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