Saturday, 20 January 2018


Selection of plants growing on a wall in Halifax, West Yorkshire.
I've decided, for the moment, to keep comparing. Contrasts are interesting. They matter.

The dark walls of Halifax and the surrounding fields bothered me when we arrived. Gloomy. I wasn't sure whether this blackness is intrinsic to the stones the walls are made from or whether it's soot. London used to be black. Westminster Abbey used to be black. Look at it now!

And I can't answer this yet. (Don't worry. I'll find out. Plenty of time.)

I'm getting used to them. What's more, they are a good place to find street plants. So it's another new experience - to look sideways and up, not just down by my feet.

The picture above . . . I think I'll have come back to this exact spot when I do my next 'stuck foot' post. I'll take photographs just of the plants in this immediate scene. So many crammed in together.

Groundsel in front of a wall. West Yorkshire.

Here's a confluence of themes. I'm getting used to a green instead of white light when it rains and finding it's interesting to notice familiar plants in a new context. Groundsel; but camouflaged. The plant and the green on the wall in the rainy late-afternoon light of a January day are in harmony. A unity. An invisibility. It's a surprise. A new experience. When it rains, black walls turn green!

Delicate plant with dark green leaves growing in cracks between stones in a wall in West Yorkshire.

I don't know what this plant is. Can you tell me?

Plant growing in shelter of stones of a wall in West Yorkshire.

What about this one?

This fern below?

Fern growing between stones in a wall. West Yorkshire.

Does it strike you that the stones look like petrified wood?

Why is this ivy red? Can anyone explain?

Red leaved ivy growing creeping to the top of a wall in West Yorkshire.

And below - a foxglove!
Until I came here, I'd not thought of foxgloves as urban wild plants. Very country hedgerow I'd have said. That was . . . until the first post on this blog when I found them growing on top of another wall.

Foxgloves and other plants on wall in West Yorkshire.

On moving from Dorset to West Yorkshire I started again with 'Loose and Leafy in Halifax'. Maybe I made a mistake. Perhaps I should have created a blog dedicated solely to this wall!

If you'd like to join me in noticing and admiring plants growing wild in towns and cities . . . I'll be putting a link box for Street Plant Posts on Loose and Leafy, 1st - 7th February.

Monday, 15 January 2018


On my other blog, Message in a Milk Bottle, I've posted photos from time to time of a little of the countryside within reach of Halifax.

So you may already have seen a view from Jerusalem Farm

or from Burnsall in Wharfedale

Path between bowling greens with park-keepers mowing the grass in Todmorden, West Yorkshire

or caught sight of the beautiful bowling greens in Todmorden with hills beyond; not that bowling greens are exactly countryside!

But on this blog, Loose and Leafy in Halifax, I've so far concentrated on the town itself; for that is my immediate context - home. Perhaps now I should widen the field and introduce you to more of the wonderful and very varied countryside near at hand.

We're heading for the green deep in  a fold between the fields and moorland.
And as I do, I should also point you to Everyday Life. Lyn has been writing and posting photos about this part of England since 2009 and has been warming my heart to it ever since I first came across her blog. Our experiences and approach are very different and the reasons I moved to Halifax are broadly based on money, culture, work opportunities and a need for change. The choice of Halifax specifically was largely down to chance. So arriving here is pretty random. However the strong images of some of the country walks she has introduced us to over the years have been nudging away at me. "Cor," I've been thinking, "that's not an 'arf bad place to live!" Blogs have a lot to answer for!

In previous posts I've mentioned the Greek Village books of Sara Alexi. There are masses of them and in the same way as we have moved from Dorset to Halifax, people in the village don't necessarily stay put. In the first book (The Illegal Gardener) one of the main characters is Aaman from Pakistan who finds work re-shaping an English woman's newly acquired garden. Later, in 'Saving Septic Cyril' he and his wife travel (legally, this time) from Pakistan to England where they rent a house in a tiny village near Bradford.

Bradford is quite near Halifax. Indeed, they are linked vaguely by a sequence of fields and villages; and between the two we can look down the hill . . . beyond the sheep . .  not to to where Aaman and Saabira live (for their place is much smaller) . . . but to a village which makes me think of them. (Saabira and Aaaman are, by the way, in my mind, perfectly real people.) 

Through the village and a bit further . . . Ogden water. A fifteen minute drive from my house. What can I say in a short post? That we walked round the reservoir. That when we go back, you can come too.

(Quite a large stretch of water along the right-hand shore was frozen.)

Wherever I live, wherever I go, there are places where I like to be alone; I feel almost possessive about their isolation.

And there are places where there are so many people I can't cope and want to go home.

But here - it was such a jolly atmosphere I felt swept up in the happiness; masses of people walking beside the water before or after their Sunday lunch - and the woods ringing with laughter. There were people of all ages, little children, parents, older people; and teenage boys who were putting great efforts into shuffling awkwardly round slushy patches so they didn't get their flash trainers spoiled in the mud: people bringing Christmas trees to be re-planted or turned into dead-hedge wind-breaks. And, hurray, hurray, no cyclists! I've nearly lost friends over this cyclist issue. As a pedestrian I've had bad experiences with cyclists both in Dorset and in London. I have only one recurring nightmare and that's of hoards of cyclists bearing down on me waving their arms and shouting. It's horrible.

I've always liked the look of wind turbines - but am not yet entirely convinced they are the way forward. Having complained about cyclists I'll try not to raise your hackles further by worrying about their proliferation. Hopefully they are nothing but an early stage in the development of 'green' power and with any luck won't last long. But against a dark sky they are pretty impressive don't you think?

Thursday, 11 January 2018


I was expecting to say it was pointless planting onions in the autumn. If I'd left them in their bags they might have grown more. And while other people are talking about their little daffodils emerging there's not a sign that I've buried any anywhere. And as for shallots; they they appear to be rotting instead of growing.

I've hardly visited the allotment since before Christmas. The ground froze and I fell. Then there was snow. Now, the soil is squishy where snow-melt has been topped up with rain. But the non-growing onions, now visible, are entertaining.

Autumn planted onion set in January.

The onion above is progressing somewhat. But others are doing their own thing. To its right there's one with its roots up instead of down. How is this? Did I inadvertently put it in the wrong way? I might have done but don't think so.

Onion sets pushing themselves out of the ground.

The picture above shows how such annoying miracles are taking place. Onions are pushing themselves out of the soil and flopping about. The one on the left has lurched sideways but its roots are still in the ground; the middle one is in entirely the wrong place - plucked by a bird from further along the row and dropped here. As for the one on the right - you can clearly see the hole it has got itself out of. Its roots are still healthy and it's sprouting at the top so I tipped it gently back into place and hunched earth around it like a scarf. To the right of the right-hand onion is the footprint of a passing creature.

One of the striking differences between where I live now and more or less anywhere else I've ever lived is the absence of dogs and cats. I suppose it's because houses in my neighbourhood tend to be small and hardly any have gardens. A pleasant result is that there is hardly any dog poo on the pavements. In the summer I will be able to take deep breaths on summer's days and delight either in the scent of fresh air or of traffic fumes instead of being knocked out and disappointed by the stench of pet-excrement which is the downside of living by a well walked path beside the sea. Other allotmenteers tell me cats do come by but I doubt they cause much trouble because, judging by the streets, they are few, which is good. Dogs on the loose might crash into you, muddy pawed, but cats are less random. Whenever you plant a plant, that's where they'll choose to sit. Wherever you sow some seeds, that's where they'll dig. Turn your back on a seed tray and a spare cat will be settled in in a shot and pretend it's been there all morning. But here . . . few dogs . . . few cats . . Bliss.  But badgers?

There's something about the smell of disturbed earth. In the autumn, I put bulbs in one day and they were gone by morning. 

Ornamental onion not doing too well.

This is where I planted ornamental aliums. And this is also where they got dug up again. I'm leaving the hole. I've filled it in three times. What's the point? And I don't want to draw attention to there being any bulbs still there. The smell of disturbed earth might work like a huge speech bubble saying 'hey, you forgot these'.

Wooden bars between which carrots are supposed to grow but where grass is growing instead.

Above is where I planted carrots. (The markers show the end of rows.) But they didn't grow. I'm trying to remember whether I then planted something in the intervening slots to make up for them. Small daffodils? Shall I tug out the grass seedlings or will this attract creatures to the aliums nearby?

Raw vegetables added to compost bin.

Still . . . the compost bin is happy. One thing is going well! In the photo fresh new veg. has been added. A friend has given it a cabbage. (I would have chopped it up a bit but a gift is a gift.) Around the outside I've built a barricade of large stones and a bank of turfs. The stones are to keep the bin from blowing over and to keep out rats, the turfs are to keep worms warm. It seems to be working. No further rat disturbance and what's specially gratifying - no smell of rotting veg. You can stick your head right into the bin and breathe deeply and still think it's a pleasant day. It's not got far yet. The actual compost is only about six inches deep. But I don't think it's doing too badly for a newly established bin in winter.

So . . . back to the start . . . was it pointless to plant onion sets in the autumn? No. They may not have advanced but if they weren't there I wouldn't have been paying such careful attention to the earth around them.

Onion and red leafed plant.

The red leaf belongs to a plant which will spread if I leave it there - with a huge network of red roots - I know because I pulled masses out last year.

Onion and horse tails.

And horse-tails. See them?

Which means as well as easing the onions back into their slots, and taking others back to where they belong, I'll be removing the brilliant little plants which, if left in place, will overwhelm them.

(Amongst other things.)

Monday, 8 January 2018


Alder tree flanked by silver birches in Halifax town centre, West Yorkshire, with Lloyd /Halifax Bank building in background
This is a wonky picture. I know. It was a dull afternoon (Christmas Eve) and I was hurrying. And I'm not yet used to taking pictures where hills are going off in all directions and there's no horizon. (I keep having to say these things. I'm keeping you with me as I adjust.)

But I like it.

When I first came to look at Halifax I hated this big glass and stone building. It's over heavy and ostentatious and quite frightening to drive under. It feels as if it will fall and topple and crush. But along with other things I'm sort of growing an affection for it. It's quite impressive when people are hurrying up and down its steps on their way to and from work. Like a ziggurat.

But it's a sad sight too. I know I'm swinging around. But that's how it is. For 'The Halifax' used to be a famous building society - individuals could receive interest on the money they saved in it and buy their homes with money they borrowed from it. The idea was thought up in the upper room of a local pub (1853) and the whole enterprise was owned by its members. But now it's just an ordinary bank, bundled in with The Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Bank and various other financial institutions - a casualty of late twentieth century greed in which capitalism went on a rampage and the idea of mutuality was mowed down by a load of individuals who knew how to 'work' the system - eventually leading to all sorts of financial crashes all over the place. But now, of course, the main function of this particular building is to be a backdrop to the alder tree I'm following - between two silver birches.

Contrast between alder and silver birch branches
Turning the other way, back to bark, we see 'what's behind me' . . . and are able to contrast the stumpy sturdy branches of the alder (on the right in this picture) with the more delicate, droopy ones of the birch. (A more mature silver birch has a totally different atmosphere at the top . . . perhaps one day I'll be able to look level with the top of all three trees . . . I wonder if people in the building would let me look out of their window . . . )

Silhouette of fairy lights in alder branches
Sticking with the branches . . . one of the things which attracted me to this broadly uninteresting tree was that it has fairy lights in its branches. Do you know the Greek Village series of books by Sara Alexi? (I can't recommend it too highly.) In it, Stella, one of the main characters, hangs fairy lights in the tree outside her cafe which sells chicken and chips with lemon sauce. The lights, even though they are naff, are a sign of joy and freedom and laughter and liberation. Her cafe is one of the centres of community. Perhaps the lights in 'my' alder are turned on for night-clubbers. Don't know. But they weren't on for Christmas, which was a bit of a let-down. (Especially as the decorative baby's dummy and old drinks can have been removed from its protective railing.)

Bark of alder tree

Being a bit more tree-focused . . . here is its bark.

Alder tree buds

And close to pavement level - buds ready in waiting for spring. I don't know how frequently managed this tree is but guess this bundle of twigs will be cut away at some point so don't get too fond of them.

These pictures were taken, as I mentioned above, on Christmas Eve, so they are two weeks out of date. How much change will there be by next month's Tree Following post? We'll see.

* * *

I'm Following a Tree

Tree Following - chose a tree and observe its progress through the year. If you'd like to share your posts with a larger group of Tree Followers you can leave a link on The Squirrelbasket blog between 7th and 14th of each month.

* * *

The Loose and Leafy links for help with identifying things is now up and running on this blog. It's still there on the old Loose and Leafy in Dorset but from now on I'll be updating it only on this (the Halifax) site.

The last five additions are:
UK Moths
U.S. WILDFLOWER JOURNAL - A plant a day.
WILDFLOWERS OF THE UNITED STATES - Massive index with photos.
PLANT AND FUNGI SPECIES - an alphabetical list on the Plantlife Site
FIRST NATURE - Trees, fish, flowers, fungi etc.

Do browse.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018


Preamble . . .

I don't seem to have written this well.

I enjoy living in Halifax so much I'm surprised when little things remind me of the past. That was the intention of post. But instead of saying it clearly I appear to have given the impression that I don't like it here at all. The opposite is the case. I'm really, really happy to be here - and the photographs are of things which delight me.

It'll get confusing if I re-write the post. That could result in email subscribers receiving a different version from those reading it straight from the page. But I think I must put in this extra little bit as a retrospective preface - I LOVE IT HERE!

From this point on, the post is as it was.

* * *

Grass growing on rounded cobbles.
Here is my new 'lawn'.
Grass growing on the anti-social cobbles designed specially for not walking on.
I'm thinking inevitably about the things I miss about Dorset and the things which are missing here; which are not necessarily the same. Nor are they quite what I would have expected.

I went for a walk on Christmas Day and what I missed was not the sound of the sea but the absence of dried out Prickly Lettuce (Lactuca serriolla) stalks rammed up against walls. I haven't properly worked out why. It might be that I knew in advance that Halifax is sea-less so the lack of a tide hasn't come as surprise. The pain of that absence becomes a part of life; a familiar dull throb of discomfort. But it never struck me to wonder if there would be prickly lettuce. I didn't know I'd mind. So I was surprised both by its not-here-ness and that it hurt. Is there really no prickly lettuce here or is it simply that I haven't walked past it yet? I have a kind of hankering, an irritability springing from 'not-knowing'.Not that it's pretty. It's a straight up plant with boring leaves and small, uninteresting flowers and at this time of year it's nothing but a dried out twig anyway. So who would care? This is the next lesson - that when missing things no-body else has noticed, one can feel very alone.

Moss growing at foot of tree
Part of my new moss garden. Miniature sculpture.
I've experienced it in lesser ways in Dorset . . . someone pours weed-killer onto a row of urban wild plants along the foot of a wall. They want rid of them. Other passers by are unlikely to identify the difference and I'm thinking 'where have they gone?' But such plants are resilient. They either grow back the next year or, failing that, nearby.
But not growing at all? That's something else.

Common Orange Lichen and other lichens on urban tree
Here's something Halifax has in common with Dorset
Common Orange Lichen (Xanthoria parietina)

I'm sitting here asking "will I miss Alexanders?  Chicory?  Vipers Bugloss?" Yes. But differently. They don't usually grow in the middle of towns so I'm not looking for them. It's part of the background ache. But I'd made the mistake of thinking urban plants grow in urban places and are, therefore, ubiquitous. Of course they may be. But maybe not. Dorset is warmer. Sunnier. Will I find Black Medic here or does it just like the south? Scarlet Pimpernel?

Creeper with purple flowers.
Escapees add an exotic element to an invisible street garden.
This one is wandering over a wall while retaining its domestic roots.

At the same time . . . of course I sort of did know things don't just pop up all over the place merely because they are familiar . . . I even wrote about hoping there would be dandelions. I'm inconsistent. And I discover there were so many thousands of dandelions along Dorset paths and roads and hedgerows I'd put them more in a more conventional wild-plant bracket.

Plant growing in a circle in a high, windowless wall.
This is something I would never have come across near my old home.
Indeed, I don't yet know what it is I'm looking at!

On Christmas Day when I went out to look for street plants, I set out in a business like fashion. I knew there would be some - there always are. And I would begin to construct from them my invisible urban garden. But I hadn't expected grief for such mundane things as prickly lettuce. And I hadn't expected to be swept by the power of shape. Moss grows everywhere in some form but each patch, even of the same variety, builds itself into distinct and therefore missable sculptures. I'll move from here one day so will I risk loving things that I will inevitably leave behind?

I hesitate.

On Christmas Day I went to visit the Alder I am 'following'.

I should be able to say 'yes, of course'. But I've had to think about it - hard - and with some gritting and grinding of teeth have decided Street Plant posts will continue in their new location. People with broken hearts can learn to love again.

Yellow flowers in car-park on Christmas Day
Flowers on Christmas Day!

Here then, may I proudly introduce you to my new, wild, scattered urban garden.

And assert, almost as an item of faith, that there is growth where there appears to be none.

Yes. Even when there really appears to be none.

Three blocks of flats in Halifax, West Yorkshire
Because Halifax is in a sort of bowl in the hills,
these three blocks of flats are a distinctive identifier for the town.
(Just as Big Ben is for London.)