Saturday, 1 August 2020


Scruffy hart's tongues ferns in wall. June 1st 2020.
Scruffy hart's tongues ferns in wall. June 1st 2020.

Do you remember this picture?
It's of bedraggled Hart's Tongue ferns in the wall outside my house on 1st June 2020.

Something apparently unconnected; do any of you read Karen Gimson's blog? (Recommended!) Well, at the beginning of March, Karen was giving away a Hozelock Bokashi Composter and I 'won' it by leaving a comment and my name came out of the hat.

This kind of composter lives indoors. There are no worms but a sort of magical sawdust that you sprinkle onto food you put in the large-bucket sized, grey and yellow plastic box. Incredibly, it can be cooked as well as uncooked food, animal as well as vegetable. (Even bones.) I haven't been very adventurous with it. I find I am conservative about what I think 'ought' to go into a compost bin and these conventions are hard to overcome. However, feeling rather brave, adventurous and reckless even I have included pasta from time to time. It's now got to the point where I must get someone to dig a hole in the ground at my allotment and bury the contents. (Perhaps I will ask them to sing mystical chants while they do it!) But in between then and now, twice a week, I have opened a tap at the bottom and let a slightly yellow, slightly cabbagy smelling liquid flow out. I've diluted it with water and poured it over the hart's tongue ferns using a little red watering can with a long, thin spout - rather like an old fashioned oil can.

The same hart's tongue ferns on 1st August 2020/
The same hart's tongue ferns on 1st August 2020/

And this is the result!

All previous hart's tongue ferns I have come across have been growing on woodland slopes or at the edge of county ditches where there would always be some kind of decaying vegetation. These must have been hungry as well as thirsty. Just look at them now! Not only have the original ones revived, more have appeared - presumably encouraged by the dribble of water and nutrients through the channels of old mortar. I've just counted forty. FORTY!

Petty spurge.
Petty spurge. 1st August 2020
Because of the rules of the pandemic and my lack of immunity to the bacteria in soil I have still not been able to visit my allotment but I'm trying to make the most of the little area outside my house. Fortunately, it's at the dead end of a blocked off street so the large pots I've placed along the pavement don't get in anyone's way. As well as extending growing space this has the advantage of expanding the distance between me (on my doorstep) and anyone who might be passing by. (Virus anti-sociability!) There's also a little concreted area where trays can go and a tiny patch of earth 70 inches by 22 inches. (I've just measured it.) During June, one of our two cats died. We buried her there and sprinkled four kinds of flower seeds which sprang up and were promptly eaten by slugs. I had some spare red kale plants whose leaves are pretty as well as edible so I planted them instead. Slugs ate them! I had grown rudbeckia from seed. I put them there. Slugs ate them! Never mind. Instead of bright colours, I have a little army of petty spurges. They just arrived. I didn't plant the hart's tongue ferns, I didn't plant the petty spurge. The big deal is that slugs and pests are avoiding both and both are now happily growing. I have a garden!

Small foxglove plant. 1st August 2020
Small foxglove plant. 1st August 2020
Foxglove seeds had fallen from the garden in Dorset into a couple of pots which came with me when I moved to Halifax. Slugs and snails ignore them. They have flowered and dropped extra seed. Now transplanted into the earth, hopefully these new plants will flower next year. There are lots of foxgloves growing wild locally. When they start to drop seeds I'll collect some so I will have even more. Whatever grows (almost whatever grows!) is welcome!

Aquilegia. 5th June 2020

Remember this picture? It is of some rather exotic looking aquilegia growing nearby. I've collected seeds from them and sprinkled them on the earth. Hopefully, they will grow and I will have exotic flowers outside my house too next June. (I've kept some in an envelope and can start them in pots in spring if I need a fall back.)

Small, self-sown cyclamen now put in pots. 1st August 2020.
Small, self-sown cyclamen now put in pots. 1st August 2020.

The trouble with cats is that they like sitting on things and my remaining cat is an enthusiastic window-box-plant-squasher. Last year I planted cyclamen in the window boxes. Squashed! Dead! Breaking my arm didn't help. I couldn't water things as much as they needed. But eight baby cyclamen have sprung up in their place. Two I've left in the boxes. The other six I am now nurturing in separate pots. Of their own accord they are perpetuating the line. They are welcome!

Lobelia flowering in stripey Yucca pot. 1st August 2020
Lobelia flowering in stripey Yucca pot. 1st August 2020

This pot came with me from Dorset. It contains a stripy Yucca plant and a foxglove seedling. Also some lobelia. The lobelia came from Dorset - at least, its ancestors did. I bought a few plants several years ago and they have been self-seeding ever since.

Geranium in pot. Grown on from plug. 1st August 2020.
Geranium in pot. Grown on from plug. 1st August 2020.

And last, but not least, geraniums. I have not been into a shop for months but Diana at Elephant's Eye on False Bay pointed out that the large windows in my house might have been intended with a weaver in mind and that weavers traditionally had geraniums in their window boxes. How could I resist? I looked online but geraniums seemed very expensive so I asked my neighbour to keep an eye out for me in the local shops and she came across a wonderful bargain - eighteen plug plants for £1:77! Enough for her to have some on her windowsills too.  I've potted them up and when they get round to flowering we will have a right gaudy and joyous display at our end of the street.

More hart's tongue ferns in the same brick wall. 1st August 2020.
More hart's tongue ferns in the same brick wall. 1st August 2020.
Sorry, I'm so chuffed with the hart's tongue ferns I need to show you another group in the same wall.

Nature, in the form of lack of water, of slugs and snails can be destructive. But there can be hardly anywhere in this country where absolutely nothing will grow. I will not necessarily be able to have the plants I first thought of but nature (and my neighbour!) are filling the gaps. What grows is welcome. Plants which choose to be here of their own accord or are from the immediate environs are those most likely to survive - and that, so far, with a little bit of nudging, is what they are doing!

Sunday, 19 July 2020


Looking up into the ash tree.
Yesterday morning a man I don't know called out a greeting. "Well done!" he shouted. I stopped.
"You're doing well!" he bellowed, long-distantly.
"Thank you!" I yelled back, puzzled.
"How old are you?"
At top voice, I told him.

This is the first time anyone has asked me how old I am since . . .

. . . well when is it that people stop asking how old you are? Fourteen? Something like that; a few years after you've stopped being precise about the months and days you've accumulated. "Five and three-quarters," you say . . . and find a way to slip in (hopefully and acquisitively yet also with pride) the date of your next birthday. Then there's a long gap before you start re-volunteering age related information . . . you are soon to be one-hundred-and-ninety-three and you remember when Noah got married.

Gash in trunk of ash tree bark.
Have I really reached an age when people shout out 'well dones' in the street simply because I am walking along with moderate speed? Not really. I resisted shouting 'I'm not as old as you think! I've been ill but I'm getting better!'

Twice, while I was being treated for leukaemia, people mistook someone older than me for my offspring. I thought I'd got beyond that. Clearly not. My hair has re-grown; white and thick, with an irritatingly purposeful wave that makes me look prim. When I was young (in my early twenties) a friend commented, "We think we aren't vain. We think we don't mind what we wear. But no way would we buy crimplene!" I feel that about my hair. I've never minded excessively about my appearance but I don't like it that my post-cancer-treatment-hair currently makes me look like a lesser version of the Queen.

Yellow flowers at the foot of the ash tree.
How is any of this relevant? Well, this morning I was thinking perhaps I didn't feel like going for a walk. Then I decided that before I age irreparably, by which I mean the kind of aging where you really are running out of years, I'd better not give up on going out walking in the early morning. So off I went. And I got  as far as round the corner when I was stopped in my tracks by a bunch of yellow flowers growing at the foot of an ash tree. The sun was catching it 'just right' and I couldn't pass by. I've still not caught up with June posts - and there are Tree Following photos in my camera . . . but the moment seemed right for a 'Stuck Foot Post'. Clearly, I thought, if I am looking old enough to be congratulated for hurrying, there's no time to hang around waiting to fill in odd gaps.

A 'Stuck Foot Post' is where you stand still and see what you can see. You can twist and turn and twizzle and you can move one foot but not the other. You can lean forward if you wish but you mustn't walk forward. One foot must remain 'stuck in place'.

Hole in tall, stone wall.
Until very recently, this road had many trees in it. First a couple were taken away because they were growing out of a wall and were pulling it over. Then a cluster of cherry trees and others were chopped down because (a local account tells) burglars hid their van behind them while engaged on raiding a series of large industrial units and the owners decided to open the view. But this ash remains. I walk past it a lot but hadn't paid it a great deal of attention till it gained the status of 'one of those remaining'.

Sorrel or dock fruits.
During May and June, there was a campaign to persuade people not to mow their lawns so small plants could flower in them to look pretty and come to the aid of struggling pollinators and quite a lot of grass around the place has grown longer than usual in consequence. Then there's the coronovirus which has taken people out of the work force so councils are not necessarily prioritising having short grass. Locally, this has led to lots of flowering plants in the streets and where the council has eventually started mowing it has sensitively left swathes of it long where poppies grow and some buttercups are still flowering, and clover. So although the broader scene of grass has now been cut, immediately round this tree there are nettles and dock and clover and ragwort (is it ragwort or something else?) and . . .  

Clover in the grass.

So I stopped, and looked, and took photographs, then set about running along (scurrying) in bursts to catch up with the morning and my fitness and my age . . . before, all of a sudden I inadvertently run out of years.

If you feel like posting a 'Stuck Foot Post', let me know the link and I'll add it here.

Saturday, 27 June 2020


E Mill. Dean Clough. Halifax. Calderdale. England. June 2020
E Mill, Dean Clough. The mills at Dean Clough were built over time.
E Mill was built in 1857
I invite you to draw an equilateral triangle with its base parallel to the bottom of the page. Put an X part way along its right hand side. Now, from the bottom right hand corner of the triangle draw a vertical line of about the same length at a right angle to the base. You are creating a not-to-scale diagrammatic map of the area I've been covering in recent weeks for Loose and Leafy. Doing it this way is in the tradition of the London Underground Map. It doesn't precisely show what things are like 'on the ground', you couldn't use it easily in order to walk from A to B, but it sets things enough in relation to each other they can take a place in your mind. 

Roses and coronavirus street plants at an entrance to Dean Clough, Halifax, Calderdale, England.
Roses and coronavirus street plants at an entrance to
Dean Clough, Halifax, Calderdale, England.
June 27th 2020
The base of the square is the town centre. The apex is Warley Moor where we saw the meadow pippit (or lark), the Large Heath Butterflies and the Hare's Tail Cottongrass. Going down the left hand side we are descending into the Luddenden Valley - where we walked in the woods and looked along the stream by a bridge. The Tale of Three Levels noted some of the changes in the terrain in between.

Roses and coronavirus street plants at an entrance to Dean Clough, Halifax, Calderdale, England. June 27th 2020
Roses and coronavirus street plants at an entrance to
Dean Clough, Halifax, Calderdale, England.
June 27th 2020

The X is where I live and the vertical line is the Hebble Valley which is so steeply sided in places I think of it as a ravine. Where it meets the base of the triangle there's a huge, renovated mill complex called Dean Clough, which was once one of the largest carpet factories in the world and is now converted into offices, art galleries, a theatre and restaurants. In its hey day,  Crossley Carpets employed 5,000 people - the majority of them there. (According to Wikipedia this number was reached in 1900 after nearly a hundred years of manufacturing. According to the 'Let's Look Again' site it didn't reach this number till 1923.) Now, around 4,000 people work in the replacement industries. Or, rather, they do usually. There's a pandemic and the car parks are empty. And this week, because of the rain there are few people wandering around at random. Perfect for my first foray into 'town' for months.

To be blunt, the contents of Dean Clough are not as exciting as they sound on paper (though they could be!) but unlike the residential areas high on the banks either side, it is usually pretty well manicured. The coronovirus is 'seeing to' that and plants are on their way in, springing up between the stone paving slabs in front of the rose beds at one of the access points on the west side.

Nettle growing through cobbles in street. Halifax, England. June 27th 2020.
Nettle growing through cobbles in street. Halifax, England. June 27th 2020.
Walking through Dean Clough is not only to dip into the combined history of the area and the hopes for a Halifax 'on the rise', it's very good for leg muscles. You go down lots of steps to the buildings, then can climb even more on the other side of the valley to reach the park by the Bankfield Museum in Boothtown via a steep cobbled street which is unkempt at the best of times. But with less traffic and fewer pedestrians, plants here are beginning to get even more of a hold than usual. Nettles are one thing 

Tomato plant growing through cobbles in street. Halifax, England. June 27th 2020.

. . . the tomato plant was a surprise!

It's a little disconcerting. A bit 'end-of-the-world-ish'.

An extraneous fact: 
during the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester (1819) many escaped injury or death because the horses of the Manchester Yeomanry couldn't managed the slippery cobbles of the steep streets in the rain. Manchester is nearly 60 miles away but I think of Peterloo as well as the mill workers in their clogs when I am walking these kinds of streets here. I am amazed the clogs gripped.

Dean Clough on Wikipedia
Crossley Carpets on 'Lets Look Again'
Hebble Brook on Wikipedia
Peterloo Massacre on Wikipedia
Manchester Yeomanry on Wikipedia
British Clogs on Wikipedia
Wearing Clogs in Yorkshire in the 1920s on the Bancrofts from Yorkshire Blog
Buying clogs in Calderdale now - the Walkly Clogs site.
This post is for Day 27 of the '30 Days Wild' challenge organised by the Wildlife Trusts.

Friday, 26 June 2020


Hart's tongue fern in wall. June 16th 2020
Seeing this Hart's tongue fern in someone else's wall (June 16th 2020)
inspired me to find out more about how to look after them.
I've cleared away some clutter from in front of those
in my own wall and have been drip-feeding them plant food.
After today, there will be four days of '30 Days Wild' left - a challenge set by the Wildlife Trusts to do some random act of wildness every day in June. The 'wild' ideas they suggest have not been very 'wild', not in the way of the street parties which have been breaking out around the country as lockdowns are lifted . . . they have been things like going for walks, for picnics, for listening to the birds, watching out for butterflies.

It has coincided with other challenges in all our lives. For my part, in the early days of the month I could not go out at all because I was 'shielded'. More recently, we 'shielded' people have been encouraged to go for walks as long as we keep away from others so I have swung from being totally at home and pretty inert to walking in remote places and scurrying along for the sake of exploration and to re-animate my body before it gets too sluggish and slow.

I've managed quite a few of the 'challenges'. I planted some corncockle flowers for the sake of pollinators. (They didn't come up.) I checked there is water both for the frog at my allotment and for the birds but as I'm allotmenteering by delegation instead of in person I haven't the photos to show you. But it's there.

Wildlife Yoga poster
The Wildlife Trusts sent an email poster with 'Wildlife Yoga' positions. My next door neighbour, with whom I now share a long-distance cup of tea every morning, suggested we should add outside yoga into our routine. 'What, in front of all the people passing?' No! And I haven't taken up the suggestion that I should make a mandala out of leaves and things either. (A sort of circular pattern which I think is supposed to be meditative but . . . )

Sycamore seeds. 13th June 2020
I suppose these sycamore seeds (13th June 2020} could have
been turned into an artistic arrangement but I got carried
away by looking at the inevitable aphid . . . and wondering
whether the two sizes and shapes of seeds came from different trees outside my house.
Then I realised - that despite there having been plenty of blossom
on both, one has masses of these winged 'helicopters'
or 'keys'but the other has none.
Can you spot the aphid? (Clicking the picture will enlarge it.)
So it's been a bit of a mixture. Some things I've done. Some things not. I think perhaps I've been a bit lacking on the artistic front. I included a poem but I've not drawn any drawings. My photos are my 'art' so maybe it's a good moment to introduce you to 'Message in a Milk Bottle'. Until I got leukaemia I used to post a picture there every day. And I have, from time to time, on and off, since. But mostly, recently, Message in a Milk Bottle has been neglected. Unlike on Loose and Leafy there are no words - just the photos. The discipline of (almost) daily posts on Loose and Leafy for June has been gearing me up for going back to posting on Message in a Milk Bottle. Loose and Leafy will gradually drift back now to a post roughly once a week but if you like my work you might enjoy Message in a Milk Bottle on the days in between. I'll aim to start again at the beginning of July. In the meantime you might like to browse what's already there.

It isn't all nature - perhaps about two thirds. It depends what I'm doing and what's around. I like shapes and colours and walls and things dropped on pavements and bits of plastic caught in barbed wire too.

Digger on a Hill. West Yorkshire
Has doing the Wildlife Trusts' Challenge changed me in any way? I think perhaps it has made me more self-aware of what I am looking at. After all, a post a day calls for rather a lot of concentration. And I've become more aware of my place in the landscape. The photo of the digger on the hill is the kind of picture I would usually post on Message in a Milk Bottle but this digger is so prominent it has become a sort of Pole Star on some of my walks.

Cherries fallen from a tree (ornamental?) onto the tarmac pavement. 21st June 2020
21st June 2020
And I've become more aware of some of you. Some who have been reading and commenting on these posts are old internet friends. Some have newly arrived. As I potter around the house, noticing the presence of woodlice in the cellar and the strange absence of spiders, as I've left my vase of flowers to decay on the windowsill so I can watch the petals fall, as I've counted the sycamore seedlings I've pulled out of the pots in front of my house . . . I've been chatting with you in my head. Some of these conversations have turned into posts. Others, you may never know about. For both, thank you. Thank you for accompanying me - in my head as well as on our screens.


Thursday, 25 June 2020


Path through woods in Luddenden Valley. June 25th 2020

Today I walked in the woods.

Cuckoo spit. Woods in Luddenden Valley. June 25th 2020
Cuckoo spit. Woods in Luddenden Valley. June 25th 2020

There was cuckoo-spit in the grass. (Cuckoo spit is a damp froth which conceals the nymph of an insect called a 'froghopper'. I once brushed the 'spit' away and found a little green monster inside. It was nothing like its adult form. It would seem cruel to repeat the experiment for the sake of a photograph so you will have to imagine what it looks like!)

Gate leading to stone bridge over Luddenden Brook. 25th June 2020

I came to a gate.

Stone bridge over Luddenden Brook

The gate led to a grassy stone bridge.

Style into field. June 25th 2020. West Yorkshire

At the far side of the bridge was a style into a field.

Luddenden Brook. West Yorkshire. June 25th 2020.
Luddenden Brook. West Yorkshire. June 25th 2020.
But I didn't go into the field, I went under the bridge.

And looked along the brook.

Water in Luddenden Brook, West Yorkshire. 25th June 2020

And into the water.

(This reads as if it's a story for very little children learning to read so perhaps I should finsish by saying

This post is part of the 30 Days Wild Challenge set annually by the Wildlife Trusts.