much traffic as my post on Karen Blixen and Denys Finch Hatton. Caught Inside A Kikuyu Garden. This was also written three years ago, and so far has clocked up 12,715 views. Of course I have no way of knowing if all these people have actually read the piece, but I find it intriguing. I also sometimes wonder what would happen if I had a ‘Karen and Denys’ blog, and didn’t bother to post anything else. Funny old activity – blogging.

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Black and White Sunday: Darkness and Light

 

It’s back to Llanddwyn Island on Anglesey for my response to this week’s prompt from Paula. Darkness and light – the stuff of fiction writing, but also the source of many diversions from the work-in-progress to play with my camera’s monochrome setting. The hazy uplands in the background are the mountains of mainland Wales. The island in question is in reality a long thin promontory  heading out to sea from Newborough Beach, and has, since Dark Ages times, been associated with St Dwynwen, Welsh patron saint of lovers. You can read more  HERE and HERE.

And now for a more abstract rendition of darkness and light: an early morning view across Menai Strait, taken from the fields above Beaumaris. Here on Anglesey, the sun in winter regularly puts on these mystical lightshows – shining searchlights through banks of low cloud on to the water. This particular shot was taken with quite a lot of zoom and then cropped.

 

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Thursdays Special ~ Profile Of The Leonine Kind

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We came upon the Maasai Mara’s famous Marsh Pride on a morning game drive out from Mara River Camp. It was August – as close to winter as Kenya gets – the skies leaden, the plains parched and dusty, the whole place waiting for the short rains that will not be happening for another two months; and perhaps not at all. In fact this trip had started out from Nairobi in thick fog, and descending the Great Rift escarpment was even more hair-raising exciting than usual.

But to get back to the lions. The pride was resting up in home territory, most of its members – mothers and cubs – scarcely visible in the grass. For one thing they were the same colour as the vegetation. For another, it is what lions do – disappear in twelve inches of grass.

As we drove nearer we spotted this male. He was pacing through the grass, roaring. This was answered by another male some distance away. It seemed they were busy marking out their patch. They ignored us anyway, which was comforting, though I have to say that lion-roars, especially ones at close quarters, make your spine resonate, and not in a good way.

Another hair-raising exciting moment then.

We watched them for a while from the safety of the safari truck, then left them to it, the roars following us down the track. By which time  we were  wondering if we were really there at all. Out in the African wilds it mostly feels like dreaming.

 

Profile:     Panthera Leo

                    Simba in KiSwahili

Weight:    Males 420-500 lb/110-135 kg

Length:     Males 5-7 ft/2.5-2 m

Lifespan:  Males 12 years

 

Thursdays Special: Profile

Please visit Paula to see her fantabulous shot of a snowy owl.

The Trail Of Tish ~ My Path To The Allotment

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Here is a well worn path of my daily comings and going along the margins of Townsend Meadow. The visible sign: the trail of gardening not writing.

There’s an unofficial gap in the hedge beside the first ash tree, and that’s my way into the allotment. The farmer leaves a swath of uncultivated ground on two sides of the field to soak up rainstorm run-off before it hits the houses at the bottom of the hill. For a couple of years these abandoned areas were simply left to grow, hence the nose-high grasses still standing in winter. But last summer, just before the wheat harvest, the weedy  wilderness was mowed. Now the only signs of my passing  are muddy boot impressions among the fallen ash leaves – not quite so photogenic.

Black & White Sunday: SIGN  Paula says to interpret this prompt any way we like.