Townsend Meadow ~ Waiting For Rain And A Bit Of A Ramble About Wild Oats

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Last night as I was watering at the allotment, dark clouds were building up in every quarter. I was sure it was going to rain. But no. By 8 pm they had moved off, leaving a strange red mist effect over Wenlock Edge. Beneath it the rapeseed crop is tinder dry and a deepening shade of copper. The wild oats on the path edge are ripening too – their cuneiform seed heads turned from green to pale ochre. I’m becoming a bit obsessed with trying to photograph them. They seem to reflect light that lends itself to a touch of abstraction.

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The Wild Oat Avena fatua  is of course the parent plant of our cultivated oat and fully edible. It possesses the same valuable B vitamins and minerals: manganese, magnesium, potassium, iron, and chromium. Oats are very soothing to the system, apparently reducing inflammation. They also contain powerful antioxidants and are rich in fibre.

Wild oats, however, are considered a crop pest, especially in wheat, reducing the crop by up to 40%. They are also becoming resistant to herbicides, which fact certainly seems to be supported by their continued presence in Townsend Meadow, where they receive lots of herbicide doses every year. This is rather making me think that we should all be eating oats instead of wheat – without added glyphosate that is. Some of us might start feeling a lot better than we do after eating wheat products.

My Derbyshire farming ancestors seemed to have lived on oats, turned into tasty pancake-like oat cakes and made from a slightly fermented batter. Eaten with farm-made cheese and butter of course, and doubtless washed down with homebrewed ale.  A good number of them lived into their late eighties and early nineties. Some of them were known to go in for a little prize fighting and were quite famed for their prowess in the ring – and that was only the women.

And apart from all this, a handful of rolled oats tied up in some muslin, soaked in warm water and applied to the skin with some very gentle rubbing, makes the best exfoliant scrub ever.

This Morning Over The Garden Fence ~ A Field For All Seasons

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I’ve watched this crop of rapeseed developing behind our house since the autumn when it was sown – back to back with the wheat harvest. All through the winter it clung to the ground and was much eaten by pigeons. In April, after a good dosing with agrichemicals, it sprang into life like Jack’s beanstalk, and was soon taller than me. By May is was a sea of acid yellow, that mellowed to gold. This morning at 5.30 am it was turned to copper. As I’m writing this, the field, under the full-on midday sun, is being visited by hosts of cabbage white butterflies.

So it is that the plants have survived deluge, bird predation, gale, blizzard, frost, three lots of snow, and now weeks of ground-baking drought. The plants look almost ready to harvest, although when I inspected a couple of pods last night, there seemed to be precious little seed inside. Which made me think that only the farmers who are harvesting sun with their fields of solar panels will be having a good crop this year.

Here’s a retrospective of Townsend Meadow during 2018.

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Much Wenlock’s Changing Seasons ~ Flaming June 2018

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Who’d have thought it? Here in the UK we’ve been having summer and all before it was officially summer; week after week of sunshine, and hardly a drop of rain. May was the warmest May in over a hundred years, and June has continued in like vein. The roses have been flowering their socks off and, along with the pinks and honeysuckle, filling the garden with delicious scents. In fact everything is blooming at high speed, intent on pollinating and seed-setting before being fried. This evening I saw fully formed, if not yet ripe hazel nuts at the allotment. The biological imperative in action then. Already the countryside has the dry and dusty look of late August.

Of course all this sunshine means there’s lots of watering to be done at the allotment, though I’m very conscious that water is precious and I should not waste it.  I’ve been trying to mulch things where I can, and otherwise shelter crops with netting, mesh or fleece. I have not managed to get to grips with the strawberry bed though. Did not put straw down when I should have done, and although the plants have been producing lots of fruit, they looked flat out and flabbergasted yesterday evening  – beyond being watered now.  On the plus side – more heat = fewer molluscs.

All around the town the hay fields have been cut and cleared. And when we drove over Wenlock Edge to Church Stretton this morning all of Shropshire lay sweltering under the sun, and set to bake for another fortnight too.

This raises serious issues – the water supply in particular, and climate change in general. We need to start taking both seriously, and we especially need the water supply and its management back under public control. And if we’re now going to have largely rainless springs and summers, followed by very wet winters with the increased likelihood of serious floods too, then we need more water storage facilities. Many conurbations are still relying on reservoirs built by the Victorians. Birmingham water comes from Elan Valley reservoirs in Wales, built in 1893.

This week in our part of the West Midlands we’ve been having very strange goings on with the taps courtesy of Severn Trent Water whose CEO earns £2.45 million a year.  (She is one of the 9 water company executives who between them have received £58 million pounds in pay and benefits over the last 5 years.) In the evening the pressure drops until water is either absent or only a dribble. Severn Trent say this is happening because increased usage due to the hot weather is causing air pockets in the pipes, and they’re having to pump the air out.

This is an entirely new phenomenon to us, although having lived in Africa we are well used to the absence of water and the notion that we should not take its provision for granted. Anyway the STW explanation rather reminds me of old British Rail’s excuse of ‘leaves on the line’ whenever services went awry. In early March there were similar happenings in the pipes due, Severn Trent said, to an unprecedented number of leaks because of the cold weather.

However you look at it, a delinquent water supply that is so susceptible to changes in the weather, and for which most households pay £400 a year, is not fit for purpose. ‘Take back the taps’ say the GMB Trades Union.

Changes in rainfall patterns, and failure to properly manage rain-fed water supplies is going to seriously affect the nation’s food production. We’ll need to eat different things, learn to grow them in new ways, opt for drought-resistant plants. When we leave Europe, we will have to grow our own vegetables, since most of them seem to come from there. Is anyone taking some action on this, I wonder.

But for now we can go on enjoying the unprecedented warmth, making hay etc. It has many very good points. Earlier this month the town held its two-week arts festival without a drop of rain on its outdoor performances, and on Sunday we had the town picnic on the Church Green, and the whole afternoon was blissful – at least it was if you had a good tree to sit under. Here are some views around Wenlock during flaming June:

And last Sunday’s town picnic:

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Changing Seasons June 2018

Last Night On Windmill Hill

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A full moon to the south, sunset in the west, and a shady man on a bench being moonstruck.

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And then the sweet scent of Lady’s Bedstraw which this year has colonized much of the hill, pushing out the orchids…

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And then some  views of Wenlock’s hay-cut fields between the moonrise and the sunset…

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The Linden Walk ~ A Leafy Arcade

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This is my absolutely favourite Much Wenlock place (apart from home and the allotment), and it’s just across the road from the house. The Linden Walk borders the Gaskell (Linden) Field, and until the 1960s, steam trains would have been chuffing past just a few metres to the right of the tree cutting sign. In Victorian times there used to be an Olympic Special that every year brought in hundreds of spectators to watch the July Olympian Games masterminded by the town’s doctor, William Penny Brookes. The handsome station was only a hundred yards behind the point where I’m standing to take this photo.

Dr Brookes was also responsible for bringing the railway to Wenlock and for nagging his friends into helping him plant this double row of lime trees (Tilia x europaea). This was done in the 1860s, and I wonder if he foresaw then how lovely it would be. I’m guessing he would. He was a man of  vision and a great believer in devising means to cultivate both the physical and mental well being of the townsfolk.

Apart from being a physician, he was also a keen botanist and, before taking over the town’s medical practice from his father, he had studied herbalism at the University of Padua. Doubtless he would have known that preparations of lime flowers have strong sedative and pain relieving properties, a remedy to be treated with some caution.

I’m also sure he had in mind the blissful effect of simply wandering beneath an avenue of limes on a hot June day, absorbing the soothing green shade and breathing in the delicious fragrance of the trees’ inconspicuous cascades of blossom. Now the trees are at peak leafiness they create a continuous arcaded canopy. The small hermaphroditic flowers also produce nectar which means there are bees. Blackbirds and squirrels forage round the roots. There is birdcall in the treetops, and even though the tree cutting sign suggests the barking of chainsaws, there was only quietness when I took the photo.  The trimmers of the lime trees’ epicormic growth must have gone to lunch. You can see the effect they have had if you compare the trees with those in the second photo taken the day before. While the overgrowth is boskily attractive it can get out of hand; limes are prone to fungal diseases, and so are probably best protected by improving ventilation.

In fact the continued good health of the Linden Walk it taken very seriously. Cricket club supporters and bowling club members are no longer allowed to drive their cars along the avenue as they were wont to do, an activity that threatened to compact the tree roots. In fact we’ve been told by a Professor of Lime Trees that the trees could live another 150 years if we look after them. What a treasure Dr Brookes left behind – for us and a few more generations yet.

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Six Word Saturday

Roof Squares 16

Of Sunset Over The Rooftops From The Allotment And Much Toiling On The Plot (As In Gardening Not Writing)

All of a sudden we’re having summer here in Shropshire, and it’s a case of catch-up at the allotment – not only with the jobs that could not be done over the cold, wet thrice snowy winter, but also trying to keep up with spring-sown plants that are romping every which way and need to be put somewhere. The ‘somewhere’ inevitably needs more preparation than I’d realised, and more digging than I’d hoped to do, given my no-dig pipe dream objectives. I’m beginning to think our Silurian Clag really needs total soil replacement – as in complete interment by a foot of decent loamy earth. And if that’s down to me, then that means making humungous quantities of compost. It could take years.

Yesterday I did five solid hours of labouring under the sun. The new plot by the polytunnel was alive with bee-hum. The bees were whizzing by with such greedy intent among the raspberry flowers, I could actually feel the air move as they passed me. Bbbzzzzzzzzoom. And then the birds were singing their hearts out – loud, louder, loudest – especially the blackbirds. Which reminded me to put netting over the strawberries. I ate my first sun-warmed strawberry yesterday – the best strawberry of all – that first one.

The five hours slipped away. Gardener’s time is of course quite different from everyone else’s. He Who Waits At The Farrell Establishment never knows when supper is happening. Also when I do decide to head for home the light is usually so diverting that I have to start taking photos. Besides, the raggedy old allotments are a wonderful place to be at sundown – when you have put the spade away and shut up the shed – the wide views over Wenlock; the scents of growing; the quietness of plants.

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copyright 2018 Tish Farrell

Roof Squares #4

The Changing Seasons ~ May Has Been Very Yellow

Spring has been all of a gallop this month, as if plant life is set on making up for lost time. Within the space of two weeks the rapeseed field behind the house went from muddy, over-wintered, pigeon-scoffed plants, scarcely a foot high – to a billowing yellow sea taller than me. (Oh, the unbridled power of agri-chemicals!)  It has anyway been great fun walking down the tractor trails within the crop, completely surrounded by sweet-smelling eye-high yellowness, and coming home covered in petals.

Now though, the flowers have almost gone, helped on their way by the last two days of storm and cloud burst. This morning it is foggy over the Edge. Fog in May? And I can’t see the wood at the top of the field.

In the garden there have been changes too. Behind the house, on our top level, the last scrap of lawn had been dug up, and the shed of He Who Builds Sheds And Binds Books now has a smart gravel forecourt, complete with red geranium in pot, which really isn’t what a chap wants outside his lathe and screw-collection domain, but I think looks jolly. Btw: the shed doesn’t actually have a chimney. Not too keen on the plastic water butt, but it’s there for now – water-gathering over aesthetics.

Our neighbour Roger also gave us some wooden sleeper pieces, left over from his own garden make-over, and these have now been used to contain the main herbaceous border beside said shed. The border has been blooming with aquilegias which are now giving way to alliums, foxgloves, euphorbia and oriental poppies. I have also  put in the plants bought at the Arley Plant Collector’s Fair last week (previous post), and am looking forward to china blue scabious and sweet scented phlox in a few weeks’ time. The bed is now officially FULL.

The narrow border on the left hand side of the gravel, and above our kitchen door, has also been given a containing wooden edge by re-purposing timber thrown on the bonfire heap at the allotment and duly carried home across the field. Yesterday I noticed that the small Coxes apple tree that is growing there is now busy making apples. So soon. It was all blossom only last week.

Now shed-building man is wondering what he can do to the old privies to stop them being head-banging, dysfunctional garden sheds, this while still retaining rustic quirkiness. At the moment a very fine, self-planted foxglove is growing beside them so operations are presently on hold.

Out at the front of the house, half of our boundary is open to the kerb-side. I have replanted the border with assorted verbascum, alliums, centaurea, hesperis, foxgloves, hellenium hoopesii (very yellow), Whistling Jack (a magenta, Byzantine gladiolus) and a few other things, including a small weeping crab apple called Red Jade. This border is my cultivated response to motorists who insist on breaking the 30mph speed limit (and the law) by speeding along Sheinton Street at 40mph and above.

And now here are more scenes from the Farrells’ May garden, beginning at the front. It’s all rather rampant:

And in the back garden:

 

 

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The Changing Seasons

Please visit Su to see scenes from her recent trip round NZ’s South Island

Plant Collectors’ Fair At Arley Arboretum

Set within a walled garden above the River Severn on the Worcestershire border is one of the oldest and finest arboreta in Britain. It was begun around 1800 by Earl Mountnorris who owned the Upper Arley village estate. But by the 1950s both arboretum and the village cottages had fallen into neglect. Enter Roger Turner, Midlands philanthropist and iron and steel man. He set about restoring the arboretum and brought Arley village back to life, repairing properties, building new homes and a community centre. When he died in 1999, the estate was left to his Charitable Trust. The arboretum was first opened to the public in 2002, its objectives both recreational and educational. So could one a imagine a lovelier venue for last Saturday’s gathering of nurserymen and women all selling their very special garden plants?

The fair was set up just outside the walled garden entrance and overlooking the parkland. For the small price of £2.50 you could go to the fair and spend the whole day in the arboretum.

And then into the arboretum:

 

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Arley Aboretum and Upper Arley village for more information.

Six Word Saturday

“How Green Was My Valley” ~ Thursday’s Special

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Here in Shropshire, May has been a month filled with much welcome sunshine. Everywhere you look, the countryside is brimming with green-ness, so no colour enhancement was needed for this view across the River Severn at Arley (just south of Bridgnorth). It was taken last Saturday at the Arley Arboretum Plant Collectors’ Fair – post to follow.

I’m sorry you can’t see the river, which is actually quite wide at this point (hiding behind the foreground hawthorns). Nor can you see the railway line that runs midway across the frame. For this is the landscape through which you will pass if you have the good fortune to board the Severn Valley Railway, and chug along the river behind a good old coal-fired locomotive, trailing its long white steamy banner as it goes, and not a few smuts. Clackety-clack and much toot-tooting and many a rustic halt en route.  Oh, the nostalgia!

Thursday’s Special: saturation

How Green Was My Valley  a 1939 novel by Richard Llewellyn set in Wales: tales of the Morgan coal mining family. Also a 1941 John Ford film.