Tag Archives: almost autumn

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.)

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Haws on my hawthorn – tree following, September

It’s been a madly busy summer but things are finally beginning to calm down, on every level except the weather. We have had some gorgeous days, though – really autumnal ones, too, with mist gathering in the dune slacks first thing and a definite nip in the air. I took my chance on one of them and went up to visit ‘my’ hawthorn. It was much windier up at the top (dur – logical) though the sea was surprisingly calm, but clouds were beginning to gather.

bay

There was a marked drop in temperature when the sun disappeared behind the clouds, but there were some splendid seascapes as the sunlight was blocked and revealed: quite stunning and impossible to photograph. There is no doubt whatsoever that the views of the landscape up here were critical to the Neolithic people who set up the chambered tomb (right next to the hawthorn and vaguely visible about as that sort of lump in the middle); study after study has shown how clear the alignments of such monuments are, and how rooted they are in the environment. Ahem.

Despite all these foreshadowings of autumn, I was still quite shocked to see the huge change in the hawthorn, at least on the windward side. Leaves, what leaves?

haws but no leaves

Well, OK, there are some – but very few. The landward side of the tree is a different story but, though the leaves are hanging on the branches somewhat more, they are still very tattered and brown. I didn’t think it had really been that stormy in the month’s gap since my last visit – perhaps this is a consequence of the stormy weather even earlier in the season?

Unsurprisingly, the haws on the windward side are showing signs of battering too:

haws

but there are plenty of them. You only need one to produce viable seed and survive – now, I wonder if I could… hm. Well, it worked with the birch; I’d love to have a child of this hawthorn. I must have a crack at it. There’s an excellent short video from Monty Don with a useful tip on checking viability – better get back up there before the birds scoff the lot.

Some of the lichen is peeling off in great chunks, but a lot still remains.

haws

I’d been wondering about the peeling maybe having, er, assistance – and this time I found evidence:

lichen

There are hairs caught in it.

Cows are kept up here, but this year it’s been mostly sheep (and the occasional wild billy goat). This hair is too high for either sheep or goats unless they rear way up, plus it’s the wrong colour for these sheep. There was plenty of dried cowshit around as well, so we may have a clue. Scraching? I wonder – I’d have said it was too low and branchy and cluttered under the hawthorn for cows to be comfortable, but I don’t know cows like I know sheep (and I have no desire to know the wild goats at all; far too chancy and if I want something temperamental and male and hairy and smelly in the garden I know where to find it anyway).

Looking at the tree again made me think about it in a completely new way.

I had a art tutor once who made us draw the spaces between things – some of us thought it was mad, some of us thought it was interesting, and some of us went ‘wow, man’ and fell off our stools. I fell, boringly maybe, into the middle category – and I’ve never forgotten what he said about spaces. Looking at the hawthorn against the temporarily blue sky I felt a strong desire to draw the spaces:

So now I want to get up there with a sketch pad (and a bag for some haws). It’s not raining, and today is set aside for cleaning the house, so what am I waiting for, I wonder? And it’s not just the shapes; it’s the colours as well, and the particularly autumnal quality of the light:

bracken

Fat chance of being able to capture that. And, as a gardener, I’m not sure I should be given bracken that sort of attention anyway. Ripping it out brutally sort of attention, yes.

It’s been very interesting following a tree that isn’t immediately easy for me to visit, and I will see it through to the end of the year, of course: I love this tree. However, I just haven’t been able to give it the sort of close attention that I gave to the downy birch in the garden last year, and I miss that. I’ve not spotted so much insect life, for instance – does that mean it isn’t there, or am I just not seeing it? (Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, as archaeology dons are very fond of reminding their students.) OK, there’s life which I wouldn’t want to have in my garden – the wild goats and cattle, mainly, and the picnickers I found up there one time – but I miss the shield bugs and the interesting butterflies. I shall have to think about this for next year…

 

 

Tree following, September – little change on the western front…

Ok, I know I’m late (something of an explanation can be found on my woolly blog). I did manage to get the photographs taken in time, but have been busy dealing with some online difficulties and became distracted from the way of righteousness and tree following. Still, I think the problems may be resolving themselves and anyway ‘phfeh’ – life goes on. My downy birch certainly does.

In my mind I thought there would be more change between August and September, other than the cutting of the meadow – only partly done so far, but we’re doing the rest on Monday. Though the surroundings may be looking more autumnal,

meadow light the tree, surprisingly, is not. Yes, it’s a wee bit more tired in appearance and some of the leaves are tattier than they were, but there really isn’t that much marked a change.

When you look at the leaves against the light you can see that the cells are more clearly defined than I think they were –

leaf and light

that would probably make sense – but again, I can’t swear to it. And the browning was already happening in August.

One change that has happened is in the flowers. Earlier in the year, intrigued by their appearance, I sliced one open. I needed a knife to do it, and there was quite a lot of resistance. Now the flowers are showing signs of age,

ageing downy birch flower

(spot the shield bug? I didn’t), and though they haven’t actually started to shed their seeds themselves, they are much more easy to break apart – in fact, they just crumble in your fingers.

ready to go

Very few of these will ever form a downy birch, but if the tree manages to germinate just one during its lifetime it will have done its job, of course. I’m going to have a go at trying it in a pot, though I’ll give them a little longer to ripen – let’s see what happens.

On the wildlife front, the tree is humming. Not literally – that’s the lavender – but it is teeming with life. There are a heck of a lot of shield bugs,

shield bug 3

and not just the birch shield bugs I spotted earlier; there are many others. When I was taking some shots I watched a group of five or six quite clearly assessing each other from their different leaves. They seem to congregate on the more exposed side of the tree, which surprised me. If I look at the seawards side it doesn’t take long to spot them once I’ve got my eye in; on the landward side it takes longer and there are markedly fewer. And the wind has been from the prevailing direction, coming at us from the sea and the south-west. But it’s not been wild, and it has been sunny. Any explanation? General randomness? Luck? Do they move round during the day to sit in the sun?

There are other things, too:

spotted

like this iridescent fly I saw after a rain shower, which gives a good size comparison for those tiny next year’s catkins. This fly – and many others – have been spotted on the landward side; maybe there are just too many occupied leaves on the other. And too many shield bug arguments.

So, not much change with my birch. It’s a beautiful September so far, and the forecast is for that to continue. I wonder if there’ll be spectacular colour in my next post? One of the other birches is changing already, but so far the my downy babe has restricted itself to this sort of thing:

one leaf

It’s enjoying the weather as much as I am.

Happy tree following, and thanks to Lucy of Loose and Leafy for this meme. I’ll be on time next month – promise!

 

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.

Eight months in the meadow

We’ve started, very gradually, strimming parts of the meadow. It’s very early – this is normally a late September job – but there’s been so much growth this year that there’s a hay-disposal problem. So we’re doing a bit at a time; there’s far too much of it to strim, leave a week and mow as we did the past two years. But then we have had a summer this year, so I’m not complaining…

Time for a look back through all my photographs of the meadow this year. I could give it some dignity by calling it an annual review but that’s a bit formal, plus it sounds horribly reminiscent of my working life before self-employment (run away!).

From January,

meadow snow

with a light covering of snow, to today, with a light covering of knackered gardeners.

February sees the snowdrops, and they are clumping up and spreading in a most satisfactory way – just what I hoped for, but have seldom managed to achieve.

snowdrops

Ditto the crocuses, and I am looking forward to seeing how far they get next year.

By March, the daffs were starting – a bit late this year, but they made up for it.

daff start

I know no fear, for I have just ordered another fifty – including some more Poeticus to extend the season. Help, my name is Kate and I’m a daffoholic. A little narcissi-sistic, perhaps? (Sorry.)

By April, of course, the daffs are no longer alone,

daffprims

as the primroses start powering along, beginning with the elegant pale yellows and then going completely brazenly berserk by early May.

Primula ZAP

By this time the fritillaries are also out, though they did suffer this year in the mad cold snap we had at just the wrong time, and in the winds:

horizontal wind

And then, of course, the grasses begin to grow taller, the spring flowers fade and soon greenery takes over.

meadow

And, er, yellery from the buttercups. If that’s not a word, it should be. IMO.

Traces of the paths remain after the meadow gets its autumn number one crop, and we always mow them in the same place. It is becoming clearer and clearer every year that developing the meadow has led to an enormous increase in primroses. They were always good, but there is noticeably less development where paths have been mown. They really do need more undisturbed time to set seed and for that seed to establish itself, than I’d assumed – sounds obvious, but it becomes crystal clear when you see theory working out in practice.

June is when the meadow goes for into Bonkers 2 mode, and this year the grasses were amazing. Taller than me, sometimes.

grasses

And the grasshoppers could be deafening. Good!

But it’s not all greenery. In early June it’s bordered with acqueligias,

bench

and it’s not long before the birdsfoot trefoil

Birdsfoot trefoil

and knapweed make their presence felt. The butterflies love both, and so do I.

Knapweed and BFT

By late July and August the grasses are either generally flat out and soggy, or dry and ready to go. Happily this year it’s the latter option,

dry grass

which may be equally messy but at least is easier to deal with. And we have cut the meadow in rain – not an experience to be repeated.

So what do you do at the height of the tourist season, when travelling anywhere by car becomes an endurance test and it can take over 30 minutes to get through Barmouth (not a big place)? You play in the hot sun with big strimmers, that’s what.

cut

At least we can get at the apple trees easily, and some of the fruit is ready too. The grasshoppers are still singing, so the rest will just have to wait. Probably just as well – where’s the ice cream? Where are the cold beers? Hmmm???

Evening in the garden (a not-at-all wordless Wednesday)

We had a surprisingly good day yesterday weatherwise, so I made the most of it given that I’ve no deadline to ignore and panic about later work towards. I had an appointment for a row discussion in the bank necessitating a tedious trip through Holiday Central, came home and washed everything in sight, even scoured part of a fleece from the biggest sheep in the world (I’m not mad, just a spinner), and decided the iris bed needed re-weeding… and then it was evening, and I was wrecked. So I collapsed in the garden with a cuppa, and I noticed – I evidently needed reminding – the beautiful effects of the evening light (the house faces west).

evening pots

I also realised how the year has suddenly moved into downshift. Yes, I’m cropping beans and tomatoes and spuds and courgettes and blueberries and wineberries and using the shallots and garlic, but there’s an unmistakeable whiff of autumn on the way. And the Welsh for July, Gorffennaf, is apt, after all: it’s derived from gorffen, finish, and haf, summer. The end of summer. Hopefully not entirely.

It’s partly also down to the colours,

pot mum

such as those of the two pot chrsyanths I bought from the man on the market (don’t laugh, it’s a good plant stall).  One autumn years ago I spent some time in Leiden and the ‘ball’ chrysanthemums always remind me of that, as do pyracathas in full berry. Haven’t got one of those (haven’t got a white-painted house on a canal near the botanic garden either but hey ho), but I do love the chrysanths.

There’s also the fact that the lilies have gone into overdrive.

lily1

Until I started deliberately trying to address the problem, I had virtually no flowers in the garden from mid-June onwards – apart, that is, for enough lilies to kit out a 1930s movie star’s dressing room and leave some over. The numbers have declined, but the splendour of some of them most certainly has not, especially the Big White by the back door. In the evening shade it’s even more emphatic,

lily2

filling the path with its scent and impressive height (over 1.5m, aka 5 feet) and bulk. One day I’m going to have to move it out of the pot it’s been in for the last five years, but maybe not quite yet. A couple of years ago I planted some other lilies in a bed (the tulip bed in spring) when their pots succumbed to winter weather, and expected they would disappear. They haven’t.

lily3

Or at any rate, haven’t yet. I love the low angle of the evening light, too, and the way it emphasises the texture of the petals, and gives those exaggerated shadows.

Better late than never, most of the cosmos are coming into flower too. At last.

cosmos

This cosmos, from Karen at the Artist’s Garden, is Psyche White, not Purity – grew that last year – and I think I prefer this. Especially against shadow!

The light also attracted me to the stump of the Western Red Cedar which came down about this time last year – it was either the tree or the house, alas. For some time the roots continued to grow but it has finally decided that it is, indeed, dead and has given up its world domination quest (leaving the other WRC in the top garden to continue the good work).

stump

For some time I ummed and erred over the stump but in the end just decided to leave it – it’s had a few large beach pebbles on it for a while now, in a sub-Andy Goldsworthy kind of way, but an interesting ceramic would be good. I’ve said this to my brother, several times and actually quite loudly, but he appears to have suddenly developed deafness. What’s the use of having a brother who’s a potter if he can’t suddenly produce perfect garden embellishments, eh?

Of course, when it comes to autumnal, you can’t beat crocosmia. And I’ve always had those to remind me of the changing seasons; you can’t get rid of them round here. Crocosmia and fuchsias, the plants of the west. Every year I tear up great clumps of the orange bastards; every year it’s as though I hadn’t bothered. I dread to think what it would be like if I didn’t rip gallons of them up – first house ever to be buried in crocosmia, perhaps? As a plant per se, I like it, especially the rather neat flower spikes prior to opening; it’s just the sheer quantity which can be rather overwhelming. I’ve been trying to remember the alternative word to ‘invasive’ which a friend uses when doing plant sales: ah, yes – vigorous. Very, very vigorous.

And then I realised that some of the garden colours were being echoed in the sky,

sunset 1

more and more intensely as the sun went down, and photography became impossible. I hesitate to say this, but it even got a little – shhh – chilly…

What a way to spend a Sunday!

I started by calling this post ‘Garden Open – not mine, phew’, and then decided against it (I was never a sub, they’re the ones who are hot with headlines), but that does convey something of the essence of Sunday.

The Artist’s Garden was open for charity under the NGS (National Gardens Scheme, aka the ‘yellow book’), and I was one of the friends roped in who volunteered to help.

I am so relieved it wasn’t my garden (not that mine would make the grade, especially in its present denuded state). There’s the agony over the weather, and Sunday opened with rain and mist and general unpleasantness. Mind you, Karen’s garden still looked lovely.

I played hooky from my kitchen duties for a few minutes to take a few shots – be warned, this is an image-heavy post – before people came surging through the gates. The paths were a little slippery but the rain was slacking off and temperatures were rising, and before long the slates were completely safe.

Walking down to the studio at first, though, was an exercise in how often you could get water down the back of your neck from overhanging grasses. But the raindrops on the grasses were spectacularly lovely, and it was good to be able to appreciate their undisturbed beauty.

Soon visitors began to arrive…

One of the interesting comments which was overheard again and again was about  attention to detail, and not just in planting. I don’t find it surprising; Karen is a textile artist, and the principles of layering and detail are equally as evident in the garden as they are in the studio. Below, for instance, you can just see a couple of contrasting stones placed on the rock just right of centre, and the blue glass globes in the foreground (as well as some lovely plants – that pink is a huge lily).

I think we’d better have a close up of the lily:

I have to get this. I don’t mean I ‘want’ it (after all, ‘I want never gets’), or that I would like it, but that I have to get it. Ahem. Back to non-plant detailing.

There are ceramics too, and interesting pieces of wood:

here forming a background to Echinaceas ‘white swan’ and purpurescens, and a rudbeckia. And the colour combinations, oh, the colour combinations – like the Echinacea purpurescens again but with a grass this time:

But my duties called me back, and soon we were essentially running a tea and cake production line. Elegant tea cups, delicious cakes, no rain: perfect. I think the double gazebos for shelter were a brilliant idea – if they’d not been there, I’m sure it would have rained all day…

Relatives of the cake maker (and of two of the waitresses), these three knew that the lime tray bake was well worth choosing. Delicious – but there was soon a distinct shortage. Sigh. Man, and particularly this woman, cannot live by Echinacea purpurescens alone, that’s what I say.

As the afternoon wore on it got warmer and warmer – quite sultry, in fact (and not just in the kitchen, either). The demand for teas dipped, and again I was able to zoom around. The medlar is fruiting nicely, and though it is some time off being ready, I have my foodie eyes on it.

I’m sure there’ll be plenty to go round. That’s a hint, by the way.

There were a huge number of insects, including lots of bees, all encouraged by the sudden appearance of sub-tropical conditions on the coast of west Wales – another thing that many visitors commented upon. I was especially taken by one which was coordinating so beautifully with its favoured plant,

a yellow and black bug on a yellow and black rudbeckia.

I fell terribly in love with some of the colour combinations. I’ve been doing quite a bit of natural dyeing lately, and I was especially taken with the subtlety of this Eryngium plenum matched with a pale yellow grass (I’m no good at grasses – I can identify about three – so please forgive me):

Hmm, can’t think how I would get anywhere near that – but I’ll bear it in mind… and extraordinarily I met three other spinners, and I only knew one of them. Either a textile artist’s studio being open had drawn them in, or there is a deep link between spinning and gardening. I’m opting for both. Ahem. Back to the garden.

And then there are those plants whose colour combines well not with another plant, but with their surroundings:

This is Lobelia Russian Princess. It’s not subtle, but against the grey of the stone wall it really works. For me this is a plant to be used with care – it could so easily overwhelm and clash with others. Lovely here, though, and it lights up a dark area.

There are plants where I fell in love with the form:

I’ve always liked the flower heads of echinacea (yup, sorry, that again). They almost look as though they should be soft, but of course they’re not. Very, very tactile though…

And there are plants where the dipping light gave them rather special quality, like these pelargoniums (‘Mystery’) in a container.

By now the clock was moving remorselessly towards 5 p.m. The cakes were running out, the kitchen staff were only able to crawl and Karen had developed a sore throat from talking to visitors. It was time to close the gate, take down the road signs and indulge in the traditional open-garden-helpers’ perks:

Apparently these ran out at about two in the morning, and if it isn’t a tradition, it certainly needs to become one. I’m an old hand now: got pinny, will make tea and cut cake, can be hired again for extortionate minimal fees, not to mention the traditional helpers’ perks. Phew, until next year – or the year after, since Karen will only be open by appointment next year. Well worth seeing…

And farewell from Digger too, who guarded the veg all day and didn’t get as much as a sniff of a helpers’ perk. The Gnome Liberation Front will be meeting next Monday at the village gardening club.