As I write this, having just hung out the washing (and taken the photo), Storm Ali is whisking his coattails across Shropshire. The odd thing is, despite all the buffeting and bluster, it is really warm outside. The forecasters tell us the wind is set to build here tonight, though Scotland and the North West look to be in for the worst of it. My heart goes out to all the storm-beleaguered souls around the planet.
Can one post too many happy foraging bee shots? I’m thinking not. This particular bee was caught the other evening, enjoying the day’s final tuck-in on an allotment dahlia. I’d gone up there to pick runner beans, tomatoes and autumn raspberries, and to deliver a big bag of compost makings to one of my several heaps.
The dahlias in question have been grown by my plot neighbour Mark. He only grows flowering plants – and with the sole objective of providing for insect life. Of course these late season blooms give everyone who comes to the allotment gardens a burst of pleasure. It’s as if they have captured the best essence of summer in their petals and want to share it with the world. Blooming lovely.
Lens-Artists #11 small is beautiful Amy asks us to show her the little things that give us pleasure, however they strike us.
Cotehele House in the Tamar Valley in Cornwall began life around 1300 when it was owned by a family of the same name. Fifty years on, a marriage delivered it into the Edgcumbe family who owned it for the next (almost) 600 years. These new owners remodelled the house in the 15th, 16th, and 19th centuries, as well as building themselves another (their principal) house further down the Tamar River at Mount Edgecumbe.
In 1947 the 6th Earl gave the house to the nation in lieu of death duties, and it is now owned by the National Trust, one of their more atmospheric properties. It was particularly atmospheric on the rainy May day when we were last there, and also on the rainy December day when we went there to see the famous Christmas garland.
15th century Gatehouse
The house has extensive grounds. In the 16th century there were two parks and orchards. The 1730s estate map also shows a bowling green, and the dovecote of the first photo. This dates from around the end of 16th century. The lantern top provided access for the birds, which were of course cropped for meat.
The gardens we see to today were most shaped in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and extend to around 6 acres: lovely even on a wet, and gloomy Cornish day.
I think I’ve mentioned that here in Much Wenlock we’re in the throes of having a couple of attenuation ponds dug above the town – this in a bid to reduce flood risk. We are in what the Environment Agency calls a ‘Rapid Response Catchment Area’. This means that if a severe storm hits our part of Wenlock Edge, then we have about twenty minutes warning before a flash flood reaches the town. There are other factors involved too. Flash flooding is more likely if the ground is already sodden from periods of prolonged rainfall. Or if it is frozen hard.
Our last bad flood was in the summer of 2007 when over fifty homes were affected. Due to the steepness of our catchment, any flood is usually quick to leave, but even so, it can cause a lot of damage.
One of the attenuation ponds, currently nearing completion, is in the top corner of Townsend Meadow behind our house. Earlier in the year, and in preparation for the excavation work, a number of small trees were felled and shredded into heaps around the pond perimeter. Yippee, I thought on discovering them by the path on the long way round to the allotment. More chippings for paths and weed suppression.
I duly went to collect a few bags full, but it was harder work than I expected. For one thing there is quite a haul up the path from the pond, and then once at the top of the hill and into the wood, another haul down the field boundary to the allotment.
Meanwhile, my chippings collecting habit had not gone unnoticed. Late one afternoon in April, and after the working day was over, I was plodding up the path with a full bag when a truck pulled up on the field track that the construction crew were using. It was the digger driver in the photo. A very Welsh digger driver. At first I didn’t quite grasp what he was saying. I thought he’d come to tell me off. But that wasn’t it.
When I explained what I was doing and where I was going with the chippings, he said it would be no problem for him to move the chippings piles to the top of the hill. In fact I think he would have delivered them to the allotment if there had been suitable access. He drove off down the track, and I carried on with my bag, and rather forgot about the digger man.
Sometime later (I was pottering around in my polytunnel) fellow allotmenteer, Dave, came to tell me that he had been surprisingly hallooed from the neighbouring field by a very Welsh man who was going on about chippings and some woman he’d met on the path. After some thought, Dave had concluded I was the woman in question, and so we went up the field to investigate, and there at the top of the track was a huge pile of wood chips – enough for all my paths, and more to compost over the winter. There was no sign of the digger man. I expect he’d gone home for his tea, but Dave helped me fill my big blue IKEA bags and carry them back to the plot.
So lucky me! Two very kind men in one day. And a nice new path between the polytunnel raised beds, which incidentally were made by a third kind man who lives in my house.
Black & White Sunday: After and Before This week Paula asks us to give a colour shot a monochrome edit.
We’ve just spent four perfectly sunny days in Bodnant, in the Conwy Valley, North Wales. And anyone who knows Wales, and its propensity for precipitation, will know we were truly blessed. In March too. We even had breakfast outside. Ye gods!
We were staying in a cottage on the Bodnant Estate, which meant an essential visit to the wonderful Bodnant Gardens, owned and managed with much grace by the National Trust.
These tulips were the first things we saw as we stepped into the formal gardens. What show-offs.
There will be more Bodnant photos over the next few days. Here’s a taster, with a view of the Welsh mountains. There was a scattering of snow on the highest peaks, despite the sunshine.
Cee’s Flower of the Day Please pop over to Cee’s for more tulip jubilation.
From top to bottom: winter witch hazel, spring tulips, summer oriental poppy, autumn crab apples.
The flowers on our little witch hazel tree are already brown and shrivelled. It was flowering back in January, and on bleak grey days the ragged clusters of russet petals made it look much like a tree invented by aliens. A welcome sight nonetheless. Otherwise the garden is presently dank and soggy – a scatter of snowdrops and one or two hellebore flowers opening.
But there are other signs of spring – tulips and daffodils shooting up several inches tall, and the oriental poppies making their first leaves. Also the Evereste crab apple tree which we moved last year, and feared we had killed in the process, is covered in tight little buds; so fingers crossed.
Indoors, I’m fretting to start sowing – packets of seeds, old and new, in piles on the window sills, seed potatoes set out in trays in the conservatory. But it’s all too early to do much outside – the Shropshire soil still too cold and wet for sowing. I’m told by a fellow allotmenteer that the acid test for knowing if the soil is warm enough for growing is to sit on it with your pants down. Yep. Bare bottom pressed to the earth. If you can bear the baring, then it’s OK to plant. But this is not a procedure I could recommend for communal gardens, not unless one’s fellow gardeners are suitably forewarned.
And so, keeping my pants well pulled up, I’m stemming my impatience by starting off globe artichokes, coriander and basil in the kitchen, and nurturing my sweet pea seedlings. They don’t mind the cold conservatory, and probably could go outside now. I shall also sow some leeks in pots, and maybe do the same with beetroot. And if I were truly organised I could also sort out my seed packets into month order so as not to miss the boat as I did with several things last year.
But it’s all so exciting – another seasons’ round in the offing. More things to learn; more things learned to put into practice. It is, after all, the gardener’s way – to travel hopefully.
…at least till next year.
I posted the first photo of this oriental poppy last Thursday during a spell of unexpected sunshine, but I’m afraid the weekend’s rainstorms cut her off at the roots. Ah well. She was lovely while she lasted – so bravely out of time and season.
But writing this has just reminded me of what the lovely woman who sold her to me said.
If you cut your oriental poppies down to the ground after they have finished flowering in early summer, you will have a second late blooming.
Somehow I don’t think she meant they would flower in November. But then who knows what to expect these days, the way the seasons are shifting.
Cee’s Flower of the Day Please go visit Cee for more floral pleasures.
Paula has truly set us a challenge this week: DECONSTRUCTION. So as my stab at this school of philosophical thought, here is an abstracted opium poppy, its stamens and petals being blown off in the wind: caught in the act of deconstruction then: from flower to seed capsule. The cycle of life in all its parts.