Egg Run and Floral Boosts.

Early on Mothering Sunday morning, March 22nd 2020, in glorious sunshine, on the day after this sort of headline hit the news media –

Coronavirus: ‘Unprecedented’ crowds in Wales despite warnings

and the day before the nation heard in a solemn evening address from Boris Johnson (BJ), the Prime Minister, that the whole nation was going into lock down mode,

we went on an Egg Run.

Or more accurately an egg ride.

We’re so relieved to hear that the latest measures will still allow 2 people to engage in some sort of physical activity in a public place once a day, (?) though even in our very rural area we shall try to restrict our short rides to the Forestry tracks we can access from very close to home… Click here for reports of the madness of much of the British public at this time of national crisis, and here for BJ’s rather late-in-the-outbreak’s grasp of the inevitable.

This simple photographic record might cheer up a few readers from around the world in less fortunate situations, with an idea of how rural Carmarthenshire is springing into life in this new season, with wonderful exuberance.  

The images were taken with multiple short stops by me, along the 13.5 mile round trip, quickly taking out the Camcorder from a gilet pocket, grabbing a pic, then stuffing it back in the pocket before pedalling furiously to try to catch Fiona up (so apologies for the poor quality of some photos).

This was a lost cause, such is the levelling capability of ebikes, which is why after the first few images there aren’t many views of Fiona!

Or indeed any others.

But what are these meandering, long stretches of tidily hedged, white lined, salty grit spread asphalt actually for, an alien visitor might currently think?

In the 55 minute round trip on this glorious morning, we passed one cyclist, one pedestrian and a grand total of 12 cars, between about 9.00 and 10.00 am – and this before the real British lock down began in earnest the next (Monday) evening.

I should add that we have much closer sources of farm fresh eggs, but thought that a trip to Andy and Elena’s would really get the lungs working, plus we could barter exchange with some surplus tomato seedlings which I was about to pot on. Though the goods transfer took place sensibly and remotely, via a carrier bag left hanging on a gate – such is the gravity with which most residents in the predominantly older local population are now making of the situation.

Perhaps we should all follow the latest recommendation by Baroness Ilora Finlay of Llandaff, that family members should consider and discuss in advance, whether they would even want to opt for intensive aggressive therapy and the need for hospitalisation should they succumb to serious clinical signs linked to Covid -19.

Or whether they’d prefer to spend their last hours at home.

And since as well as being an independent cross bench member of the House of Lords, she’s also a professor of palliative medicine, a vice chair of the Marie Curie nursing charity and also chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Dying Well, which promotes palliative care, maybe she has a pertinent opinion on all this. A past president of the Royal Society of Medicine, she also sits on the BMA ethics committee, which has been drawing up guidelines right now for how NHS staff should decide on treatment priorities in the currently rapidly developing crisis…

Click here for exactly what she said on BBC Radio Four “Any Questions” last week. Could we have imagined such a mainstream media discussion being aired, even just a fortnight ago? How fast our world is changing.

Anyway, we figure that keeping fit and getting our lungs working as vigorously as possible whilst we can, is probably the best preventive and preparatory strategy for us fogies, along with savouring a little bit of raw honey three times a day! And with the hilly terrain around us I can confirm that even on ebikes you do achieve this sort of deep pulmonary workout in a way that no other exercise has ever managed for us in our time here.

And to think that I decided to acquire our ebikes last autumn to avoid having to jump in the car to go for a, usually Fiona suggested, walk along the nearby forestry trails, on ecological grounds…

How silly

Or maybe fortuitous?

… Except (for now) for one period of daily walking or cycling in groups of no more than two people.

How the world has indeed changed, if not gone mad.

As is confirmed by the hill across the valley, which rises to over 1,000 feet, having had a first cut of silage removed from it on March 26th, to be carted away in big bales to be fed to a diary herd nearly 7 miles away…

For anyone interested by the stats for this ride, here are screen captures from Fiona’s phone record using the free Strava app.

(Not sure about where the 5 minutes of chat came in though… must have been while I was trying to catch up…)

(Addendum of Covid-19 pandemic statistics 02/04/2020 : Coronavirus cases ex John Hopkins University data, click here:  180 countries – 956,588 confirmed cases worldwide; Deaths – 48,583; Total recovered – 202,728; UK : 33,718 2,921, Wales: 2,121, 117. Hywel da : 107. FTSE 100 : 5,442. )

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It would have made a wonderful day to open the garden on Mothering Sunday, but by then we’d long decided that any garden openings were off the agenda, probably for many months. A situation confirmed this last weekend when George Plumptre, the Chief Executive of the National Garden Scheme, emailed all NGS garden owners stating that no garden openings should now take place, and no insurance cover would be in place for any garden owners not complying.

But a real shame since the last 10 days of March have all been glorious. Before sharing a few photos of how the garden is looking, I thought I’d include a brief montage of video clips from the garden during this last week.

Ironically I can’t recall such a fabulous early spring run of weather without frosts harsh enough to knock everything down, overnight.

Day after day of unbroken sunshine, even if the wind’s been nippy, or downright bone chilling – particularly first thing, when I’m out in my nightshirt and long johns. But I hope you enjoy these merged clips.

It’s such a thrill to find that after so many years of deliberately selecting and planting more and more insect friendly flowers, it’s now (relatively!) easy to film such pieces – so many insects find our garden an oasis of provision this early in the year.

Images that reinforce the message that although we all love our flowers, millions of years of evolution have really developed them for their nutritional value to our insect fauna. And anyone with bumblebee queens a plenty in their gardens in March will be familiar with the distinct impression that when walking round your garden, surveying the delightful floral vistas, one or two of these incredibly tough, and large insects will meet you, and if not exactly greet you, then certainly check you out.

Carefully. Circling you three or four times, before heading off on more urgent duties. Just to let you ponder whether it’s them invading your personal space.

Or vice versa. Truly our flowers’ (human) aesthetic appeal is just a bonus!

You’ll see in the video clip in this order, these wonderful symbiotic pairings, and see how much work is still going on outside, BJ restrictions notwithstanding.And for any unfamiliar with the marvellous vegetarian adult Bee fly, it has a sinister life cycle – its larvae preying on bumblebee larvae.

Chionodoxa “Pink Giant” : Honeybee – Apis mellifera

Scilla bithynica : Honeybee – A. m.

Skimmia “Emerald King” : Honeybee – A. m.

Chionodoxa forbesii blue : Honeybee – A. m.

Primula vulgaris – primrose : Peacock butterfly – Inachis io

Muscari armeniacum: Honeybee – A.m.

Aubrieta : Dark-edged Beefly – Bombylius major

Muscari neglectum : Small Tortoiseshell butterfly – Aglais urticae

Primula vulgaris – primrose : Bumblebee queen – Bombus terrestris

Primula vulgaris – primrose: Dark-edged beefly – Bombylius major

Pieris “Forest Flame” : Bumblebee queen – Bombus leucorum

Narcissus “Brunswick” : Peacock butterfly -Inachis io

 


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This is a good time to decide which daffodils to order and acquire for next year, and we’ve just had an email from the wonderful family firm of Scamp’s in Cornwall, whose vital springtime series of showcase exhibits at many garden shows has been stopped, and they’re understandably fearful about the impact on their business.

Many of our more unusual daffodils were sourced from Ron, and he also sells vouchers for his bulbs, so do try and support him either now, or in the autumn, or perhaps send a voucher to a gardening friend as a gift?  Click here for his fabulous range of cultivars.

It’s become clear to me that over the very long term, few daffodils continue to flower really well without lifting and division, and quite a few disappear from the scene pretty quickly so I thought I’d highlight a few reliable early season ones, at least with us, over the last several years.

The first in our display, N. “Rjinveld’s Early Sensation”, is a good doer, which has only just finished after well over 2 months in flower. Mid height, it bulks up and is well worth growing for the lift that early daffodils can bring. Even if it is all yellow – shown as the 5 lower flowers below: Tenby daffodil, N. obvallaris.

Not surprising that this does well, since it’s the local species form. It’s early, short in stature, and vigorous. It also sets quite a bit of seed. The downside is that it doesn’t flower that well very year, and so really needs lifting and splitting quite frequently. However I can forgive that : all of those below were moved in the green, like snowdrops to produce the massed effects, with minimal cost:

N. “Eaton Song”.

Early, shortish, multi -headed and a good doer. I should really get more of these since its so cheerful.

N. “February Gold”.

Rarely out in February, though just managed it this year, this is one of the most persistent and regular flowering of the daffodils with bright green leaves we have. I’ve found that the blue/greener the leaves, the better they seem to perform with us, and the more long lived the bulbs are. But there are no longer any clumps of this size in the garden:

N. “Brunswick” 

Tall, early, bi-coloured, very long lasting, vigorous and sets seed too. One of our very best. All of those behind the stone wall below, like the Tenby’s in the foreground, were moved “in the green”, perhaps 4 years ago – so again, an amazing daffodil display for free:


N. pseudonarcissus – The Lenten lily 

Short, early and the other species native to the UK. These small bulbs, little bigger than snowdrops, have taken ages to settle in. 4 or 5 years after planting 100 we just about have that number of flowers. BUT, they are fertile, and produce quite a lot of seed, and with the eye for detail that comes from looking at thousands of moths and snowdrops, one can spot quite a lot of variation between individual flowers, and some are probably seedlings from hand pollinating them with other early bi-coloured forms we grow like N. “Topolino”, and N. “Trena”. I now rate this species above the similar, AGM awarded “Topolino”, which doesn’t seem to flower very well in the long term, though also produces masses of seeds.

 

N.”Trena”

An early Cyclamineus form with swept back petals, which after 3 years is still doing well, and really charming.

N. “Jetfire”

Worthy of an AGM award, but finally after nearly 20 years here, our original plantings are dying out. Doesn’t seem to set seed, and similar bright green foliage to the most widely planted daffodil Tete a Tete, which we find has the same failings. But heck, 20 years of flowers from a single planting isn’t bad, is it? I clearly should have lifted and split them earlier, but they’re growing in shale/concrete, so couldn’t face it!

N. “Orange Comet” 

A more recent addition, early and shortish, but a wonderful mix of orange and white, and with more glaucous foliage which makes me more hopeful it’ll thrive long term.

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With the honeybees nearly having notched up a complete year in the old butter churn, and with barely a month left until the date when they swarmed last year, I’ve been tweaking the empty hive designs – adding extra insulation in the form of surplus 50 mm thick cork boarding. (Click here for some of the latest ideas from Derek Mitchell at Leeds University on thermal conductance and smaller entrance size of natural hives and their effects on humidity and Varroa mite control). and also experimenting with a jar system for small scale honey harvesting with minimal intervention .Click here for a little more discussion of this.The plan is to have 4 or 5 such hives set up and ready, dotted around the smallholding, in case they attract in a swarm from elsewhere, or for me to transfer a swarm into in more controlled fashion than last year, should I happen to be around if our own bees do swarm again this year. And since our week away in a Shropshire B&B at the end of April has had to be cancelled, I probably shall be around for all the potential swarming season this year.Meanwhile, Fiona has nearly completed a brilliant job of re-organising one of our barns – a task that’s been on the to-do-list for years now, whilst we’ve also been able to restock the newish wood stores, with all the fine weather. As I’ve often commented before, such extended dry runs are physically demanding times here, pandemic or not.

I wish any readers, wherever in the world they may be, a calm, peaceful and healthy April, and look forward to the creative challenge that writing these pieces always brings for me. I hope too that you all benefit in some way from the enforced change of pace in life which Covid-19 is surely bringing.

 

19 thoughts on “Egg Run and Floral Boosts.

  1. Julian, So lovely to get your blog ! Your garden has matured and gotten so very beautiful as you and Fiona have worked on it since Jenny and I saw it in 2010. It was a real treat to see it today, as our temp is just a few degrees over freezing here in central Oregon, and it was snowing all morning long, although not sticking to the roadways. We are staying in, ‘self-isolating” we call it, as we are part of the ‘oldies’ population. We are able to talk to our grandsons north of Seattle, and our daughter , via something called ZOOM, which is nice. I have “jetfire” daffodils blooming here, and my miniature daffodils are starting to open, but most things are just budding out, like my lilacs’ leaves. So to see the glory of your spring garden is good for the soul. Thanks for your blog , and may you and Fiona stay well! Suzette in Oregon

    • Hello Suzette,
      Wonderful to hear from you and that all’s well with you in chilly Oregon. It’s hard to think back to ten years ago when you and Jenny visited… although the garden’s changed a lot in that time, the landscape hasn’t really and it’s lovely and a privilege to enjoy it in peaceful isolation right now. Though we’ll miss the annual chatter and excitement of visiting grandchildren for the regular Easter egg hunt this year.
      Very best wishes to you and likewise, stay well!
      Julian and Fiona

  2. Thank you for sharing all these beautiful photos and the minuteness of your observations with us! I’m afraid I’ve never commented, though I read all your posts religiously and run my fingers through your garden plants in my imaginings each time. Wishing both of you fierce health and deep peace in these challenging times!

    • Hello Isabella,
      Thanks very much for the kind comment – thanks to the WP stats, I do know quite a few people now look at my scribblings and photos after all these years of doing it, though very few understandably have any desire or time to comment. I’d do it all anyway, but positive feedback is always a nice spur to keep on the treadmill, when one wonders what to write about next! So thank you so much,
      Best wishes
      Julian

  3. Good to read and see that you and Fiona are keeping even more active on your bikes and well! The video is amazing but I jumped when I heard your voice towards the end as the humming of the bees had led me into a stupor! Very interesting and informative piece about all the daffodils- I shall have to print off this post so I don’t lose it.
    I mowed our Pond Field about 3/4 of an acre with our power lawn mower and I’ve the tidiest compost heap ever…so it’s not all bad! We are all so fortunate to have gardens to enjoy and sharing your garden in your posts should be made compulsory for all to read..brightens up the day. Stay well. Best wishes to you both.

    • Thanks Marianne- that’s quite some field to mow, but a good time to do it with it so dry. I left a couple of droney voice clips in as markers of day, and indeed time of day, and glad you enjoyed it.
      Do you get checked out by bumbles too? We must have had about 4 such episodes today, and I’m just wondering why? It doesn’t seem to happen with honeybees, and isn’t threatening, but I do wonder why they do it – they never seem to behave in a similar way with other bumbles.
      BTW a little FB birdie tells me many congratulations are due to you both. I hope that in spite of restrictions, you had a wonderful day!
      best wishes
      Julian and Fiona

      • Thanks for your congratulations Julian…much appreciated…where do the years go? You are right the bees were checking me out today too- I felt quite stalked! Two bees were doing the same thing in different parts of the field today …going into holes in the ground…then flying out finding me and going back to their holes! Very odd! Our honey bees are just loving all the spring flowers and just keep their heads down and get on with their work! Wish they’d fly away though and leave our roof!! Best wishes M

  4. I love the blue pollen on what I think must be the Scilla bithynica. I have got a little bit of Scilla but I have never seen the bees with blue pollen. Amelia

    • Hello Amelia,
      We bought some of the S. bithynica bulbs abut 4 years ago from Shipton bulbs in Pembrokeshire who described them along the lines of “I don’t know why they’re not grown more widely.” I agree with him.
      They’re not the ordinary Scilla sibirica – a bit smaller and daintier, almost like mini bluebells, but much earlier, and really last in flower for a long time – unlike the Chionodoxa which tend to go over quite quickly. The bees love them, the pollen is that amazing denim blue, and they set loads of seed, so do increase quite well – but aren’t as thug like as ordinary bluebell foliage. Well worth getting some if you can,
      best wishes
      Julian

  5. Ah, daffodils. Ours finished a while ago. Sometimes they bloom spectacularly in a short season. This year, the earlier sorts started earlier in December, and the later sorts finished later, not too long ago. It was not as spectacular, but the bloom lasted a good long time.

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