Category Archives: Summer

Meadow watch, end of June

I cannot believe how much the meadow changes in one quick month.

Mind you, it’s been an insane month in terms of weather. Insane. The temperature has varied from over 30 degrees one morning, to under half of that the next. The nights were either impossibly hot or you needed a blanket. The garden wasn’t struck on the variation, and neither was I (though at least I could access that blanket).

The wildflowers – and escapes – in the meadow have coped a lot better than I have, though. A Verbascum chiaxii album has suddenly appeared up near the bonfire site, which was surprising,

but then there are all sorts of things up here which are not supposed to be around – more Japanese bloody anemones, for instance. Sigh. And I certainly didn’t plant the feverfew which is all around the base of one of the ashes, either.

Or the campions.

At the beginning of the month I decided that the ox-eye daisies which I’d spent years hoping would appear – and which did appear, splendidly, in the last couple of years – had vanished. But they were just being shy, and they’ve been lovely.

So the meadow is coping. The veg patch seems to be hanging on in there too, though I’m not so sure about the people who work in it. Tea helps.

And the pollen, oh, the pollen. People like P., who has never had hay fever in his life, have been suffering. My asthma has been the worst for years, and set off my ear and balance problems. ARGH – here’s hoping that July is a bit more stable. And that I am, too. Please…

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Still growing – and still here!

Oh dear, so much time has passed since I promised myself I would blog more frequently and get back on track. All I’ve managed to do is feel guilty that I wasn’t doing either.

So while I am still stupidly busy I’ve decided to do some brief posts, and maybe the occasional meadow watch thing, rather than try and put together something long and researched and detailed at the same time as trying to edit books, write books and produce stuff for a makers’ pop-up shop over the summer.

Welcome to meadow watch for the start of June!

It’s astonishing how quickly the meadow goes from being a tapestry of primroses and daffodils to a tapestry of plantain spikes and dying-back daffodil leaves to a proper meadow, with different grasses and buttercups,

escapees from other parts of the garden which like it up here,

insane surprises,

and soon the effect of cutting paths is at its most pleasing,

and then it warms up, and the old bench at the back is a perfect place to sit with a cup of tea / glass of chilled fino / manuscript for marking up. And then it rains…

Back soon – promise!

 

Season of mellow whatsits

Fruitfulness, I think. Fruitfulness at flipping last – or fruitfulness which has been either overwhelming (rare: artichokes – so theatrical, and the abundance is why they are now feeding bees instead of me),

theatrical

or surprising (pears). And fruitfulness on the work front too, which is why I’ve been a bad blogger. Anyway, back to the garden.

I have an ancient pear tree; gnarled and twisted, it generally doesn’t produce much in the way of fruit but it is a gorgeous shape and has such presence in the bottom garden that removing it would leave a huge gap. It also likes to hide what pears it does produce, generally about four, sometimes as many as seven, until they either rot and fall off or are pecked off by birds. Each year we have a pear hunt (though I have finally been dissuaded from dancing down the garden singing ‘we’re going on a pear hunt’ after a certain children’s book). This year I was altered to the fact that there were pears ready by one which bounced lightly off my head as I hoed the bed beneath part of the tree.

And this year we didn’t need to hunt that much…

wowzer

One year the tree went mad and produced 44. This year we have reached the giddy heights of 57, only a few of which were damaged. They’re cookers, and I’ve already made my first batch of compote.

And I have squashes. They’re not enormous (yet),

uchi kuri squash

but they’re getting there, and there is some way to go in terms of time. I was recommended this variety – uchi kuri – by a fellow addict as one which does well round here, and I shall certainly be growing it again. Though the mildew on the plants is now something else.

The obsession with food today even got itself transferred to the flowers. As he was going out P stopped to smell one of the huge pots of lilies (mind you, you don’t really need to stop; you can probably smell them in the village when the wind is in the right direction). Oh look, he says, it’s like the chocolate on a cappuccino…

lily choc

And it is.

It’s feeling quite autumnal now. It’s chilly in the mornings and some of the local chestnuts have started to turn. My Rosa rugosa hedges are full of big fat juicy hips,

rugosa hips

though the same cannot be said for my allegedly autumn-fruiting raspberry canes. Am going out to speak to them roughly.

(And for anyone wondering how the open garden went, it went brilliantly. The weather started iffy but by the time I opened it was so sunny that everyone congregated in the shadowed part of the garden once they’d had a good nose look round. Needless to say I was so busy that I forgot to take any pics. The plant which garnered the most enquiries was this penstemon, Raven.

raven

It was looking good. Now, of course, it’s reduced to a couple of sticks, but hey ho. And I was glad it wasn’t a month later as the heleniums looked decent; now they look terrible. And slugs and snails have eaten all the dahlias bar one in the bottom garden. They are four-star bastards this year. We even found one way up in the pear tree. But for the vital day, everything looked perfect.)

Summer summary

What a summer – not that the weather’s been spectacular, because it hasn’t, but because I’ve been very busy indeed. When you freelance, you’re used to being busy in the summer because in-house publishers and journalists go on holiday like anyone else, and work doesn’t stop. Now I’m much better (thanks to intensive physio), I’m back working like a loony during summer. It pays for the Maxicrop, that’s what I say.

But all this means the garden has been somewhat neglected. I’ve tried to make sure I got out there for an hour a day, just to try and stay on top of the weeding as well as keeping sane, but It’s not always possible. So It’s great to have whole areas which look after themselves, like the meadow:

meadow July

which has been very good indeed this year. It will soon be time to mow it – mow it, what am I saying? Strim it. Using a big strimmer and a big strong man (flattery will get you everywhere). But the tendency to be about three weeks later than normal this year is still the case – usually by now everything has set seed, but I still have some meadow flowers in bloom.

One of my highlights this year has been the ‘random seed’ bed. Last year it was a little disappointing, and this year I thought I was in for the same – and then I realised that even disappointing plants self-seed:

seeded

and it’s been lovely.

The nigellas have come up in two marked clumps, white and pale blue, and I have tried to perpetuate this when scattering seed as the heads ripen – but I’m sure I won’t have managed it. One thing this has taught me, big time, is the value of autumn sowing – so give it a couple more weeks, and I’ll be out there with my seed packets. The things which I sowed in seed trays in the spring have just not cut the mustard. Some of them – cosmos, are you listening? – have still to flower.

I’ve added some new plants, though I have been quite restrained… this is my Salvia Amistad (I do like to keep up with trends, even if I’m a couple of years late):

Salvia amistad

and my penstemons have been consistently good:

penstemon

This one is a mystery, and if anyone knows what it is, I wouldn’t mind knowing too. At least I wrote it down this time; the only problem is that I’ve written ‘mystery penstemon’. That, Kate, is not the point of keeping records. Must remember this.

On the veg front – meh. Some things have been good – I’m regularly picking a kilo of beans at a time, and I actually reduced the number of plants this year – and some things have been terrible. (Courgettes. Again. Thought I’d cracked it. Wrong.) The spuds have not been good but I do seem to be setting a good number of squashes. My artichokes have also finally been in full production, and one of them won the ‘any other veg’ class at the village show:

artichoke

And, and, and I have finally managed to grow aubergines – or perhaps that should be ‘I have finally managed to grow aubergines without having the whole greenhouse infested with white fly’. That’s thanks to Green Gardener and their Encarsia, which I strongly recommend (and which I bought and have not been paid to push – used it before; this time it really, really worked). Evidently, because I have this

aubergine vincent

instead of a load of plants in the compost bin.

On the fruit front, a lot of apples are dropping but my new pear tree looks promising. Unlike the plum, which is coming out. Not in the sense of revealing to all that it’s a gay plum, but in the sense of being dug up and put on the bonfire. Terrible infestation of plum mites and though it’s laden with fruit now, they are manky and nasty inside. Plus, it’s wasp central. Who cares when you can have Japanese wineberries instead?

Japanese wineberries

Ok, there aren’t enough for a crumble, but who’d want to eat them any other way than off the bush, warmed by the sun? Not moi…

The wildlife has been much in evidence, and that includes Next Door’s Cat who has been a fairly constant companion, at least until feeding time when he vanishes completely, or until I trip over him for the sixth time. It’s also been a great year for the spider population:

spider web

though I realise not everyone will consider this a good thing, and I’ve even heard plenty of crickets which is amazing given the weather.

cricket

But personally I could live without the dead rat that NDC gave me last week. Nice. That’s what your real owners are for, Fluffybum.

Hopefully the arrival of autumn heralds a rather more organised and less frantic pace, and I’ll be able to blog more regularly. I haven’t even been taking lots of photographs – a real indicator of just how busy I’ve been. Right, let’s break out the camera!

Belated tree (and path) following – August 2015

I did it, I did it, I got up the hill and followed my hawthorn (er, that makes it sound like an ent, and me rather like either Pippin or Merry trailing after Treebeard). It is beautifully in leaf, even if it isn’t ripping apart any rogue wizard’s tower. I’m not quite clear about damage its roots may have done to the dolmen next to it, but that’s been there for probably well over 4,000 years and I don’t think it’s going anywhere soon, ancient tree or no ancient tree.

hawthorn

And I did manage to spend some time looking at the tree more closely, without interruption from sheep, mountain goats, tourists asking what I’m doing, the farmer asking what I’m doing, or any attention from cows, which is something of a result. For me, anyway; not sure how the hawthorn felt. But I am too late for Loose and Leafy‘s ‘tree following’ box for this meme, or am I? Hey ho!

The seaward side of the hawthorn is quite notably damaged by the bizarre weather we’ve had this year. Even the new growth looks mangled – we’ve had storms worthy of September, and there is absolutely nothing between the tree and the winds from the sea. Here’s a new shoot on the seaward side, followed by an equivalent on the landward side:

(just click on any of these paired images for the full view). The one is all crumpled and brown and dry and papery and shrivelled, and the other is not. The one on the protected side – note the dolmen in the background – has a little bit of browning at the tips of the leaves, but that’s all. The same applies to the haws:

There’s quite a difference. Of course it’s predictable, but I was still interested to see how marked it is.

But we are dealing with an ancient tree here, and one in a highly exposed position. The damage, it has just occurred to me, is the tree profile shaping itself in action, as it were – growth on the landward side, increased vulnerability and damage on the seaward side. The damage can be quite something on the tree as a whole, too – it’s in the path of the Irish Sea gales and we have had some whoppers recently, including the 120mph gusts of the winter before last. So it’s not surprising that things like this have happened:

IMG_3346

But how about all this new growth? Most impressive.

And then there’s damage just casused by age and sheep attention and things that bore into wood already weakened by storms,

and which inevitably results in an extremely old dolmen-guarding tree which does sometimes appear to be more out of a fantasy novel than reality:

damage

But I can’t ignore the landscape of which the tree is part, even without tourists, sheep, goats, cows, passing farmers who all think I’m mad anyway. And on the fantasy-novel theme, to quote Tolkien ‘the road goes ever on and on / down from the door where it began’:

roadwayThe single-track road that passes the hawthorn and the dolmen runs down to Llety Lloegr, the ‘England shelter’, where it goes over an old stone bridge, Pont Fadog. It was a spur of the main drove road to the markets in England; now it peters out into a footpath, part of which is running over the hill in the middle distance.

That’s a track which branches off; it used to lead directly south and down to the Mawddach estuary, passing the manganese workings which were part of the economy of the area in the past. It still does, but now it’s the start of the southern section of  the Taith Ardudwy, or Ardudwy Way, and is clearly signposted – if you click on the link and then follow the links to the central and southern sections, you’ll see just where I am – or that should be where I am when I get fed up and need a breather. Sometimes I’ve thrown all my bits of paper into the air, packed a lunch and walked up there before going back and working in the afternoon.

Now there’s a thought!

The downward slope – tree following, August.

Yes, my little downy birch was looking a bit tired at the start of last month; yes, the signs were clear that the year was turning. I’m not sure that I’d expected much more than that when I went out to take some shots for this month, but it’s definitely changing faster than I anticipated.

starting to change

We have had a great summer this year, and hopefully will continue to have one, even if it is now more temperamental than it was. This could be partly responsible for the early change in colour, of course – it has been quite dry – though I must be honest here and say that I have no idea if similar changes had begun by this time in previous years. I would never have noticed the insidious approach of autumn if I’d not been doing this meme – thank you, loose and leafy, for starting the whole thing. I would have passed by the tree, doing something else, and only really thought about it turning colour when it became much more obvious.

But I’m not the only one who has noticed. Various things have been taking advantage, snacking their way through the leaves and causing damage which I’ve not noticed earlier. In fact these are the first signs I’ve seen of any damage whatsoever:

chew toy

I’m not sure what has caused them, but probably not this birch shield bug, which I caught resting and pretending it wasn’t there (I’ve had to take the photos over a couple of days, hence the changing light – partly the demands of work; partly the demands of the weather, which has been distinctly changeable).

birch shield bug

You can also see, quite clearly, the fuzziness of the smaller branches – and the turning tips of the leaves.

And what, I wonder, has been doing this?

mystery trail

I did pull the leaf apart, looking for an answer, but answer (or bug) came there none. Any suggestions?

It’s interesting, too, how much clearer the pores on the leaves are. Again, something I’d not noticed before.

going, going

I’ve decided to try and keep a close watch on a few particular leaves, and I’ve marked them with wool (well, I am a spinner and knitter; I’ve plenty to hand. Too much, some would say, but some can – um, go away and do something else). This is one; I’m wondering if it will be reduced to a skeleton by next month. It’s probably more likely to be ripped off the branch by the gales we are currently experiencing, but I can try.

And the meadow around the tree is looking rather flat and autumnal, too.

meadow grass

I can’t blame the Hell Hound of Harlech for the seasonality, but I can blame her for the flatness, the random paths and the occasional turd (@!&xHG%%ew6!!!). From now on, following an unfortunate incident with a developing squash, she is banned. Hm… back to the tree, as yet unchewed by puppy teeth. That bark is definitely paler than it was at the start of the year. I don’t think it’s down to seasonality, and I can’t blame the dog, so I am forced to conclude that it is indeed finally changing colour and becoming a grown-up downy birch.

In the face of all this autumnal change, there are signs that the seeds of next year are being laid down. The foxgloves are shedding potential everywhere,

foxglove seed head

and on the birch there are catkins forming for next spring, again looking just like the downy birch illustrations in my Tree Guide. They are very small and awkward to photograph; I’ve just been out with a tape and the longest one was 150ml x 4ml at the widest point…

and for next year…

but they are there, and not just in one or two places; the tree is covered in them.

The almost-ripe female catkins are much larger, at 200-250ml x 75ml. They haven’t yet begun to shed the papery seeds I discovered last month when I cut one open; maybe that will be something for September. In the meanwhile, the tiny new ones are a sign that everything goes round and round. The leaves may be disintegrating, the meadow may be flat and tired and full of things literally setting seed, but the seeds are also being set metaphorically for next spring.

In a minute I’ll be speculating about what sort of winter we can look forward to, so I think I’d better leave it at that – it is still August, after all: it’s still relatively warm, there are still leaves on the trees, and the roads are full of mobile homes whose drivers are scared of stone walls and think passing places are for parking in. Oh, joy.

The year turns… end of the month view, July

I’ve been very bogged down with work, but there’s a small hiatus due to a disappearing author (I’m sure he’s fine, he’s just gone quiet) – perfect timing for an EOMV post. Not perfect weather, though – overcast with a hintette of drizzle.

July’s been splendid here – even been swimming in the sea – and just when the waterbutts ran dry again, it rained. And at night. But it’s a bit more chancy now – well, Gorffenaf indeed. (Gorffenaf – July – translates as ‘summer’s end’). The Rosa rugosa hedges are laden with hips, and the meadow is beginning to look rather tired:

tired meadow

I think the Big September Strim is more likely to happen in August. Most things have set seed and if there are any complaints whatsoever about the fact that it’s lying rather flat, I shall point to the fact that it’s not been so much a meadow this year as a dog’s playground. She’ll be older next year. Or staked down.

The fruit trees look promising, all except for the eirin bach – the little local wild plum; one’s in the foreground here. This one looks as though it’s got mildew – I had to uproot the nearby mangetout more quickly than I hoped; they were dreadfully affected and it may well have spread – and the other has had plum leaf gall mite something rotten. Out?

Moving down from the meadow,

salvia BA

I have been very pleased with my containers this year. Mind you, I have been all round the garden with the three huge urns filled with Salvia Blue Angel (plus Geranium sidoides and, in one case and totally accidentally, a bright yellow nasturtium). It’s a difficult plant to place, but when I suddenly realised how yellow the middle garden was this year, I knew I’d found the right spot. Ignore the erigeron in the background and look at it with the senecio. So glad I didn’t cut the flower heads off the latter!

The middle garden is going to be changed (again). Here it is, complete with big pink bench of doom.

middle garden

That middle bed – packed with tulips in spring and a sundial and some black cow parsley, and now some dill and not much else – is too small; it has to change (the bench is approx 1.8m / 6ft long, to give an idea of scale). Spent ages working out where the washing line goes, where the biggest clumps of snowdrops are, where the deepest shade falls – and completely forgot to consider the fact that the garden slopes, so there’s only one area for the BPBOD. Redrew plans. Plans not right. Accused of adding shaping for shaping’s sake. Quite right. Plans redrawn. Laid out rough outline with P using canes (I know). Canes danced on by dog.

The upshot is that the middle thing will become part of a new bed which will essentially stretch away at about 10 o’clock (towards that shadow), if you see what I mean. It will expand a bit bench-wards, but not that much because there just isn’t enough flat ground anywhere else. But I need more room for plants and this garden isn’t matching the rest now: it’s too functional, I guess. Washing-line space. Barbecue space. Sitting on the BPBOD and drinking tea space. Not garden space.

Mind you, there are some parts of it I love, like the stipa and the dill and this:

love these

plus the snowdrops are very, very prolific – and spreading. I just need to remember where most of them are. Oh, and avoid the roots of the ash, of course. Most of them. The bigger ones. If possible.

Looking down from the top garden, I’m particularly fond of the evening view towards the sea,

path and capel

(especially with the way the sun highlights the down pipe, ho ho). The Stipa has been fabulous and is just beginning to keel over, though that might be partly down to canine activity, and I wish I’d grown much more dill – foreground, left – and planted a bigger clump. Next year I’ll do that.

I also like the way you move down this path and are immediately confronted with the middle bed in the bottom garden, my spiky special – it’s very tall and full of things like Cirsium and Verbena bonarensis and Verbascum chiaxxi album (just cut back) and Echinops ritro: either I didn’t think this through, or I just need to go with it. It’s not too bad when viewed from behind the lavender hedge.

middle bed and lavender

I’m going with it.

On Monday, P said he thought the garden was looking its best for ages. I’m not so sure; I’ve had one real disappointment, and that may have coloured my view, I suppose. Last year my random seed bed was fab. This year, I carefully assembled a selection of seeds, mixed them up, did exactly what I did last year (except I didn’t plant any in seed trays for security) and – huh.

rats

Most of the things I sowed deliberately have failed to germinate, except for some beautiful scarlet Linum.

rats2

The whole thing is dominated by wild carrot, now dying back unattractively, and feverfew. Both of these seeded themselves last year, as did the poppies – they are lovely – and the nigella. Then there are interlopers, caused by me literally emptying the seed tin over the bed last year:

verbascum

When seen in detail, it’s fine. The trouble is that most of the time you don’t look at it like that; you look at the whole and think ‘what a mess’ because it’s all accidental. I know it was ‘accidental’ last year, but it was a deliberate accident, if you like. However, it has taught me two things: 1) those carrots are coming out, architectural or not, and 2) I will be seeding this bed in the autumn and seeing what happens. I suppose there’s a third: have seed trays planted as back up.

And when it really annoys me, I can turn round and worship my heleniums in the bottom bed:

heleniums

Acer in the background, mostly Moerheim Beauty in the middle, with an Actaea in front of them, and the stems of the Crocosmia Lucifer. And, of course, a dahlia. So autumnal!