Townsend Meadow ~ Waiting For Rain And A Bit Of A Ramble About Wild Oats

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Last night as I was watering at the allotment, dark clouds were building up in every quarter. I was sure it was going to rain. But no. By 8 pm they had moved off, leaving a strange red mist effect over Wenlock Edge. Beneath it the rapeseed crop is tinder dry and a deepening shade of copper. The wild oats on the path edge are ripening too – their cuneiform seed heads turned from green to pale ochre. I’m becoming a bit obsessed with trying to photograph them. They seem to reflect light that lends itself to a touch of abstraction.

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The Wild Oat Avena fatua  is of course the parent plant of our cultivated oat and fully edible. It possesses the same valuable B vitamins and minerals: manganese, magnesium, potassium, iron, and chromium. Oats are very soothing to the system, apparently reducing inflammation. They also contain powerful antioxidants and are rich in fibre.

Wild oats, however, are considered a crop pest, especially in wheat, reducing the crop by up to 40%. They are also becoming resistant to herbicides, which fact certainly seems to be supported by their continued presence in Townsend Meadow, where they receive lots of herbicide doses every year. This is rather making me think that we should all be eating oats instead of wheat – without added glyphosate that is. Some of us might start feeling a lot better than we do after eating wheat products.

My Derbyshire farming ancestors seemed to have lived on oats, turned into tasty pancake-like oat cakes and made from a slightly fermented batter. Eaten with farm-made cheese and butter of course, and doubtless washed down with homebrewed ale.  A good number of them lived into their late eighties and early nineties. Some of them were known to go in for a little prize fighting and were quite famed for their prowess in the ring – and that was only the women.

And apart from all this, a handful of rolled oats tied up in some muslin, soaked in warm water and applied to the skin with some very gentle rubbing, makes the best exfoliant scrub ever.

Bee Feast At The Garden Take-Away

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Yesterday the bumble bees were having a right royal tuck-in  around the garden. Flower of choice was definitely the allium sphaerocephalon as featured here the other day. Some of the bees seemed to become quite comatose while supping, which made them much easier to snap. Several different kinds were partaking. I really must learn how to identify them. Friends of the Earth have a great app for us Brits with clever phones. I don’t have one, but could almost  be tempted by this brilliant little guide.

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Meanwhile over the back fence in the unofficial (guerrilla) garden other favourite bee foods included the fabulously gaudy Sneeze Weeds (Heleniums) and the oregano which, with all the sunny weather, has recently burst into sprays of delicate pinkish white flowers.

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Oh yes, and there were also bees in the Bee Balm (Monarda):

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This Morning Over The Garden Fence ~ A Field For All Seasons

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I’ve watched this crop of rapeseed developing behind our house since the autumn when it was sown – back to back with the wheat harvest. All through the winter it clung to the ground and was much eaten by pigeons. In April, after a good dosing with agrichemicals, it sprang into life like Jack’s beanstalk, and was soon taller than me. By May is was a sea of acid yellow, that mellowed to gold. This morning at 5.30 am it was turned to copper. As I’m writing this, the field, under the full-on midday sun, is being visited by hosts of cabbage white butterflies.

So it is that the plants have survived deluge, bird predation, gale, blizzard, frost, three lots of snow, and now weeks of ground-baking drought. The plants look almost ready to harvest, although when I inspected a couple of pods last night, there seemed to be precious little seed inside. Which made me think that only the farmers who are harvesting sun with their fields of solar panels will be having a good crop this year.

Here’s a retrospective of Townsend Meadow during 2018.

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Strange What Comes Flying Over Next Door’s Ash Tree When You’re Eating Supper

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Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No it’s…a…a paramotor wing, and it came looming low over the new shed last night as we were eating our cream of broad bean soup. It was so very much something where you didn’t expect to have it, and also very loud, that for a moment I felt like Arthur Dent in The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy – you know, the scene near the beginning where a huge ship from the Vogon Constructor Fleet comes gliding over his house as a prelude to demolishing the planet:

People of Earth, your attention please.This is Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz of the Galactic Hyperspace Planning Council. As you will no doubt be aware, the plans for development of the outlying regions of the Galaxy require the building of a hyperspatial express route through your star system, and, regrettably your planet is one of those scheduled for demolition. The process will take slightly less than two of your Earth minutes. Thank you.

Douglas Adams The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

Anyway, it turned out to be nothing so threatening, though at one point I thought the pilot had completely lost the plot as he whirlygigged for several giddy seconds over the rapeseed field. He sorted himself out though.

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Going Mazy-Eyed In A Sea Of Grasses ~ Thursday’s Special

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I took this photo last night as I was coming home from the allotment. The sun was setting over the rapeseed field and illuminating the grasses along the headland. This is a broad strip of land on the town side of Townsend Meadow, left uncultivated as a defence against flash floods. The variety of grasses that grow here is bewildering, and I’m sorry to say I have never tried to learn which is which. They are very beautiful though in the evening light.

Grasses (Gramineae) are among the most successful plants on the planet and, excluding the polar zones, cover 40% of the earth’s surface. They of course include cereal crops, rice, bamboos, and pasture grasses and so are of immense importance to humanity. Grass is also an elephant’s food of choice, making up a substantial part of its 300-400 lb daily vegetable intake. I mention that fact here because our headland grasses have so benefitted from the agrichemical feeding of the rape plants uphill from them that they are now doing a pretty good impression of elephant grass (Pennisetum purpureum) also known as Napier Grass. This particular grass featured in he-who-builds-sheds’ doctoral research on grass smut in the Kenya highlands, and so is a species close to our hearts, and we both know how to identify it.

Coming up is another grass I know: wild oats. The sun was reflecting off its spikelets, which was all rather mesmerizing.

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Thursday’s Special: Lost in details  This week Paula has given us an intriguing challenge and photo to match. I’m interpreting it here both in words and images Who me?

Wednesday Walk Into Wenlock ~ Ancient Remains And Some Animals

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I’m standing on the path we call the ‘long way’ into town, otherwise locally known as the Cutlins. It cuts across the meadow between what was once the railway station (shades of decimating Beeching man again) and the Wenlock Priory ruins. The cottages you can see in the middle ground front onto Sheinton Street. Many date from medieval times, and originally they would have been shops with heavy wooden shutters. When the shop was open for business the shutters came down to make trestle counter tops. Behind each of the commercial frontages were workshops and living quarters, and then a long strip of land for cultivation or the keeping of livestock, still surviving today as domestic back gardens.

These gardens backing onto the field, then, are the town’s last surviving evidence of medieval burgage plots. Until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1540, the town that grew up around Wenlock Priory was ruled by the Prior. The Pilgrim Trade (to visit the relics of St Milburga, the Saxon princess whose family founded the 7th century religious house over whose remains the later, grander Cluniac Priory was built) made Wenlock a prosperous place. By 1247 there was a merchant elite known as burgesses. They paid the Priory one shilling a year to rent the burgage plots.

The trades they operated there included carpentry, shoe making, tool making, tailoring, the provision of legal and secretarial services. Other trades that grew up in and around the town included breweries, tanneries, lime burning, quarrying and the making of paper, nails, and clay pipes. All in all, it would have been a pretty foul-smelling place. Not the bucolic scene we enjoy today.

The Priory is hidden behind the trees at the foot of the path, the burgage plots to the right out of shot:

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And after stopping to look at the new Highland calf, at the foot of the path near the Priory I met a lamb. It felt like a meeting of minds – a slightly odd Little Bo Peep moment:

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And finally a glimpse of the Priory ruins: surviving remains of a dissolved roof – which, incidentally, is exactly what happened once Henry VIII’s monastic re-purposers had stripped off the protective and very valuable lead from such premises:

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Roof Squares 15

The Changing Seasons ~ May Has Been Very Yellow

Spring has been all of a gallop this month, as if plant life is set on making up for lost time. Within the space of two weeks the rapeseed field behind the house went from muddy, over-wintered, pigeon-scoffed plants, scarcely a foot high – to a billowing yellow sea taller than me. (Oh, the unbridled power of agri-chemicals!)  It has anyway been great fun walking down the tractor trails within the crop, completely surrounded by sweet-smelling eye-high yellowness, and coming home covered in petals.

Now though, the flowers have almost gone, helped on their way by the last two days of storm and cloud burst. This morning it is foggy over the Edge. Fog in May? And I can’t see the wood at the top of the field.

In the garden there have been changes too. Behind the house, on our top level, the last scrap of lawn had been dug up, and the shed of He Who Builds Sheds And Binds Books now has a smart gravel forecourt, complete with red geranium in pot, which really isn’t what a chap wants outside his lathe and screw-collection domain, but I think looks jolly. Btw: the shed doesn’t actually have a chimney. Not too keen on the plastic water butt, but it’s there for now – water-gathering over aesthetics.

Our neighbour Roger also gave us some wooden sleeper pieces, left over from his own garden make-over, and these have now been used to contain the main herbaceous border beside said shed. The border has been blooming with aquilegias which are now giving way to alliums, foxgloves, euphorbia and oriental poppies. I have also  put in the plants bought at the Arley Plant Collector’s Fair last week (previous post), and am looking forward to china blue scabious and sweet scented phlox in a few weeks’ time. The bed is now officially FULL.

The narrow border on the left hand side of the gravel, and above our kitchen door, has also been given a containing wooden edge by re-purposing timber thrown on the bonfire heap at the allotment and duly carried home across the field. Yesterday I noticed that the small Coxes apple tree that is growing there is now busy making apples. So soon. It was all blossom only last week.

Now shed-building man is wondering what he can do to the old privies to stop them being head-banging, dysfunctional garden sheds, this while still retaining rustic quirkiness. At the moment a very fine, self-planted foxglove is growing beside them so operations are presently on hold.

Out at the front of the house, half of our boundary is open to the kerb-side. I have replanted the border with assorted verbascum, alliums, centaurea, hesperis, foxgloves, hellenium hoopesii (very yellow), Whistling Jack (a magenta, Byzantine gladiolus) and a few other things, including a small weeping crab apple called Red Jade. This border is my cultivated response to motorists who insist on breaking the 30mph speed limit (and the law) by speeding along Sheinton Street at 40mph and above.

And now here are more scenes from the Farrells’ May garden, beginning at the front. It’s all rather rampant:

And in the back garden:

 

 

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The Changing Seasons

Please visit Su to see scenes from her recent trip round NZ’s South Island

A Bit Of Magic On Monday ~ Quintessentially Exquisite Quince Flowers

I discovered the quince tree (Cydonia oblonga) at the allotment only last year. It was hanging in large golden fruits like overfed pears. They had a subtle fragrance too. And I was entranced. It seemed as if the tree had materialised from out of some ancient Persian painting. Later I discovered that this was indeed one of its homelands (in that belt of southwest Asia between Armenia, Turkey, North Iran and Afghanistan). On Saturday evening as I was going home, I caught the tree on the last lap of flowering – petals like finest Dresden porcelain. What a treasure. And then I started thinking about quince jelly and quince ‘cheese’ – the dulce de membrillo – as made on Spain’s Iberian peninsula and eaten with Manchego cheese. And then I thought how very generous is the plant world to human kind.

copyright 2018 Tish Farrell

Coming Home From The Allotment ~ The Priory Ruins At Sunset

Lately heavy labouring on the Farrell allotment plots has been taking precedence over blogging. Tasks have included sowing, weeding, mulching, path mowing, plot edging, erecting pea and bean sticks, planting out the broad bean seedlings (long pod, crimson flowered and the Sutton varieties), beetroot (golden, boltardy and cylindrical), cauliflower, broccoli and pea seedlings.

I have also recycled several builder’s pallets (rescued from the communal bonfire heap) to make two new compost bins, and to extend an existing one into a double-bay effort. And I have been gathering comfrey, grass cuttings, shredded cardboard, household peelings and whatever greenery I can crop from neighbours’ neglected plots to feed the bins. I am aiming for mega-quantities of compost come the autumn so I can give all the raised beds a deep protective layer that will hopefully prevent the soil from turning into concrete over the winter, which is what happened to any exposed surface this year.

In the polytunnel over-wintered lambs lettuce, Chinese mustards,  leeks, Russian and Tuscan kale are being eaten and/or cleared to make way for the tomatoes, peppers and the single cucumber plant that I managed to germinate. All in all, it feels like a gardening marathon, but doubtless it will (mostly) be worth it. And one good thing about being up at the allotment at this time of year is the chance of taking sunset photographs of the town on the way home.

First though evidence of the labours:

And now we’ve got the gardening done, more early evening shots around town as I head home; views from south through east to north-east:

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Daily Post: Place in the World

Flower of the Day ~ Wild Arum Lily

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Last week I found an arum lily behind our garden fence. On Sunday afternoon I found another fine specimen growing in the shade of the lime tree walk in our nearby Linden Field. I had gone there to photograph the lime trees coming into leaf, and the avenue was a haven of leaf shadow and dappled light, and wonderfully cool in our unexpected heatwave. There was also the heady whiff of wild garlic. The plants whose leaves I had been cropping earlier in the year were bursting with white star flowers. You can eat those too. But you definitely can’t eat the arum lily, also known as Cuckoo-pint (pint to rhyme with mint), Lords-and-Ladies, Parson in the pulpit and Willy lily  – though the roots were apparently once crushed to make household starch for crisping up Elizabethan ruffs (Richard Mabey Flora Britannica).

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Cee’s Flower of the Day