Harvests, Visions, Politics and Sabbaticals

This has proved to be the most difficult post to put together so far, and will end up I fear, being rather bitty but mainly because of the last political section. So I’ll include lots of garden photos early on, I think!

View through Rosa glauca hedge of terrace garden 22/05/11

Getting any productive crop from the garden here before the start of June has always been a challenge – if you exclude the rhubarb, and salad leaves which we manage without too much difficulty, by using a mix of lamb’s lettuce, buckler leaved sorrel, Miner’s lettuce and fresh herbs, particularly mint and parsley. But this year thanks to our new and first greenhouse and starting them off in pots, we’ve already had a few early potatoes (Swift) and tonight have enough Mangetout peas for a first picking (Sugar Ann). The latter being grown in another Dumpy Bag.

First ‘Sugar Ann’ mangetout peas, grown in Dumpy Bag… 25/05/11

But as well as these, and probably of much more economic value, are the seeds set from many of the spring-flowering bulbs and perennials which can be hand pollinated earlier in the year. These include Tulipa tarda, Crocus species, Hybrid hellebore and perhaps the earliest of all, the Anemone blanda, Anemone nemorosa (native wood anemones), Hepatica and Galanthus (though I only bother with the more exotic and larger varieties of these). Unfortunately many of these don’t broadcast the fact that the seeds are nearly ripe, with the Anemones hiding the mace like heads of seed close to the ground beneath an ever developing cover of other leaves and plants.

Anemone blanda seeds from hand pollination… 17/05/11

But it’s worth remembering to look for them, collecting them and immediately sowing them elsewhere, since it’s then plants for free in a few years, and more importantly you often seem to end up with a more naturalistic  effect when plants are grown this way. This year I remembered about the Anemones, but if you miss the fairly brief window when the seeds are mature and still on the plant, you end up with clusters of tiny seedlings nestling around the mother plant the following year. So this plant doesn’t seem to have a terribly effective dispersal system for naturally spreading the plants around. I’m sure that I once read that you can estimate the age of some woods by the diameter of the patches of Anemone nemorosa – they gradually expand inch by inch, over the years. Of course Crocus use a more effective seed dispersal system in that there is a small sugary appendage with each seed, which makes them attractive to ants, so that they can often be carried metres away from the mother plant. At least at this stage of the year the seed sowing is reducing, the weeding is plateau-ing, (a bit!), and the prospect of more to harvest is approaching fast.

But the visual palette of the garden continues to transform daily, and this last week for the first time some seed grown Meconopsis betonicifolia alba have flowered, as well as another Rhododendron – ‘Old Copper’ – which looks like being the last of those we have in the garden to bloom (apart from the very late Polar Bear). Rhododendrons are a wonderful, though apparently now unfashionable, plant group, which can give flowers for months on end by choosing the right cultivars or species.

Another intensely coloured late flowering Rhododendron ‘Lord Roberts’, with Geranium macrorrhizum behind 25/05/11

Germander speedwell is one of the native plants we encourage for its groundcovering abilities and lovely azure blue flowers for about 6 weeks around now. With us it grows in full sun,to dry shade, and other plants can successfully grow through it 25/05/11

Another plant we love for its floriferous nature, Viburnum plicatum mariesii, but none of the many Viburnums we grow are of much interest to any insects 25/05/11

Primula hybrids and species are also now coming on song, but these very pretty flowers have almost no interest for most insects in the garden 25/05/11

Masses of common Aquilegia which are one of the best flowers right now for bumblebees – terrace garden 25/05/11

There is a real benefit when choosing cultivars of a plant like Rhododendrons in getting the advice of a specialist grower or nursery. Many of ours came from a lovely octogenarian grower in Devon, called Nigel Wright who listed them by size, flower time and colour, so that we could plan for a reasonable range of plants to fit the space we felt we could devote to them. For us this was a rare case of garden planning. All too often it’s a case of trying to find an appropriate space for a new plant that you’ve seen and bought on impulse, without doing the research about growing conditions.

Of course serious planning DID go into the development of the National Botanic Garden of Wales near Llanarthne, and we enjoyed a talk given at the recent member’s day by the outgoing curator, Ivor Stokes on the planning for the garden opening at the turn of the millennium, and how things have progressed. It really has come on in leaps and bounds for a garden that is barely 10 years old, and I think currently has a huge amount of interest for any gardening enthusiast from the spectacular Mediterranean planting of the domed great glasshouse, to the double walled garden and tropical house, and general outside landscaping and planting.

Just now there is a fascinating exhibition on fungi housed in the walls of the great glasshouse, and also worth seeing is the new art work commissioned for the foyer of the Theatre Botanica. But it was also exciting to hear of the project which is still in its infancy to turn an area of the landscape into ‘Woods of the World’ where trees from different continents are to be planted in groups together with the appropriate sublayer of shrubs and groundcover as well. This concept, which sounds pretty unique amongst the world’s Botanic Gardens, will be a huge achievement and represents great vision and planning on the part of the people concerned, since it will give the local community and visiting public, which is increasingly international, a developing display for decades to come. So do try to visit, if you haven’t been recently. We always find lots to interest us there. You can find their website here, and also check out their globally pioneering work to discover the DNA code of every one of the nation’s indigenous flowering plants (1143 species out of the UK’s total of 1507 species). No other national botanic garden is yet tackling this, so well done to the NBGW.

I found this Green-veined White butterfly resting on the gorgeous rose coloured bracts of Cornus kousa ‘Satomi’ the other day 25/05/11

Finally, I must record a personal first in joining the considerable numbers of people who travelled from many parts of Wales on Tuesday to lobby outside the Welsh Assembly Senedd over the continuing plans for wind farms and associated infrastructure across the Welsh Landscape. Apparently, it was the largest demonstration seen outside the building in its admittedly relatively short life, and was an entirely peaceful, good humoured and multigenerational event. However, the message for the politicians was clear – the majority of the rural communities of Wales in the firing line from the hastily drawn up TAN8 Technical Advice Note (which involved no local resident consultation at all) were opposed to the further degrading of beautiful upland landscapes by industrial developments on a scale never seen before. The politicians were implored to review TAN8 by the protesting crowds, and I was very grateful to be allowed to present a copy of my film ‘Epiphany In Translation’ to our A.M. Rhodri Glyn Thomas. Thank you for meeting us Rhodri, and thanks to Jim and Andre for their work in establishing ‘Galar’, (Gwirfoddolwyr Abergorlech Llansawel A Rhydcymerau) which translates as ‘Grief’ in English, but also stands for volunteers from Llansawel, Abergorlech and Rhydcymerau, the 3 villages which will be most affected by the planned Brechfa Forest East Windfarm, should it be built.

A small section of the well behaved 1500 strong protest, including Sian Lloyd outside the Senedd on 24/05/11

Andre hands the Galar document to our AM Rhodri Glyn Thomas 24/05/11 at the Senedd

Should sanity not prevail, and a moratorium not be placed on further developments until such a review of TAN8 has taken place, the very people elected to represent the nation will, it seems to me, have very effectively both destroyed its special landscapes, and alienated a large chunk of its population in one fell swoop. And what then?

Just before writing this I turned not to Google, but my fading Oxford Dictionary of Quotations for something to put in about nations, and perhaps what they stand for. Of the 80 or so quotes listed, the one which I found most moving, and not entirely irrelevant, was interestingly given by a Welshman, David Lloyd George, in a speech in London soon after the beginning of the First World War, when it became clear after the halting of the German advance on Paris, that the war would not end quickly.

“The stern hand of fate has scourged us to an elevation where we can see the great everlasting things that matter for a nation; the great peaks of honour we had forgotten -duty and patriotism clad in glittering white; the great pinnacle of sacrifice pointing like a rugged finger to heaven.”

I’m intensely aware that this threat to the landscape is not an issue of comparable magnitude, and that I write these musings, as I hint at on my home page, as an outsider, not born in this land. Also, that no-one could get away with this sort of language in today’s politically correct and multi-cultural Britain. But nevertheless, I do feel with a passion that the at risk Welsh uplands are a magical place with the power to lift spirits and inspire, rich in history and culture, and worthy of protection.

And this brought me back to thoughts about Power, Politics and Money which were instigated by reading about Mother Shipton last week. How extraordinary that an apparently ugly, but otherwise ordinary Yorkshire woman should have such influence over the English nation for decades if not centuries. (It was also a strange co-incidence to discover that in his youth Jim had sold bootleg copies of Mother Shipton’s prophesies to punters before they reached the official site in Knaresborough)  Like many of the founders of the world’s major religions she didn’t seem motivated by money or power. And at a time when the gulf between our politicians and the realities of life for many folk seem wider than ever and expanding, I came up with an idea – which I shall call Mother Shipton’s Sabbaticals. (Since the idea of ordinary folk actually influencing politicians’ actions seems strangely novel again today!)

Perhaps if as our elected representatives, all our politicians had to serve part of their elected terms carrying out some of the jobs undertaken by ordinary members of society, on sabbatical from Parliament or The Senedd, they would become more rooted in the real world, garner more respect and be less likely to take decisions which go against the wishes of the majority. And be reminded who is paying their salaries. So, what did I have in mind?

My suggestion would be that the electorate could propose say 5 activities to be completed not in the currently favoured ‘reality’ shows under the glare of media attention, but simply by job sharing or shadowing, in areas of life appropriate to the communities that they represent. For a rural constituency like ours that might include a week or two spent on a hill farm, with an inshore fisherman, in a local hospital, in a school, and a manufacturing enterprise. How often the activities were carried out in a parliamentary term could be tweaked with the experience of operating the scheme but perhaps this might lead to elected bodies with greater feel for local issues and concerns.

My final point links to perhaps the most famous previous resident of our tiny rural village, Rhydcymerau, the writer, teacher and co-founder of Plaid Cymru, D.J.Williams. A brief biography can be found here, and a slate plaque is still located on one of his previous homes at Abernant. Reading this short biography just a couple of days ago, I discovered more about his life than I had previously been able to glean, and was struck by the both the richness and harshness of life experiences that he had in his early years, which would clearly have impacted on his writings and political thoughts. No career politician path for him, like so many who pack our current governing bodies, and although he never represented his constituency; rather like Mother Shipton, he has left a mark on this nation that is still remembered many years after his death.

This year a serenading blackbird is using the top of one of our very tall Norwegian Spruces to run through its fantastically varied repertoire, only being put off by the return of a pair of nesting Carrion Crows nearby. The other day I filmed at least 10 minutes of constantly varying musical stanzas 25/05/11