What a start to 2021.
Just when you thought 2020 did pretty well at shaking up the world’s complacency, along comes 2021, and already we’ve had the storming of the Capitol by a Trump supporting mob, a pending second impeachment of soon to be ex-president Trump, and the banning of his feed by Twitter and Facebook, because of a perceived incitement to violence.
Something I always think of, around the turn of the year, as I review all the images that made it onto the blog in 2020, and try to narrow them down to just 3, to provide the frontispiece, dedication page, and back page for my annual physical copy of all my writing and images, posted here throughout the year.
This year, I seemed to struggle to hone things down. After a couple of hours I’d still got well over a hundred, so passed this folder over to Fiona. She quickly whittled them down to a half dozen and we jointly then made the final choice of 3 which caught the feel of the year, without really duplicating any scenes used on the previous 11 books. Job done, it took her about an hour to produce the book on line.
A payment to the states via Paypal.
Within 10 days the book had been printed in the Sates, wrapped, packaged and presumably flown over to the UK on one of the few planes now crossing the Atlantic. Sorted by Fed Ex and delivered to our door. And what price for such extravagance?
Perhaps Blog2Print should diversify.
Apologies for these quickly snapped images of the high quality, 351 page, finished article – the standard of printing, that is, not so sure about the contents.
I’m including the three selected images in higher quality below, as a reminder for me, and anyone else, that if we can escape from the 24 hour uniformly gloomy ‘newsfeeds’ which are the backdrop to our lives these days, and just spend a little time looking and seeing, listening and hearing, outside, there’s always much to cheer and delight in the world. Even as we head towards the fag end of January, traditionally viewed as the most dreary part of the year for anyone living in the UK, and our governments persist in trying to keep much of the population under near house arrest, fearful of the risks that the big, bad world presents.
As we paused in the yard before a much needed (local!) bike ride, on Sunday, another hawk swooped past, swerving above our heads at speed and careering down the track, on a brown-backed, taloned, attempted avian missile strike.
It reminded me that out there, in this very big, very bad, world, sudden death is the usual obverse flip side to the coin that has LIFE, writ large, on its reversed face.
Not, sadly, fading away gracefully.
Although a printed digital record is still an extravagance for us, and I wish I could find a similar service more locally, I feel it’s a vital personal back up of memories and discoveries made over the years, that I’ve been posting on this free-to-view, resource. Whilst an online record has many wonderful benefits of outreach and ease of search, The Donald’s recent experience shows that no matter who you are, anything digital can be wiped at the flick of a switch. (Or in his case probably carefully preserved in the bowels of Twitter HQ, for lawyers to pore over in years to come).
As part of my ongoing effort to work towards a single, physical, condensed, “best of” record of the last decade here, I’ve been trawling through all my posts, from right back in March 2011. It’s interesting on at least two levels – firstly and inevitably, my style of writing and subject matter, has waxed and waned, and errors of punctuation or spelling that slipped through the net, can be corrected. But, secondly, I’ve discovered a huge issue with the links, which from an early stage, I’ve often included as references to sources with more information, or a different slant, on what I’ve tried to condense into more manageable writing. Very few readers ever look at these, but I’ve discovered that over just this short 10 year period, about 40% of these links no longer reach the planned webpage. Many times you simply get a ‘page 404 OOPS’ style of message.
What’s much more alarming though, is when the link takes you to a completely different webpage, than the one which I’d carefully inserted. This isn’t an error on my part, but the old webpage which I link to, has clearly been hijacked. Or perhaps, in some way unfathomable to me, the route in for this chicanery, is through the very WordPress software, which all WP bloggers use. Let me give you a few examples.
Firstly, back in late 2012, I was enticed by a blog writing competition hosted by the (very reputable) English Garden magazine, to begin writing another blog for their “Green and Gorgeous Garden” competition. In the end we made it into the top three, and gained a trip to the Hay Festival out of it, and whilst being pipped to the post, had a lot of fun. Every participant had a direct web link to their own individual writings, from a weblink under the banner ‘greenandgorgeousgarden.co.uk’ webpage. I didn’t back up any of these writings or images in any other way.
Look where you end up, if you try to follow this link to my many entries now – a commercial bedding plant store. Since many of the posts were variations on what I wrote here, I wasn’t too bothered. But presumably the domain name was acquired from the magazine, or rather its commercial owners, and nobody bothered to tell us, the contributors, in advance, in case we’d wanted to back things up.
Does our current M.P. know that the link I included to a House of Commons video recording, of a speech he’d made in the chamber about energy policy, now leads instead to a very banal looking, personal Jonathan Edwards M.P. (JE) website? This ends with a line to the effect that whilst visiting Carmarthenshire, as well as the lovely towns and scenery, make sure you book into one of the local hotel casinos – with its own sub link. I note that JE has been suspended from Plaid Cymru for a year from last July, and currently represents us, his constituents, as an independent, but I wonder if he’s aware that this message is out there, on line?
And what about the link to an article I’d included from the U.S.A., about rearing turkey eggs, which now leads to a shop site selling Russian handbags?
Or worse still, the bizarre take over, of what I felt at the time, was a rather inadequate website created to commemorate the centenary celebrations of Dylan Thomas in 2014, which if you click on this link to a WP site of the same name, now leads to a page extolling the benefits of deer placenta as a therapy in Singapore!
There may be more than one issue here – even reputable on-line scientific publications are frustratingly taken down. The most consistently reliable links seem to be to other WordPress blogs, Wikipedia, and some of the mainstream national daily newsprint websites. Is this because they’re more “active”, and not seen as potential targets by those inclined to meddle in these dark arts?
The moral for me, since I actually value my efforts over the much longer term, as a personal record of life, in this place, at this time, and how the garden and natural world is changing, is to back up digitally in more than one place and format. Other bloggers may be shocked to hear that I’ve haven’t been doing this before. Suffice to say I’ve just relied on the WordPress export option, in the tools bar tab on the dashboard. Perhaps I’m silly to include links, since few other WP bloggers seem to, but they’ve always been the equivalent of references, and helpful, (in the main!), if one wants a little more information.
Having finally woken up to this potential problem, I’m now trying to write my text up for posts, and copy this as a separate word document, and in addition when the post is complete, to copy the whole post, with photos included, as a separate saved word document, backed up on at least one separate hard drive. But notwithstanding that, to still get them printed up, even in the frankly poor and imperfect formatting of a blog-to-print annual record. It’s better than nothing, for me at least, should cyber space crash and everything disappears for whatever reason. I guess if an asteroid hits, then everything goes up in smoke anyway!
Whilst being of a completely different order, I loved the story behind ‘The Great Book of Ireland‘, which my brother Mark, recently alerted me to. Rather like the message of long term snowdrop planting, below, a patient, creative endeavour, that sat unknown and unloved, in a Dublin bank vault for decades, before its moment arrived. Click below to watch this brief video, (while it still works). At last, years after several of its contributors have died, it’s at least now in a little bit of limelight, thanks to the philanthropy and funding campaign of University College, Cork. But how does one place a monetary value on such a work of art?
The really challenging bit of my current reviewing, is ploughing through 10 years’ worth of writing and images, and following this new copying procedure for all that’s gone before. Still, it’s a great way to spend some of the wetter days at this time of the year, provided one rations the effort – so far I’ve just nudged into 2016, so can’t yet claim to be over half way!
2021 also started with weather drama here, (as illustrated above) with the garden and landscape locked down into sub-freezing mode for the first 10 days. After 2 weeks with no bike riding from mid December, owing to continuously heavy rain, we were stymied with treacherously icy roads. However, walks from the door are just as appealing, though sticks were in order, and given the state of the roads, and the fact that Wales is still meant to be in severe lock down, with travel limited to essential local journeys only, we were shocked to see just how many vehicles were travelling up the steep and ungritted hill above us. In last March’s lockdown, the same scene was deserted, in glorious sunshine.
All this cold weather, with temperatures dipping to minus 12 degrees C early one morning, meant that the opening of more snowdrops was held up somewhat. After writing about the amazing antifreeze system found within snowdrops in my last post, here’s an example of a lovely snowdrop, G. ‘Bertram Anderson’, which released its first sheathed flower, overnight, in the midst of all this ice and snow, with minus 5 degrees C around 3 pm. Having recently reached January 15th, I can say that the garden is now safely past the first wave – of snowdrop emergence – and swiftly into the building and even bigger, second white wave. This year, I note that 122 different cultivars had rushed into flower by this early, marker date. For those unimpressed by the charms of early snowdrops, I’d suggest a listen to this week’s BBC Radio 4 ‘Open Country’, which focused on one of Britain’s foremost snowdrop growers, finders, and propagators – Alan Street of Avon bulbs. Click here.
What I took from this programme, as I think was the intended thrust of the presenter, was that after stripping away the obsessive aspects of snowdrop collecting, and the still outrageous prices for the next and newest ‘latest bulb’, they are the supreme plant of hope, for this gloomy, cold time of the year.
When I began my snowdrop journey, we simply had the vigorous, Shropshire origin, Galanthus nivalis, to begin our plantings here, as in the 3 photos above, from last year. But these are currently still only just poking through, below.
I yearn for flowers, and hope.
And this is what you get from some of these lovely early varieties. G. ‘Llo ‘n Green’, below.
Added to this message of hope, is their link to people or places. Familiar or not. I see that G. ‘Bertram Anderson’ was selected from his garden in the Cotswolds, shortly after his death in 1971, and named in his memory, by Chris Brickell, the first director general of the Royal Horticultural Society. It was subsequently given an award of garden merit (AGM) – a fairly rare thing in the rapidly expanding world of named snowdrops, and a good guide to it being eminently garden worthy. Which it certainly is here.(Unlike G. ‘Alan’s Treat’ – a form selected by Alan Street himself, and a name reflecting a play on words, since apparently one can’t name a snowdrop after oneself. I’m afraid that after several years, this is proving to be an extremely poor ‘doer’ in our garden – the photo below was from 2017, it didn’t flower at all the following year, and was bought in 2014).
The third important point, for me, was that the real impact from snowdrops doesn’t come from the minor internal differences between open snowdrop flowers. This looks like being a typical year when, certainly with these early ones, there’ll hardly get a weather window to open, anyway. Much more significant is the en masse impact of the whole plant, which always look wonderful whatever the light, or conditions, in a scene largely devoid of other plant interest. And here, garden vigour, is what it’s all about, and having large numbers of flowers to produce the vistas. Alan mentioned how, as a teenager, he’d begun planting single snowdrops on the village verges in Blewbury, Wiltshire. These are now large clumps and delight the locals every winter. Since in most years, they won’t set many seeds, a point discussed a little later in this post, the only way for gardeners to create such impact, is to do what Alan did all those years ago. (Local Welsh G. nivalis, below). Lift and move the bulbs regularly.
Move some each year.
So, in a grim run of wet, windy and miserable grey weather, either side of what’s now known as ‘Blue Monday’, and with Storm Christoff gearing up to pummel the UK, and flood warnings burgeoning, this helps persuade me outside.
After digging up, and teasing apart, some of the larger clumps of these precious ‘first wave’ bloomers, I hunt for those many parts of the garden where we still have no ‘first wavers’. Increasingly, these are in the woodland areas where they thrive best, and so for planting, my gloved fingers are thrust into the rodent tunnel riddled, leaf littered soil, and single bulbs are gently pushed down, avoiding too much damage to the roots. The displaced earth from the margins is used to back fill. You can plant them with a trowel or fork, but the two fingered trick is a great guide to assessing how compacted and fungally rich, the soil is likely to be. They love fungal associations, and many forms tend to dislike sodden, air free, compacted soil.
The rain will bed them in, no other fuss is needed for a garden worthy form at this time of the year, in such wet conditions. With any luck the bigger bulbs will flower next year, the smaller ones might need two or three. In 5 years’ time, there’ll be a small cluster.
And how many do you need? Well, let’s say at generous 6 inch centres, I make that 36 bulbs, and holes, per square metre. We probably have around 1 acre of potential snowdrop planting ground, so if you do the maths, that’s 4840 X 36, or about 170,000 bulbs to be planted over the years. Which is why you want good doers, not the latest pricey prima donnas which will have been artificially cosseted and chipped, by growers like Alan.
If you start young enough, you’ll achieve great results in a generation. Time will begin to work its wonderful compounding tricks, and whoever inherits your stewarded patch, will forever bless you for your foresight. Most great snowdrop gardens are multi-generational creations, or owned by ageing gardeners.
This just isn’t instant gardening.
But isn’t that also part of the huge appeal? The patient plod.
The annual excitement as the first reappear, nose through the ground, and pop through.
The antithesis of modern living, with its needs for instant gratification, and rushed results?
In the absence of any snowdrop talks this year, I’m going to continue from my last post’s brief feature, with another section from my snowdrop talk/slideshow, which might be of interest. (And as canny readers will note, this also saves me having to write even more new copy on top of all of my aforementioned blog-review screen time).
So, from my “The remarkable snowdrop” section, a little bit more about other special snowdrop chemicals, in addition to their amazing anti-freeze glycoproteins, which I mentioned last time, as well as a little discussion about their challenges with natural seed formation in West Wales – and much of the UK.
• An alkaloid called galantamine, was isolated from snowdrops by a Bulgarian scientist in the 1950’s. He was prompted to check out snowdrops because some areas of rural Bulgaria had a folklore tradition of holding a snowdrop against the forehead as a cure for headaches.
• Galantamine has found extensive use in treating Alzheimer’s and some other neurological disorders.
• And having discovered that concentrations of galantamine are much greater in certain daffodil varieties growing at high altitude, such Narcissi are currently being grown by farmers, above 1000 feet in the Brecon Beacons.
• Snowdrops also contain potent complex proteins, called lectins, which act as inhibitors of insect attack.
• And GMO scientists are so impressed with this lectin’s potential that the genes for making this complex molecule, have been inserted into genetically modified potatoes, rice and wheat.
• This lectin also means snowdrops are very rarely eaten by squirrels or rodents.
• Or grazed by rabbits
• And only very occasionally by slugs.
• Like some other spring bulbs, snowdrop flowers can open and close a few times, if the weather is appropriate, to allow pollinators access, and then close up at night, or if the weather turns.
• This ability is linked to temperature sensitive growth patterns in the cells on the inside, and outside, of the petals (strictly tepals) at the base of the flower. These differential rates of growth, inside and out, makes the petals open and close.
• It’s also why bringing flowers inside, will get them to open within 20 minutes, because of the extra warmth.
• Some people, myself included, think that snowdrop flowers actually generate heat – possibly to attract pollinators.
• Certainly, the flowers are well designed to shield any insects visiting them.
• I’ve even found moths inside them, in early March, resting inside the flowers at night.
• Snowdrop seed doesn’t need to dry out to become mature. Quite the reverse, it’s much more viable if sown straight away. So you want to sow the seed as soon as the seedpods begin to turn yellow, in late May, or early June. The pot below shows the annual total of seeds, which I managed to collect in one year, from all of our named cultivars – an indicator of how poor seed set is – and this in spite of a bit of artificial hand pollination, too.
• The seed has a fatty appendage, called an elaiosome, which looks a little like a short, white, curled root, above. This is attractive to ants, which will sometimes carry the seeds away with them and help to set up new clumps.
• But snowdrop seeds are also loved by slugs, so you need to find the pods quickly. And beneath other plant foliage in May, that can be tricky. This also limits their ability to spread quickly by seed.
For anyone interested in my favourite, garden worthy first wave, named snowdrops, those below would probably be my current top 10, from their performance in our garden over the last few years. Looking good whatever the weather, and bulking up fairly quickly. Although several of our ‘ordinary’ Welsh origin G. nivalis forms, as above, are also of huge garden merit for their early flowering, and speed of multiplication. You can find more information on all our early flowering cultivars by clicking here.
- G. ‘Atkinsii’
- G. ‘Mrs. Macnamara’
- G. ‘Bess’
- G. ‘Colossus’
- G. ‘Lapwing’
- G. ‘Reverend Hailstone’
- G. ‘Shropshire Queen’
- G. ‘Bertram Anderson’
- G. ‘Ding Dong’
- G. ‘Byfield Special’
Towards the end of the very cold snap, I ventured out at first light, and was immediately struck by the fine warm mist on my face. The heralded weather change had arrived overnight, but by now a master of the subtleties of different types of dull grey skies, I peered into the gloom down the valley, and took a while to work out what I was seeing. The glowing dim yellow of the village street lamp, the thick grey of the fog, or mist, and the loss of hill contours, but what had happened to the trees, in these clearly much milder conditions?
Snapping away as the light improved, at what I assumed was a stunning hoar frost, it was only later that I worked out that the ice deposits are technically known as soft rime, and not hoar frost. They form in particular specific conditions, when very moist air, with minimal wind, is able to condense into tiny water droplets (which I’d felt on my face), and these tiny droplets then settle onto the still very cold, hard surfaces in the landscape, and freeze almost instantly, allowing fragile multi-stemmed ice crystals, to quickly grow. There are two good links, (Wikipedia and WordPress, so fingers crossed, they’re still working), which help to explain the detailed differences between soft rime and hoar frost. Click here and here.
I may have seen this before, and not realised the subtle difference with hoar frost, but in any event, it was a special moment in a still freezing morning, and worth getting cold feet for. By 10.30 am the warm air had won, and all traces of the rime had melted, into thin air.