Or should I say sugar rush. The bees and peacock butterflies were certainly tucking in when I went into the garden at lunch time. The Doronicum is clearly dish of the day.
copyright 2020 Tish Farrell
Sunday afternoon, and the sudden need for fresh horizons spurred us out the door to explore parts of Wenlock Edge we cannot reach on foot from the house. The escarpment, wooded for the most part, is some twenty miles long, and though crisscrossed from end to end with paths and bridleways, we are not committed walkers of the long-distance variety, more amblers than ramblers. The expedition thus required a short car sprint – along the Edge from Much Wenlock and a sharp turn left in Longville-in-the-Dale for Wilderhope Manor. This Tudor mansion sits above Hope Dale, its back to the Edge. It is owned by the National Trust but run by the Youth Hostel Association, and its car park is handy for a number of cross-country paths.
The house was built in the 1580s for one Francis Smallman and it was a Smallman scion, Major Thomas Smallman, who, during the Civil War (1642-51, Charles 1 versus Oliver Cromwell) performed a feat of dashing bravery. He was a staunch Royalist and when he learned that the Roundhead army was approaching Wilderhope he mounted his horse and headed for Shrewsbury, a dozen miles away, to warn the Royalist forces there.
The Roundheads followed, and in a bid to escape them, the Major and horse took a flying leap off Wenlock Edge. Sadly the horse did not survive the 200 foot drop, but by a stroke of luck the Major’s fall was broken by a wild cherry tree (or apple tree depending on which version you read). He thus completed his mission on foot, rousing the Royalist forces who launched an attack at Wilderhope. The Major apparently bequeathed us his ghostly presence, said to be seen by some still plunging over the precipice on horseback. The supposed spot, ‘Major’s Leap’, is now a popular viewpoint.
But enough dawdling. Back to the walk. We had decided to follow a 2 mile stretch of the Jack Mytton Way which itself is a 70-mile foot and cycle path named after another local personality, Mad Jack Mytton, a somewhat surprising association for a facility promoting healthful pursuits. Mytton, born into wealthy Shropshire squirearchy in 1796, died in Southwark debtors’ prison at the age of 37, a drunken, spendthrift, philanderin’, huntin’, roisterin’ rake of the first water who, it is said, claimed to have seen a mermaid in the River Severn. Not following in his footsteps then!
The path from Wilderhope starts off on the farm drive, passing through pasture and a very fine herd of Hereford-Friesian cattle who gave us the once over as we passed.
Then it was across the lane into the wheat field. This (and the header view) is Hope Dale looking from Wenlock Edge with Corve Dale and the Clee Hills in the distance
At the field boundary the path heads into Coats Wood, and the rest of our walk to Roman Bank is under dappled shade: oak, ash, beech, an ancient yew, field maple, holly, birch, lime, rowan, the odd sycamore, and many coppiced hazel trees. The woods that covered all of Wenlock Edge in ancient times were a valuable resource for fuel gathering, timber cutting and stock grazing and, in the Middle Ages every township within a mile of the Edge (most of Saxon origin) had common rights there.
Coppicing is the ancient practice of cutting a tree’s main trunk so encouraging the growth of multiple upright stems. These were used in hurdle making for fencing in farmstock, stakes for hedge laying, for bean poles, basket making, and in early times before forges and furnaces ran on coke, to make charcoal. These days coppicing has been re-introduced in a bid to manage woodland sprawl and encourage the re-establishment of dormouse populations.
It was mid-afternoon by the time we retraced our steps. There was a sense of somnolent wildlife stirring. (All had been silent on the outward meander). Blackbirds were bobbing about in the leaf litter, and overhead we heard ravens cronking. Then as I was surveying an area of coppiced hazel, I found two roe deer looking back at us. They melted away – woodland ghosts. But the fleeting glimpse made us glad we had stirred ourselves to take a trip out, this even though we had managed to miss lunch and were by then very hungry. But even that was catered for. On the Wilderhope Manor drive we found a wild cherry tree hanging in delicious dark fruit, and later I wondered if the National Trust had planted the it as a reminder of Major Smallman’s heroic leap. And next there were apples, astonishingly early, but all the better for being scrumped.
copyright 2020 Tish Farrell
Today in the Sheinton Street garden we have both sunshine and warmth, elements that have been lacking so far this month. And so amongst the Doronicum we also have a profusion of peacock butterflies, sip-sipping like mad at the tiny compound flowerlets. I watch them as I hang out the washing – the survival imperative played out before our very eyes.
In these viral days – virtual and actual – we could probably all do with some regular infusions of lemon balm tea. Medical herbalists prescribe it for anxiety, shock, insomnia and all round jangled nerves. Simply brushing your fingers against the stems fills the air with a lemony minty freshness that lifts the spirits. Last night as I was standing at the kitchen door, waiting for the couscous to fluff up, I saw these sprigs among the montbretia leaves, briefly lit by the last of the sun – a glow to savour then between our present squalls of wintery rain and high winds. Last Saturday it was all heat and high summer here in Shropshire. This Saturday the weather clock has regressed to early March. Strange times all round. Time to brew some lemon balm methinks.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, BECKY! A TOPPING DAY TO YOU.
Lots of people around the town have been keeping fit. Hats off to them. And so, as well as admiring the energetic zeal of this determined young woman, you also get to see the august lime trees of Much Wenlock’s Linden Walk just coming into leaf. Every day the green haze grows greener.
There’s a strong connection too, between these trees and physical exercise. The limes were planted by the town’s physician and his chums in around the 1860s. Dr William Penny Brookes knew a thing or several about people staying healthy – in body, mind and spirit. It was why he invented the Wenlock Olympian Games (begun in 1850) which still take place every year on the field to the left of this avenue. On the right of the Linden Walk ran the railway – whose arrival in town was also facilitated by the wise doctor’s lobbying. It once brought thousands of people from far and wide to see the games. I think Dr. Brookes would be very pleased us – we’re all shifting ourselves one way or another – gardening, walking, cycling, running.
Talking of shifting, it’s gone 5 pm and the allotment calls. Time to trot across the field and get some spuds in.
When we walked into town yesterday down the Cutlins path we pleased to see members of the McMoo clan back in the meadow. And a little family group by the looks of it – daddy, mummy and junior McMoo.
And the parents all but canoodling while offspring was exploring the peripheries of the town’s electricity substation.
On the return trip, shopping accomplished, we found the local jackdaws had discovered the McMoos too. They were busy plucking the bull’s winter coat for a spot of nest building material.