April’s Changing Seasons ~ Bleak With Bright Blooming Intervals

Here in Shropshire we’re back to wintery temperatures after last week’s four days of summer. The header photo was taken on Sunday up at the allotment – damson blossom against a stormy sky.

But despite the coolness, plant life seems to be thriving:

Out in the woods:

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In monochrome:

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As seen from Wenlock Edge and in the Shropshire Hills (on a hot day last Thursday):

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And out in the garden:

Who knows what will happen next:

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The Changing Seasons:  April 2018

Please visit Su to see her changing seasons over in New Zealand

The Changing Seasons March 2018 ~ All Wind, Snow And White Horses

This was the sight that greeted us as we drove back into Shropshire from Wales last Saturday – a snow-dusted vision of Titterstone Clee. A windscreen shot too. Here and there along the country roads there was also some astonishing ice art in the hedges. Temperatures were so frigid that when cars drove through verge puddles  the water splashed up on to the bare twigs and froze in cascades of tiny silver icicles. I’ve never seen anything quite like it, and certainly not in March: Christmas trees all over again. Anyway, March may be summed up in one word: FREEZING.

 

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In which Six Go Potty In Pembroke With Cockapoo Puppy  – holiday snaps #3

 

The Changing Seasons: March 2018

The Changing Seasons ~ Snow and Marigolds In January

Well, it’s hardly been gardening weather – far too wet; not at all like our good old winters where on fine, cold days you could pile on the gardening togs, balaclava and all, get out your trusty spade and dig the allotment, naturally always standing on a plank as you went so as not to compact the soil.

I actually like digging, though I’m trying to wean myself off the practice (as many of you who come here will know) opting instead for the no-dig approach which relies on raised beds and the annual autumn application of compost. Around 2 inches worth says no-dig guru, Charles Dowding, and only on the surface (he has lots of useful videos on You Tube and grows parsnips and carrots the size of cruise missiles).

The only problem with this approach is you need loads and loads of compost, and despite my having a dozen assorted piles, bins and bays of decomposing garden waste, I never seem to have enough garden-ready stuff at the right time. I also completely forgot about the autumn application as I had left my brain in the olive groves of Kalamata back in October. Drat! However, it did return briefly in December to remember to gather leaves for making leaf mould, and it’s probably not too late to go out and gather more if only it weren’t raining, and Wenlock’s likely byways a sea of slithery Silurian mud.

We also had more snow in January, but not the glistening, Snow-Queeny landscapes of December, but the dank and dreary sort followed by more rain, which soon washed it away. Except that when I went up to the allotment on Monday I was surprised to find heaps of it lurking along the sides of the polytunnels. Oh no! I remembered the old wives’ tale which says that when snow remains we can expect further falls to carry it away. Hmph. A curse on old wives for being so doomy. We’ve done snow. Now we want spring!

But then the odd thing about that is, along with our snow and frost we have also had spring, or at least if the pot marigolds are anything to go by. These are self-seeded annuals that grow hither and thither around my plot, and not even being buried for a week under December’s snow drifts stopped them flowering. When the snow receded they emerged full-on, like floral headlights, though their stems were somewhat misshapen from the burying. As anyone would be.

Anyway, here are some views of the allotment taken on Monday. I’m  including some of my compost heaps – not a pretty sight, I know, but they bring joy to this gardener’s heart. Also of my parsnips, which as you will see were exceedingly hard to extract from the mud. They are also nowhere near the size of Charles Dowding’s cruise missiles, nor as perfectly formed. But then as the shed-building man who lives in my house says, who needs parsnips that big?  A vaguely existentialist enquiry to which I find there is no answer…

 

The Changing Seasons

For those who haven’t caught up yet, Su Leslie is now our very excellent host for The Changing Seasons monthly challenge, having taken over from our former very excellent host Max at Cardinal Guzman  (btw fantastic ski-ing video at Max’s blog). We have thus shifted across the globe from Norway to New Zealand. Please pop over to Su’s place to see her and other bloggers’ monthly round up from their corners of the world. And please join in. The ‘rules’ are simple.

The Changing Seasons December 2017 ~ A Snowland Gallery

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Our week of snow in mid-December was probably the highlight of the month for many of us – more magical than mithering about Christmas shopping or if the larder shelves had enough food on them. So here are more scenes of ice art. Also a big, big thank you to Max for hosting the The Changing Seasons challenge.

The Changing Seasons – December 2017

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The Changing Seasons ~ Peroulia Dreaming 10

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October comes and we fly out of Kalamata International – one of the smallest airports I  have passed through outside upcountry Zambia.  It has been too brief a trip, and every day for seven days I have spent much time watching the mountains of the Mani peninsula across the Gulf. They are the southern spine of the Taygetos Massif, a range some 100 kilometres long that runs the length of the third, and easterly finger of the Peloponnese.

With all the looking, I have tried to  penetrate this fortress-land of faulted scarps and scattered habitation – at least in some sense. And in hopes of admission to the interior, the provision of a path that I might follow, I’ve been reading Patrick Leigh Fermor’s 1950s book Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese. It was written before the road was built down the peninsula, and much of the excursion involved hard hiking and catching boats from cape to cape.

But sad to say, despite high hopes, the book is not really helping. I am still ploughing through it a good three weeks later in windblown Shropshire, the leaves of ash trees dashing by the windows like fleets of unleashed arrows. Yet it is true the narrative sets off with an actual journey into the far-flung quarters of the Deep Mani. It is true, too, that  along the way Leigh Fermor conjures  scenes of ravishing detail. And conjures is the only word for it. But the problem is his accounts of meetings with the Maniates in remote  and rocky fastnesses – often preternatural in the beauty of their evocation – are too brief and too soon abandoned for lengthy meanders  into arcane matters relating to quite other parts of Greece and its history. There is too much mention of obscure tribes, too many catalogues of unfamiliar names detached from context in time or space.

The book, then, rather than admitting me, mostly keeps me at bay. I’m not in the mood for ponderings on how the pantheon of Greek deities, serially dealt with one by one, have been repackaged as Christian saints. This reconfiguration is not an especially Greek phenomenon anyway.  Tell me more of the journey through this iron-hard land, Leigh Fermor. Give me more of your magic.

To be fair, near the start of the book there is the extraordinary history of the Mani village blood feuds – a pathological phase wherein the breeding of sons, referred to as ‘guns’, to wield long-barrelled rifles against neighbour-enemies, was a community fixation; this along with the building of ever taller stone towers from which to lay siege across small village squares.  Settlements bristled with these structures many storeys high. Rocks and cannon balls were hurled from their parapets on to the roofs of opposing families’ homes, causing the usual activities of village life to be suspended during daylight hours for fear of being shot or flattened.

Sometimes the feuds went on for generations. Even the local priests were involved, and mid-worship kept their rifles to hand. Meanwhile the womenfolk, the breeders of guns, extemporized long poetic dirges for the dead.  And if this were not enough, in between the feuding there was piracy and slave trading, and  oh yes, some farming, fishing and salt panning.

Then it seems the Maniates got a grip, stopped stoking local enmities and became prime movers in the 1821 Revolution so ending 350 years of Turkish domination of Greece and thereby setting the scene for a unified nation state. But then, having done this, it appears they reverted to bloody-minded type and became a troublesome thorn in the side of the new political entity.

If ever a people were bred of their terrain, then it must surely be the Maniates – tough, unyielding, unforgiving and, in their own particular way, magnificent. They inhabit territory that Homer knew, a land where gods and heroes walked, a place of resort for besieged ancient Mycenaeans, a place of disposal for the classical Spartans who took wrong-doers there to throw them down chasms and left sickly babes to die on hillsides.

And then the Mani boasts not one, but two entrances to the Underworld: in the labyrinthine caves of Diros in the north-west and at the southernmost tip of its tailbone at Cape Matapan where, guided by Athena and Hermes, Heracles descended to capture Cerberus, the monstrous ‘hound of Hades’.

Now that I am on the last lap with Leigh Fermor, I know I should not be too cross with him. In his stride he is a wonderful writer, and I treasure those transient episodes that let me meet the girl Vasilio, dine and sleep atop an old Mani village tower, quaff ouzo all but frozen from a mountain stream, walk into a desolate village and encounter astonishing hospitality. Such moments are breath-taking. Dream-like. But as for the rest…I read recently that the writer admitted to a friend that he did not know much about the Mani, and used the trip and the book as a peg on which to hang several unrelated topics that had long interested him. There is no doubting his deep regard for Greece and its peoples.

But now I am left in rainy, autumnal Shropshire with my outsider views of the western Taygetos. I have learned from other reading that this side of the peninsula is known as the Shadowy or Dark Mani because it receives little of the morning sun.

My photo at the head of this post suggests  other singular effects of locality. I was standing in the sea when I took it. Later when I looked at the result on screen I found that the only way to reveal any detail of the mountains was to darken the foreground. The more I did that, the more they emerged. It is a very odd photograph: as if two separate views have been spliced together. It is also hard to fathom the perspective. The mountains are two-dimensional, near and distant views almost occupying a single plane. In the midday light the scene looks like a mirage. Or there again like the film in a soap bubble just before it bursts; a negative not quite developed.

At other times of the day – at dawn and dusk, the peninsula solidifies flatly; a woodcut; or a paper chain of tumbled rhomboids; cardboard cut-outs.  Often there is a train of frothy cloud overhead. It looks like whipped meringue.

Another thought then. In my larder cupboard I have a jar of capers bathed in Mani olive oil, yet bought in my sister’s shop in Shropshire. I also have a jar of Mani honey, said to be the best in the region, created by bees who have foraged among the mountain flowers, and bought by G. in a shop on Koroni’s opposing Peloponnesian peninsula. As yet  I have opened neither – because another thought is brewing: to go to the Mani. Perhaps in springtime. Find out for myself what lies within.

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copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

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The Changing Seasons: Please visit Max to see this month’s fabulous photo gallery

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Changing Seasons ~ September ~ In The Garden Early This Morning

Bright and early do not figure in my repertoire these days, at least not if it means vacating the bed. This morning, though, if there had been larks, I would have been up with them. Just before 7 am the light was magical. It was a case of grabbing cardie and camera, and setting off in my nightie (black silk in case you wanted to know, and so chic with scarlet woolly, motley scarf and green rubber clogs). It had to be done though, and just as well there were no neighbours to see, or early morning walkers on the field path. So here are the pix, hot off the memory card.

Out in the garden Teasing Georgia was all dewy buds and drooping petals. She’s having a second flowering, although this time round the roses have a slumberous air even when freshly opened. As if to say, ‘Don’t like us too much. We’re not staying long’.

Over the fence in the field the light is golden. For the first time I notice the change in leaf colour in the wood on the hill. I also notice that the farmer looks to have sown the field with a green manure after harvesting the wheat. If so, heavens be praised. It’s about time the land had a real nutrient fix along with the chemical cocktails. The speed the seedlings are growing I’m guessing it’s a mix of rye grass and mustard. We’ll see.

Our garden is long and narrow, and several steps up from the house. At the top corner we have a gate onto the field path, and just over the fence we have our ‘guerrilla garden,’ planted with insect pleasing plants in mind and to make some reparation for all the pesticides used on the far side of the path. I’m making a similar unofficial planting along the outside of our neighbours’ fence. A floral gallery approach to gardening. We could also call it a flood alleviation measure, given the field’s tendency to create run-off. At the moment it is the season of Michaelmas daisies and tiny russet crab apples, along with the last of the sweet peas, sunflowers, helenium and rudbeckia. Most of the year I leave the border to its own devices, apart from some thistle, nettle and couch grass removal. It gives us a lot of pleasure through the changing seasons.

Another summer-long feature that has dominated the garden chez Farrell is Project Shed. He who has been building it, aka Graham, has finally finished the job apart from having the electrics expertly checked. He has built it from scratch from his own design, including re-purposing  next-doors’ cast-off windows and door glass from another chum.  The curved railway truck roof is both a nod to the fact that the Great Western Railway, before Mr. Beeching killed it, once ran across our road, and also to reduce the shed’s height so it doesn’t loom over our neighbours. Now that he has practised I think I must insist on one for me – a cosy hideaway in which to muse and snooze, and write word or two. Beside the gate would be nice…I could watch the field grow, the bees in the guerrilla garden and the comings and goings of rooks…

The Changing Seasons: September Please visit Max to see his fab September gallery, and to share your own changing seasons photos.

copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

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July’s Changing Seasons ~ To Shropshire’s Mysterious Stiperstones

It is a wild and brooding place, one of the strangest in South Shropshire’s hill country. For one thing the Devil has his chair there, and when the mist comes down, this is where he sits – brimming with pent-up malevolence but unseen by us mortals.

We did not encounter mist on Saturday when we ventured there so we assumed the Devil was out. But there were lowering skies, a near absence of light and the threat of rain. Oh yes, and wind, that somehow caused a discontinuity of function between brain and feet, so making the trek over moorland paths strewn with quartzite cobbles somewhat hazardous.

The Stiperstones ridge extends 5 miles (8 km), and at its highest point on Manstone Rock is 1700 feet (536 metres) above sea level.  Standing on the top you can look west across the great expanse of Wales, and on clear days see Snowdon and Cader Idris mountains. Turn east, and you can scan across the Long Mynd to north east Shropshire and far, far beyond.

The ridge has ancient origins and half the world away, some 60 degrees south of the equator. It probably began existence as a quartz sand beach laid down by a shallow sea during the Ordovician, some 495-443 million years ago. Thereafter the landmass moved one inch a year for the next 450 million years to reach its present location 50 degrees north of the equator. A slow, slow journey, then, of 7,500 miles.

You might think, as you look at succeeding images, that it doesn’t look much like a beach these days. In fact it has suffered much folding, sending the beach skywards, and tilting it at angles of 80 degrees in places. Along its length are a series of  quartzite tors described by the eminent Victorian geologist, Murchison, as ‘rugged Cyclopean ruins’ (The Silurian System 1854). Besides the Devil’s Chair and Manstone Rocks there are also Diamond Rock, Cranberry Rock, Nipstone Rock and several other eye-catching outcrops.

The place is also described as ‘relict landscape’, one that is undergoing continuous weathering. What we see today was mostly shaped during the last Ice Age when the quartzite was locked in permafrost. Moisture seeped into the cracks, and as it froze, expanded, causing the rock to fissure and fragment.

The moors below the ridge-top are rich in whinberries and cowberries, and so provided food and grazing for human populations from at least the Bronze Age. These people from prehistory left us their burial monuments – stone cairns along the hill’s spine. Then around 100 CE the Romans arrived, avidly searching of silver, but mostly mining lead, and smelting it in hillside boles to provide material to line their plunge pools, make water pipes, cover roofs, construct their coffins, and for the craftsmen of Wroxeter Roman City to use in the production of pewter.

Down succeeding centuries lead mining expanded dramatically. The flanks of the Stiperstones are littered with adits and the mine shafts that featured so dramatically in Mary Webb’s Gone To Earth.  One of the biggest concerns, Snailbeach Mine, started at the foot of the hill in 1783, employed 500 workers at its height. For a century and more, then, the wild countryside was also a filthy industrial zone of delving, massive spoil heaps, steam-pumping engines and hard-worked men and boys.

Yet somehow this phase too has somehow welded itself into the mythic fabric of the landscape, an impression heightened by the strange visual effect of Stiperstones quartzite – that it somehow looks black against the light, when in fact it is grey and speckled with ice white crystals.

And on that note I’ll leave you with the words of Much Wenlock’s Mary Webb, whose writerly landscape this very much was – and in all senses. This quote is from The Golden Arrow:

The whole countryside was acquiring in his eyes something portentous, apocalyptic. For the personality of a man reacting upon the spirit of a place produces something which is neither the man nor the  place, but fiercer or more beautiful than either. This third entity, born of the union,  becomes a  power and a haunting presence – non-human, non-material.

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copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

Changing Seasons – Please visit Max for this month’s jaw-dropping vistas from his trekking trip to the Romsdalseggen: not for the faint-hearted.

The Changing Seasons: April And the Alien Invasion?

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All right I’m a gardener, and maybe a tad prone to persecution mania on the pest front, but this month it’s been wall to wall dandelions, and no sign of the invasion letting up. Not only are they EVERYWHERE, and especially out in force at the allotment, but they are also showing signs of mutating into mega-weeds, some as big as palm trees. OK. Perhaps not quite that big. But I can see what they’re plotting: world domination in Much Wenlock.

All means of defence seem puny before the onslaught. I’ve tried mowing, hoeing, beheading, excising. Even resorted to engaging in dialogue of the non-expletive variety. But it’s no go. So I thought I’d shoot the varmints instead – photo-wise naturally. And of course, they really are very beautiful – whether in flower or gone to seed – and also so very perfectly designed for maximum coverage of planet Earth.

The one thing I’ve forgotten to do this year is eat some of them – young leaves in salad and for a system-cleansing tea, roots dry-roasted  to make quite a passable coffee that also has health benefits, flowers deep fried as fritters (though I’ve not tried this). And now that I’m seeing them in a more kindly light, and established a little perspective, I’m ready to post a less fraught compilation of April shots taken on and around the allotment.

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The Changing Seasons: April 2017 Please visit Max at Cardinal Guzman to see Oslo in April and other bloggers’ offerings.

Changing Seasons: September And The Rook Ballet

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No one quite knows why they do it. Or they didn’t the last time I pursued the matter. But as summer ends so the rooks begin their twilight dancing. There is a large rookery in the wood behind the house. Many scores of birds. Jackdaws live there too. Now each evening, as the sun slips behind Wenlock Edge we watch the rook and jackdaw ballet. Flock after flock flies in, flies out, sweeps up, round, back, spirals, dives in sequences so swift and coordinated that there must surely be some corvid dance-master somewhere orchestrating the moves. The show may last for many minutes, subside into the treetops, then burst out and start all over again. Finally, as the light goes, every bird finds its perch, and the wood subsides into companionable darkness and gentle rook chatter.

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To join in this challenge please visit Changing Seasons Monthly Challenge over at Cardinal Guzman’s

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Changing Seasons: June On Windmill Hill

With this shot I’m back to what Meg at 12monthsinWarsaw calls my Monet’s Haystack mode – i.e. there just cannot be too many shots of the old windmill near my house. I succumb every single time I’m there with a camera to hand. I snapped it yesterday in celebration of the summer solstice, caught in a quick walk between supper’s first course of dhal and Staffordshire oat cakes, and the strawberry crumble that was to follow.

I was also taken by the midsummer meadow in all its lushness – so many different kinds of grasses that I cannot name, and masses of pyramidal orchids – far more than last year. There were also spotted orchids, meadow sweet, vetch, red and white clovers, ladies bedstraw, and white bladder campion which is most usually seen growing on seaside cliffs. And also the sky above was filled with clouds that looked like dragons.

 

 

 

Please visit Cardinal Guzman’s Changing Seasons for more on this challenge.

copyright 2016 Tish Farrell