The Power Of Green And Dappled Sunlight This Morning On The Linden Walk

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You can almost see the sap rising – gushing forth in fact to catch up after a slow-start spring. Anyway, walking amongst it this morning made the pursuit of allotment chores a complete and utter pleasure.

The chore in question is part of my on-going experiments with no-dig cultivation. So armed with my big green polypropylene bag I was out gathering up some of the piles of tree shreddings left around the Linden Field by the chap who comes to trim the lime trees’ overgrowth. I then haul them up to the allotment where I am covering a 6 feet wide x 20 feet section of uncleared plot with cardboard plus several inches of chippings on top. It’s rather a slow process, but I’m over half way there.

I’m hoping that by the time I get round to cultivating this section next year,  most of the worst weeds will have turned up their roots, and the mulch rotted down enough to produce a reasonable planting medium. Oh yes, and that in order to achieve all this both the cardboard and the mulch will have attracted a lot of very happy worms.

The thing is, though, once I’m out on the Linden Walk it is so easy to forget about heavy labouring, and slip into a complete green daze. And as you can see, I also had my camera with me. I was particularly taken by this fence post:

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And then at the end of the avenue near one of my target chippings piles, I noticed a nice flat area between the limes and the old railway line. I had not spotted it before, but it looked just the place for some qi gong. Secluded enough, I thought, not to frighten any of the Wenlock dog walkers who might otherwise come upon me in the midst of repulsing the monkey or being a wild goose flying.  So this is where I stood – beneath a canopy of limes and sycamores, accompanied by bird call and the soft flutter of pigeon wings. Aaaaah. Wishing you a similarly blissful, green-filled, sap-rising, sun-dappled day.

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Now please pop over to Jo’s Monday Walk for a truly inspiring excursion in beautiful rural Poland. And to add your own walks to Jo’s go HERE.

Bee In My Bean Blossom

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In April at The Earth Laughs In Flowers, Jude wants to see our garden macros. This is also the Day 5 of the 7-day nature photo challenge. So here we have a bumble bee heading for my field bean flowers. I don’t blame it. They smell divine on a still, spring day.

This photo was taken up on my allotment, probably last year. At the moment the current crop of field beans, sown in September-October and overwintered, is only a hand’s width tall, but they’re looking quite healthy. Once they get going, they will grow as tall as I am, and need some support. The photo also shows bean weevil damage on the leaves. This is one of the drawbacks of allotment gardening. Pests like this become endemic. On the whole, though, the beans seem to carry on regardless.

Field beans are related to the broad bean (aka fava or faba) and they look much the same, but are less than half the size. Mostly they are grown in the UK as a green manure, the plants dug in before flowering. I grow them to eat. They make great re-fried beans, soup and a bean version of guacamole, which is astonishingly good.

My crop was so productive last year, I was able to eat and freeze them, and save masses of seed to dry and sow for this year’s crop. It’s the first time I’ve done this, so it will be interesting to see how they turn out.  In consequence, I probably have grown too many. But once I see how the plants are faring, I shall sacrifice some of them. I mean to chop them down and leave them to rot on the soil surface, rather than digging them in. This will let the worms do the work, and keep the soil covered until I want to cultivate it.

I am beginning to see that digging is a very bad thing to do the earth. It wrecks the surface soil structure every time you do it, and so compromises fertility. Instead, the No Dig method relies on covering the soil surface with organic matter/compost every year, and then planting through it. The only problem is you need masses of compost. It also helps if you do your planting in raised beds. This way you do not walk on the soil, and can keep building up the fertility. Raised beds are easier to manage, and mulching the plants should massively cut down on the weeding, and the need to feed, or to water during dry spells.

Since last autumn I have been doing heavy labour on the new allotment plot that came with my polytunnel. (I hadn’t taken this into account when I got all excited about inheriting the tunnel from allotmenteers who were off to new territory.) The ground all round was heaving with dandelions and buttercups. And since this was before I discovered the no dig approach, I admit to using the quick and dirty method (though NOT weed killer) and slicing off the top layer of weeds, and dumping it in compost bins to rot down for a few years. The ground zero method of gardening.

I then commissioned He Who Does Not  Garden But Lives In My House to construct and install on my plot several raised beds made out of recycled builders’ yard pallets. A couple went into action straight away, and were planted up in October with over-wintering onion sets. The others I have been filling up over the past few weeks. So far the onions are looking healthy and a few weeks ago I sprinkled organic hen manure pellets over their beds, an alternative to sulphate of ammonia, which I didn’t have to hand.

By now you will be beginning to grasp the lengths that this writer will go to in order not to sit in front of her computer and cultivate the master work. So far I have shifted around 30 barrow-loads of an old garden rubbish heap that has apparently been in the corner of the allotment for the last forty years, and until recently was covered in brambles and nettles. Strangely too, it was my idea to recycle it.

Off course when I say heap, I really mean small mountain. It’s full of bonfires past, rodent nests, and decomposed leaves from the nearby ash tree, as well as nearly half a century of weeds and waste. There’s also broken glass, bits of plastic fertilizer bags, and all sorts of unidentifiable metal items that gardeners of yore thought could be disposed of in such a manner. As I sift through the heap, I think how good it is that I’m putting the field practice of my long ago archaeology degree course to some sort of use.

In fact I have been keeping an eye out for old coins, remembering that a few years ago I uncovered a 1725 halfpenny right outside my shed door. It helps to keep me amused during the boring process of extracting unwanted detritus and plant roots.

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I’ve also filled myself with a big enthusiasm infusion by deciding to dedicate one of the raised beds to growing flowering annuals to attract more bees. I shall also use it to grow on perennials (verbascum, heleniums, echinops) and biennial foxgloves that I’ve just germinated on the kitchen window sill. The thought of a raised bed bursting with summer flowers is so heartening. Doubtless you will see the results as time goes on.

But for now that’s enough talk about gardening. The sun is shining, and the weather forecast tells us we have a brief window of opportunity before the rain returns, so I’m off to the allotment with my pea and beetroot seedlings. I  may even sow some parsnips. Happy Sunday one and all.

 

#7-daynaturephotochallenge

We can see you…

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Ladybirds, as gardeners know, are good bugs to have amongst the fruit and veg. They eat aphids. Yay!

And they need to get gobbling now. For despite my recent whingeing about cold wind and lack of spring weather, the greenfly are already with us. And there’s a reason – our warmer winters.

We may have had endless rain, bad floods and storms this year in the UK, but we have not had the hard ground frosts that help to check slug and aphid populations; nor have had for several years. Back in early February when I was pruning the autumn raspberry bed up at the allotment, I was also finding ladybirds out and about.  They are supposed to be hibernating (overwintering) between October and March, so hopefully they were finding something to eat and hadn’t simply been fooled into waking up too soon by the unusually warm February temperatures.

The ladybird in the photo is nestling in my garden sage bed, spotted last summer. And for those of you who wish to find out more about ladybirds (Coccinellidae) there is a brilliant website at UK Ladybird Survey. And if you live in the UK, they want to have details of sightings.

 

#7-daynaturephotochallenge  #day 2

With thanks to Anna at Una Vista Di San Fermo who nominated me.

 

Related:  Warning: Reptile Alert #day 1

Our first autumn cauliflower

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Isn’t nature marvellous. I can’t believe that I grew this bee-eautiful purple-flowered cauli from one very tiny seed.  It looks a bit misty here, because it’s covered in fog. They weather has definitely turned here in Shropshire.

I was so excited when I first spotted it a couple of days ago. I’ve been nurturing the cauliflowers for a long time, feeding them liquid seaweed feed among other things. The seeds were sown in spring, then planted out in early summer in my new plot behind the polytunnel.

It was hard going too, clearing the ground for them. It had not been cultivated for several seasons and was choked with dandelions of epic proportions, and masses of creeping buttercups. The soil was heavy and claggy too. It seemed most unpromising, although I know that brassicas are fairly tolerant of these kind of conditions. For one thing, they like to be solidly rooted. In fact I’ve learned that caulis won’t flower properly if they are not well anchored from the start.

Once I’d planted out the young plants, (along with a handful each of Carbon Gold fertilzer, and worm casts, and an encircling of lime),  I had to make sure they were well defended with a covering of  mesh. This to stem the pigeon decimation that generally goes on at the allotment. The rotters line up on the overhead electricity cables and watch what we humans are up to, and plan their raids for when we’re not there.

Anyhow, they didn’t get this cauli, and we did. I steamed it, and then made a quick sauce with creme fraiche.  Here’s what I did.

 

Really Amazingly Quick Cauliflower Cheese

  • Break the cauliflower into florets and steam for a few minutes.
  • Drain, reserving a cup of the steaming water in case you might need it.
  • Melt a small piece of butter in the now empty pan.
  • Add some chopped garlic and/or sliced onion. Cook until soft and translucent.
  • On a moderate heat, stir in a small tub of creme fraiche. Stir it until it warms through. If it seems too thick, add a little of the reserved vegetable water, say a tablespoon at a time.
  • Season, and add any fresh chopped herbs of choice.
  • Stir in a couple of handfuls of grated hard cheese. I use pandano.
  • Then toss the cauliflower in the sauce and serve.
  • Any other quickly steamed vegetables can be included in this – peas, carrot sticks, chopped kale, chard, leeks, celery. Whatever appeals. Good served with a jacket potato, or Italian black rice.

 

So here you have MY flower of the day, as inspired by Cee’s Flower of the Day. I thought maybe we should give vegetables a look-in on the floral display front. Mind you, I don’t know what Cee will think. Aw, she’ll love it.

copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

Bees in the Sneeze Weeds

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The season of mists and mellow fruitfulness has arrived in Much Wenlock on the coattails of spring, missing out summer altogether.  Perhaps we’ll have it at Christmas instead, the barbeque months that, back in March, the tabloids were screaming we were in for, along with prolonged drought and associated mayhem that would, shock-horror, stop people from watering their lawns, or hosing down their Range Rovers. Mind you, these are the sorts of rags that would have us believing it is raining migrants. (That would be people so desperate that they risk all to run away from home).

Anyway, whatever’s going on with the climate, the upshot is that much of the garden and the allotment has a very ‘left-over’ look, which is why I almost want to dash out in the garden and hug the sneeze weeds – bees notwithstanding – for being so vivaciously red and yellow as too much autumn dullness descends.

How can a plant so glorious be real? All the flowers in the photos, in all their wonderful variation, are growing on a single plant. And, as you can see, the bumble bees are gorging themselves. There are also some very tiny emerald beetles in amongst the pollen. Sneeze weed, by the way, is a country name for Helenium, which is a far more gracious name for such a generous plant, although one rarely used in the Farrell household.

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And it’s thanks to the bees and other precious pollinators that we are at least having fruitfulness, if not  harvest-hot weather. Up at the allotment apples are already weighing down the trees. They look like jewels:

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Even the ornamental crab apples look good enough to eat raw. They’ll make brilliant jelly after a touch of frost, which hopefully won’t happen yet.

Then there are the brambles:

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And the little yellow squashes that look like flying saucers:

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And the runner beans have started to crop (this photo was taken a week or so ago). The sweet peas on the end of the row are there to attract pollinators:

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Of course, when it comes to weather, we Brits are never happier than when we’re grumbling about it: too hot, too windy, too wet, too dry.  But then even if someone did steal summer, we still have so much to be thankful for. Feeling mellow, however, may not be an appropriate response these days. There may well be some hard lessons to learn when it comes to adapting to an increasingly erratic world climate, and not only for ourselves, but for the people who find their own lands are no longer habitable. We should not be surprised if they risk all to make for the lands of plenty.

copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

Mellow  is the theme over at Ailsa’s Where’s My Backpack

Let’s Hear It For The Bees ~ Three Big Cheers

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There are different kinds of achievement in this shot. The first is that I managed to capture it at all, teetering in a flower bed with my Kodak Easyshare. The sun was full on too so I could not see the camera screen. But by far the biggest achievement is the presence of three bumble bees all at once.

All over the world bee numbers have been declining. Swarms in the US have been especially hit. Over the last few decades many factors have played a part, including habitat erosion, lack of quality forage and disease. But in 2006 honey bee keepers began to report dramatic losses. It involved the deaths of whole hives and has been dubbed colony collapse disorder.

Environmentalists believe the cause to be the neonicotinoids in the new generation of pesticides. They want them banned until unbiased research proves otherwise. It is a sobering thought that without bees to pollinate fruit and vegetables, the US would be left with only three staples that do not require insect pollination: wheat, rice and corn.

To find out more, please visit Dear Kitty. Some Blog.  She has posted a good video that covers this topic. In the meantime, everyone needs to think about what they can do to encourage bees, including growing some bee-friendly plants. We also need to be prepared to pay a little more for organic produce, or to do what we can to grow our own food, WITHOUT chemicals.

This would be a real achievement – not only good for bees, but for us, the soil, and other wildlife besides.

copyright 2014 Tish Farrell

 

 

 

 

Strawberry & Rhubarb Cordial

 

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This photo did not involve much travel on my part, only a tramp across the field to my allotment where the juicy, chin dribbling strawberry season has just begun.  Nor am I being very original since I posted this recipe this time last year. But on the basis that many of you may have missed it, or forgotten it – here it is again. Also since the previous posting I have indeed tested it (several times) with prosecco  and can thus confirm that it does beat a bellini hands down. I froze some of the cordial too, and it was still just as delicious in our Christmas cocktails. I also think you could churn it in an ice cream maker and make a delicious sorbet, or turn it into ice lollies or lovely pink ice cubes to drop into champagne. Here it is then:

 

Strawberry and Rhubarb Cordial

4 sticks of rhubarb chopped

300 gm/10 oz ripe strawberries, hulled and cut in half

320gm/11oz caster sugar

1 litre/1.75 water

juice of 2 lemons

Place the fruit in a heavy based pan, add sugar and simmer on low heat for 10 minutes until the fruit begins to soften.  Add water and increase the heat slightly. Cook gently for a further 15 minutes until the fruit is completely soft.

Leave to cool then strain through a sieve, pressing the pulp into the syrup. Add lemon juice and store in the fridge.  For non-alcoholic moments, dilute with chilled sparkling water, and add a sprig of mint.

Enjoy…

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copyright 2014 Tish Farrell

 

Ailsa’s Travel Challenge: Fresh

Apple Blossom Time

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I confess that I posted this photo the other day, along with several other shots taken up at the allotment. But then I thought it deserves to be seen again, and on its own, and without me blethering on. So here you have it: apple blossom ~ what could be more lovely?

Ailsa’s Travel Theme: blossom

 

Related:

Rooti-toot-toot ~ spring at the allotment up close and vegetal

Rooti-toot-toot, it’s spring at the allotment: up close and vegetal

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Well the old shed has made it through another year. A couple of bits have fallen off, but last year’s application of internal bracing by the Team Leader, aka Graham, has kept its tendency to list in an easterly direction in check. Would that we all had such a bracing. Over the winter it housed a poor mummified mouse, and snails still go to roost in there. I’m not showing you the inside, though. You definitely do  not want to see in there.

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Instead, here is the ancient greengage tree with its delicate blossom. Already I’m wondering if it will give us some fruit this year. Greengages are notoriously temperamental, and after the magnificent crop in my first year of allotmenting that had us, and all our friends and relations, dribbling with delight over bucket loads of luscious harvest, it has borne very little. That was seven years ago. Maybe this year is the year then.

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There are loads of jobs to do, not least digging. The endlessly wet autumn and winter meant that winter digging was impossible, so there has been much to catch up on. Meanwhile the weeds are literally having a field day, which makes this the the season of dandelion beheading. (Sorry, dandelions). They are sprouting up all along the paths between everyone’s plots, and I’m afraid I find great satisfaction in slicing off these cheery faces with my strimmer. Their replacements are anyway there the next day, beaming vigorously.

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Then there is the comfrey forest to manage. This plant I crop and cherish. You cannot have too much of it, and it obligingly grows  itself in a huge clump beside the shed. If you cut it down after flowering, it will grow again and again during the summer.

Comfrey, as I have mentioned before, is the organic gardener’s dream plant. It comes in other shades, pink to purple through blue. Its ability to mine otherwise inaccessible  nutrients from the soil (dynamic accumulation I believe this is called) and repurpose them in its foliage make it an endless source of cost-free fertilizer. It is one of the reasons why you can’t look in my shed. I do my brewing in there. And no. It’s not what you think.

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For those who missed an earlier post on this, I stuff old compost bags with the comfrey’s  top growth, seal them with clothes pegs, cut a hole in the corner of each bag, and prop it over a bucket and wait. In the warmth of the shed the vegetation soon rots down, giving out a dark and evil looking liquid that collects in the buckets.  This stuff is pretty smelly, although nowhere near as pungent as the slimy residue left in the bag, which then ends up on the compost heap. The liquid I  decant  into old plastic bottles, and use as a feed through the growing season. It is 3 times richer in potassium that farmyard manure, but it must be diluted 1 part comfrey essence to 15 parts water.

The blurry bee above would not stay still for the shot, but that’s another good thing about comfrey. Bees like it. As I took this, I spotted at least 4 different kinds: a honey bee and three bumbles of varying liveries and sizes. Having written of the dire things that are happening to bees, it’s heartening to see so many at the allotment doing their work. Thank you, bees.

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The mild winter has meant that many crops simply kept going without dying back. Yesterday I noticed that my globe artichokes have already made globes almost big enough to eat. In May? What is going on?  But thank  you, artichokes.

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The Swiss Chard has been magnificent too and kept us going through the winter with fresh new leaves. It is only now going to seed. Nor did I sow it in the first place. It seeded itself around my plot from my neighbours’ plot. Thank you,  Pete and Kate.

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And now you can look at my Red Duke of York spuds, their foliage just pushing through the soil. I love the purple flush on the new growth.

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And next are my over-wintered field beans (rather like broad beans I am told, but smaller and tastier). This is the first year I have tried them. The metre tall stems are covered in blossom from tip to root, and the scent is glorious. The bees are busy here too.

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And last but not least, the strawberries are flowering like crazy…

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And the Welsh Onions are bursting into bloom beside the Lemon Balm, although I’m not sure whether I should be stopping them from doing this. On the other hand they will look rather splendid as the flowers open, and of course make lots more seed.

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And finally, the brightest face of all at the allotment, other than mine after too much digging. This is yet another lovely plant that grows itself up there with no help from me, and flowers into the winter. Its petals are lovely in salads, and it makes a good herbal tea that is said to improve pretty much any condition. I can believe it. Simply looking at this flower does you good: the orange goes right through your eyes and into your immune system. A big hand then, for the marigold. TARRAAAAH!

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© 2014 Tish Farrell

Please go to all these places for lots more brilliant stories:

Frizztext’s tagged ‘R’

Ailsa’s Travel Challenge ~ Close-up

DP Weekly Photo Challenge ~ Spring

Errant Muse? But there’s still life at the allotment

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I’ve posted this photo of my last summer’s allotment produce to prove something. I thought it might be a good antidote to my dreary state of writing stuckness. (And may be yours too). For one thing it shows conclusively that if I can’t get to grips with the several novels now backed up in brain and filing cabinets, then I can at least produce beautiful vegetation. (In season of course). Most of it is edible too, although I would not recommend the zinnias. Marigolds are fine however – in salads and as herbal tea. Excellent for the immune system, or so a herbalist friend tells me.

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I sometimes think my allotment life is a metaphor for my writer’s life. Sometimes I think  it’s the other way around. This reminds me of the great Welsh poet, R S Thomas. In my post about him the film link shows him, in his elder years, out bird watching on the Welsh coast. Speaking to camera, and with a wry smile, the Nobel nominee says he is supposed to be a poet, but that when the poem is going badly, then he is a birdwatcher. Likewise for me, when the writing stalls, then I am a gardener. I am mostly a gardener.

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The common ground between growing and creating is obvious: seasons of  productivity followed by dead times when the creative flow seems to be, well, DEAD. This is the natural order of things. I know it. And so I am forgiving when it comes to the garden. I do not expect it to grow things in December and February (or at least not much). But when it comes to writing, I fret, fume and grow ever more despondent with myself because the ideas in my head cannot be rendered, as I would like them, to word, to screen, to finished work.  And I do not forgive this. I consider it a grave fault.

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Yet I know, too, that good growing and writing, require a fertile medium, one that is well turned and appropriately nourished. You need plans and timetables, while remaining open to alternative courses of action. You also need the right medium for the job in hand. All this takes time: years of learning, of preparation, and the application of improving strategies. You have to understand your ground from the inside out. And that brings me to another essential condition – good drainage. And  in my home town poor drainage is a problem; both brain and allotment, then, are equally afflicted. They are not free-draining. But at least I know how to improve the soil. Grit is good.

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In the absence of creative flow, ungoverned gathering of new material can start filling the gap. This in hopes of finding a  spark, some fresh inspiration to jump start the writing. The activity can of course have its good points. You may indeed find the very thing you need. Besides which, well rotted down and aerated compost improves content and structure for any future cultivation. On the other hand, ever growing stagnant piles of poorly decomposing matter simply overwhelm and add to the stalled flow problem. In other words, there comes a time when you simply have to give your brain a rest, leave the compost heap to rot down, and allow the period of dormancy to run its course. The hard thing is to keep faith during this process of seeming inactivity; to believe that you WILL recover and complete the works you began.

That wonderful woman, poet and Jungian psychoanalyst, Clarissa Pinkola Estés has some very heartening things to say about this. In her autobiographical exploration of the nature of story, The Faithful Gardener, she says that new seed is faithful, and that it roots most deeply where the ground is the most empty. In The Creative Fire she also says that everyone is an artist even if they have not lifted a brush to the canvass or opened a new Word file (I paraphrase). Finally she tells us that the only thing you need to create is to get out of the way.

And so in a bid to get out of the way, I leave you with some summer marigolds. Before your eyes they are passing through their natural cycle from bud, to falling flower to newly forming seed head. Perhaps if we stare at them long enough, absorbing all that very creative orangeness, we stalled creators will ‘hear’ what they are telling us.

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© 2014 Tish Farrell

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Frizz’s Tagged E  Go here for more ‘E’ stories

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Related:

Bright Fields on Llyn: windows in time, mind and space and other stories from Cymru

Onwards and upwards…the big New Year ‘do-over’