And It’s Still Raining…

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Today, an errand that involved ordering shower room parts took us out of Shropshire and into Worcester. We’d been putting off going since Monday, the weather being so dire. But this morning the three-day deluge had reduced itself to heavy drizzle, so after a fortifying coffee, off we went.

I find bathroom showrooms dispiriting places for all sorts of reasons, but it had to be done, and mission completed, and the vile, multi-islanded Kidderminster bypass survived in both directions, we felt that soothing surroundings were needed. And since our route took us past Dudmaston Hall, which being National Trust has a very pleasant cafe, we decided to call in for lunch. And very nice it was too with the big log burning stove blazing away. (Anyone would think it was October.)

Afterwards we had a wander in the gardens. Many of the roses had been crushed and their stems battered down, but I thought they still looked beautiful in their way. So here are some more with their fallen petals, photos taken with Sue Judd at Words Visual in mind. Sue is a wiz in her studies of decay and transience.

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But it wasn’t all mayhem. One walled border that comprised mainly wild flower species – foxgloves and red centranthus in particular – was thriving in the rain.

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And out in the parkland among the buttercups there were some very contented cattle browsing lush meadow grasses.

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Rain Between Showers And Sweet Wild Roses

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And so many associations too: old tales of a princess and a poisoned spindle, of a derring-do lad with thorny ramparts to vanquish and kisses to impart. Then there’s the therapeutic qualities of Rosa canina, the dog rose. Herbalists have long used the dried petals in compresses for the eyes and as a tea to soothe digestion. And of course the bright red hips of autumn are still valued for their high vitamin C content. If you were a child in Britain during WW2, and indeed for some years afterwards, you will still remember the taste of rosehip syrup, promoted by government during the war-time absence of citrus fruit. The hips are said to have 30 times more vitamin C than an orange.

And rose petals are indeed edible. In times past I have been known to crystallise them with a coating of gum arabic, rosewater and caster sugar, delicately applied with a small paint brush. Once they had been left to dry in a warm place, I would serve them with creamy lemon syllabub and homemade meringues. A memory then of my culinary ‘dog days’ – of a June without deluges, and the dog roses scrambling airily through hedgerows suffusing the lanes with their delicate scent.

All the same, the flowers do look rather lovely scattered with raindrops – not too many, mind. Which rather brings me to John Coltrane, and my favourite version of My Favourite Things. I’m hoping some you like it too:

 

 

Lens-Artists #49 Favourite Things

This week Patti has set the ‘favourite things’  theme, so pay her a visit and be inspired. And here’s what she says about the Lens-Artists weekly challenge: “If you’re new to the challenges, click here to learn how to join us.  Remember to link your post here and tag it Lens-Artists to help us find your post in the WP Reader.

Next week, it’s Ann Christine’s turn to lead the challenge, so be sure to visit her blog.  As always, Amy, Tina, Ann-Christine, and I are delighted that you’re joining our challenges!

Beautiful Damascus streets, filmed over the days of Eid

Some heartening scenes from today’s Syria. Eva Bartlett is one of the few Western journalists who has made repeated visits to Syria over the past few years. Her reports are based on her first-hand experiences and her conversations and interviews with Syrian people.

In Gaza

As charming as these scenes are, I’ve had many tell me over the years, including recently, that holidays are tainted with massive sadness for those martyred and maimed by terrorists and in the fight against terrorism and to restore peace to Syria.

I always feel the need to note that these street scenes of tranquility would be impossible without the sacrifices of the Syrian army and allies, and that until the liberation last year of eastern Ghouta, and Yarmouk and surrounding areas, these streets were being constantly targeted by terrorist mortars and missiles, amounting to *at least* 10,000 civilians murdered in Damascus area alone, although I’ve heard higher estimates.

Related articles:

US-Backed Terrorism in Syria: A First-Hand Account of the Use of Mortars Against Civilians (September 2014)

University Hospital, Damascus: Meeting Victims of Western-backed Mortar and Rocket Terrorism (February 2015)

Terrorists’ Attack on Damascus Restaurant and Homes:…

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June On The Plot ~ Before The Rain

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This year it’s been a case of less blogging and more digging. And yes – to those of you who follow my gardening pursuits – I have not forgotten that for ages I have been trying to follow the tenets of ‘no dig’ gardening. I really do want to, and in spirit at least I hang on to Charles ‘no dig’ Dowding’s every soily crumb of wisdom. But the big thing is he gardens in Somerset in the mild south west; he does not garden on the side of Wenlock Edge where the land comprises 400 million-year-old Silurian clag that sets like cement at the slightest opportunity and does so even when you’ve piled on the compost.

In fact all the usual things that gardeners add to heavy soil to improve drainage – sand, grit, well rotted manure, lime – are grist to its mill. It seems to suck them up and then sets harder still. Clearly those decomposing  residues of fossil tropical sea bed – crinoids, trilobites, giant scorpions, volcanic ash and all – must contain something  very, very sticky – some geologically ancient equivalent of super glue I should think.

In other words, the chances of my making enough compost to apply each autumn across both my half-plots and to the appropriate depth that might make an actual difference to the soil are extremely unlikely.  Instead, and by way of cutting coat to suit cloth, I eke out the compost I do have, putting it only in the spots where I intend to plant, and rarely attempting to cover an entire bed. Also, given the challenging nature of the soil (and its slowness to warm up), I rarely sow directly in the ground, but germinate most things in individual pots or trays.

The first photo shows the result. On the left are climbing peas (currently half grown height-wise). This is a heritage variety called Ne Plus Ultra – sown three or four seeds to a 4” pot in February and planted out around the end of March. I’ve not grown it before (it was recommended, if not rediscovered during the making of the 1980s Victorian  Kitchen Garden TV series), and I’m looking forward to the results given its show-off ‘cannot  be bettered’ claim.

I’m also thinking that my head gardener grandfather, Charles Ashford, who as a boy underwent the full Victorian stately pile/hierarchical gardening apprenticeship, would have been very familiar with this variety and also with Alderman, the other main crop climbing pea I’m growing this year. One of the advantages of these old varieties is that they produce pods gently over the whole summer season, whereas the modern short cultivars crop at one go and need to be sown in succession if you want to extend their season.

Pea growing tip: peas germinate really well in compost filled lengths of plastic guttering (no need to add drainage holes but water in just enough to keep the sowing medium moist). When it’s time to plant out, and the seedlings are a couple of inches tall, slide the lot (wheesh!) into a shallow trench, draw soil round, firm in and water; protect from birds and provide small sticks for them to climb up. This sowing method of course foils seed-plundering mice and pigeons, and gives the plants a head start.  And if you are growing modern pea cultivars, it makes successional planting easier to sort out – e.g. you can sow, say, a metre length or two of guttering at two-weekly intervals. IMG_1999

But back to the top photo. On the right you can just see the runner bean bed. These plants were germinated in small pots and a couple of weeks ago planted into the remains of an overwintered compost heap. (The other half of the heap had been spread along the Ne Plus Ultra bed prior to planting).  Runner bean plants always struggle to begin with, no matter how healthy the seedlings. The allotment harbours some leaf-chewing pest that is not a mollusc. So far, and most annoyingly, the culprit has not been identified by he who is a plant pathologist and lives in my house – but every year it has a good go at everyone’s freshly planted out runners. You just have to hope they’ll grow through the setback. They usually do. Again I’m trying a new-to-me heritage variety. It’s called Liberty and has a reputation for producing large and succulent pods. Its seeds when I came to sow them were surprisingly enormous, and I’m secretly expecting multiple versions of Jack’s beanstalk. So if I suddenly disappear from this blog, you’ll know where I’ve gone. Or at least how I’ve gone.

Elsewhere on the plot the broad beans, strawberries and three different sorts of globe artichoke are beginning to crop and are proving delicious; beetroot seeds of many varieties are sprouting, including an old Gallic sort called Crapaudine which is French for Madame Toad. Parsnips, sugar pod peas, mixed lettuce, young cabbage plants and potatoes are looking sturdy though the cauliflower plantlets are definitely struggling and I have no idea why, nor what is causing some of the onions to start going to seed. Another unidentified pest is nibbling the tough leaves of the celeriac seedlings but not enough (so far) to kill them. Bought-in leek and sweet corn plugs are settling down, as are the ridge cucumbers and squashes. In the polytunnel the tomatoes, aubergines and peppers are growing well – so far.

Meanwhile in our corner of Shropshire we now have a week and more of April-Showers-In-June to look forward to. Gardening is on hold, though in anticipation of resuming same I’m most grateful to the volunteer footpath people. On Thursday evening they brush-cut the field path, thereby providing me with a large quantity of unexpected compost makings – or they will be when I can get out there to rake them up. This kindness also means that when it is fine enough to next visit the allotment, I won’t arrive with rising damp and knees soaked through by overgrown vegetation. So thank you Strimmer Man. You did a good job.

Here’s the freshly cut path before the rains moved in. You can just  see the polytunnel tops over the far hedge:

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And here are more Thursday evening shots of Farrell half-plots one and two which are in separate places due to my wanting one with a polytunnel on it:

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copyright 2019 Tish Farrell

Love-In-A-Mist ~ The Allotment Constellation

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Nigella damascena is a wonderfully self-seeding annual that has been grown in English gardens since Elizabethan times. It is much loved for its sky-blue flowers (sometimes also white or pink) and its delicate ferny leaves. And of course, once the flowering is done, there are the strikingly odd sputnik seed capsules to admire.  Though seen here in monochrome (with a hint blue), the flowers already have a distinctly alien look. I took this photo last night at the allotment. I have several self-seeded clumps around the vegetable plots, and they are just beginning to flower. It’s always good to mix things up like this, the flowers not only attracting the pollinators for the fruit and vegetables, but also, in the case of French marigolds, diverting crop pests. And talking of crops, or ones in the making, here’s a rather fine pea flower:

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Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge ~ flowers of any kind

The Changing Seasons ~ This Was Wenlock In May

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Last May the field behind the house was a yellow sea of oil seed rape flowers. This May the rape has only been visible on more distant hillsides around the town and I’ve rather missed having it on my doorstep and walking the golden arcade through the crop where the farmer’s big tractor had left a barren track during spraying.  This year the rape bloomed extra early too, is already running to seed – which perhaps means chances of a better harvest; last year’s crop was scorched in the heat wave and shed much of its seed before it could be cut.

Elsewhere around the town we’ve been watching greenery happen. This next photo shows the Linden Walk on the 30th April. The one below it was taken yesterday, the 31st May. I noticed the pale flowering wings are already well formed, though the tiny buds were still tight shut, and I thought of their heavenly scent to come.

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In the Cutlins meadow members of the MacMoo clan have been absent for a couple of weeks. Then on Thursday we saw they were back. There they were dreaming amongst the lush grass and knee-high buttercups.

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On the home front all is blooming. Yesterday morning I found our front garden – the one that slopes down to the main road – positively heaving with small bumble bees. The orange verbascum flowers had reached just the right state of ripeness, and the bees were gorging on them. The sparrows, too, have been enjoying the front garden, which goes to show – even a small roadside plot can make a bit of a wildlife sanctuary.

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The Changing Seasons: May 2019

Wishing Su a speedy recovery from the flu.