Category Archives: Summer

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!

 

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.