Sunday, 15 April 2018

IT'S AS MUCH ABOUT THE RAILINGS - TREE FOLLOWING IN APRIL

Catkins of an alder in front of a stone building in the golden light of evening.
Evening is unpredictable. One moment it's sunny, then it's gold, then it's dull, then it gives gold another innings, then it's duller and duller till it's dark. And I, it seems, never manage to get to the tree I'm following during its sunny moments. Dull is standard. Gold a bonus.

Here is a view towards the building where, one day, when it isn't after hours, or dull, or raining, I'll see if anyone will let me up to look down on the tree.

Alder with catkins, with plastic in branches, in front of a fancy street light.



Much depends on which direction one faces. Two minutes apart, looking another way, noticing the plastic which has been there since the beginning.

An ant on the bark of an alder tree.



No leaves, loads of catkins - and a moderate flow of ants. Ants are hard to capture crisply in fading light but there is one there if you peer.

Bent railings on the guard around an alder tree.



I am captivated by the railings around the tree. I'm as much railings watching as tree following for they seem to contain as much life as the tree itself.

Someone has bent them so two prongs lean towards each other.

(A friend said 'here, I'll take a photo - so he did - and this is it.)

Glasses hanging on the railings of the guard around an alder tree in Halifax.



The 'Lost and Found' function continues with a pair of glasses.

(I'm beginning to think this tree is pivotal.)

Small green plant at the foot of an alder tree with fallen catkins around.



In November there were little leaves at the base of the tree. They've gone. If we hadn't had snow, maybe they would have still been there. I don't know. But instead, at its foot - here come the plants! Green-ness! Flowers ahead! (As long as the council leaves them.)




P.S. While I was photographing the tree, people were arriving from two directions, hurrying happily into the theatre opposite. What was on? Clearly a big event. So I peered between the posters of future events stuck to the window of the box office . . . but they turned out not to be stuck on the window itself but to clear stands within . .  which meant I smashed my eyebrows, nose and forehead wham against the glass. Not good.

Having failed to find the answer written up I asked a woman waiting for a friend on the steps. But she couldn't remember what she'd come to see. Evening does funny things to people.



For more about Tree Following go to Squirrelbasket and you can become a Tree Follower too.

Saturday, 31 March 2018

STREET PLANTS AT THE END OF MARCH FOR THE BEGINNING OF APRIL

Stong groundsel plant beside a stone wall.
This is a picture post. There's not much to read. If I had lots to say, I'd say it. But today, I don't. I'll let the plants speak for themselves. Or, rather, not speak for themselves for they are pretty quiet at present; battered by frost and snow, constantly being deceived into thinking it's spring when it isn't.

The exception is this groundsel which seems pretty chipper. I've never described anything as 'chipper' before but the word seems to fit. The angle shields it both from north and east winds and for the moment it's not garlanded with litter.

Ferns in a stone wall.
For the most part though, I look higher up walls to find plants. I've never lived anywhere with so many stone walls before. All seem to be built in the same way; two walls built parallel to each other and the gap between them filled with smaller stones. On top of these is a layer of long stones laid horizontally, with a row of quite hefty, sideways stones on top. The work which must have gone into these walls must have been phenomenal. The tonnage, mind boggling. And because of the topography here, some are waist or shoulder high on one side but way, way higher on the other.

Dandelion growing in the gap between stones on a stone wall.



Here are dandelion seedlings beginning to look out newly on the world.

Foxglove in the gaps between stones on a stone wall.



And foxgloves which have overwintered are beginning to green.




This is common but I can't name it.





A dilapidated ivy leaved toadflax would you say?




And the always-interesting shape of an unfurled willow-herb seed pod.

All these plants were photographed on 30th March, ready for the first of the month posting. Daft. So I'm moving the street plant posts to 20th of each month. I'll put a link box then too - and afterwards always on the 20th.

In the meantime, if you have a street plant post that you'd like us to know about, do put its URL in the box below.

(The site which provides the link box seems to have gone down . . . and the link box has vanished along with it. By the time I next look, hopefully it will have reappeared. In the meantime . . . . if you have a Street Plant Post to share - leave its URL in with the comments.)


Monday, 26 March 2018

I SHOULD'VE DUG 'EM DEEPER I THINK

Daffodil coming up.
My daffodils are this big.
Everyone is ahead of me on our allotment. For the most part it's because they've had their plots for longer. But the new tenants of the one next to mine seem to have got it cleared up and dug over in one invisible burst. I suspect they had a truck to take the rubbish away and either a team of enthusiastic diggers or a rotivator. Perhaps my assiduity in getting out unwanted plants is paying its price in relation to how much time is available before seeds etc. will need to be sown. Perhaps I'm being excessive. On the other hand, it seems right to get rid of mares tail / horse tail or whatever it's called, along with the mile deep tap-roots of dandelions before putting in fruit bushes. Several weeks with several snowy days in them, interspersed with days when I was doing something else or having a bug or . . . The question is . .  am I being long term sensible or too slow for growing's good? For the moment I'll look long term and say this slow start will, in the end, be worth it.

Newly planted blackcurrant with leaves appearing.
Blackcurrant waiting for secateurs to prune it.
Some things are on the allotment . . . other things are at home.
But there are some things I've clearly done wrong. I woke in the night wondering about the difference between different kinds of currant bushes. I was sure some had to be planted one way and others another. I'd thought the difference was between redcurrants and whitecurrants but (exciting life this!) what if blackcurrants were somehow involved? Abandon sleep. Read lots of articles which just say plant them now with a load of the well rotted farmyard manure which I don't have and can't afford - but nothing about depth. Then I find it. The difference isn't between red and white but between black and red. (I don't have any white ones yet.) Blackcurrants should be planted deep enough that extra shoots come up while redcurrants need to have a single little trunk to branch out from. Guess which I've already planted? Blackcurrants. So, in the night, in my semi-awake semi-asleep-ness I dig them up in my dreams, dig bigger holes, plant them deeper. Over and over I go through the whole thing. It's not going to be a problem. The soil is lovely and even and weed free (hurray!) so my mind should have been able to give it a rest. But it wouldn't. Now all I have to do is to go and replant them for real and to free my mind from the guilt of not giving them the kind of food and texture they crave and asking them to make do with chicken pellets instead. I need a word for anthropomorphising plants.

I also need a special word of thanks to photographs - even if they do reveal mistakes. The instructions which came with the bare-rooted raspberry canes said to soak them in a bucket of water for an hour then plant them at the same soil level they had been planted at before. But after their allotted hour of soaking any vestiges of previous soil level had washed away. Resort to an internet video where Monty Don swishes his little roots around. But I didn't have shallow roots. I had what seemed to be the continuation of the stem with roots sticking out of it. His big roots go sideways. Mine head for Australia. So I stuck them in about twelve inches and hoped for the best. Or maybe it was a bit more.

Newly planted raspberry cane with shoots at base.
It's not just the hairiness of the lower stem which becomes apparent in the photograph
but a difference in colour too.
And as for the use of photographs? I took this one for the sake of the leaves that are appearing beside the cane. "Should they be here or are they suckers to be removed?" I was going to ask. But while preparing the picture for the blog I see there are loads of fine roots above soil level; roots I didn't see when I planted the canes. So perhaps I should have dug the raspberries in even deeper after all - just as I should have made the blackcurrants go in further.

From now on I shall photograph everything in stages so the lens will capture what my eyes have missed.

As for other things:
Little shallot.
Shallot.


The shallots I thought had rotted haven't. I could have photographed a much more impressive example but I was in a hurry so I just snapped the nearest one. (Bloggers are meant to be thoughtful, not hurried but . . . )

Ornamental onion.
It's not a tulip, it's an onion. (Or garlic.)







And the ornamental onions or garlic or whatever they are (call them Alliums) that I thought were nearly all dug up by badgers but which fellow allotmenteers said must have been foxes . . . have come up in profusion as well.

In part, I planted them because I wanted to make something grow and all the seeds I sowed in the autumn got eaten almost as soon as they germinated and in part because the packet said they would attract butterflies. Why I would want to attract butterflies is beyond me as they will lead to caterpillars which will probably eat all my vegetables . .  but there we are. I bought them and put them in. And as for depth of planting? There were five varieties in the packet, all to be planted at different levels. But the bulbs were jumbled together in one bag and there was no way of knowing which were which. So the bigger the bulb, the deeper I planted it. Totally hit and miss but quite a variety of leaf shapes have come up so even if there are no blackcurrants or redcurrants until next year - or perhaps never - we should have some pretty onion flowers to look at!

Caterpillar with broom coloured bristles. Possibly Ruby Tiger Moth.
Quite hefty. A bit more than an inch long.
(When measuring caterpillars, does one include the bristles?)
Speaking of caterpillars . . . I found this one wandering along one of my packed earth paths. Despite it being the boring colour of an old broom I think it might be a Ruby Tiger Moth - especially as a description on the Wildlife Insight site says 'They are often come across wandering about during the day prior to pupating'. It was wandering. Clinch. And wandering beside the patch which was a mono-culture of narrow-leaved plantain until I pulled it all out. Double clinch.

Caterpillar with auburn coloured bristles. Possibly Ruby Tiger Moth.
This caterpillar was a rich auburn in colour but I'm assuming
it's the same variety as the day before.
The difference may be an advert for sunshine - or suggest it's a different variety.
The next day (25th March) it was sunny. (Frosty but sunny.) And I found another at the opposite end of the allotment; again wandering along a path. For a bit of variety I moved it to a mossy stone so it could pose for its picture against a pretty (but irrelevant) background. It wasn't struck on this and curled up. I came and went for a bit, waiting for it to uncurl and walk along but it didn't . .  Until when I wasn't looking when it must have pottered off looking for some plantain or another path. Right. Here comes a decision. Don't get rid of all the plantain. Maybe I should have a dedicated ribwort patch? After all, the previous gardener seems to have had several. Moths which are, non-scientifically speaking, butterflies which can't stick their wings up straight to shut them higher than their heads (sort of) are undervalued. I've not seen any packs of seeds or bulbs specifically advertised as promising the arrival of moths.

And at the end of the day . . . In spring, in Dorset, (my constant contrast) the noise of blackbirds singing at dawn is almost overwhelming. But here, where a pigeon on a pavement is the height of avian excitement . . . here, in a town, I sat and listened to one, solitary bird, piping after the sun had gone down. (My camera dissobligingly decided to make it look lighter than it was.) To hear all the birds in a wide neighbourhood yelling their heads off fills one with awe. But this is the first time I've literally sat down and listened to one individual. See - there are gentle joys in urban living after all.



Links.
How to grow blackcurrants and redcurrants on the Quick Crop blog.
How to grow summer fruiting raspberries - video on Gardener's World site. (Incidentally, mine are supposed to grow two crops a year if you prune them right.)
Country Life's Guide to Hairy Caterpillars.

ADVICE AND CORRECTIONS SOUGHT AND WELCOME!
ESPECIALLY - it seems to me that this blackbird has a very monotonous song. Do birds in areas where there are more birds develop more complicated songs?

Thursday, 1 March 2018

STREET PLANTS IN MARCH

Blades of grass and a grass flower peeping above snow on a street corner.
With as much snow being blown up into the air as there is snow falling, it's not a good time for a street plant post. Last month, the snow had turned to ice so the ground was dangerously slippy. This time it's soft and fluffy; so while the grip under-foot is better, the wind is able to gather it up and blast it sideways across the road. When I lived on the south coast I wished I had an underwater camera. Now I wish for one which wouldn't mind snow; though there are moments when it would be pointless to take pictures anyway for one can see nothing but white.

I noticed this little grass flower (above) on a corner yesterday. If I were to go back now, it would be buried.

Fern growing on a terrace chimney.

Between posts, we've had some non-snowy weather. On one of these days I saw a fern growing on a chimney (24th February); a change from the ubiquitous, wall-destroying buddleia.

(You might need to enlarge the picture to see it. It's growing between the bricks and concrete on the middle chimney.)

Little grass plant next to a stone wall.



Also on 24th February: this other little grass plant.

None of this is superbly exciting but it is reassuring  Nature chugs on. We know it. But we like to see it too. 

Meanwhile, the National Grid has announced it may have run out of gas by the end of today which means some of those who are losing a day's wages because they have not been able to go to work because of the snow may also go cold this evening. The National Grid is trying to persuade industry to go easy on gas - even to the extent of being prepared to buy it back or something. I looked at their site and they seem to be open to offers. (I think.)

P.S. Nothing to do with street plants: I've taken over another part-allotment with a small greenhouse and a larger one which doubles as a potting shed big enough to have a table and chairs in. How's that for good fortune?

If you have a post about the plants growing wild in the streets near you, do add your post URL to the box below.

(P.P.S. The Mister Linky gadget asks you to comment after posting a URL. You don't need to post a URL to comment, nor do you have to comment - though please do because I'm always delighted to read what you say!)

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

SHROGGS

Looking from Shroggs park in Halifax through a mist of silver birches to tall flats on the other side of a 'ravine'.
View from Shrogg's Park across a 'ravine'.
Until I looked at this scene I didn't properly appreciate the light and airiness
of silver birches.
Halifax is full of Victorians. All in a rush they filled the area with houses and mills. Then they went away again. In other words, they died. Or more particularly, Queen Victoria did. There's a statue of her husband Albert, and a promenade which keeps his name. But it's the ghosts of the local wealthy who hang around the place. Not with white sheets over their heads going 'ooooh' but in the landscape.

A short while back I posted about The People's Park in Halifax. (A Parade of Bare Bottoms.) Today we are crossing a wooded ravine (I expect there's a proper name for the steep, deep gullies which go right into the heart of town but 'ravine' will do) to another park - Shroggs.

Until I began this post, I'd assumed there had been a 'Mr Shroggs' and that he'd given the land for the benefit of 'the people' just as Mr Crossley gave land for The People's Park. But no. It turns out that 'shroggs' means 'scrubland' or 'brushwood' or 'area of stunted trees'.

Woodland path in Shroggs Park Halifax with rocks and overhanging trees.
Woodland walk in Shroggs Park, Halifax.
To the right there is an almost sheer drop to a busy main road.
Victorians liked shrubberies and stumperries and rockscapes. I've always assumed it was just one of those things. A fashion that came and went. But perhaps it was more to do with Victorian practicality. Presented with an area of stunted trees and rocky outcrops, one might as well take advantage of what's already there and enjoy the drama. Sling in some formal beds and wide walks and a drinking fountain, perhaps a band. Et voila! An enjoyable mish-mash of the contrived and the wild! Victorian furniture sometimes has mirrors in odd places. This wasn't so people had to crouch down to pluck their eyebrows. It was a way to brighten the atmosphere. Victorians liked tinkering. Sometimes they over-did it. Never mind the age of a church, bung down a regular pattern of tiles in the nave. But they weren't frightened of big projects. Find an area of unproductive ground, plant 60,000 trees and shrubs to give shelter and make it pleasant, put up some impressive gates to give access and open it to the public every day of the year!  Take what is, pitch in and make it 'better'. They were truly 'hands on'.

One of the wide walks in Shroggs Park, Halifax.
There are also formal flower beds and a mass of cocuses in some areas of grass.
(February 20th 2018)
Yesterday, someone compared Halifax to Luxembourg. 'It's a similar topography with ravines splitting the town. But in Luxembourg they've kept the rivers above ground and made it all beautiful.' Having looked at some pictures of Luxembourg, I can see what he means. Some day I'll have to check up on why the rivers in Halifax have largely been channelled into narrow spaces, out of the way places and underground. In the meantime I'll guess it was to prevent flooding, to reduce the amount of soggy ground and maybe (perhaps even primarily) to use the water for power. (I should probably have found out before embarking on this post but if I waited to know everything I'd never say anything - which would not be good.)

Twisted trees on the steep bank at the side of one of the paths in Shroggs park, Halifax, West Yorkshire
Twisted trees on the steep bank at the side of one of the paths.
But in 1872 one Colonel Ackroyd decided to give the people of Halifax a park. What's fun about this is that whereas The People's Park was a place to contemplate ancient statues and walk around quietly, Colonel Ackroyd decreed that in 'his' park people were to play games and music as well as walk along its broad paths, drink at its water fountain, admire its formal beds and sit between its trees. If you take a look at Historic England's site you'll see his intention right from the beginning was that there should be provision for 'cricket, bowls, archery and other games'. (You can now add football and a children's play area. I don't know about archery!)

In making this comparison, there's an awkward gap. The People's Park was designed in 1857 and Shroggs in 1872. But if I were a fiction writer I'd make Crossley and Ackroyd proper contemporaries so I could write a block busting novel about their contrasting approaches. One (Crossley) going for the working man's quiet contemplation and education (the classical statues) and the other (Ackroyd) consciously providing space for games and flirtation (what other use for a shrubbery?). It would be followed by a television drama which, spread over several episodes, would be as successful as Downton Abbey and make my fortune.

Looking down on part of the road network in Halifax, West Yorkshire.
Looking down on part of the complex road network from a hill opposite the park.
If you click the picture it will enlarge and you will be able to see how roads are
weaving over and under each other and how cars are coming in and out at
different levels. 
There are no modern-day local-benefactors on this scale. But here's something interesting about Calderdale Council which is currently resisting the amount of new housing the government wants for this area.

According to our local paper (The Halifax Chronicle) the leader of the council (Tim Swift - Labour) says the special topography of the area has to be taken into account. (There are, after all, what I call 'ravines' as well as slopes so steep we might as well call them cliffs - that's me doing that explanation, not a quote from the article). And Councillor Dan Sutherland (also Labour) says "We need to strike the right balance between providing enough housing for the future and both maintaining and improving access to the green spaces we all enjoy."

As you can see from the picture, roads go over and under each other in order to connect the multiple layers of industry and housing in Halifax. (Shroggs Park is above the upper top left of the picture). Given that some areas of town are highly populated . . . a park here and there is no bad thing.

Victorian men like Crossley, Ackroyd and Saville (who in 1866 gave a large area of land to the council on condition it did something about smoke pollution) used some of their wealth to create parks. I used to think if I were truly rich I'd put up clocks all over the country. I've now switched to grants for repairing roofs in Halifax. (In my dreams!)

If you had oodles of money to give away for the public good, how would you spend it?