In these viral days – virtual and actual – we could probably all do with some regular infusions of lemon balm tea. Medical herbalists prescribe it for anxiety, shock, insomnia and all round jangled nerves. Simply brushing your fingers against the stems fills the air with a lemony minty freshness that lifts the spirits. Last night as I was standing at the kitchen door, waiting for the couscous to fluff up, I saw these sprigs among the montbretia leaves, briefly lit by the last of the sun – a glow to savour then between our present squalls of wintery rain and high winds. Last Saturday it was all heat and high summer here in Shropshire. This Saturday the weather clock has regressed to early March. Strange times all round. Time to brew some lemon balm methinks.
In April’s Changing Seasons post I featured the amaryllis that was part of a neighbourly doorstep plant swap. It was a single bud when I acquired it, but over the following couple of weeks the bud opened into four flowers which bloomed and then drooped in picturesque tones, their texture suggesting fine raw silk. I’m thinking Sue at WordsVisual will quite like these.
Lens-Artists: Delicate Colours This week Ann-Christine asks us to show her some delicate colours.
Now here’s a change of style from our roadside show-offy red poppies posted earlier in the week: Meconoposis Lingholm, a blue Himalayan poppy. It is a newcomer to the shady, behind-the-shed corner of the Farrell domain. I bought it last autumn on-line from the very excellent Ballyrobert Gardens in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. (It’s amazing what excellent plants people you can discover in the gardening section of ebay.)
The poppy was little more than a large ‘plug’ when it arrived with the rest of my order. I dithered about, wondering whether to pot it on (and worry about it freezing in its pot if we had a hard winter) or to plant it out while it had time to establish itself, but still hope that we wouldn’t have a hard winter. I opted for the latter course, and then it poured with rain for the next five months, with hardly a sign of frost. And so I worried instead that it would get water-logged and rot. When it died down, leaving not one single trace of itself, I thought I’d lost it.
Which just goes to show you can do a lot of worrying about nothing. Besides, I knew very well that I’d taken the best care I could when I planted it. Anyway, the rather hairy leaves started poking through the mulch in April and the single bloom began opening about a week ago with another bud behind it. But what a floral wonder! I’m hoping it’s going to thrive now, though mostly only Graham will get the benefit. I planted it to give him a view from his shed window while he’s grinding and drilling and making odd constructions that only he understands.
This week Cee says show her anything that’s long. I’ve chosen long paths and lanes and distant views.
Jude’s ongoing photo challenge at Travel Words is well worth your attention. Her aim over the coming months is to help us be more creative with our photography. May is dedicated to the use of light, with a different assignment each Sunday. Here is this week’s:
‘Look for shadows. Strong light, casting well-defined shadows, can create interesting abstract images. Layering light and shadows brings a sense of depth to an image and can convey mystery.’
My shadow composition came about as a result of some domestic DIY. It must have been late summer a couple of years ago. I don’t remember what the job was, but it involved washing this dust sheet afterwards. And as the late-day sun headed over Wenlock Edge so the shadow garden was made.
This amazing amaryllis is one of this month’s several gifts: the result of a ‘doorstep swap’ with neighbour Sue. One of the consequences of being ‘confined to barracks’ has been the sudden sell-out of all garden seeds and sundries. If you didn’t do your orders back in January and February then getting hold of tomato seeds for instance can be proving a challenge. Sue hadn’t, but I had, so earlier this month I gave her some assorted seedlings, while she gave me the amaryllis (a plant I have never before possessed and at the point of exchange just a single fat bud) and then later she dropped off some mange tout and French bean seedlings. This week another chum Mary left two pots of young acanthus plants (bear’s breeches) in the porch, ideal candidates for the guerrilla garden where they are now happily settling in.
April’s other big gift was a good two weeks of sunshine, and although some days came with a cruel east wind, the sky has been blue, blue, blue and the apple blossom delicious. And though we are now back to chilly wintery weather at least we have had some rain which was also much needed. (I never thought I’d be saying this after the autumn-winter deluges). And cold or not, the garden is definitely saying ‘SPRING’.
One unintended consequence of seasonal upsurge has been the sprouting of my willow obelisk. Back in March I was given a big bundle of stems. After consulting The School of YouTube, I had a go at making a pot support for sweet peas. It worked out fairly well, but this month it has started growing – along with the sweet peas and some climbing French bean seedlings. Ah well. I’m thinking the greenery will provide a good ‘backdrop’ for the sweet peas, though I may need to do some serious pruning. I made another smaller obelisk this week. In due course I could have a willow forest.
This month has also meant much labouring at the allotment – four rows and a raised bed of spuds put in, three different sorts of climbing peas and two short varieties planted out; beetroot seedlings in; parsnips sown; weeding, edging, path mowing, compost turning, digging all accomplished. Three cauliflowers have been devoured, while a fourth remains to be made into cauli and potato curry; lots of greens in the polytunnel which need to be eaten to make room for the peppers, tomatoes and aubergine plants. On the home front the conservatory is bursting with seedlings.
And I also managed to finish re-working a short story – praise be to the deities of creative writing!
The last of my April gifts is the opportunity it has given us for reflection and observation. As I was coming home from the allotment the other evening I noticed how very lovely the hawthorn blossom is when caught at close quarters. I don’t remember every peering into the flowers before. They are quite exquisite. They have a faint dusky scent too. So I picked a sprig and then found some lilac in the hedge along the field path and when I got home popped them in a vase on the kitchen cupboard.
You have to admire the determined aim of this little bee – heading for the heart of the cornflower (Centaurea).
No doubt about it, the Sunshine Deity is showering us with her beneficent rays. You can almost hear the plants crying YIPEEEEE! as they break free from the winter’s rain battered soil, which here in Silurian Sea Wenlock sets like cement. Things are definitely thriving best in the parts of the garden that received an autumnal mulch of tree chippings (gratefully gathered from a big heap in a neighbour’s yard). The front garden by the road is a mass of foliage with bursts of blue and (nearly) black centaurea, and the little crab apple tree that went in a couple of years ago is weeping prettily. I can also see that an allium-oriental poppy break-out is imminent. Any day now!
But back to the top garden: the Coxes apple tree is just blooming and underneath it the miniature tulips are saying ‘see me, see me’. It’s all too exciting.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, BECKY! A TOPPING DAY TO YOU.
‘A good photograph is knowing where to stand ‘ Ansel Adams
This week Patti at Lens-Artists wants us to think about changing our perspective as we compose our shots. She prefaces her post with this very helpful quote from the great Ansel Adams. It’s certainly a tip worth chalking up in VERY BIG letters on the memory blackboard.
Of course there can be other options – lying down for instance, which is what I was doing to take the header photo. Then there’s the matter of choosing the time of day, which will then affect where you stand (or lie). Different seasons may well provide new angles. And also the setting of your chosen subject. So with these notions in mind I thought I’d post a gathering of my Windmill Hill photos, taken over the last few years.
Of itself, the windmill is a rather underwhelming subject, and I have ended up taking masses of very flat looking photos. I have discovered that it helps to get beneath it somewhat, whether lying down or finding a good spot further down the hill. I’ve also found that late afternoon light can produce a bit more interest – even mystery. This next photo is my Wenlock version of Daphne Du Maurier’s thriller tale Don’t Look Now. Who is that swiftly retreating little figure in the gloaming?
Here’s one of the more ‘obvious’ shots. The cloudscape and perhaps also the sun/shadow on the stonework add the main interest:
Another thought is that even when you’ve fixed on a particular subject, it’s always good to scout around it, to see what else might catch your eye/have some bearing on the composition. E.g. one of the important things about Windmill Hill, besides the windmill, is the fact its hill is an ancient limestone meadow – a rare escapee from the effects of industrial agriculture. So come early summer I’m often lying down, in the next photo among the pyramid orchids, soapwort, white clover and yellow ladies bedstraw. There’s an added benefit too – the close quarters inhalation of bedstraw fragrance. Aaaah! No wonder it was used in mattresses for women brought to bed during childbirth.
And in late summer my eye is on the knapweed and the great array seeding grasses:
And then there are the autumn shots. A few years ago a bunch of small horses used to be brought in at summer’s end to graze the meadow. Then sadly their owner could no longer keep them and they had to be sold. For the past two years the Windmill Trust has had the hill mown and harrowed instead. This new approach has created a massive increase in orchids:
And then there are the views from Windmill Hill:
Bunking off games? The William Brookes School is at the foot of the hill.
Windmill Hill can be a very sociable place. It’s a favourite spot for Wenlock’s dog walkers. There are other gatherings too: windmill open days, summer orchid counting; and in the next photo we are gathered during a solar eclipse when the world turned very still and cold and ethereal:
Last but not least, here are some long-distance views from Townsend Meadow behind our house. The final photo also shows the oil seed rape in full bloom and a corner of the William Brookes School:
There’s been little chance to take photos this month. We have had altogether too much bad weather: two storms and one on the way; rain that has been raining since the end of September; wind, sleet and hail; and for poor people who live near the River Severn, horrendous floods. Nearby Ironbridge has been deluged, the water breaching the flood barriers. Our county town, Shrewsbury, has been returned to the bad old winter flood days of the 1960s, this despite its modern flood defences. (You can go here to see the BBC coverage.) In Much Wenlock ten homes on the High Street were treated to a slurry of liquid mud and gravel courtesy of run-off from surrounding hillsides delivered by road into their living rooms and parked cars.
There is much that could have been done since our region’s last big floods in 2007-8. No one seems to drain fields properly, or maintain lane and roadside ditches as they did in my childhood, interventions that would at least help to slow the flow. In fact our verge-side ditches seem to have mostly disappeared, presumably filled in and sacrificed to road widening. And so in times of heavy rains when highway drains may become quickly blocked, our roads serve as highly efficient flash flood delivery systems.
We need to start thinking about better water catchment management, and especially on our denuded uplands where our rivers rise.
Australian farmer initiatives show how all our water catchment areas could be managed better with the addition of ‘leaky weirs’ set at intervals down water courses: rocks, tree trunks judiciously placed to create a series of delta effects. No need for hugely expensive hi-techery. Such simple methods not only hold back flood water and sediment, but hydrate surrounding land and foster regrowth of bank-side vegetation that in turn restores biodiversity, providing resilience too in times of drought. AND, most importantly of all, reducing soil erosion.
BECAUSE apart from the absolute misery caused by flooded homes, the impact on life, health and livelihoods, the biggest long-term loss to us ALL, is the fertile soil that floods carry away. Once it is gone, it is gone. Many of our soils are already mineral depleted. This will ultimately have an impact on the quality of food produced and on human health. The way we treat the land, always clearing, forever taking out with an eye to greater efficiency and higher productivity, but without ever replenishing adn rebuilding, is a good way to degrade local and regional weather systems. In fact creating land resilience and restoring the natural environment are probably the most useful things we could be doing now this minute to mitigate future extreme weather events.
And before too much blame is laid at farmers’ doors for industrial farming practices, the UK and Australia, it seems, have various laws that forbid landowner interference with water courses on their land. They must seek official approval to do anything that impacts on water flow. In the UK, riparian owners have some very serious responsibilities which include ensuring the clear movement of water through their properties.
Here’s an interesting video showing how leaky weirs work, and showcasing the pioneering efforts of farmers and the Mulloon Institute in New South Wales:
And back on the home front and to fend off sensations of all round rising damp, here’s a photo of my drying washing, taken on the one day this month when it was worth hanging it out in the garden. Nothing like filling one’s sheets with wind and sunshine; always makes for the best sort of sleep, I always think.
Sue has a very lovely gallery of photos this month. Please go and see.