After The Rain Some Garden Magic

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Here on Wenlock Edge it seems as if we’ve gone from winter to summer with not much spring in between. These last ten days have been warm and sun-filled, a great a time for encouraging squash and French bean seeds to sprout and planting out sweet corn. Of course along with heat and sun come worries about watering newly planted crops: the water butts were growing perilously low, and then quite unexpectedly (because it wasn’t intelligibly forecast except by the Norwegian weather site YR Weather) came a couple of nights of gently soaking summer rain. The barley in the field over the fence shot up another six inches and the home borders turned into jungles. Out in the guerrilla garden the invading Queen Anne’s Lace was bowed down with raindrops. I can’t think when I have seen anything quite so pretty. Who needs diamonds.

Life in Colour: white/silver This month at Travel Words Jude asks for white and silver sightings.

Purple on the plot: bean flowers

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Aren’t they amazing! I was astonished this week when I saw the colour of this year’s field bean blossom. They’ve never turned out like this before.

The beans were sown back in October and the plants were around six inches (15cm) tall when winter struck. I was surprised how well they survived the recurring frosts.

Once they start flowering, they often put on a growth spur which means staking may soon be required. One year they grew nearly as tall as me. But in any event, by early summer each plant will produce a mass of small pods with miniature broad (fava) beans inside.

They are usually grown by farmers for animal feed. They also make good winter cover to protect the soil, dug in the following season as green manure. This is done before flowering. Which means NO BEANS. Which would be a shame. They are delicious (if you like broad beans) and make a very tasty version of humus. Also good for the Tex-Mex refried beans approach. But for now we can just admire the extraordinary flowers. I’m only sorry I can’t pass on their wonderful scent.

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Life in Colour: Purple

Six Word Saturday

“Apple of my eye”

IMG_3426Every gardener has their treasures season to season. The Evereste crab apple tree probably tops my favourites list because she covers all of them. Here she is, caught this week in the evening sun after a day of buffet and bluster, hail, wind and downpour. Already much of the blossom is ‘blown’, and whether any fruit has set, we’ll have to wait and see. The apples that come in the autumn are small and russet-blushed, an inch or two centimetres at most, but each one image perfect; doll’s house apples in other words. And after we have admired them for many weeks, the winter weather then softens them enough to make them a valuable food store for the blackbirds and pigeons. We watch them from the kitchen door.

A tree of many pleasures then. Here she is a couple of weeks ago, the blossom just opening:

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And this was last September (in the midst of an early autumn gale), the apples freshly formed:

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Evereste is also queen of that unruly quarter, the-garden-over-the-fence aka the guerrilla garden, caught here early one summer’s morning. Its content changes every year:

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And in winter there are many new scenes:

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And so yes, the apple of my eye:

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Lens-Artists: Gardens  Please visit Amy’s very lovely gardens. She is hosting this week’s theme.

There’s A Storm Coming…

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This week the icy currents have retreated. Instead we have storms. I was at the allotment yesterday when this one crept up on me. I was planting out some pea seedlings, the skies ahead sunshiny blue, and all well with the world, but when I turned round:

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Heavens! A swift retreat looked called for. Lately the rain has come in sudden deluges of tropical ferocity, the sort of downpours that leave you soaked no matter how water-proofed you think you are. I’ve been caught out before between allotment and home. For sure it’s only a five minute hike across Townsend Meadow, but it’s amazing how much wetter than wet you can get in that short space.

So home it was, the storm on my heels.

But it was only a tease. Almost home and scarcely a drop, I stopped to take the header photo and watched the storm slip over the Edge.

It came back later though: hail, thunder, downpour. During an early evening lull I went out into the garden. The birds were singing. It was almost warm; the sky looked amazing: so many shades of grey. And then it started to rain again.

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Bright Glade

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Yesterday morning I set off across the Linden Field on one of my periodic scavenging missions. I’d found the stash back in the winter when it was frozen into a craggy hummock: too hard to prise open the constituent parts. We’re talking about wood chips here. Last year one of the oaks at the top of the field where it meets the foot of Windmill Hill had shed a large branch. The brash was duly shredded and left in a heap by the boundary fence. And what a sight to gladden this gardener’s heart, though I had to wait for it to dry out, first after the thaw, and then after weeks of rain.

It is amazingly useful stuff. Firstly it’s good to add to the garden and kitchen waste that goes into our hot compost bin. Secondly it makes an excellent mulch for the home flower borders. Thirdly, and mostly, I use it at the allotment where I pile it on layers of cardboard set between the raised beds; this in a bid to maintain weed-free paths. When, after a year or two, when the cardboard has melted and the chippings begun to break down, the whole lot can be added to the allotment compost bins, and the cardboard laying and scavenging begins again.

And so that was my mission – out in the brilliant sunshine and still frosty, frosty air to collect fresh path makings. Of course I always take the camera too, which meant that when I reached the heap, I was at once distracted by bluebells. There they shimmered on the flanks of Windmill Hill, proper native bluebells:

through the light/they came in falls of sky-colour washing the brows and slacks of the ground with vein-blue…

Gerard Manley Hopkins Journal May 1871

Bright Square #27

Season Of Leaves

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As a Halloween ‘babe’ (I use the term retrospectively) one might expect a new broomstick for one’s birthday (and actually a good old fashioned witches’ besom would be quite useful) but this year I received a very smart leaf rake – pale ash handle topped by the most elegant splay of shiny stainless steel tines. In fact the new rake is so artily attractive, I was rather  reluctant to take it up to the allotment.

But then yesterday, it being sunnily fine after recent gales and deluges, and with signs of copious leaf fall everywhere, the need to gather the makings for next year’s leaf mould overcame me. Armed with two big bags and rake I set off across the field, intent on making a start on clearing the lane beside the allotment where, the day before, I had swished through a sea of field maple leaves.

And then just as I was leaving the house I grabbed the camera too, switched it to monochrome mode. I remembered that Jude at Travel Words had set us a photo assignment to look for patterns in black and white. So here are the results of killing two birds with one stone. I also have two very full leaf ‘silos’ on my allotment plot.

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2020 Photo Challenge #44  Jude gives us lots of pointers and some striking examples of black and white composition.

The Changing Seasons ~ July 2020

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The last day of July and it’s HOT! And rather a shock to the system. For much of the month, the Edge has been cloud-bound with low light and at times even chilly. Every now and then I’ve grown confused and thought it must be September. The wheat in Townsend Meadow is already looking overdone. (So soon!). The vegetable plots seem confused too. Many plants, especially the climbing beans, seem to have gone into a trance – as if they’ve given up before they’ve hardly begun. But then it’s a sign of the times, if not the status quo – confusion.

And at least the potatoes and onions have remained steadfast and productive. There should be tomatoes soon too. August also comes with fresh cultivating possibilities. I’ve been preparing to sow Chinese greens, endives, spinach and Swiss chard for the autumn and winter. Maybe some carrots too – the stubby little Paris Market variety, which can be sown late. And then when the potatoes are harvested it will be time to sow over-wintering green manures: mustard, annual rye and field beans. So the round of soil nurturing continues. It’s all part of a process of extending gratitude for keeping us Farrells, (friends and neighbours too) well nourished. We seem to be keeping the insect world pretty well fed too.

Now for scenes from the gardening fronts. On both sides of our garden fence the yellow helianthus and golden rod are bursting forth among the hot reds, pinks and purples. It’s a gaudy scene, and though I don’t care for the colour of the pink phlox, in the present heat wave it smells wonderful – a sweet warm meadowy scent. Meanwhile up at the allotment, the communal fruit trees are already showing signs of prodigious production, and I’ve brought bundles of very fine onions home to dry:

The Changing Seasons: July 2020

Deconstructed Artichokes And How I Tackle Them

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This year we’ve had masses of globe artichokes. I have several different varieties growing at the allotment, probably with the notion (as suggested by gardener-cook Sarah Raven) that doing this would extend the cropping season. It hasn’t. Well, not by much.

My usual way of cooking artichokes (one each) is to split then down the middle, cutting from stem to tip, scoop out the choke, drizzle the cut edges with lemon juice to stop discolouration (optional), then steam the halves for around 20 minutes. While that’s happening I put a dish on the hob and melt a big nugget of butter with a couple of cloves of crushed garlic (sometimes butter and olive oil), and when the artichokes are done, spoon this ‘sauce’ into each hollow.

After that it’s all a matter of pulling off the scaly leaves, dipping their bases in the garlic butter pool and sucking. By the time one gets to the flat juicy base, there’s no point in opting for a knife and fork, we’re all too butter fingered and dribbly chinned. Though a slice of wholemeal bread at this point may come in handy for general mopping up.

It is all incredibly messy, the kind of eating that Graham refers to as an ‘all over body experience’ and one that requires a thorough ‘hosing down’ afterwards. You also need to have ready a big dish for the debris. This later goes to ‘feed’ the hot composting bin.

Anyway, there’s only so much hedonistic dining a body can take, and I was just getting to the point of wondering who else at the allotment might like to eat our artichokes when I remembered Francesco da Mosto’s Venice TV series (2004!) It included a scene of women traders preparing buckets of what Francesco referred to as  ‘artichoke bottoms’, these to be sold to Venetian cooks who couldn’t  be bothered to confront this often challenging vegetable.

Artichoke bottoms! It had to be tried. The only problem, I quickly discovered, is that you need an incredibly sharp knife. Also most of my green globe heads were  supporting an insectopolis of aphids, ants and earwigs that required some determined flushing out. After that it was down to the bread knife to get to the bottom of the bottom. At least it got part of the job done, though I regreted my lack of Venetian finesse.

And so the photo. There comes a point when hacking can devolve to peeling (watching out for spiny leaf tips). As I reached the middle of this particular artichoke, and rather strangely, the last leaves clicked open in unison like a mechanical flower, so revealing the hairy choke and also providing this rather good imitation of a water lily.

I did not photograph the bottoms. After all the battling with bugs and wielding the contents of my knife drawer, there was not much to show for eight heads’ worth of artichoke. They are anyway not very pretty and seem to discolour whether or not you put them in acidulated water. But never mind. I braised them gently in olive oil with crushed garlic and fresh chopped oregano, added sliced baby courgettes and garden peas and served them sprinkled with pandano cheese. Delicious and also eaten using appropriate cutlery, so avoiding the dribbling and hosing down elements of my usual method. Some, of course, might think this drawback.

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Square Perspective #3

The Changing Seasons ~ And So Many Of Them In June

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I’ve read, just the other day in fact, that rain and dew drops caught in the leaves of Lady’s Mantle were much sought after by alchemists. They called them ‘moon water’, a deemed essential ingredient in the making of the philosopher’s stone, which in turn would change base metal into gold.

This plant’s transformative powers are also suggested in the old common name alkmelych  (alchemy) and preserved too in its botanical name Alchemilla vulgaris. Today medical herbalists prescribe it as a gynaecological tonic, in particular for balancing menopausal symptoms or resolving irregular menstrual cycles. The leaves and flowers are made into an infusion.

Anyway, the reason I mention this and indeed took the header photo is down to those big juicy drops. They mark the most transforming-transformative element of the month of June: RAIN. After a long dry spring, many weeks wherein our stolid Silurian soils set hard as concrete round limp and fainting plant life, we have finally had some good downpours; some of them quite torrential (as in stair rod assaults). We have also had hail and thunder. And in between, some over-heated sun-soaked days that made us think we had gone to the Mediterranean (while blissfully saved the airport check-in). But now, as the month comes to a close, the weather is more like late September – wind, drizzle, coolness and gloom. The allotment cabbage plots are happy though: just their kind of climate.

Surprisingly the dry spell has not noticeably curtailed production. Already garden harvest time is in full swing: peas, beetroot, lettuce, first potatoes, strawberries, raspberries, courgettes and broad beans. We’ve also had so many globe artichokes this year, I’ve had to prepare them en masse as hearts, braising them in olive oil and garlic. They can be eaten hot or cold.

As one crop finishes, so there is ground to clear, which means planning for the mid to late summer sowing and planting. Still lots to think about then. Mostly I’m thinking about fennel, various kinds of endives/chicories, carrots and spinach.

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Around the town the paths and lanes, and especially the Linden Walk have been drenched in lime flower scent. It is astonishing how these tiny green-gold, dusty looking  inflorescences  can produce such a heady perfume. They do of course have highly sedative properties  and should only be used with great care. No harm in some heavy sniffing though – as one passes by.

Early one morning, during the hot spell, I was doing just that, on my way to visit Windmill Hill. At 7 a.m. the sun was lighting up a lime tree by the children’s playground; the warmed perfume stopped me in my tracks: honeysuckle tempered with strains of citrus. Aaah!  Up on Windmill Hill there were however distinct signs of the recent drought. June is the time of the annual orchid count. It was corona-ed this year of course, but anyway, there were only a few pyramidal orchids to be seen there. Hopefully their little tubers have not been totally desiccated and are saving themselves for more salubrious conditions next year. (Aren’t we all). Even the Lady’s Bedstraw was struggling to bloom. Usually the hillside below the windmill is a mass of limestone meadow flowers in early summer. There were at least some very handsome musk thistles.

Another noteworthy wildlife sighting this month has been the large number of scarlet tiger moths about the place. Soon there will be a lot more if the scene in our back garden flowerbed is anything to go by. At rest they are not always so immediately noticeable: cream and amber spots on black. But in flight there are flashes of scarlet ‘skirts’ as they dart by. Very fetching.

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The Changing Seasons: June 2020  Please visit Su who hosts this challenge – not only for her lovely photos, but also for a very delicious soup recipe.

P.S. Cannot fathom this new system or how to put galleries where I want them. Hmph!