English or Latin

IMG_5401I learned to love the names of common wildflowers from my mother who never used anything else.  I totally understand why having three plants with the same name and one plant with ten names drives proper field botanists mad, but there’s so much pleasure to be got from the English names which frequently point to a medicinal use like, for instance, fleabane, or refer to an immediately recognisable characteristic.  They can even be downright funny.  Check out Arum maculatum for raunchy English names like ‘lords and ladies’ ‘cuckoo pint’ where the second word is, or should be pronounced to rhyme with mint and refers to a pintle which is the shaft on which the rudder of a boat is fitted. Cuckoo, as in ‘cuckoo in the nest’ needs no further explanation I hope. A supremely naughty plant whose latin name merely tells us what it is.

Anyway, as predicted we went for a stroll around the clifftop below St Davids and in order to facilitate actually going anywhere instead of grovelling around on my hands and knees, I just took my iPhone, a notebook and pen. These coast paths are the most joyful places in spring, with enough wildflowers to keep anyone happy. You’ll see from the list that we began our walk by crossing through a marshy area before we got to the coastpath.  So here they are in no particular order because I started the list halfway round and had to remember quite a few.

 

  1. Red campion
  2. Sea campion
  3. Scurvy grass
  4. Southern Marsh orchid
  5. Yellow iris
  6. Dandelion
  7. Celandine
  8. Buttercup
  9. Ragged robin
  10. Herb Robert
  11. Common Mouse ear
  12. Marsh marigold
  13. Cowslip
  14. Navelwort
  15. Lady’s Mantle
  16. Cuckoo flower AKA Lady’s smock
  17. Primrose
  18. Dog violet
  19. Spring squill
  20. Tormentil
  21. Gorse
  22. Stichwort – forgot to check which one
  23. Bucks horn plantain
  24. Sea plantain
  25. Ribwort plantain – three plantains in a short walk is good going, I think
  26. Red clover
  27. Oxeye daisy
  28. Fumitory
  29. Sheeps sorrel
  30. Upright hedge parsley
  31. Alexanders
  32. Cut leaved cranesbill
  33. English stonecrop
  34. Sheeps bit
  35. Foxglove
  36. Bluebell
  37. Kidney vetch

Isn’t that lovely? – 37 wildflowers – in flower – in a walk that can’t have been more than a couple of miles, and I’m sure that could have been fifty if I’d taken a day over it and carried my mighty copy of Stace and a magnifier. Oh and if I’d not chickened out of the grasses, although I could confidently add cocks foot to the list.

The day started badly, though, with a knackered water pump on the van. We’ve been nursing it along for a year with a leaking gasket, but today one of the spade connectors finally gave up the ghost, having corroded away in the leak. Two faults in two days, but the flat battery may have been connected to the wet contacts.  At least it’s a repair I can carry out myself, and a replacement pump costs about £50 so not the end of the world.

Back to the wildlife, and it’s been a sunny but cool day in a brisk northerly wind. Back on the headland we saw a brief skirmish between a common blue butterfly and a small copper.  I would have loved to be able to say it was a small blue, because the foodplant for the small blue is the kidney vetch which was there in abundance. However the small blue prefers a more sheltered site and is not recorded here. The small copper has plenty of common sorrel and sheeps sorrel to lay its eggs on, and the common blue has a feast of birds foot trefoil at its disposal so enough said. I am condemned to wander the earth encountering and recording the ordinary and everyday, hoping desperately that these ordinary objects of joy  are not about to vanish.

I’ve just finished reading Dieter Helm’s excellent book “Green and prosperous land”. It’s the first book I’ve seen that considers the economic case for what he describes as “natural capital” that’s to say, the natural assets of the world, wildlife, water, clean air which are being destroyed by our present way of life.

Some of the alexanders we saw here were very sick, with every appearance that spray drift from the adjacent field had killed them. It’s difficult to be sure, because it could as easily have been frost damage with such confusing spring weather.  What is certainly true here is that intensively farmed land is butted up against these last strongholds of wildflowers. Surely we have to stop paying farmers simply for owning land, and start re- assessing our entire apporoach to subsidy.

 

 

Potwell Inn on tour

  • Well after a bad start with an utterly flat battery, the Potwell Inn has moved temporarily to a new location overlooking Ramsey Sound at St David’s where we shall mostly be wandering around looking at things. This involves a large number of books, binoculars, hand magnifiers, sketchbooks and notebooks. I can feel a list coming on. Meanwhile people were very nice about our paintings and drawings at the private view last night so our lives will probably get even more pressured if we start doing more artwork.
  • The van is called Polly after Alfred Polly, the hero of the Potwell Inn in HG Wells’ book.
  • You may notice a bottle of celebratory wine in the picture. More tomorrow when I get the laptop sorted.
  • Planting weeds ?

    We’ve seen four days of wamth and bright sunshine which has brought our community of allotmenteers out in droves as the new season moves into full throttle. For us it’s meant that every trip up to the plot means taking a load of plants which have been propagated in the flat. Hardening everything off properly means a great deal of shuffling  plants between the greehhouse, the cold frames and the most sheltered spots on the allotment as they progress towards open ground. In our heads and on the laptop we carry a model plan of campaign between sowing and harvesting, but trying to second guess what the weather will be doing, six weeks down the road, is a bit of a nightmare and so – just like a motorway – we get traffic jams and empty stretches.

    Key to the whole show is the date of the last frost and so early yesterday I had twenty minutes on the computer searching the meteorological entrails and at last I’m as sure as I can be that there will be no more frost.  The first wave of plants are on the allotment and ready to be planted out, and in a week’s time we’ll start moving the second wave of tender subjects out of the flat and into the hardening off phase.

    That all sounds a bit cerebral, but of course gardening is never like that because planting out is back breaking work. The plot was designed to be as productive as possible and so the width of the paths was calculated on two measurements – the main paths on the width and turning space of a wheelbarrow, and the secondary paths on the length of my wellingtons – 13″ if you’re really desperate to know!  It was intended to make it possible to work all the beds without ever having to walk on them, but there are always unintended consequences and in this case it’s having to kneel to plant out with your knees aligned to the path and your upper body aligned at 90 degrees to the bed. It’s the only way not to cause carnage to the plants on the adjoining bed.

    So by yesterday teatime we were completly crocked and the proposed dish of broad bean tops was abandoned in favour of fish and chips. Luckily we have a prizewinning chippie just up the road. On the plus side all the brassicas are now in, and in a new departure they’re interplanted with tagetes, calendula and nasturtiums. Everything in me is shouting NO to adding competing flowers to the vegetable beds but unless we try it we’ll never know whether companion plants are all they’re cracked up to be. This can be difficult because our basil supply last season was infested with whitefly – which it’s supposed to repel. Our weirdest flight of fancy was to plant petunias around the edge of the asparagus bed to repel asparagus beetle which were a problem last year. The problem with assessing any of these measures is the usual one that confronts any experimenter – too many variables – but on the other hand it will make the veg garden more beautiful and please the pollinators no end.  As I was watering the petunias in I remembered an old music hall song – “I’m a lonely little petunia in an onion bed”  and I wondered whether these pretty flowers might repel onion fly as well.

    Companion planting seems to work in a number of ways, firstly by attracting pollinators and insects like hoverflies that reduce pest numbers or by distracting the pests away from your veg, and even by emitting chemicals through roots and flowers that repel the bugs and slugs. I’m happy to concede that music hall songs and folk magic is not the most scientific approach, but there may well be some hard facts within the practice and anything that reduces the reliance on deadly chemicals has got to be worth the effort. It makes me think of the exhausting effort to destroy ragwort because it’s ‘poisonous to livestock’. But cattle and, for all I know horses too, have learned to avoid the plant which only becomes dangerous when it’s incorporated into hay and silage where it can’t be differentiated. Wholesale spraying with chemicals kills the plants – but not very well – while denying the innocent and harmless cinnabar moth a habitat, and polluting the watercourses. We have to end the practice of regarding the soil as a neutral medium into which we can pour seeds, chemicals and fertilizer with ever diminishing returns. The idea that we can use smart science endlessly to increase yields is an earth threatening fantasy.

    And so, as you see in the photos, we’re using both companion planting and physical barriers to control pests, and if – and only if – we experience a crop threatening attack, we may consider using pyrethrum which is hideously expensive but on the approved for organics list. This is a working allotment, not a shrine, and we have to defend the best against the perfect.

    Parting shot

    IMG_5366Often the best view of the allotment is at the end of a day’s work, when you can look back across from the vantage point of the high path alongside the shed and see the bigger picture. We enjoyed full sunshine all day and the temperature was in the high teens, so you could almost hear the plants growing. All the forecasts suggest that we’ve seen the back of the frost and so we’ve begun sowing and planting out the tender varieties.

    The Plan – the great winter fantasy plan – is now at the stage where almost every day brings the need for some amendment or other. I was reading yesterday that every military battle plan ends with the first contact with the enemy. I’m sure that applies just as much to gardens and allotments – for instance on our plot we had a bed designated for onions and roots; but the overwintering onions were hit by eelworm and so we can’t use that bed for any of the alliums for three years – which means that we’ll have to plant brassicas there this year.  You can imagine it’s a bit of a house of cards and it can make you wonder whether it’s worth planning, but if you don’t plan at all you can forget something until it’s too late, so you lose the crop. So we stagger on and the master copy is gradually overwritten with what really happened. I guess the only truly static plan is the retrospective one.

    We took the fleece off the potatoes during the day, and they are truly impressive plants.  However long experience tells us that impressive haulms don’t always signify big crops. This year’s potatoes are growing on a piece of borrowed land, and our neighbour is notably parsimonious with his compost, so we anointed it with a thick layer of the Potwell Inn finest triple A grade. Our fervent hope is that we haven’t produced a luxuriant crop of leaves at the expense of the potatoes. The broad beans have begun to set pods and so today the tops are coming off.  In Italy they’re a delicacy, but we’ve nver tried them, so broad bean tops are on the menu for tonight. We also took down the last of the overwintered brassicas and after I’d smashed the stumps with the back of an axe they all went into the compost with a handful of chicken manure and a good watering.

    Elsewhere we’ve got an abundant supply of lettuce and salad leaves but as always with successional sowings you land up with some supply gaps and we’re waiting for some more radishes and beets to catch up. The tomatoes are getting their final repotting before planting out today and we’ve decided to expand our companion planting.  We’ve found a variety of basil (sold by Chiltern Seeds) that’s adapted to the UK climate so we’re going to interplant that with the tomatoes and throw in some nasturtiums and petunias as well. The asparagus bed is getting the same treatment to discourage the asparagus beetle.  Elsewhere we’ve got calendula dotted around and of course the big umbellifers are attracting lots of plant friendly parasitic wasps. You can only try these ideas.  I doubt that any of them are a complete cure, but all we need to do is tilt the balance in our own favour.

    There are a handful of civil engineering jobs ourstanding as well.  Yesterday a woven hazel fence panel arrived at the flat but it weighed a ton and was far too big to get in our little car, so I’m going to call in the heavy mob, AKA our son, to help me carry it up. What we’re planning is to create a sun trap between the shed and the greenhouse and build a staging for big containers protected from any north winds. The last job will be to grow a windbreak on the eastern edge which is our least protected side.  We’re not allowed fences, but anything that produces food is alright!

    Our moment in the sun is over and we get back to work on the allotment

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    With three days almost completely taken up with the exhibition in Bristol, we came down to earth yesterday – quite literally – with less of a bump than a sigh of relief. IMG_5365We had the greatest of times, met so many people, and it was fun but I went into extreme extrovert mode which, I’ve discovered is a kind of protective device. I’m much shyer than I appear to be – especially in big crowds of strangers. The benefits of sailing through the occasion and having a wonderful time are always offset by the payback. I was greatly assisted by the little pendant I was given that said I was an artist.  Although I had a painting in the show I’ve never felt able to describe myself as an artist so the badge helped save me from trying to explain.

    Luckily an early bus gave us a chance to wander around Bristol Docks on Sunday morning.  Sadly St Nicholas Market (above) was closed but quite apart from team loyalties – we were both born and brought up in Bristol – any comparison between the dockside development in Bristol and Cardiff, which I wrote about last week, would come down in favour of Bristol just for the sheer diversity on offer. It’s more than 30 years since we lived on the docks, but we were there for 20 years in a succession of different flats and I have to pay tribute to Peter Ware, the architect, who almost single handedly started the fight to preserve the Georgian buildings in Hotwells and the character of the whole area. Consequently Bristol has retained and repurposed hundreds of old buildings that set the context for the new ones.

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    But time and seasons wait for no-one and so we went up to the allotment at the crack of lunchtime to see what needed attention. Our first job was to remove the protective netting on the garlic and shallots which seemed to give a sigh of relief and stretch towards the sky.  I swear they were six inches taller after a feed with liquid seaweed which also gave them a good watering.

    The fleece also came off the peas, and we put a net over the whole bed to protect it from the birds.  Birds, especially pigeons, are a particular menace on the allotments and without wishing them any ill will, we do everything we can to persuade them to go elsewhere. The other most frequent visitors are jackdaws which are great eaters of grubs.  Some people shoo them off, but I think they’re irresistable in their glossy black coats and grey capes. Robins, come too when we’re digging and we even once spotted tiny goldcrest which came and then went, never to be seen again.

    Gradually we’re taking the propagated plants up to the allotment and we’ve regained one of the windows.  The chillies are all doing very well and I’ve been snacking on the Hungarian Hot Wax as they slowly turn yellow.  The tomatoes are due their last re-pot before going out and the greenhouse aubergines are flowering.

    Down on the coldest patch, the potatoes have shrugged off any frost under their fleece which is being lifted upwards on the shoulders of their haulms.  Suddenly the allotment is taking on its summer form once more.  We spend a lot of time weeding and watering which are both jobs I really enjoy – unlike many people, I know. But allotments, while they can be sometimes very domineering and far from the cliché of outdoor therapy, have many sides to them. They aren’t just about the satisfaction of growing food.  They certainly feed the spirit, but there’s also a strongly aesthetic feel about them as well. Like works of art in themselves, they are expressive of their gardener’s personality. So maybe I really do deserve the little pendant with an A on it?

    Home again, home again, jiggety jig

    IMG_5343It was always going to be a bit of an odd day divided into several parts, and things turned out pretty much as expected. The grandchildren came over for the morning and while I was up at the allotment strimming, Madame went with the Brigade of Mischief for a trip around Prior Park (a National Trust  property) after which we all met up at Uncle Jo’s pizza place for lunch, where they lined up to watch him turning their foraged ramsons into a garlic flavoured pizza. There, in a single photo, is the reason why we’re so driven to secure a future for them.  How could we hope to be remembered with any affection if we hand them the rags of a devastated environment?

    So after lunch and some writing for me, we caught the bus to Bristol for the opening night of the exhibition. A couple of old friends from art school days celebrated their annversary by renting the Centre Space Gallery and inviting thirty of their artist friends to submit some work. It was a brilliant evening and the gallery was packed with people we either knew or wanted to get to know.  Names and faces were put together after decades of never getting around to meeting.  I guess if we’d met fifty years ago, someone would have got drunk, someone would have started a fight and someone would have rushed out in tears –  (actually I could have done any, or all of the three) – but now in our mature(ish) years there were fewer sharp edges and less easily bruised egos.

    I continue to be obsessed with the way that age alters our faces but leaves us somehow the same, and so I have to be careful not to stare (almost forensically) at people who find it disturbing. It was hardly surprising, then, that my painting was a watercolour illustration of a purple sprouting broccoli leaf rescued from the compost heap and absolutely stunning in its decomposing colours of green, yellow and brown. Generally leaves don’t get offended by staring, but I’d love to find a model prepared to put up with it. One of the guests told me a story about failing to recognise one of his old models because he’d never seen her with clothes on.

    We caught a late bus back –  an extraordinary experience because we almost never stay out late, especially in Bristol. And so the bus was absolutely rammed with as big a cross section of life as you could imagine.  There were chancers and inebriates of every age, edgy looking teenagers trying to look cool and one club bouncer who pulled his hi-viz jacket over his head and tried to sleep.  There was a dog that barked randomly at those who failed an unspoken test, a freemason in pinstripes with his regalia in a leather case, and a couple of young women conducting a mobile phone feud with an unknown recipient. Someone smelt pretty bad and so the windows were opened to let cold air in, and someone with nowhere to go was going nowhere in particular, eating his supper out of a rucksack.  We spend so much time in our own isolated lives it’s a proper shock to be nose to nose with complete strangers in a noisy bus – we should do it more often.

    Anyway, part two of the party today with a meal together in Bristol and then tomorrow hand-to-hand combat with a BT engineer, and then bliss.  A couple of weeks with no commitments except the allotment and possibly a short trip to Wales.

    Trad bean sticks

    Even managing to get this photo on to the laptop seems like a major triumph of hope over BT, who, for approaching 2 weeks, have not only failed to provide any broadband service but have convinced themselves that they’ve actually done something. They’ve already sent out three engineers on two separate occasions who have all eventually confessed to not being sufficently trained or equipped to do the job. They sent the first mini hub to the wrong address and the second never appeared at all and so I’ve been completely dependent on my phone connection and a big overspend on extra data. The sales people claimed that we had fibre to the building when it fact it’s finished at the green box up the road and is dependent on copper wire for the crucial final 250m.  The company was split up into three to encourage competition, but although they work with identical customer bases the IT systems don’t talk to each other which leads to the sort of tooth gnashing conversations that make it clear that no-one has the faintest idea what’s going on.

    Enough already –  get on with it! – I hear you cry  – so I shall. On Monday morning I am promised positively smoking digital speeds. We’ll see, I’m already eyeing up the contract to see if they’ve broken their part.

    So yesterday we had to take some of our artworks by bus to an exhibition in Bristol, which is an infrequent pleasure.  Later we went up to the allotment and I set up the wigwam supports for the runner beans. I hesitate to get all philosophical about it, but it does seem that the simplest gardening jobs can attract a good deal of unconscious baggage, and none much more powerfully than hazel bean sticks. We cut and gathered these at our friends’ smallholding in the Brecon Beacons last year which makes then both free of cost and simultaneously greater in value. Now that hazel is hardly ever coppiced, the sticks have become a bit of an expensive rarity, having been replaced by imported bamboo, or worse still plastic. But in a more environmentally conscious world they could provide a subsidiary source of income on a mixed farm with a bit of woodland. But honestly that’s not the thing that shouts at you, it’s the sense of tradition that comes with them.

    So today has been a mixed bag with grandchildren visiting.  The oldest picked wild garlic in the woods and we took it to Uncle Jo who runs a pizza hut, and he made a special pizza using the harvested ramsons – how’s that for a life lesson in foraging?  I managed to get a couple of hours parole on the allotment and I finally got the strimmer out to cut all the paths. I once worked for several years as a school groundman, and I picked up some terrible habits like wanting to eliminate every weed in sight. With a powerful tool like a strimmer I have to order myself to leave clumps of weeds – especially nettles – around the plot for the butterflies. I also leave the long cut grass lying because it’s full of seed for the birds. Slowly I’m conquering the demon of excessive tidiness!  Doesn’t the herb garden look splendid, with the asparagus behind? The big umbellifer is angelica which is stunningly sculptural, and contrasts with the darker greens of lovage and dill. I guess that among all the plant families the Apiaceae, the carrot family have most to offer a gardener and cook. Underneath you can see our 1000L of stored rainwater which I hope to at least double during the year. I can only see a future full of water shortages if we don’t do something to curb our excesses soon and so, although I’m no survivalist, a couple of tonnes of water in store is likely to be useful. To that end I’m going to put a roof over the compost heaps to capture water from 60 extra square feet, and I’ve half a mind to build a solar heater from an old radiator to provide underground heat for the coldframes or even the greenhouse.  I saw it demonstrated at the Alternative Technology Centre in Machynlleth, and it worked impressively well considering it was entirely constructed from waste materials. What I don’t know is whether the winter sun would be hot enough to provide any heat benefit.  But even a marginal gain might protect from a cold snap, and maybe it could be constructed around some thermal ballast for storage, after all the cold frame alone offers some protection from all but prolongued cold spells.

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    Has eelworm invaded the overwintering onions?

    You know how it is when it seems something might be amiss with a crop but you hang on in the hope that it was just a silly mistake and it will all blow over as soon as the weather improves. Some hope! We try to celebrate life’s rich tapestry as best we can but when push comes to shove a bit of ruthlessness is called for. IMG_5328These onions, (Autumn Champion, grown from sets), looked fine until a few weeks ago and then, just when they should have taken off, they began to show signs that something was wrong.  We had been careful because we previously lost a crop of leeks to allium leaf miner, and so they were covered with fine insect mesh from winter onwards. However, facts are facts and these onions looked sick.  It’s sometimes difficult for a non expert to diagnose these pests and diseases, but the effect on the leaves was very like leaf miner.  So that gave three possibilities – allium leaf miner, onion fly and eelworm. According to the books it’s a bit early for leaf miner, the mesh should have seen off the onion fly as well and so that left eelworm as the prime suspect. Whatever it was, the remedy was much the same – dig them up and burn them and then don’t grow alliums on the plot for three years.  The RHS rather loftily suggest that the ground should be left fallow, but our allotment doesn’t stretch into the blue remembered hills, and we can’t afford to leave a whole bed empty so we’ll probably try to kill any remaining eggs, cysts or pupae with the flame gun and then observe the rotation carefully.

    It’s always sad to lose a crop, but we have the spring planted onions which appear to be OK, and the leeks, garlic and shallots are all alright too, so in a break in the rain and for fear of going stir crazy we went up and did the deed.  As we were pulling them out I examined them carefully to see if any further light could be shed on the problem, and most of the post mortems showed no signs of maggots or pupae, supporting the eelworm hypothesis.  However I did find a couple of plants with 2mm brown pupae that looked very like allium leaf miner – so it was an open verdict. Much as I hate any green material going off the allotment, I’m afraid this lot went straight to the tip. Just for reference or any further ideas I’m including a photo of the pupa and another plant.  Please don’t take this as a sign I know that much about plant pathology, I’m only one page ahead in the textbook!

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    “where’s too far? said he/ where you are said she”

    Why on earth this ee cummings poem dropped into my mind just then is a mystery for later. Some days are apocalyptic in the manner of a Hollywood epic, and others are apocalyptic in a much quieter way.  You get the feeling that the walls are crumbling and that, somehow, things will never be the same and yet it’s hard to say why.

    I suppose a quixotic journey in search of a crowbar might be a beginning for such a day. We’d not long moved to the Potwell Inn and taken on the allotment.  Back at the Inn things weren’t going well.  The windows were rotten, the landlord was making a herculean effort to do nothing about it, and I was struggling to orientate myself in a life stripped of pastoral responsibilities and lukewarm ceremonial.

    We, or rather I, needed a big heavy crowbar so we could get long fenceposts into the ground. I’m quite short and the effort required to stand on tiptoe with a wobbling post and hammer it two feet into the ground was more than I could manage. Being obsessive about getting things level and vertical was gradually making me a bit crazy, and so the idea of a big heavy crowbar floated into my mind as the solution to both allotment and mental state, two birds – as it were – with one stone. However the way my mind works, the image ‘crowbar’ was immediately followed by the image ‘old fashioned ironmonger’ shortly pursued by the memory of a shop called Hine and Collinson who, forty years ago, had a four story building on the London Road and who could be relied upon for the most obscure objects of desire. I went there once wanting to buy a relacement lamp glass for an old paraffin lamp.  All I could remember was that my mother had said it was called a ‘double duplex’. I went into the shop and amid the tottering skyscrapers of ancient hardware and flypapers I found a man in a brown warehouse coat and asked my question.  Not in the least phased, he disappeared for ten minutes and emerged with the lamp glass still wrapped in its original brown paper. Sadly Hine and Collinson have long since disappeared in favour of a fast food shop.  That alone should have been a clue.

    And so it seemed obvious that we should drive to the nearest old fashioned ironmonger where, no doubt, I could choose from a wide selection of traditional models, weigh them in my hand and try their heft before bringing home the exact right model wrapped in sticky greased paper.  Sadly the only ironmonger’s shop I could think of was in Hay on Wye – about sixty miles away.  And so we drove there on a freezing cold day, through the remnants of some filthy weather which had left rivers and their nearby land flooded, paying scant attention even to Pen-y-Fan in the distance with a dusting of snow.

    In short, the ironmonger was a disappointment. You could buy a wicker basket with a dog mat or a contemporary teapot.  You could even buy a box – not a bag – of nails or screws if you penetrated the darker areas to the rear. Bedding plants and alarm clocks were abundant but not a sign of a slater’s ripper, a box-handled firmer chisel, a sash cramp, a sash weight, or especially a crowbar. There were small, very small, wrecking bars of the kind a burglar might conceal under their coat – but I wanted more, much more.  It was beginning to dawn on me that this crowbar had become a kind of grail quest. There was a wound that wouldn’t heal, and I needed something more than a bloody crowbar.

    And so we went for a walk to the river which was in full spate.  There’s a path that takes you down beneath the bridge and there we stood, watching and listening to the gurgling, glooping and sucking of the river as it muscled its way between the piers. “What ails you?” it was saying to me.  And I knew what it was – I was filled with hopeless longing for something gone forever, which probably had never existed except as an artifact in my memory.

    Good bye job. Good bye God. Good bye Mills the grocer with their broken custard creams, goodbye Palmers seed store and Sprackman’s the hay and straw dealer, good bye Hubert Harris the undertaker with his black horse and even blacker coat with dusty shoulders, good bye Darke in A minor – it’s time to move on.

    I watched them, one by one, tumbling in the mudstained water and racing one another beyond my sight. It’s strange because the River Wye always feels as if it’s travelling in the wrong direction at that point, but it’s just enjoying one of its long oxbows before finally turning south towards the sea. There’s nothing anyone can do to make the illusion fit the facts and so you just have to accept the way things are and start walking in what, at first, feels like the wrong direction. When we eventually got home I went online and ordered the crowbar from B&Q with click and collect; there and back 12 miles, crowbar exactly what I wanted.

    The only place to move on from is exactly where you are, without illusion.

    Please can we have our weather back?

    No – the pictures are from last year’s cold and wet spring but this year we’ve had the hottest Easter and the coldest May bank holiday since records began – or so we’re told, and it’s been so dry we’ve been wielding the watering cans. The allotment is desperate for some rain so it was good that at least some fell last night, although not in the predicted quantities, but the satellite picture shows that the main rain belt has passed us. It’s all very confusing. There’s no frost predicted until the forecast runs out on the 22nd May which means we’ve probably seen the last of it – but there’s always a chance of an unexpected freeze.

    Plants respond to day length and temperature.  Day length can’t change but plants that are adapted to the ‘April showers’ scenario are finding it a bit confusing because this year June seems to have preceded April.  Apples and strawberries have flowered, grapes came into leaf and many other tender crops became extremely vulnerable. Luckily we fleeced all the potatoes last week, but our neighbours who didn’t, have had their spuds touched – probably not fatal but a setback nonetheless. Here at the Potwell Inn our indoor propagated tender plants, especially the runner beans, are now adolescent and growing fast enough to leave home but until things settle down a bit we daren’t put them out. One neighbour in the better favoured ground above the path has lost the lot. How we missed the April showers! Sunshine and showers in equal abundance are the better start to any season.

    So we’re grateful for the rain, but now we can hear the slugs revving up like formula one racers. We’re sort of ready for them because we’ve had beer traps out for a fortnight without any takers.  Today we’ll re-bait them all and I don’t doubt there will be a good harvest. Happily metaldehyde slug pellets have now been banned, and I’m very uneasy about ferrous phosphate as a subsitute, in fact apart from the fact that they’re unnessary chemicals I’m not even convinced that they work. Hand to hand combat is a lot more fun.

    Unbelievably I’ve had to water the ‘compost heap’ already, but the worms have a prodigious appetite for kitchen waste with cardboard for pudding. In the last few weeks they’ve consumed a kitchen table-sized box which I collapsed and put on top to conserve the heat, and which they moved into as soon as it got wet, and took it all down. That’s why “compost heap” has got inverted commas, by the way, – it’s more like a worm farm but it’s so efficient at reducing waste I’m loathe to steam it up with loads of hot material. Clearly we need to build a separate facility for the worms so we can revert the compost heaps to reducing piles of green waste.

    Planting out, then, is going to have to wait for a couple of days – but the true spinach has begun so yield to nature and attempt to flower, and so we picked a couple of large carrier bags full yesterday and cooked them along with some beetroot thinnings which we’ll have for lunch. The spinach is already in the freezer, but I’m looking at the stores and thinking we need to get cracking and finish them up during the hungry gap to keep a sensible rotation going. It’s all too easy to use preserving jars and the freezer to avoid deciding what to do with our produce. I’ve only just begun to adjust to the absence of our children and reduce the amount I cook (after 20 years!) but the message doesn’t quite seem to have arrived at the preserving department.

    Ah – the hungry gap. When you live in the centre of the city, surrounded by delectables from all around the world, you have to have an iron will to finish up the passata, the sauces and pickles, rather than wander round to the supermarket to choose something new and hideously expensive to appease your jaded palate. But we at the Potwell Inn have iron will in abundance and we toss our heads at ready meals. “Mmmmmm” lovely, we say, as the longing for the summer plenty secretly grips us.

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