Valentine Memories and Slug Graffiti ; Up and Down and Down and Up; Cyclamania and Buried Treasure.

Just how wet has it been?

Figures to follow, but put it this way, the slugs are moving inside to escape the sodden conditions. How do we know? Well, the tell-tale dried slug slime trails, which have appeared of late, evidencing nocturnal expeditions really got me intrigued.SDIM5180 (2)

Do we have a particularly intelligent subspecies here? They’ve clearly taken to trying to leave me messages by crawling over the suitably dark, contrasting, temporary corky walls to highlight their artistic and literary skills, and seemed perplexed by my upside down 7 numeral. Was it just one particularly bright slug?

Maybe not. Caught retreating to a dark corner, but not quite making it to a safe haven between the water pipes, after I’d turned the lights on one morning, I picked it up and chucked it outside in disgust.

Two days later it, or accomplice, was back, and more trails had appeared. I’m afraid this time I was not in such benevolent mood, but writing this on Valentine’s day I thought it might amuse readers to find what, with the eye of faith, honed by years of studying radiographs trying not to miss the obvious anomaly amongst all that monochromatic normality, it appears to have ‘drawn’ (can a slug ‘draw’ with its slime trail?) something really appropriate for mid February.SDIM5181 (2)

Surely that’s a kissed X, joined to a heart 

Perhaps even more impressive is the apparent double A which was placed nearby. Cast your mind back to my post at the end of January, which did indeed headline with a triple A (AAA). A triple body contortion was maybe just too severe, or perhaps it had raided F’s relocated liquor store, and was trying to communicate something? I’m now determinedly teetotal.SDIM5176 (2)

And for those of a sceptical nature, I can assure them that aside from trying to get the right angle to capture these trails, since flash light completely destroys their silvery tracery, no tinkering was employed. It WAS the slug ‘wot did it!

For continental readers concerned about the risks of eosinophilic meningitis from slug slime, I can assure them that this is not a problem in the UK (being linked to ingestion of the second life stage of the rat lungworm, Angiostrogylus cantonensis), which as yet, does not infect British rats. Though there has apparently now been a confirmed clinical case in the UK involving an unfortunate woman who had eaten snails whilst on holiday in Thailand. Escargot fans be warned. Click here and here for more on the life cycle of this particularly resourceful parasite.

This molluscan artistic virtuosity cannot however be verified, as with most things down here, since the trails are now covered in slowly drying lime hemp plaster, and it’s a considerable relief that this work, planned for when we reckoned we’d be holed up with snow, has reached a temporary, drying induced moratorium. Then the final lime wash coats can be applied.S1150042 (2)This Agonopterix heracliana moth thought that the damp lime hemp plaster was worth checking out. Presumably finding its way inside on some logs destined for the stove, this autumnal/winter/early spring moth has a larva which feed on the leaves of various umbellifers in May to July.

With the unprecedented run of storms and rain accompanying our efforts indoors, we felt we should incorporate something for posterity to reflect this time of endeavour, and rain induced imprisonment. Lime hemp plaster lends itself to shaping and carving since it can take weeks to dry completely, but in resourceful just-in-time fashion, Fiona side stepped my primitive sculptural ability, and found a couple of appropriate hand made plaques on Etsy-UK, which arrived within days, and were quickly set into our asymmetric window ledges to reflect firstly the current deluges, and the impending amphibian mating season.S1150037 (2)

And secondly our yearning for the return of the swallows and better weather fortunes this spring.S1150044 (2)The final Valentine event I should record, apart from a memorable meal at home in our inevitably constrained chaos, reflects the success of our low wattage 3 and 4.5W LED lights in the kitchen. At last we have warm efficient light instantly at the flick of the switch. None of that frustrating CFL bulb warm up time.

Not only do the orchids seem to enjoy it, but I noticed a large pot filled with Fiona’s Hippeastrum bulbs from previous years, had pushed up a flower spike for the first time in the warmth, light and currently humid environment of the kitchen. Spotting it before Fiona, I had to ask her whether she’d deliberately trained it through the eye of the skewer.

Nope.S1150021 (2)By chance, for a couple of weeks the pot had been unmoved, and the flower bud had grown with amazing precision through the skewer eye, heading for an LED spot pointing in its general direction. For those wondering why a metal skewer was there in the first place, it had apparently been used in a previous year to support a flower stem.S1150024 (2)Quite difficult to photograph, and quite a tricky releasing job for Fiona to free the stem before it became pinched, as it lengthened and expanded.

But here are some of the stark weather figures.

The Met Office shows Wales as being the wettest of the 4 regions of the UK since December. The previous wettest ever winter was 1995 with a rainfall figure to the end of February of 684.1mm. In contrast the flooded Thames valley has received to date for 2013/14 ‘just’ 319mm.

As I write this on February 14th we have measured in December, January and half of February:  417.9, 332.1, and 211mm.

Total 961mm. So about 40% above the previous whole Wales maximum, with another 2 weeks to go. 

Light levels of course are hugely down as well.

SDIM7249 (2)Last January, which was poor anyway.

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(And this year, with very few days over 2.5 KWH of power producing light all day).

In trying to research extreme weather volatility and its incidence I found 3 interesting links. The first from an American site (Schneider Electric) which purports to demonstrate that in the USA the incidence of such severe and extreme weather events is spiking upwards in recent years. Click here for the blog based discussion and graph, and an opinion of why this might be happening.SDIM5259 (2)

Secondly from our own Met Office there is currently a page on weather event extremes going back over the years. This makes interesting reading since there aren’t so many near contemporary date marks at the moment. Just looking at some of this rainfall data:

The highest:

1 hour rainfall total: 92 mm Berkshire July 1901

2 hour rainfall total: 155 mm Yorkshire June 1956

24 hour rainfall total: 279 mm Dorset July 1955

4 day rainfall total: 495 mm Cumbria November 2009

shows that there are plenty of figures here, to make you realise that things could get a heck of a lot worse in terms of short-term rainfall events. What marks this winter out is the persistence and frequency of storms piling in from the Atlantic.

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Finally on one of my researching forays I discovered the summer that never was‘ of 1816. This major event caused high human mortality following on from crop failures and starvation, and is now thought to be the result of a combination of a period of very low levels of solar sunspot activity (about the middle of the ‘Dalton Minimum period’ of low solar activity from 1790 to 1830. Click here for more), combined with a major volcanic eruption in Indonesia (Mount Tambora), coming at the end of a run of lesser volcanic eruptions, all of which threw significant dust clouds into the atmosphere.

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Click here for more about the summer of 1816, and perhaps when considering whether our weather is likely to improve soon, reflect on the fact that the sun is currently producing unexpected and very low levels of sunspot activity, (“None of us alive have ever seen such a weak cycle, so we will learn something.”  Leif Svalgaard of Stanford University told reporters on December11th, 2013 at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union . Click here for more from Mike Wall’s blog discussing current solar activity). 

As I write, there has also been a major Indonesian volcanic eruption (at Mount Kelud, click here for the link).S1150011 (2)

By chance, a short BBC Radio 4 series ‘A brief history of Mathematics’ , presented by Oxford Professor Marcus du Sautoy, focused an episode this week on Henri Poincare and what eventually became known as (his) Chaos theory. This theory was developed after an embarrassing mistake was found by a reviewer in a paper which Poincare had written in response to a competition organised by King Oscar of Sweden, to try to find a formula to predict the orbiting of multiple planets.

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Listen to a riveting 15 minute explanation by clicking here, which also includes an interview with a Met Office forecaster, Sarah Lucas. She explained that in spite of the supercomputers the Met Office uses, which make about 125 trillion calculations per second (based on the roughly half a million items of daily observation inputs from around the world), in attempting to predict weather patterns, even a tiny change in the starting conditions could cause an apparently stable predictable deterministic system to fly apart, and radically different outcomes could result. The classic chaos theory concept of the beat of butterfly wings in Africa resulting in a storm in Tokyo, or Wales?

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So, on the one hand I shall now be more understanding of the challenges our weather forecasters face in predicting or explaining our weather patterns. But on the other hand, I shall be forced to consider how one should plan for potentially much more severe weather events in the future. The recent floods in Somerset and the Thames region, together with coastal storm battering reinforces the thought, that living where we do, we have to be as prepared and resilient as we can be. Click here, here, here, here  and here  for some images from less fortunate parts of the UK this month.SDIM5224 (2)

What will be next? Who knows?

In the short time that I’ve been blogging we’ve broken so many seasonal records, as indeed has been happening elsewhere round the world. Do you remember the drought summit called by Caroline Spelman in February 2012 after the driest winter for decades? I’d forgotten, but it’s there in a February 2012 post I wrote.

Since rain largely runs away quickly from upland areas, it’s the problems caused by prolonged snow, violent storm winds and poor growing seasons that are currently our biggest focus of thought and effort.

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As for our unfortunate planners and politicians, perhaps all risk assessments should be made after listening to the above programme. Maybe the phrase “a tiny change in the starting conditions could cause a stable system to fly apart” could induce a focusing of minds on long term planning?

Or maybe just a paralysis of inaction?

Can you plan for the unknown unknown?

Does this apparent spiking in severe weather event volatility, indicate that our climate is becoming a more unstable, though still deterministic, system?

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Easier to assess are the already evident benefits of our work in the kitchen. Our digital thermometer gives an idea of temperature gains from internal ecological cork based cladding, but this is at the wall surface.

Going UP.

S1140012 (2)S1140009 (2)Base lime plaster surface temperature.

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Adjacent cork board surface temperature.

Equally impressive is that for the very first time our ‘Galileo thermometer’ has at last worked. Click here for an explanation of how and why this slow moving, but accurate thermometer, (actually designed not by Galileo, but by a group including some of his pupils working at the Accademia del Cimento of Florence in 1666), is able to demonstrate temperature changes. In spite of still drying walls, we’ve even had the 22 degrees C sphere drop to the bottom as temperatures rose after bread making in our wood burning stove. At last the prospect of comfortable living temperatures around 18 degrees C, without huge energy inputs, seem attainable.

Going DOWN.S1140049. 2 JPG (2)


Click here for an interesting assessment of trying to manage and improve the huge number of about 4.8 million British properties in the UK built before 1919 with solid walls. In Wales there are currently total 100% state funding schemes for the external cladding of solid walled properties, but only currently with solid fuel heating systems, using moisture impervious insulation and render.

Is this a rational long term solution to protect the wall fabrics?

Or will other issues be created down the road when, as is inevitable, these impervious skins become damaged and water ingress occurs?

What about more ecological moisture permeable systems? Click here for some ideas from a local firm which is a world leader at the forefront of exploring such systems.

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A very recent report confirmed that contemporary Brits. prefer living temperatures about 4 degrees C higher than those typical in the average 1970’s home, when ice patterns on the inside of bedroom windows, and lack of central heating were widespread (and these are fond memories for this blogger). But how can these higher temperatures reasonably be attained without better insulation of structures?

To experience the real harshness of life in a property like Gelli Uchaf, in previous centuries, you can travel to St Fagan’s Museum of Rural Life, just outside Cardiff, where a number of properties from various periods of history and different regions of Wales have been relocated and reconstructed to give an authentic insight into living conditions in years gone by – smoke filled rooms from open fires, tallow candles for impossibly low level lighting, and the consequently short life expectancies. Click here for a virtual link to images of a Welsh long house there.

And muse about why a property like our own ever became derelict, or available for relocation to the museum, in the first place.

Any brief respites from the weather and work we have enjoyed, have seen me dashing outside with the camera looking down.

SDIM5196 (2)And up.

SDIM5185 (2)Trying to capture that rarest and most fleeting of moments this year – a spring flower pushing upwards into the wonderful hue of a rich blue February sky.

SDIM5187 (2)And dashing around with a pollinating brush, mainly bending down. Almost no insects have surfaced yet this year, in spite of the mild temperatures, so both the special snowdrops and cyclamen get priority treatment, although even this is trickier than usual, since the petals have rarely dried completely, and the brush needs drying between every few flowers.

SDIM5148 (2) But our Cyclamen coum have already spread spectacularly over the 4 years we’ve been growing them, thanks to their ability to set viable seed, provided they are hand pollinated. You can find out a lot more about my thoughts on insect friendly flowers on the separate blog pages.SDIM5254 (2)

And the cyclamen’s vigour, hardiness, slug and rodent resistance, through all this foul weather, made me think that there should be a term for confirmed Cyclamen coum fans like me.SDIM5246 (2)


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Were it not for the difficulty of propagating them by division, I’m convinced that they would have become just as highly prized and popular as individual snowdrop cultivars. But armed with a paintbrush and patience, you can enjoy your very own wealth of flower and leaf variants.SDIM5243 (2)SDIM5207 (2)SDIM5136 (2)SDIM5126 (2)

Some garden visitors assure me that they get good seed set without such intervention, and perhaps where readers live, there are interested pollinators around at Cyclamen flowering time.SDIM5253 (2) But the image below from a visit to the lovely Aberglasney gardens yesterday, confirm what I see in many gardens growing Cyclamen of several types outside – the original tubers are surviving and thriving and can live on for decades, (here C. hederifolium), but you struggle to see any seedlings infilling, and creating a more naturalistic effect.SDIM5283 (2) Lovely Aberglasney snowdrops below.SDIM5280 (2)

And this gets me to the final subject of this post.

A visit to meet Bob and Rannveig Wallis who own ‘Buried Treasure’, a Carmarthenshire based nursery specialising in home grown,  and home bred in some cases, bulbs and tubers, which I mentioned in my last post.S1140072 (2)They very kindly agreed to show me round both their garden, and their nursery glasshouses, where they grow a huge range of lovely alpine type plants. In one of the nursery’s glasshouses I spotted Rannveig’s pollinating brush and she showed me a range of miniature Narcissi which she has bred, along with some snowdrop cultivars.S1140068 (2)S1140066 (2)

Out in the garden there were some fantastic large clumps of snowdrops, which were planted soon after their arrival at the property 19 years ago.S1140057 (2)Un-named G. nivalis hybrid.

As is the way with snowdrops, some cultivars which weren’t thriving quite as well. I’ve included a few favourites, and the names of these are thanks to Rannveig’s post photo ID session.S1140055 (2)G. ‘Headbourne’.S1140064 (2)G. ‘Sybil Roberts’.

Bob and Rannveig met at Bristol University, and got hooked on plant growing and plant hunting expeditions at this early age, and had several wonderful anecdotes of forays into countries like Iran, Afghanistan and Kazakhstan, which would be much trickier to visit in today’s world.S1140077 (2)

Above are some of their fantastic Cyclamen graecum varieties, which they have selected over the years – worth growing for their leaves alone.

Bob and Rannveig haven’t moved to an internet based catalogue (I suspect that they’re far too busy with growing, exhibiting and lecturing for that), but you can request their catalogue or meet them at one of the Alpine Garden Society shows that they attend. I returned from my early February visit re-invigorated. And clutching 3 new cultivars of snowdrops freshly dug, and generously shared. So many thanks to them both for such a welcome on a cold, grey and windy day. I planted the bulbs in a gale by torchlight when I got home, since the following day’s forecast was for even worse weather. But somehow one of the name labels got blown away.

It turned up today, fortunately not far from the planting spot, amongst some local G. nivalis.SDIM5151 (2)

G. ‘Ballard’s No Notch’ – originally from the garden of Helen Ballard, who was a well known early Hellebore hybridizer and plantswoman gardening near Malvern, Worcestershire. Rannveig received this cultivar from her garden, along with many of her wonderful hellebores which are flourishing amongst the snowdrops. Quite a broad leaved snowdrop, with a flower with almost no division of the green inner segment mark – hence ‘No notch’. This is the source clump in Bob and Rannveig’s garden.S1140058 (2)Things are starting to move in the garden and inside, in spite of the weather, as the days inevitably lengthen.SDIM5138 (2)SDIM5164 (2)SDIM5214 (2)SDIM5222 (2)SDIM5220 (2)SDIM5237 (2)SDIM5118 (2)

9 thoughts on “Valentine Memories and Slug Graffiti ; Up and Down and Down and Up; Cyclamania and Buried Treasure.

    • Hello Philip,
      Thanks for the comment and the link. I had heard the Julia Slingo comment referenced on the radio, though hadn’t found the link that you provided, so many thanks for including that.
      As a Met Office blog reader I did also try to leave a comment/question on the specific issue of extreme weather event volatility within the last fortnight and whether the Met Office had produced anything like the Schneider Electric graph which I mentioned, as a simple reference/visual tool. Unfortunately I haven’t (I think!) had a reply – for some reason I don’t find the Met Office blog comments feature as user friendly as it used to be and assumed they’re all far too busy to respond to such a trivial request…
      Best wishes

    • As an addendum Philip, to my earlier reply, I have today received a holding email from the Met Office to my query. They’ve passed it to colleagues in the National Climate Information Centre….so I await a response in due course, which I’ll try to add in here when it arrives…

  1. I, of course, would love to know the names of all the snowdrops, such lovely clumps. What were your other two choices? Your weather info was very disturbing and resulted in heartburn. We have over two feet of snow on the ground with three storms in the last three days. Getting warm later in the week though. I am usually potting snowdrops by now.

  2. Hello Carolyn,
    Thanks for the comment. The other 2 snowdrops I planted out in the dark were a G.Caucasicus hiemalis, and G.Edinburgh Ketton. Not actually the Welsh origin ones which I was originally hunting for, but Bob and Rannveig have so many wonderful varieties. 2 which particularly caught my eye were Amy Doncaster (stunning, though this was growing inside) and Kyre Park, which formed a huge vigorous clump in the garden with real presence.
    I really should have got the names first, but as you might gather we’ve been frantic, and just getting the blog done was an effort. Bob and Rannveig were also preparing for a show this weekend, so I didn’t want to burden them with ID’s. I’ll let you know when I get names and put them up retrospectively.
    Oh dear, I didn’t want to cause health issues with the weather info, but I find it all pretty disturbing, and interesting that your weather has been so terrible, though in a different way – and then California has a drought… actually I get quite an insight from other global bloggers – for now the UK media is understandably pre occupied reporting on what’s happening here… Today we had our first sunny day for weeks, and all the spring bulbs zoomed on, but not a bumblebee in sight – has the wet weather caused high winter mortality I wonder?
    Good luck with the snowdrop potting season when you get going,

  3. Your garden looks beautiful despite the weather. My cyclamen have self-seeded, much to my surprise, but seeing the masses of cyclamen and snowdrops you have has cheered me up as to what “might be” in the future in my garden. I have been running out like you to check on the garden in the brief interludes of sunshine but it is getting tiresome. It would be much more fun if I had a literate slug to keep me amused.

  4. Hello A,
    And thanks for the comment which brought a smile at the end of the first sunny day we’ve had in weeks. But almost no insects about today (save a solitary confused SmallTortoiseshell butterfly)- I would have expected bumble bees by now, so I was even hand pollinating the Crocus tommasinianus.
    Maybe there will have been higher winter mortality of many insects with all this wet weather ? I wonder if being further South some of your mining bees are interested and about when the Cyclamen are flowering? I’ve very occasionally seen bees on our C. hederifolium flowers, but never on the C.coum.
    I would hesitate to wish even a literate indoor slug on you… And I wonder given the French penchant for snail eating whether France has issues with the rat lungworm, which I only found out about, when looking up articles on slug slime…..How one passes the time at the end, or middle, of all these soggy winter days..
    May the sun shine soon on the Charente,

  5. Hello Julian and Fiona! We here in Oregon have huge slugs! I’ve seen trails left by our front door but NOT within the house. (Thank goodness!) Reading about your snowdrops makes me want to plant many more here in my garden…sweet, they are. It’s a blustery day (we need the rain) but I did just now go outside and look at my snowdrops and Hellebores. SO enjoy your postings!!!

    • Hello Jenny,
      Good to hear from you. What well behaved slugs you have in Oregon! If you’re interested in more snowdrops, Carolyn who replied above has one of the best ranges available in the States, I think, and writes a very good blog, which I follow – Carolyn’s Shade Garden. She does mail order as well. Great to hear that you have some anyway, and that they’re thriving – as well as lovely hellebores. Cooped up inside today with yet more rain,

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