The Bare Bones, More Mushrooms, Crow and Second Flushes

So it’s official. Wales (and Northern Ireland) have had the warmest autumn ever recorded. This certainly confirms our impression. However the whole of the year has been very strange, weather wise. The PV inverter record for the year confirms the very sunny and bright spring, but as so often is the case here, by July things were becoming gloomier than one had hoped for.

For those who haven’t seen it, a read out from a PV inverter gives a fairly good record of how sunny or not a year has been. As is often the case here, the spring months out perform the summer, particularly when one bears in mind the shorter days at this time of the year.

But in spite of a distinct lack of strong sunlight in the latter part of the year, the overall rainfall level is way down on a typical year. June to November monthly readings of 133,116,76,155,158, 92 mm (thanks to Dave Bevan for these). In the previous 3 years when I was keeping records, we’d have expected a couple of 300mm plus monthly totals at least. More specifically there have been very few deluge days, with over 35 mm per 24 hours. However just to prove me wrong again, I’m writing this on Sunday when we have indeed passed this 35mm daily figure today. As a consequence of this lack of heavy rain we have rarely had the phenomenon where a spring suddenly appears from beneath our barn this year. An interesting event, since it always starts to flow in a torrent some time after the rain has actually stopped following one of these deluge periods. (To compound my first inappropriate comment above about a lack of rainfall, Sunday’s 35 mm was followed by 36 mm rain on Monday, so the spring has appeared today on Tuesday).

We wondered for years why the mortar was missing from the bottom corner of the barn – until we had a 35 mm plus deluge. A spring then starts to flow from underneath the building, typically some hours after the rain has stopped 13/12/11

Our first mild frost arrived in part of the garden on December 2nd but many flowers are still performing including the Camellia sasanqua. C. ‘Jean May’ and C.s. ‘Narumigata’ in particular have many developed many more blooms since I first included photos.

The lovely open flowers of Camellia sasanqua ‘Jean May’ 08/12/11

The leaves are still on several Zelkova serrata planted in a more sheltered spot, but are now off most of the Willow and Cornus varieties which we grow.

Zelkova serrata leaves seem to consistently turn through yellows before fall, and stay on the trees for longer than most other species, at least here. 3/12/12

This really is the time of the year when the stem colours light up the garden in these short, mainly grey days. I’ve also noticed for the first time just how attractive the stems of Miscanthus are, as the outer dry husk like cover peels away to reveal an orange-red layer. This will only be a temporary interest I guess, since the first hard frost will see them off.

Unfortunately we don’t have a name for this very attractive orange stemmed Salix (Willow) 28/11/11

Or this green one… 28/11/11

Or this purple one, having been given all three as cuttings, by a friend 28/11/11

Rosa glauca stems give an equally intense purple colour through the winter months 27/11/11

Lovely subtle colouring on the Miscanthus stems before the frosts hit 7/12/11

I’m also pleased I left on a few empty seed cases of white honesty, which shimmer above the Cyclamen coum flowers, now out in abundance. The very first Galanthus elwesii snowdrop flower is open on our Southerly slope, and we’ve had several second flushes of mushrooms around the garden.

This is about the fourth flush of Fly Agaric 29/11/11

A third flush of Sulphur Tuft Mushrooms on a sycamore stump 8/12/11

The appearance of these and a rare dry day persuaded me to get the chainsaw out to shape the 2 Douglas Fir stumps into mushroom like forms.

The Stump mushrooms, newly hewn. 8/12/11, with Honesty seedheads

The plan is to encourage moss, lichen and ferns to colonise them to create large-scale organic forms, but as a first step I’ll slap on something dark to tone down the fresh-cut pale wood. How long they’ll remain as mushroom shapes in this climate is a moot point, but with luck they’ll age and decay gracefully over several years, as other trees planted nearby develop to attract the eye.

The toned down (and washed off!) mushrooms 13/12/11

Apart from this second fungal flush (actually more like 4 flushes over several months with some species like the Fly Agaric), I’m always intrigued over the winter months by the double flush of colours in the sky at dawn. It probably happens throughout the year, it’s just that I’m up and about to notice it now. On a good morning the first hint of pink in light levels so low that photography is difficult, dissipates to bland colours often being replaced with the spectacular richer red tones about 40 minutes later, washing out through golds and yellows. It may even happen at dusk in reverse order, but because of the Gelli topography, dawns are always more spectacular than dusks.

First flush of colour at dawn 8/12/11

Second dawn flush 40 minutes later 8/12/11

Golds to finish with at sunrise 8/12/11

On Saturday, I caught a moving BBC Radio 4 programme on the life and poetry of Ted Hughes, who had the posthumous honour of a plaque and place in the Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey after a service this week. I knew little of his work before listening to this, although earlier in the day my brother Mark, who lectures in English at Ted’s old Cambridge college, Pemroke, had told me that he’d been fortunate to be asked to attend the ceremony. Moreover he’d recently discovered, by a bit of detective work, that one of Ted’s most famous poems about a visitation by a Fox in a dream (whilst he was suffering from writer’s block as a Cambridge student) took place in the exact room which Mark had been allocated in his first year as an English Fellow at Pembroke. I discovered a wonderful You Tube link where you can read the story behind the Thought Fox Poem, as well as Ted reading it.


Ted Hughes’ poetry was hugely influenced and steeped in his observations of the natural world, and another of his poems about ‘The Crow’ made me include the photo below of one of a pair of brooding Carrion Crows which have appeared in the garden over the last couple of years. And this year they even nested in an old magpie nest at the top of the tallest Norwegian Spruce which was felled a few weeks ago. Since then, often at dusk, they appear at the tops of larch trees in our copse, and maintain their silent vigil for minutes on end.

Our own, perhaps malevolent, Crow at Dusk 3/12/11

December 13 th brings first snow flurries, and still Rose ‘Bonica’ blooms, bright sunshine and later…

a rapidly moving sleet shower, as the wind swings to the North. At last it feels a bit like winter 13/12/11

The view from the kitchen window at 3.15 pm 13/12/11

So there’s only one thing for it at this time of year with so few daylight hours and weather like this, its time to enjoy some quality time in front of the wood burners, and look forward to the new gardening year.

Home Fires….13/12/11


2 thoughts on “The Bare Bones, More Mushrooms, Crow and Second Flushes

  1. Marvellous pictures as usual, Julian! Together they reveal a real sense of impending winter, with the last, startling colours of autumn about to be subsumed into eternal Welsh night, with bitter wind and rain. Makes me move closer to our illegitimate central heating system!! The PV monitor picture is an amazing record of the year. Also enjoyed the Ted Hughes poem, beautifully read, though I do not share his passion for fishing! Many thanks for your efforts….

    • Hello Kevin,
      Thanks for the comment, and glad that you followed and enjoyed the link for Ted Hughes’s poetry reading, and that it worked! More sleet/snow today so perhaps the winter tyres will be needed after all. see you soon,
      BW Julian

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