A Walk Through The Woods Looking For The Roots Of Love

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Yesterday was a scorcher! The temperature steadily rose throughout the morning until it reached its peak of 28 degrees. I’m not complaining. And compared to most of southern Europe that’s nothing! I liberally applied the factor 50 to my burning-prone skin and positioned my reclining chair in a sun spot to soak up some rays.

By coincidence I had just started reading a book by one of my favourite authors, Bill Bryson. ‘A Short History of Nearly Everything’ is an old book, first published in 2003, but one I had never bothered reading before because it’s about science. Nevertheless, I’d decided that anything that Bryson had turned his hand to must be worth a look, so look I did. I quickly became sucked into (not literally, obviously) black holes, galaxies, mind-bending facts about the universe and that ‘singularity’ that is theorised to have been the first moment of life. I found myself wishing that my science teachers of yesteryear had been able to engage me in this way. It has been an easy and fascinating read so far. I squinted up in awe at that great ball of fire in the sky that sustains life on our planet and which, according to Bill Bryson (and I have no reason to doubt him) appears as a tiny dim dot to those planets which orbit at the outer reaches of our solar system. Then it disappeared behind a huge grey cloud.

Yesterday was also the anniversary of the death of a close friend; a vibrant, gregarious, compassionate and funny woman who cycled or walked the three miles to and from work each day, climbed mountains and swam most lunch times – and had decided she was going to live to be a hundred. A ferocious illness seemed to come from nowhere and took her within weeks.

My friend loved nature and had a favourite woodland walk which is where her ashes were scattered. I don’t know exactly where as, quite rightly, her family carried out that last rite. I’m glad I don’t know, as she would have hated the idea of her friends standing, all maudlin, as if by a grave. Instead, some other friends and I decided to walk in her footsteps and joyfully remember happy times we spent together.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We approached the trees through dense long grasses and wild flowers which had been left to do their thing, mostly undisturbed. In one or two places the vegetation revealed snaking paths where regular walkers had left their marks. We followed those, confident of solid flat ground and not wanting to disturb the terrain elsewhere. Once into the thick of the trees, the intense sunlight filtered through revealing ancient roots and branches. I have a treasured photo of my friend sitting in the midst of those branches, laughing her head off because I’d suggested she looked like she was in a web and I wasn’t sure If she was predator or prey.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In a clearing we came across some bees feasting. I got a close-up of one.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Life burst forth all around.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Suddenly, the sun once again disappeared behind the cloud as we approached a dense grove between the trees. It seemed to mirror life itself where joy and sadness, light and dark co-exist, in harmony and in balance, side by side.

Wigan 025

Life blossoms and decays, and out of the decay comes new life. The circle must complete itself for life to continue. Our friend celebrated this truth, and we celebrate her.

We laughed at anecdotes we had shared so many times already but which had not lost their humour. That’s how our loved ones live on. Our friend once said she wouldn’t mind coming back as a butterfly but we didn’t see any. We did, however, find the strangest thing on the ground amidst the sprawling roots and crushed twigs: this piece of bark with what looked remarkably like a heart at its centre.

DSCF8045

I don’t expect I’ll read about friendships in Bill Bryson’s science book, but we’ll see. There are many scientific explanations for the bonds that we form and hold on to and celebrate, even beyond their physical endings. It’s part of being human and will continue as long as we inhabit the earth and spin around the sun. 🙂

Buzzing After The Rain

Yesterday was the longest day of the year. Recently it has felt most unlike summer here in the UK where we’ve experienced one of the wettest Junes on record. In some parts of the country rivers have burst their banks, turning surrounding areas into flood plains. More water has fallen on some days than usually falls in the whole month. Where I live, thankfully we have not had to endure the worst of the weather, but it has still been cold and wet a lot of the time. Happily, temperatures are rising again now. Yesterday – appropriately on the summer solstice – the sun shone all day. Today looks promising too.

BED78943-D484-461F-8BCB-9236A4EAC691

After a warm dry May, the first rainfall was a blessing, at least for parched gardens. The rain soon outstayed its welcome, but at least the blooms, quenched and invigorated, seemed grateful.

DBD19D57-74CD-4DEA-907F-00FB981E4997

AC057F14-21ED-454F-B056-A4A0CB352D21
I cleaned up, resprayed repurposed this old fire pit which I’d hardly used and had become a rusty mess

My garden is tiny but it gives me a lot of pleasure throughout the year. Summer, perhaps unsurprisingly, is my favourite time. I love foliage and, if I could only have one or the other, would choose lush evergreens over brightly coloured flora any day. Happily there is room for both.

E7114BC1-DBB3-4D0E-9A92-67F135B152BE

Whilst some plants won’t flower until July there are still brilliant displays of blue and purple amongst the green. I decided this year to work with nature and keep things very simple. Apart from a few pots of gloriously bold geraniums which I love and will always find a spot for every year, any new additions to the garden would be first and foremost chosen as a food source for pollinators.

094A0E2C-8650-4F5B-8577-5F1694193634

5C969AA2-CE4B-403D-82EE-CEEFAE1D72B0

In one corner I had previously had a lot of containers. I decided to move most of them as some had long since stopped thriving or even growing at all, and some of the pots looked ugly. I very reluctantly discarded the worst of them and have kept others for reusing. Unfortunately, a solution has not yet been found for industrial  recycling of black plastic plant pots – at least in my part of world – which is very frustrating.

Early in the year I had attempted to train some early-flowering clematis up the fence but sadly, as with all other clematis I’ve planted in the past, it failed. I dug them up and put them back into pots and they still seem to be OK , so with a bit of luck they may flower again next spring. I’ve moved some herbs from their pots into the ground and they seem to be happy enough there. Scabiosa and salvia are enjoying the sun spot along with a variety of cat mint, Walkers Low, which is a real pull for the bees. I’ve left the French lavender in pots as that’s how it seems to grow best in my garden. The bees can’t get enough!

B63BADEB-61EF-4C14-9898-E760EA82660D

I plan to place some annuals in the gaps, also pollinator- friendly varieties. I’ll review these each year as the perennials spread and gain height and the gaps hopefully become fewer. Hopefully, in a couple of years’ time, the little stepping stones will lead through an abundance of green and shades of blue and purple.

One of my favourite shrubs is the Caryopteris Heavenly Blue which I planted about three years ago. It is another bee magnet and exudes a heady sweet aroma which I love. I would like to plant more of this but because it spreads up to 1.5 metres I don’t think I have room in a sunny enough spot.

F8D0FB46-CFDF-4E67-9922-BC20128FA0C2

I’ve sewn a few wildflower seeds in small pots and they have come on well. I can’t wait for the Nigella to bloom in a few weeks’ time. Another favourite aromatic container is the rosemary and thyme against the back fence. The little purple flowers are beautiful and another food source for insects.

6FA44565-BF52-46CE-824A-2EA23C4C223D

D9CB9ABC-1C7F-4C6B-A552-9D042FB2B66D

My arthritis has really flared up this year, exacerbated by a knee injury a couple of months ago, and although I love  my little plot the more physically demanding aspects of maintaining it can be very challenging for me. Rethinking my garden, reviewing what grows well and what doesn’t, going with nature’s flow and including more of what thrives easily and with minimal effort on my part is my new philosophy. I’ll be keeping it very simple, providing a banquet for nature if I can, and a place for me and the cats to relax now the rain has stopped. 😁

Poppies: prolific elusive


For the last few years I have tried, in vain, to grow poppies. I have scattered seeds. I have planted plugs. I have nurtured tiny green shoots, indoors and out. I have bought very expensive specimens with very impressive names from well-known suppliers of repute. All of my efforts have been fruitless.

One or two larger plants survived long enough to reveal scarlet petals, beautiful, bold but fragile, within the first day or two devoured by slugs, or scattered by the breeze. I have planted in poor soil – as per the received wisdom, in good soil, in pots and in the ground, all to no avail.

It seems that I am destined to appreciate these most lovely of wild flowers only in the wild as nature intended. And in car parks. By road sides. On waste ground. In cracks between old paving stones. Growing out of wall crevices. Anywhere except in my garden. Oh well…….. Here are some I saw earlier 🙂

poppy 5

poppy 4

poppy 3

poppy 2

poppy 1

I received no less than ten spam messages through WordPress last week, different names but clearly the same person, informing me that unless I pay a certain amount of bitcoins by 1st June they would hijack my account and send all sorts of nasty communications posing as me. I have been promised a bad name and that I will be thrown out of blog world and shunned by all the universe if I don’t pay up. Oh dear! If this calamity comes to pass, please know it’s not really me. It’s been a pleasure. Enjoy the poppies 😄

 

Low Tide

When a friend suggested an evening drive to the beach at Formby point, I gladly accepted. Accessed by way of a lonely road through woodland, the sand dunes at Formby would not ordinarily be somewhere I could visit by my usual means of public transport as night time loomed.

DSCF7976

We exchanged  greetings with dog walkers and joggers. An older couple helped a small child look for shells whilst sea birds trotted across the damp sand, investigating the shallow pools left behind by the outbound tide.

DSCF7934

Staying  close to the shore, we made a seat out of stone steps at the foot of the lifeboat station and looked out to sea.

Dusk was descending. The sky shifted through a muted palette of greys, mauve and smoky amber as the sun’s lamp was slowly dimmed.

The camera’s zoom lens revealed the hazy shapes of distant pedestrians, on four legs and two, traversing the expanse of the beach, out to the water’s edge and back again.

DSCF7943

DSCF7900

Buoys bobbed in the shallow water, guiding to safe passage marine vessels bound for the port of Liverpool, or sailing into the night towards Dublin. Towering wind turbines stood still, imposing but strangely graceful.

DSCF7931

DSCF7971

The silver ribbon of sea, its mirror-surface bouncing back the last of the light, marked the end of the road where the silhouette of a solitary vehicle was stopped at the water’s edge.

DSCF7938

 

 

 

Tulip Fields: An Impression

Dutch bulb fields have, since the time of ‘tulip mania’ in the 17th century, attracted painters from Europe and beyond, mesmerised by vistas of flowers, row after row, vibrant and tantalising, extending like floral carpets to meet the horizon.

One of my favourite examples is Tulips in Holland by French Impressionist, Claude Monet, painted in 1886.

Claude_Monet_-_Tulip_fields_in_Holland_(Musée_d'Orsay)

I am fascinated by the light and the vivid hues, and had pondered the reality and how it compared with Monet’s impressions as he set them to canvas in real time.

The Dutch tulip season is short, beginning in March and ending in May. A short visit to Holland’s southern bulb region last week presented the opportunity to feast my eyes on multitudes of magnificent blooms as Monet did on another spring day over 130 years ago.

The flat land and waterways reminded me of happy childhood holidays cruising on the Norfolk Broads with my family. They are early memories, set in time in a technicolour palette; our sensory perceptions of colour, smell, pain and sounds gradually fade as we grow older. I still remember the boldness of scarlet poppies against the parched East-Anglia fen land and vast sky. Of course, the two regions of England and Holland were once joined, back in the mists of time, so perhaps the connection is understandable.

The landscape changes from week to week as fields are harvested and return to barren soil, their glory days ended for another year.  Elsewhere, new flowers open to the sun as their moment arrives. 

DSCF8207

I ambled alongside one narrow canal which skirted several smaller fields. Views from the water’s edge offered a chance to see further and to form my solitary impressions.

DSCF8176

DSCF8201

DSCF8210

DSCF8230

My impression is of a grand artistic collaboration between nature and nurture at its triumphant moment of fruition, and that I was lucky to be in the gallery to see it for myself.

DSCF8256

.

 

Narcissus

e53dfebd-9a68-4278-be45-23a36afd323a.jpeg

On a recent visit to Liverpool’s  Walker Art Gallery my eye was drawn to John William Waterhouse’s painting of Echo and Narcissus. The painting shows the mountain nymph, Echo, gazing longingly at Narcissus as he gazes even more longingly at his own reflection in the water. Echo’s love is unrequited by the object of her affections and, feeling rejected and invisible, she fades away until all that remains is her voice. Desperately thirsty, but unwilling to disturb his image on the water’s surface, Narcissus eventually dies from dehydration (though in another version of the myth he drowns). A clump of Narcissi, pale yellow heads leaning forward to peer into the water, springs up on the spot.

E2F5D9B0-02C8-4157-A116-BEDDF82C5C63

Despite the recent return of early morning ground frost to some of our gardens, spring is established. Things are happening in my little patch.

One of the earliest blooms each year is the dwarf rhododendron which I have kept in the same pot since I rescued it from a skip about five years ago. I was told that it wouldn’t grow much bigger even if planted in the ground so I decided not to disturb it. It flowers only once, and only for a short time, but I look forward every March to that exquisite show that tells me spring has arrived in earnest.

61a4f20a-2226-48d9-b23c-c5e8d1900901.jpeg

The early flowering clematis which I planted quite recently seems to have taken root. Although it looks so delicate and fragile right now I hope it will provide a stunning backdrop as it climbs the fence and heralds the arrival of spring at the end of March for many years to come.

87A0A634-F2CF-4D44-9028-27510705934F

3080AF15-20EF-418C-8071-6CE983CFABBD

The little old spiraea which every summer I suspect has had its last day in the sun never ceases to amaze and delight me with its spring revival.

24780F18-0F9F-46D8-9123-D63750AA8B6F

Even those plants which won’t flower until June or July are showing new green shoots on last year’s woody stems.    The potted herbs are flourishing, quickly returning in colour and scent.

EF055C8E-C959-4056-8E23-7F7E7729DF20

At the beginning of December I planted some daffodil bulbs which I’d bought in the autumn and forgotten about . I thought it was probably too late but hope, as they say, springs eternal. Well, spring they did! Some of them, anyway.

579E648A-F3A9-4682-9C5E-63F55A33820A

4FCDDBAD-0883-4A80-8639-7D7AC3CFC04E

AC0D4EC8-24DD-4B91-8CB8-06963F2A3187

I’ve noticed that many of those swathes of early daffodils which graced roadside verges and parks have now faded, like the lovely Echo, leaving only lowered browning heads  or leaves which will also die back over the next month or so, though below the ground the bulbs will sleep until their time comes again. I’m happy that my late blooming golden narcissi, a few still unfurling, will still be around a while longer yet to make me smile when I look outside every morning. Like their mythical namesake they have every reason to stand proud and show their faces to the sun.

Bickershaw: a plant-potted history

At the weekend, inspired by the arrival of spring, I visited Bickershaw Hall Nurseries, a small garden centre just outside Wigan.  This friendly family-run business also sells seasonal plants, fruit and vegetables at the town market, so as I was passing by I decided to have a look around.

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

Despite the record-breaking warmth of the past week, it is still February after all, and the big greenhouse looked almost bare apart from a few splashes of colour. This time next month it will be fragrant with herbs and bursting with botanical brightness.

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

Whilst perusing  the perennials I chatted with the owner who told me her family had established the business nearly 50 years ago on land which had been bought much earlier following the demolition of Bickershaw Hall in the 1940s. Built in the 17th century, the Hall fell into disrepair, made uninhabitable by coal mining subsidence. The only remains are this house which had been servants’ quarters and the cattle shelter which you can see below, now both used by the Nurseries.

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

Our conversation turned to another local history connection. In 1972, the land where Bickershaw Hall had once stood had gone to seed. Bizarrely, a consortium of Manchester business people and others from the music industry selected the site to host a massive music festival. One of the organisers was a certain Jeremy Beadle, and the headline band was The Grateful Dead. Other illustrious artists included The Kinks and Bryan Ferry, and the list went on… It was to be a spectacular event and the crowds arrived from all over the country.

Of course, by today’s standards the special effects look unsophisticated. A high-diver who descends gracelessly into a burning paddling-pool even seems comedic.

Unfortunately, severe rain made the event a washout, and the field looked like a scene from Glastonbury but without the associated coolness. The Grateful Dead were not feeling very grateful as this short clip shows.

The festival-goers, bless them, still seemed in good spirits despite their tents having sunk into the mire. This would have been an unprecedented occasion for them, and they would probably have just enjoyed being part of it.  I like the interview with a local shop keeper who describes the weird and wonderful foodstuffs he has stocked for the pleasure of the Bohemian showbiz types including yogurt, something he’d previously ‘heard of’ but ‘never seen’. Well it was only 1972! 🙂

My curiosity roused, I asked for directions to the festival site. A short walk led me to a path off the main road with woodland to the left.

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

A couple of cars passed me from the direction I was heading, making me feel less wary about venturing alone  into what seemed quite a secluded place. I smiled to myself, picturing the hoards of party people ambling this way in the summer of ‘72.

The path opened out into a car park at what I could now see was a fishery: artificially created ponds stocked with fish for paid-up anglers to spend whole days trying to catch. One pond looked quite tranquil with nobody around.

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

Whilst others took on a more sinister appearance. I hope that was a just scarecrow….

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

I followed a path to the right in the direction of a familiar looking field, but not before passing the remains of a burnt tree stump, strangely decorated.

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

Then there it was…. the venue!

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

Try as I might, I wasn’t feeling that vibe. The festival spirit had been washed away in that July deluge.

Bickershaw Festival has achieved a quiet cult status; the 40th anniversary reunion held in 2012 (a much, much smaller affair) was even covered by the BBC. Needless to say, Bryan Ferry and the Kinks were unavailable on that occasion.