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Archive for November, 2010

hornbeam

 

Hello and welcome. My garden journal is published on Friday or Saturday and you can read my latest post by scrolling down. The Wednesday Hotchpotch is an eclectic blend of articles about the southwest of England, features of artists and artisans, experiments in frugal living, random photographs and anything else that catches my eye. I hope you enjoy it!

 

hornbeam leafThe hornbeam is one of my favourite trees. Some folk feel that the beech is more delicate and refined but I love the deeply veined leaves of the hornbeam with their sumptuous deep brown colour at this time of year.

The wood is as tough as they come. It was used in days gone by to make yokes for oxen hence the name since the yoke was placed behind the horns of the beast. It was also used to make butcher’s blocks and gear pegs for traditional windmills.

 

Charcoal from this wood produces a heat strong enough to smelt iron and would have been used in ancient times for the production of iron implements.

The hornbeam is a favourite of the hawfinch who feast on the nuts in the autumn and winter.

The hornbeam takes readily to pollarding. The harvest of faggots of wood was prized by London bakers for its long steady burning qualities.

In traditional medicine the leaves are used to treat feelings of exhaustion and tiredness that come before an effort has even been made.

But for me, the deeply textured leaves at this time of year win hands down every-time. They remind me of posh hand-made crisps!

 

hornbeam leaf1

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The seasons are changing and winter is well on its way. The forecasts speak of snow up north and the temperatures are plummeting. The fiery maple reds have turned to embers. The beech has cast her garments to the four winds. The old oak wears the ochre tweeds of a distinguished country gentleman. Autumn is slowly leaving us.

Grumbling George, the village prophet of doom, passes by on his bicycle. He waves his pipe at the weather and says, ‘I told you so!’ and peddles on.

With the falling of the leaves the impenetrable hedges of the village lanes are now more see-through offering glimpses into new vistas otherwise obscured by summer leaf. One of the more unusual sights revealed in the village is to be found in Bones’ back-garden. He bought the life-size and life-like fibreglass tiger on e-bay and young Thomas loves it. Many a visitor to the village has been alarmed to see, through the beech-hedge slowly shedding its leaves, the sight of a tiger in full-flight with a young boy riding on its back, dressed in a red cape and waving a silver sword madly in the air.

 

hornbeam leaf

hornbeam

 

In November the gardens always look untidy. In the old days, when life was simpler, one would cut down the perennials to the ground, fling copious amounts of compost everywhere and spend the rest of the winter painting the main gates. But times have changed.

Some environmentally-conscious gardeners now advocate the road of abandonment. The garden is left as it is and sorted out in the spring. There are good reasons for this: the unruly mass becomes a haven for birds and insects that gorge on the seed-heads during the winter; the dying foliage protects the emerging shoots and buds from frost, and some plants look attractive, especially if graced by hoar-frosts.

I choose the middle path, cutting back judiciously where I can. The beds along the edge of the house are kept immaculate and dressed with the finest leaf-mould. The long borders are allowed a certain element of freedom but still weeded and left looking as if someone cared for them. The dishevelled paeonies are cut to the ground but the phlox left to stand and handsome they look too. Now that the leaves are lifted then barrow-loads of compost will cover up a multitude of sins.

One plant in particular, the sedums, can look so dismal on a rainy day, their deep purple heads a sodden mess. But rather than reach for the secateurs, have faith and leave them to dry out and they will reward you on a sunny winter’s day with the glistening of their velvet wonder.

The orchards and woodland areas are allowed to ramble with patches of stinging nettles and goodness knows what else. Fallen apples are foraged by the fox and the blackbird. The badger passes along his customary path at night and lazily paws the verge for grubs.

 

landscape

 

Every gardener knows the inevitable changes of the seasons. We may regret the passing of another fine autumn but nothing stands still in the borders, the flowers may fade but already new shoots are pushing through.

As a young lad I would wave goodbye to the passenger train that shunted its way down the track, through the tunnel, round the leg of the armchair and back to the station again. The passengers would ascend and descend, bustling with excitement, the station master would blow his whistle and wave his flag, and with the flick of a switch the toy train would make its way down the track again, with the little boy waving goodbye once more.

Life is an eternal cycle that keeps on churning along. We learn to say goodbye and we learn to say hello….

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Hello and welcome. My garden journal is published on Friday or Saturday and you can read my latest post by scrolling down. The Wednesday Hotchpotch is an eclectic blend of articles about the southwest of England, features of artists and artisans, experiments in frugal living, random photographs and anything else that catches my eye. I hope you enjoy it!

 

The medlar tree has quite a harvest on it this year. These unusual fruit are still happily just about hanging on the tree but can be harvested and stored in a dry cool space, traditionally on straw.

A dear friend commented last week of how her Macedonian garden helper was brought up on these fruit. In order to eat them they need to be bletted which is a rather lovely name for when the fruit turns from ripe to a fermented decay by which time the inside becomes soft and can be spooned out. This pulp is then used to make jam, jelly or cheese.

medlar

‘Bletting’ is a rather gorgeous word. I looked it up in my Concise Oxford Dictionary expecting to find it somewhere between bletherskate and blewits but to no avail. Wicko came to my rescue telling me the word has French origins. There is indeed a town in central France called Blet, an endearing name for a town if ever there was one.

Apparently the bletting process turns the acids and tannins into a more palatable sugar. I asked my wife if my slow descent into organic decay and fermentation was making me less acerbic and more sweet-natured but she assures me this is not the case.

The medlar have bletted naturally on the tree and turned from rock hard to squidgy inside. The skin can be easily peeled off to reveal a rather pleasant looking caramel coloured flesh and then a darker core inside. The outer flesh tastes…quite alright really..sort of caramel with a touch of cinnamon perhaps.

I found a recipe for medlar jelly and cheese on www.gardenorganic.org.uk which I would recommend. I must give it a go one day. If any of my readers would like to try out making medlar jelly then please do so and  let me know how you get on!

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Wednesday brings a steady drizzle but there is so much work to do at this time of the year so I start work on the borders around the house. Leaves and the occasional weed are gathered up and buckets of compost are spread between the plants. I am working outside the study and suddenly there is a loud tap at the window. I look up to see the Duchess glaring at me with a look that would halt an army. In trying to balance between two shrubs I have committed the cardinal sin of leaving muddy handprints on the pristine white window ledges. I try to wipe the mud off but this only make matters worse and so I hope that it will rain hard enough to remove the prints before too long.

 

medlar

medlar

 

The pheasant season is well under way and on Thursday the beaters congregate outside the stables. They are a motley bunch of plumbers, bank clerks and retired teachers who enjoy the camaraderie, the tradition and the excuse to get out and relish the outdoor life. They make their way through the undergrowth of the woods, making as much noise as possible, with their spaniels and terriers yapping at their sides, to drive the doomed pheasants to break cover and fly towards the waiting guns.

The shoot is run by a syndicate who lease the land. They employ Alex, a gamekeeper who fares from Glasgow, an amiable chap if ever there was one. The day is run for the benefit of wealthy businessmen, hedge-fund managers and the occasional celebrity rock musician. Not that we see much of them, they are wined and dined at another stately home down the road and come and go in range-rovers with tinted windows. We riff-raff are kept at a distance.

The Duke never takes part and I have the feeling that he does not agree with the ethics of shooting pheasant in such a way. The Duchess is very keen and the thought of her wielding a loaded shotgun sends shivers down my spine!

 

bark willow

willow tree bark

 

For myself, I keep busy in the walled vegetable garden and keep my head down. They are shooting in three woods during the day and one of them is quite close. Charlie and Bones return at sunset in a buggy they have converted that carries the bodies of the victims. These are then hung up in an out-house to mature, well protected from the attentions of any marauding foxes. It has been a good day by all accounts.

Some of my readers were kindly asking me about my new camera. It is a Nikon d5000 which is described as a budget DSLR and they will be pleased to know that I have worked out how to turn it on! Indeed, I now sit on the settee in the evening twiddling all the knobs and taking the lens on and off and muttering things about matrix metering and chromatic aberrations as if I knew what on earth I was talking about!

My old camera is a rugged old point-and-shoot. Most of my photos are taken whilst working with earthy hands in all weathers. I have to confess to being rather afraid of getting this shiny new camera dirty. I just know that if I take it out with me I am bound to drop it. And I am bound to drop it into a puddle. And there is bound to be a stone in the puddle that will scratch the pristine lens. And so she sits unused on my desk, shining in all her wondrous beauty. I will no doubt pluck up the courage to take her with me in time but I will leave my readers to guess whether a photograph is taken by my old camera or the new one!

The nights are drawing in now and with the tools cleaned and oiled and hung up neatly I make my way home. And if a brace or two of pheasant should accidentally have found their way into the boot of my car, well, that’s neither your business nor mine!

 

stourhead (10)

Stourhead

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spider…

Hello and welcome. My garden journal is published on Friday or Saturday and you can read my latest post by scrolling down. The Wednesday Hotchpotch is an eclectic blend of articles about the southwest of England, features of artists and artisans, experiments in frugal living, random photographs and anything else that catches my eye. I hope you enjoy it!

 

I found this little fellow whilst working on one of my borders. I am by no means an expert on spiders so i checked on www.uksafari.com and I am pretty confident it is a metalina segmentata or common orb spider. If there are any experts out there who disagree then please let me know, i would be very happy to be corrected!

 

spider orb

 

This spider is fairly common in this country and gets its name by the symmetrical shape of its web. It likes nothing better than to eat flies and small insects. I put the fellow on a bit of concrete which it did not think too much of, quickly took the photo and then put him back on a neighbouring bed where he would not be disturbed.

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damp and soggy…

The recent clement weather of the past few weeks has made soft-bellied dandies of us gardeners and this weeks downpours have come as a rude awakening. Once more we trudge through our daily chores with the cumbersome weight of waterproofs that never seem to keep all the rain out. Everything is soggy and drippy and resilience and stoicism is needed to get through these dismal days.

During the heaviest of storms we can always retreat to the greenhouse or potting shed but there is so much work to be done outside there is often no other option but to go and get wet. Perhaps one day I shall stay at home and write a book or some-such but to be honest I get bored of being indoors during daylight hours and have a need to be outside despite the elements. The exception is Sunday afternoons at home when I am quite happy to put my feet up and watch the football on the television.

As a young man the winter held no fear for me but with the passing of the years, with creaking bones and aching limbs, one looks with a certain trepidation to what the weather holds for us. But the enemy is neither the northern cold winds nor the western blustery gales but the soggy dampness that gnaws away at both body and spirit.

 

cat (2)

 

 

In the borders the perennial paeonies have lost their colour and are now a bedraggled blackened mess. The leaves are cut down to the ground. Already the new shoots are emerging and I throw a layer of compost on top to provide them some comfort although they are quite hardy and capable of surviving the winter. The tree paeonies are also looking a mess with their leaves half hanging down. They fall off easily in my hands and are gathered up and composted.

The rains have caused sumptuous aromas to arise from the garden to the delight of Pip the hound who is in seventh heaven sniffing everything everywhere. The Duke passes by with his binoculars around his neck in search of waxwings which have been reported heading down this way from the north. A buzzard soars above our heads, held by the currents and breezes of the prevailing wind so that for a moment she is suspended motionless and then masterfully allows the wind to carry her in a dramatic sweep across the fields mewing as it glides.

 

river (5)

 

 

The river now flows swiftly, flushed by the recent rains and the colour of mud. The gunnera leaves have collapsed after the frosts and these are piled on top of the crowns to protect them through the winter. The ligularia are looking distinctly past it too.

By the river a mole has made his home under the roots of an overhanging alder. Pip the hound can smell him and can’t resist the temptation to dig the soft ground in pursuit. The bank is precarious and so I have had to pin some chicken wire over the area to frustrate his ratting instincts lest he causes some real damage. But Pip is not the sort of dog to give up and already he is poking his nose under the chicken-wire trying to prise it up. The pegs are made out of dogwood or cornus that grow nearby. Pegs have always been traditionally cut from dogwoods and they get this local name from the old word for dagger which the pegs resemble in shape.

 

dog (4)

 

 

And then the sun comes out, we enjoy one more day of autumnal brilliance and the gardens are at their photogenic best. The good news is that I have saved up my pocket-money and bought a new camera. The sad news is that it has so many buttons and switches that I have yet to work out how to turn it on!

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Hello and welcome. My garden journal is published on Friday or Saturday and you can read my latest post by scrolling down. The Wednesday Hotchpotch is an eclectic blend of articles about the southwest of England, features of artists and artisans, experiments in frugal living, random photographs and anything else that catches my eye. I hope you enjoy it!

paeony shoots

Winter is coming and many plants are preparing for a time of dormancy but yet some are already developing buds and shoots that will be ready to burst into life when spring comes next year.

The leaves of the herbaceous paeony have turned from their attractive autumn colours to a dishevelled black mess. Cut these leaves down and you will notice strong pointed red buds poking their noses through the earth as shown by the photograph above. I often cover them over with a layer of compost but they are quite prepared to go through the ravages of the winter to come.

In the same way the euphorbia griffithii is sending up its shoots and one must hurry to cut back their abandoned stems lest you cause damage standing on this new growth.

In the vegetable garden the onion, shallot and garlic was planted and their new shoots appear so delicate and vulnerable. This week the broad beans will be planted and the fresh green shoots will stand stoically through the dark months ready to leap into growth in the spring to provide a welcome early harvest of beans.

And lastly the magnolia are shedding their leaves to show off their new buds that look for all the world as if they will flower tomorrow but which will also wait patiently until the spring arrives.

When winter comes, many lock the door and forget the garden but sadly they miss the excitement of observing all the growth and changes that goes on despite the ravages of the elements.

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