Posts Tagged ‘National Trust’

“We’ve Got The Dog …”

 

“Hey, what are you doing this morning?” the voice, familiar, disturbs me. I’m feeling satisfied. After all, I’ve just finished planting the main crop potatoes on one of the few warm, dry days this Easter. Not counting the late autumn digging, just getting them into the ground has taken four half days. Starting with the historically named Arran Victory potatoes (bought on a whim), Desiree and, finally King Edwards.

The voice belongs to Dave. Always helpful Dave, ready with advice, spare plants and offers of the massive cabbages he grows so well.  It’s quite normal to pop over to chat with someone on our allotments (on every allotment in the country I would hazard a guess) so, having promised myself I’ll just turn over soil for one more row – scooping the annual weeds into the resulting trench as I go – I pause.

“Last of the potatoes,” I inform him.

He nods. He always spade-digs the ground he uses for potatoes, then rotovates the rest. He has been scanning the neighbouring plots. He inclines his head to indicate the Pepper King’s ground, across the access path from our plot.

“He hasn’t done much has he?” he asks. In a way that isn’t really asking. “’n I haven’t seen much of him either. Think he’d be up here. I hear he’s now taken on the other half. Is that right?”

I’m wondering exactly what’s going on at this point. Seems to me that Dr Pepper has done a lot more with his ground than his predecessor, who was famous across the site for simply using a massive orange veteran rotavator for ploughing crops right back in: potatoes, swedes, onions, wallflowers. And, when I was on the committee, the plot he had last year was exactly that: a plot; at least as big as ours. So “the other half” is not a half as such, but another – whole plot. And … has he taken it on?

How would I know? I haven’t seen the guy since last October and I’m not on the committee. Unlike Dave. Who doesn’t seem to know.

“And, whatsernames. Him here,” nodding to the plot next to ours, “Have you seen him? I haven’t. What’s he up to?”

“And the next one, not been about. Makes you wonder why they have an allotment don’t it?”

Well, I’m thinking, I’m not on the committee – haven’t been for at least three years, but, only two months ago the committee had a chance, surely, not to renew the rental agreement for these three – alleged – renegades. If they were so remiss, so lack in their duties. There should have been plot inspection letters going out. Shouldn’t there? Somebody who is actually on the committee, er, somebody like … er … Dave himself?

I only think these things. But, at the beginning of getting something off his chest, Dave seems unable to stop himself now.

I miss the next part of his moaning because I am distracted. Four or five crows are vocally and physically assaulting a magpie which is – almost certainly, deliberately – straying into “their” territory: provocative: the still-leafless ash and sycamore trees on the edge of the land where the cemetery borders the quarry. There are a couple of bulky nests in the tree tops, though I’m not sure what, if anything, has claimed them this year. And, having started, my mind goes back over the couple of days we’ve had since I was last here.

Some seriously wet weather, but as Thursday dawned bright and reasonably sunny we decided to head out, use our national Trust membership and see Dudmaston Hall, somewhere near Bridgnorth. The sat-nav took us on an interesting, winding route, avoiding Wolverhampton (perhaps a more logical route). But we got there before the gates opened, so found a satellite car park (The Old Sawmill) and, rather than sit around and kill time in a lazy way, walked the Three Pools Walk. Across a field, into some woods and through shade and sun-warmed glades spent the good part of an hour circuiting the said three pools. Good exercise, spontaneous and quiet exploration. The woods are clearly parkland planted, the pools one-time decoy ponds for sport. But thirsty at the end of the stroll, so headed for the promised tea rooms at Dudmaston. But the car park, part flooded, was full, so we re-routed to the Rock Houses at Kinver. Got there remarkably quickly: part of my history en route. Enville Hall where, not counting the £50 Renault 4 that lasted six weeks, I bought my first car. It was an 850 cc Mini. The lady had won it in an annual RNLI raffle, but had been banned from driving (for speeding for the umpteenth time in her own Frog-eyed Sprite) the month before she took delivery of her prize. And I needed a car to get to my first full time job on the outskirts of Lichfield! The Lord moves in mysterious ways – sometimes in a Mini, it seems.

 

A lot of recent work has seen the Rock Houses into the twenty first century, more houses open and furnished, the gardens taken in hand and a tea room; praise be. I ate a filling cheese sandwich and drank copious amounts of tea. While sitting at a table on the upper level, above the winding path/steps that climb up to the Tea Room I hear a lady talking on a mobile ‘phone. It’s not like I’m eavesdropping in some sinister way. She isn’t keeping it quiet, she doesn’t seem to mind that that half of three counties can probably hear her. And a thought occurs to me. Our telephone conversations are very public these days, the privacy of the once ubiquitous red public call boxes seems a long, long way off; a different universe almost. People weren’t supposed to know who you were talking to, never mind what you are saying. Before social media, before mobile phones. I’m still not terribly comfortable talking to people when I cannot see their faces. But this woman is not, apparently, in the least bit bothered.

“We’ve got the dog,” she is, if not shouting, then merely decibels below it, “so we walked to Kinver.” She makes it seem natural. Dog, Kinver, Kinver, dog. I smile, imagining the feelings at the other end of her conversation, stunned silence obviously. She snaps the phone shut and – thirty seconds or so later she is pulled into view in view by an energetic Staffordshire bull terrier, still fighting the lead to put the ‘phone away. I smile again.

Leaving the outdoor table we walked out over the trails that spread out from Kinver Edge, enjoying the light, the yellow blooming gorse, the sense of freedom and safe adventure.

“… only four of us on the committee doing anything. He’s not doin’ the plot inspections. He was supposed to be helping that other one, (never good on names, our Dave), When he was replacing the taps. Where was he? I dunno. I ended up helping to put one of the posts in you know. The secretary does a bit. Every now and then. And the chairman, well, a bit.”

I’m maybe reading too much into this, feeling a bit flattered. Is he trying to get around to asking me to go back onto the committee? Expecting me to volunteer? Either way it’ll not happen. Dave and I were committee members when the combination of people, that every-now-and-then-synchronicity worked for a while. A committee that successfully promoted the allotment in wider circles: annual open days, the local gardens day charity event, articles published on social media and the NLGSA magazine, trips to Gardener’s World Live, the Malvern Show and a regular calendar of events (Pumpkins and Fire Pits, Christmas Wine tasting, Barbecues, Afternoon Teas), setting up the World War One Memorial Garden and raised beds for disabled inclusion and a waterless toilet to enable school visits and – last but not least – raising eight thousand pounds from grant applications. But people are people and petty jealousies, personalities and lack of clear leadership caused distrust and disagreement. I didn’t like it – and resigned. As did three other like-minded individuals.

This current committee, however, seems to be disappearing up its own exhaust pipe. Very inward looking, unable to coordinate efforts, responding inconsistently to plotholders and then only in a reactionary style. Poor communication, little or no forward thinking. All in all; a sad shame.

So, while I am disappointed that Dave is not particularly happy with the committee, I have to wonder what said committee is actually doing about it. Why isn’t the chairman sorting it out? Making sure plot inspections get carried out? Making committee members accountable. Why wasn’t the treasurer mentioned in the list of active people? Why doesn’t Dave voice these worries – obviously getting him down – at committee meetings where his comments might make a difference? Or why is he staying on a committee that he believes is ineffective?

More importantly, why is Dave asking me? What am I supposed to do about it?

“These potatoes,” I interrupt enthusiastically, “so glad you asked about ‘em. We got ‘em from the Shropshire Potato day at Harper Adams. Good day out.” I look at all the rows of potatoes behind me. I smile.

“Looks like we got a bit carried away,” I admit, “a few impulse buys I suppose. We didn’t realise we’d got so many until it was time to plant them.” Particularly the King Edwards, bought by weight; and most of them are the size of pigeon eggs. Hopefully, with all of the organic matter in the soil, they’ll produce a decent crop.

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I go on to tell Dave some more about the day (potato history, origins in Peru, new varieties, why Victory potatoes are so named) he listens politely, but I can see he’s not really interested.

As he nods, excuses himself and walks away (still muttering), perhaps he understands how I was feeling. Somehow I doubt it.

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Heat Wave? No Thanks, We’ve Got One Already.

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The sky is summer-generous high. Held up by the promise of a warm, dry tomorrow and the gentle sighing of traffic that has survived rush hour marmalade and now veritably purrs along the no-corners road in the middle distance. Hushed by the laburnum-green filters  arches overhead.

Ambitious spiderlings lower themselves on invisible drag-lines from the outermost branches of the small-leaved lime tree. Dangle, planning, then anchor threads to the back of the bench I’m sitting on and make hopeful, cunning traps of the very air.

The big star faces, sun centred of ox-eye daisies tremble and nod in the meadow level breeze; small fuchsia fireworks display their slo-mo ballet over the fence. Sun – down, back garden peace ushers in friendly shadows.

On something of a whim today we headed to Charlecote Park. Somewhere in Warwickshire. Traffic packed motorways. Stole into an almost-parking space: the last and least available on the packed car park and spent a fine half day at the property.

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All of the magnificence and eccentricity of a British institution. A credit to the National Trust, especially to the unsung-hero army of volunteers. Under-staffed, under pressure and none of it showed, bless ‘em all.

Red-brick building, lineage back to pre-1066 (depicted wonderfully in stained glass windows throughout the rooms). Very cool inside, the exact opposite outside. But a steady walk in Place’s meadow, the river Avon flowing by: swans, meanders and rushes ; cattle on the banks in the shade of willows. Back through the meadow with Disney-spotted fallow deer in and via a much-needed ice cream to the oven of a car.

And home to sit in our own back garden.

But the allotment’s gonna need watering tomorrow. Never mind, it seems like a long time away.

After Suffolk.

What a satisfying week!

 

The warmest days of the year (that’ll be 25 Celsius I’ll have you know!) spent in Suffolk. An evening in Aldeburgh, a morning on Dunwich Heath* seeing a mature black adder and hearing the booming of a bittern, an evening cruise up the rivers past Orford Ness (close to where a stray shell on a tank gunnery course broke a sea wall, allowed water to flood the land and a species of crustacean to thrive which in turn attracted avocets back to England. Oh and while on the return leg of the cruise seeing a marsh harrier, big barn door wings and stall-speed turns like a ghost above the banks.

A long traffic-delayed drive home, but a weekend planting our main crop (Desiree) potatoes and multitudes of seeds.

Panting potatoes is therapeutic, terrifying and startling all at the same time. Firstly it uses up so much ground that has been dug over, manured, weeded and scuffled in such a short space of time. It took ages to prepare but less than half a day to use up. In fact to get all eight rows in I had to dig another five spits of ground, but don’t tell anyone eh?

Which lefty me wondering whether there really will be enough room to plant on all of the seeds we have started – or are about to sow – in the greenhouse.

The cleared out strawberry bed, topped up with soil from the courgette beds has some lettuce seeds planted in the end of the row (the old packet seeds I planted under the cloche failed to germinate). We have put carrots in their containers (raised above ground to deter carrot root fly) and have pricked out cabbage (Kilaton and Greyhound) and cauliflower plants today.

Sweetcorn planted along with courgettes, parsnips and a range of flowers and herbs. This is the busy time of year now, watering and monitoring. The weather forecasters are predicting chances of overnight frost – so wish me luck.

*National Trust strikes again: Dunwich Heath is next to the RSPB reserve at Minsmere and the Dr Who-like architecture of the nuclear power station squats on the horizon.

 

Away days: Suffolk

Caught a couple of days away in Suffolk, stopping off on the way to our FarmStay b’n’b at Anglesey Abbey and Lode watermill. National Trust membership strikes again. Fascinating place, one-time home of Lord Fairhaven, he of Standard Oil (now Esso) money. Some altruism in the family: his mother bought the site of the signing of the Magna Carta so that it could be preserved for posterity.

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The twisting Winter Walk was fabulous, planting just going over, but the water mill (bought as a “folly” by Lord F) changed purpose when grain imports increased, becoming a cement mill. It is now restored, milling grain again and sits bright white-walled on the waterway; active and pretty in the extensive grounds.

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The house was interesting too: beautiful library and ornaments; the domestic quarters “frozen” in 1960s time.

 

But lunch was hearty and the drive continued.

Once we got off the A 14 it was easy to observe the verges that crowd onto the narrow winding roads. They are simply alive with either primroses or cowslips. Literally hundreds of them: a marvellous change from the dandelion decorated verges where we live. Also the abundance of rookeries, often in roadside ash trees or close to village churches. Birds busy, the air noisy with their raucous tones.

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Staying in  a farmhouse bed and breakfast, so we  nipped out to Aldeburgh for the evening.  Actually the first sight we had of the sea and strange, but lacking that typical scent of the sea; no shells on the high-ridged stone beaches and a complete lack of high-water seaweed. Shame: I had a half formed plan to bag some up and bring it back for the compost heap. There are big skies at the coast here and the sea hits the shore diagonally, carrying sand and tide from as far north as Yorkshire. Aldeburgh was quiet, too early yet for the tourist trade to kick in properly I guess.

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Fish and chips as a tradition; safe from the intelligent marauding gulls inside the car. It was cold in the wind after all: the North Sea coast.

Driving out and completely by chance we came across Maggi Hambling’s Scallop; a tribute to Benjamin Britten who spent much of his life in Aldeburgh and surrounding area. I had seen something about it on TV a while back. It is ironic that it sits atop a beach that has literally no shells on it.

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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.

The Day Before …

The day before we head to Cornwall for a seaside holiday. My plan is to set out early-ish and stop at a National Trust/English heritage property somewhere on the way: make a day of the journey instead of a race or a plod. Thinking to visit a property further away that we haven’t seen before I am suddenly taken up short. There are so many local properties that we could visit but don’t; presumably, unconsciously deciding that, because they are local, they can wait (or are not worth visiting).

We went to Shugborough a month or so ago. The whole set up there has changed and I noticed a lake I have never seen before on the long, sweeping driveway in. Cars are now parked a reasonable, stretch of the legs walk (or shuttle bus ride) from the hall which gives a better context and leads through the walled garden that would in former times have stacked the kitchens.  Initially built for Admiral Hanson (who had villages moved so the grounds could be suitably landscaped ) and one-time home of the late Lord Lichfield this is a stunning place set in Cannock Chase. The Farm, gardens and riverside walks are charming indeed … and, inevitably bring back memories of earlier visits and escapades.

A warm day we walked slowly around the estate, the follies, the well-kept gardens alongside the river. It wasn’t meant to be a long stay, just a pleasurable amble around the gardens and beside the river; just a couple of hours out together. No need to go into the house this time or the servants quarters. But we did admire the stunning views of the house from the river, while cattle on the opposite bank stooped to drink  in a very bucolic scene. Tea and a scone in the café. Good service, thank you.

Then a visit to the fashionably-derided gift shop. As usual impulse-bought a couple of plants we hadn’t planned on – but have since found space for – that were artfully displayed outside.

But inside the shop I fell for a book. That’s usually the case with me: an inveterate browser.  Massive price of £2.99. There are some quite fascinating “niche” books to be found in National Trust bookshops, not all of them good. But this one, “Life on the Old Farm” by Tom Quinn with the modest banner “From Edwardian Times To the Coming of Mechanisation” had my attention. The very age my grandfather lived his farm-working life through.

To be brutally honest the book is a little repetitive: based seemingly on interviews with agricultural people from different parts of England and Wales. Their experiences, their views, their memories are all worth reading but inevitably there is common ground and echoes of fragments from chapter to chapter. It is, however solidly well written and contains interesting facts, some serious, some sad and some amusing. For example:

“Farmers are marvellously innovative when it comes to avoiding waste, and Aubrey’s ancestors were no exception. Thus when a giant cask of homemade cider was spoiled when air leaked into it, Aubrey’s father fed the forty five gallons, little by little to his pigs. Each time the pigs emptied the trough they very quickly became completely stupefied and fell asleep until their next feed. “this went on for six weeks, and for the whole time those pigs were completely drunk, said Aubrey with a grin. But the pigs grew so quickly on this diet that my father contacted a Horsham brewer and bought spoiled beer from him regularly.”

Interesting modern parallel perhaps that pigs on a large estate-farm nearby are fed on out-of-date food from a big supermarket chain to which they are contracted to supply bacon, pork and ham. So the pigs end up eating prawn cocktail crisps and other products (that quite frankly would still be edible for humans) because of a date stamp and regulations.

Digression over; where looks like a good place to stop between here and the Cornish coast?

A (TV) Challenge Too Far ?

I am sure (in that confident way that all fools are sure) that this is European year of the Garden, though I cannot explain why. Can anybody out there help? Either with the conviction or with a confirmation?

Certainly BBC TV is acting like it may be and promoting all manner of horticulture related programming. There was a superb programme last week on the Science of Soil with Chris Beardshaw doing the honours as convincing presenter. Good pictures, experiments-come-demonstrations and well researched. Interesting that draining peat bogs allows oxygen into the non-decomposed material which then allows bacteria to go to work and, it was said, reduces the quantity of peat as well as its basic nature. (Peat being one of the four types of soil mentioned: the others: clay, sand and silt (I call it loam).

Another offering flattered, in my opinion, to deceive. The Great Allotment Challenge began by seeking growers who would work in pairs to turn a patch inside a walled garden into a productive allotment. Sounded fascinating, but the reality is somewhat different. Each week pairs are faced with “challenges” (which must have been pre-arranged and so must impact on the planting choices (in terms of crops and techniques) and a pair is “sent home” at the end of each challenge. There was little or nothing about methods, cultivation tips or insights in the first programme … so in line with my “if-you-don’t-like-it, don’t-watch-it” philosophy this weeks went by the board. the picture below, nicely posed has Fern Britton who, to be fair makes a good fist of presenting such a conceptually awkward beast of a show and is courtesy of the Scunthorpe Telegraph.

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The programme which follows it is called British Gardens in Time. Last week we were treated to fine wide angle views, sweeping panning shots and historic information linked to Stowe, the one –time home of Viscount Cobham and his family, where the “British landscape garden form really began and one Lawrence (later “Capability”) Brown was an apprentice. The programme traces garden and social fashions, the lives of the people involved and the context in which the gardens developed from their very beginnings. This week the programme came from closer to home: Biddulph Grange Gardens up past “the Potteries”. Chris Beardshaw (again), Andrea Wulf and Alan Power (National Trust head gardener from Stourhead) are the presenters. Again finely researched information about the eccentric collector/owner Batemen who made the whole “jig-saw” vision come together in a series of gardens from around the world.

Stunning photography reveals the garden in all seasons, the eccentricities of the owners and links the gardens to contemporary events (The publication of Darwin’s Evolution of the Species for example).

I have visited Biddulph Grange a couple of times and the programme makes me want to go back again (hint, hint!). The Chinese Garden, the tunnels and the Stumpery … and some features I must have missed last time I was there.

(This programme linked with the BBC’s Georgians series are fascinating viewing).

I am all in favour of gardening on TV. It might inspire people to take it up, take on allotments, try something different. The format that is used in the Great Allotment Challenge is so similar to other programmes about sewing, baking and dancing that maybe it will lead to an upsurge of interest in allotment gardening; never a bad thing – and aren’t we allotmenteers just too often stereotyped and misunderstood ?

At a time when Eric Pickles is granting permission for allotment suites to be sold off by local authorities we need something like this to generate interest and understanding of all aspects of allotment life: the techniques, social life, determination, community culture and hard work …

…just as long as those taking on the allotments do not expect local sites to be anything like those inside that walled garden.

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