Ready for a ramble? Visual and verbal? A lot of thoughts have churned around the simple word “green” over the last few days. Kicked off by a couple of necessary long walks to work off the slight excesses of a Valentine’s day meal. (Fiona is doing really well on a diet this year, and now powerwalks leaving me in her wake, so it’s handy for me to grab my camera and use it as an excuse to enjoy brief pauses). The first walk on the 14th took us up the hill and into Sifigwm Forest. I thought we might see if there were any snowdrops growing around a derelict property some way into the middle of the plantings, but there weren’t.
This was tough, upland, frontier farming land until acquired by compulsory purchase by the then English owned Forestry Commission, in the 1930’s. The steep-sided valleys and hill tops are now planted with monocultures, principally of Norway Spruce and Larch. But hidden away amongst these dominant shading serried ranks are the remnants of a few old farmhouses, surviving in tumbledown form. Many others were dynamited when the forest was planted up by large groups of forced labour staying in a primitive Nissan hunt camp between Abergorlech and Brechfa. Mature beech “hedges”, which would have flanked the track leading to the tumble-down property we had headed for, still survive amongst the conifers. Beech out in the open on the mountain tops tend to have clean, smooth bark but here in the dark and constantly damp atmosphere the whole trees have become festooned in moss. The effect always makes me think of Fangorn Forest, or at least its depiction in the Lord of the Rings films, directed by Peter Jackson, and based on Tolkein’s masterpiece.
Everywhere on the walk was moss and lichen in profusion. I’m including a lot of images of this, because I was fascinated by its diversity.
I’ve also just turned a couple of tree stumps that I’d fashioned last November in our mossy copse, into moss and wood sorrel capped mushrooms. The aim is to reflect the fly agaric mushrooms which used to regularly appear around the base of the trees every autumn. The joint decision was that red and white spotted caps would have been a bit brash. Hopefully the green and occasional white flecks of wood sorrel flowers might be more aesthetically pleasing, though it’ll take at least a couple of years to see how effective they really are.
But back to the green mosses and lichens. When I was editing my film last year, one of the ‘chapters’ was ‘gwrydd/green’, gwrydd being the Welsh word for green. I thought that I’d recalled reading that there were many Welsh words for green. This struck me as rational, since in this damp climate there are indeed many subtle variations of green. But researching this subject again this week, I was a bit disappointed to find that there are perhaps just 2 or 3. Unlike the hundreds of words which the Sami tribes inhabiting Northern Norway, Finland and neighbouring areas apparently have to describe snow. And why not when your environment for most of the year is dominated by the white stuff, and like most natural creations the more you closely observe it, the more variety you notice.
This led me to a fascinating piece of work on colours, and colour idioms in different languages throughout the world by Alan Kennedy. In particular I was intrigued that some languages lack any words for colour, and that as words have developed in different languages to describe colours, they always seem to appear in a linear fashion starting with the words for black and white. Next come the words for red, then green/blue, then brown and finally purple/pink orange and grey. So that if a language has words for green/blue it seems that it will always have words for black, white and red.
The other interesting point was the associations with the colour words in different languages. So in English ‘green’ has associations with inexperience, envy, and environmentalism. But other languages can link ‘green’ to fear (French), boredom (Russian), infidelity (Mandarin), the sky (Arabic) and harassment (Turkish). What was also intriguing was that as we’d returned to the car park at the end of our walk, we stopped to read again the information boards, erected by the Forestry Commission mainly for the benefit of bikers who currently visit the area as an access point to the world-class Gorlech Mountain Bike Trail. I include the English translation of the text on one of the boards below.
You’ll notice the word ‘vert’ – green in French, used in the context of mediaeval woodland law. As another quirky trick of language ‘vert’ is the term used for green in English heraldry, but the French, who after all gave us ‘vert’ in the first place, use instead the word sinople for their heraldry. Confused? So am I. You’ll also see from the text above, the benign description of how the forests came into being. No mention of compulsory land purchase here!
For an understandably different and aggrieved Welsh take on this annexation of land, I’m going to include a couple of links. Firstly, click here for a detailed biography of the poet David “Gwenallt” Jones, and from this to a beautiful video film and reading of an English translation of his celebrated poem Rhydcymerau, (published in 1951), made by Ifan Huw Dafydd, and set to background shots from the surrounding scenery. My reason for mentioning this again is that just this last week some copies of my film were taken to be submitted to a group of Welsh Assembly Members looking into possible noise issues which may arise from the planned ring of more than a hundred 145 metre high wind turbines which could well encircle Rhydcymerau within 5 years. (The films were requested by Jim Shepherd-Foster, a local engineer knows far more about the technical issues with them than I can claim to have gleaned over the years).
It seems ironic to me that the ‘foreign’ English owned forestry commission or “den of the English Minotaur” referred to in the above poem, which created such devastation for the local landowners who were essentially evicted from their holdings, will now be mirrored by the “den of the Welsh and German Dragons”. The Welsh Assembly now own the nation’s arm of the forestry commission, in association with German owned utility RWE- Npower and plan to site these turbines against the wishes of the majority of local residents on this same land. It’s also a matter of regret that our local MP, Jonathan Edwards, of Plaid Cymru (the political party of David Gwenallt Jones and Rhydcymerau’s other famous former resident D.J.Williams) recently spoke in Westminster in favour of bringing energy policy back to the Welsh Assembly government in Cardiff.
However he missed a chance to come off the fence, personally, on this issue. You can read his speech if you like here, and judge whether he or Plaid Cymru are currently for or against these current plans for the industrialisation of these wild upland areas. None of the Plaid members have joined the wide cross party group of MP’s calling for a halt to this march of industrialisation throughout the rural areas of the UK.
But enough of green and politics! What about green and yellow? Back home the BIG news was that a new world record of over £720 was paid for a single snowdrop bulb last Thursday. And it was acquired by Thompson and Morgan (T&M) of Suffolk who years before in 1998 bid £150,000 for 3 unique black flowered Hyacinth bulbs at a Dutch bulb auction. Crazy though these figures seem, it’s a commercial punt. In the case of the Hyacinths, when they had bulked them up to 30,000 bulbs for sale in 2005, the entire batch was sold at nearly £8.00 each, and the demand for these unique hyacinths from the gardening public has been maintained over subsequent years.
T&M clearly hope that they can crack the propagation of the special snowdrop (G. woronowii ‘Elizabeth Harrison’ which has the unique combination of woronowii’s glossy green leaves with a flower with yellow markings on both the flowers and ovary) by using tissue culture, and so bring it to the masses for much less than the price paid. We shall have to wait and see, since this is new territory for snowdrops. (Later addendum – rumour has it that they failed and their single bulb died).
However, I propose that Crocus tomassinianus should be the next craze. Why? Well they flower at the same time as snowdrops when we gardeners are desperate to hurry spring along, and have an even greater same range of subtle variations of colour (in this case purple shades), size, form and flowering times that make collecting snowdrop cultivars appealing. Even better, they’re a fantastic early pollen and nectar source for the first emerging bumblebee queens after winter’s hibernation, so are really insect friendly flowers and outdo snowdrops on this point. I’ve included a few variations which I photographed this week. Some may be named forms, which we acquired years ago, before we started to record such details. Many will be the result of me working my magic with a paintbrush.
Finally, I got lucky with a couple of photos using my macro lens of a crow flying out of our Big Oak Tree last week. Point and shoot as it left the branches, a bit of tweaking , and a really pleasing result.