Or should I say sugar rush. The bees and peacock butterflies were certainly tucking in when I went into the garden at lunch time. The Doronicum is clearly dish of the day.
copyright 2020 Tish Farrell
Sunday afternoon, and the sudden need for fresh horizons spurred us out the door to explore parts of Wenlock Edge we cannot reach on foot from the house. The escarpment, wooded for the most part, is some twenty miles long, and though crisscrossed from end to end with paths and bridleways, we are not committed walkers of the long-distance variety, more amblers than ramblers. The expedition thus required a short car sprint – along the Edge from Much Wenlock and a sharp turn left in Longville-in-the-Dale for Wilderhope Manor. This Tudor mansion sits above Hope Dale, its back to the Edge. It is owned by the National Trust but run by the Youth Hostel Association, and its car park is handy for a number of cross-country paths.
The house was built in the 1580s for one Francis Smallman and it was a Smallman scion, Major Thomas Smallman, who, during the Civil War (1642-51, Charles 1 versus Oliver Cromwell) performed a feat of dashing bravery. He was a staunch Royalist and when he learned that the Roundhead army was approaching Wilderhope he mounted his horse and headed for Shrewsbury, a dozen miles away, to warn the Royalist forces there.
The Roundheads followed, and in a bid to escape them, the Major and horse took a flying leap off Wenlock Edge. Sadly the horse did not survive the 200 foot drop, but by a stroke of luck the Major’s fall was broken by a wild cherry tree (or apple tree depending on which version you read). He thus completed his mission on foot, rousing the Royalist forces who launched an attack at Wilderhope. The Major apparently bequeathed us his ghostly presence, said to be seen by some still plunging over the precipice on horseback. The supposed spot, ‘Major’s Leap’, is now a popular viewpoint.
But enough dawdling. Back to the walk. We had decided to follow a 2 mile stretch of the Jack Mytton Way which itself is a 70-mile foot and cycle path named after another local personality, Mad Jack Mytton, a somewhat surprising association for a facility promoting healthful pursuits. Mytton, born into wealthy Shropshire squirearchy in 1796, died in Southwark debtors’ prison at the age of 37, a drunken, spendthrift, philanderin’, huntin’, roisterin’ rake of the first water who, it is said, claimed to have seen a mermaid in the River Severn. Not following in his footsteps then!
The path from Wilderhope starts off on the farm drive, passing through pasture and a very fine herd of Hereford-Friesian cattle who gave us the once over as we passed.
Then it was across the lane into the wheat field. This (and the header view) is Hope Dale looking from Wenlock Edge with Corve Dale and the Clee Hills in the distance
At the field boundary the path heads into Coats Wood, and the rest of our walk to Roman Bank is under dappled shade: oak, ash, beech, an ancient yew, field maple, holly, birch, lime, rowan, the odd sycamore, and many coppiced hazel trees. The woods that covered all of Wenlock Edge in ancient times were a valuable resource for fuel gathering, timber cutting and stock grazing and, in the Middle Ages every township within a mile of the Edge (most of Saxon origin) had common rights there.
Coppicing is the ancient practice of cutting a tree’s main trunk so encouraging the growth of multiple upright stems. These were used in hurdle making for fencing in farmstock, stakes for hedge laying, for bean poles, basket making, and in early times before forges and furnaces ran on coke, to make charcoal. These days coppicing has been re-introduced in a bid to manage woodland sprawl and encourage the re-establishment of dormouse populations.
It was mid-afternoon by the time we retraced our steps. There was a sense of somnolent wildlife stirring. (All had been silent on the outward meander). Blackbirds were bobbing about in the leaf litter, and overhead we heard ravens cronking. Then as I was surveying an area of coppiced hazel, I found two roe deer looking back at us. They melted away – woodland ghosts. But the fleeting glimpse made us glad we had stirred ourselves to take a trip out, this even though we had managed to miss lunch and were by then very hungry. But even that was catered for. On the Wilderhope Manor drive we found a wild cherry tree hanging in delicious dark fruit, and later I wondered if the National Trust had planted the it as a reminder of Major Smallman’s heroic leap. And next there were apples, astonishingly early, but all the better for being scrumped.
copyright 2020 Tish Farrell
The last day of July and it’s HOT! And rather a shock to the system. For much of the month, the Edge has been cloud-bound with low light and at times even chilly. Every now and then I’ve grown confused and thought it must be September. The wheat in Townsend Meadow is already looking overdone. (So soon!). The vegetable plots seem confused too. Many plants, especially the climbing beans, seem to have gone into a trance – as if they’ve given up before they’ve hardly begun. But then it’s a sign of the times, if not the status quo – confusion.
And at least the potatoes and onions have remained steadfast and productive. There should be tomatoes soon too. August also comes with fresh cultivating possibilities. I’ve been preparing to sow Chinese greens, endives, spinach and Swiss chard for the autumn and winter. Maybe some carrots too – the stubby little Paris Market variety, which can be sown late. And then when the potatoes are harvested it will be time to sow over-wintering green manures: mustard, annual rye and field beans. So the round of soil nurturing continues. It’s all part of a process of extending gratitude for keeping us Farrells, (friends and neighbours too) well nourished. We seem to be keeping the insect world pretty well fed too.
Now for scenes from the gardening fronts. On both sides of our garden fence the yellow helianthus and golden rod are bursting forth among the hot reds, pinks and purples. It’s a gaudy scene, and though I don’t care for the colour of the pink phlox, in the present heat wave it smells wonderful – a sweet warm meadowy scent. Meanwhile up at the allotment, the communal fruit trees are already showing signs of prodigious production, and I’ve brought bundles of very fine onions home to dry:
This photo was taken last weekend, and no, autumn has not come early to Much Wenlock. The leaf litter gathering in drifts along the Linden Walk and the town’s many byways are the papery parts of shed lime tree blossom – the heady, heavenly scent that suffused our atmosphere back in June already forgotten. But hold on now, in the northern hemisphere we still have summer ahead of us; no giving way to the tristesse of ‘Autumn Leaves’, at least not yet. (Note to self: resist posting Yves Montand’s Les Feuilles Mortes until the actual autumn.)
The three little girls in the distance here were part of a multi-family group. They had been having a picnic on the Linden Field, several sets of parents and lots of little kids, dads commandeering the football and tumbling about on the grass with abandon. It was a heartening scene – families at play. Even the swings and slides were back in use after weeks of being wrapped in ugly tape. People having fun and exercise in the fresh air. I’m thinking that Doctor William Penny Brookes, the town’s physician, who back in the 1860s chivvied his chums to help plant these lime trees, would have approved.
Square Perspectives #31 A BIG thank you to Becky for keeping us so well entertained this month. Her own retrospective perspective today is a tour de force .
Today in the Sheinton Street garden we have both sunshine and warmth, elements that have been lacking so far this month. And so amongst the Doronicum we also have a profusion of peacock butterflies, sip-sipping like mad at the tiny compound flowerlets. I watch them as I hang out the washing – the survival imperative played out before our very eyes.
A Novel Perspective?
Well it is rather spectacular, isn’t it – for a potato. The variety is Blue Danube and the spuds when I dig them up will be a deep purply-mauvy colour. I’ve not grown them for a few years, but I seem to remember the skins are quite robust (hopefully resistant to slugs) and that inside, the flesh is very white and dry and so they are great for roasting. Which also makes me think they will be just right for the Greek treatment: the addition of water, olive oil (3 parts water to 1 part oil), lots of lemon juice, seasoning and oregano to the roasting tin and a good hour’s cooking.
Usually the potatoes are ready to harvest when the flowers have died down. I’m thinking I might not be able to wait that long.
This thistly entity is a teasel flower. It is borne aloft a magnificently statuesque plant most often to be found on waste ground. It seeds promiscuously and every part of the plant is prickly. In past times some of those prickles were put to good use. The dried flower heads were split and pinned to a cruciform structure, called a teasel cross or card (a bit like a table tennis bat) and used in the weaving industry to raise the nap on finished cloth.
There are photos and more information HERE.
I’m sorry I can’t tell you what kind of little bumble bee this is; the ID charts defeated me though my best guess is a carder bee. (Which would be appropriate). I anyway like the way its colour scheme ‘goes’ with the teasel’s ashy tones. I also admired the way it picked its way so gingerly through the spiny elements to reach the nectar in the tiny segmented florets.
This scene was captured over the garden fence in the guerrilla garden, where all is presently thriving. Here is a field-side perspective with the teasel bringing up the rear. I transplanted it as a seedling found on an abandoned allotment plot. I might just regret the introduction, but for now it’s looking rather splendid.
Walled Garden, Attingham Park
He who lives my house has a habit of walking into my shots so I have quite a file of Graham-from-behind photos. I rather like this one though, mainly because the truncated wintery view of the walled garden probably wouldn’t have added up to much if he hadn’t stopped for a moment’s contemplation.
Here are some more ‘back’ views come upon during Farrell expeditions around Much Wenlock:
The path from Wenlock Edge behind the house
Field path to Bradley Farm
The lane behind Wenlock Priory
The Linden Walk with passing speed-walker
On Wenlock Edge looking towards Ironbridge Power Station
A ‘now what’s she doing look’ on the old railway line
An intimate botanical perspective.
This morning I took my grumpiness to the allotment in hopes of leaving it there. This plan did not altogether work, though I did have a very lively chat with Phoebe, the allotment’s star maker-and-mender of abandoned plots. At the time she was hauling a grass mower over a rough bank that she’s been busy clearing, and going at it with all the vigour that supposed a new career in all-in wrestling might be appropriate.
She turned off the mower and we talked of how the world used to be, and no longer was. And I said how nice the green chairs were, placed by her under two reclaimed old apple trees; chairs I had donated to the cause last week because I’d inherited them with my polytunnel and never sat on them there, not in four-plus years. They are only plastic, but pleasingly weathered, and now, re-sited, offer new possibilities for sitting in a quiet and shady spot. Phoebe said she’d been eating her sandwiches there.
I told her I was feeling very cross, and had spent a couple of hours simply faffing about. This included scrumping gooseberries on an overgrown plot. I never used to care for them but the fruit on these abandoned bushes is now claret coloured, almost black when fully ripe; sweet enough to eat straight from the stem. I’m thinking of a luscious gooseberry fool or a wine infused jelly.
I also spent some time with the bees and butterflies. All annoyances are forgotten while one watches them. It’s akin to meditation. The bumble bees were literally bathing head-to-toe in the pollen of the musk mallow. This is a wild plant that insists on growing in front of my shed door. I’ve cut it down to the roots once, and transplanted a residual shred of it to a less annoying location where it is now also thriving; but the mother plant has come back with a vengeance. And since it’s such a hit with the bees, it had better stay for now.
A focused perspective – making a bee-line