Thursday, 29 March 2012

Tell me grandfather, what an elm is

How will the legend of the age of trees
Feel, when the last tree falls in England?
When the concrete spreads and the town conquers
The country’s heart; when contraceptive
Tarmac’s laid where farm has faded,
Tramline flows where slept a hamlet,
And shop-fronts, blazing without a stop from
Dover to Wrath, have glazed us over?
Simplest tales will then bewilder
The questioning children, “What was a chestnut?
Say what it means to climb a Beanstalk,
Tell me, grandfather, what an elm is.
What was Autumn? They never taught us.”
Then, told by teachers how once from mould
Came growing creatures of lower nature
Able to live and die, though neither
Beast nor man, and around them wreathing
Excellent clothing, breathing sunlight –
Half understanding, their ill-acquainted
Fancy will tint their wonder-paintings
Trees as men walking, wood-romances
Of goblins stalking in silky green,
Of milk-sheen froth upon the lace of hawthorn’s
Collar, pallor in the face of birchgirl.
So shall a homeless time, though dimly
Catch from afar (for soul is watchfull)
A sight of tree-delighted Eden.

(C S Lewis The Future of Forestry 1938)
This poem was quoted as part of Radio 4's thought for the day the other day.  After hearing just the first line I wanted to know what the rest of the poem was as it sounded interesting.  I have read the Narnia books but know very little else of Lewis's work.  I liked the poem alot.  I would say I am not a huge poetry fan, but I realise that I like a lot of poetry actually.  Anyway, this particular poem, written over 70 years ago, highlights a fear that still haunts us.  The population grows, urbanisation sprawls.  We all have to have somewhere to live and yet the cost is huge.

It also makes me think about an earlier work:  'England and the Octopus' by Clough Williams-Ellis (1928), a cry from the soul about how ill considered planning can destroy the beauty of what surrounds us.  The 1975 preface starts "This is an angry book, written by an angry young man nearly half a century ago.  Now I am in my ninety-second year and still angry because too many of the follies and abuses I then tilted against are still with us;" (Williams-Ellis C  England and the Octopus Robert MacLehose and Company Ltd reprint 1975)

Here we are in 2012, are we any less anxious?

Sunday, 25 March 2012

The pressures of time

"Alice sighed wearily. `I think you might do something better with the time,' she said, `than waste it in asking riddles that have no answers.'
`If you knew Time as well as I do,' said the Hatter, `you wouldn't talk about wasting IT. It's HIM.'"  (Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll (1865)

Today is all about time.  The clocks went forward by an hour overnight.  Today I feel very keenly that I have lost that hour.  The day is rushing on and I am just not getting anything done because in my head I think it is one time but the clocks that surround me scream that it is another.

and the time of year makes everything about time.  We have had the vernal equinox and Spring is now upon us.  The weather has turned glorious, a bit chilly at night and some fog and mist in the mornings, but the days are now longer and sunnier.  Of course, because it is hard to be totally happy, I am already thinking a bit of rain would be nice during the week, but not today, today is about Spring and sun.

But look at the time!  Its going, I'm sitting here writing this I should be outside!  I have so much I need to get on with that is very time specific.  I need to sort out my fencing.  I have to do it before the brambles really start growing so that I can push them back to where they should be.

I have so many seeds I need to get sowing.  Now that is time and weather specific, it is easy to sow them too early and than have a chilly night that stops them.  I am straining at the leash to sow sow sow, but it is still early in the year so I am holding back on all but the hardy. 
 (aren't these seeds great? they look like something from a science fiction film!)

Time is not straightforward, it is complicated in the garden.  Time in the garden is not about clocks but about seasons and weather, but me, I am ruled by time.  Time to go to work, time to get home, time to do the chores that must be done before I can grant myself the time to go out in the garden where I want to be.  I never have enough time, yet I also waste time.  Time time time time.  Maybe this is why I love time travelling stories so much.  Last night I was watching Time Cop (the only J C Van Damme film I like) and I adore Dr Who (have I mentioned that before?)  In my all time favourite episode the Doctor explains time: "People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually, from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint, its more like a big all of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff"  I think the Doctor gives an accurate description, in our lives that are often ruled by time, we check our watches and our mobile phones for the correct time constantly.  I listen to the radio that beeps the time signal at us at regular intervals.  Time is our master and we its slaves.  The clocks change and we just fit our lives into the altered routine.  Yet around us is a world that is not ruled by the clock, it is ruled by nature a force that moves and progresses irrespective of a clock made by humans.  Nature dances to the beat of its own drum, its own sense of time, that is indeed a bit wibbly-wobbly, a lot timey-wimey but with a sense of perfect rhythm.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

The Blackberry Tales - 1 The Misty Frog

This is the first in an occasional series retelling the Blackberry Tales.  These stories have been passed down the generations in the strong tradition of fireside storytelling (think Noggin the Nog without the ice or dragons, well there might be some ice I suppose, but I am fairly sure no dragons.  Except for the stories that contain dragons that is).  This rich vein of folk-wisdom gives a strong insight into the ways of the old ones.

This first tale is about The Misty Frog.  It is said that frogs love misty days.  Due to the dampness of the air they are able to wander far afield in search of food without fear of drying out.  The foggier/mistier it is, the happier they are and the further they will wander.  They will gather at the side of the pond as the fog begins to rise ready to go exploring.  The more frogs there are by the side of the pond, the foggier it will get.  Hence the oft quoting saying 'I'm off down the pond to count frogs'* when it looks like it might be foggy.  Indeed, if you are not sure if it will be foggy or not you can go to the edge of a pond and see if there are any frogs.  If there are none then allegedly there will be no fog.**

Of course there are variations on this tale.  In some parts of the country they have the tradition of 'frog testing'.  This involves sitting on a frog and depending on if it squeaks or just squelches will depend on how foggy it will be.  I do not advocate such cruelty and I believe this practice is now illegal.  Even if you were to try it great caution has to be taken.  It has been known for people to sit on toads in error.  This leads to the legendary 'toad bottom'.  There is no record of what toad bottom actually is as the only survivors were only ever the toads and they just smile enigmatically.

*with grateful thanks to Alison Fews for the inspiration for this tale.
** I accept no responsibility for frogs not predicting fog correctly.  As with all folk tales, their links with scientific proof can be tenuous.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Sunrise 06.11, Sunset 18.15

or not the equinox yet
So there I was, faffing around on my phone the other day, and looking in particular at the lengthening hours of daylight.  As I clicked through the days I saw that on the 18th March we have virtually a twelve hour day and a twelve hour night.  Now I had always thought that must be the equinox, but it is not.  I knew that the equinox was not always on the 21st, but the 18th seemed to early even so, I had to investigate further.

The 18th is an equilux - not an equinox. The equinox is a specific point in time and is not about the length of day and night as such, it is about the tilt of the earth and when the centre of Sun is on the same plane as the Earth's equator.  The vernal equinox is at 5.14am on the 20th March.  Confusingly equinox is derived from latin meaning equal night, but that is not what it means in terms of the scientific event.  Amazing how faffing around on the phone can lead to some much being learned.  Of course there will be many of you raising your eyes to the heavens saying 'well of course the equinox is not about day length but about tilt of the earth', but I was clearly not listening when we did that bit at school.  (in truth I was not listening for the majority of science lessons as school, sorry, just not my subject).

The good news is that the vernal equinox is when the season can be said to have turned and the lengthening of the days really picks up pace.  It also signals the closeness of the clocks going forward (Spring forward, Fall back).  I have mixed feelings about the clock going forward, for whilst I love having the extra light evenings, that loss of one hours sleep can be disruptive for me for quite a while.  Sometimes I feel like I just don't get the hang of the time change at all.   This is compensated by the joy though of being able to get home from work and get out in the garden for an hour or so.  This is just bliss and makes the disrupted sleep patten worthwhile.

So here's to the longer days, long may we enjoy them until the season turns again.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Beware the Ides of March

When I was much younger I was not allowed to watch Up Pompeii because it was too rude for me to watch.  When I did watch it illicitly, I did not understand it because it was full of double entendre that I just didn't understand.  When I watched as an adult I realised it was a) a product of its time and b) rude.  What I remembered most about it as a child was the soothsayer (Senna) who ran around saying 'beware'.  She may, or may not have said 'beware the ides of March', but in my mind she did.  It is definitely key in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar as it is the day he is murdered.

So here I am, as ever, bewaring the ides of March just in case.  When I realise what it is I am actually bewaring about.  Frost.  Not a late frost, it is not a late frost to have one in March, it is just frost.  The days have been so lovely recently.  There have been bees and butterflies and frogspawn is in the pond.  I have all these seeds just waiting to be sown and I am itching to get on with starting them off.  But I know from my garden journal that I religiously complete that there was frost last year on the 19th March.  I had to bring stuff in from the unheated greenhouse as I was worried it might suffer.  So I have to wait, I have to have that patience that I only seem to have when it comes to gardening (and even then I struggle to maintain it).

Which in turn reminds me of when I used to work in a department store in Nottingham (a long gone department store) and one of the people I worked with used to call me Cassandra, not in a Tia Carrera, Waynes World sort of way (the film wasn't even made then and I should be so lucky!), but in a foreteller of doom as apparently I used to spend a lot of time saying things would go wrong.  Of course I had to remind him that Cassandra was actually right in her prediction and no one had believed her.  Anyway, so I am watching the weather, Cassandra-like hoping that I am not foretelling doom yet the forecast says there are still chilly nights ahead, so maybe I am Cassandra after all?  It was frosty overnight in some areas last night and more is probably due at the weekend.

So much to do, so much I want to do, but I have to beware.  It is not Spring yet and the ides of March are a good reminder to be patient a little while longer.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

and the wind sighed Persephone

“It was one of the March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.”  Charles Dickens Great Expectations (1860-61).

What an apt quotation for March.  As I writing this the sun is shining brightly, but there is a nip in the air.  Someone recently asked me if I was hot as I had a big coat on, but it is not quite time to be casting clouts yet I think (though I was wearing a T shirt today in the garden).  There have been a couple of frosts recently and it is premature to declare Spring just yet.

Which brings me to another quotation “To be interested in the changing seasons is a happier state mind than to be hopelessly in love with Spring.” (George Santayana).  This may expose a somewhat fickle nature on my part, but I actually want both.  I love the changing of the seasons but I also love each of the seasons – maybe equally, certainly which ever one I am in at the time I love the most (apart from maybe Winter, sorry Winter, but the dark grey January days do get me down). 

But March is good – I like March.  Lots of things are starting to flower, lots of green is starting to appear.  It is about life returning.  This makes me think of the Greek legend of Persephone, daughter of Demeter (harvest goddess) and Zeus (father of the gods).  Persephone was abducted by Hades (god of the underworld).  After a period of negotiation it was agreed that Persephone would spend part of her time in the underworld and part back up top.  Demeter made it so it was Winter and all was dead when Persephone was underground and then it would be Spring when she emerged.  Bit rough really taking out her sorrow on the world, but hey, when you’re a god you can do these things.  So Persephone is often equated with Spring and things bursting back into life.  Its also a great name.  There are times when I think I should change my name to Persephone, I would be a different person if my name was Persephone. 

It also makes me think of the painting by Dante Gabriel Rossetti – ‘Persephone/Prosperine’, which is one of his paintings of Jane Morris, wife of William Morris.  It is a superb painting.  She is shown holding a pomegranate as part of the story is about her eating six pomegranate seeds, which determined she would be underground for six months.  (moral of this tale – avoid men bearing pomegranates).  Actually, not only would I wish to be called Persephone, I would also like pre-raphaelite hair please, by which I mean long, wavy red/gold tresses.  Can that be arranged?
 and finally – from the master of quotations himself – Quotation is a serviceable substitute for wit” (Oscar Wilde) ‘nuff’ said.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

I broccled

It has taken a long time.  I bought six broccoli plug plants in May last year and planted them into my raised beds.
They grew really well, I was very pleased with them but I knew from long experience that growing broccoli was easy.  I have grown it from seed many times and it grows well.  The tricky bit is actually getting it to broccle without caterpillers eating it or the frost mushing it to nothing.
 So I watched it carefully all year.  It grew.  It didn't broccle.
It got to keep winter, frost and snow landed on it.

No broccle.

Then - joy of joys, suddenly a couple of weeks ago the signs of broccling could be seen.
I waited,

and waited,
then I did my first small harvest.  Steamed them carefully - and yes, they were good.

I can say with confidence now - I am a broccler.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Rain on a tin roof

Today is a very rainy day.  Over 5mm already today and it is showing no sign of stopping.  There has been some rain recently and it is moving from the frosty, snowy cold time of year to the rainy, windier but milder time of year.  I like the turn of the seasons, the garden moves from one into the next with effortless ease; gently but relentlessly getting ready for the next phase.

We haven't had huge amounts of rain really over the last year or so.  Last year in particular was very dry in this little corner of the world.  Not desert dry, but enough to give some of plants some problems and my pond became very low; only now would I consider it as full as it can be.

Sometimes when it rains I like to sit in the conservatory.  It is not the warmest room in the house this time of year, but the sound of the rain on the roof is amazing.  Sometimes when it is really raining hard it is difficult to hear anything above the noise.  It reminds me of caravan holidays when I was a child.  My three brothers, my parents and myself would go off all over the place in our (quite large) caravan.  The early years of these holidays were in a touring caravan that hooked up behind the car.  We had great adventures with this.  There was the hill just outside Barmouth that the car always got overheated when trying to pull the caravan up it.  Well, in my memory it was every time - maybe it happened once, but there was smoke and it was quite frightening.

There were the times when maybe the car was going a little faster than it should be been and the caravan started to snake behind us.  That was fun too (when I say fun, think terrifying).  Oh and there may have been times when we went around corners too fast and everything flew out of the cupboards onto the floor.

I think of the smell of melamine cups and plates and plastic beakers.  I remember the sterilised milk in the funny shaped bottles that did not need refridgerating (we had no fridge in the caravan), but it tasted disgusting.  We ate a lot of tinned food and I still have a guilty love of Cadburys Smash instant potato.

After some years we got rid of the touring caravan and bought a static caravan in a holiday park in Norfolk.  I hated it.  I still hate it and it was sold 30 years ago.  There is one corner of Norfolk I think it will still be many decades before I return to (if ever).

What caravans have though is a tin roof which meant lying in sleeping bags listening to the rain thumping down, day after day, night after night.  I always loved the sound of the rain and when I stand in the conservatory listening to the rain I think about caravans and holidays and this photograph that always makes me smile.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

End of Month Review - February

"February is merely as long as is needed to pass the time until March."
-  Dr. J. R. Stockton

February is a bit of an odd month.  It has given us snow, frost, rain and sun.  The days are much shorter at the beginning of the month and much longer by the end of it.  It is a bridging month in so many ways.  Mainly though it is the month of detail.
The borders still are largely green and are now in need of their Spring tidy up.  The deadness of winter needs to be tidied away to enable the new growth to come through.
In order to appreciate February though, you do have to get down to the level of detail.  This is one of my favourite parts of the garden this time of year, yet it is hard sometimes to see from a distance where the bulbs are that are flowering away.  This is where most of my snow drops are.  I have planted lots and they are starting to clump up now.
The crocii are pushing their way up through the grass on the dancing lawn (no one has ever danced on the dancing lawn, but the name feels right for it all the same). 
New growth is appearing.
The winter honeysuckle is flowering well and smells divine.  It does not have the most compact of habits, but it is a wonderful shrub for this time of year.
The Corkscrew Hazel is producing catkins well this year.  For the first few years of life it was grown in a pot, it is now in the garden and seems to have settled in very well.
I tend to often not notice this salix that grows by the pond, but the stem colour this time of year is fantastic.

There is not alot happening in the vegetable beds.  The onion and garlic is showing quite well now and the potatoes are chitting in the conservatory.  The broccoli looks like it might actually broccle! though I daren't get too optimistic about that yet.  Hence no photograph, it might be shy and I don't want to put it off.
I shall end at the pond as usual.  It is full, this is good news and long may it continue. Soon it will be frogspawn time, which I still have childlike wonder and excitement about.

So I like February.  It is a time to get up close and personal with the garden, a time to focus on detail and (rule #32) enjoy the little things.
Thanks as ever to Helen, the Patient Gardener, for hosting this meme.