Part two… edibles

The first asparagus. Not the chunkiest, but the supply was good. There have been vole depredations, so some crowns have been badly, or totally, eaten. But there was still a decent crop, and enough crowns in good enough condition to grow on for next year.

Didn’t grow these myself. Field beans, féverolles, thieved perhaps would be accurate, seeing as I’ve been filching them from a nearby field … little mini broad beans. Very tasty. The basket was a birthday present from Anne-lise, a basket maker friend.

The almost last artichokes prepared for cooking. I love having them, but have to say that I am less excited by eating them these days. The plants themselves, I still love. Beautiful, dramatic foliage and when the artichokes flower… well the bees just adore them. Any that are left now in the garden are for the pleasure of seeing bumble bees laying cushioned on the flower heads, drunk on the nectar.

What’s been happening in the garden – part one

Since I last wrote May turned into one of the sunniest, hottest and driest since records began. Frost seems a distant memory.

And here I am at the end of June wondering how to condense all of the wonder, beauty and opulence of the garden into a few sentences and a handful of photos… almost impossible, but here goes:

Verbascum chaixii at their peak at the moment. I’ve had to harden my heart and dig out some of these, else they would take over the garden. Asparagus fern mist behind them.

Geranium maderense flowering exuberantly. I first got this as a tiny seedling from someone st the plant exchange. I cosseted it; protected it from the frost, (the maderense part of its name tells you it’s originally from Madeira), worried about losing it… I needn’t have done. The original has gone, but it has self-seeded with abandon and has turned into a bit of a beautiful thug. It doesn’t transplant well except as a small seedling. I have left most of them where they are.

Looking back towards the house. Evening sun. The white foxglove on the right has been amazing. Kept now for seed as it was so vigorous and healthy. I’ve been uncharacteristically ruthless with the Foxgloves – previously they’ve lurched and stumbled and sprawled and I’ve said nothing… this year I’ve grabbed my secateurs at the first hint of collapse and cut them back to the base.

Alderman’ and ‘Blauschock’ peas climbing to the top of the frame. Verbena bonariensis in the foreground, yellow Verbascum behind…

Garden table with Fuchsia, House leeks, and Morning Glory.

looking down into the garden…

Mainly Greens

Last year there was hardly an oak leaf that wasn’t tattered and almost skeletonised by caterpillars. This year the opposite is the case. Almost every leaf is pristine and perfect.

These reminded me of jigsaw puzzle pieces… A puzzle of oak leaves with the puzzle pieces cut into oak leaf shapes…

The light through the filmy transparency of newly unfolding beech leaves. You can eat the leaves when they’re this young in salads. You can also put them in alcohol and make a liqueur called Beech Leaf Noyau: fill a jar with young beech leaves, cover with vodka or clear alcohol for fruit preserving (some people use gin but I think the taste of the gin too dominant), leave (pardon the pun) for at least a month before straining and re-bottling. Add some sugar depending on how sweet a liqueur you like…

A slightly grainy photo of what looks to me like a ‘happy’ Green Hairstreak! Its face looks smiley!

Blackbird’s egg I’m pretty sure. Unconnected, but yesterday morning there was an irritated or upset blackbird in the barn. Making its incessant warning/distress sound. When I got there to see what was going on, a beautiful and huge Barn Owl – who had obviously been the problem, flew straight past me. I don’t know whether it was more bothered by the blackbirds harrying it, or by my turning up and demanding what was going on? I’m wondering whether if the owl roosting in the barn is the reason for the swallows abandoning a previously reliable nest?

A first generation Map butterfly. Glimpsed as I walked in the field next to the house. Not green at all – but the grass is…

And now the butterflies…

This has been, (so far), one of the loveliest April’s I can remember. I know memories are short, deceptive and often just plain wrong. But I know 2003 and 2012 both had amazing April’s.

2003 I spent most of in either Pembrokeshire or Devon and Cornwall – which, to be honest would transform the shittiest April into something special.
2012, it was mainly Begard, Brittany.

Anyway… this one has been (so far], almost perfect. And the butterflies have played no small part. So I give you:

A Large Tortoiseshell no less!

Taken on the 17th of March, the first day back after the winter. In the porch, wanting to get out… I snapped it because it was the first butterfly of the season. Not because I knew it was a Large Tortoiseshell, and yet… there was something about it that gave me pause…

I only revisited the photo in light of an ongoing much discussed influx of Large Tortoiseshells to the UK. And, yes it is/was. My butterfly season got off with a huge bang, and I almost didn’t notice.


Male Orange Tip. There’s a lot of their preferred plant, Cardamine pratensis here, but not normally on my doorstep! However, the plant is somehow there and the butterfly found it…

Speckled Wood. I have a soft spot for but them, but as they’re so common here it sometimes means I just dismiss them by saying ‘Oh it’s just a Speckly…’ That’s not fair. They’re a reliable, beautiful, feisty, but not aggressive, little butterfly with real character.

Green-Veined White. No one says this is their favourite butterfly. But they don’t try to kill it obsessively like they do the Small and Large Whites. Probably because you need to really look to see the difference…

Green Hairstreak.
This is special for me. Not super uncommon. But it’s not something you would see outside its preferred habitat. Here it’s gorse and broom, and damp-ish valleys. Plenty of those here.

My first encounter with this butterfly was in North Devon/North Cornwall… the deep valleys/fissures walking the Coast Path. In April and May. Sunny, warm but then a downpour. A damp-aired environment…

To have them in the garden here’s a joy. Tiny, aggressive, combative things, but strangely relaxed and ready for a photo opportunity when the time is right!

Purple haze…. and I can Sing a Rainbow…

The purple haze is provided by the Early Spotted Orchids growing in the far side of the field next to the garden. It’s a bit of the field that, since we arrived was never cultivated. It was cut to keep down the weeds and the Willow which pops up at the first opportunity. It’s damp there… as well as the Willow there’s Ragged Robin and Ladies’ Smock. And where there’s Ladies’ Smock (Cardamine pratensis) there are Orange Tip butterflies. More about them in my next post.

But here is the song:

Red – Sparaxis – a rogue corm that somehow didn’t get eaten by voles. I didn’t notice it until it flowered.

And Yellow… I’m not sure what this plant is. I think the variety is ‘Little Leo’ but other than that… a blank.

And pink… well this is a seedling of Candelabra Primula now two years old. And a real stunner. I’m still waiting to see what others from the batch turn out like. If they’re halfway as good as this one I’ll be happy. (And green…)

Orange… Calendula. Self sown pot marigolds. Never enough of them in the garden. My fault as they’re very easy!

And Purple…. Iris ‘Franz Hals’. I know their flowering season hardly justifies a place in the garden; two days and they’re finished! But for the two days that they’re there… perfection.

And Blue. Much more reliable. Perennial Cornflower. Centaurea. Actually looking rather purple. I should scrabble and find some Forget me nots…

Green is missing, only it’s not, as it is the Limey fizz uniting all these other colours at the moment. It’s everywhere. Even the most mundane weed in its spring green freshness is appealing right now.

I can definitely sing a rainbow too…

Spring!

It’s that precious time of year when the garden is full of potential; nothing has disappointed, gone wrong, been voled or not been planted or looked after… In fact, it’s all waiting to happen. And the madness of Spring hasn’t yet overwhelmed me and I can look at all these lovely things without thinking, ‘help, if I stop for five minutes I’m going to lose control!’

So, here are some lovely things I’ve been looking at:

The first swallow arrived yesterday. I got a glimpse of it sitting on the wires over at my neighbour’s, perhaps 50 metres away. My lovely new camera let me zoom in and take this photo!

All these Primulas are at there absolute best at the moment. The first is a random cross that appeared in the garden and that I’ve been splitting and planting around. The last three are ‘special’ doubles which have finally got to be enough of a size to think about splitting and increasing.

It’s frothy man…

Showing my age with that title. Child in the seventies! However, if you have no idea what I’m referring to no matter.
Having seen the forecast for big seas and wind, today seemed a perfect opportunity to go and watch some waves.

Plestin, Beg Douar, at about 11am. Just after the low tide had turned. There were a couple of intrepid windsurfers out there, buzzing along at ridiculous speeds. Momentarily envious of the exhilaration that they must have been feeling… but of course I can barely swim, hate getting wet and am scared of getting out of my depth… I think it’s best left to others!

Brrrr, winter arrives… and has perhaps retreated?

Four nights of frost and cold. No rain. The ground was starting to dry. There was a bit of wind. I’d got two loads of washing dry. The heating has been turned on. But will it stay on? It’s gone from -1 to +11 (centigrade). That’s a big difference. It rained virtually all day today, even without the cold the house struggles to retain heat when it’s that wet. So…we’ll see.

I want to prune the Oak tree closest to the house. It’s pretty close – 5 metres from the kitchen window. It was a little sapling when we arrived, but obviously likes it here and has grown exponentially. A couple of years ago it was headed back, which worked. But it’s sent out lots of lower branches which cast shade where it’s not wanted.

However, it is also home to a colony of Purple Hairstreaks (Neozephyrus quercus). How to prune the tree without possibly destroying the overwintering eggs/caterpillars?

Thankfully, a question the helpful guys on ukbutterflies.co.uk answered for me. And also sent me scurrying off to find out even more info…
Purple Hairstreaks lay their eggs generally on the South, ie sunniest side of the tree, and choose the most sheltered places. Until relatively recently it was not clear where the caterpillars pupated. But it seems that once on the ground the caterpillar/chrysalis may often be taken by Red ants (Myrmica ruginodis) into their nests and tended in exchange for a sugary secretion which the caterpillar exudes.
So… that’s all amazing. But it also means that I can prune the shadier Northern branches with a less heavy heart!

Not a pristine beauty, but I was happy to have him/her so close to take the photo nonetheless!

Mushroom magic

Red Waxcaps (Hygrocybe coccinea) on green moss.

And the same Red Waxcaps in amongst this afternoon’s haul of Hedgehog Fungus, Amethyst Deceiver, and Tube Chanterelle. All from Les Landes de St Maudez. And collected without getting rained on – although it was sodden underfoot. Hedgehog fungus (Hydnum repandum) is called ‘Pied du mouton’ – Sheep’s foot – in French. A much better descriptive name I think.

Tube Chanterelles (Cantherellus tubaeformis) dried and jarred. Such abundance distilled down into just two small jars… which will now keep for years – or at least until next autumn when I can start picking again.

These will probably continue fruiting until after a couple of really hard frosts. That may mean into the New Year with luck.