Friday, 24 June 2011


What ho, my hearties!   Happy solstice!

Well, of course, the more literary among you will instantly notice not only the origin of the post title, but also that it is an outrageous misquote.

A golden eSovereign to whoever spots the dilibrut misteak and can put the right quote in.

Poppies: by no means suppliers of dull opiate to the brains - mine provide a warm, cuddly sense of joy tinged with sadness that they're so ephemeral.  And you can't do much better than that.


The Longest Day has passed and is past.

Each night falls a little earlier as we decline into the silly season.  Won't be long, now, until pheasant shooting begins and the hedgerow blackberries are plumptious and tempting.

Some pundit or other from the Woodland Trust has made a sweeping statement about blackberries being more than a month early this year because of the drought, and predict a small crop.  They claim that over 10 years, the average date for blackberries ripening is the first week in August. In what country, I wonder, were they compiling their records?

Papaver apulum - deep red with white haloes on the black central spots.

Where I live, the first blackberries are seldom ready before the end of August and the season doesn't get going until early September.  As for the crop being small, I wonder how they can predict with such confidence.  There is a massive set of buds, on our hedgerows - I went out today, to check - and given decent rainfall over the next few weeks, the crop round here, where drought has been severe, could be pretty good.

I get the impression that brambles are deep rooted and have access to water a long way down, especially on Lincolnshire's richer, moisture retentive soils.

Papaver rhoeas - a typical form from the Cedric Morris strain.

I also note that a crop of GM Wheat is to be sown in a field trial.  This variety will be modified with genes from a mint species which causes the wheat to exude an aphid warning pheromone to repel the pests.

Using such a GM crop would thereby remove the need for chemical pesticides.  Is that an organic move, then?  Discuss!

This particular wheat also contains genetic material from animals, so it will be interesting to watch how the public react to that notion.  You can hear the information on BBC Radio 4's Farming Today, here.  And you're most welcome to start a debate here, on the comments section.  

Black stamens disqualify this form from being a 'Shirley Poppy.'

Persons unknown - but bitterly resented -  have sprayed or flailed every nettle in the village and its surroundings.  If anyone in the 'Tidytidytidy Brigade' dare mention to me that there seem to be fewer small toroiseshell and peacock butteflies about these days, I'll hit 'em.  Meanwhile, the year's first Meadow Browns and Ringlets have hatched, in my mini-meadow.  Huzzah!

A true 'Shirley Poppy' with yellow stamens, as developed by the Rev. Wilkes of Shirley, Surrey in the 1880s

This year's swifts have also hatched, fledged and flown from our house eaves.  The garden is full of shattered snail shells, thanks to some highly successful broods of song thrushes.  And now, the three pairs of swallows that have nested in our outbuildings are sitting so tight that I'm sure there are more happy events on the way.  What a heavenly season this is!  Blessed June!

A white picotee form of Papaver rhoeas.

The main purpose of this ramble, though, was to share some of my poppies with you.  I don't know quite why, but they're so exquisitely beautiful, to me, that I can never pass one by without pausing to gaze.

They have so much that caresses the aesthetic sense.  The pleated petals, as they open; the flashes of colour – whether on field verges or in fancy borders; the bizarre pepperpot fruit capsules with their ribbed caps; the black stamens and sombre marks of death at some of their centres - all are totally delightful and absorbing.  

But words don't really do them justice and even the best pictures give no more than a hint or a memory of their true delights.  And my poor pictures, all shot early in the morning of 17th June,  are even less adequate at portraying the true delight of poppiness.

Papaver somniferum - more likely to get dull opiates from this one!

This one is wearing a sepal like a cap - daft thing!

Something disturbingly phallic about the way opium poppy buds dangle. Not sure I like them.

That's enough poppies! [ed]

I'm listening to Tchaikovsky's opera Eugene Onegin with the magnificent Thomas Allen in the title role.

This day in 2006  The PG and I discovered, with our noses, genuine sweetbriar Rosa rubiginosa, growing on a fenside lane near here.  The foliage is richly scented with apple.

This week's film was The Italian Job which I enjoyed more than I expected.  It has worn well, since 1967, but is flawed by some self-indulgent irrelevencies:  Benny Hill's obsession with fat bottoms brought nothing to the story and those three Minis begin to be rather boring, driving to completely pointless places in Turin.  Noel Coward was priceless, but my dear, the over-acting! What a perfect luvvie he must have been.

Good bye,  and may you spend the rest of the month in perfect poppiness!


  1. Love the poppies, especially the white picotee form! I too always have to stop and gaze at them.

    I'll be interested in the debate about the genetically modified wheat - I don't really feel able to contribute as I know so little about it, other than it makes me very uneasy. I went to a very interesting symposium about synthetic biology at Durham University recently and again, I don't like the idea at all.

    Ingrid (Sylvan Muse)

  2. John Keats, Ode to a Nightingale

    My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
    My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
    Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
    One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:

    Though yours, strangely, makes more sense, I think. What Keats means is that he drained the opiate to the dregs, but "dregs" doesn't rhyme with "pains". To modern ears, it sounds as if he's tipped the opiate down the drain.

  3. Bah - Victoria beat me to it :)

    I can confirm your suspicions re the Blackberry season. In the North East, 'Blackberry Week' falls in September. This was traditionally a time when schools closed so that the children could help with the harvest.

    And go blackberry picking of course.

  4. Blackberry bush

    I prefer Bramble it sounds so much more interesting while at the same time disarmingly cuddly and slightly treacherous

  5. I love the way poppies seem to glow sometimes. My softest spot has to be for the simply beautiful P. rhoeas. It turns up as a weed in my own garden, one I certainly don't want to eradicate!

  6. Poppys are great you only have to sow them once and when seeded they grow like weeds. for years to come but they are welcome weeds in the garden.

  7. Animal genes in the wheat? Pandora's box is open ... years ago they said wild maize in Mexico was already contaminated the GM stuff. I won't willingly eat it, but it's out there, in the supermarket, and time will show what it does to us, and the rest of nature.

  8. I did not know what differentiated Shirley poppies. I just called the red ones Corn poppies and the pastels Shirley. Now I know, thanks.

  9. I like some poppies a lot. Find others repellent. The simpler ones appeal to my taste better that the crumpled up lumps of tissue kinds.

    Blackberries. I may have my seasons skee-wiff but we've been thinking blackberries are late. Hardly any flowers are open round here. But maybe we are muddled because it seems to have been summer for so long already!


  10. Wheat with mint genes? - great for baking naan bread.

  11. Thanks for all your lovely comments.

    Victoria - I had a small bet with myself that you'd be first. And I so agree, that couplet simply doesn't work for modern English because 'drains' doesn't mean 'lees' or 'dregs' to us.

    VP and Esther - interesting that your observations re blackberries coincide with mine. I wonder if the Woodland Trust spokespeople are confusing true blackberries with early 'cloudberries' or 'dewberries.'

    James - I prefer not to use 'bush' when referring to blackberries because they aren't really bushes. Brambles or briars works better, I think. But I've never thought of a bramble as exactly cuddly - usually, when I come into contact with them, blood is drawn.

    Hort Williams - yes, I agree. All our poppies, here, are self seeded. Haven't sown a packet of seeds in years.

    Nell Jean - the Rev. Wilkes - who was also Secretary of the RHS - began his strain of Shirley poppies from a single pink-flowered form which he discovered in the wild. From this, he selected first, for pink petals with yellow stamens and eventually managed to come up with a colour break: a form with lemon-coloured petals and yellow stamens.

    John Lord; Elephants Eye - I think we have to step back from emotive issues, and look at the biology of DNA as objectively as we can. It may, or may not be an area of applied science where some solutions to the increasing food crisis can be found. We may not know, yet, but I think we should have a good look and arm ourselves with knowledge, before we judge.
    Seems to me, that too many people have made up their minds already, without opening their eyes and ears. As for that Naan - I think I'd rather add my own mint - the scientists would be sure to use the wrong variety!

  12. I don't understand much of the science behind GM, but one of my least favourite jobs is spraying insecticides. Admittedly they are a lot better than the jollop we used in the 70's and 80's, but they are still too broadbrush for my liking, and I worry about the effect on non pest insects.Guardedly, I would welcome mint enhanced wheat if it ever got the go-ahead.

  13. Wonderful poppies, so beautiful and sadly so transient.

    I don't know enough to debate the GM position particularly well, but if wheat was meant to have mint AND animal material in it, don't you think Mother Nature would have already put it there. Once upon a time man thought Agent Orange and Thalidomide were good ideas ... how long is it going to take for the world to come to its senses about GM?

    And because I am childish and cannot resist, you are right about this week's film but missed out the essential quote: "You're only supposed to blow the bloody doors off" ....

  14. >>I'm listening to Tchaikovsky's opera Eugene Onegin with the magnificent Thomas Allen in the title role. - Yeah, my first encounter with Tchaikovsky began with Onegin too. Classical music inspires.

  15. I have a great collection of poppies in the garden! They are so associated with my childhood and the inclination to music, especially to Tchaikovsky! All this stuff makes me more energy and endeavor!