Rain starts play!

Freed from watering the outside allotment by some decent rain last night we lingered in bed reading, watered the greenhouse and polytunnel, shot down to the supermarket to get canned food for the campervan stores and then off to Dyrham Park in search of orchids. It’s been a difficult drought season, demanding all our effort to keep the young plants alive. Apparently the tomatoes don’t set fruit when the temperature rises above 27C, although we’ve not found a big difference so far. It’s a mad year when we have almost ready aubergines and courgettes in the tunnel but the outdoor broad beans have been decimated by blackfly due to the unaccountable absence of their usual predators – almost certainly down to heavy mortality among them in the cold wet early spring. In particular, ladybirds have been noticeably absent. We’ve been spraying with a neem oil and soap mix with limited success on the broad beans, but with a slightly better result on the asparagus which is being attacked by asparagus beetles. Neem oil is certified for organic use but it really stinks and is unpleasant to spray. It also tends to clog the sprayer so it’s far from ideal. Our conclusion is to revert to sowing Aquadulce Claudia beans in October, plant them out in early November and then protect them from strong winds and prolonged frosts. They usually look a mess in early spring but they tiller freely and give a good early crop when there’s almost nothing else to eat.

So once we arrived in the park we very slowly searched all the familiar places for orchids. We didn’t have to look far for Pyramidal orchids – Anacamptis pyramidalis – there were hundreds of them, smaller but substantial numbers of Common Spotted – Dactylorhiza fuchsii , some of them very pale, and just a single Bee orchid – Ophryis apifera – far fewer than last year.

Orchids are lovely of course but with a dozen or so Marbled White butterflies moving about the meadow with several other species it was a close thing which was more exciting.

Madame took this photo

But I’m not afraid to say that I was enchanted by finding some Cock’s-foot grass in full flower and looking like a beauty at the prom, decked in white. On this poor limestone rich meadow, this bully of a grass had been reduced to playing second fiddle to the wildflowers. The whole meadow was alive with Oxeye Daisies, which looked tremendous; but the absolute star of the show was the seed head of Tragopogon pratensis – Goats Beard – whose mind blowing architecture made me shout out for joy.

Author: Dave Pole

I've spent my life doing a lot of things, all of them interesting and many of them great fun. When most people see my CV they probably think I'm making things up because it includes being a rather bad welder and engineering dogsbody, a potter, a groundsman and bus driver. I taught in a prison and in one of those ghastly old mental institutions as an art therapist and I spent ten years as a community artist. I was one of the founding members of Spike Island, which began life as Artspace Bristol. ! wrote a column for Bristol Evening Post (I got sacked three times, in which I take some pride) and I worked in local and network radio and then finally became an Anglican parish priest for 25 years, retiring at 68 when I realised that the institutional church and me were on different paths. What interests me? It would be easier to list what doesn't, but I love cooking and baking with our home grown ingredients. I'm fascinated by botany and wildlife in general, and botanical illustration. We have a camper van that takes us to the wild places, we love walking, especially in the hills, and we take too many photographs. But what really animates me is the question "what does it mean to be human?". I've spent my life exploring it in every possible way and the answer is ..... well, today it's sitting in the van in the rain and looking across Ramsey Sound towards Ramsey Island. But it might as easily be digging potatoes or making pickle, singing or finding an orchid or just sitting. But it sure as hell doesn't mean getting a promotion, beasting your co-workers or being obsequious to power, which ensured that my rise to greatness in the Church of England flatlined 30 years ago after about 2 days. But I'm still here and still searching for that elusive sweet spot, and I don't have to please anyone any more. Over the last 50 or so years we've had a succession of gardens, some more like wildernesses when we were both working full-time, but now we're back in the game with our two allotments in Bath.

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