Saturday, 8 August 2020

Mellow Yellow

 A visit to Falkland Palace and Kellie Castle gardens convinced me that yellow is in!

Saturday, 1 August 2020

The Changing of the Season

Pea Kelvedon Wonder and Bean Dior

Now the first beans are cropping it is time to clear away the broad beans and early peas.  But not to worry, the replacements are ready to go out into the vacant space:

Lettuce, Endive/Chicory
  I have got a bit carried away with my seed order experimenting with endive and chicory, as well as a wide range of lettuces. Hopefully this will mean a harvest extending into the colder months ahead. Here they are in the gap site.  There are four of each variety which I have been careful to mark with a label.  The lettuces are Marveille de Quatre Saisons, Lollo Rosso, Freckles and Gilaad. The endives are all called Cornet de (Insert Name of French/Italian Town) except Pancalieri which is a curly form of endive commonly called Frisee Lettuce. 

Away from the Chicory/Endive/Lettuce confusion the bean and cucurbit  zone is going hell for leather, except for those Climbing French  and Runner Beans on the left which are being a bit coy. (The wigwam on the right is Barlotti beans)

Right in front is the row of  Dior dwarf French beans which you can see in the first picture .  I may have overcrowded the squashes which are now running rampant across their neighbours. A random sunflower has popped up in the middle of the picture.  As you can see it is all green currently.  This includes the potato patch which will soon be 'on the turn'.

Those yellowing in the foreground are some Charlotte I planted as an afterthought once the maincrop was already in.

A change of season is afoot.

Tuesday, 28 July 2020

Teasing Teasel

Here's a spectacular wild flower that is at it's best around now: Teasel

Later in the year the dried flower head is still impressive and the seeds are much appreciated by goldfinches in particular.

It is another tall plant

One interesting feature is the way the leaves merge to form a water retaining cup around the stem as in the next two photos.

The water is said to have rejuvenating qualities when applied to skin. It has been called "The Bath of Venus".  There is also the suggestion that it is a trap for insects - which implies this is a partially carnivorous plant. Certainly it fairs well in drought conditions.

It is very architectural

The flower head,  the leaves and the stems are all demand respect as they are very prickly.

A poultice of the root is claimed to relieve muscle pain, but the notable part of this plant is the dry head which was used on an industrial scale for carding.  That is the process of 'teasing' rough wool into long strands suitable for spinning into yarn and gives the plant its name. 

The height of the plant and the strength of the stem mean that it is very good at self seeding.  I have been amazed to see how resilient it is standing solitary in gale force winds. This serves to dislodge and carry away any remaining seeds which germinate in the soil downwind.  A pleasing and functional design. Even in the vegetable patch we always tolerate a few,  where they are least obstructive.

Saturday, 25 July 2020

Mulling on Mullein

Great Mullein - Verbascum thapsus

Here's a wild flower that is worth accepting when it turns up in your vegetable plot.  Statuesque and brightly coloured this plant is widely distributed around the world and has many uses and superstitions attached to it.  The flower is surely enough to bring joy to anyone coming across it.  I seem to recall it being all the fashion at Chelsea a few years ago.

The leaves, especially the young ones,  are  soft like lambs ears and recognised as an excellent liner for shoes.  They are also dried and, in the past, smoked as a remedy for asthma bronchitis and catarrh

Head and shoulders above other weeds.
There is a structural similarity to foxglove, the first year's growth producing a rosette from which, in the second year the spire emerges rocketlike.

Rosette - First year's growth

The flowers are a rich source of nectar, attracting bees and many other pollinating insects.

This is a powerful plant not recommended for human consumption.  The seeds are narcotic and have been used to stupefy fish. Reputedly a remedy for lice it is also used as an ingredient in shampoo, particularly for fair hair.

Another traditional use of Great Mullein (also known as Hedge Taper) is as a flaming torch.  The dried stems are dipped in tallow or suet to provide a reliable long lasting bright light.  The French Fete de Brandons on the first Sunday in Lent relies on this tradition to locate corncockles in the fields and remove them from the harvest crop (as they spoil the crop).  This use always conjures up an image in my mind of a mob of country yokels advancing with pitchforks.  Here's a suitable candidate for this purpose:

As you can see they grow up to 10ft  and if damaged produce multiple heads.  There is an associated superstition connected with this plant.  The gist is that you name your true love's name as you twist off the head of the plant. If it recovers they return your affections - and the number of new flower heads that subsequently develop indicates the number of offspring resulting from your union.

Other ailments Mullein has been said to cure include warts, earache, bed wetting, boils, rheumatism, gout  and last but not least parrot bites!  Amongst these there may be some tall stories for this tall plant.

Saturday, 18 July 2020

Mugging Up On Mugwort

I sometimes tell myself only to pull out weeds when I can identify them first.  This is a bit extreme but sensible enough when you are dealing with flower beds into which you have sown seeds or planted out seedlings.  The picture above vouches for my adherence to this rule. Those stems are now over 6ft high.  But now I have finally identified the mystery weed as (drumroll)... Mugwort - Artemesia vulgaris.

When it first appeared the leaves were like this (above) and I thought the delphiniums from last year might have self seeded. But later leaves look more like this:

The reverse of the upper leaves have a silver down:

The mature stems are purple and ribbed.

 Often identification has to wait until the flowers appear.  After a long wait this appears to be the "flower".  Interestingly the reputed scent of honey is from the flower only. When I rolled a flowerhead between my palms there was a fleeting but unmistakable aroma.

This is a new weed on me so I have had to mug up on it (sic). It turns out to be  a cure all with a long history. 

Pliny (according to Gerard) said that travellers feel no tiredness and "he who hath it about him can be hurt by no poysonesome medicines, nor by any wilde beast, neither yet by the Sun itselfe"
It is also reputedly good for eyesight, childbirth, warding off evil spirits and curses as well as flies, intestinal worms and snakes. 

Girdles, singlets, chaplets, hats have been fashioned from branches of mugwort.  For some reason casting them into the fire seems to be requirement, preferably on midsummers day which is often associated with this plant.

A symbol of happiness and tranquility it also has a reputation as a rampant weed, so now that I can name it I will be digging it up.  While doing so I will also watch out for the coal under its roots which is said to protect against "plague, carbuncle,lightning, the quartan-ague, and from burning" just by having it about your person!

Looking online there appears to no shortage of suppliers of dried mugwort leaf, probably nowadays  to be consumed as a tea for rheumatism. I might just save a few leaves dry and test their reputation for being good for your feet.  In Somerset there is a saying: Put mugwort in your shoes and you can run all day. Another theory is that the Romans grew it along roadsides to provide podiatric support for their legions on the march. 

There's an awful lot of associations with Mugwort - enough for a museum:

Thursday, 16 July 2020

Berry Berry

Be they red, blue, black or green the berries are most welcome at this time of year.

Black?  The blackcurrants seem to be enjoying a bumper year.  What surprised me was that the fruit appeared from tip to toe of each branch.  Here is a picture taken at ground level:

The reason for my surprise was that I have always understood that you want to encourage new growth from ground level with blackcurrants and prune accordingly.  The newer plant (set out in November 2018) didn't yield half as much as the older plants like this one, which also had larger berries.  Have I misunderstood the advice I wonder?

Wednesday, 8 July 2020

School Loses Staff

Some people never learn.  A year ago the 'grow your own loaf" project failed when the wheat crop was mysteriously flattened.  Could it have been sabotage or was it the birds?  So we tried again this year, with rattly bottles and string stretched between posts that needed to be raised higher and higher as the crop grew.  All was well until the crop started ripening.  The height in the top picture is about 6 inches below the peak a week or so earlier and the grains have been stripped:

I have the evidence that it wasn't crop failure:

 Without the intervention of human force (The school hasn't had pupils since March) those birds have just been waiting.  The jackdaws are top of my list of culprits.  They also love horticultural fleece which they shred and presumably use for nesting material.  Here's one I caught on camera with a beakfull:

They also view labels and leeks and any new planting really,  as a challenge to be tugged out of the ground and discarded.  Oddly the allotments don't suffer from the same birds - It's pigeons there.

At any rate the staff of life will have to wait for another year - and high security.

Rolling Stones permitting, here is the only song to match this campaign: