Rats…

I don’t care for marrows. I find them watery and best suited to, perhaps, cattle food. I am an inveterate Frog, when it comes down to it. I do like courgettes, and while some people consider them as essentially immature marrows which, strictly speaking, I suppose they are, I do not.

That’s because I like courgettes. I also like Magritte:

Magritte's pipe

‘This is not a pipe’, when it clearly is.

Ceci

bum

n’est pas une courge (which is the nearest I could get to a translation of ‘marrow’; I can honestly say I’ve never seen a marrow in France but I may have had a sheltered life). It ******* is.

It’s supposed to be a perfectly normal courgette plant, obtained at the Green Fair’s plant swap earlier in the year. It’s trailed everywhere and produced this swelling beast, revealing itself, I think as the Long Green Trailing variety – I do like accuracy in a plant name, but would have preferred accuracy in the marrow/courgette domain. So now what do I do?

Actually, I know. There’s a class for marrows in the Garden Show (of course there is, nous sommes ici) so I plan on growing it on to a monstrous size. I’m sure there are ancestral marrow-feeding secrets, perhaps preserved in ancient leather-bound tomes and sealed with mighty iron clasps, possibly even guarded by dragons*, which will give me some advice. But on the other hand, I could just ask one of my neighbours. He doesn’t grow marrows any more himself but – villages being what they are – I’m sure he’d be delighted if I challenged the long-standing marrow-growing supremacy of X, Y and Z…

*Or I could just have been watching Game of Thrones too much.

PS: Have just received first tip. Collect dirty wool from sheep fleece – sheep poo gets everywhere, but some areas are more blessed than others - and suspend in bucket of water using old onion bag. Allow to mature. Water with resulting liquid. I’m a spinner, so this would be possible - if I hadn’t just skirted a fleece and put the skanky bits in the brown bin, where they have now been joined by half a ton of grass clippings and a dead rat (thanks, Next Door’s Cat. Again). Seaweed feed instead, methinks.

A birch fruit by any other name… Tree following, July.

I’m just catching up, taking a break from chasing Next Door’s Cat around the garden with a string of shallots (see previous post). Why I’m taking a break from this activity I do not know, given that he gave me a frog this morning. Correction: most of a frog. Ergh. On to something more edifying: my downy birch.

The leaves have almost all lost their freshness, though they seem to regain it in the sun,

leaves and sun

and the sun also reveals the soft slight downiness of the newer twigs. But there’s no denying that the crispness, the startling bright green, has changed.

maturity

It’s a deeper green and the leaves are much less glossy than they were; in Welsh, July is Gorffennaf, which translates as summer’s end.

My birch is still hanging onto what Collins’ Field Guide tells me are its fruit:

fruit

and I decided I’d better investigate them more thoroughly before they all fell off. They’re not ripe yet, but they are definitely heading that way:

downy birch fruitThe scales come off quite easily, and the seed cases inside are getting quite dry. It won’t be long before the ‘cones’ (I suppose I could call them that, though I doubt that it’s technically correct) dry out and release the seeds… Gorffennaf indeed.

So what of the bark, which was still looking orangey-brown and tawny at the start of my tree watching? The newer twigs and the branches are still very orange – burnt orange, really. So is the trunk, from about a metre up. Below that, though, it is definitely beginning to turn more silvery:

birch trunk

A little difficult to see both in this shot, but take it from me: it’s going silvery.

The meadow around the birch is – or should be – at its height. In some ways it still is, but it is far from being physically at its height (usually about as tall as I am, in parts), given that it also doubles as a dog’s playground / dog bed on occasion. There is still a lot of Bird’s Foot Trefoil; the St John’s Wort is flowering and almost all the grasses are shedding seed.

There’s a fair bit of wildlife too; butterflies fluttering by, insects crawling up the grass stems, a couple of crickets shouting at each other. Makes a change from frog-catching felines - though the FCF seems to be nervous in the meadow and waits for me outside it, rather than trailing after me along the mown paths. Wish the same could be said of the dog. However, even the most determined collie pup (and she is) has managed to avoid breaking down all the Hogweed.

hogweed opening

This is coming along nicely, and I do love it. It’s almost triffid-like as it grows, sharing alien qualities with the Angelica gigas which I grew a couple of years ago. Not surprising, really; the coarser members of the carrot family all have this tendency, I think. Again, I should be careful what I wish for: once, I dreamed of more umbellifers. Now, I’ve got them. Only in the garden, in the form of wild carrot, and not in the meadow. Oh well.

Wonder if the leaves will be turning for the next post? There’s been some tweeting about how autumn seems to be early this year; I’m not so sure. But we will see…

Why do I bother? Hm???

I’ve often had compliments on the long plaits of shallots that hang in my kitchen for half the year. People have asked me how to do it, but It’s difficult to explain. Nobody taught me, you see. I just did it. I think it must have been some sort of atavistic race-memory due to a Breton heritage and the long history of the Johnny Onions (not that I grow onions) who came over to the UK on their bikes, laden with plaits of onions.

I’ve wondered in the past about maybe doing a ‘how to’ post… I shshallots, posingould have known better.

Lovely sunny evening yesterday – lovely sunny day, in fact, except I was away. Put shallots out to bask in sun on return. Shallots been curing for some days now, on and off, dodging rain showers. Looked over shallots, realised stalks drying out nicely, just about ready for plaiting.

Did first string, always a bit fiddly and untidy as body memory takes a bit of time to return. Worked fine; not forgotten how after all.

Then had an ‘aha’ moment re finally getting round to doing tutorial post. Good idea. In theory.

Went and got camera, took shot of ready and waiting scene. Selected first three fat shallots, got strong stalks, quite long stalks too, vital. Set up first shot. Angle of sun not the easiest but hey. Cross three over each other…

shallot prep

Not sure that’s right. Rearrange shallots.

Unfortunately neglected to notice precariously balanced trug, despite having photographed it earlier for potential set-up shot:

Ok...

which then falls to ground with strange noise. Inadvertently jump back, stand in trug, fall over. Swear mightily. Rearrange self, trug, shallots. Where camera? Camera under bench. Retrieve camera. Camera OK.

Set up next shot, where you bend the one in the middle over the one on the left:

shallot plaitingHm.

Hang on, that’s wrong, should be the one on the right which goes over. Should it? Rearrange shallots. No, that was fine. Reaarange shallots. Next shallots due to be used fall down gap between planks of bench. Hold plait in place with camera, retrieve shallots from grass. Camera weight not enough, rearrange shallots…

I do know how to do this, honest. Decide to do another practice string, sans camera. This works, so decide to take shot showing back of plait:

string

Hold string up to do so. Unfortunately noise has – unbeknownst to me, because I was concentrating on thinking consciously about something I can do quite well unconsciously - attracted Next Door’s Cat.

Cat leaps on table, bats dangling shallot string with mighty paw. Have clearly made edible cat toy. Swing string away from cat, cat follows, try and biff cat with shallots, trug falls off bench again, step into the ********* trug again, fall over. Swear even more mightily, with added shouting. Cat runs off.

Abandon all hope of producing online tutorial on ancient Breton art of plaiting onions and related doo-dahs. Just do the rest, no camera, they’re fine.

shallots in kitchen

Years ago, when I was a stand-up, I used to despise slapstick. I evidently missed my way. Again.

Incidentally, when typing this up, the WordPress spellchecker kept changing ‘trug’ to ‘drug’. If only.

 

Hot Hot Hot Hot

Actually, today isn’t that hot, but it has been. And the good weather is coming back – oh yes it is – and may even get better: Derek, Wales’s Weather God, has been tweeting about a potential heatwave. But for now I am consoling myself with the thought that at least the water butts are full again.

The plants, on the other hand, are hot. Hot hot hot:

Dahlia Procyon

so hot you can almost warm your hands on them, or at least this Dahlia is. It’s Procyon, and isn’t at all bad considering that it cost me 75p in Wilkinsons. When I spend, I spend.

The bottom bed, which I intend to be a hot bed – well, warm shading to hot – is beginning to work it.

beauty

There’s still a lot of bare ground, but it is only the second year, and we did shift a lot of things round last autumn and again in the spring, so they’re sulking. But the Crocosmia Lucifer isn’t, and neither are the Heleniums. Those are bunching up beautifully, and I have the makings of a good clump of Moerheim Beauty (in the foreground). I’d intended to move the Agapanthus (Agapanthi?), but they’re staying put. All this heat needs some cool blue.

I aimed to fill up the edge with some marigolds. Last year I had some big African marigolds which went on for ages and were quite tall; this year I got some French ones for the front. I’m thrilled by how variable they are, and how delicious:

marigold

I love the way that the paler orange underside to the petals almost seems to outline the darker fronts on this one, and on this:

zap

and then there’s the girly frilliness of this one,

marigold 2

and the form of this one:

marigold 3

I’ve always been a bit sneery about French marigolds before, but never again. And I’ll be growing them next year, maybe in a more prominent place and in greater numbers. I’d better get some seed in. They are, for interest, simply described as ‘Durango Mixed’, and I’ll say they are mixed. Wilkinson’s, again, possibly at the same time that I splashed out my 75p on the Dahlia.

From an all together higher class of supplier (*adopts lofty tone and sticks nose in air*), come these lilies:

Hiawatha lilies

They are Hiawatha from Peter Nyssen last year, and though they’re only short this year, they will get bigger. They’re not in the hot bed, but are giving extra warmth to my middle bed, where they go brilliantly with the Monarda (a sulkee – but a survivor – of the Spring Move).

I have a love affair of long standing, but it’s with a bit of rough. Oh, all right – it’s red geraniums.

geranium

I’ve got to have them, and this year I put pots and pots of them along the kitchen path, the path from the road to the door that everyone uses (front doors are largely ornamental, of course; for a long time mine wouldn’t even open). The path is in shade for much of the day; not only is it cut down into the slope of the ground, it also has the house on one side and a retaining wall topped with a rose hedge on the other. I thought the red geraniums would warm it up a little, which they do. They’re also quite protected here (by the standards of my garden, that is), and don’t suffer too much damage in the rain. But boy, do I need my water butts to be full. Every year I swear there won’t be so many pots, and every year there are… and they even increase. Sigh.

Finally, there’s the other interpretation of ‘hot’, of course:

ta dah

This is another of the 75p dahlias. It’s Tsuki Nori No Shisha and on reflection it might have been £1.00. Not bad, especially considering that the flower is bigger than a saucer, and that it gives the middle bed a real zap.

(It also hides earwigs, but to quote Some Like It Hot - and I evidently do - ‘nobody’s perfect’.)

Morning sun in the garden

After my last post – on enjoying the evening sun and appreciating the garden rather than working in it like a maniac – Pauline from Lead up the Garden Path (hi Pauline) said that she did most of her photography in the mornings. Her shots are lovely, and even though I don’t have her motivation – midge avoidance – I thought I’d give it a go. So out I went, before even having a cup of tea.

The house faces west, and the garden runs round it on the east, south and west sides; the north side (phew) is on the lane running up the hill. Because the hills/mountains/whatever – the Rhinogs, anyway, and the other hills running between the interior and the coast – are to the east of me it takes time for the sun to get high enough to shine into the garden. The first areas in direct sunlight (7.30 today, seven thirty, and that’s at midsummer) are parts of the meadow and the veg patch. Of late I’ve been rather ignoring the veg here, but let me celebrate the golden mangetout,

mangetout

beautifully lit by the morning sun, which has flowers as pretty as any (almost any) sweet pea. Plus the mangetout – which are pale yellow rather than golden – are delicious; none have made it into the kitchen so far because they make an ideal wandering-around-the-garden snackette.

In the meadow the early sun picks out things which merge into the background later on. Some of the self-heal is enormous, for instance, and until this morning I’d not really noticed that. The ox-eye daisies I can’t miss but they seem to welcome the morning sun, unfolding as they do so:

daisies

One effect of the very focused angle of light at this hour is that backgrounds can be very dark. This really makes some things stand out, like the Verbascum chiaxii album, which is much better this year than last:

Vca

What a great plant that is. Must get more, different varieties…

By this point I was in desperate need of tea and toast, so I retreated inside and let the sun rise higher up. Another hour, and it had cleared the tree tops as well as the hills and the houses above me, and started lighting up the middle garden. And my unfortunately deep pink bench (‘damson’, my arrrse), which I still haven’t got round to repainting. Ho hum. Turn away from the bench, and there’s this:

cineraria

Some overgrown cineraria plants which I meant to pull out and didn’t quite get round to removing. OK, they are over a metre tall; OK, I didn’t plan for this colour – but I like it.

In the bottom garden more plants spring into prominence, and another which shouldn’t be flowering where it is currently flowering is this sidalacea. I dug it up and moved it. Oh yes I did. It’s flourishing in its new home. But I think I missed a bit, as the morning sun clearly highlighted:

sidling sidalacea

It’s hiding behind the ginkgo. Hello, plant…

and hello other things I’d missed. I am, for instance, going to be harvesting my first artichoke,

hee hee

…um, providing nothing else harvests it before I do, that is. This is the one veg which has found its way into a flower bed, for the simple reason that it’s a perennial and looks good there. But I love artichokes and they’re not that easy to get hold of round here. By my rules – grow things which are either expensive to buy, difficult to find or which taste much better straight from the soil – I ought to have more of these. But where could I put them? Hmm.

The grasses are doing well, and the Pennisetum rubra is flowering away – I’d forgotten how cute it is, like furry red rabbit tails. Hm, not very much like rabbit tails, but hey.

P. rubra

If I hadn’t gone prospecting into the garden at this hour, I’d never have managed to get the sun behind one of my red rabbit tails. (I keep almost mis-spelling that as ‘tales’ – Red Rabbit Tales, perhaps a Soviet translation of Little Grey Rabbit?)

Clearly time for more tea, but before anything else I had to get the tape measure out.

I grow good foxgloves. That’s not boasting; it’s a statement of fact – they like it round here and flourish all over the place with no encouragement at all from me, nor any exercise of skill (controlling the ******s is where the skill comes in). So I thought I’d add a bit of alternative colour and grew some white ones from seed. Wasn’t sure they’d flower this year, but they have.

AGH!

Yerrsss, as Jeremy Paxman would say. That’s a roof. Well, it’s a bargeboard. It’s the side of the chapel store at the bottom of my garden, and it’s quite a bit taller than I am, even at this point in the slope. The foxglove is over 2 metres tall, plus it has a kink in it where it got stuck under the bargeboard and decided to grow sideways.

I think it’s something to do with midsummer – well, it is Midsummer Eve and foxgloves are a ‘fairy plant’ in the folk tradition. Maybe druids are involved. I’m surrounded by neolithic monuments, too - perhaps the foxglove is trying to see Ynys Enlli on the horizon, over the roofline (quite a few local megalithic monuments are lined up on that).

So happy solstice from the servant of the Mighty Foxglove – best to keep the Fair Folk happy, especially as the foxglove of fate is still growing - and a happy summer to us all!

Evening sun in the garden

We’ve had a lovely few days, doubtless caused by me having a friend to stay – well, she assured me that it was down to her, and I’m going with that. It’s been gorgeous; my water butts are empty but nothing’s fallen over yet: that perfect point, when a spot of rain would do the trick and I’m not worrying about the cost of using metered mains water – yet. Plus I’ve washed everything in sight, up to and including half a ton of wool, and almost everything that has to be planted has been planted. The broad beans are ready for harvesting, but it’s not reached the insane stage there either. Perfection, really.

I turned round after I’d put the tools away last night (left them scattered all over when work and a garden club committee meeting interrupted) and realised that I can just enjoy the garden…

path

the evening light,

fern

which always seems to emphasise certain colours, making deep ones even more saturated,

light

working its magic on colour combinations.

wowser

I’m almost used to this valerian/geranium combo, as it’s just outside the front door, but I’d not spotted the euphorbia being quite so striking against the Acer, even though it was no longer in the direct sun – down to light direction and intensity, I guess:

contrast

Yes, I know the fennel is a bit feeble. I abuse it on a regular basis but it doesn’t seem to make much difference.

And the osteospermums – which will need thinning this year if they’re not going to take over – were still open at 9pm. OK, the sun leaves that bed last, but still. Amazing. Midsummer. Almost.

osteo

Sometimes I need reminding that I need to enjoy the garden as well as weed it, coddle it, shout at it, dig holes in it and chase Next Door’s Cat around it. And now I must dig some spuds. Oh well…

A tree in the (Welsh) jungle – tree following, June

When I chose my tree to follow for Loose and Leafy‘s tree-following meme, I believed I’d thought it through. I knew the smallest of my three birch trees wasn’t going to be covered in blossom or bear useful fruit, but I also knew I tended to overlook it and wanted to take a closer look.

I’ve spotted all sorts of things, like the birch flowers, which I’d not seen before – and how about these?

birch fruitThese are the fruit. I don’t recall ever having noticed birch fruit before…

Their appearance drove me to all my tree reference books, and I think I’m coming to the conclusion that what I have here isn’t the paper birch the Library thought they were giving away, but a downy birch. I need it to be back in early spring so I can compare and contrast the appearance of the newest twigs. This tree does have fuzzy twigs, but are they fuzzier than the two undoubted silver birches I also have?

If it is the downy birch, though, that would explain why it is taking much longer that the others to develop a pale trunk. For a while, earlier, I thought I detected a change, and I do think it is changing – but most of the trunk is still resolutely tawny. Or perhaps that should be orange,

branch and trunk

though it is fading to an orangey-silvery-greyish sort of faded colour at the base. Downy birches apparently take longer to change. I also need to do some more leaf comparisons – they’re definitely not the same – and watch autumn colour. Downy birches have browner autumn colour than silver birches… and can I remember? No, I cannot. However, as one website (Trees for Life, who are trying to restore the Caledonian Forest to glory) says: ‘intermediate forms exist between the two species, with various combinations of these characteristics, and this can make the identification of individual trees difficult.’ Rats.

So much for that. What I didn’t take a closer look at, when selecting my Dubious Birch for stardom, was the situation it was in. Especially after I decided not to mow one of the paths that ran nearby because it was too close to some fritillaries and people kept treading on them.

tree in meadow

(Note the colour of the sea in the background; I feel I have to point that out, just to illustrate the fact that it doesn’t always rain in Wales. Er. Today I can barely see the roof of the Capel.)

When I started sneaking up on the birch, path or no path, to grab quick close-up shots of intimate things like flowers, it was in amongst daffs and primroses. I failed to consider that as the tree grew and developed, the meadow would also grow up and develop, and so would the ex-path. Getting close to the tree now in anything other than dry weather (hah!) means becoming soaked from the waist down by wet meadow.

So I thought I’d take a look at the plants and flowers around the birch, with pride of place reserved for the Heath Spotted Orchids, which appear on the meadow edge. This year I have… TWO. Last year, I had one, and – looking back at the photos – it was much paler. Next year, three?

heath spotted orchid

So here is some of the life around my birch, some of which is almost over – today’s weather should see off the last of the plantain and buttercups and may destroy the fritillary seed heads – and some of which is up and coming, like the hawkweeds and the trefoil and the grasses. I know this isn’t exactly ‘tree following’ in the purest sense, but I’m taking a holistic, environmental, view. And there’s also the fact that if I want to tree follow in a literal sense today – and I couldn’t at the weekend, because of commitments – I will need the sort of gear deep-sea divers wear. Or a swimsuit, and I’m not going out there in me pants. It’s cold.

Click on any one for a slideshow…