The Changing Seasons: May 2020

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I took this photo last night as I left the allotment: the cow parsley in the descendant, the wheat thrusting up and beginning to form ears. It rather reflects my mood, for much as we have been enjoying the sudden outburst of ‘high summer’ days, albeit in May, I’m also feeling very cross. And since my views veer towards the contrarian, I don’t intend to air them here beyond saying there is too much officialdom fudging/ineptitude/cross-purposes/vested interest/contradictory information/rubbish media reporting and all round manipulation.

So that was May in the outside world. Meanwhile in my little Wenlock  sphere of influence all is burgeoning, and the garden is lovely. I’m not sure how we ended up with Mediterranean weather over the last few days and for the week ahead. It was preceded here by two days of tempest and a high chill factor that the weather people described as a gusty breeze. So gusty was it, that plants I’d put outside to harden off, had to return indoors and the process started over once the wind dropped.

Here is the gusty breeze in action. This is not a ‘fake’ photo:

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I haven’t recorded this month’s allotment activities – although much has been done: earthing up of potatoes, planting out beans – runners, butter, borlotti, Jacob’s cattle gold, Cherokee, climbing French; courgettes and squashes; red cabbages, Tuscan kale; and in the polytunnel: tomatoes, aubergines and peppers. The reason I’ve not taken photos is because most things are shrouded in thin horticultural fleece or mesh to defend them from excess heat, drying out, and pigeons. For now the plots look like some kind of crazy campsite.

On the home front the garden is moving into summer mode with foxgloves, roses, sweet peas and geraniums. The columbine grannies (aquilegias) have mostly lost their bonnets, the poppies their frocks, and the alliums are transforming into seedy constellations. But the red valerian (Centranthus) – also known as kiss-me-quick and devil’s beard is busy attracting the bees, and the whole garden is filled with bee-hum which can only be a good thing. I’ve also had the chance to notice how very furry some bumble bees’ bottoms are, so I thought I’d share an example of that particular observation in the upcoming gallery.

 

And here’s some news from the Dyfi ospreys: chicks hatched in new High Definition:

 

 

The Changing Seasons: May 2020

Delicacy In Decay ~ The Doorstep Amaryllis

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In April’s Changing Seasons post I featured the amaryllis that was part of a neighbourly doorstep plant swap. It was a single bud when I acquired it, but over the following couple of weeks the bud opened into four flowers which bloomed and then drooped in picturesque tones, their texture suggesting fine raw silk. I’m thinking Sue at WordsVisual will quite like these.

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Lens-Artists: Delicate Colours This week Ann-Christine asks us to show her some delicate colours.

A Cool Himalayan Blue

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Now here’s a change of style from our roadside show-offy red poppies posted earlier in the week: Meconoposis Lingholm, a blue Himalayan poppy.  It is a newcomer to the shady, behind-the-shed corner of the Farrell domain. I bought it  last autumn on-line from the very excellent Ballyrobert Gardens in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. (It’s amazing what excellent plants people you can discover in the gardening section of ebay.)

The poppy was little more than a large ‘plug’ when it arrived with the rest of my order. I dithered about, wondering whether to pot it on (and worry about it freezing in its pot if we had a hard winter) or to plant it out while it had time to establish itself, but still hope that we wouldn’t have a hard winter. I opted for the latter course, and then it poured with rain for the next five months, with hardly a sign of frost. And so I worried instead that it would get water-logged and rot. When it died down, leaving not one single trace of itself, I thought I’d lost it.

Which just goes to show you can do a lot of worrying about nothing. Besides, I knew very well that I’d taken the best care I could when I planted it. Anyway, the rather hairy leaves started poking through the mulch in April and the single bloom began opening about a week ago with another bud behind it. But what a floral wonder! I’m hoping it’s going to thrive now, though mostly only Graham will get the benefit. I planted it to give him a view from his shed window while he’s grinding and drilling and making odd constructions that only he understands.

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Poppy Profusion

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Our cottage faces east and so has full-on morning sunshine, and here it is filling the oriental poppies – a sort of natural neon effect as they sway in the breeze. They are right beside the main road, which is growing busier by the day now that lockdown strictures are easing. But the increase in traffic isn’t cramping the poppies’ style. Lots more buds set to open, and that will definitely please the bumble bees.

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Today In The Columbine Garden

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The columbines do as they please in our garden. Over the years they have moved in from who knows where, and done much replicating. I have made only one deliberate introduction which is a lovely lemon one saved from an overgrown plot at the allotment. Every spring we have additional variations in the indigenous colour scheme, this season’s new shade being white with hints of mauve and purple. We also have various pinks, deep violet, burgundy and ivory and some of them have now moved into the front garden that sits beside the road so who knows where they will be off too next. A world invaded by columbines – well, why not?

So here are some garden views – inside back and outside back (guerrilla garden), and lastly our roadside bed which I feel could now serve as a reference plot for the Haphazard School of Cultivation. I’m not sure what the poppies are doing there – shades of Heinz tomato soup.  Ah well. They’re looking very jolly – a spot of light relief from Lockdown-itis.

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Magic Bean Flowers!

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Well they have to be don’t they – magic that is – sporting such snazzy attire. These are the flowers of Field Beans Vicia faba, the same species as Broad Beans. They are usually grown in the UK as animal fodder or a green manure – the latter being sown in autumn and then dug in prior to flowering in the spring. This seems a huge waste to me. The beans produced are less than half the size of their bigger culinary cousins, but the plants are prolific with bundles of pods per stem. In fact (as with Broad Beans) you can harvest the young pods and steam them whole. If you leave the pods on the stem too long the beans can become a bit floury, but then they are excellent for soup. The young beans (Field or Broad) also make their own tasty version of guacamole (I have tried it out on foodie chums who thought it delicious), though it’s a bit fiddly as you need to steam the beans and then remove their outer pale shell before blitzing the green innards with olive oil, garlic, lime and herbs. There’s a recipe HERE.

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Bees of course love bean flowers however they come. And of course for us humans they have the most alluring fragrance. When I was taking this photo I also noticed the flowers lower down the stem had already been pollinated and were forming tiny pods. So the bean feast will not be long in coming. In the meantime you can also lightly steam the plants’ growing tips as a green vegetable. It’s anyway advisable to pinch them off about now to discourage blackfly assaults, so they may as well be added to the supper menu. Magic all round then.

And here are some with purple striped petals:

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Top Crop ~ The Big Cauliflower Ambush

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Many may not know this, but cauliflowers are the sneakiest vegetables – not to say the most covert in their growing habits. You may watch over them for months – from plantlet module to big leafy crown; you may peer frequently into their tight green hearts, even peel back a few leaves, and there will not be the smallest signs of a cauli. Then one day – last Monday to be exact -THIS HAPPENS!

I was just leaving the allotment polytunnel after my usual late-day visit, and thought I caught a glimpse of curd in the corner bed. When I pulled back the monster leaves there is was,  the size of a football and utterly perfect. How could I not have noticed it sooner? Did it grow overnight like Jack’s beanstalk?

I don’t usually grow cauliflowers in my polytunnel, but back in the autumn when I bought the modules, I had three weedy ones left over from my outside planting, and thought I’d try them under cover. When I go up to the allotment today there may well be two more like this.

The problem with cauliflowers’ sneaky habits when grown outdoors is that by the time you discover curds big enough to harvest, more often than not they have already been found by slugs and earwigs (also sneaky) and been well nibbled under the cover of leafiness.

Anyway, I guess a lot of you might not find cauliflowers especially appealing. But there are many approaches besides the usual cauliflower cheese. Grated raw and briefly sauteed in oil it makes a good rice substitute. Steamed and pureed cauli is also delicious (spot of cream and chopped herbs added). And the whole head can be sliced into 1” thick steaks, given a good olive oiling/seasoning, and roasted in a hot oven for 35 mins, turning after 20mins. I also tried this the other day with celeriac and it was brilliant served with a mushroom strogonoff sauce. I’m thinking one of the polytunnel caulis might be in for similar treatment this evening.

The next photo is just to give you an ideal of the scale of leaf disguise adopted by this paricular cauli. I had to peel off masses take this portrait, and rather wished I had some livestock to feed them too i.e. rather than the compost bin microbes.

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Square Tops #23

Today At The Top Of The Garden ~ Apple Blossom Sunshine And Tiny Tulips And A Very Happy Birthday To Becky

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No doubt about it, the Sunshine Deity is showering us with her beneficent rays. You can almost hear the plants crying YIPEEEEE! as they break free from the winter’s rain battered soil, which here in Silurian Sea Wenlock sets like cement.  Things are definitely thriving best in the parts of the garden that received an autumnal mulch of tree chippings (gratefully gathered from a big heap in a neighbour’s yard). The front garden by the road is a mass of foliage with bursts of blue and (nearly) black centaurea, and the little crab apple tree that went in a couple of years ago is weeping prettily. I can also see that an allium-oriental poppy break-out is imminent. Any day now!

But back to the top garden: the Coxes apple tree is just blooming and underneath it the miniature tulips are saying ‘see me, see me’. It’s all too exciting.

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Square Tops #22

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, BECKY! A TOPPING DAY TO YOU.