The Changing Seasons ~ April Inside Looking Out

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This amazing amaryllis is one of this month’s several gifts: the result of a ‘doorstep swap’ with neighbour Sue. One of the consequences of being ‘confined to barracks’ has been the sudden sell-out of all garden seeds and sundries. If you didn’t do your orders back in January and February then getting hold of tomato seeds for instance can be proving a challenge. Sue hadn’t, but I had, so earlier this month I gave her some assorted seedlings, while she gave me the amaryllis (a plant I have never before possessed and at the point of exchange just a single fat bud) and then later she dropped off some mange tout and French bean seedlings. This week another chum Mary left two pots of young acanthus plants (bear’s breeches) in the porch, ideal candidates for the guerrilla garden where they are now happily settling in.

April’s other big gift was a good two weeks of sunshine, and although some days came with a cruel east wind, the sky has been blue, blue, blue and the apple blossom delicious. And though we are now back to chilly wintery weather at least we have had some rain which was also much needed. (I never thought I’d be saying this after the autumn-winter deluges). And cold or not, the garden is definitely saying ‘SPRING’.

One unintended consequence of seasonal upsurge has been the sprouting of my willow obelisk. Back in March I was given a big bundle of stems. After consulting The School of YouTube, I had a go at making a pot support for sweet peas. It worked out fairly well, but this month it has started growing – along with the sweet peas and some climbing French bean seedlings.  Ah well. I’m thinking the greenery will provide a good ‘backdrop’ for the sweet peas, though I may need to do some serious pruning. I made another smaller obelisk this week. In due course I could have a willow forest.

This month has also meant much labouring at the allotment – four rows and a raised bed of spuds put in, three different sorts of climbing peas and two short varieties planted out; beetroot seedlings in; parsnips sown; weeding, edging, path mowing, compost turning, digging all accomplished. Three cauliflowers have been devoured, while a fourth remains to be made into cauli and potato curry; lots of greens in the polytunnel which need to be eaten to make room for the peppers, tomatoes and aubergine plants. On the home front the conservatory is bursting with seedlings.

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And I also managed to finish re-working a short story – praise be to the deities of creative writing!

The last of my April gifts is the opportunity it has given us for reflection and observation. As I was coming home from the allotment the other evening I noticed how very lovely the hawthorn blossom is when caught at close quarters. I don’t remember every peering into the flowers before. They are quite exquisite. They have a faint dusky scent too. So I picked a sprig and then found some lilac in the hedge along the field path and when I got home popped them in a vase on the kitchen cupboard.

 

 

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The Changing Seasons: April 2020

The Changing Seasons: February

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There’s been little chance to take photos this month. We have had altogether too much bad weather: two storms and one on the way; rain that has been raining since the end of September; wind, sleet and hail; and for poor people who live near the River Severn, horrendous floods. Nearby Ironbridge has been deluged, the water breaching the flood barriers. Our county town, Shrewsbury, has been returned to the bad old winter flood days of the 1960s, this despite its modern flood defences. (You can go here to see the BBC coverage.)  In Much Wenlock ten homes on the High Street were treated to a slurry of liquid mud and gravel courtesy of run-off from surrounding hillsides delivered by road into their living rooms and parked cars.

There is much that could have been done since our region’s last big floods in 2007-8. No one seems to drain fields properly, or maintain lane and roadside ditches as they did in my childhood, interventions that would at least help to slow the flow. In fact our verge-side ditches seem to have mostly disappeared, presumably filled in and sacrificed to road widening. And so in times of heavy rains when highway drains may become quickly blocked, our roads serve as highly efficient flash flood delivery systems.

We need to start thinking about better water catchment management, and especially on our denuded uplands where our rivers rise.

Australian farmer initiatives show how all our water catchment areas could be managed better with the addition of ‘leaky weirs’ set at intervals down water courses: rocks, tree trunks judiciously placed to create a series of delta effects. No need for hugely expensive hi-techery. Such simple methods not only hold back flood water and sediment, but hydrate surrounding land and foster regrowth of bank-side vegetation that in turn restores biodiversity, providing resilience too in times of drought. AND, most importantly of all, reducing soil erosion.

BECAUSE apart from the absolute misery caused by flooded homes, the impact on life, health and livelihoods, the biggest long-term loss to us ALL, is the fertile soil that floods carry away. Once it is gone, it is gone. Many of our soils are already mineral depleted. This will ultimately have an impact on the quality of food produced and on human health. The way we treat the land, always clearing, forever taking out with an eye to greater efficiency and higher productivity, but without ever replenishing adn rebuilding, is a good way to degrade local and regional weather systems.  In fact creating land resilience and restoring the natural environment are probably the most useful things we could be doing now this minute to mitigate future extreme weather events.

And before too much blame is laid at farmers’ doors for industrial farming practices, the UK and Australia, it seems, have various laws that forbid landowner interference with water courses on their land. They must seek official approval to do anything that impacts on water flow. In the UK, riparian owners have some very serious responsibilities which include ensuring the clear movement of water through their properties.

Here’s an interesting video showing how leaky weirs work, and showcasing the pioneering efforts of farmers and the Mulloon Institute in New South Wales:

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And back on the home front and to fend off sensations of all round rising damp, here’s a photo of my drying washing, taken on the one day this month when it was worth hanging it out in the garden. Nothing like filling one’s sheets with wind and sunshine; always makes for the best sort of sleep, I always think.

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The Changing Seasons: February 2020

Sue has a very lovely gallery of photos this month. Please go and see.

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.

December’s Changing Seasons ~ All Of Them Except Winter

This wintery looking hedge is on the lane to Downs Mill, though it was a mild afternoon when I took this photo, more like spring. The hazel catkins along the field path by the house have been thinking much the same, their tassels opening to the late December sun. Out in the garden the Dyer’s Chamomile (grown from seed last summer) is still flowering, as are pink and coral hesperanthus and hardy geraniums. None of them seem to have been bothered by the few mornings’ frost we had earlier in the month.

Otherwise, there have been a couple of gales, lots of murk with fog and too much rain, but also blue-sky days too, and so far little sign of winter as we once knew it. Up at the allotment the Swiss Chard is having yet another flush of juicy leaves and the pot marigolds have started to flower again, their petals adding a zing of colour to green salads. And in the fields all round the winter wheat is zooming up.

 

The Changing Seasons ~ December

October’s Changing Seasons

Our October began bathed in the rosy glow of ancestral landscapes, the farm fields and vistas of four generations of maternal grandfathers, the millstone grit uplands of Derbyshire’s High Peak District. It would have been a hard life on Callow Farm, and especially for the grandmothers who would have managed a never ending round home and farm duties while rearing six or even eight children (the parish records suggest that many more Foxes survived into adulthood than were lost in infancy, but then yeoman farming folk would have been well nourished and well aired by comparison with most town dwellers down the centuries).

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By the time we returned home, summer was definitely on the wane in our Shropshire garden although many flowers were still holding their own. Even now, the front garden beside the road is bright with helianthus, sedum, Michaelmas daisies, purple toadflax, small pink roses and the stalwart geranium, Rozanne. And out back in the guerrilla garden there are sunflowers and dyer’s chamomile with its bright yellow daisies. There are also Japanese anemones, hesperantha, zinnias, snapdragons and the shrubby convolvulus still on the go. So kind of the garden to ease us so gently into autumn.

 

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Meanwhile, around the town and farm fields the change of season is more apparent:

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And finally a glimpse of the priory ruins and the little tower on the Prior’s House:

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The Changing Seasons: October 2018

July’s Changing Seasons ~ All Hot Air And Going To Seed

I said in an earlier post that plant life was galloping away to flower and set seed all before being fried. Now with the end of July approaching, we have definitely reached the fried stage. I took the header view of Townsend Meadow as I was coming home from  the evening’s allotment watering. I thought it captured the day’s residual heat in a ‘baked-to-a-turn’ kind of way, a muted version if you like of Vincent Van Gogh’s Wheatfield with crows, a work that always seems to exude its own hotness. It’s a shame the local rooks did not put in an appearance to complete the scene, but sensibly they seem to be keeping a low profile – no doubt roasting quietly in their treetop roosts on the Sytch where the brook no longer flows.

Rain keeps appearing on the weather forecast, and then disappearing. Today’s promised thunderstorms have blown away. I think we’ve only had one significant watering in two months, and the heatwave looks like continuing.

Up at the allotment the harvest has been hit and miss – much bolting of lettuce and wilting of peas; puny potatoes, though wonderfully free of slug spit. The sweet corn continues to flourish and is starting to form cobs, and there have been loads of raspberries. The courgettes keep coming, and even the squashes are producing. In the polytunnel the Black Russian tomatoes are fat and delicious, and the peppers and aubergines beginning to fruit. All of which  means much hauling of watering cans every evening.

Here then, are more scenes of simmering Wenlock in and around Townsend Meadow.

 

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Changing Seasons July 2018

Please visit Su to see her changing season in New Zealand

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

The Changing Seasons ~ Today Below Wenlock Edge, Rambling Through Westhope And Easthope

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Today was a golden day – not a breath of air and the landscape lit up by the oak trees that still have their leaves. Here are some glimpses, then, of my corner of Shropshire on a late November afternoon.

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Cardinal Guzman: The Changing Seasons

The Changing Seasons 2016: January On Wenlock’s Olympian Field

We had the first hard frost of winter today and, after weeks of dreariness and both rising and falling damp, it was a great relief to feel some good crisp cold. Not only that there were clear skies. And sun. And brilliance. Up on Windmill Hill there were also fine views all round, although the midday light did have the strangest quality – creating vistas that were sharp in parts, but soft-focus in others. The landscapes I snapped looked like water colours even before I snapped them. Also the farm fields loomed in unnatural shades of green, at least for January.

As we strode home beside the Linden Walk we passed the frosty picnic tables. They looked as if they had been freshly spread with perfect white cloths, but sadly there was no sign of lunch. It seemed a long way off till summer.

This post was inspired by Cardinal Guzman’s The Changing Seasons monthly photo challenge, which now comes in two versions. Please follow the link for more details.

I’ve chosen to feature Much Wenlock’s Linden Field and nearby Windmill Hill, since this was where the modern Olympic Movement had its beginnings, and was (and continues to be) the venue for the annual Much Wenlock Olympian Games, founded by Dr. William Penny Brookes, the town’s physician, in 1850.

These days the games take place at the William Brookes School just below Windmill Hill, and on purpose built tracks, but in the old days spectators sat on the hillside and watched the events taking place in the field below. Please conjure races on penny farthing bicycles, hurdling, tilting, and all manner of athletic events – not least the Long Foot Race that was only open to Greek speakers. There would also have been cricket and football matches, and fun events such as ‘an old woman’s race’ for a pound of tea, and a blindfold wheelbarrow race.

Dr. Brookes had serious objectives however. He was a man ahead of his time, who embraced a holistic view of human health that included both physical and mental exercise. He also planted the Linden Walk, no doubt because as a trained herbalist as well as a physician, he knew of the soothing effect, and sense of well-being imparted by lime tree blossom on warm summer days. It is good to walk in his footsteps.

copyright 2016 Tish Farrell