Archive for April, 2015

A Bit of Spring, A Bit of a Walk.

A couple of days ago we took a drive over to Carding Mill Valley, near to Church Stretton. It is one of the places we like to walk. This being the Easter holidays the lower portions of the valley were crowded with families for it is an ideal place for children to do the things that children do in fast flowing streams: paddle, build dams, “fish”, fill buckets, get their clothes wet and just relax. The water is very clear and the flat areas beside it crowded with parents and grandparents. Some enterprising youngsters have brought cardboard and a re “sledging” down the steep valley sides on pieces of it. But we took a walk upwards, out past the Townbrook Lake where there were fewer people. It was hot in the valleys sheltered from the spring wind, the sun powerfully beating down. Slopes are steep and terrain demanding; we went a little bit wrong after crossing the Burway road, but followed a sheep path down to Lightspout and around onto Mott’s Road. Deserved a cup of tea at the national Trust café after the exertions, but at least a little annoyed to hear some people (who should know better) moaning about having to pay to park their cars. The charges go towards the upkeep of this beautiful piece of scenery, keeping it clean and accessible. We are members of the National Trust and feel it is worth every penny!

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Facebook postings from our daughters (Swithland, Leicestershire) and my sister (Wiltshire) tell of the first swallows arriving to begin nesting. Here I believe I have seen high flying martins (but, honestly they might have been starlings!)

I look out of this morning window (a mile and a bit from our allotment) to a watery blue sky. It rained overnight after a week of unseasonably warm weather (highs of 19 Celsius). Yesterday there was TV talk (in the news and weather forecasts) of high levels of air pollution: Saharan sand mixed with poor quality air from Europe and our very own traffic fumes conglomerating mainly over the south east.

While it was fine we planted our early potatoes (Arran Pilot) in the “thin plot” as well as our “Charlotte” salad potatoes.  “Thin plot”? You need to be aware that although almost certainly all plot started life as roughly the same size over the years – and on our site that is more than a hundred and twenty – boundaries drift and alter. Is that a universal thing? You tell me. So this plot is, quite literally, thinner than most. In the “hedge plot” (a.k.a. the shed plot) we can get eight potatoes in a row, we only manage six in this plot. To make  a full row I try something my grandfather (“Grandy” to me) would do. Cut the largest tuber in half, dipped the cut end in soot and planted the two halves. It will be interesting to see if it works; I am fairly certain it used to work for Grandy. The ground has been dug over during the winter, weathered and forked over again just before planting. We take out a spit of earth for each potato, add some proprietary fertiliser and some pelleted chicken manure, then place the tuber in the hole and hoe the soil back around each one. It is satisfying work and by the time we have finished we have filled up a fair portion of the land available. I really enjoy the planting side of allotment life. It feels like something has been achieved in a way that simple digging over ground doesn’t. Is that just me?

In the greenhouse I have planted leeks, cauliflower, two varieties of cabbage and parsley. Also I have tried to germinate tomato seeds from a couple of freebie packets of out-of-date seeds. Watch this space.  It was while inspecting these now germinating seeds that I came across my first wasp of the year. Almost certainly a just-awoken hibernating queen, she sounded like an old BSA motorbike as she bumped off first one glass pane then another. There are peacock and tortoiseshell butterflies on the wing, ladybirds creeping over forget-me-nots and both cowslips and snakes-head fritillaries are unfolding in our back garden. The cowslips indeed are spreading wonderfully albeit into the lawn.

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There are peacock and tortoiseshell butterflies on the wing, ladybirds creeping over forget-me-nots and both cowslips and snakes-head fritillaries are unfolding in our back garden.

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We are heading to Suffolk for a couple of days break and, although I sat out on the back lawn yesterday looking at planting instructions on the countless packets of seeds that are still unopened – and though I feel that tugging impatience – it seemed best not to sow them until we get back.

The allotment hedgerow has had a bit of a trim, the blackberries sending out quite vicious streamers, the thornless blackberry is tied in and pruned and rhubarb is doing its thing next to the path. Blossom is starting to appear on the fruit trees.


Hedges and Wedding Parties.

As well as severely cutting back the escallonia hedge in our front garden I have massacred the four Leylandii shrubs, which for some years I have pretended to use as topiary (while actually just cutting them back as much as I could get away with). Eventually these plants will have to go, but I currently wait for instructions from the Chief. In the meantime an endearing and extremely industrious par of blue tits are using the nearest stump as a stop off and look point for the nest they have constructed in a nest box on the wall made by our daughters and I many years past.

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Also, because I was having trouble getting out of my car door I have taken liberties with (a.k.a. butchered) the “twisted hazel” in the garden itself. Finely twisted shapes in autumn and winter, and elegant tassel-catkins in spring. But a significant portion of it is sliced out, stems with a diameter of two and a bit inches is serious trimming in my book.  Offered to a flower arranging club, we piled the contorted stems into the back of the Vectra and set off to deliver them. The Wesleyan Chapel on the Walsall Road? No, but the car park was crowded with people celebrating Maundy Thursday as part of Christian Easter. The actual flower club meets in Cheslyn Hay, so we duly went on our way. They were, of course, delighted. The armfuls of material had eyes popping and jaws dropping. We were glad to be rid of it – and that somebody could make use of it. However (sneaky note) I have saved enough to have a bash at making a walking stick (the bush is sometimes nicknamed Harry Lauder’s walking Stick after the Scots comedian).

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Good Friday we were lucky enough to have been invited to a wedding, held on the outskirts of Wolverhampton. A delightful civil ceremony attended by both families and numerous friends, and including banghra drumming,  a somewhat eccentric toastmaster, Indian menu, dry ice, fine speeches, humour and friends I have not bumped into for … well, shall we diplomatically say a couple of years ? A damp day fizzed into life with a splendid social occasion. Best wishes to the bride and groom for the future.

Back to the allotment and preparing the ground for potatoes, planting some early radish and lettuce under a cloche (which blew away during strong winds during the week) and clearing newly sprung weeds. Some work will be needed to repair the compost bins, but, originally made from the “upcycled” sawn-to- measure walls of a former shed, they have already lasted longer than I could have imagined.

There has been frogspawn in one of the two ponds up at the allotment for many weeks now. It was not until, quite literally today, that any appeared in the pond in our back garden. Aubretia, crocus, dandelions, ribes and daffodils offer nectar to early insects, but we have some spectacularly large bumble bees, active and flying even in the showers, visiting the stately pieris in our shrubbery. Now that we are past the equinox and have weathered some strong end-of-March winds it feels as if the earth is getting warmer. Primroses and cowslips crouch ready to burst out and our later flowering rhododendron has massive, promising flower buds.

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Any ideas about how to turn “green wood” into a decent walking stick?

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