Dandelion Dilemmas

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The dandelion is surely a plant to be reckoned with – whether you see it as wild flower, weed or herbal pharmacopoeia. You certainly can’t beat them for brightness. Or for persistence.

When I’m wearing my gardener’s hat, which is mostly, their presence in and around the vegetable plots infuriates me, and I gouge them up as soon as I spot them. Yet this is probably counter productive. I’ve read that the plant’s pugnacious tap root thrusts down through unpromising soil and unlocks nutrients from below. A huge advantage then. Also, the roots, if you do dig them up, can be roasted and ground to make a coffee substitute, and though it may not match up to your favourite Arabica, will at least give your liver a good clean out.

The leaves, popularly used in French salads (and inspiring the original name ‘lion’s tooth’ dent de lion) act on the urinary system, hence the many other much ruder old country names: Jack-piss-the-bed, Tiddle-beds, Old man’s clock to mention only a few.

But old country lore aside, scientific studies have shown that the plant is bursting with nutrients: minerals, vitamins and antioxidants. Even the flowers are edible, though apparently tasting best before they open. Well! I did once see a recipe for dandelion flower fritters, and they certainly looked very pretty. Perhaps instead of casting them as villains of the plot, I should welcome them as a most useful, free and therapeutic crop. As with most things in life, much depends on your chosen perspective.

Bright Square #25

The Changing Seasons: March

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This sundowner view from the allotment tells me something has definitely changed. It was taken from my polytunnel doorway at 6.17 p.m. three days ago. Goodness. Still light after six o’clock! Spring must have sprung.

And yesterday, the last day of the month, it was suddenly tee-shirt-warm, blue skies above and wood pigeons cooing. A shock-reverse after days of chilling winds and passing hail. I watched the buzzards wheeling in wide arcs over Townsend Meadow behind the house, their haunting calls one to one.  Around the place tree buds were swelling, daffodils doing their full-on gold, while over in the Linden Field the school kids were playing football, and the pre-school kids were swinging on the playground swings while their mums nattered together. For all the world it looked like Planet Normal. Who’d’ve thought it.

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But then we should not have been fooled into thinking it is actually spring yet. The weather people did warn us there would be more cool days and frosty nights to come. And true to the prognostications, April has arrived cool and dull. It’s now a case of  cherishing the blossoms however we can: blackthorn, cherry, japonica and pussy willow, celandines, primroses, wild violets and windflower wood anemones, and in Shadwell woods, the just emerging buds of Spanish bluebells. There will be warmer days to come. There will!

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The Changing Seasons: March 2021

Communing With Orchids On Windmill Hill

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Yesterday morning he who presently spends his time making a scale model of a static steam engine, surprised me by abandoning house and shed to take part in the orchid count on Windmill Hill. We had the first count last year, but this year the orchids are far more numerous. The hill is in the care of the Windmill Trust, a group of local volunteers, and in the past the limestone grassland was mostly kept in check by a flock of small ponies, brought in to graze at the end of summer. Unfortunately the little ponies had to be sold, so last year at summer’s end  the Windmill Trust had the hill mowed, the hay baled and dispatched to the local riding centre and the ground harrowed. It’s certainly given the purple pyramidal orchids a boost, though later when I went up the hill to see for myself, apart from the pyramids, I could only find this single Bee Orchid and one Spotted Orchid, though I was probably a bit late for the latter; they anyway prefer the parts of the hill where the soil is less calcareous.

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With all the rain we’ve had, the grasses are knee-high and the orchids not as conspicuous as they usually are. But there are also masses of other limestone meadow flowers: wild thyme, mallow, agrimony, viper’s bugloss, knapweed, thistles, ladies bedstraw, hop trefoil, vetches, yellow rattle, cinquefoil, brambles, St. John’s Wort and hawkweeds. The place was alive with insects too – not only bees, but also blue damsel- and dragon flies and masses of Meadow Brown and Small Heath butterflies. Also a Common Blue. I didn’t see the peregrine falcon though that Graham had seen in the morning, but I went home thinking what a treasure place is Windmill Hill.

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P.S. Hot off the press come the orchid count results: 3,574 pyramidal orchids (compared to 864 last year); 129 spotted orchids; 15 bee orchids.

 

Six Word Saturday

Garden Gold ~ Calendula Officinalis

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In medieval times the flowers of the common pot marigold (Calendula officinalis) were included in ‘a cure’ for bubonic plague – added to the finely ground shells of new laid eggs and stirred in with treacle and warm beer; to be drunk night and morning. I’m not sure about the powdered egg shell, but the rest of it sounds quite heart-warming. And that’s the best thing about marigolds: simple to catch sight of them lifts the spirits, and lifted spirits are an essential part of wellness and wellbeing. So here is some Friday morning ‘medicine’ from the allotment, marigolds self-sown and grown without one finger’s worth of help from me – a free and lovely gift from Planet Botanic.

Copyright 2019 Tish Farrell

The Changing Seasons: January (Or Is It?)

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There is more seasonal confusion to report this month. I continue to be astonished by this Dyer’s Chamomile, aka Golden Marguerite (Cota tinctoria). It’s growing in the guerrilla garden behind the back fence, and has been flowering for months. I’ve heard the plant described as ‘a hardy but weak perennial’ because it fizzles out after its second year. Well that’s as may be. This particular exemplar hasn’t reached its first birthday yet, but so far at least is looking remarkably resilient after Tuesday night’s snowfall. Nor is it alone. A tender trailing geranium that I had abandoned  in its garden pot at summer’s end has recently started to flower again. It didn’t seem to mind the snow either.

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Admittedly it wasn’t much of a fall. By Wednesday morning it was already melting, and a quick wander round the garden now reveals many signs of spring. There are breaking leaf buds on the roses, flowering currant and honeysuckle; the columbines and centaurea are making vigorous new growth; bulbs are sprouting; hellebores flowering; along the lanes the snowdrops are out in force, and the winter wheat is greening all the fields around the town. Even the birds are singing spring songs. Will it all go horribly wrong one wonders? Better enjoy it while we may then, this summer-spring-winter.

 

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The Changing Seasons ~ January 2019  Please visit Su to join in this monthly challenge.

Colour Scheming ~ It Caught My Eye

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In my last post I muttered about the shortcomings of close-up shots because you lose the wider setting which may have much more to tell you. But I took this one because it made me smile: the contrast of the green longhorn beetle on liatris spicata; the liatris against the green grass, and the congruent shade and form of beetle and the blades of grass. Not a scheme I would wish to replicate in my own home, I hasten to add.

Liatris, with its tall purple spires, is now an English herbaceous border staple, and another magnet for insect life. But its true home is on the North American prairies where it has the names of Prairie Gay Feather and Dense Blazing Star.

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The first photo was taken at the allotment where my neighbour is growing insect attracting plants, but I have also grown it in my garden for the first time this year – seen in the second photo along with all the rapeseed dust from the previous night’s harvesting. (There are disadvantages to country living, and the  combine harvester’s dust and chaff cloud that buried our house and garden was one of them).

Now I know where liatris comes from, I have a sudden yen to set it free to colonise the fields of Wenlock Edge. I see it growing up tall as tall nodding its plumed heads over hillsides of wild oats – and no more compacted earth, chemical sprays and harvesting dust. Still, I know too that this is exactly the sort of impulse that has led to major biological disasters across the world, not least the devastating spread of the very lovely water hyacinth, which also grows in alluring purple spires, choking the waterways of the African continent and beyond, making poor people even poorer; killing livelihoods.

It was most probably a colonial gardener in the former Belgian Congo who was responsible that piece of horticultural mayhem; the plant escaped from a beautifully contrived water garden and up the riverine systems of Central Africa and into Lake Victoria, far away from its native South American quarters where there are local natural forces (weevils) to keep it in check. It has infested North America too, where there is big business in selling big water hyacinth harvesting machines.

So I will contain my expansionist inclinations, and enjoy the liatris where it is. It is actually a medicinal plant, well known to North America’s first nations, the Cherokee in particular, and used to treat many conditions.

And now for some more striking flower-insect colour-scheming – a green shield bug on my dusty Russian rudbeckia, grown from seed last year – another floral (hopefully benign) displacement.

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The Bind Of Bindweed ~ Beauty Over Strangulation?

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This lovely flower can be a monumental pest if it finds its way into garden borders. It belongs to the convolvulus family, and comes in several varieties, some of which have smaller pink and white striped trumpets. This, I think, is hedge bindweed, Calystegia sepium and it is presently spreading beside the field path. Like its cousins, its plant-strangling capacity knows no bounds, and if you try to dig it up and leave the tiniest scrap of the plant behind, in an eye’s blink, you will have a brand new bindweed. Or maybe several.

Richard Mabey in Flora Britannica suggests that some of its many vernacular names reflect the degree of horticultural nuisance. Snake’s meat and Devil’s guts are certainly blunt expressions of gardener antipathy.  But there are picturesque names too. E.g.  Lady-jump-out-of-bed, and Granny-jumps-out-of-bed seem to derive from a children’s game: ‘Grandmother, grandmother, pop out of bed’ a refrain chanted while pinching out the base of the flower and watching the trumpet float to the ground like an old-fashioned nightgown on the loose. Sometimes the Grandmother is a Nanny Goat. There is also: Lazy Maisy jumps out of bed.

Other imaginative names include Old Man’s Nightcap, Poor Man’s Lily, White Witch’s Hat, Bridal Gown and Belle of the Ball, and then there are numerous variations of bindweed: Barbine, Bellbind, Withywind, Waywind.

When it comes to eradication, the Royal Horticultural Society does not hold out much hope for simply digging it out. Chemicals seem the only answer, but they do suggest a method of damage limitation, glyphosate-wise. This involves sticking garden canes into the soil near any bindweed eruption, thereby encouraging it to grow up the cane. Later you can unwind it onto bare soil and spot-treat it without harming other plants.

Or you could just live with it, and try to keep it under control. I have the hedge variety in the guerrilla garden. It keeps winding up the crab apple tree, and I keep hoiking it out. I also have the smaller pink and white striped ground-creeping variety in several places on my allotment plot. This is field bindweed or Convolvulus arvensis and I’ve become quite adept at digging it out, which checks it, but does not remove it entirely. At the moment it is also in flower and really very pretty. So I guess it will be staying.  For now.

 

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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

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Flower of the Day ~ Wild Arum Lily

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Last week I found an arum lily behind our garden fence. On Sunday afternoon I found another fine specimen growing in the shade of the lime tree walk in our nearby Linden Field. I had gone there to photograph the lime trees coming into leaf, and the avenue was a haven of leaf shadow and dappled light, and wonderfully cool in our unexpected heatwave. There was also the heady whiff of wild garlic. The plants whose leaves I had been cropping earlier in the year were bursting with white star flowers. You can eat those too. But you definitely can’t eat the arum lily, also known as Cuckoo-pint (pint to rhyme with mint), Lords-and-Ladies, Parson in the pulpit and Willy lily  – though the roots were apparently once crushed to make household starch for crisping up Elizabethan ruffs (Richard Mabey Flora Britannica).

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Cee’s Flower of the Day