Late September last year we were lucky to have a whole week of Indian Summer weather, this while we were staying in a cottage on a Warwickshire farm cum livery stables. It was blissful. Lots of dewy, well fenced paddocks, and many handsome horses to chat with.
Here in the northern spring lands our eyes are presently filled to bursting with blooming displays of cherry, apple, pear, black thorn and magnolia trees. It’s easy to forget that all trees have their floral season, one way or another. Some tree flowers are so inconspicuously green, are so very small, or flowering at the end of winter when we’re least about, it’s easy to overlook them. This is certainly true of the early spring flowers that preceded this branchy display of green-winged fruits, discovered last week, sprawling over the perimeter fence on Windmill Hill.
Its ID took a bit of tracking down. I’d got it in my head that it was some kind of hornbeam. But it isn’t. It’s a Wych Elm sapling, Ulmus glabra. This, I further discover, is Britain’s only native elm, common throughout the land as tree cover was restored after the Ice Age, but much depleted from round 7,500 years ago, when the first stone age farmers began to systematically clear the woodland for agriculture.
The so-called English Elm Ulmus procera was only introduced some 3,000 years later by our Bronze Age ancestors. This introduction may well be a reflection both of the utility of water resistant elm wood (for boats, wheels, furniture and coffins) and of its ritual significance. The tree was sacred to many peoples of Northern Europe, and in particular was thought to induce prophetic dreams.
Since the 1960s the English Elm has succumbed drastically to Dutch Elm disease – a fungal infection spread by elm bark beetles. The Wych Elm, to some extent, appears to have resistance, though it too is now a rare find in our English countryside. The decline in both species has meant a decline in the white-letter hairstreak butterfly which breeds in elm tree canopies.
But if the Wych Elm does manage to escape infection, and finds itself growing in a preferred climate of cool summers with damp air, or on a rocky hillside beside a stream, then it can reach 30 metres (100 feet) in height, while surrounding itself with a sweepingly majestic canopy.
And so what of the Wych Elm on Windmill Hill? Did some human hand plant a young sapling there, or did it grow itself from an off-chance, wind-blown seed? That it is growing entangled with the chain-link fence that surrounds the perimeter of Shadwell Quarry, suggests more happenstance than intention. On the other hand, at some time in the past, the old quarry face has been planted with a wide variety of trees – both deciduous and coniferous species. In the next photo you can see the tree-line (behind the windmill) that marks the quarry perimeter. Beyond it, the ground falls away in an alarming manner, the most recent limestone workings lying way below and filled with a deep, deep pool of turquoise water, locally dubbed ‘the Blue Lagoon’.
Anyway, note to self: remember to collect some seeds when they ripen in the summer. A Wych Elm nursery is a fine prospect.
Driving up and out of Wenlock yesterday and suddenly all of Corvedale stretched before us. And so much of it YELLOW!
And so it seems that despite a wild and windy spring, followed by the last two weeks of dry and chilly weather, the oil seed rape is blooming. Its heady scent filled the car as we headed to The Crown at Munslow for a family lunch. The fields of it were everywhere, filling our sights as we rounded bend after bend on the narrow lane, shocking the vision at every turn. Then to the south, there was Clee Hill, rising serenely above a lemony sea. It made us wonder what Van Gogh might have made of this landscape, or if in fact the crop is having the last word: that there is little more to be said about yellow.
There may be a lingering chilliness on the wind, but in the upstairs garden crab apple tree Evereste is in full floral finery. I don’t remember seeing her quite so blossom laden. And she’s already attracting a few bees and sundry bugs, all calling in for their spring pollen fix. So if anyone is thinking of a crab apple tree for their garden, then Evereste is a real treasure. She’s compact too, for despite the suggestion of gigantism in the name, she only grows about 10 feet (3 metres) tall.
The header photo was taken among the ruins of Wenlock Priory, looking towards the trees and roof tops of the Prior’s Lodgings, now a private house, locally known as The Abbey.
This next shot is my well-trodden path to the allotment, along the southerly edge of Townsend Meadow. That’s an ash tree on the skyline – doing a good Ent impression as our Shropshire ash trees tend to do.
And a nearer view of the ash tree – a sundowner shot complete with rooks flying home to their roost in the Sytche wood.
And finally a rather strange and blurry photo of the Linden Walk, taken when all the pale and papery sepals had fallen off the lime tree flowers in late summer. I think if you squint, you might just spot someone at the top of the path.
Sofia at Lens-Artists suggests we think about bokeh – the judicious (or in my case mostly accidental) application of blur to add depth and accent to our photo images.
Here are some garden bokeh, taken at different seasons and times of day. The header photo is a late autumn crab apple over the garden fence. And next up is a very wintery globe artichoke at the allotment. I like the russet tones, focused and unfocused, picked up by the afternoon sun:
Summer and a self-invited opium poppy out in the guerrilla garden:
And late summer teasels forming outside the garden gate:
An October sun-downer sunflower in the ‘upstairs’ garden:
Early morning dew on a heuchera flower in early summer:
And a May-time bouquet in the kitchen: lilac and hawthorn blossom:
Last night in Wenlock it was all howling wind and battering raindrops on the roof lights. Then this morning the gusts were positively whistling through the tiniest gap in the closed bathroom window. Shivery indeed. Yet the onset of this 40 mile per hour small gale was yesterday described by the weatherfolk as ‘brisk’. A bit of an understatement methinks. But however one describes it, this current bout of wild and changeable weather now makes the week of lunch-in-the-garden back in March seem a long time ago. (Did it even happen?) And on top of that, it’s definitely curtailing gardening pursuits.
On the other hand, being confined indoors yesterday led to an interesting internet discovery of a wild-weather nature, this courtesy of the very fabulous Derbyshire Record Office which holds archive riches relating to Arctic explorer Sir John Franklin, he whose 1845 expedition to chart the Northwest Passage, tragically foundered in the ice. Among the treasure trove of documents listed in the archive is the transcription of an 1822 letter written in the May of that year by Franklin’s first wife, poet Eleanor Anne Porden. Franklin is away in the Arctic while Eleanor is writing from London, and filling him in on the dramatic events of England’s weather during 1821-1822.
For someone who is used to forever hearing how our weather is set to become ever more chaotic, I found it fascinating to learn how very chaotic it already was in 1821 when Britain was emerging from the Little Ice Age (c. medieval period – 1850). Eleanor’s letter in fact makes reference to the last of the Thames’ Frost Fairs held in 1814.
The Last Frost Fair of 1814 copyright Museum of London
Between 1600 and 1814 the Thames would freeze for up to 2 months creating an astonishing venue for all manner of events and entertainment.
But first she broaches the weather topic by telling John Franklin that though matters may be peaceable in other domains, ‘the elements are in sad confusion.’
She goes on to say:
I should think that the mean temperature of last year was pretty nearly what it ought to be, but the seasons were all mixed together, and not well mixed neither; we had neither Spring nor Autumn, Winter nor Summer. Only two nights greeted us with the agreeable novelty of a frost, and the consequence was that a friend of ours saw the armies of two rival confectioners fighting for the thin cake of ice on a pond behind his house. As for snow, I think you had best bring a little home in a bottle, to shew as a curiosity to those who may have forgotten its colour.
Then she moves on to the storms ‘such as I never remember’ following one after another for three months:
Trees were torn up, and houses blown down, and from the coasts the accounts were dreadful- three Indiamen* were lost in sight of land.
* ships of the British East India Company
Next came the Christmas Thames’ floods in London’s Westminster and Vauxhall
forcing numbers of inhabitants to take refuge in the upper rooms of their houses, till they could be carried away in boats. At Staines it is said that the water was rushing in torrents through every house, and parts of Windsor were in similar condition.
She quips that people who usually travelled up to London for the Christmas season had abandoned their plans, not wishing to embark on a sea voyage in order to achieve that objective.
And then follows an account of the most bizarre event of all:
To complete my catalogue of marvels, in less than three months after, a strong south wind so drove back the waters of the Thames, that aided by a neap tide the channel was left nearly dry, and it was crost on foot between London and Blackfriars bridges, almost in the spot where an ox had been roasted whole on the ice just 8 years before…I understand that the tide afterwards flowed with unusual force for 3 days, and it has been thought that the extraordinary shape of the river must have been connected with some volcanic phenomenon.
And finally she concludes with mention of London’s May weather:
this week we were shivering over a fire, and now the thermometer is at 81⁰ in the shade.
You can read the whole lively letter HERE
Meanwhile, planting still curtailed, I shall cultivate a state of reduced grumpiness about Shropshire’s changeable elements. I am anyway much amused by Eleanor’s suggestion that Sir John Franklin should return home with a bottle of snow to remind the general populace what this unfamiliar substance looks like. The more things change, eh…
This week Cee suggests we consider things from unusual perspectives.