Taken a few winters ago. This year we’ve only had frost. So far.
Well, we’ve had lots of gloom in Much Wenlock, a morning of fog, twenty four hours of frigid gales, a night-time sprinkling of snow, woken up to some light frosts, and enjoyed a few days of bright sun and clear skies. We’ve also had huge quantities of leaf fall this year, which is always bound to gladden this gardener’s heart. Anyway, I’ll feature the best bits – November high spots in the garden and out and about on the Linden Field and Windmill Hill.
First, though, some orientation. I know several of you love the Linden Walk, but you may not have a gist of the overall lay of the land. For some reason I’ve not thought to provide it before now. So: in the next photo I’m standing inside the lime tree avenue, intent on capturing the Linden Field to the left, and therefore the position of the old windmill on the hill just above it (and barely visible far left centre because (drat and double-drat) the sun was shining on it). The field was used for the Much Wenlock Olympian Games (started by Dr. William Penny Brookes in the 1850s and still going today) and the hillside below the windmill once provided a natural auditorium for the games’ attendees.
In the foreground is the cricket club pitch (orange fencing) and beyond it the hedged and tree shaded corner of the town’s bowling green.
Now the old railway line, which often gets a mention here, runs along the right side of the Linden Walk (i.e. looking at photo above). These days all that is left is a deep and tulgey cutting. Dr. Brookes lobbied for the building of the railway to Much Wenlock, and every year a special Olympian Games train was put on to bring thousands of visitors to the field. In the next photo, and turning back on ourselves, you can see the entrance gate. The station stood to the left of the gate, and is now a private house.
About face once more, and then head up the Linden Walk until your reach the field boundary. Here, running along the base of Windmill Hill is a single avenue of specimen oaks and conifers, all planted over the last 150 years or so to commemorate various Olympian Games events. At this point you can carry straight on and join the old railway path, or turn left for the windmill.
It’s a bit of a climb, but this ancient limestone meadow is always interesting, no matter the season. Just now the grasses are golden, punctuated with dark stems of knapweed seed heads.
It’s a favourite spot with dog walkers, and naturally there are some fine views in several quarters:
Behind the windmill is Shadwell Quarry, long disused and earmarked for development. A somewhat treacherous path runs around the quarry’s perimeter fence, but I like it because, if need be, you can always grab hold of the chain-link fencing, and there are also some handy posts to serve as camera tripods. You get quite a different, almost ethereal view of the windmill from here.
The wood below windmill hill is another favourite spot. There’s an unexpected copse of beech trees on the hill slope, terrain that, long ago, looks to have been dug into for railway track-bed ballast. Now there’s a mysterious quietness about this spot, and at the moment a stunning beach leaf carpet all around.
On the home front the garden is descending into vegetable chaos, but the shrubby convolvulus and geraniums Rozanne and Ann Thomson having been flowering boldly, and the crab apple tree on the garden fence is putting on its usual autumn show, pigeons allowing. At the allotment too, the pot marigolds and nasturtiums have flowered and flowered until the recent frost. Up there it’s been a time for tidying away bean vines and sweet corn stalks, making compost heaps and gathering fallen leaves to make leaf mould. With the arrival of frosts I’ve tucked up the polytunnel salad stuff in horticultural fleece, and in the outside beds begun to harvest the parsnips which are all the better for a good chilling. The recent gales have blown over the sprouting broccoli, but it seems to be continuing to sprout on the horizontal, which is making it much easier to harvest. Once I again I omitted to stake the plants securely. Ah well. Next year.
And finally a little jug of sunshine: allotment nasturtiums and pot marigolds all self-sown, but going strong through most of November:
Full flushed green and the air beneath filled with lime-flower scent – now is the moment when the Linden Walk is at its billowy, verdant best – the perfect resort for soothing overheated body, mind and spirit. What a treasure our long-ago town physician bequeathed us when he planted this avenue of lime trees.
I think they must be the broad-leaved variety, Tilia platyphyllos , since they always start flowering in June, whereas the blossom of the Common Lime only gets going in July. But good for old Doctor William Penny Brookes who roused his chums to go tree planting some fifty years ago. Ever since, the trees have thrived on the limestone soil (an intriguing congruency of lime and lime), and in fact a Professor of Lime Trees who visited Much Wenlock some years ago to give them a health check, told us that, with care, they could last us another 150 years.
Tree Square 1# For the month of July, Becky’s square extravaganza features the arboreal. The only ‘rule’ is the header photo must be squared.
Spring comes slowly to the Linden Walk. The epicormic stems at the base of the lime trees may have had their buds unfurling, but the canopy is only now showing a hint-haze of green. All in all, it has been a very strange month. My favourite on-line gardener, Charles Dowding, who gardens commercially down in Devon, says April has been colder than March, and the nights colder than January. I can believe it. Even on bright sunshine days the air has teeth, as if blowing off Arctic glaciers.
Surprisingly, the icy blasts do not seem to have deterred the fruit trees: cherry, damson, greengage have all been flowering magnificently, and now the apple trees are bursting with blossom. In the woods the primroses, celandines and violets have been flowering since February and now the bluebells are joining them. The wild garlic, too, is running amok in the shady parts of the Linden Field. Meanwhile out on the farms, the fields are already brassy gold with oil seed rape flowers, and the wheat behind the house is growing tall and lush, which is also surprising given many weeks without a drop of rain.
All the seasonal confusion is causing this gardener to dither more than usual: shall I shan’t I sow, pot on, harden off, plant out? One can only adopt the trial and error position and be ready with the horticultural fleece to protect the vulnerable. I have at least managed to get the potatoes and onion sets in the ground and planted out, with protection, some climbing pea seedlings and broad beans. And I have also ventured to plant out some tomato plants and one aubergine inside my polytunnel where the most successful production otherwise is a bed of overwintered coriander which has recently made its own small forest. (Never managed that before).
Of course when I go gardening, I’m still wrapped up in my winter gear – sweaters, scarf, hat, padded parka. The allotment is on an exposed slope above the town, and when the sun goes in, it’s been pretty bleak up there. But then all that clobber gets in the way of many spring season tasks. So please, please, May, could you just turn down the icicle winds. And perhaps bring us a bit of warmth. Oh yes and some gentle rain at regular intervals.
On and around the Linden Walk:
Over the garden fence:
Potatoes planted at the allotment; overwintered field beans behind:
Come evening, still need to spark up the log burner:
Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.
Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.
And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.
A E Housman A Shropshire Lad
The Loveliest of Trees is the second poem from the Shropshire Lad cycle, and probably the one best known. It is easy from today’s perspective to dismiss the apparent simplicity, sometimes ditty-like quality of these poems. But Housman was a scholar of Olympian proportions, an atheist too and, it is said, suffering in love for a man who could never love him in return. Sensibilities run deep here.
The verses speak of love and loss and going to war; the fleetingness of things; all set against landscapes seen only in the mind’s eye, or as if looking from a long way off across time and space. There are many voices too, even ghostly ones, the sense of old country airs remembered. It is not surprising that they spoke so compellingly to composers who then set many of the poems to music: George Butterworth (Bredon Hill and Other Songs), Ralph Vaughan Williams (On Wenlock Edge), Ivor Gurney (The Western Playland), Samuel Barber (With rue my heart is laden ) to name a few.
Here is Butterworth’s evocation of the cherry tree, sung with perfect poise by Roderick Williams. If you choose to listen you may imagine Shropshire here today. As I write this we are having flurries of light snow just like falling cherry blossom.
By this morning most of yesterday’s snow had washed away in the rain. But then back it came at midday, leaving a layer deep enough for some happy sledging on Windmill Hill and giant snowball rolling in the Linden Field. Wenlock dogs were fizzing with delight and even the grown-up humans were having a good play. Nothing like a snowball fight if you’re well wrapped up. And it was bitterly cold this afternoon even as the trees began to drip and drip.
I had only popped out in the garden to photograph the crab apples, but one thing led to another, and soon I was heading for the Linden Walk, and then across the old railway line towards the Priory ruins. And while I was there I thought I’d carry on and have a wander round the Church Green, and see if I could get a photo of the Prior’s House from over the graveyard wall.
Time passed as I stood to watch the Highland Cattle tuck into their silage. So did lunch-time. He who binds books and lives in my house was very glad when I finally did turn up to make some soup. I made no excuses for absence without explanation. Nor did he expect any. He knows as well as I do: you have to make the most of snow-days. The only thing lacking was a spot of sunshine to brighten up the place. Now as I write this, a frost has set in for the night, and there’s a fat moon shining over the Linden Field.
This photo was taken last weekend, and no, autumn has not come early to Much Wenlock. The leaf litter gathering in drifts along the Linden Walk and the town’s many byways are the papery parts of shed lime tree blossom – the heady, heavenly scent that suffused our atmosphere back in June already forgotten. But hold on now, in the northern hemisphere we still have summer ahead of us; no giving way to the tristesse of ‘Autumn Leaves’, at least not yet. (Note to self: resist posting Yves Montand’s Les Feuilles Mortes until the actual autumn.)
The three little girls in the distance here were part of a multi-family group. They had been having a picnic on the Linden Field, several sets of parents and lots of little kids, dads commandeering the football and tumbling about on the grass with abandon. It was a heartening scene – families at play. Even the swings and slides were back in use after weeks of being wrapped in ugly tape. People having fun and exercise in the fresh air. I’m thinking that Doctor William Penny Brookes, the town’s physician, who back in the 1860s chivvied his chums to help plant these lime trees, would have approved.
Square Perspectives #31 A BIG thank you to Becky for keeping us so well entertained this month. Her own retrospective perspective today is a tour de force .
In these corona days people who live alone may well feel they have had far too much quietness thrust upon them, while many family members, forced together into states of furlough, home working and home schooling, may long for some personal space and silence. In either case heartfelt commiserations are due. Meanwhile here in Wenlock we are lucky to have many peaceful spots, and though they are a little busier than in pre-lockdown days, there is still a chance for some quiet meandering, and especially here along the Linden Walk. These photos were taken a few weeks ago during the lime trees’ first flush.
Mostly, though, we Farrells hardly need to leave our little domain for our ‘quiet moments’. He who is presently constructing a scratch model vintage Great Western Railway wagon has his shed in one corner of the garden, whither soft strains of classical music and the whirring of the lathe waft out over the flower beds. That or the sounds of heavy man-pondering.
At the other end of the garden we both have the benefit of the garden fence to lean on, which we do often with a mid-morning cup of coffee or a sundowner glass of wine, while surveying the sky, the field, the guerrilla garden or saying hello to the odd passer by. At times we can stand in the field and chat (loudly) with the next door neighbours, who have been sheltering for medical reasons, over their garden fence.
Near the back gate, between the honeysuckle and the Smoke Bush there is also the old Seat of Wisdom. This particular facility serves all who sit on it with a dousing of sage essence, this from the bush that insists on growing through the back of the seat no matter how many times we cut it back or move the seat. Recently we have let it get on with it, now certain that this ad hoc herbal treatment is most beneficial for body, mind and spirit. In fact I seem to remember sage figured largely in medicinal remedies during times of the Plague.
Finally on the daily-quiet-resort front there’s the field path to the allotment, which a little like Charles Darwin’s thinking path, though without the angst of evolutionary rumination, is a good place for my own brand of heavy pondering – on matters horticultural, or indeed for some silent ranting about the state of life, the universe and everything. For here’s the paradox: despite the immense good fortune of having at hand all these lovely places for peaceful contemplation, I can still feel another lockdown-regime rant coming on. Time to head to the allotment then – execute a few weeds.
Lens-Artists: A Quiet Moment This week Patti invites us to capture peaceful interludes, places for reflection and the recharging flagging spirits.
Lots of people around the town have been keeping fit. Hats off to them. And so, as well as admiring the energetic zeal of this determined young woman, you also get to see the august lime trees of Much Wenlock’s Linden Walk just coming into leaf. Every day the green haze grows greener.
There’s a strong connection too, between these trees and physical exercise. The limes were planted by the town’s physician and his chums in around the 1860s. Dr William Penny Brookes knew a thing or several about people staying healthy – in body, mind and spirit. It was why he invented the Wenlock Olympian Games (begun in 1850) which still take place every year on the field to the left of this avenue. On the right of the Linden Walk ran the railway – whose arrival in town was also facilitated by the wise doctor’s lobbying. It once brought thousands of people from far and wide to see the games. I think Dr. Brookes would be very pleased us – we’re all shifting ourselves one way or another – gardening, walking, cycling, running.
Talking of shifting, it’s gone 5 pm and the allotment calls. Time to trot across the field and get some spuds in.
It’s been Michaelmas madness over in the guerrilla garden. November today and these stalwart daisies are still going strong, the late flowering white ones being especially vigorous. I rather hated them when they were inside the garden. They wanted to take over, and when they weren’t doing that, they flopped everywhere. But now set free along the field boundary, they have come into their own: pale drifts that seem faintly luminous in the autumn light.
There have been all sorts of other unlikely hangers on. Cosmos for one. And then a couple of weeks ago the shrubby convolvulus sprouted a host of buds, and now they’re popping open, each day several new silvery white flowers with pale pink stripes. They’ve not been put off by days of downpours, gusty winds or early morning frost. The perennial sunflower Helianthus Silver Queen, with her tall sprays of lemony flowers, has been putting on a show too. She seems to think October is her month to bloom.
Out around the town the lime trees are turning to gold and beginning to shed their leaves. England tends not to go in for spectacular vistas of autumn colour – more a case of subtle fading through many shades of rust and amber. But this year the Coxes apple tree in the garden made some very red apples – good enough for wicked queens to entrap the likes of Snow White. They weren’t many though and now they’ve mostly been eaten in a Tarte Tatin.