Some silver linings

Well we’d better make a start with these early risers – just a dozen of the wildflowers – don’t say weeds – flowering this morning on the riverbank footpath.  We took ourselves out for an hour in the fresh air today, fairly certain that we were maintaining our social distances in the required fashion.  The only downside seems to be an increasing tendency for young people to look rather suspiciously at us as if we were causing the problem rather than being the principle victims.  You can’t blame them I suppose, they’ve been repeatedly told that we stole their pensions – a bit of larceny I don’t remember at all – someone else must have taken my share! On the other hand the sight of a man crouching amongst the weeds may have led them to conclude I was about to expire and reminded them of the admirable advice in the parable of the good Samaritan, that’s to say – to pass by on the other side.

So this year I fear my botanising will be largely confined to these local wild and weedy thugs – aside from a trip to Whitefield meadow at Dyrham Park where with a bit of luck we’ll find the elusive orchid whose name I’m not even going to mention. The riverbank was reseeded with wildflower mix a couple of seasons ago, following flood prevention works, and although it looked quite pretty for a while is just didn’t look right.  It was a jumble of wildflowers from quite different habitats including a few poppies. As I’ve mentioned several times I’m reading George Peterken’s marvellous book “Meadows”, (£35.00 and worth every penny), anyway he mentions in passing something that demonstrates exactly why the wildflower mix looked so wrong – there were poppies in it and poppies are arable weeds.  In fact he says that there are no red flowers in flower meadows at all. I’m in no position to verify that nugget, but it sounds exactly right and completely underlined why the riverbank attempt at flower meadow flora was a bit – well, out of tune.

What’s more to the point, though, is that these expensive usurpers didn’t, probably couldn’t, last the course.  They arrived in an alien environment; out came whatever passes for banjos and shotguns in the plant world, and the locals simply shouldered them out of the way as if they were old people in the queue for toilet rolls. The burdock that I was so sad to lose to the bulldozers and excavators has reasserted itself in its old home and the whole stretch of the river bank is restored to pretty much the way it used to be. Weeds!  How long, I wonder, before public pressure is brought to bear on the council to get the strimmers out?

More silver linings for the family.  The almost complete disappearance of tourists has led to a crisis in the holiday rental market and so suddenly, overnight, there are flats available for short term rent and our youngest son has found somewhere to live. Our middle son has just heard that the government is subsidising wages up to 80% – which will be a lifesaver in the catering industry where thousands have been laid off already.

But yesterday I spoke to our oldest, who is a teacher, and he was able to tell me about the traumas that students and teachers are experiencing when relationships that have taken years to nurture are suddenly ruptured. Young people have no idea how they will cope with the postponement of public examinations and they are quite properly distraught at being cut adrift at this crucial time in their lives, not knowing what lies before them.  So he’s going to be working harder than ever to make sure they’re safe, properly fed and cared for. When you read about the schools being closed, remember that teachers aren’t going to be enjoying ‘garden leave’ but struggling to keep the show on the road. My advice is not to crack jokes about the ‘long holiday’ if you want to continue to enjoy your own!

There were crowds up at the allotment today. We were too emotionally exhausted to do much but the weather looks fine for tomorrow so we’ll have a day with as little stress as possible. To adapt a quote from Churchill, who seems to be on everyone’s’ lips at the moment –

The government can always be relied upon to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else!

The Lost Gardeners of Heligan (ctd:)

I should probably have called this posting further travails or further adventures – or something of that nature because we were woken in the middle of the night by the sound of the heater powering down and an acrid smell. Generally speaking this is a bad sign, but when we woke up freezing cold and discovered there was just one warm place – under the bed where the batteries are situated – it became a different kind of bad news.  Exploding lead acid batteries under the bed are best avoided, and half of today was spent with me trying to fit into extremely confined spaces with a multimeter and Googling to see who or what might be able to help. After a endless amount of deliberation we decided that the knackered batteries had deteriorated to the point where they had partially shorted and kept calling for more current from the charger, thereby heating them up until I pressed the off button on the charger – which turned the camper van into a tin tent – which, in turn,  is why I am typing this in the dark, wearing a head torch and three jumpers. We’ll replace the batteries first thing tomorrow. More money – aaaagh

Meanwhile we managed a walk around Heligan and there are some photos above. The reason I called this post the “Lost Gardeners of Heligan” is that there are little memorials to the mostly young gardeners who died in the First World War all over the place, each accompanied by a flower display or arrangement. It’s very affecting, and of course the reason the gardens were abandoned was that so many were killed, there were no longer enough workers to keep the gardens going.  The then owner was too affected by grief and memories to live here any longer, and moved away.

Strangely there’s no sense of melancholy around, especially on such a sunny day when even the icy northwesterly wind couldn’t dampen our spirits. Plants are never more perfect than when they’re first emerging.  They spring from the earth untouched by insects and diseases and full of vigour. It can be tricky identifying them from their new leaves, but we get better at it. Todays crop of fungi and bryophytes was a good reason for getting a bit more knowledgeable about them. They just carry on continuously all year round so there’s always something to look for. But the primroses, dandelions, snowdrops and daffodils somehow seemed just a bit more beautiful than the camellias in the formal gardens. Spring is coming – you can smell it!