Of Sunset Over The Rooftops From The Allotment And Much Toiling On The Plot (As In Gardening Not Writing)

All of a sudden we’re having summer here in Shropshire, and it’s a case of catch-up at the allotment – not only with the jobs that could not be done over the cold, wet thrice snowy winter, but also trying to keep up with spring-sown plants that are romping every which way and need to be put somewhere. The ‘somewhere’ inevitably needs more preparation than I’d realised, and more digging than I’d hoped to do, given my no-dig pipe dream objectives. I’m beginning to think our Silurian Clag really needs total soil replacement – as in complete interment by a foot of decent loamy earth. And if that’s down to me, then that means making humungous quantities of compost. It could take years.

Yesterday I did five solid hours of labouring under the sun. The new plot by the polytunnel was alive with bee-hum. The bees were whizzing by with such greedy intent among the raspberry flowers, I could actually feel the air move as they passed me. Bbbzzzzzzzzoom. And then the birds were singing their hearts out – loud, louder, loudest – especially the blackbirds. Which reminded me to put netting over the strawberries. I ate my first sun-warmed strawberry yesterday – the best strawberry of all – that first one.

The five hours slipped away. Gardener’s time is of course quite different from everyone else’s. He Who Waits At The Farrell Establishment never knows when supper is happening. Also when I do decide to head for home the light is usually so diverting that I have to start taking photos. Besides, the raggedy old allotments are a wonderful place to be at sundown – when you have put the spade away and shut up the shed – the wide views over Wenlock; the scents of growing; the quietness of plants.

Much Wenlock from the allotment 2018 sq

copyright 2018 Tish Farrell

Roof Squares #4

At The End Of The Day

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Townsend Meadow was all aglow a couple of evenings ago and not only that, I walked home from the allotment in sunshine that was warm. On the other hand, I had just mowed three of my allotment paths, which are all uphill, so perhaps I was simply overheating. Anyway this is how things were looking this week in the field behind the Farrell domain – until the gloom and rain resumed. The oil seed rape (canola) is on the cusp of flowering. I’ve just caught the forward blooms here; most of the field is still green, though it won’t be long. Soon we will have a sea of acid yellow to look out on – always good against a stormy sky, and given the weather forecast we can be sure of having a few of those over the next couple of weeks.

I had rather hoped the farmers were giving this field a rest after a couple of seasons of wheat – maybe putting in a green manure, or leaving it fallow as once happened in the days when farmers took crop rotation and care of the soil to heart. Ah well. The farmers who farm here are tenants who doubtless wish to extract maximum advantage before the actual landowner gets round to building the housing estate he’s been promising us for 2025. Who cares then, about the state of the earth?

Six Word Saturday

Awakening To Poppies

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Few garden flowers do awakening more flamboyantly than oriental poppies. They are true spirit-lifters. This one is also catching the early morning sun – along with a tiny crab spider. They are also very obliging on the renewal front, each year creating several suckers which are easily divided to make new plants. And if you cut them right back after the first flowering, you will  be blessed with a late summer flush. Bees and hover flies love them too.

Their vegetation is fleshy with a tendency to break, but they are surprisingly hardy. The leaves have been up in my garden for a couple of months now. But I’m guessing it will be a good few weeks before we can enjoy this year’s round of poppy power. For now, the photos will have to suffice.

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Daily Post: Awakening

Spring?

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Dare one say it – suddenly spring seems more intentional, as if it’s meaning to stay for more than five minutes? These lesser celandines were blooming hell for leather yesterday when I was delivering stuff to the allotment. Even the spider seems to be having a bit of a sun bathe (apologies arachnophobes) rather than being sneekily on the hunt.

Things being transported to the plot included three black bin bags of leaves gathered from mother-in-law’s lawn (they will take a couple of years to turn into very useful leaf mould) and twenty new seven-foot canes. These last are not for this year’s runner beans, but for peas. After seeing last summer’s mega-pea-crop success of fellow allotmenteer, Dave, I thought I would give climbing pea Alderman a go. This is a heritage variety, apparently favoured by ‘good old boys on their allotments’, and not much to be found elsewhere.

You need to treat them like runner beans using plenty of tall supports because they may end up growing six to eight feet tall i.e. heading for around 2 metres. The beauty of this variety is that it crops without surplus production over several months. Whereas modern pea varieties tend to produce all at once, which is why you need to sow the seed successionally e.g. every couple of weeks, which can be a faff if you lose track of time.

At the moment the pea seeds are just germinating  (I sow in trays due to allotment mice), and yesterday I moved the first batch into the cold frame, so I truly am hoping that winter has gone. I will report back in a few months time on how this good old girl is getting on with the Alderman.

copyright 2018 Tish Farrell

It’s Been A Long Winter ~ Thursday’s Special

At least this morning we have bright sunshine, although even before I looked out of the window I could tell from the clarity of light there would be frost too. There is. Indoors, I keep peering at my tomato seedlings and thinking, ‘why did I start you off so soon?’ They say they don’t know either. Ah well, when it comes to gardening, as with much else, all one can do is travel hopefully. Meanwhile, fingers crossed, we’ve seen the back of these wintry scenes. You can click on an image to also see these in carousel format.

Thursday’s Special: Wintry

Portrait Of My Aunt

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Miriam Wilkinson nee Hickling:  21st February 1914 – 17th March 2003

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There was only one thing my aunt loved more than her Devon garden, and that was the Derbyshire Peak District – the lanes round Bradwell, Ashford and Hathersage, the byways of Fox and Bennett family forebears. To a child brought up in the suburbs of Manchester, the Peak District of spring and summer holidays seemed like heaven.

For most of her married life, Miriam was a nomad – living in 42 different rented flats. Each one she tried to make home, and always with much flair and limited funds, as she followed her engineer husband from one telephone exchange to another, whenever and wherever he was dispatched to oversee the upgrade of Britain’s telecommunications. They had married at the start of World War 2, and the header photo probably dates from around this time. After a makeshift marriage whither my grandmother had arrived wearing only her shopping clothes since she looked down on the whole affair, Miriam had been left married, but stranded with her unsympathetic parents while my uncle was posted off to West Africa.

Looking back, he must have been helping to provide British navel and military intelligence with radio surveillance capability since he had no service rank as far as I know. He apparently lived in some style out in Africa. But it was all change a year later when he was posted to Coventry during the Blitz, presumably to work on restoring bombed out telephone connections. And this is where married life actually began, in a dismal rent room smelling of boiled cabbage and with Luftwaffe bombs raining down.

My uncle did not cope well with either the bombing or the war-time privations. Miriam had to keep him together on all fronts, while she went to work in a munitions factory. I cannot imagine what it was really like for her. She had lived a life of quiet and modest gentility, though always within the orbit of rich relatives. She had endured her mother’s spirit-crushing jibes while doting on a father who, in her hearing, had once described her to a family friend as ‘a dud’. Neither her mother or father had the faintest idea about parenting or how to prepare their two daughters for adult life.

My grandmother had been mostly brought up by a housemaid and a slightly dotty aunt as her own twice widowed mother drifted around in black silk dresses, taking covert sips of gin, while presiding over a Cheshire Inn. Grandfather had been abandoned by his own mother, who apparently fled merchant-class respectability and ran off to be an actress. She deposited grandfather with his dour Victorian Hickling grandparents, though returned in later life from time to time, wafting in at the family firm for a cash injection from ‘master Georgie’.

You can well see how lives of ‘quiet desperation’ get handed on from generation to generation.

Miriam had a talent for drawing and writing but even this outlet was denied. She had poor eyesight and had terrible headaches, but my grandfather would not let her have spectacles. No visible signs of imperfection would be tolerated. She told me how once, when returning from a childhood trip to Derbyshire by train, she had developed a rash on her face. Her parents being highly alarmed, took themselves off to another carriage to complete the journey to Manchester leaving Miriam alone in a state of disgrace. By the time she was fourteen she had suffered four nervous breakdowns and had to be taken out of school. Both she and my mother, who was eight years younger, were sent to small private schools. My mother was not allowed take up a place at a prestigious girls’ high school despite gaining a scholarship. My grandfather would have no ‘blue stockings’ in his family. He had some notion that providential husbands would somehow materialise: both his daughters would ‘marry well’ and thus be taken care of.

They did not and they were not. But each in their own very different ways made the best of very bad jobs, though in my mother’s case her methods of choice were destructive and damaging to others. Miriam remained stalwart, loyal to a man whose nerves were fragile, and who, in extremis, once attempted to strangle her as she slept.

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My mother, Peggy, probably sixteen years old, Miriam around the time of her marriage circa 1939. Both stepping out with so much intention.

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Miriam did not have a home of her own until the mid-1960s. It was on top of the hill in Pinhoe, near Exeter. There she made a garden that was filled with wildflower reminders of girlhood Derbyshire holidays – dame’s violets, bloody cranesbill, saxifrage, cowslips, primroses, the wild yellow pansies of the limestone uplands.  In their latter years, she and my uncle took to having an annual spring holiday in the Derbyshire Peak District. It was a source of great joy to both of them. Sometime later I took her ashes there.

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Miriam around 4 years old c 1918. The first time she met her father was when he returned from France at the end of the Great War. He had been an ambulance driver, and came home with gas-damaged lungs, which left him an invalid for the rest of his life. It left him the poorer too with years of medical bills to meet.  He said wearing a gas mask got in the way when he was trying to pick up the wounded.

copyright 2016 Tish Farrell

Daily Prompt: constant

Yesterday ~ A Good Scavenging Sort Of A Day

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The field path to the allotment was a slithery assault course after heavy rain and the wind was bitter, but on the big allotment bonfire-heap-in-waiting there was treasure. On top were slices of a new builder’s pallet that someone had sawn up to make for easier disposal. Well thank you very much. Naturally I had to retrieve these for recycling man and the home wood burner pile. I stacked the pieces by the hedge beside my exit route for later transportation i.e. once I’d emptied my big blue IKEA bag of vegetable peelings on the compost heap; the reason for my visit.

But then once I’d fished out the pallet pieces I realised someone had dumped a mass of garden waste that would be so much better on my compost heap. (Why do people who garden not make compost?) My good fortune though.  I filled the IKEA bag to bursting. And it was during this exercise and under a load of tree prunings that I found the other half of the pallet that had not been sawn up. Yippee! It was just the right size to make the side of a new compost bin. I lugged it up to my plot along with the compost makings. Dug up the last of the carrots and discovered some parsnips. It was then I realised I’d been so busy scavenging and rootling, the weather had sneaked up on me. Over Windmill Hill there was a storm coming in. Just time to slither home across the field, deliver the pallet bits and untangle the sheets that had tied themselves in knots on the washing line. When I took them indoors they were filled with fresh-air smells that made me think of spring.

copyright 2018 Tish Farrell

Frosted Flowers ~ Hesperanthus

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All was glittering in the garden this morning – the first real frost of November. There was bright sunshine too, so I went around the flower beds snapping these fragile Hesperanthus. They have been flowering so bravely, though perhaps  not for much longer. Then I stood in the sun at the top of the garden by the field and did some qi gong. It always feels best done outside, and there’s nothing like a bit of cloud hands waving and dancing with rainbows to spark up the spirits. Happy Friday!

Monday Magic ~ Red Admiral On Doronicum And A Slice Of This Writer’s Life

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So far my Monday has been unusually zippy. This morning I did the final edit on a short story and emailed it off to a literary magazine that specialises in ‘emerging writers’. Because the thing is, and this can be a commonly depressing condition for many long-published, but still unknown writers, after many years of publication, and awards won on three continents – (am especially proud of the Golden Duck for my contribution to children’s science fiction writing,  Write Your Own Science Fiction Stories), I am still emerging. It is a damn slow process too – being half in and half out of my chrysalis. Nor am I entirely sure if those parts which are out  have fully metamorphosed.

Anyway, I was quite pleased with the story and, having despatched it into cyberspace, I then felt free to go gardening for three hours. The allotment is verdant because at last we’ve had rain that has soaked into the soil. The runner and French beans have switched into prolific mode; I have a polytunnel full of groovy little yellow squashes, and the tomatoes are beginning to ripen.

Out on the plots there were butterflies everywhere, and for a while I faffed about with my Canon Ixus running after them in daft-bat mode. I also got the mower out and cut all the paths around my one and half plots – not my favourite task. Then I faffed some more, snapping an artichoke which proved a particularly absorbing subject.

Around 2 pm I thought I ought to head home and provide lunch for He Who Is Teaching Himself To Make Mortise And Tenon Joints So He Can Create A Shed Door, (where would we be without those life enhancing You Tube videos that show you such things as how to skin a dover sole, make almond milk and clean the stairs properly?) And it was then I spotted this Red Admiral on the Doronicum beside said evolving, currently doorless shed.

I am taking the butterfly as inspiration. This is how it will be when I’m full emerged. What I splash I’ll make. How high I’ll fly. Though I do hope for a slightly longer life span. In the meantime here’s a rather fascinating view of life inside a gone-to-seed globe artichoke.

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Happy Monday

P.S. Did you spot the web?