And It’s Still Raining…

IMG_2301

Today, an errand that involved ordering shower room parts took us out of Shropshire and into Worcester. We’d been putting off going since Monday, the weather being so dire. But this morning the three-day deluge had reduced itself to heavy drizzle, so after a fortifying coffee, off we went.

I find bathroom showrooms dispiriting places for all sorts of reasons, but it had to be done, and mission completed, and the vile, multi-islanded Kidderminster bypass survived in both directions, we felt that soothing surroundings were needed. And since our route took us past Dudmaston Hall, which being National Trust has a very pleasant cafe, we decided to call in for lunch. And very nice it was too with the big log burning stove blazing away. (Anyone would think it was October.)

Afterwards we had a wander in the gardens. Many of the roses had been crushed and their stems battered down, but I thought they still looked beautiful in their way. So here are some more with their fallen petals, photos taken with Sue Judd at Words Visual in mind. Sue is a wiz in her studies of decay and transience.

IMG_2332

IMG_2335

IMG_2357

IMG_2302

But it wasn’t all mayhem. One walled border that comprised mainly wild flower species – foxgloves and red centranthus in particular – was thriving in the rain.

IMG_2310

And out in the parkland among the buttercups there were some very contented cattle browsing lush meadow grasses.

IMG_2317

IMG_2316

Rain Between Showers And Sweet Wild Roses

IMG_2268

And so many associations too: old tales of a princess and a poisoned spindle, of a derring-do lad with thorny ramparts to vanquish and kisses to impart. Then there’s the therapeutic qualities of Rosa canina, the dog rose. Herbalists have long used the dried petals in compresses for the eyes and as a tea to soothe digestion. And of course the bright red hips of autumn are still valued for their high vitamin C content. If you were a child in Britain during WW2, and indeed for some years afterwards, you will still remember the taste of rosehip syrup, promoted by government during the war-time absence of citrus fruit. The hips are said to have 30 times more vitamin C than an orange.

And rose petals are indeed edible. In times past I have been known to crystallise them with a coating of gum arabic, rosewater and caster sugar, delicately applied with a small paint brush. Once they had been left to dry in a warm place, I would serve them with creamy lemon syllabub and homemade meringues. A memory then of my culinary ‘dog days’ – of a June without deluges, and the dog roses scrambling airily through hedgerows suffusing the lanes with their delicate scent.

All the same, the flowers do look rather lovely scattered with raindrops – not too many, mind. Which rather brings me to John Coltrane, and my favourite version of My Favourite Things. I’m hoping some you like it too:

 

 

Lens-Artists #49 Favourite Things

This week Patti has set the ‘favourite things’  theme, so pay her a visit and be inspired. And here’s what she says about the Lens-Artists weekly challenge: “If you’re new to the challenges, click here to learn how to join us.  Remember to link your post here and tag it Lens-Artists to help us find your post in the WP Reader.

Next week, it’s Ann Christine’s turn to lead the challenge, so be sure to visit her blog.  As always, Amy, Tina, Ann-Christine, and I are delighted that you’re joining our challenges!

June On The Plot ~ Before The Rain

IMG_2018

This year it’s been a case of less blogging and more digging. And yes – to those of you who follow my gardening pursuits – I have not forgotten that for ages I have been trying to follow the tenets of ‘no dig’ gardening. I really do want to, and in spirit at least I hang on to Charles ‘no dig’ Dowding’s every soily crumb of wisdom. But the big thing is he gardens in Somerset in the mild south west; he does not garden on the side of Wenlock Edge where the land comprises 400 million-year-old Silurian clag that sets like cement at the slightest opportunity and does so even when you’ve piled on the compost.

In fact all the usual things that gardeners add to heavy soil to improve drainage – sand, grit, well rotted manure, lime – are grist to its mill. It seems to suck them up and then sets harder still. Clearly those decomposing  residues of fossil tropical sea bed – crinoids, trilobites, giant scorpions, volcanic ash and all – must contain something  very, very sticky – some geologically ancient equivalent of super glue I should think.

In other words, the chances of my making enough compost to apply each autumn across both my half-plots and to the appropriate depth that might make an actual difference to the soil are extremely unlikely.  Instead, and by way of cutting coat to suit cloth, I eke out the compost I do have, putting it only in the spots where I intend to plant, and rarely attempting to cover an entire bed. Also, given the challenging nature of the soil (and its slowness to warm up), I rarely sow directly in the ground, but germinate most things in individual pots or trays.

The first photo shows the result. On the left are climbing peas (currently half grown height-wise). This is a heritage variety called Ne Plus Ultra – sown three or four seeds to a 4” pot in February and planted out around the end of March. I’ve not grown it before (it was recommended, if not rediscovered during the making of the 1980s Victorian  Kitchen Garden TV series), and I’m looking forward to the results given its show-off ‘cannot  be bettered’ claim.

I’m also thinking that my head gardener grandfather, Charles Ashford, who as a boy underwent the full Victorian stately pile/hierarchical gardening apprenticeship, would have been very familiar with this variety and also with Alderman, the other main crop climbing pea I’m growing this year. One of the advantages of these old varieties is that they produce pods gently over the whole summer season, whereas the modern short cultivars crop at one go and need to be sown in succession if you want to extend their season.

Pea growing tip: peas germinate really well in compost filled lengths of plastic guttering (no need to add drainage holes but water in just enough to keep the sowing medium moist). When it’s time to plant out, and the seedlings are a couple of inches tall, slide the lot (wheesh!) into a shallow trench, draw soil round, firm in and water; protect from birds and provide small sticks for them to climb up. This sowing method of course foils seed-plundering mice and pigeons, and gives the plants a head start.  And if you are growing modern pea cultivars, it makes successional planting easier to sort out – e.g. you can sow, say, a metre length or two of guttering at two-weekly intervals. IMG_1999

But back to the top photo. On the right you can just see the runner bean bed. These plants were germinated in small pots and a couple of weeks ago planted into the remains of an overwintered compost heap. (The other half of the heap had been spread along the Ne Plus Ultra bed prior to planting).  Runner bean plants always struggle to begin with, no matter how healthy the seedlings. The allotment harbours some leaf-chewing pest that is not a mollusc. So far, and most annoyingly, the culprit has not been identified by he who is a plant pathologist and lives in my house – but every year it has a good go at everyone’s freshly planted out runners. You just have to hope they’ll grow through the setback. They usually do. Again I’m trying a new-to-me heritage variety. It’s called Liberty and has a reputation for producing large and succulent pods. Its seeds when I came to sow them were surprisingly enormous, and I’m secretly expecting multiple versions of Jack’s beanstalk. So if I suddenly disappear from this blog, you’ll know where I’ve gone. Or at least how I’ve gone.

Elsewhere on the plot the broad beans, strawberries and three different sorts of globe artichoke are beginning to crop and are proving delicious; beetroot seeds of many varieties are sprouting, including an old Gallic sort called Crapaudine which is French for Madame Toad. Parsnips, sugar pod peas, mixed lettuce, young cabbage plants and potatoes are looking sturdy though the cauliflower plantlets are definitely struggling and I have no idea why, nor what is causing some of the onions to start going to seed. Another unidentified pest is nibbling the tough leaves of the celeriac seedlings but not enough (so far) to kill them. Bought-in leek and sweet corn plugs are settling down, as are the ridge cucumbers and squashes. In the polytunnel the tomatoes, aubergines and peppers are growing well – so far.

Meanwhile in our corner of Shropshire we now have a week and more of April-Showers-In-June to look forward to. Gardening is on hold, though in anticipation of resuming same I’m most grateful to the volunteer footpath people. On Thursday evening they brush-cut the field path, thereby providing me with a large quantity of unexpected compost makings – or they will be when I can get out there to rake them up. This kindness also means that when it is fine enough to next visit the allotment, I won’t arrive with rising damp and knees soaked through by overgrown vegetation. So thank you Strimmer Man. You did a good job.

Here’s the freshly cut path before the rains moved in. You can just  see the polytunnel tops over the far hedge:

IMG_1885

And here are more Thursday evening shots of Farrell half-plots one and two which are in separate places due to my wanting one with a polytunnel on it:

IMG_1993 (2)

IMG_1995 (2)

IMG_2000 (2)

IMG_2019

IMG_2003 (2)

IMG_2004 (2)

copyright 2019 Tish Farrell

Love-In-A-Mist ~ The Allotment Constellation

IMG_1946

Nigella damascena is a wonderfully self-seeding annual that has been grown in English gardens since Elizabethan times. It is much loved for its sky-blue flowers (sometimes also white or pink) and its delicate ferny leaves. And of course, once the flowering is done, there are the strikingly odd sputnik seed capsules to admire.  Though seen here in monochrome (with a hint blue), the flowers already have a distinctly alien look. I took this photo last night at the allotment. I have several self-seeded clumps around the vegetable plots, and they are just beginning to flower. It’s always good to mix things up like this, the flowers not only attracting the pollinators for the fruit and vegetables, but also, in the case of French marigolds, diverting crop pests. And talking of crops, or ones in the making, here’s a rather fine pea flower:

IMG_1972

 

Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge ~ flowers of any kind

The Changing Seasons ~ This Was Wenlock In May

IMG_1549

Last May the field behind the house was a yellow sea of oil seed rape flowers. This May the rape has only been visible on more distant hillsides around the town and I’ve rather missed having it on my doorstep and walking the golden arcade through the crop where the farmer’s big tractor had left a barren track during spraying.  This year the rape bloomed extra early too, is already running to seed – which perhaps means chances of a better harvest; last year’s crop was scorched in the heat wave and shed much of its seed before it could be cut.

Elsewhere around the town we’ve been watching greenery happen. This next photo shows the Linden Walk on the 30th April. The one below it was taken yesterday, the 31st May. I noticed the pale flowering wings are already well formed, though the tiny buds were still tight shut, and I thought of their heavenly scent to come.

IMG_1513

IMG_1850

In the Cutlins meadow members of the MacMoo clan have been absent for a couple of weeks. Then on Thursday we saw they were back. There they were dreaming amongst the lush grass and knee-high buttercups.

IMG_1862

IMG_1865

*

On the home front all is blooming. Yesterday morning I found our front garden – the one that slopes down to the main road – positively heaving with small bumble bees. The orange verbascum flowers had reached just the right state of ripeness, and the bees were gorging on them. The sparrows, too, have been enjoying the front garden, which goes to show – even a small roadside plot can make a bit of a wildlife sanctuary.

IMG_1847cr

IMG_1836

IMG_1838

IMG_2104

IMG_8313

The Changing Seasons: May 2019

Wishing Su a speedy recovery from the flu.

In The Red ~ Iron Bridge Makeover

IMG_1727cr

For much of last year this 240-year-old bridge was under wraps while English Heritage engineers carried out major repairs on the iron work. And it was during this process that the original paint colour of the world’s first cast iron bridge was discovered – a rusty red. This seems to have struck many as surprising, probably because in the living memory of most Shropshire folk, the bridge has either been lugubrious black (as I remember it in the 1960s) or battleship grey – its most recent shade before the overhaul.

P1000843

*

And this is how it looked last week bathed in May sunshine. A much more jaunty effort.

IMG_1711

That the bridge was originally this colour, or as near as can be recreated, was documented at the time. While Abraham Darby III was having it built (between 1779 and its official opening in 1781) he commissioned some promotional artwork from William Williams. He wanted to show the wide world what marvels could be created using cast iron.

Iron Bridge

William Williams c 1780 Cast Iron Bridge near Coalbrookdale  Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust

*

Needless to say, as with all propaganda, inconvenient truths have been elided from the view, and we have instead notions of paradisal punting and extreme millinery rather than the filthy outpourings of riverside ironworks and coke burning furnaces that were actually in the vicinity. (And don’t forget the ear-splitting soundscape of clanging steam hammers and the general clamour of the wharves and boat-building yards).

In fact if you want an image of where man-made global warming began or a metaphor of how some of us prefer to deny responsibility for the damage caused by our industrial excesses, then this painting could well serve the purpose. Beguiling, isn’t it?

Standing on the freshly caparisoned bridge today and looking at a river empty of the the fleets of trading barges that once plied these waters from early monastic times and into the 19th century, the lush hanging woodland of the Severn Gorge all around, it is hard to believe that the Industrial Revolution had its roots here; that the innovations in iron making and casting made by the Darby dynasty and John (Iron Mad) Wilkinson sparked the multiplier effect of technological invention (from the soul-sapping iron-framed textile factories of the north to the transport systems of Stephenson and Brunel) and so on around the world; and that now, after all the excitement and technical derring-do and ingenuity we’re left to contemplate the mess that industrialisation has made of the planet.

However, on a warm afternoon in May, with the little town of Ironbridge quietly hosting the season’s first sightseers, it seems altogether like too much irony (cast, rolled, puddled or wrought). We’ll just enjoy the views then.

IMG_1713

IMG_1714

IMG_1715

copyright 2019 Tish Farrell

Six Word Saturday Pop over to Debbie’s to see her wonderful naked man.

Today Is World Bee Day

IMG_2164

Three days ago the World Wildlife Fund and Buglife published their joint report on the state of British bees in the East of England. Their findings were based on the monitoring work of research institutions across a region whose great range of habitats make it potentially bee-rich territory. Some 228 species were included in the study.

And the conclusions:

• 25 species (11%) threatened

• 17 species (7%) regionally extinct

• 31 species (14%) of conservation concern

And the reasons? Climate change, habitat loss, pollution, disease and agricultural pesticides of the neonicotinoid variety (now banned by the EU). The report gives a county by county list of lost species, the ones most affected being solitary and rare species that occupy very specific wildlife niches: e.g. coastal dunes, heaths, woods, wetlands and brownfield sites such as old quarries and gravel pits. But it is not all bad news. At least that is to say there has been an increase in common food pollinating bee species – possibly a result of the more extensive growing of oil seed rape and efforts by farmers to create field margins to support bee populations.

For anyone interested in bees the report is packed with species specific information and excellent photos, and outlines many practical strategies for re-establishing lost diversity and habitat. In other words WE CAN DO SOMETHING.

Talking of which, my bee photos were taken yesterday morning, the first of the year, and out in the guerrilla garden on the field margin, where I have planted (among other things) verbascum grown from seed a couple of years ago. It is such a stately plant and comes in many colours (common name mullein). Certainly this particular little bumblebee (red-tailed, male?) seemed very excited by the newly opening flowers.

IMG_2163

 

Related: UN World Bee Day

Delicate Distinctions In The Great Rift

Scan-130601-0004

Scan-130601-0003

I mean to say are these my memories caught in decomposing film, the photos taken long ago on the shores of Lake Elmenteita? Or are these scenes simply mirages?

There’s no way to be absolutely sure.

But then I do recall distinct sensations – eyes stinging in the corrosive cocktail of flamingo guano and volcanic soda – a circumstance that could well account for the blurriness of these vistas. The acrid deposits along the water’s edge also made my nose curl and run. And then there was the disorientating honking and grunting of lessers and greaters, so oddly amplified over the shallow lake. That pale pink mist was strange too, as if some unseen hand had released it for theatrical effect. And finally there were the chilly first-light temperatures which ever argued with a determined point of view that equatorial climes could not possibly be so frosty.

Sometimes in Africa it was hard to know which way was up.

IMG_0003

copyright 2019 Tish Farrell

Lens-Artists: Delicate This week Ann-Christine shows us delicacy in many exquisite forms. Please pay her a visit and be inspired.