After recent comments following a previous post, how do I rattle through the multitude of topics I intend to cover without seeming even more incoherent than usual? The link HAS to be synchronicity. Click here for a brief resume.
John, my last veterinary employee before I decided to ditch my syringe and scalpel for good, was responsible for introducing me to the concept of synchronicity, and observed that like the arrival of London buses, ‘coincidentally’ timed conjunctions of events tend to happen infrequently, and then all of a sudden when you’d almost forgotten about it, a cluster occurs. I can agree.
Our busiest period ever for garden visitors, for once coincided with not just fine weather, but the garden looking pretty good as well. And our latest booked in group of the year visited us from Newport Gardening Club.
As you can see, they were able to enjoy a dry afternoon and one of Fiona’s lovely cream teas on our terrace, after a look round the garden. By then I’d had some comments about a type of edible pea which I’m growing for the first time. Not only are its flowers almost pretty enough to be ornamental, but it goes on to produce very ornamental and tasty yellow mange tout pods, which retain their colour during cooking. (‘Golden Sweet’ cultivar).We haven’t harvested any yet, so can’t vouch for the taste, and they’re a couple of weeks behind our stalwart ‘Oregon Sugar Pod’ mange tout, but I’m sure we’ll grow them again. After my enthusiastic endorsement of them, along with ‘Ben’s’ selection of tomatoes which I mentioned in my previous post, the couple who asked me the question told me that they were Kate’s parents.
Ben and Kate founded and run the ‘Real Seeds Catalogue’ which is based just outside Newport, Pembrokeshire and who I increasingly use to source reliable, flavoursome vegetable seeds which really do perform in our garden environment. To add to the synchronicity they told me that both Ben and Kate were also both Cambridge graduates. Then 2 days later when the latest edition of ‘Gardens Illustrated’ magazine arrived, there was a 4 page spread on them both. So for anyone who has yet to discover their merits, click here for a link. (I’d previously discovered that one of the other gardening club group members had been at the same medical school as my father, and done research work under Sir Peter Medawar, who had also mentored my mother in her zoology Msc. at Birmingham. Small world, eh?)
AS well as their Paris Pickling Cucumber, and ‘Jaune de Poitou’ Leeks. Kate’s parents raved about their ‘Sutherland’ kale, so I’ll have to add it to this year’s order, along with Achocha ‘Fat Baby’, as an outdoor green pepper substitute, which looks like a baby cucumber.
A warm morning on the day of this visit saw me doing a quick whizz round the garden for a final tidy, and whilst so occupied, I caught a glimpse out of the corner of my eye of a moth flitting between magenta Primula flowers at the top of the tyre garden. We’ve had a large influx of immigrant Silver Y moths, Autographa gamma, already this year, but I rarely see any insects visiting these flowers. A more careful look spotted a tell tale orange brown wing flash and a distinctive hovering motion in front of the blooms.
A Hummingbird Hawk-moth, Macroglossum stellatarum!
I’ve only ever seen one in the garden about 6 years previously. Needless to say I didn’t have my camera to hand, and it’s now fitted with a macro lens, but a dash into the house and then searching for the fast flying insect eventually yielded a usable image, better (i.e. closer) than my previous effort, all those years ago.
Later the same morning a spectacularly marked, large bumblebee look alike fly, never before seen in the garden was photographed, and finally a common lizard, Zootoca vivipara, showed its head between the wall topping slate slabs just outside the front door – again a sighting denied for 2 years, since there was precious little basking weather last summer.
Many people in the UK will know that over the last few decades nearly 97% of permanent hay meadows have been ploughed up and lost to more intensive agriculture. We’re incredibly lucky to have a network of small traditional hay meadows in the ‘cwm’ or valleys that Gelli looks out onto. These may not produce the weight of crop that a re-sown, heavily fertilised modern ley will, but the diversity of plants and sheer numbers of flowers that an old hay meadow contains is astounding. As well as its associated huge insect population. Our neighbour’s adjacent hay meadow (above) has reached this glorious state, over the last 20 years, simply by lack of fertiliser application, late hay cutting, and short grazing over the winter months.
I can’t say for certain whether yellow rattle, Rhinanthus minor, was even sown into this field, or whether it has arrived on its own, but it’s now a dominant feature. This hemi-parasitic plant has been recognised for some time as being a key element in restoring grassland plant diversity, by weakening the growth of some of the more powerful native grasses. One of the last areas where we would like to create an impact at Gelli is indeed our native meadows. None have been ploughed for decades, or received any artificial fertiliser during our time at Gelli (as far as we know!) but certainly not for the last 7 years.
Until we acquired our own sheep last year, we were limited by our ability to control grazing strategies. Starting with a just few sheep meant that last year our high meadow was under-grazed, and although we manually removed a hay crop from perhaps 15% of the field, the majority of the pasture was left un-grazed until autumn. Our sheep then made very little impact on these lengthy areas over the winter and early spring.
The result has been a fascinating patchwork appearance of the field by this summer – the areas cut for hay last year are already showing small numbers of creeping buttercup, Ranunculus repens, and meadow buttercup, Ranunculus acris, sheep sorrel, Rumex acetosella and dandelions, Taraxacum officinale, as well as more restrained grass growth. A very few yellow rattle plants have germinated in a couple of places from the few locally collected seeds I’d sown last autumn.There are quite large patches where scattered seed of birdsfoot trefoil, Lotus corniculatus, sown just 2 years ago, seems to have already established in an almost monocultural slab, although with different flowering times throughout its population.
In addition a few areas of Lesser Stitchwort, Stellaria graminea, Germander Speedwell, Veronica chamaedrys, Red (pink) and White clovers, Trifolium pratense and Trifolium repens, and even the odd plant of Whorled Caraway, Carum verticillatum, which I discovered is a nationally rare native, but has been selected as the county flower for Carmarthenshire.What has caused this huge variation in how this single, barely 1 acre, meadow looks this year?Is it the result of inorganic variations beneath the soil surface?
Or are invisible fungal networks or some other organic factors involved? I’ve often wondered how several plants which we grow in the garden (particularly natives) will move in a drifting, and sometimes expanding ring, fashion away from their initial location which they vacate completely within just a few years?The central green band is of native Ivy-leaved Bellflower, Wahlenbergia hederacea, in our mossy copse, which has relocated from an original few scraps at the left margin of the image to this central strip. None remains in the original location. I fear that it will die out as it meets the slightly more vigorous non native Chrysosplenium davidianum, stage right.
I’d realised that yellow rattle could play a key role in restoring flower diversity in this meadow and so had collected some seed locally 2 years ago. Sowing these onto our wild flower ‘berm’ produced a few flowers with viable seed, which last year got sown mainly onto the poorly covered bank above our vegetable big bags.I’d reckoned that this would provide a bigger still yield of seed for sowing into the meadow next year. It has indeed flowered well this year, but I found some fascinating recent papers on the value and techniques for using yellow rattle, in this way to change meadow flower compositions. Click here and here and here. The key points seem to be:
- Expect such changes in meadow flower diversity to take at least 10 years. Actually, I reckon our recent lack of fertiliser use gives us a head start, and hope that 5 years will see a huge change.
- The weight of rattle seed sown in a finite area initially had a big effect on the number of rattle plants growing in the first 3 years, but by year 4, the natural seed production in situ had ironed out these differences. Fresh seed from this year’s harvest must be sown in the autumn, since it has poor long term viability and needs autumn chilling to germinate.
- Until the yellow rattle has started to weaken natural grass growth, sowing other flowers or ‘forbs’ isn’t likely to be very successful, although my birdsfoot trefoil experience seems to contradict this.
- Cutting for hay in late July seems to be the optimum time. This is usually the ideal time in our upland meadows, (weather permitting) since growth is often slower earlier in the year than in lowland areas. Normal hay making procedures will result in natural spreading of both yellow rattle and other forb seed around the pasture. The current trend for silage or haylage completely eliminates the opportunity for yellow rattle, and other meadow flowers, to have flowered and seeded before being cut down, and is another reason for the lack of diversity in modern pasture fields.
- Short grazing of the pasture in late autumn and early spring is really important – this allows a short height of grass growth for when the annual yellow rattle has to germinate and grow through other plants, and trampling by stock in the autumn helps to push seed into the ground.
- A short cut approach discussed in one of the papers above, would be to spray off all existing grass with glyphosate, but given our distrust of this omnipotent chemical, is not an option we’d consider.
However, I’m hopeful that some areas of the meadow where the previous year’s rank grass seems to have effectively killed off most of the permanent grass, simply by flopping onto it over winter, provides an opportunity to sow into terrain not dissimilar to a herbicide treated field, albeit with a healthy mossy soil covering.
This I could tolerate, but their regular trips, along with the squirrels, into the poultry runs to steal chicken and turkey food has annoyed me. Never mind that magpies are the most intelligent animals after some primates and cetaceans. A crisis point was being reached. And then an opportunity presented itself.
The details of their demise will be kept suitably hazy, but as a recollection of a personal vivid image from childhood, of gamekeeper hung corvid victims in the local wood, designed to deter subsequent would be poachers, I threw the bird corpse over a fence. It had little impact, though I did think some record was needed.
After a day of audible social mourning (click here for a fascinating brief article on magpie and crow ‘funerals’ by Marc Bekoff, a research scientist in this field – it’s worth reading just for his quote that he considers ‘that the plural of anecdote is data’), the survivors were back in force, no doubt plotting a revenge in this world or another.Before mentioning the hanging of our exhibition, ” The Seasons”, I must record more synchronicities from a visit to Surrey for a family party.
Whilst using the WC at Fiona’s brother’s home I noticed the hung, framed photograph recording the Cambridge boat race crew of 1980 in which John was a member, losing to Oxford by the narrowest distance of only 5 feet. Scanning the names and faces, I was taken by a fellow undergraduate’s name – H.J.C.Laurie of Eton and Selwyn College. Was that the Hugh Laurie, the actor and now re-invented touring jazz pianist, I asked John later? He who’d pulled global audiences of 80 million plus, and earned $250,000 per episode for his American TV series ‘House’? ( Even TV denied Welsh hobbits had heard of his fame, and this vast sum would keep the hobbits in tomato seed and other vital living necessities for well over a decade).(This pretty Mottled Beauty moth, Alcis repandata, has no relevance or link to the current point, as far as I’m aware, but does break the text up).
Indeed it was the very same Mr.Laurie. I then discovered that he’d been the castaway on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, which we’d missed, just last week . Click here for the link to listen to this programme. Once back home we’d downloaded and listened to it. Apart from a providing a fascinating character insight; a rather narrow, though interesting, mix of tracks; and his unchallenged end of programme choice of 2 sets of throwing knives as his single luxury to take to the island (rather than perhaps his beloved piano?), I also discovered that one of his 8 chosen pieces of music was ” I wish I knew how it would feel to be free” by Nina Simone.
During a lull in the family party, I’d sneaked into the house to try out J and C’s Challen baby grand piano, and played just 3 of my own simple mini compositions/arrangements, including my latest, which first saw the light of day just last week and inspired by The Brennan JB7 randomly playing before supper one evening ‘The Lighthouse Family’s version of – “I wish I knew how it would feel to be free”.
This morning I checked Hugh Laurie’s biography for some of the above details and discovered that like this blogger he has the same birthday, a father who was a doctor, as well as being one of four children. He also headed West in later life, but here the similarities become stretched.
Whereas we retreated to the soft rain of the Welsh Hills and eke out a frugal existence, he headed for the sunshine, glamour and glitz of Los Angeles!
A lovely summer’s evening at the Surrey party was made more memorable by the noisy balloons released into the night sky by happy guests, before a couple of Chinese lanterns were released on the evening breeze. I jokingly made noises about the risk assessment of releasing these things so close to Gatwick, but was assured by C that they were of the new ‘Eco friendly’ version. I suspect Chinese lanterns will disappear from the UK scene pretty soon. 2 days later our son saw the smoke clouds from his office in Birmingham of a 5 million pound fire in Smethwick initiated by a Chinese lantern drifting into a plastics recycling facility.
Have some of string theory’s 11 dimensions recently intersected?
Our return to the frankly less dramatic rural Welsh scene had us spending a day at the Welsh quilt centre hanging an exhibition in a room below the Kaffe Fassett quilt exhibition which I’ve previously referenced on this blog.(Winter)
Calling it ‘Seasons’, it draws together some of the creative work we’ve both done over the last few years, along with some fresh images which have all been hugely influenced by the natural environment around us.(Spring)
Our little exhibit should be in place at least until the end of August, and the fact that we completed hanging it in a single session, was due to Fiona’s immensely hard work on the day, and in planning everything in great detail with physical and computer based mock ups, before we arrived on site.