Shepherd’s Delight

It’s almost 10 pm and the sun is setting on another gorgeous July day. The sky is a delicious blend of burnt oranges, pinks and corals: red sky at night, shepherd’s delight. Tomorrow looks promising then. Through the still-open window I can hear the faint and exotic sounds of a bamboo wind chime in a neighbour’s tree, gently animated by a cooling breeze. Muted conversation and laughter is carried on the air from nearby gardens. At the end of a magnificent week of scorching sunshine, today’s slightly lower temperature has been most welcome. We can be such a contrary lot where the weather is concerned, craving to be baked and sweltered, but soon needing respite before yearning for the next heatwave.

The little garden is a joy to behold, bursting at the borders with tecnicoloured blooms. I’ve never seen as many bees as this year, which is what it’s all about for me. It took a long time to get going after an exceptionally cold and rainy May, but the plants have forgiven and forgotten and have made up for lost time.

Here are some of the most vibrant and gorgeous that give me so much pleasure. Apparently, lots of people dislike orange flowers, but they never fail to make me smile. Tigger appreciates them too.

Having had mixed results from new plant varieties I have added this year, it’s been wonderful to see that once again the cosmos, calendula and nasturtiums have done me proud. Seed harvested last year was roughly sown straight into the soil in April and the flowers are thriving, needing very little care. There’s a lesson there, I think.

The light has faded since I started writing this post, and in the darkness the garden has another kind of magic, fairy lights and lanterns picking out the shapes of tiny bats as they flit above, looking for insects or heading back to their roosting places. It’s time for music and wine and thinking up plans for a new day. Have a great weekend!

June in bloom

May was very wet and cold here in the north of England, and the garden has taken much longer than usual to get going. Except for the ever-dependable cat mint, determined to push through and show off in pride of place, the flowerbed seemed quite a sad little spot last month. Some of the herbs pots have been thriving since April, but I have been longing to see some colour. June arrived, bringing glorious sunshine, day after day, and temperatures into the twenties. At long last, the first flowers have started to push through to greet the sun.

Last year I dabbled more with seeds than ever before because the garden centres were closed in the spring. I was so delighted with the results that I decided to carry on this year. The results so far have been variable. I started most of my seedlings indoors inside propagator trays and started transferring them outside from April, potting them on and leaving them to grow on the nursery shelves. Heavy rain throughout May meant covering the shelves with plastic sheeting much of the time. Many perished, battered by wind and rain when I wasn’t able to cover them, or rotted in too humid propagators. Nothing has been planted out yet but some cosmos and a few sunflowers are doing well and should be big enough to go into the flower bed in a couple of weeks. There are also some newly germinated nasturtiums, varieties I haven’t grown before and which I am so happy have come through.

Last summer, I sowed some calendula seeds directly into the ground and lavished time, effort and compost nurturing others from propagation. The results were identical, so this year – yes, you’ve guessed it – all have gone straight into the soil and all are doing well, considering recent weather.

It was the same story with nasturtiums last year, some shooting up in the poorest soil, between flags and stones or gate crashing in other pots, all performing as well as their pampered relations. They are classed as annuals but some have decided to come back. Wonderful!

For the first time I’ve decided to try growing some veg. I’m starting small. Very small. In this hanging basket I’m growing cucamelons, which I have never tried before, and chard. I hope they’ll be safe from slugs up there. There are more chard plants on the shelf. I have never been interested in growing fruit or veg up to now and this is just for fun. We’ll see.

Scabiosa is such a resilient plant, as well as gorgeous and attractive to butterflies and bees. They never fail to delight.

Salvia is another perennial favourite for me and the bees. I have bought a couple of new plants which will remain in pots, where they seem to do best in my garden. The bees are happy!

I tried to grow yarrow from seed but not one little shoot emerged. Imagine my delight when I found mature plants on sale at a good garden centre. The first florets are opening and I hope the pollinators will enjoy the feasting.

I picked up two Lady’s Mantle plants from the Pound Shop, both on their last stalks, yellowing and looking doomed. I was moved to try to rescue them. For weeks they seemed to be clinging on but showed no signs of growth. Earlier this week they were replanted together and the transformation has been astonishing. Within a few days they have turned from puny stumps to lush, green pot fillers, soon to be separated and given more room to spread.

Another new addition and a first timer in my flower bed is this delphinium, buds about to open as she rises above the cat mint. I planted three but only this one has succeeded. I can’t wait to see the flowers.

The little California poppy is ready to open again. I sowed some more seeds around it for company but it looks like it will be on its own again.

The fastest mover has been another new plant, this gorgeous erysimum, Bowles Mauve. It has thrived from the moment it was planted out and is a real bee magnet!

It’s such a joyful thing to be able to take pleasure in a garden, especially one as small as mine where every plant counts. Next week is looking lovely, if not so hot, and I’m looking forward to my morning pottering as my coffee brews and my evening cup of tea as the sun goes down. I wish everybody a lovely week!

A local walk

A recent visit to the GP about something unrelated (and which thankfully was nothing to worry about) revealed the alarming news that my blood pressure is higher than it should be. If I am not able to reduce it myself through ‘lifestyle changes’ I may be looking at medication in the future. This news has motivated me to make some positive changes to my now very sedentary lock-down, home-worker life, including becoming more active. It’s the old chicken and egg scenario: I started walking less as my arthritis pain worsened, which probably led to me becoming even more unfit and putting weight on, which undoubtedly has made the pain worse, and so on. Having now to sit at my desk all day, five days a week, has not helped matters. Although these are proper reasons and not just excuses, I am still set on taking action to improve my health in whatever way I can.

We are back to walking locally again, though for me that never changed during the few months’ interval between lock downs; I have only been out of town once in the past 10 months and have become something of a contented recluse. This morning, however, the bright sunshine and dry sky tempted me out into my locality for a bit of a brisk stroll. There are some great places to walk within the wider township, but I would need to get a bus there. On my own doorstep, options are very limited. Nevertheless, off I set in pursuit of fresh air and exercise and with camera at the ready.

Westwood Flash

I live in an area which was heavily mined when Coal was King in Wigan. Although the collieries are long gone they have left a legacy of flashes – lakes formed on sites of mining subsidence. There are eight flashes in total within the nature reserve. The Leigh branch of the Leeds & Liverpool canal cuts through the bodies of water and these days is extremely popular with walkers, cyclists and boaters.

Three or four anglers were in situ, one with a very bored looking child who was distracting himself by rolling about in the mud whilst the female companion of another looked like she would rather be watching paint dry. I was much more interested in the wild fowl amongst the reed beds.

There were lots of people around, mostly walking dogs and mostly very friendly. I turned around to look for the speaker of “Long time, no see,” to find a man who daily used to travel into town on the same bus as me, also now a home-worker. I don’t know him, other than as a fellow former member of the 07:24 bus micro-community, but it was strangely uplifting to meet again somebody who seems part of a distant and strange past, and to be reminded that we will hopefully return to those banal but now welcome routines.

A lot of money has been spent on improving accessibility to this area in recent months, partly to mitigate the presence and associated noise, visual and environmental pollution from a pointless new dual-carriageway, nick-named locally the road to nowhere, because, being part of a much longer link road whose other parts have not yet been constructed, it really doesn’t go anywhere. It’s a relief to see that wildlife still seems to be thriving, post road construction.

Two men, one in a bizarre, possibly home-made, face covering which looked like it had been fashioned out of several plastic bottles, asked for directions to the canal tow path. I indicated the way that I was myself headed. By this time, the route was really quite busy and it was sometimes necessary to stand to one side to let people pass. It’s a pleasant walk, more so since the improvements, and I regretted that I hadn’t been walking here more often.

Arriving at the towpath, I decided that as a re-introductory amble I had gone far enough for today. I spent a few minutes watching the swans and having a short chat with another person I knew in the old life.

Lost in my own thoughts and camera lens, I was momentarily startled when a woman asked me if I put photos on “that website”. “What website is that?”, I replied, wondering if this humble domain had come to her attention. It had not, of course. It was something else entirely that I have never heard of.

I spotted a few people in the wood on the other side of the water where I had thought it was inaccessible. More to investigate on another walk.

And in the other direction lies the largest of the flashes and walks that I haven’t done for years.

As others have written, it is easy to forget the green spaces that are close at hand. I’m looking forward to renewing that connection.

A lesson in patience and seeds of change

So, here we are on the last day of September. The hours of daylight and darkness have passed their balancing point and we move slowly towards the dark and the cold. Figuratively speaking, we are, and will be, living through darker times than usual this year. But those long months of shorter, colder days offer hope of renewal and regeneration when the warmth returns.

There have been some frosty mornings of late. I have opened the back door to look at the slivers of dawn light and to observe my misty breath in the air. As the garden dies back and slowly goes to seed there is still a lot of colour to take pleasure in, and there is even new growth.

Back in early spring, unable to source any plants, I picked up a few packets of seeds from the supermarket, amongst them some blacked-eyed Susan. Unlike some of the other more vigorously sprouting seedlings, the Susans were very slow to emerge from their little plug pots and, when they eventually did, seemed to be stuck, no bigger than tiny cress stalks, for a long time. I almost gave up on them, planning more than once to throw them into the composting bin. With nothing to lose, I moved the little pots one late July day to a slightly sunnier spot. Their transformation into robust little plants was fast and furious, as if seizing the moment and making up for lost time. I planted them, still doubtful due to their relatively small size, into a bed. Happily, they took hold and went from strength to strength and their sultry shades of ochre and golden-brown keep the spirit of summer alive for a bit longer.

Calendula and nasturtiums are still flowering. Every time I think I have dead-headed for the last time I spot a tiny bud or two.

Roses also continue to bloom, hopefully for a few weeks yet.

The cosmos seeds I potted in April were the first and fastest to grow, feathery stems reaching for the sun. The baby plants were the first to go into the ground and they continued to shoot up and up, lanky and eager. But there were no flowers for the longest time. I gave up on the idea. I pulled up some of the plants which were blocking the light and putting other plants in the shade, stunting their development. I want my garden to be a food source for pollinating creatures; I couldn’t spare the space for anything that provided neither beauty nor nourishment. I left a few of the smaller specimens there, including a sad little thing in a small terracotta pot. To my surprise, they have produced a small number of flowers in white and vibrant pink, a joyful late summer gift, long after I gave up on them.

I adore the muted pink leaves of this honeysuckle plant which I had forgotten about. The pot, invaded by moss and in an inhospitable shady corner, was nearly recycled months ago. Moved into the sun to serve as a stand for a solar battery, the plant awoke again, returning to a long- forgotten splendour. I bought it on the same day as its cousin below, now well over two metres tall and one of my favourites, its pink and purple berries succulent and splendid. They were 50p each on the half- dead rejects shelf.

Nigella have grown in my little garden for about four years now. My first pack of seeds was shop-bought, but for the past three years I have gathered the brown seed heads in September and October, releasing the black seeds, each a potential new flower in the next summer. I move them around the garden, this year planting in perhaps too sunny a spot, shortening their season. Some seeds found their way, on the breeze, to a shady place beneath an over-hanging tree. They have done much better, new flowers still appearing. There is a lesson there.

One of my favourite shrubs is the heavily fragrant caryopteris, Heavenly Blue. It is a bee magnet from May to early September, but its season is nearly over.

Last year I added another caryopteris, White Surprise. It didn’t seem to thrive in its original spot so in early spring I moved it next to its relation, not knowing if it would take root. There was some growth but no flowers. I decided it would have to give up its prime position to a newcomer next spring, but it could stay put for the time being. Over the last few weeks I have not been disappointed. A profusion of lavender blue flowers have taken over, a nectar fest for the insects. I see it from my kitchen window and take great joy in watching the feasting. To think, I might have dug it up, not knowing it was a late summer bloomer!

Another new addition is the pink buddleia, bought from a pound shop. It has grown quite a lot and its big candy-floss display enchants me, though it doesn’t seem to attract the butterflies. I haven’t seen a single one sampling its supposed delights. I am still in two minds about its future prospects, but I won’t be rash. Perhaps the right butterflies haven’t spotted it yet.

When is a weed not a weed? This geranium Robert has the most wonderful aroma, like parsley. I leave it alone to do its thing.

In this mellow season of winding down, decay has its own beauty.

I have bought some spring bulbs to plant at the weekend. They will rest in the cold winter earth before energising and bursting forth to surprise and delight on a March morning. Hope springs eternal.

Bright and Beautiful

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Back in May when we baked and sweltered in days on end of glorious sunshine it was said -only partly in jest – that this was summer so enjoy it while it lasted. It feels now like that was true. I can count on one hand the number of days in July when it hasn’t rained here in north west England. Grey, miserable, wet and even cold are not adjectives that normally are associated with summer, and the season has been hugely disappointing so far.

On a more positive note, wonderful things have been happening in the garden. When I last posted on the subject a few weeks ago everything was pastel and purple, which was lovely, but I was eager to see some bolder colours bursting forth. Well, burst forth they have, and they have been the perfect antidote to the wet and dreary days of late. This afternoon has been sunny and warm for a change so I sat outside with a book and a brew and Tiggy the cat for company.

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Tig having a nap

In the spring when it became clear that garden centres would not be opening any time soon I decided to buy some seeds. Previous efforts at growing from scratch had, in the main, not been successful, but undeterred I bought a few packets from the supermarket and I set about sowing. My biggest success story has been calendula.

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These joyful yellow flowers have grown effortlessly and have been a surprise and a delight. I’ll definitely be growing them again next year

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Their sunny faces always make me smile. The bees love them, too.

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I sowed some seeds directly into the ground and planted others into plug cells, repotting a couple of times. There has been no difference in size or vitality. I even scattered a few randomly and they have grown just as well, including in the little herb bed where I’ve allowed some of the chives to flower for the insects to enjoy.

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Nasturtiums have been another triumph.

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I sowed all of the seeds directly into pots, some with host plants such as winter jasmine which won’t flower until November, and mainly into old compost. Nasturtiums were the first of my seeds to shoot, and they continue to thrive.

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Like the calendula, nasturtiums are so joyful and sunny and their brightness is such a tonic. I’ve learned that they grow even better when planted into the ground so I’ll try that next year.

For the last three summers I have grown Nigella and have collected the seeds each autumn. They have not let me down this year either. They grow anywhere and everywhere in my garden; some have even returned where they were planted last year, even though they are supposed to be annuals.

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My poor little purple scabiosa always starts off well but no matter where I move it to it always withers as surrounding plants overshadow it. I have a plan to move it again. I was given a white scabiosa which seems fearless, standing proud, keeping the cat mint at bay and pulling in the bees.

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67AC5C3B-FD21-41EC-869C-4DE98437C465In February I dug up some roses which were in the wrong spot. They were spreading onto the little path and plucking my clothes whenever I walked past. I transferred them to very large pots and crossed my fingers. After a slow start, all have taken to their new homes.

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This year has also been a time for making the most of what I already had. I divided a pot-bound and poorly-flowering fuchsia into three new plants, all of which are flourishing.

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I adore the smell of caryopteris Heavenly Blue, another favourite with the bees. Planted about four years ago it has spread beyond the bed, but I just leave it.

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The cat mint and banana mint are going strong and providing food for bees and butterflies.

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I had hoped for another Painted Lady invasion like last year, but I’ve had very few butterfly visitors this year, sadly. When they do drop in they prefer the verbena like this tortoise shell.

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The Met Office has promised some proper summer weather tomorrow and especially on Friday so I’ll be out in my unruly little garden enjoying the bright and the beautiful. Happy days!

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Nostalgia, rediscovered

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Today, I had arranged to visit an elderly member of my family who lives in one of the more rural parts of town so I decided to combine the visit with a short walk in her locality, an area I know well – or thought I did.

Early lock- down restrictions led to a lot of people exploring their local areas and finding walks and green spaces that had hitherto been unknown to them, or which would previously have been eschewed in favour of more exciting destinations. Unfortunately, options close to my own home are very few so I haven’t been out and about for quite some time. Travelling still has its complications and limitations, especially for users of public transport. Before the pandemic, it wouldn’t have crossed my mind to set off on today’s walk, but an unexpected feeling of nostalgia and a desire to be near to water enticed me quite literally down memory lane.

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My walk started at Hey Brook where it runs under the main road at the boundary of the villages of Abram and Bickershaw. Back in the 19th and early 20th centuries this was coal mining country, an area of heavy industry, but the pits are long gone, leaving behind what I remember as a wasteland where once had stood giant winding gear, mountains of coal and railway tracks. The sign for a caravan site points not in the direction of a place for holiday-making, but to a notorious travellers’ camp. The road is the start of a short nature trail to Low Hall Park, about a mile and a half away, and not my destination today.

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Not many people head that way because of the travelling community’s very aggressive dogs, which roam freely around the site and onto the public footpath. A couple of terrifying childhood encounters on that path, including an incident where a cousin’s clothes were torn by one really vicious hound, left me frightened of dogs for many years. Needless to say, it’s not the fault of the animals, and I love dogs now.

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Somewhere along the path is a memorial plaque which marks approximately the place where on 30th April 1945 an entire train – locomotive engine and 13 wagons – disappeared into the New Zealand shaft of Low Hall Colliery. Without warning, a huge chasm opened up where the shaft had been filled in in 1932. The body of the driver, 67 year old Ludovic Berry, was never recovered and remains 150 ft below ground with his beloved  train, Dolly, which he had driven for 35 years. I would have liked to seek out the plaque but I confess I’m not courageous enough to risk another encounter with a travelling dog.

Back across the road and through the kissing gate I was on another path which I hadn’t been along for 35 years or more. Behind me, a section of Hey Brook emerged as a trickle beneath the bridge where a large amount of litter had accumulated, and then twisted to the south on its course towards Pennington Flash in nearby Leigh.

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My surroundings, lush and green, a plantation of young oak and beech trees and wild vegetation, were nothing like the barren landscape I had walked over with friends and cousins in the 1970s and early ’80s. Known as the ‘rucks’, a local word for the site of a demolished colliery, it stretched out for miles, still littered with bits of mining detritus and the masonry of smashed-up outbuildings. We used to walk that way to get to a small flash – another word from the lexicon of coal mining – a lake created where water had filled an area of mining subsidence. That’s where I was headed.

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I hoped I would still be able to find my way there and that the path had not been rerouted.

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The transformation from industrial desert to botanical haven was truly wonderful.

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Pollinators’ paradise

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Tracks led off in other directions but I had the main path to myself, and it felt a little surreal to be in a place both familiar and unfamiliar.

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I felt like I could have been in an art- house film; no sound except bird song and the camera lens focused on flora and fauna.

There were no trees when I was last here, but now there is a woodland in the making.

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The path ended in another place that I knew, yet didn’t know. Last time I was here it was open and bare, but instinctively I knew the way.

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Polly’s Pond to me, or Kingsdown Flash to give it its proper name, came into view. I remember a friend’s grandma telling me that when she was young it used to be known as Auntie Polly’s. Nobody knew why, or who the mysterious ancient aunt was.

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The sky was mostly grey but emerging patches of blue were reflected in the water. Families of ducks swam in formation, approaching fishermen and walkers, clearly used to being offered food.

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Back in the day, kids used to launch dinghies and kayaks onto the pond. Staying at the water’s shallow edge, I remember wading in up to my knees and examining tadpoles and frog spawn and trying to avoid leeches, not always with success. Algae on the surface was known as Nanny Green Teeth, the malicious old water spirit who would suck children under if they got out of their depth and gave her the chance. Today, this seems to be the domain of anglers –  and their very patient dogs.

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I took a stroll on the gravel path. Trees screened the flash from view for the most part, and many openings were occupied by fishermen. Not all though.

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I retraced my steps along the green path, encountering a group of beautiful horses along the way, they and their riders more than happy to pose for the camera.

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This short and very humble walk gave me immense enjoyment, not only because it was an opportunity to be out in nature again, but because it was a lovely example of environmental improvement and enrichment at a time when so much green space is being lost to development. Here, the trend is very much reversed. I have rediscovered a place from my past as a new place that will be part of my future.

The Colour Purple

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This week, the wind and rain have lashed the garden, whipping the tender shrubberies and blowing a sheet off the line and into a neighbour’s tree. I had to take down the wind chimes for a couple of days until the gusts settled. Even I, lover of tubular tinkling that I am, was driven to distraction by the cacophony that sounded more like an ice-cream van in melt-down than soothing music for the soul. Today it is warm, muggy even, and although a storm has been forecast for this evening, it’s lovely so far.

The little garden has taken quite a bashing too, but the flowers and shrubs are none the worse for some much-needed rain. I have decided to abandon the various plans I had for my tiny plot this year; it’s been hard enough to get compost, let alone the shrubs and the landscaping materials I had hoped for. The fences, thirsty for a coat of wood preserver, will have to wait a bit longer. The prospect of queueing outside B&Q for an hour does not appeal.

Strangely, I find that I don’t really mind. Some of my plants seem slow in getting going this year, but I am enjoying what there is so far, and the wildlife is enjoying it too. It’s not always a bad thing to be forced to slow down and enjoy right now rather than think about what’s next.

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Most of my planting has been deliberately chosen to encourage bees and butterflies, and purple is definitely one of their preferred colours. I yearn for those bolder, brighter colours to come through but whilst the roses, geraniums and fuchsias are still just on the edge of revealing themselves, there is a lot of pretty purple in full bloom.

Scabiosa

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Lavender

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Thyme in flower

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Verbena Bonariensis, a butterfly magnet

One of the most popular plants with the bees is Walker’s Low, cat mint. Like all mint it takes hold and spreads, offering the pollinators a fragrant feast. Oddly, there were no bees around when I took these photos.

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It’s not just popular with bees either.

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A carpet of cat mint under a honeysuckle canopy offers a cool and peaceful shade from the hot sun.

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The heady scent of salvia is intoxicating.

We all love being in our garden.

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Whalley Abbey,dissolved but not forgotten

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This is the second week of my Easter break from work, and in these strange times all that means is that I’m just not looking at anything work-related for a fortnight. On Monday morning I’ll take up my position at my home desk and work on whatever can be worked on within the limitations imposed by distance and technology. At the onset of lockdown I thought working from home would be easier than the reality has proved, hence my present ‘hard line’ on taking this two weeks’ leave. Still, I’m immensely grateful and relieved that I’m able to continue working and have security and peace of mind where so many others now face uncertainty.

Being blessed with excellent weather, I’ve spent much of my time contentedly pottering outside: sowing, re-potting, pruning and repairing. I’ve also been able to finish a couple of books, both sidelined some weeks or months ago, and am now, after a slow start, just over a hundred pages into Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light. This final part of the trilogy which charts the rise and fall of Thomas Cromwell has been a long time coming, and I know that I have not been alone in wondering, impatiently, what was taking Hilary so long. I read somewhere that she was finding it hard to write the end; to finally put Cromwell’s head upon the block. Hilary Mantel is a perfectionist, which is the real reason for the gap between Bring up the Bodies and this finale. Having been awarded Booker prizes for instalments one and two, the pressure to maintain that standard a third time must have been immense.

Thomas Cromwell was a key figure in driving King Henry VIII’s programme of dissolution of the monasteries as part of the English Reformation. Henry’s main interest was in the considerable revenue which, confiscated from the wealthiest monastic establishments, could boost his kingly coffers. For Cromwell, apart from wanting to impress his boss, the king, his own agenda was more theological, being strongly in favour of rooting out all things papist.

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All this talk of Tudors and Reformation brought to mind another of my favourite places, Whalley Abbey near Clitheroe. Now owned by the Church of England, only ruins remain of the 14th century Cistercian monastery. More modern (still centuries old) buildings on the site are in use as a spiritual retreat and conference centre. I was first introduced to Whalley about 10 years ago by a friend who was training to be a counsellor and had taken part in a residential course there. She had found great pleasure in strolls among the ancient ruins and along the banks of the river Calder which skirts the grounds. These photographs I took on a summer’s day a few years ago capture the Abbey’s serenity.

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Of course, the Abbey was not always the peaceful location it is today. Established in the late 13th century and a work-in-progress for nearly a century after that, the monastic community had its fair share of controversies and scraps over money with other local religious powerhouses. The founders had relocated to Whalley from their original Abbey at Stanlow on the banks of the river Mersey where a series of unfortunate incidents including flooding, gales and fire damage had led to the decision to move to pastures new. An age of prosperity and calm followed and the Abbey became one of the principal landowners in east Lancashire. Rivalries in the region were fierce where money was concerned, and records dating from the last quarter of the 15th century tell of vicious feuds between the Abbott and the Rector of Slaidburn over tithe payments, with reports of the Rector’s thugs attacking monks.

The church then, as now, enjoyed fantastic wealth, and inevitably some of that was abused as records of lush living and monkish opulence describe. Of course, Abbeys were also places where the sick could receive care and the poor, alms. The rising star that was Cromwell saw an opportunity. In 1535 delegations of ‘visitors’ were sent to the English Abbeys to carry out inventories of their assets and to look for signs of superstitious practices such as promoting belief in the power of so-called relics, a lucrative business in its time. Examples of some of these finds were widely publicised by Cromwell to provide further justification for the dissolution. The Visitors’ report on Whalley was not especially damning, with only one monk apparently conducting himself lewdly, but the Abbott, John Paslew, was accused of selling off some of the church’s gold. Sanctions were placed on the community and records show that Cromwell himself was required to make judgement when the Abbey appealed. He relaxed the sanctions. Nice.

The following year, 1536, saw Abbott Paslew and many of the monks participate in the Pilgrimage of Grace, a Catholic rebellion. Paslew was executed for treason. The year after that the Abbey was dissolved. Centuries of private ownership followed before it was bought by the Church of England in 1923. It is a grade 1 listed scheduled ancient monument. To me, it’s just a really lovely place to spend some quiet time.

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I hope to go back to Whalley once some sort of normal life is resumed and spend a few hours just moving slowly around the grounds, bench-hopping, listening to birdsong and blissfully doing nothing much.

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A blogging anniversary and a new year

Happy New Year! I hope as we start 2020 all in WordPress world are well and in good spirits. I decided that rather than write a review of 2019 I would write a few thoughts on what I’d like to be blogging about during the year ahead.

Yesterday marked my first visit of the year to the coast (my favourite kind of location), and I can’t think of a better first photo of 2020 than a spectacular sunset viewed from Southport Pier.

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Apparently, today is this blog’s birthday. I have been pressing words for five whole years! This is also my 100th post, so a double milestone. Do the maths and you will see that I’m far from a prolific poster, and that is unlikely to change in 2020. I’ll still post when I have something new to share about somewhere I’ve visited or an experience I’ve enjoyed that I think might be of interest to some other people. I’ve never had a writing schedule and have sometimes gone weeks – and in the early days of the blog, months – without writing a word, though I’ve posted more over the last year or two. 

Regular readers will know that I love to be near to the sea, in all seasons and at any time of day. Yesterday afternoon I decided to make the short train journey from my home in Wigan to Southport on the Lancashire coast. It was after 2 o’clock when I arrived, so after having a quick bite to eat and a mooch in a couple of shops, I made my way to the Pier. The town was busy, unsurprisingly on such a dry and bright day, but by this time it was about 3 o’clock and the light was starting to fade.

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Bridge over the marine lake

Although it wasn’t a cold day for the time of year the wind coming in from the sea was bitter as I walked towards the end; I wished I’d worn a scarf and gloves. My hands shook a little as I angled my phone towards the western sky, partly cold fingers and partly the biting breeze. It was well worth it though, as I was rewarded with breathtaking views as the sun descended.

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At the end of the Pier I sat for a while on one of the wooden benches, watching as the light diminished and the sky changed from one moment to the next, nature’s own light show, unsurpassable.

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This is a ‘first’ for me as I have never before written a post on my phone, or used in a blog photographs I took with it. I don’t really like using this small key pad for anything other than texting, but other devices are out of action at the moment, and actually the typing is not that bad and I like the photos. Perhaps that opens a door to more spontaneity in 2020.

Five years ago, this blog started out purely as an extension to my Facebook page where I would share photos with friends and family of places I’d visited but without any details or narrative. People would often ask about the locations, want more specific information or want to share their thoughts. I had the idea of writing a simple little blog which I would link to Facebook where folks could click on a link to see more than just the photographs. I seldom use Facebook these days, but here I still am.

It never occurred to me that anyone else would be reading my blog, or even how they would come across it. Even now, I sometimes wonder what people must have ‘Googled’ to end up here. One day I logged on for the first time in months and noticed a tiny orange circle near the alert bell at the top of the screen which I hadn’t seen before. I thought it was probably a notification from WordPress and was very surprised to find it was a message from a real person who had been reading one of my posts. As that started to happen more often, and one or two people started to follow my blog, I changed my style slightly, and wrote for anyone who might visit, not just those readers I knew personally.

It was even longer before I started to explore WordPress and  found so many interesting and talented writers whose words and images I still thoroughly enjoy. I’ve discovered great places to visit and have been intrigued, amused, moved, entertained, inspired and educated by the posts I’ve read. I look forward to seeing more in 2020.

So what will I be writing about this year? Probably exactly the same as before. There is no plan. I’m sure I’ll revisit my favourite places and may write about those again if there’s something new to add. I’m also sure I’ll seek out new places to explore which I’ll share here. I’ll probably focus more on places closer to home, though there will be one or two trips further afield too. One thing I can guarantee is that there will be more posts from the coasts and hopefully more stunning views like these.

Thank you for reading and all the best! Amanda

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Sun Stands Still

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In the past I used to wish away the time between November and March but in recent years I’ve come to appreciate winter, if not quite like it. I have adjusted my mindset and my expectations of the season and the weather, and instead of feeling frustrated at how I perceive my plans repeatedly thwarted by ice and rain and cancelled trains, or my activities limited by short days and lack of light, I have altered my own rhythms and lifestyle to fall in with nature.

That being said, I still do not look forward to winter’s arrival, and although I have made peace with it I still rejoice when the days start to lengthen again, and feel positively buoyant when the season has departed.

Today is the shortest day, a day later than the solstice usually falls. Apparently, yesterday was one second longer. Solstice translates from Latin as sun stands still when for three days our star holds its lowest position of elevation in the sky before it starts once again to ascend, bringing the promise of new life.

Last year’s beautiful blooms have withered now but look graceful in their dignified decay.

 

Though there are still splashes of colour and signs of life.

The cat mint, virulent and super fragrant all summer and into the early autumn looks dead to me; brown twigs rotting in the damp soil. I think Paddy cat’s keener sense of smell may still detect the faint delightful aroma, or perhaps he’s reflecting too, on memories of warmer days and basking in olfactory pleasures.

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In the autumn I dug up a little crimson rose bush which wasn’t thriving, diminished and crowded out by its bigger neighbours. It had stopped flowering when I transferred it to a large pot and hoped for the best. This week, a solitary new rose has opened up. A magical sign of things to come in the darkest week of the year.

The winter jasmine is in full bloom and the ivy looks as good as ever.

 

It will soon be dark again but right now the sky is still blue and it’s not too cold; a perfect moment to sit in the garden and enjoy a cup of tea with Jasper cat.

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and meditate on the cycle of life

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and the sound of a lone bird

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In a few weeks from now there will be the first stirrings from beneath the ground, green shoots emerging and new beginnings. For now, it’s still time to rest while Mother Earth works her magic in secret.

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