The Changing Seasons: April And the Alien Invasion?

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All right I’m a gardener, and maybe a tad prone to persecution mania on the pest front, but this month it’s been wall to wall dandelions, and no sign of the invasion letting up. Not only are they EVERYWHERE, and especially out in force at the allotment, but they are also showing signs of mutating into mega-weeds, some as big as palm trees. OK. Perhaps not quite that big. But I can see what they’re plotting: world domination in Much Wenlock.

All means of defence seem puny before the onslaught. I’ve tried mowing, hoeing, beheading, excising. Even resorted to engaging in dialogue of the non-expletive variety. But it’s no go. So I thought I’d shoot the varmints instead – photo-wise naturally. And of course, they really are very beautiful – whether in flower or gone to seed – and also so very perfectly designed for maximum coverage of planet Earth.

The one thing I’ve forgotten to do this year is eat some of them – young leaves in salad and for a system-cleansing tea, roots dry-roasted  to make quite a passable coffee that also has health benefits, flowers deep fried as fritters (though I’ve not tried this). And now that I’m seeing them in a more kindly light, and established a little perspective, I’m ready to post a less fraught compilation of April shots taken on and around the allotment.

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The Changing Seasons: April 2017 Please visit Max at Cardinal Guzman to see Oslo in April and other bloggers’ offerings.

Tulips Raising The Roof At Attingham

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We thought we’d make the most of the sunny day and popped over to Attingham Park at lunch time. Half the world had the same idea and the place was alive with happy families and happy dogs roving over the parkland. There were fallow deer to see, bluebell woods, trees burstingly green, stream banks golden with marsh marigolds, and in the walled garden’s frame-yard these very shouty tulips. My goodness but they had a lot to say for themselves.

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I Will Survive! Blooming Transplanted Crab Apple

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Back in the autumn I mentioned we had been forced to move a much loved crab apple tree. Her name is Evereste and she is a small tree of the Japanese sort. She was originally planted in the corner of an ugly raised bed and beside some increasingly dangerous garden steps. The bed needed to go, and Graham planned to remodel the steps so we would not break our necks on them in the upcoming years of decrepitude, or after a glass too many of Prosecco out in the garden. Evereste thus had to be relocated to a much nicer spot on our fence boundary, but before that she had to undergo some very serious pruning with the aim of reducing the stress of being moved. She went from being a billowy, branchy tree to a very neat and upright tree.

However, I’m sure she will return to her billowy self in a year or two, and the good news is she is flowering wonderfully NOW. I love crab apple trees. We recently bought a stunning weeping one for my sister’s birthday – Royal Beauty . And it was while I was tracking down suppliers that I learned you could make a hedge using low growing crab apple trees. A hedge that flowers and fruits. How beautiful is that – and how the wildlife would love it. It’s making me think that Evereste might need some company along the garden fence.

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Cee’s Flower of the day

Some People Don’t Like Spanish Bluebells

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Naturally I would have to say that nothing compares with the hazy woodland swathes of British bluebells; their slender spires gently nodding; the subtle fragrance that not quite like any other scent.

By contrast, the garden-escaping Spanish sort are much more upright and chunky, more like a skinny hyacinth. They have blue pollen too, or so the Woodland Trust site tells me. And it also says they are a big MENACE. People hate them in their gardens and so dig them up and dump them round the countryside, where they have relations with our native species, so changing them forever.

Without doubt, losing our native species would be a great a shame, but I still have time for the Spanish cousins that pop up around our garden. Admittedly I used to try to dig them up and compost them – until I learned that it was a pretty impossible task to excavate every part of them.

Now when they flower, I pick them. They make excellent house flowers, their bells opening wider and the blue fading over the days. They smell nice too. I’m thinking that cutting them off at the roots might also put a stop to fraternisation, and ultimately weaken the plant. In the meantime, I have the pleasure of them indoors.

Picking the native species is of course very much forbidden. But those of you who live in the UK will soon have the pleasure of spotting them in a wood near you. Reports have it that they will be flowering early this year.

 

Six Word Saturday Now pop over to Debbie’s for more SWS posts.

After The Rain It’s Party Time!

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You simply can’t beat tulips for exuberance. They are presently bursting from pots and beds in my back garden – the result of a couple of cheap packs of bulbs from  my local  market stall bought back in the autumn.

I like the tulips that most resemble the wild forms – lily like, low-ish growing, and with several flower heads per bulb. These are one of the praestans varieties – possibly Bloemenlust. I threw the pack label away before pressing enter on the memory save button. Anyway, they are beautiful, whoever they are. And I especially love the way they throw their petals wide to catch the sun.

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Six Word Saturday  Please visit Debbie at Travel With Intent. She is the new host of SWS with the new rule of Six Words Only In The  Title.

 

Marvellous Magnolias ~ And More From Bodnant Garden

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You could say that one of Britain’s loveliest gardens grew from a cosmetic nicety – the means to make white soap from brown. This new Victorian product was invented by one Henry Pochin (1824-1895), an industrial chemist who developed a process to clarify rosin, a brown resin that was used to make soap. He then sold the rights to white-soap-making to fund a new development: the production of alum cake from china clay, so creating a vital ingredient for the manufacture of good quality paper.

After that it was full steam ahead for Mr. Pochin, and literally too. He bought up china clay works in Cornwall and South Wales, and the Cornish Gothers works had its own tramway system on which ran a fleet of small steam locomotives, known at the time as Pochin’s Puffing Billies. And so he became a major industrialist, with further interests in iron, steel, and coal. He was also an all round pillar of the community, including serving for a time as a Liberal Member of Parliament. His wife, Agnes Pochin, was also politically active and a passionate suffragist.

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In 1874, Pochin bought the Bodnant Estate in the Conwy Valley, North Wales. The estate included Bodnant House,  25 farms and 80 acres of gardens, and for the next 20 years Pochin set about acquiring specimen trees from around the world.  He employed the notable landscape gardener Edward Milner, and together they re-landscaped the steep gorge below the house, planting American and Asian conifers along the banks of the River Hiraethlyn that runs through the gardens.

Some 140 years on, you can see the astonishing results – towering Douglas Firs, Giant Redwoods, Japanese Umbrella Pines. This part of the garden, known as The Dell, has over 40 champion trees, now on the UK list of notable and ancient trees.

As we wandered through the pinetum we wondered at the vision of these men – to plant trees whose full glory in that setting they would never live to see. It struck us too, that the world could well do with more of this forward, long-term planning, the creation of a living legacy for future generations.

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When Pochin died, his daughter Laura McClaren inherited Bodnant, and since that time the gardens have been developed by successive generations of the McClaren family, in particular Pochin’s grandson, Henry McClaren, who created the more formal gardens and the astonishing laburnum arch. (We were too soon to see it in bloom.) It was also he, who in 1949, gave the garden to the National Trust, although it is still managed on behalf of the Trust by a member of family. And it is still growing and expanding, with new areas being planted and opened to the public this year.

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This is the view from the house (still privately owned) – the Carneddau mountains of Snowdonia as a backdrop. What a setting. And what a garden. Here are a few more glimpses:

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“Life, Jim, but not as we know it”?

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I don’t know about you, but I find this close-up shot of a daffodil a bit disturbing. It was sitting in a jug with other daffodils on our kitchen table, full lit by a pendant light. We’d just had dinner and I thought I’d capture some floral detail.

But somehow daffodils by night don’t quite make sense. And there’s a worrying ‘otherness’ about the too-close-quarters; rather like the first time you looked up someone’s skirt when you were a child.

Hm. It makes me think though – what a wonderful mystery is this thing we call life. And in this case, so very yellow!

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.

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