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.

A Matter of Focus ~ Fond Thoughts Of High Summer On Windmill Hill With Greater Knapweed And Assorted Grasses

 

It’s blowing a frigid gale in Wenlock today; Met Office warnings of 60-80 mph winds as Storm Doris comes tearing through. What a woman! Talk about flighty.

First thing this morning I had to dash outdoors in my nightie to rescue the sweet pea seedlings: they were being blown out of their pots. Not only that, the freshly open daffodils were all askew, and the garden canes whipped off the shed wall into giant Pick-Up-Sticks.  Phew and phew. Just TOO much wind.

So it’s good to think about warmer weather, of lying in the grass on Windmill Hill, and peering at things botanical with the sun on my head. So thank you, Paula, for this week’s Thursday’s Special.

Focus is the watch word, however we care to interpret it,  and it has had me happily trawling through summer days in my own version of A la recherche de temps perdu. Which also reminds me that Marcel Proust used to do his writing in bed. Today, with all the draughts, and in places where we never knew we had them before, this is a very tempting prospect. So I’m wondering if He Who Recycles Pallets Builds Walls And Binds Books would mind delivering sustenance at regular intervals to the office bed where I might huddle under the duvet with my laptop. Seems unlikely somehow.

Here’s another shot of the knapweed, this one well and truly open for business along with assorted small bugs:

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Watching The Clock: Black & White Sunday

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Talk about conflicting interests. When I’m at work on my allotment I continuously wage war on dandelions. They are shown no mercy, bar resorting to pesticides. And yes, I know they are very helpful plants – the roots plunging deep into the soil strata and releasing otherwise inaccessible nutrients into the topsoil.

On the other hand, on the way to the allotment, camera to hand, I have a lot of time for them. They are of course in the farmer’s field, and not on my plot, which helps to foster a little appreciation. I find their seed-head ‘clocks’ endlessly photogenic. Looked at closely, they have a mysterious and mesmerizing quality: the perfect design of their parachutes, each one programmed for relentlessly unavoidable procreation.

And so, even as I feel my spade-hand twitching towards a ruthless uprooting, I’m also thinking ‘live and let live’. There are other good reasons to love dandelions. I’ve mentioned in earlier posts that these plants possess great therapeutic qualities. Herbalists have long used the roots for healing liver conditions, while the leaves and flowers act more on the kidneys (not for nothing is the dandelion’s country name piss-in-the-bed.) You can use the young leaves in salads, while the roasted roots make a passable coffee. Meanwhile, the dandelion in the photo is also auditioning for a special effects role in Star Trek.

Black & White Sunday

Where Trees Grow Calm ~ Thursday’s Special

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Here’s another place I never tire of photographing – the Linden Walk. Not only is it lovely of itself, but it also leads to Windmill Hill, that other object of my snapping affections. I took this photo yesterday with the leaves whisking off the trees. It was too windy for those addicting musky smells of autumn leaf litter, and the delicious summer scent of lime tree flowers was only a memory (until next year of course).

But whatever the weather or time of year, this lime tree avenue is always a very soothing place to walk. Its other-worldly quality takes you out of yourself: a pathway to another dimension perhaps? Doubtless the town’s  physician, Doctor Penny Brookes, who planted the trees in 1869 was well aware of the calming properties of lime trees since he was also a Padua-trained herbalist.

When made into a tea, the blossoms have a sedative effect. This was a recommended therapy during World War 2 (Richard Mabey Flora Britannica).

But in the absence of linden flower tea, here’s the lovely second movement ‘Petals’ from Takashi Yoshimatsu’s Piano Concerto Memo Flora;  Kyoko Tabe piano:

 

Post inspired as ever by Paula at Lost in Translation  Please pay her a visit. CALM is today’s watchword.

Over My Garden Fence This Morning

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We didn’t invite them, but this crowd of opium poppies showed up anyway, pushing in behind the garden fence along with several other blooming gate-crashers. There’s a whole bunch more behind the garden shed. Papaver somniferum – the sleep bearing poppy, Asian in origin but now naturalised in Britain on waste ground and in field margins. And in case you are wondering, in our cool climate it does not produce the latex from which opium is derived. Better to get high by looking at them. And what a cheering sight it is on a Monday morning. So poppies, we’re glad you came. Please feel free to make yourselves at home here.

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For more 4th July blooming visit Cee at Flower of the Day.

Over The Garden Fence At Sunset Yesterday

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After tropical days in Wenlock we now have rain and more rain. There were showers between downpours for most of yesterday, and only at the last lap, as it was about to set, did the sun coming bursting hotly through the clouds. I caught its last beams here before it disappeared behind Wenlock Edge.

With all the sudden rain the wheat in the field behind our house is growing before our very eyes. So is our wildflower garden along the fence below it. Seen here are Moon Daisies (also known as Oxeye Daisy, Dog Daisy and Moonpenny). I love that last name. And keeping company with the daisies is one stately white foxglove, with a spray of cow parsley or Queen Anne’s Lace in the background.

According to Richard Mabey’s Flora Britannica  cow parsley (a member of the carrot family) has a whole lexicon of country names – some obvious, others not so. So here we go with a few more: Fairy Lace,  Spanish Lace, Mother die, Step-mother, Badman’s oatmeal, Blackman’s tobacco, Kecksie, and Rabbit meat.

And as for the foxglove, it was also known as Fairy Gloves and Fairy Bells. It has long been used as a herbal remedy that at times proved more killing than curing. And of course until recent times a compound version of  the toxin found in foxglove leaves was the drug of choice for various heart conditions.

It is anyway one of my favourite plants. I like the way it grows itself around the garden and crops up in a variety of subtle shades from white to purple, although it perhaps looks a little sinister, looming here in the failing light across Townsend Meadow.

 

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Posted for:

Mundane Monday #63 at Jithin’s PhoTraBlogger

Stinking Nanny Anyone?

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The shadowy margins of the Linden Walk near my house and the old railway line that runs alongside are presently lit by  white-star carpets. Ramsons. Stink Bombs. Stinking Nanny. Londoner’s Lilies. Thank you, Richard Mabey and your Flora Britannica for all these country names for wild garlic.

I know many people loathe the smell of this plant, and it can indeed be overpowering on warm days, but whenever I catch a whiff, it simply inspires me to cook. You can eat the leaves and flowers. On Friday I used them to make a pesto sauce to go with steamed carrots, assorted allotment greens and braised salmon.

This is what I did to make it:

  • Took a good handful of broken walnuts and lightly toasted them in a little olive oil
  • Roughly chopped a dozen flower heads and a small bunch of garlic leaves
  • Tipped all with the walnuts into a food processer
  • Added more olive oil to cover, salt, black pepper and squeeze of fresh lemon juice and blitzed. More oil can be added according to taste and requirements.

This is good with pasta, or spooned on the top of fresh-made soup, especially broad bean, or the classic pistou. In his Food for Free book Richard Mabey also quotes the sixteenth century writer, John Gerard, who writing in The Herbal (1597) says that in Europe the leaves are used to make a sauce to go with fish, and adds that these may:

very well be eaten in April and May with butter, of such as are of strong constitution, and labouring men.

And what about labouring women, good sir? This particular one has great liking for ramsons. In fact I’m thinking now of using them to lace a homemade tomato sauce. Bon Appétit , and happy foraging.

And please pop over to Jude’s Garden Challenge. This month she wants to see our wild flower photos.

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Corncockle Sunset ~ Nature Photo 6

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These are the seed heads of a lovely plant that was once to be seen in English  corn- fields, but is now almost extinct in the wild. And here it is in its full flowering glory…

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…the Corncockle aka Agrostemma githago aka Kiss-me-quick.

This stately annual plant was also the target of shock-horror media hysteria a couple of years ago.

And why? You may well wonder.

It apparently all began with a well-meaning gesture by the BBC’s Countryfile programme. Courtesy of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, they were giving away packets of wild-flower seeds that contained corncockle. There was huge demand. Suddenly everyone was sowing wild flower gardens.

Next some individual in Royal Wootton Bassett, a small market town in Wiltshire, noticed that the plant had appeared in a garden created by the Brownies in the local park. He, having ‘googled’ it, raised the alarm, pronouncing the plant deadly. The Town Council then had the plant fenced off and eliminated, and it all became a matter for the national press as more and more sightings of the plant were made across the land.

The Telegraph’s headline positively screamed with indignation:

BBC spreads poisonous wild flowers across Britain

And from the Daily Mail we have:

The plant that can kill

In an eminently sensible press account Patrick Barkham of the Guardian  tried to bring  perspective and rationality to the panic:

This kerfuffle is a huge overreaction, given that many of our most popular garden plants are poisonous, including daffodils, laurel, ivy, yew, hellebores, lupins and particularly foxgloves. In fact, we have lived alongside poisonous plants for centuries, and many toxic species are particularly useful to medicine and are used in life-saving drugs. Even parts of plants we eat, such as potatoes, are toxic.

And the real story?

Corncockle, it seems, arrived in Britain back in the Iron Age over two thousand years ago. Its seeds were present in imports of rye grain from Europe, and it soon became established on the lighter soils of southern England. Thereafter, and into the 20th century the plant could be found among the nation’s arable and cereal crops. Then improved methods of seed cleaning were introduced, and together with extensive herbicide use, this led to the plant’s virtual extinction in the wild.

The plant does  have toxic properties. This is what  Monique Simmonds, Head of Royal Botanic Gardens Kew’s Sustainable Uses of Plants Group has to say:

This plant, like many we have in our gardens, does contain compounds that can be toxic if eaten in large amounts or eaten frequently over a period of time. The toxic compounds are in higher concentrations in the seeds, which are hard and very bitter. If eaten by a child, the child would most likely be sick or complain of a stomach ache. There is no evidence that eating a few seeds would cause acute toxicity.

In the past, problems associated with toxicity occurred in Europe when flour contaminated by corn cockle seeds was consumed in bread, and this contaminated bread was eaten over a period of time. The fact that there are very few reports about any form of toxicity to humans in other parts of Europe, where the plants are more common, indicates that although toxic, the plant is not considered a high risk.

Plants for the Future website explains further:

The seed and leaves are poisonous, containing saponin-like substances. Although poisonous, saponins are poorly absorbed by the human body and so most pass through without harm. Saponins are quite bitter and can be found in many common foods such as some beans.

What concerns me about this story is how easily people can be stirred into panic and demonizing tactics by manipulative and exaggerated press coverage. And over a flower that has absolutely no appetizing qualities whatsoever. Of course that doesn’t mean we should not be aware of the toxic qualities of plants. We definitely should be. People sadly do die from eating poisonous plants. But we don’t need to feel afraid of their very existence. The problem is when we lose connection with our natural environment, it leaves room for the kind of scare-mongering that seeks to make us feel like victims – and all, and only to sell newspapers. Obviously this goes for many more serious issues and situations too.

But then you never do know. Maybe the denizens of the plant kingdom have it in for us. Maybe they are just biding their time, thinking up cunning ways to lure us into eating their poisonous parts.

Quick! Surround the lupins and hellebores! Cut them off at the roots before we’re driven to eat them and DIE!

copyright 2016 Tish Farrell

 NB. For well-informed details about poisonous plants see The Poison Garden website.

 #7-daynaturephotochallenge Day 6

Nature Photo ~ Day 3

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The Wood Anemone (Anemone nemorosa)  is one of the loveliest of Britain’s wild flowers. The delicate white blooms have bell-like heads that open to the sun as this one is doing. It’s about 3 cm across. They are also among the earliest spring flowers, carpeting ancient woodlands before the trees come into leaf and make too much shade. The flowers nod in the April breeze, which distinctive habit doubtless inspired their country names of Wind-flower and Grandmother’s Nightcap.

As ever, I am indebted to Richard Mabey and his magnificent (and very large) book Flora Britannica for further intriguing details about this plant.

I found this particular anemone yesterday. It was growing below Windmill Hill, on the edge of the Linden Field. I’d not noticed anemones there before, and the sparse little colony hardly made a carpet. They were also growing  under trees that I know have been planted in the last hundred years to commemorate various events associated with the Much Wenlock Olympian Games. Before that, in Victorian times anyway, the field was, well, a field. This, then, presents a bit of mystery.

Mabey says that in Britain the Wood Anemone only very rarely produces viable seed. Instead it spreads by means of its root system, six feet for every hundred years, which is pretty slow going. When you find them, they are thus a pretty good indicator of ancient woodland since they rarely extend beyond these age-old sites. All of which makes me wonder how the little group of Wind-Flowers found its way to the Linden Field. Perhaps they are relic rootstock from times when the ground in question did host ancient tree cover. Mabey suggests that this could be a explanation for the more open-growing colonies now to be found on the limestone pavements of the Yorkshire Dales.

Anyway, however they got there, I was very pleased to see them. More power to their root systems is all I can say. Faster. Faster. We can’t have too many Wind-Flowers.

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Anna nominated me for this challenge, so please take a look at her cloud scenes at Una Vista di San Fermo. Also Meg has posted some magnificent Warsaw tree-scapes; Ark at A Tale Unfolds gives us stunning bee and other flying insect shots; while Sylvia at Another Day In Paradise takes the absolute biscuit with parting shots of her erstwhile (too close for comfort) neighbour, alligator Mr. A.

 

#7daynaturephotochallenge

The Monochrome Garden: Dandelion Delight?

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I know most of us gardeners curse dandelions, but don’t they look lovely in sepia? Little constellations. Firework bursts. Spreading those all too viable seed parachutes here, there and everywhere. You can’t keep a good weed down.

But these plants do have their uses too. Young leaves are excellent in salads. Dandelion leaf tea has long been used by herbalists to cleanse the kidneys and lower blood pressure, while the root is mainly a liver remedy, helping to boost the immune system. I do quite like dandelion coffee, perverse as this may sound, although it has to be the real roasted roots, and not the instant stuff, and it’s definitely improved with a sprinkle of raw cacao powder, and a pinch of cinnamon.

The plants of course can develop prodigious root systems. The main tap root drills down into the depths of poor soil, and so helps bring up trapped nutrients. This is one of the reasons why they are so darned difficult to dig up – they are so very busy nourishing the ground. Well that’s their story anyway. I have tried roasting the roots to make my own coffee. Very fiddly. A lot of scrubbing. And then I ate the crunchy roasted bits and didn’t have any left to make coffee. They tasted like root vegetable crisps – weird but vaguely compelling.

And I suppose I have to say  too (somewhat grudgingly) that the flowers’ bright yellow faces are very cheering, although I was a bit cross to find them already grinning at me up at the allotment. In February, for goodness sake? Please give us a break, dandelions. How about a September blooming instead?

Anyway this is my entry for the last week of Jude’s monochrome garden photo challenge. With this particular composition, I’m also thinking a little of Sue Judd’s negative space challenge over at  Paula’s. But please drop in at Jude’s The Earth Laughs In Flowers to see what she and others have been doing with their monochrome compositions. Next Sunday there will be a new  theme: garden wild life, and a chance to show off visiting my reptiles. Yay!