A rushed post, between the flipping weather patterns from dry, sunny and cold, to wet, mild and grey.
The nocturnal serenading tawnies mimic my angst.
To do, To do, To do. But daily seasonal reminders of the natural world springing back into life, after hibernation. The first Winter Aconites, Eranthis hyemalis, Hellebores, Crocus tommasinianus, and Iris reticulata are all now blooming.
The first spawn has been laid in the upper pond, on February 2nd, though the few frogs involved may have jumped the gun, as bitter Easterlies and freezing nights returned for the end of the week. The buzzard knows though that things are stirring.
However, I’m suffering from photographic and mental overload, after two onerous tasks. Firstly, putting together a forty minute film on how we’ve managed our soft rush, Juncus effusus, mono-culture during the last 3 years in our wet meadows. Has anyone else reading this ever put together their own film?
If so, I’m sure you’ll sympathise. If not, it’s well worth a go sometime, if you possess a tiny streak of masochism in your character. On the one hand, like many other time consuming tasks, there’s the initial rush of enthusiasm for the job ahead, and the desire to tell a logical story in an imaginative way – perhaps a little more challenging with such a mundane practical theme.
First the easy bit – a title: “Soft Rush – A Growing Problem”
Then there’s the decision as to how to do it.
Then the really tedious work of topping and tailing each scene, listening for aberrant audio clicks and whirrs and removing them, jiggling running orders, deleting scenes, adding text, changing fonts, spellchecking and reviewing, reviewing, reviewing.
The closeted joy, and tedium, of the film editor.
How anyone could do film editing for a living throughout the year, and retain their sanity is beyond me.
And right now I never want to see the thing again!
Though in March, it will get a public viewing, and the then inevitable criticisms that go with any such creative endeavour.
However, running alongside this has been my drive to photograph, label and record the snowdrops that we have in the garden. Partly for the benefit of garden visitors, but also for my own interest, and because I felt that if it wasn’t done now, the task would be beyond me, as numbers of variants continue to rise above 200. This task also provides both opportunities and pressures. The challenge of taking the photos is in itself quite demanding in the prevailing poor light, wind and precipitation, that the weather throws at us during late winter here.
The result is, after checking my numbers today, nearly 5,000 images taken and screened in the last month, and whittled down to a usable few, sufficient to feature the different snowdrop forms as they progress from emergence to full open flower. At the same time, flowering dates, and last flower times are noted, as well as the numbers of flowers produced for the named cultivars in the retyred matrix garden.
One of the benefits of such time-consuming daily effort is that you do notice subtle differences on screen that completely passed you by, out in the garden. Much of the hype around snowdrops is for just such differences between flowers, which may arise as a result of mutations, or crosses and new seedlings developing with minor differences in features. Whether the eventual novelty is really any more attractive than what was there originally is very debatable, but much of what every gardener now grows is the result of such close observation in the past by plant hunters, or plant breeders or nurserymen. Spot the odd one out in the photo above – a four petalled variant, in and out, a 50% larger flower, and more frost tolerant, too.
Of much more interest to me is whether any of the cultivars we grow or find, are actually garden worthy, at least in our wet environment. Or are they temperamental divas which only survive weakly, and don’t reliably create any garden impact? It’s really tricky to assess this from the vast majority of commercial snowdrop catalogues, which rarely show anything more than a single open flower. In this on-off, quite chilly season, how the foliage and flowers complement each other, and the flower shape when closed seems to me of vital importance, since this is actually what you see for well over 95% of the time!
At the same time my Welsh Historic Snowdrop Hunt has already kicked off, in great style with some wonderful stories, names, and observations of barons, Roman treasure hordes, fairy doors, leats and pandys and surprising local links to two well known discoverers of many snowdrop cultivars of the late C20th, David and Ruby Baker, from Farnham, in Surrey. Oh, and the snowdrops found as well, of course. More visits are planned over the next month, before the snowdrops season finishes for another year.
When I kicked off my project I asserted that there were no known named snowdrops of definite Welsh provenance. I must record that as of this year, the situation has changed, since Avon Bulbs, one of the UK’s best sources of snowdrop cultivars, are listing a form that they have named G. ‘Welsh Whiskers. (Click here for link – this is currently no longer listed, – in 2021 – after selling out in year one. Is/was this really garden worthy, at £80 a bulb!)
I usually succumb to a few new forms from Avon bulbs each year, but shan’t be adding this snowdrop to my shopping list in view of its price. I never pay anything like this for a snowdrop. It’s described as “being found in a hedge in Ceredigion, South (West) Wales, where millions of G. nivalis hide from tractors…” and frankly looks a bit of an oddity, with the aberrant petal from the ovary base. Also, I wonder just how reliable this particular aberrant flower form might be, long term.
I moved several carefully chosen bulbs of G. ‘James Backhouse’ with just such aberrant petals from the garden borders and into one of my tyres, two years ago. Both last year and this, not a single one has produced even a single aberrant petal amongst 20 or more flowers. Whereas a nearby tyre filled with what I thought were G. Atkinsii, which is generally thought of as being the same snowdrop clone but without the aberrations, has this year produced quite a few aberrant petals. Why? No one seems to know.
Back to G. ‘Welsh Whiskers’ though, and I’d really like to know more about where this bulb came from. What was the history, the magic human story of where these millions of G. nivalis came from? For human stories there would be – I’ve concluded that naturalised snowdrops are inextricably interlinked in fascinating historical triangles of plants, places and people. These whiskered Welsh forms were no doubt safely hedgerow hunkered, way before tractors had even been imagined.
Outside, the birds are becoming ever noisier as light levels intensify. Attempting to photograph many of the smaller birds for the first time has made me realise the benefits of having un-flailed hedges. OK, they require vastly more manual work every few years to thin and lay them, when you do decide to cut them down, but a crop of usable firewood results, and even valuable bark for our sheep.And in the meantime, they’re both a great hunting ground for many small birds,and also more of a refuge from the ever present predators.
Stray into open ground, and small birds become much easier targets for the marauding hawks. Were the bedraggled feathers I found those of the Pied wagtail, Motacilla alba, I photographed a few weeks back? I haven’t seen it since, and suspect that the one photographed 3 days ago, had different markings. The feathers were strewn on the ground in the middle of our wet meadow, many yards from the hedge, but close to our new fence in the middle of the meadow where many tiny birds will perch.
I’d never noticed before, how even the odd wood pigeon flying in to take berries, in a snow flurry, from the ivy scrambling over our topped fir, will only manage 3 or 4 mouthfuls, before pausing to check the surroundings for potential predators. And be ready for a quick escape, should a hint of danger surface.
Life under constant threat.
Than plucked out.