Oh dearie me - another embarrassing gap between posts. Please forgive.
Field Poppies Papaver rhoeas, on set-aside land in Thurlby, Lincolnshire circa 2003
(Click Pics for a larger view.)
I posted these pictures a couple of weeks ago because I had intended to rant about politicians, celebrities and public figures who began piously to wear Haig Fund charity poppies several weeks before Armistice Day or Remembrance Sunday.
I can't understand why I found such low key demonstrations of personal worthiness so offensive but the whole thing put me off wearing a poppy at all, this year.
It seemed as though there was a contest of some kind, to show who cared most about the millions of young lives thrown away because of awful policies, mostly devised by old men. And with people still dying in unnecessary wars or at the hands tyrants, the whole idea of remembrance seemed to me to have become cheapened by turning the poppy into some kind of uniform or a badge of virtue.
And when, by mistake, I tuned to that puerile television dancing contest on the BBC, last month, I noticed that absolutely everyone wore poppies of one kind or another. Some even appeared to have small red enamel and gold ones. How distressing, to link chic items of costume jewelry with more than a million boys and young men who died hideously and agonisingly in Flanders where Papaver rhoeas happened to grow in the shell-ravaged battlefields.
That November badge – cheap plastic imitation of a field poppy – has become even cheaper and shoddier. In future, I'll still make an annual donation to the British Legion but won't be wearing a buttonhole.
Natural variation, spotted in a field of poppies.
The poppy itself could never be besmirched. Such peerless beauty is everlasting and one of the great delights of the summer is to see the poppies, individually at first – a scarlet roadside flash – and then in profusion.
It's difficult to analyse that beauty. Is it the pleated petals, pressure-packed like a tiny parachute in the gooseberry-haired bud? Is it the rapid expansion, like a butterfly from its pupa, from wrinkled blob to silken perfection? Or is it that the flowers don't really fade. They emerge, they're fresh and lovely, they fall.
A true Shirley Poppy, with yellow stamens.
Field poppies, both wild and garden forms, breed and mongrelise all over our garden. Some are semi-double, some plain scarlet, some pink, some cinder-grey with red undertones like the poet Hopkins's 'blue-bleak embers' which 'fall, gall themselves and gash gold vermilion.'
A semi-double field poppy in my garden
Stamens. How many flowers have dark grey ones?
An unlikely blue tinge on Papaver 'Beauty of Livermere' It's a perennial, probably just a good form of Papaver bracteatum.
Welsh Poppy, Meconopsis cambrica
Meconopsis are wonderful, too, but they lack the charm of the big, pepperpot central capsule. There's nothing better, for cool shade or semi-shade, though, than a stand of Welsh poppies.
And finally - a Himalayan blue job. I think it's 'Branklyn' but a meconopsis of one sort or another.
I'm listening to Benjamin Britten's Friday Afternoons, song arrangements for children. It being the great man's centenary, I'm working through my collection. Grimes is being saved until last.
This week's exciting event was the Garden Media Guild Awards Lunch. Everyone was extremely jolly and the food was delicious. Awards were presented. We consumed six cockles each among other things as an appetizer and ate blue-grey potatoes with tender lamb, followed by a tiny tarte tatin.
From time to time, between more general posts, I'll be publishing selected extracts from my diary which may be of general interest. The text has been edited, to remove personal or private material and to avoid offence where it is not intended. Accompanying pictures, as always, may be relevant but are more likely to be included just for relief from the awful prose.
A storm builds over the North Sea at Holkham Bay in early August 2013.
Is a storm gathering over food supply versus sustainability in Britain?
21st August 2013, at home. After lunch, the PG and I walked the fields above the Fen. It was what Norfolk countrymen would call a 'fine, soft day' with pearly sky, gently filtered sunlight and exactly the right level of warmth. Much of the wheat is newly harvested. Land is cleared within hours of the huge, high-tech combines feeding their way into the crop. Straw was processed into big bales – not for bedding or fodder, I suspect, but for bio-mass fuel to feed power stations. The baler follows the combine; fork-lifts and trailers follow the baler and within 24 hours a 50 acre field is cropped, cleared and part-way tilled with heavy disc harrows or a spring-tine drag. Where land is worked, gigantic half-track or double-wheel tractors pull tine-disc combinations, sometimes turning stubble to drillable tilth in a single pass. I'm reminded of H G Wells' 'Land Ironclads' – though those were military tanks. The land is bludgeoned into submission by these mechanical giants whose size makes their drivers look like little plastic toys . The romance is gone from arable agriculture. No mammals – short tailed voles, harvest mice, field mice – will pick through stubbles which are left for less than a day. Few farmland birds will forage for grain fragments. Arable weeds – if they germinate at all – will be zapped with residual herbicides and a rushed treatment with slug pellets – probably methiocarb – deals with the molluscs. Thus, the rich fenland, east of the village, becomes more barren than a desert. Kestrels, buzzards and barn owls, though they survive here, have slim pickings and the only refuge from machines lies in the narrow field margins, occasional trees and the few dyke-sides or road verges which have not been mown. Considerably more than four tonnes of milling wheat can be harvested from each tilled acre, here – more than double the national average for when I farmed in the 1970s. In real terms, the price of the grain has not increased by much, so arable farmers need those big yields to stay profitable. But on such bountiful land, do they need generous taxpayer subsidies? The payments are for 'land stewardship' we're told – but little or nothing is done to protect the varied habitats surrounding the intensive cropping. Thus, by default, biodiversity is reduced. And even where there are extra stewardship schemes, also paid for by taxpayers, biodiversity can be almost as poor. I don't think this damage is caused by wantonness or spite. As with so many cases of unnecessary damage, ignorance is the main cause. With learning, better understanding of how the natural world works and small, low-cost – or even cost-free – changes in many common farming practices, biodiversity could be sustained and enriched – and without yield loss. With that kind of care, the beauty of these flatlands would be spectacularly enhanced. There are outstanding exceptions. Even among the most efficient and industrialised farmers, some are fully in tune with sympathetic land use, with assisting natural diversity and thus, with creating greater concomitant beauty. (Beauty being far, far more than just what you see, when viewing the landscape.) But in spite of everything, our Fen does not lose all its beauty. It remains a place to be cherished for its calming flatness, big skies, constantly changing light, moody water courses, low-level mists, rampaging thunder storms – even for its keening, penetrating winter winds. That is so even as, day by day, month by month, a little more life-richness is lost. Plink, plink, plink – one by one the lights of life go out, the bulbs fuse, the filament snaps, a fairy dies. With land ownership – whatever the acreage – comes a deep and binding responsibility, not just for now but for coming generations. And that applies to those of us who garden, as well as to big arable farmers. This is not about saving bitterns or re-introducing ospreys; it is not about grants for planting pointless hedges or digging isolated ponds. This is about teaching everyone in the countryside how to live and let live – that is, to let the rest of life on earth live. At a guess, I'd say that biodiversity is greater, now, in Peterborough than on the fenland which surrounds that sprawling city. And yet, 200 years ago, the lowlands of Eastern England had some of the richest and most diverse habitats in the British Isles. How on earth did we allow that to happen?
BIG SKIES: part of our fen, at the end of the settled weather period in early September.
A disturbing and distressing story caught my eye in this fortnight’s Horticulture Week.
Aster laevis 'Calliope'
Brussels Bureaucrats, apparently, are about to smack us about the head
with a particularly ill-judged and potentially damaging piece of looney-toons legislation. Believe me, this one makes the outlawing of curved
bananas look sane and reasonable.
As part of proposed EU
legislation to regulate ‘plant reproductive material,’ Brussels wants all plant varieties to be listed on an
official register.To implement
that, they want every variety to carry an officially
recognized description which could run to two pages.Such descriptions would give details of
such life-threatening features as the length of the hairs on a plant’s stems.
This would be part of a plan to force nurseries and individuals to sell only registered plants.
Registration, because of the exhaustive information required, multiplied
up by all the red tape necessary to keep the maximum number of EU civil
servants employed, will cost a great deal of money to implement. And presumably, each registration will have to be approved by the Eurocrats.
It could therefore become illegal for anyone to sell
non-registered plants. This system
already applies to vegetable and agricultural crops, greatly reducing
We do NOT want this to
happen to ornamentals – preferably not anywhere but absolutely NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCESin Britain.
British gardens are among the world's most diversely planted. How many of these modest plants might be lost, if registration becomes necessary? Would registration condemn them?
If this legislation is forced through, it will kill small, independent
nurseries – the lifeblood of British horticulture and the main reason for our
unique horticultural diversity.How many other nations can boast more than 70,000 cultivars and species
commercially available?Holland?I don’t think so!
Dotty legislation like this could also clobber plant breeders.The big guys may be able to carry the
cost burden, not to mention the mind-numbing paperwork, but the little
Professional and semi-professional breeders have given us so much in the
past.I’m talking about people who
tinker with specialist plant groups, often in back garden nurseries.They have bequeathed British – and
therefore world – horticulture some wonderful varieties.You may remember Woodfield Brothers’
spectacular lupin exhibits at Chelsea year after year, back in the, er, 1990s.
Many of us still grow the late Hector Harrison’s fascinating diascias.And what about Elizabeth Strangman’s pioneering
work on hellebores?Think of
amateur and semi-professional dahlia breeders, too, not to mention iris nuts,
saxifrage enthusiasts, fuchsia breeders – the list is long and diverse.
Fuchsia 'Rose Fantasia' Fuchsia enthusiasts have raised thousands of cultivars. If each has to be registered, most could be lost to cultivation.
So what happens if those unelected Brussels Sprouts have their way? What will that mean for the
diversity of planting in good gardens?Do we really want our planting schemes limited to what is approved for
registration by those self-perpetuating grey scrubbers?
Currently, anyone can offer plants that they've bred - either to give away or to sell. Many are also happy to let their progeny go into cultivation without protecting their intellectual property, ie, without breeders' rights of any kind. I love that kind of freedom. It is part of our gardening heritage, just as it is also reasonable that professional breeders should have the right to protect or copyright their commercial progeny.
Let’s say, for example, that a perennial enthusiast has developed a gorgeous late
flowering aster, with bright, rosy-purple flowers and elegant, darkly marbled
foliage which is never disfigured with so much as a speck of mildew?Most British gardeners might give it
little more than a cursory glance.So if big horticultural marketeers fail to see any potential, that plant is overlooked, no one registers it, so good-bye!
But if you happen to be an aster nut, and have a nicely planted autumn
border, that variety could become an object of intense, insatiable desire.So imagine how you – or that person – would feel, if all the breeder can say is, ‘Sorry, love, I’d give you a root or two,
but I’m forbidden. I'd be breaking the law.’
The Begonia 'Sherbet Bon Bon' – a highly commerical plant.
Great, but I want esoteric, wispy things in my garden as well as big brassy jobs like this.
So what will British growers, breeders, gardeners and in particular, plantsmen
do?Will we fight such insane
legislation, if it looks like becoming law?Will we march in the streets, waving placards?Will we distract our MPs from worrying about their emoluments and get them help us out of our miserable situation?
And what will the Royal Horticultural Society do? Let's hope they're going to raise an almighty stink about this. If they don't, they dam' well should, and now and without ceasing until the nonsense is nipped in the bud.
We know that
DEFRA will probably be supine and continue to snooze gently while the
legislation goes through.
And probably, as gardeners, we’ll just moan a bit more, and then carry
on muddling through, somehow.
And in time, the less mainstream plants will quietly disappear.Or, they’ll be flogged, one at a time, at
garden fêtes or from Women’s Institute stalls, or exchanged among garden clubs until,
like Gardeners Delight tomatoes, they’ll become denatured, variable, of dubious provenance and no
longer so desirable.
In time, we could see our gardens – both public and private – lose their uniquely
rich diversity and become drearily uniform. And this won't happen just from Penzance to Inverness, but also from Britain to
How bloody awful, to have
one of our richest treasuries – our wonderful plant heritage – watered down to
a few hundred crappy cultivars which look OK in garden centres but have limited
garden value and are exactly the same, anyway, as what grows in every garden in the street and in every park as well. What a terrible thought! I hope I'll be digging in God's little acre, by the time that happens!
Anemone nemorosa 'Parlez-Vous' - a cultivar of quiet beauty, probably only of interest to a few gardeners. But I wouldn't be without it, or without a dozen other wood anemone cultivars.
I'm listening to Benjamin Britten's extraordinarily bouncy-rhythmed festival cantata Rejoice in the Lamb.
This week's film, in honour of the recent date was Battle of Britain. When released in 1969, this film was unkindly received. But it has lasted well and is a reasonably accurate telling of Britain's invasion crisis, in September 1940, averted by our gaining air supremacy over the Luftwaffe. Olivier's portrayal of Dowding was, for once, under-played and utterly convincing.
Hang onto your fancy plants - the grey men are coming to get them!
Sorry but, yes – yet another butterfly picture. But but he who tires of such darling winged jewels must surely be flyered of tife. Get yourself outdoors, now, while there are still a few on the wing and admire their co-ordinated colour schemes and the gliding flight that some of them manage. And what about those intricate, watch-spring probosces which coil and uncoil and can be inserted into the tiny Buddleia flowers with such alarming accuracy?
Small Tortoiseshell Aglais urticae sips nectar from Buddleja davidii 'Nanho Blue'
Winter will be here soon enough and then we'll dream of butterflies. Some of us will long to see buddelias bloom again, and to enjoy their slightly cheap, Fry's Chocolate Creme fragrance.
(Sorry, but I really hate calling the Rev. Adam Buddle's plants 'buddlejas.' I've even heard people pronounce them 'bud-lee-jiahs' which really won't do. It's worse than calling 'scones' 'scones' or 'vahses' 'vorses' – or vice-versa. The correct genus name, arrived at by some pedant or other, may be Buddleja but everyone calls them buddleias, don't they? Besides, Latin lacks the letter 'J' doesn't it? Hence the schoolboy rhyme:
Caesar ad sum iam forte, Pompey ad erat. Caesar sic in omnibus, Pompey sic in at. . . . though it only works if you use the anglicised name for Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus) A-a-anyway . . .back to butterflies. Like so many people on the look-out for nature, this summer, the PG and I have been bowled over time and again by so many joyous butterfly sightings that it seems wrong not to mention them again. Stars for us, this year, were more White Admirals than I've seen in a lifetime; a Green Hairstreak, Clouded Yellows, Graylings and in our own mini-meadow – after missing them for a year – Common Blues of both sexes. We hope they've bred but have no idea whether there was any of the necessary hanky-panky.
Also 'on the pin' in his collection, my brother showed me a number of aberrant Camberwell Beauties. These would have been caught, killed, set and then mounted in an insect cabinet. But that was in an earlier era when collecting Lepidoptera was a noble pursuit. How I would love to see that gorgeously cream-edged, purple beauty, Aglais antiopa, on the wing. One day, perhaps.
A not-too-brilliant shot of one of the white admirals, Limenitiscamilla,
feeding on hemp agrimony in Holkham Pinewoods, Norfolk, in early August.
Butterflies punch above their weight, in the line of beauty. Few other insects cause the heart to sing so joyously – especially when one spots an unusual one. Some are herald insects, too. The year's first Orange Tip tells us that spring is truly come; Ringlets appear in the first week in July, usually when it's close and thundery; peacocks hang about my potting shed when autumn days lose their charm but fly out again, if the late sun coaxes.
Most of us admire only the adult butterfly or imago but the pupa of a Peacock which hangs from its tail, is an object of intricate loveliness. And a Large White chrysalis, which props itself upright with a thin silk girdle attached to at vertical surface is also to be admired even though the caterpillar has probably ransacked your broccoli.
A world without butterflies would be a hellish place. We should strive to preserve such vulnerable insects.
The rose 'Compassion' and Clematis viticella 'Betty Corning,' both of which are fragrant and both of which produce flowers for much of the summer. These adorn the arch which leads into our tiny woodland garden.
I'm listening to Neil Mackie singing Benjamin Britten's Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings. There are worse ways to enjoy Tennyson et al and the music is sublime – Barry Tuckwell is the fruity tooter. This Day in 2006 the PG and I were in South Africa and flew to from Port Elizabeth to Nelspruit for a few days in the Kruger. We stayed on the banks of the Crocodile River, looking into the National Park. Elephants were at the river edge, two species of bee eater were nesting in the banks, as well as goliath heron. Hippos serenaded us with their grunts each night and gave us a reveille every morning, often accompanied by the haunting calls of African Fish Eagles. What a wonderful place it was
Here's a brief, unedited diary extract.
After our arrival and a rushed
lunch, we joined with two other people and boarded an open vehicle for our
first game drive to the Kruger.Our guide, David, who was born in Zimbabwe, turned out to be as good as
any we’d had and managed to find plenty of game. We began with the fairly
obvious antelope, wart hogs, elephants and rhino and soon found a large male
lion, bloated with a recent kill and fast asleep with all his legs in the
air.We saw Lilac Breasted
Rollers, Tawny Eagles and a Pale Chanting Goshawk.
This week's film wasCloud Atlas – a strange, multi-genre, multi-age tale of love crossing the the ages. Parts were trashy action movie, others were grisly, futuristic Scifi; much of it was spectacular. If I had to give an Oscar, it would be to the make-up and prothesis artists. I enjoyed it greatly, but can't quite understand why.
Oh, and our elder twins are 40 today. Happy birthday to them.
Bye Bye - and thank you so much for reading this aimless ramble.
Wheat, heavy in the ear and ready for harvest on Hacconby Fen.
(click on pix for a larger view)
Now then. . .
The more observant among you will have noticed that this blog has been inactive since April. No doubt, you'll have leafed through the back posts – for lack of anything else to see – and probably sighed with disappointment at the absence of any new material.
It has been an inexcusable neglect, caused by long-running industrial action leading to a lock-out by the SILVERTREEDAZE production team who complained that their pay of £0.00 per hour, coupled with a zero hours contract was NOT a basis on which to develop a happy working relationship.
But I'm delighted to announce that after lengthy negotiations, much beer and sandwiches and a re-shuffle, their Union Leaders have agreed to accept a 50% increase to the hourly rate with a minimum number of hours guaranteed.
As a result, this blog is to be relaunched in EARLY SEPTEMBER.
Unlike the Norwegian Blue Parrot, it will not be dead. It will not have ceased to be. A phoenix-like fiery birth, from the ashes of neglect, will excite, inspire and enthuse you.
Eryngium giganteum and Digitalis lanata looking pretty in our hot, dry zone.
We'll post PRETTY PICTURES – maintaining the tradition of the images being completely irrelevant, much of the time.
We will talk gardens, fads and flarze. And we'll keep covering nature, wherever we find anything interesting.
This has been a bountiful summer for butterflies. Peacocks are flocking, in our garden and the common blues are back in the mini-meadow. But the peacocks above hatched in Norfolk and were feasting, early in August, on wild hemp agrimony, Eupatorium cannabinum.
There'll be a brand new, occasional feature:
Hot extracts from my personal diary will appear, from time to time, as separate posts
There will be more RANTS, of course. There is, after all, plenty to be cross about!
For instance, it was recently announced that fresh Eggs will no longer be served in the Houses of Parliament. 'Elf and Safety' have banned them from Westminster Palace's eateries, unless they have previously been removed from the shells, in a factory, pasteurised, blended into a disturbing yellowish gloop and re-packaged for caterers. That, apparently, is safer and more wholesome than nature's exquisitely sculpted ovaloids, dropped fresh, pure and seamlessly packaged from the chicken's bottom.
Those of us who are neither peers – manufactured or born – nor elected MPs, may continue to eat fresh eggs, cooked in any way we want.
The ban raises a couple of amusing questions: If fresh eggs are unsafe, as Elf 'n' Doodah suggest, why is it fine for the rest of us to eat them? Is it because MPs all lead pure, uncorrupted and irreproachable lives within the sanctified environs of Westminster, whereas we peasants and plebs are accustomed to wallowing around the the cack?
Either way, the ban seems to be bloody silly. Besides, you'd think Parliament would avoid the subject of eggs altogether, after the 'Curried Egg Fiasco' of earlier, Tory years.
An amusing 'coleus shelf' on a wall at the magnificent Easton Walled Gardens, Lincolnshire.
Please, please, please be sweet enough to give us all at SILVERTREEDAZE another visit. And keep on coming back.
Posts will be announced on Twitter – @plantmadnige – and your comments, rude or otherwise, will be eagerly awaited. The fun begins in EARLY SEPTEMBER. Be there!
So much for that brave 2013 resolution to write regular posts, perhaps even weekly.
I'm told that if you don't feed a website or blog on an almost daily basis, no one comes. But if I've learned anything, in a relatively long life, it's that 'received wisdom' is not always wise. So I'll bash on regardless. But sorry, if you've missed these insane rants. Abnormal service will be resumed forthwith – possibly.
Ice on our mini-pond at breakfast time this morning. Disgraceful weather for April
First, the weather.
I blame government incompetence, for the current freezing conditions and demand a Parliamentary inquiry, now. I want to see weather forecasters – except the incomparable Liam Dutton – made to squirm in front of stern questions from indignant MP committee members who are desperate to make themselves look angry, superior, sorrowful, scandalised and televisual, all at the same time. (It was a dark day for democracy, when they decided to broadcast parliament on TV)
I append snowdrops, shot this morning - and about as appropriate in April and Christmas pudding is in July. Shocking and outrageous.
Snowdrops - Galanthus plicatus on 5th April in my garden. Outrageous weather!
And now this. . . . On a more serious note, a remark or two about the NeonicotinoidIssue. Almost everyone now knows that there is increasing scientific evidence that neonicotinoid-based insecticides adversely affect bee populations by altering their behaviour patterns. However, no one has demonstrated how this actually happens and although evidence is mounting, full, unequivocal proof is still wanting. (Please don't get cross until you've read to the end of this section.)
That bees are ailing is beyond all doubt. And it is highly likely that neonicotinoids are one of the causes of this disastrous problem.
But it's important not to make the assumption that if the chemicals are banned, all will be well with the bees. That is dangerous territory. There are so many other contributing causes of decline in pollinator populations, including the serious biggy, habitat loss. And there are still a great many unexplained population crashes in other species - a prime example being the urban house sparrow.
It seems blindingly obvious that in light of increasing evidence, neonicotinoids are far to risky to use, both in agriculture and in private gardens. It makes no sense at all not to suspend their use forthwith, until the picture become clearer.
To prohibit their use in gardens, while permitting them on farmland suggests either profound ignorance or, and more likely, a pot shot at a weaker target than the disproportionately strong farming lobby. Bees will be feeding extensively on oilseed rape flowers next month, for example, and will be greatly at risk to neonicotinoid exposure.
While a ban is in place, researchers can continue to search for provable links between the chemicals and the bee problems. And when there is conclusiveproof one way or the other, the chemicals could be reinstated or permanently banned.
Organic growers and some environmentally minded people will, of course, disapprove of their use regardless of possible impact on bees. But it is important to bear in mind that most of Britain's farmers will continue to use pesticides. And if they do not use neonicotinoids, they will turn to other products which may be less harmful, but could also be worse.
The Ypres Salient – Tyne Cot Cemetery, Passchendaele. Monochrome seemed a better medium.
I'm listening to Delius - A Walk in the Paradise Garden, in the hopes of forgetting how absolutely poisonous the weather is outside.
Just over a week ago, I was with my younger son in Belgium. We stayed in Brugge and made a brief pilgrimage to Ypres to visit some of the battleground sites and the magnificently restored Cloth Hall, in the centre of the town. The hall is now home to the In Flanders Fields Museum. We wept, a little, particuarly at the Essex Farm Cemetery, over the grave of a boy killed in action. He was fifteen years old. And we wept more, after the deeply moving Last Post ceremony at Menin Gate. Mawkish? Probably, a bit, but . . . well, more on this, possibly one day later.
An iPhone picture of people gathering for the Last Post memorial ceremony under Menin Gate, Ypres. Several hundred people attend daily, as they have for almost a century since 11th November 1918
Instead of the week's film - this:
The collection of early Flemish paintings, in Brugge's Groenigemuseum is utterly, mind-blowingly wonderful. If you ever go to Belgium, this is an absolute, utter must must must see. And I'm talking Bosch, here, but not absolutely not bosh!
Thanks for reading this. Sorry for such a long absence!