Growing Thoughts

April and sowing and growing are very much on this English gardener’s mind. So far it’s been too cold to think of putting much in the ground, but impatience inevitably triumphs over common sense. In the last few days I have given in to inclinations to plant some first early potatoes. I’m trying a new technique as suggested by TV gardener Monty Don, growing them in a raised bed, and popped into a deep layer of compost a foot or so apart. But after I’d done it, I grew worried about the poor little tubers being subjected to Siberian icy blasts, and covered the bed in horticultural fleece. Now it’s down to ‘wait and see’.

Otherwise, it’s been mostly ‘housekeeping’ chores at the allotment: the first mowing of paths, turning compost heaps, edging beds, putting up climbing bean and pea canes, weeding, sowing stuff in the polytunnel. And dreaming of delicious produce to come.

Here are some crops I grew earlier, and all eaten long ago:

And of course the allotment plots don’t feed only us humans. Most of the gardeners grow flowers too – i.e. besides the flowering fruit and vegetables. And there are always plenty of flowering weeds on the abandoned plots, and so therefore lots to keep the bees, bugs and butterflies well fed. Deliciousness all round then.

copyright 2019 Tish Farrell

 

Lens-Artists: delicious

This week Patti at #Lens-Artists asks us to show her ‘delicious’.

What’s Not To Love About Ledbury’s Market House?

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We English do well with our market towns, at least ones where developers were not let loose during the 1960s-70s era of replacement brutalist shop fronts. Ledbury in our neighbouring county of Herefordshire, and the town closest to our Eastnor cottage break at the end of March, is pretty nigh perfect. It has a long, long High Street composed of many 18th century and earlier facades, and in the centre is the Market House that began its civic life as piece of determined urban refurbishment 400 years ago.

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Town records show that the site where it stands had been a market place since 1122, but by the end of the 1500s the space had been encroached on by rows of tatty shops which greatly offended local trader, John Phillips. He set about raising funds through public subscription, and for the sum of £40 bought Shoppe Row and had it demolished. Work began on the Market House in 1617. The original plan included the building  small shops between the oak pillars while the upper storeys were to serve mainly for the storage of goods – corn, wool, hops for brewing and acorns used in the leather tanning trade.

However, all did not proceed as expected. In 1655 when John Phillips died the building work was still not completed, and there was no money left to finish the job. In fact it wasn’t until 1668 that local worthies came up with a cunning plan to raise the necessary funds. They helped themselves to £40 from two legacies that were meant to provide clothing for the town’s poor, but then drafted a new instruction: each year 12 poor citizens would have clothing paid for from the profits of the Market House. So it seems the civic misappropriation may be forgiven.

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The Market House had a fresh lease of life in the Victorian era when the present windows and staircase were installed. The upper floors then served as the town hall and meeting room. Further restoration work was carried out in 1939 and during the 1970s and 80s. But the most dramatic resuscitation project took place in 2006 when it was discovered that the oak stilts were under threat from ‘foot rot’ and boring wasps. Repairs involved raising the entire structure  2 feet (600mm) off the ground so  the builders could scrape out the damaged bases, and infill with a natural lime-grout mortar which is structurally strong, but does not seal in damp as modern cement does.

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And so the Market House survives well and into its 5th century, and is now used for meetings and exhibitions, its ‘downstairs’ still hosting weekly markets while at other times impressing all with its well-worn and pleasing venerability.

But as I said earlier, there is much more to look at up and down the town – intriguing alley ways with unusual shops, lots of cafes and restaurants, and a potential for a darn good hike up and down the High Street. There are some literary connections too – Poet Laureate John Masefield  (1878-1967) was born and lived here.  Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861) also lived here during her formative years. In 1809 when she was three, her father Edward Barrett Moulton Barrett, the owner of slave plantations in Jamaica, bought Hope End estate near the town. Elizabeth lived here until 1833 when family litigation and the abolition of the slave trade caused her father great financial losses, and thus the sale of Hope End and a move to Sidmouth in Devon.

Masefield is also well loved (and especially by me) for his children’s book ‘A Box of Delights’. I especially treasure his word ‘scrobbled’ meaning to be nabbed by the baddies. But now for some Ledbury views, including a glimpse of the writer himself, discovered in a quirky alley leading to the town Printers, who advertise themselves around the place with amusing posters. A town of delights then – old and new:

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copyright 2019 Tish Farrell

Lens-Artists: Something Different This week Tina asks us to show her something new or out of the ordinary.

 

Every Saturday one the Lens-Artists posts a new challenge.

Patti  https://pilotfishblog.com/

Ann-Christine aka Leya https://lagottocattleya.wordpress.com/

Amy  https://shareandconnect.wordpress.com/

Tina  https://travelsandtrifles.wordpress.com/

The Pink Pineapple Pavilion ~ Again

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April 1st, All Fools Day, and it flitted through my mind that it was just the day for paying the pink pineapple pavilion a second visit. It was anyway a piece of happenstance. We were driving back from the Malverns and the need for lunch was pressing. And, since you can pretty much rely on a National Trust property for a decent snack, we decided to call in at Berrington Hall.

The last time we were here it was a gloomy October day back in 2017 when Berrington was hosting all manner of art installations inspired by different aspects of the estate’s history. Taking photos then had proved a challenge so it was good to see the gardens full of sunshine. And though the pineapple may not be to everyone’s taste, I was quite pleased to see it was still in residence. And if it seems quite balmy, then it is probably not half as balmy as the kind of extravaganzas created by the overbearingly rich and idle during the 18th century. You can read more about this in the original post A Giant Pineapple In The Garden.

On Monday we were simply happy to have a quick mooch around the walled garden where the ancient apple orchard is currently being revivified, each tree carefully pruned and curated, with big name tags and the dates of species origins. So many varieties, and  these days you’re lucky to see six sorts in the supermarket. What treasures we deprive ourselves of and for no good reason. So full marks National Trust for taking pains to restore the garden and nurture these old varieties.

Now for some more garden views:

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Lens-Artists #39: Hello April   All thanks to Amy for this week’s challenge. Please pay the Lens-Artists a visit.

Patti https://pilotfishblog.com/
Ann-Christine aka Leya  https://lagottocattleya.wordpress.com/
Amy https://shareandconnect.wordpress.com/
Tina https://travelsandtrifles.wordpress.com/

Reality T.V. And The Roman Town House And Disquieting Views Of The Past

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This 4th century Roman house is quite a landmark. It sits beside a rural crossroad below Wenlock Edge, and even though we know it is there, it always takes me by surprise whenever we drive that way to Shrewsbury – its time-slipped Mediterranean demeanour striking false notes in the midst of 21st century Shropshire farmland. But then this was once the style de nos jours across most of England – the way we were, almost fully Romanized, twenty to sixteen centuries ago.

And of course it is a re-creation, but then that is surprising in other ways. For a start it is built on the site of an actual Roman city, otherwise known as Wroxeter or Viroconium, and it is not usual for the heritage-powers-that-be to allow building work on their sites of international archaeological importance. For another, it is a product of a Channel 4 ‘Reality TV’ show broadcast in six episodes back in 2011. ‘Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day ‘ was a piece of experimental archaeology turned mainstream viewing, in which a team of UK builders was set the task of building the town house using ONLY traditional Roman methods.

They had 6 months to master new skills, guided by a 2000 year old manual written by engineer Vitruvius, and under the watchful eye of project planner Professor Dai Morgan Evans, who had based the design on an actual building excavated at the site. By all accounts it was a bit of a bumpy ride.

These days Wroxeter is in the care of English Heritage and if you follow the link you can find out more about the once fourth largest Roman city in Britain. The site’s immense historical importance meant the town house project could only proceed by first creating a foundation raft that would protect the remains in the ground. Originally, too, it was intended that the house would have a limited time span. However, it is still with us, and we finally decided to make an actual visit in November last year – on Remembrance Sunday in fact, when many of us were pondering on quite another momentous historical event, the centenary of the end of World War One.

A strange case of mixed millennia then. The day was bright and blustery day with an icy wind blowing up the Craven Arms gap between the Shropshire Hills. As we peered into the re-created domestic quarters  (in much need of some serious house-keeping) we could hear the peeling bells of Shrewsbury’s churches several miles away. It sounded joyous too, this commemorative toll on so many million wasted lives.

And so it was one of those moments of complete chronological, if not ontological disorientation when you wonder what life, the universe and everything means. A ‘Who am I? Why am I?’ reaction. I took a few photos and fled back to the warmth of the visitor centre where there were two lovely young English Heritage women to chat to, and where one could also submit to the soothingly anodyne effect of graphics panels on topics Roman.

I came away thinking there are many versions of ‘reality’ that we buy into, man-made, manipulative and specious. Nonetheless, there are still some actual Roman remains at Wroxeter, the rising facade of the great Baths Basilica. And of course I remember a couple of weeks I spent here in the 1970s, a Prehistory and Archaeology undergrad, apparently gaining some required excavation skills in order to obtain my degree.

In fact I probably learned more from the gang of prisoners let out each day from their penal establishment. They worked close behind the line of us middle class student excavators, emptying our spoil buckets, barrowing the dirt into skips, all the while intent on shocking us with talk of lurid prison doings. One among them, though, grew so fascinated with the excavation process that he was promoted to the digging line and even worked through his lunch break. ‘I’m going to do this when I get out,’ he said, head down, trowel in hand, scrape-scraping away. Yes. That was a real reality glimpse. I learned a lot from that.

copyright 2019 Tish Farrell

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Lens-Artists: Architecture

Today In The Garden: Close Up

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Sun in the hellebores, and a forget-me-not sky. Not a cloud in sight, only a passing aircraft unzipping the blue. And, for heaven’s sake,  it was warm enough to sit outside for morning coffee; nor did we need coats when we walked into town at lunch time. Along the verges the celandines were as wide as wide; birds twittering; butterflies flitting.  In the Cutlins field we found there had been a multiplication of highland cattle: parents and calf have joined the three teens. They were all quietly grazing and munching out in the sun. At the foot of the path by the priory ruins the air was drenched with mahonia scent, and around the town there was a dreamy sense of the world just waking up, tree buds swelling and crocus out on parade.

But then as the countryman poet John Clare warns, February can be a treacherous month. Out of the blue comes blissful weather and everyone is out and about and thinking of summer. And then…and then…

Here’s an extract from the poem, for though rather florid for my taste it captures the day so perfectly, and tonight there may indeed be frost:

The sunbeams on the hedges lie,
The south wind murmurs summer-soft;
The maids hang out white clothes to dry
Around the elder-skirted croft:
A calm of pleasure listens round,
And almost whispers winter by;
While Fancy dreams of summer’s sound,
And quiet rapture fills the eye.

Thus Nature of the spring will dream
While south winds thaw; but soon again
Frost breathes upon the stiffening stream,
And numbs it into ice: the plain
Soon wears its mourning garb of white;
And icicles, that fret at noon,
Will eke their icy tails at night
Beneath the chilly stars and moon.

Excerpt of February from The Shepherd’s Calendar  by John Clare (1793-1864)

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So as I said to Graham as we drowsed happily on the garden bench, staring at the cloudless sky, coffee mugs in hand: better soak up the bliss while we can then. Carpe diem, says Graham.

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And I suppose now I’ve mentioned the Highland calf I’d better show him to you, not at all close up, but the sun on his nose and hints of green in the willow behind:

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copyright 2019 Tish Farrell

Lens-Artists: Close up This week Ann-Christine set the challenge. Please also pay the other Lens Artists a visit:

Lens-Artist Photo Challenge Patti: Close-Up

Lens-Artist Photo Challenge Amy: Close-Up

Lens-Artist Photo Challenge Tina: Close-Up

On The Path To The Allotment: A Retrospective

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I usually do have a camera in my pocket when I go to the allotment, although gardening and snapping are not ideal co-activities given the photographer’s general grubbiness. Anyway, here are some of my favourite shots from the past few years: nature small but beautiful, and in no particular seasonal order. I especially love the header photo though – the winter sun caught in a windfall apple that has been hollowed out by blackbirds, so many natural forces at play here.

Also the fact that I caught a Common Blue butterfly, wings open and with a one-handed click and it turned out to be pretty much in focus, is hugely pleasing. These little butterflies flit about at high speed, and seem especially nervous if you point a camera at them.

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Most perversely too, while my gardener self fumes at finding dandelions, thistles and bindweed in the garden, since they are the most difficult weeds to oust, I still admire their beauty, and in all their phases. And the bees clearly love thistle flowers too.

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So much to see all around us. We only have to look.

Lens-Artists: Nature

This week Patti at Lens-Artists gives us nature as her theme. Please call in to see her and the other Lens-Artists’ work.

Maasai Mara Landscape ~ A Warrior’s View

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I’ve written about the Maasai Mara in other posts. Here’s an excerpt from a piece that was long-listed in the Brandt Travel Guide competition ages ago:

Dances with warriors

Night on the Mara River – darkness wraps round, close as a Maasai’s blanket.  It is cold, too, on the river’s bend. We press closer the campfire, our white faces soon roasting red. No one speaks. There’s too much to listen for. A hyena whoops across the water?  It sounds close. It sounds unearthly, sending shock waves through vulnerable bones – mine, conjuring packs of predators, out there, circling our ring of light. And even as I think it the Maasai are on us.  Six warriors, spears in hand and naked to the waist.  Their leader tosses his ostrich-feather head-dress that looks like a lion’s mane.  He is fearless.  He is lion.

Then the singing starts, a nasal falsetto that resonates through time and space – the winds’ whine through Mara grasses.  The Maasai girls trip lightly into the firelight, their wraps like flames – yellow, red; close-cropped heads hung with beads; chins jutting forward as the crescent necklets – tiny beads so patiently strung – rise and fall on skinny chests.  The moran start to leap – higher, faster.

Their dance fires the blood as it was once meant to in the days when the young morani proved their courage by killing a lion; but we see the collecting box left discreetly in the grass.  These kids are from the nearby settlements, but before I unravel the question of exploitation – theirs or ours – the dancers pounce, dragging us into a conga, pastoralist-style.  I let the Maasai girl take my hand.  She’s about fourteen years old and she is boss. After all, this is her land – the big skies and the rippling oat grass, and our small camp in the outer reserve remains there only on her clansmen’s say-so.  The hand that grips mine is small and hard.

So I follow her, graceless in the rhythms I cannot fathom, wend with the snake of dancers on and round the camp. The dancers know we’re squeamish and should not be put at risk, so we stray no further than the firelight’s edge, never crossing the bounds of the vast out there.

And of course, being on safari, and staying at a luxury, tented camp, we have been taken to visit the vast out there. We went earlier that day and naturally, being tender wazungu, we ventured only in daylight, with the rising sun at our back, and we went, not on foot, but in the Land Rover whose solid sides we were sure would protect us from too much closeness with the wilderness.

copyright 2019 Tish Farrell

Continues HERE

 

Lens-Artists: Landscapes

 

An Ancient African City ~ Great Zimbabwe

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Among the gold mines of the inland plains between the Limpopo and Zambezi Rivers…a fortress built of stones of marvellous size, and there appears to be no mortar joining them. This edifice is almost surrounded by hills, upon which are others resembling it…and one of them is a tower more than twelve fathoms high. The natives of the country call these edifices Symbaoe, which according to their language signifies court.

Captain Vincente Pegado, Portuguese Garrison of Sofala, 1531

 

This scan of a photograph from our 1993 trip to Zimbabwe looks like one of those hand-coloured postcards from the days before colour film was invented – a fitting medium perhaps for these medieval ruins (and yes it’s probably appeared in earlier posts). Anyway by the time Captain Pegado was reporting from his base in Sofala, Great Zimbabwe had been in decline for a century and more.  It was begun in its stone-built phase by the cattle owning Shona people around 1200 CE. In its heyday (mid 14th century) it seems the rulers of Great Zimbabwe were controlling the passage of high value goods (certainly gold and copper, and probably also ivory, slaves, textiles) across the Zambezi valley, and exporting them by caravan to Sofala on Africa’s east coast (present day Mozambique).

By this time, Sofala had long been a trading centre for Zambezi and Limpopo gold, and was subject to the great Swahili city state of Kilwa to the north (present day Tanzania). Thus the merchants of Great Zimbabwe, through their contact with the Arab-Swahili dhow merchants, were part of a trading network that extended across the Indian Ocean to China, and north to the Arabian Gulf and thence into the Mediterranean and Europe where African gold was much in demand during the Middle Ages. This last factor was responsible for tempting the Portuguese around the Cape to come and fetch it for themselves, hence the presence of Captain Pegado in Sofala.

Great Zimbabwe inside the great enclosure

Of course when the ruins of Great Zimbabwe were re-discovered by Europeans in the late 19th century, specifically by one Carl Mauch, it was thought that the city could not possibly be the work of indigenous people. Surely it was the lost  kingdom of Ophir whence King Solomon received regular cargos of gold, silver, apes and peacocks. Even in the 1970s when Zimbabwe was still colonial Rhodesia, all the considerable evidence (revealed by a series of archaeologists over previous decades) that showed it was built by the local African people was officially censored by the Smith regime.

Quite apart from perverting the course of scholarship and its all round offensiveness, the stance seems somewhat odd when you discover that Great Zimbabwe was not a ‘one off’. There are scores of similar medieval stone-built complexes across southern Africa, including Chisvingo and others in Zimbabwe. When Great Zimbabwe fell into decline at the close of the 15th century, another centre of power grew up at Khame, near Bulawayo in Matabeleland. It was the capital of a royal dynasty that lasted some two hundred years, all of which is food for thought on days when one cares to re-adjust one’s picture of the history of African peoples before the white folks arrived.

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The stone built complex of Great Zimbabwe originally covered 1,800 acres (730 hectares). There were also several enclosures on the hilltop where I’m standing to take this photo, including one that revealed evidence of gold smelting. The gold items found on the site were worked into coiled wire, small rods and discs or cast into beads – all highly portable. Copper was also worked, either cast in soapstone moulds to produce ingots for trade, or made into ceremonial spears (ceremonial because unalloyed copper is too soft a metal to be militarily functional).

Finds that demonstrate the city’s external trading contacts include glass beads commonly used in the medieval Indian Ocean trade, glass shards from vessels made in the Near East (13th-15th century),  and pieces of Chinese celadon export ware from the Ming (1368-1644) and earlier dynasties.

The classic work on the excavations is Peter S Garlake’s Great Zimbabwe. It also makes detailed reference to related sites.

 

Lens-Artists #Cityscapes

Winter Sky Through Our Hedge

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I was in the kitchen, faffing not writing, when the light through the hedge at the top of the garden caught my eye. Hurrah – a project! I dashed outside with my camera to capture the high definition catkins against the sunset, and caught this little bird as well – probably a dunnock; it’s hard to tell. But whatever it is, I like the tiny curve of sunlight against her breast.

Lens-Artists #Curves  Please visit Tina to see her fine gallery of curves.