Today A Piece Of Sky Fell In The Garden

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And here it is:

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…a male Holly Blue butterfly Celastrina argiolus on the sedum. Blue butterflies tend to be very skittish, and as far as I know I’d not seen a Holly Blue before, though they are quite common. This one was also very shy, and after he flitted off to feed on the oregano flowers would only show me his underwings. But still, they are also very pretty – at first sight white, but then a shimmer of iced blue.

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copyright 2021 Tish Farrell

The Changing Seasons: July

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The field of gold behind the house has gone now, the barley cut and baled and hauled away, the ground harrowed. It happened in a few days too – to beat the change in the weather. The sky gods simply snapped their fingers: high summer heatwave off; autumn wind and rain on, plus a 12 degree drop in daytime temperatures. Gone too are the drifts of lime flower scent along the town lanes and by-ways. In fact on Friday the change felt so dramatic I kept thinking I’d lost a month or two and that we were actually in late September. Most disorientating.

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But on the things-to-be-very-pleased-about list, number one is the completion of the greenhouse construction against the cottage back door. He who builds sheds and binds books worked his socks off, first demolishing the plastic conservatory, then being confounded by limestone wall (and how to affix said greenhouse to it.) Next were the bad delivery issues of wrong window fittings, wrong glass and dealing with the installation of a door that should have gone on the other end. This one step forward – two back construction phase was also preceded by devising means to resolve a perennially leaking gutter issue. But he sorted it. Hats off to Dr. Farrell.

And so you might be a tad underwhelmed when you see the final creation. It is so low-key compared with the plastic predecessor whose existence I tried never to record apart from this one photo:

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And so now for the new version – recently rain-tested and presently filling up with my drying onion crop:

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Meanwhile out in the garden the bees aren’t letting the weather affect the feeding imperative. The hollyhock flowers have been a particular favourite, the bees calling in for an all-over pollen wash.

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The oregano flowers are a big hit too:

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Then out in the guerrilla garden, the knautia keeps on flowering and is now providing a hunting ground for a tiny crab spider:

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The latest floral interlopers there (though most welcome) are some lemony evening  primroses:

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The tansy has been taking over too and about to flower:

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Finally some soothing sounds from July on the Linden Walk:

 

The Changing Seasons: July  This month hosted by Brian at Bushboys World. Go see his fabulous gallery of New South Wales flora and fauna.

A Very Big Zambian Baobab

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Zambia is a country blessed with some magnificent trees and miombo woodland that makes for parkland like landscapes. This particular tree is in South Luangwa National Park, one of the world’s wildlife treasure spots. (Do not believe the tales that Africa has no wildlife left. It is absolutely untrue.)

Here is more of the tree that wouldn’t fit in the square. The damage on the lower trunk is probably due to elephants and/or other other grazers:

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South Luangwa - mighty poachers' baobab

Tree Square #30

Vintage Zimbabwe

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Late 1992-3 and we were living in Lusaka, Zambia, Graham on secondment from the Natural Resources Institute in Kent to the European Union Delegation – his job to manage the logistics of food aid deliveries to drought-stricken parts of Zambia.

These were exciting times. As we arrived, long-term presidential incumbent, Kenneth Kaunda (he who had led Northern Rhodesia to independence in 1964) had recently ceded to Frederick Chiluba, the first elected president after the return to multi-party democracy. Which sounds positive, but it also involved the International Monetary Fund structurally adjusting the nation, causing hikes in staple food prices, and stopping free schooling and medical care for the poor so they could become even more hard done by.

Then there were the international corporations who continued not to pay taxes on their exploitation of Zambia’s copper mines. Then Kenneth Kaunda’s army officer son, Rezi, had thoughts of starting a coup and was said to behind much of the criminal activity in the capital, and then over in the neighbouring Congo (or so the story went) President Mobutu had neglected to pay his army thus causing them to come on regular night-raiding missions to the diplomatic quarters of Lusaka.

One could have become very anxious, but actually, none of this was my experience of Lusaka. It always seemed rather sleepy under the wide blue skies of breezy white clouds, the locals ever quick to smile and share a joke.

Anyway by July ‘93, winter in southern Africa, we thought we needed a holiday, and headed south for the then peaceably prosperous neighbour-state of Zimbabwe. We drove on near empty roads all the way to Harare. Back then that city  seemed like a wonderland, the epitome of sophistication compared to Lusaka where the downtown stores had empty shelves and all seemed stuck in a 1950s time-warp.  And after Harare we set off across Zimbabwe – nothing booked ahead – empty roads. The only downside was a gloomy day or two when we were in Hwange National Park and my little camera could not cope with low light levels. Still, it just about managed to capture the elephants under this very large acacia. They turned up while we were eating our picnic lunch.

Photo: Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe.

Tree Square #29

Taking The Back Roads In The Shropshire Hills

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My home county of Shropshire is farming territory and so, with only two main towns (Shrewsbury and Telford), five smaller towns, and very many villages, hamlets and isolated farms, there are far more by-ways than highways. Sometimes the back roads start off well, asphalt sealed and marked on the map, only to deliver you, after much meandering, into a farmyard midden or sheep field. This is a particular feature of the upland tracts of the South Shropshire Hills. Sometimes, too, after you’ve been driving on a narrow lane for several miles, thinking you are well on course, you may find the tarmac sprouting weeds. Sometimes it runs out of asphalt altogether yet clearly progresses as a dirt track that must go somewhere. Other times it may simply devolve to a footpath with retreat the only option.

The top photo shows the great divide between the north and south of the county. In the foreground is a hill lane crossing the Long Mynd. The vista beyond is the North Shropshire Plain which in due course runs into the Cheshire Plain, fertile dairy terrain both. By contrast, the hill country is very much about sheep.

The next location is definitely the haunt of sheep, but also of walkers, day-outing picnickers and school parties studying environmental matters. This is Carding Mill Valley, the largest of several combes that cut into the Long Mynd’s flanks, and thus through some of the world’s oldest geology.  This particular lane may begin looking intentional, but then it simply gives up and becomes a rock strewn defile with trickling streamside accompaniment. Boots not wheels for onward progress.

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Now we have moved on across the Long Mynd, and are looking at its westerly slopes as seen from Shropshire’s most mysterious hill country, the Stiperstones, place of mine shafts and lead workings. One of the Stiperstones’ craggy tops is said to host the Devil and his court whenever the fog descends. Such be-misted gatherings of wicked entities obviously won’t enjoy views like this one.

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These next three views are of and around the Stiperstones: gorse along the lanes in high summer, and heather blooming on the hillsides.

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We’re close to the Welsh border now. Corndon Hill in the background, and the white lane we’ve driven along…

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…which then becomes one of those tracks that still looks to be going somewhere. In fact as we left the car to walk, we were passed by a police patrol car. It sped by us over the hill in a manner that suggested routine activity, doubtless taking the unpaved route into Wales.

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We weren’t going that far, at least not terrestrially, though we were going back in time, following 6,000 year-old footsteps to Mitchell’s Fold, the remains of a Bronze Age stone circle.

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These final photos are closer to homes, the lanes below Wenlock Edge, near Easthope.

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Lens-Artists: along back country roads  Beth at Wandering Dawgs wants us to take to the by-ways.

This Must Be The Stuff Rumpelstiltskin Used

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Well here it is – all set to spin into gold. So now you know. Rumpelstiltskin surely had barley straw.

But before the spinning – this was the barley crop three mornings ago:

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Then in the afternoon, in the baking heat, this happened:

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And the dust flew:

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And now we have this:

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And I can hurdle across the field to the allotment, leaping limping over the straw furrows which are half a metre tall, grabbing a few handfuls as I go – not for gold production unfortunately, but to add to the compost bins. There’s another bonus too. This early harvesting may mean we have the freedom of the field for much longer than we usually do – i.e. before it is ploughed for the next crop. I’m also looking forward to baling, if that’s what happens with barley straw. Lots more photo opportunities if the bales are left in the field long enough to take the camera out.

Grimms’ Fairy Tales: Rumpelstiltskin

A Very Big Baobab

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A Christmas holiday with chums down on the South Mombasa coast, and one very sturdy baobab, Adansonia digitata. It’s a tree with many surprising properties: a drought tolerant soft wood that is also fire resistant. It may also live for up to 3,000 years and grow an astonishing 25 metres in girth. The fibrous bark stores water and provides emergency dry season fodder for elephants and elands. Humans also work the fibre to make ropes, twine for basket making and cloth.

Baobabs are leafless for most of the year, which doubtless gave rise to the many traditional tales of an upside-down tree with its roots in the air (planted by creator, or the devil, or hyenas who are always getting things badly wrong). When they do happen, the leaves are large and finger-like and villagers harvest them as vegetables. In the flowering season the branches hang in fleshy cream flowers that only open at night, smell somewhat foetid and are pollinated by bats and bushbabies. The resulting fruits – large woody capsules – contain seeds that are eaten by wild and domestic grazers alike, while the white, cream of tartar like pulp that surrounds them is a good source of vitamin C and used in juices and beer-making.

One of my best African treasures is a Kenyan kiondo  bag made in the traditional way from baobab fibre. These days the baskets are more commonly woven from sisal cord. Either way you can see how they are made at an earlier post HERE.

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Tree Square #20

Over The Field Not Far Away

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We’ve gone Mediterranean in Wenlock this week with temperatures hitting a surprising 30 degrees C. Here is this morning’s view of Townsend Meadow and the well ripening barley, caught as I was heading for the allotment on a pea and raspberry-picking mission.

I don’t seem to have written much about my allotment garden so far this year, even though it is my essential ‘get-away-from-it-all’ space and somewhere I go to most days. Best of all, it is only five minute walk along the field path from the house, yet it is quite a world of its own where there are now-and-then quiet exchanges with fellow gardeners, or sometimes no one else there at all.

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Anyway now is suddenly the season of concerted picking and consumption (peas, strawberries, new potatoes, cauliflowers, broad beans, beetroot, carrots, lettuce, onions, globe artichokes, Sun Gold tomatoes, courgettes); and also the moment when many crops are shifting gear towards later production mode: French, butter and runner beans, sweet corn, cabbages, parsnips, leeks, purple sprouting. All of which means there is much change in Farrell eating habits (another kind of getting away) as produce dictates meal content. Today, for instance, we had globe artichokes for lunch with garlic butter – and so we might well have been in France. Later we’ll have new potatoes with steamed broad beans, peas, and crispy bacon lardons. There may well be strawberries too.

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This year I’m growing a late variety of runner beans not tried before. Today the blossom was just opening – a lovely shade of pale apricot. It’s aptly named Sunset. IMG_0998

I also have a row of Firestorm growing beside the polytunnel. That bean blossom is also living up to its name:

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Another newcomer on the plot this year: round courgettes (zucchini)…

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And here’s the Sweet Corn being rather Incredible too – a variety not tried before:

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I also have flowers on my plots: some that bring themselves like pot marigolds, purple toadflax, the pale pink musk mallow, and others I have grown from seed e.g. Verbascum Wedding Candles (2nd photo from top)  and detail in the next shot:

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And what with all the flowers, vegetable and otherwise, the place is humming with bees and hover flies. Also this morning in the heat there were scents of strawberry jam (as the fruit began to simmer on the plants) and high octane rose and sweet pea scents as the volatile oils filled the air. I kicked off my gardening clogs and went up and down the grassy paths barefoot, variously harvesting and filling water butts and watering cans, soaking myself in the process. It was blissful. Then I went back through the barley field to he who is still trying to construct a greenhouse, even though the right glass has not yet been delivered. Instead we podded a big bag full of peas and beans. Harvest home!

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Lens-Artists: Getting Away

Bert and Rusha at Oh, the Places We See have posed this week’s challenge.