Today’s Treasures “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”

Today’s Treasures

 ‘Always look on the bright side of life’

For Mother’s Day my son bought me a heart with this on it – it’s now displayed in the kitchen and every morning it makes me smile – and reminds me to count my blessings.  Eric Idle always makes me laugh.

 

Always look on the bright side of life
If life seems jolly rotten,
There’s something you’ve forgotten!
And that’s to laugh and smile and dance and sing,
When you’re feeling in the dumps,
Don’t be silly chumps,
Just purse your lips and whistle — that’s the thing!
And always look on the bright side of life

 

 

As I write, all hotels, cafes, restaurants have been closed, all events cancelled, and a lot of people are in isolation – but at least it’s finally stopped raining and the sun is shining – winter is over and summer is just around the corner.

People have discovered that they really do not need to travel so much – it’s possible to work from home – and it’s relatively easy to hold a board meeting online.

Families are discovering each other – and finding things to do together.  Books, jigsaws and family games have come out of hibernation and everyone is learning about home education.  We home-educated two of our children (under very different circumstances!) and there’s a book telling our story on https://www.amazon.co.uk/s?k=barbara+rainford&ref=nb_sb_noss

As our family watched Boris Johnson last night, it reminded me of my mother telling me about the war – and how everyone used to huddle around the radio to listen to Churchill – and how he inspired everyone with his speeches: “We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”  My son remarked: “At least we are fighting a virus now, not other people.” And it’s only toilet rolls that are rationed!

So here’s some happy pictures to cheer everyone up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We can still dance and sing, enjoy music and films, sit in the sunshine and watch the butterflies. The flowers are still growing, the birds are still singing, the fruit trees are in bud, the bees are busy and the buttercups will soon be out again.

So remember:

Always look on the bright side of life’

 

Today’s Treasures High Days and Holidays

Today’s Treasures – High Days and Holidays

Our ancestors celebrated the changing seasons with special ceremonies that marked nature’s cycles.  Country wisdom and folklore have been passed down the generations and, despite the adoption of many days by the church, the Pagan customs still remain and we often celebrate them just as our ancestors did.

21st March – Ostara – is the Spring Equinox – The pagan Saxons would bake ‘cross buns’ at the beginning of spring in honour of the German goddess Eostre – Ostara – most likely being the origin of the name Easter. The cross represented the rebirth of the world after winter and the four quarters of the moon, as well as the four seasons and the wheel of life.  Hence the origin of hot-cross buns.  The daffodil symbolises rebirth and new beginnings.

23rd April – St. George’s Day – the Patron Saint of England – There is more myth than fact in the story of St. George who, according to the story of The Golden Legend, slayed a dragon and saved a princess – but the story was incorporated into Pagan plays and St. George is a prime figure in the famous epic poem The Fairie Queen portrayed as the Redcrosse Knight.  April 23rd (the date of his death) used to be a public holiday, now we celebrate with wearing a red rose – and parades – St. George is the patron saint of scouting.

1st May – May Day – Beltane is a Fire Festival honouring the Sun – traditionally all fires were put out and a special fire was kindled for Beltane.  The maypole is a symbol of fertility, the many coloured ribbons and the ensuing weaving dance symbolise the spiral of life and the union of the Goddess and God, the union between Earth and Sky.  The Young Oak King falls in love with the May Queen and wins her hand.  The pagan practice of Mayday was disliked by the state.  In 1645 Oliver Cromwell described maypole dancing as ‘heathenish wickedness’ and banned village maypoles.  The Green Man Festival is held every year in Clun with Morris Dancing, music, entertainment and a battle re-enactment on Clun bridge.

29th May – Oak Apple Day – This commemorates the occasion after the Battle of Worcester in September 1651, when Charles II escaped the Roundhead army by hiding in an oak tree near Boscobel House. Traditionally people wore oak apples or sprigs of oak leaves.  The oak tree – or one of its descendants can still be seen in the grounds of Boscobel House and you can also see the priest’s hole where Charles II subsequently hid.

It’s good to celebrate these special days – with a family feast – lighting candles and drinking a toast to our ancestors who were much closer to nature than we are today.

Published in the March edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

For Sale – The Good Life

Strawberry Fields – Smallholding For Sale

When we first found our dream home, the sun was shining on golden chains of laburnum and frothy pink cherry blossom.  The wooden farm gate was open and as we walked down the drive wild birds fluttered away – and – I remember quite clearly – a jay flew across into the field – the first jay I had ever seen.

The house was totally empty – not even a light bulb was left – but it still felt warm and welcoming and we fell in love with it.  The garden was neglected – no flowers – but the grass had been cut and there were lots of trees.  The traditional Rowan tree by the back door to ward off evil – and a beautiful spruce tree – which we later found out is a Brewer’s Spruce.

We moved in on 3rd August, 1992 with two-year old Dane and Kirt on the way (born the following January), one border collie, two cats and 3 ducks – and lots of ideas for homesteading.

One of the first things I did was visit the local library to borrow books on sheep, pigs and donkeys (google wasn’t around then).  After talking to local farmers, I soon realised that it is much easier to have someone else’s livestock in your fields – all the pleasure of sheep bleating in the morning without the problems of dipping, shearing and all the form filling – so that’s what we did.

But we bought some hens and geese to keep our ducks company – and later on I started breeding New Zealand White rabbits again.

With 4 acres, the possibilities were endless.

There was a massive shed for the poultry – which they all shared quite happily.

The conservatory on the side of the house was perfect for growing seedlings – I started out with growing flowers – and had soon filled the patio with tubs and hanging baskets – and some vegetables – potatoes and broad beans – and runner beans.  Initially I dug a small vegetable patch which has gradually been extended year after year until it’s now big enough to grow everything – courgettes, pumpkins, onions, strawberries, purple sprouting – all sorts of vegetables – and a rhubarb bed.

I also grew my own herbs from seed.  I had brought spearmint and applemint with me – cuttings originally from my aunt – whose green fingers I inherited.  When Kirt started home-schooling one of the first things we did was to make a proper herb garden – we marked out squares with bricks and gradually filled them – then extended them.  The herb garden now contains Rosemary, Bay, Sage, Thyme, Hyssop, Fennel, Lovage, Parsley, Feverfew, Lemon Mint, Oregano, Marjoram, Tarragon – and the latest addition – Angelica – which is a magnificent plant.

https://barbararainford.co.uk/todays-treasures-the-herb-garden/

I used to dry herbs and hang them up in the conservatory – and freeze some (like mint) in ice cube trays.  Now I dry some herbs in the warming oven, chop them in the blender and store in jars – but I also freeze some in small plastic bags which are perfect for soups and mint sauce – and retain the flavour better.

Mint and horseradish have their own separate spaces as they do tend to be rather rampant.  And basil and coriander were grown in the conservatory as they like to be a bit warmer – and also the slugs love them!  They were later relocated in the polytunnel.

I also found that dried herbs make wonderful firelighters – when cutting them down in the Autumn, tie them into bundles and hang up to dry.  They are much better than – and greener – than traditional firelighters – ad because of the oils they contain – they work exceedingly well.

https://barbararainford.co.uk/october-in-barbaras-back-yard/

Dad bought us some apple trees and a greengage and we bought some blackcurrants, redcurrants, gooseberries and a loganberry.  A friend gave us a cutting of a thornless blackberry – and some raspberry plants.  Loganberries, blackberries and raspberries all need lots of space – and need cutting back vigorously every year.

Fruits are wonderful for homesteading – when you have made enough jams you can use the rest for making country wines.  Home-made jams taste divine.  Wines are a bit more hit and miss – but they are always good for cooking – and elderberry wine makes excellent mulled wine mixed with sugar and spices.

When I lived in Birmingham, I used to breed New Zealand White rabbits – and I had brought all the equipment with me – so we found some breeding stock and started again.  Baby rabbits are born blind, deaf and without any fur – but, by the time they are 3 weeks old, they are little white furry balls hopping around and they are absolutely gorgeous.  Rabbit manure is excellent for the garden so makes a wonderful addition to my natural recycling programme.  Rabbits like lots of wild plants like comfrey, clover and wild garlic – as well as dandelion leaves – and carrot leaves are their absolute favourite.

https://barbararainford.co.uk/new-zealand-white-rabbits/

So we don’t have a green bin to put out for the refuse collectors.  We have a compost bin, the rabbits eat a lot of the weeds, the hens eat scraps from the kitchen (their favourite is bacon rinds but you are not really supposed to give them meat!), the dog has meat scraps and the cats demolish most of the chicken bones.  And the ducks eat the slugs and snails.  I have also seen the hens eat mice and frogs on occasions.

When digging over the vegetable garden in winter, pause for thought and watch the hens scratching about for worms – stop for a cup of tea and return to find the robin sitting on the spade handle waiting for titbits.

The trees are amazing, here is the beech tree through the seasons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There’s a beautiful silver birch and a really old willow tree – which the boys loved to climb when they were little.

This is the oak tree in the field – with broom growing beneath it.

Some of the hedges are ancient hedgerows with blackthorn, hawthorn, ash, alder, beech, hazel and oak, interwoven with brambles and honeysuckle.

We kept part of the field as a wildflower meadow with ox-eye daisies, bird’s foot trefoil, knapweed, restharrow, pink campion and lots of different grasses.  The butterflies love it and I have spent wonderful sunny summer afternoons counting holly blues, commas and painted ladies – and peacocks, red admirals and small tortoiseshells on the buddleia – and joining in the Big Butterfly Count.

https://barbararainford.co.uk/todays-treasures-butterflies/

We also took part in the Big Garden Birdwatch.

THE SMALLHOLDING YEAR

JANUARY is the time when all the garden catalogues arrive and you can spend hours deciding what you would like to plant – the only problem with having enough room to grow everything is restricting yourself to what you can physically manage.

I soon learned what grew well on our sandy soil – and what our family would eat – which were not always the same things!  Peas are definitely better from Bird’s Eye.  By the time you have grown them from seed, planted them, protected them from pigeons, fed them, picked them and podded them – it’s blindingly obvious that frozen peas are a much more sensible alternative.

The first winter I was absolutely delighted to discover at least 3 different varieties of snowdrops growing in the garden, closely followed by celandines and coltsfoot.

 

https://barbararainford.co.uk/todays-treasures-snowdrops-tiny-pearls-of-springtime/

Coltsfoot flowers appear before the leaves, little stars sparkling in the sunshine. Catkins and pussy willows decorate the hedgerows, sheltering snowdrops and celandines nestling amongst the roots.

https://barbararainford.co.uk/march-in-barbaras-back-yard-spring-is-just-around-the-corner/

FEBRUARY

There’s an Enid Blyton story about Candlemas Day – when Brock the Badger pokes his nose out to sniff the air – if it’s fine, he goes back to sleep for a bit:

If Candlemas Day be fair and bright,

Winter will have another flight;

If Candlemas Day be clouds and rain,

Winter has gone and will not come again.

 

https://barbararainford.co.uk/2nd-february-candlemas-day/

There’s a badger sett in the big field – our neighbour says it’s been there as long as he can remember.  Badgers make scuffs in the ground looking for worms and truffles so you can see when they have reappeared from hibernation.  There’s also rabbits and moles – so our field is a sort of combination of Wind in the Willows, Watership Down and Duncton Wood.  There’s an ancient beech tree – Queen Fagus – and an oak tree – King Quercus – and on our morning walks we often hug a tree – we can only just reach around the beech tree – finger-tips touching!

Winter is the best time to watch the bird table.

 

https://barbararainford.co.uk/todays-treasures-the-bird-table-in-winter/

The variety of birds is simply amazing – the first time the Great-Spotted Woodpecker graced us with his presence I was simply dumbfounded.  He is so beautiful – he loves peanuts but also sunflower seeds.

I have also seen a kestrel perched on the fence – and a sparrowhawk on the table outside the kitchen window.  Buzzards are often seen being chased by crows – and the finches and tits love the pine trees.

We’ve put bird boxes up and the great tits and blue tits use them – but the blackbirds, robins and wrens prefer to make their own nests in various places in the barn – especially in the holly wreaths that I hang up ready for renewing the following Christmas.

https://barbararainford.co.uk/new-year-in-barbaras-back-yard/

Early February you can sow broad beans in pots ready to plant out as soon as the weather allows.

https://barbararainford.co.uk/broad-beans-tips-for-growing/

The frogs return to the pond and you can hear them burbling late into the evening, then frogspawn appears and gradually morphs into tadpoles.

Best of all, the birds start singing in the mornings and we open the bedroom window to listen to the liquid notes of the blackbird floating in on the breeze.

MARCH

The daffodils are out – at one time there must have been a hedge in the big field but all that remains now are three clumps of daffodils.

“I wandered lonely as a cloud, that floats on high o’er vales and hills, when all at once I saw a crowd – a host of golden daffodils” – which I believe was written about Stourhead – but daffodils always remind me of this poem.

https://barbararainford.co.uk/daffodils/

Seed sowing starts in earnest.  My Dad bought me a small propagator which is marvellous for starting off difficult things that like the warmth – courgettes, tomatoes and pumpkins – and sweet peas – I used to have real trouble getting sweet peas to germinate until last year I bought some Eckford Sweet peas – an old fashioned variety – which grew really well

https://barbararainford.co.uk/todays-treasures-the-eckford-sweet-pea-festival-wem/

Time also to plant early potatoes – and the first rhubarb appears – lovely and sweet and tender at this time of year – perfect for rhubarb crumble.

APRIL – the swallows return, swirling and swooping over the fields.

Oh, to be in England
Now that April’s there …
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England—now …
Hark, where my blossomed pear-tree in the hedge
Leans to the field and scatters on the clover
Blossoms and dewdrops—

The apple blossom appears – the crab apple tree first almost luminescent in the twilight of lengthening evenings.  The blue tits and great tits are busily feeding chicks, popping in and out of nest boxes.

The yellow flag irises are out in the wild pond

 

MAY

Beltane 1st May – the first day of summer in the ancient Celtic calendar – and the Druid celebration of fertility when the Lady of the Land takes the hand of the Horned God.  We celebrate with lots of flowers in the house, music – and lighting candles.

Time to plant runner beans and French beans in pots – ready for planting out once the last frosts have gone.  Dig a bean trench and fill it with compost from the compost bin – and put the bean sticks up.  Plenty of hazel trees in the field hedgerows to cut bean sticks from.

Clear out pots and hanging baskets ready for geraniums, lobelia, impatiens and petunias – lots of colour for the summer patio.

The elderflowers are in full bloom – ready to make elderflower cordial and elderflower champagne.

https://barbararainford.co.uk/elderflower-champagne/

JUNE

The cushions are put out on the chairs around the patio table ready for breakfasts in the early morning sunshine – and summer barbecues.  We always celebrate Midsummer Eve – like the Moomin family – it’s a special day – with music and dancing outside under the stars.  In the past we had to rig up a speaker with wires connected to a stereo – now we just have a Bluetooth speaker and a mobile phone!

New potatoes, broad beans and strawberries are all ready to pick.  There’s nothing like broad beans fresh from the garden – and I love podding them – sitting on the bench in the sunshine.  Small sweet broad beans only take 5 minutes to cook.  New potatoes, freshly dug, cooked with mint and melting with butter are divine!

JULY
Hot summer days, the patio is a riot of colour.  The great tits are busy feeding their brood on the bird table.  Last year Daisy, our Dorking hen, hatched 4 chicks and Jemima, one of the Indian Runner ducks hatched 4 ducklings.  Amazing to watch the chicks crowding around mum, as she pecks corn into tiny pieces for them to eat.  When the ducklings are a few days old we give them a bigger bowl of shallow water so they can have their first swim – they get so excited and whiz around the bowl quacking ecstatically.

The raspberries are ripe – and the ducklings love them.  Raspberry jam – and jelly – and raspberry wine.  Blackcurrants also make delicious jam and wine – and redcurrants for redcurrant jelly to eat with chicken – and turkey at Christmas.

The poppies are out

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AUGUST – shooting stars – lying on the trampoline on quilts and blankets looking at the stars – and spotting wishing stars – and planes and satellites – and watching the bats across the darkening sky.

 

The sunflowers are out

The butterflies are at their best and I can spend ages watching them on the buddleia – and on the ragwort with the bees and the stripy cinnabar moth caterpillars

“What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare …”

https://barbararainford.co.uk/barbaras-back-yard-bees-butterflies-and-the-cinnabar-moth/

1st August is Lughnasadh or Lammas and marks the first day of harvest – when corn dollies were made from the first straw and bread from the first wheat.

Time to lift onions and set them out to dry before tying into ropes.

Courgettes tend to be rather prolific at this time of year and I’ve been quite inventive in using them up before they turn into marrows.  Curries, soups, salads, all benefit from the addition of grated courgettes.  They are of course best fried in a little butter!

https://barbararainford.co.uk/courgettes-recipe-ideas-to-make-the-best-use-of-courgettes/

The greengages are ripe – I found the best time to pick them is when it’s raining – as there aren’t many wasps about.  They are the sweetest plums and best eaten fresh – although they are also good bottled for winter use.

SEPTEMBER – the harvest – I am usually picking runner beans and freezing them – and picking tomatoes – and skinning them, chopping them and freezing them in tubs to use in Bolognese, curries and soups.

Blackberries are ripe for blackberry jam and blackberry wine – along with loganberries and elderberries.  One year I made a ‘many berry wine’ from a mixture of fruits left in the freezer – and elderberries.

OCTOBER

Rose hips are ripe – they contain lots of vitamin C (twenty times more than oranges) – ideal for keeping winter coughs and colds away.  During the war – when there were no oranges – children were given rose hip syrup from the Ministry of Health.  Rose hip syrup is quite easy to make – it makes a lovely summer drink with ice cubes – and a warming winter toddy diluted with hot water.

https://barbararainford.co.uk/rose-hip-syrup/

Time to pick apples and store them for winter use – the rabbits love them and so do geese.  One of the pleasures of keeping livestock is enjoying watching them eat titbits – during the summer the rabbits have lots of plants from the garden – in winter it’s mainly apples and carrot tops.

 

Make Wittenham Cider ready for Hallowe’en

https://barbararainford.co.uk/wittenham-cider/

Hallowe’en is always special – The Samhain festival marks the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter and we have a sort of combined Guy Fawkes and Hallowee’en around the weekend of 31st October – with a bonfire and sparklers – and ‘Jack’o’Lanterns.  There’s a lovely story about ‘Stingy Jack’ and how is destined to roam the earth with his Jack’O’Lantern. https://barbararainford.co.uk/halloween-in-barbaras-back-yard/

 

NOVEMBER

The last few years we have had an Indian Summer and the days have been really sunny although the nights are drawing in.  Runner beans have carried on cropping into November – when the first frosts finally finish them off – and the nasturtiums are ‘gone willy-nilly, umbrella and all’.

https://barbararainford.co.uk/the-nasturtium-fairy/

For the last few years I have made an autumn wreath with berries and crab apples and hung it on the bird table, the birds don’t seem to be very interested, but it looks very pretty.

 

Time to clear the garden, remove the rest of the weeds, take down the bean sticks and tidy up the herb garden.  Cutting down or pruning the herbs I found a really good use for the cuttings – I dry them on top of one of the wire hen pens and then tie them into bundles, hang them up to dry in the barn, and they make really good firelighters – and much better than those smelly paraffin alternatives!

Time also to pick holly – before the birds pinch all the berries – and store ready to make holly wreaths.

DECEMBER

1st December is Yule – make a Yule Log with holly and pine cones and candles for the table – and holly wreaths with moss and holly and ivy, laurel and spruce and hang them on the old front door – and the barn door.  I always think about all the other people in times gone by who have hung a holly wreath on the very same doors hundreds of years ago.  Although the house has five bedrooms it has been extended at least 3 times and must have been originally a traditional cottage with two rooms downstairs, 2 bedrooms and a thatched roof.  The study still has the original oak beams and thick sandstone walls – and a fireplace which must once have been an old range.

There must be lots of secrets that have never been uncovered – there’s a wall safe that’s never been opened; when we extended to connect the studio to the main house, the roof beams were exposed and you could see the remains of the burnt timbers where we assume the thatch caught fire.  There are still some old wide floorboards on the landing.

We’ve installed a wood burner and it’s wonderful to curl up in front of a real fire on a Sunday afternoon with a good book – sometimes watching snowflakes swirl outside or with a glass of mulled wine on a winter evening.

December we usually visit Croft Ambrey to see the mistletoe on the hawthorn trees – and bring a small piece home.  There’s nowhere to hang it because the ceilings are so low so it hangs over the Yule log on the dresser.

Our Christmas tree always comes from Holly Farm Nursery just up the road – all their trees are grown locally at Fauls Christmas Tree Farm so are very carbon friendly.

Maynards Farm, two doors down, provide local geese, turkeys and hams for Christmas dinner and we save the last of the parsnips, potatoes and carrots to go with them. We have home-made apple sauce and redcurrant jelly. One year I even managed to grow some sprouts and cauliflower that survived the pigeons and slugs – which were delicious!

And so to New Year and the circle of life begins again.

 

 

 

 

Today’s Treasures – Blackberry Fair – Whitchurch

Today’s Treasures – Blackberry Fair

Blackberry Fair not only lived up to its reputation – it excelled itself – there was more music than ever which reached to all corners of the town – right down to Green End – where the birds of prey sat bemused but not at all phased by the guitar rhythms and drumbeats.  This living, breathing celebration of music, song, dance, poetry and street theatre, stretched from the Bull Ring to the Black Bear and beyond – and attracted more visitors than ever -enjoying local food, real ale, mouth-watering fudge, freshly-baked pizzas, and real beef burgers – all accompanied by street music wherever you went in this normally tranquil, market town.

The civic centre was transformed into the fae market – a fantasy fairyland – a fairy forest full of customs and crafts, live music and tales from the wood.  The market hall became a hive of activity with skateboarding, go-karting and bushcraft, making masks for the pirate procession later.

Sustainability is what Blackberry Fair is all about – a carnival filled with the rustic spirit of nature, growing things, Meres and Mosses with pedal power, the Wild Zone, carbon capture, scarecrows, recycling, herbs and herbalists, Surfers Against Sewage, Wise Whales Words; this Fairtrade town attracts artists, poets, actors, dancers, singers and musicians; becomes a haven for food enthusiasts, real beer drinkers, nature lovers, photographers and writers.  It inspires, fires the imagination, screams innovation; young and old are all captivated, drawn into the spirit of creativity and sustainability – saving the earth.

The afternoon culminates in the Carnival of Action, celebrating the spirit of harvest with Morris dancers, stilt-walkers, and fire breathers – and the music carries on into the evening with incredible poetry and music and dancing into the night with THE POOKA’S POLKA and BAKED A LA SKA

see the video here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rWGvEto0Bu4

courtesy of www.rainford-it.co.uk

Published in the November edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

Today’s Treasures – Shrewsbury

Today’s Treasures – SHREWSBURY

Autumn’s golden glow bathes the ancient buildings and paints pavements and flagstones in the stillness of a September morning. Benches beckon a few moments to sit awhile to savour the serenity and enjoy the tranquillity of a city at peace with the world.

Churches watch over the market Square, all the saints of these precious buildings competing for recognition, St Chad, St Mary, St. Peter, St. Giles, and the ghosts of the medieval pubs are sleeping.

The castle slumbers, its gardens adorned with autumn colours and Charles Darwin surveys his childhood town from atop his pillar outside the library.

The Severn glides slowly through the town from past to present, past crumbling sandstone walls and Roman relics and on to its namesake the modern Theatre Severn nestling on its banks.  Under bridges, Welsh and English, swirling eddies caressing the banks, the Himalayan balsam’s plum pink blossoms, rippling reflections in the water. Swans circling, beaks dipping, dripping water droplets, ducks dabbling, past Darwin’s garden where his theory of evolution had its first stirrings of consciousness.

The river snakes past the park and ripples along the quarry gardens; the Dingle still revels in the glorious garden displays perfected for August’s flower show, begonias and dahlias vying for the brightest blooms.

Sitting dreaming in the sunshine, we can imagine all the past lives that have made Shrewsbury what it is, living on, they are in the very essence of the ancient walls, the medieval black and white buildings, the saints who gave their names to the churches, the engineers and ironmasters, merchants and craftsmen who changed the world and how we see it today – Thomas Telford, Abraham Darby, William Hazledine, Charles Darwin …

Shrewsbury’s history lives on, in its sandstone walls, cobbled streets and beautiful buildings, all sleeping in the September sunshine.

Published in the October edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

 

Today’s Treasures – Butterflies

Today’s Treasures –  Our Beautiful British Butterflies

Buddleia bushes can tend to be a bit rampant and take over a small garden but, if you cut them right back in the autumn, the following summer the flowers will be covered in butterflies and you can spend a wonderful sunny afternoon watching them fluttering and floating and gathering nectar from the purple blooms. Definitely recommended as one of the most relaxing and stress-relieving ways to pass the time.

And you can also take part in the Big Butterfly Count:  Launched in 2010, this is a nationwide survey which helps assess the changes in our environment. It is one of the world’s biggest surveys of butterflies. Over 100,000 people took part in 2018, submitting 97,133 counts of butterflies and day-flying moths from across the UK

Anyone can take part – anywhere – parks, school grounds, gardens, fields or forests – or during a walk – simply count butterflies for 15 minutes during bright (ideally sunny) weather – and record them online at www.butterfly-conservation.org.

Sir David Attenborough, President of Butterfly Conservation, Alan Titchmarsh MBE, Mike Dilger, Nick Baker, and Joanna Lumley OBE have all given their enthusiastic backing to the project.

Peacock

 

The European Peacock butterfly lays its shiny black caterpillars on nettles or hops.  The butterflies drink nectar from a wide variety of flowering plants, including buddleia, willow, dandelions, marjoram and clover.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Red Admiral

 

 

The red admiral  migrates from North Africa and continental Europe. The butterflies continue flying into October or November and are typically seen nectaring on garden buddleias or flowering Ivy.

 

 

 

 

Speckled Wood

 

 

The speckled wood butterfly likes brambles in hedgerows and partially shaded woodland and feeds on honeydew in the treetops – and occasionally on marjoram and buddleia.  They like dappled sunlight and can often be seen chasing each other making spirals in the sunshine.

 

 

 

 

 

Ringlet

 

 

The ringlet also likes field edges with brambles and privet, butterflies also feed on oregano, thistles, scabious and hogweed. But the female lays her eggs in grassy areas and the caterpillars feed on grass.  The ringlet can often be seen with characteristic bobbing flight on cloudy days when other butterflies are inactive.

 

 

 

 

Published in the August edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

March in Barbara’s Back Yard – Spring is Just Around the Corner

March in Barbara’s Back Yard – Spring is Just Around the Corner

Spring is just around the corner – the celandines are sunning their golden faces, Coltsfoot flowers are lifting their heads and opening their petals to the wintry sunshine and the frogs have finally woken up in the pond again.

The broad beans I planted in December have mostly survived but don’t seem to have grown at all – and the ones I planted in pots a few weeks ago are about the same size – I planted them out this week – quite firmly – with news of the impending strong winds.

In between the showers, I have planted the first lot of onion sets but they don’t seem to be growing at all yet – obviously need some warmth before they get started.

This year I bought Eckford sweet pea seeds (which I found in D T Brown’s catalogue) – and I’ve had much better success with growing these than other varieties.  In previous years, although I’ve always put them in the propagator, less than half have sprouted.  If you pinch out the tips of sweet peas it encourages them to be more bushy.

The Eckford Sweet Pea was first bred in Shropshire – but it is named after the horticulturist, Henry Eckford who was born in 1823 in Edinburgh.  In 1870 he was in charge of a garden at Sandywell in Gloucester and his employer encouraged his interest in breeding plants.  When they moved to Boreatton in Shropshire, Dr. Sankey encouraged him further and he started the development of the Sweet Pea which had changed little since it was first introduced from Sicily in 1699.  In 1888 Henry Eckford moved to Wem and established Eckford’s Nursery which specialised in sweet peas and now sweet pea lovers from all over the country visit Wem in July each year for the Eckford Sweet Pea Festival, organised by the Eckford Sweet Pea Society – and Wem has become the ‘Home of the Sweet Pea’.

And Eckford sweet peas seem to be much easier to germinate than other varieties I have tried.

I’ve also sown some herbs in pots – coriander, basil and parsley – and they have all germinated and I have moved them to the polytunnel as there is more light there than in the conservatory.  Tomato seeds are now just sprouting in the propagator.

Daisy has started laying again – as soon as she goes broody – and stays on the nest at night – I will move her to a separate pen – and hopefully we might get some Dorking chicks this year.

I’ve now sold most of the NZWhite x Californian rabbits.  There is still one white buck – and an adorable Californian buck who is so soft and so friendly I shall be sad to part with him – he will make a lovely pet.  Lunar’s first litter are now 10 weeks old – 3 survived – two does and a buck.  She has just mated again.  With this litter I will make sure they all just have rabbit pellets – no mix and no apples – and hopefully they will all survive – although I can’t be sure it was different food that caused the upset to their digestive system.  Dandelion is doing really well at 4 years old but I might need to think about getting a new buck soon.

So lovely to see all the spring flowers – daffodils and tulips, primroses and grape hyacinths – and to hear the frogs burbling in the pond again.

Today’s Treasures – Blackberry Fair

Blackberry Fair 2018

The subtle tones of an acoustic guitar serenade volunteers setting up tables in the hall – getting ready for workshops for youngsters – crafting items for the Carnival of Plenty – little ones create leaves for the Tree of Life – and older ones decorate poles with different bits and pieces that glow, and shine and rattle.

Volunteers appear for a welcome hot drink after putting up gazebos and  distributing sofas to strategic points about the town, musicians have finished setting up speakers and microphones – the stage is set for Blackberry Fair to begin once again.

The music changes and we’re clapping hands in time to a drumbeat, accompanied by a guitar – and voices join in singing well known songs. Next come the Urban Gypsies, dancing, swinging, gyrating to gypsy music – looking around, everyone is foot-tapping, clapping, swaying in time to the music – mesmerised – no-one can keep still.

Then comes the Whitchurch Brass Band, trumpets and cornets – and all conversation ceases as tubas and trombones send oompahs and oom-pah-pahs reverberating around the walls.  Lunchtime, there’s such a lot to choose from – wild boar burgers, freshly made pizzas, ice creams, and deliciously decorated cupcakes, with real beers and ciders to wash it all down with.

Blackberry Fair has an atmosphere all its own, the spirit of poetry, singers, dancers, actors, fine foods, real beers, street theatre, costumes and characters, Urban Gypsies and Morris Dancers, skateboarding and stilt walking, jugglers and firebreathers – all join Harminder the Elephant in the Carnival of Plenty procession at the end of the afternoon.

Entertainment continues into the night with live steel band music and fireworks – and another Blackberry Fair comes to an end with lots of happy memories for families to take home.  “Our children made puppets, crushed apples, watched films, literally the whole of Whitchurch was alive, down every street and avenue – it’s the best fair we’ve ever been to.”

Published in the November edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

Today’s Treasures – The Big Butterfly Count

This year I took part in the Big Butterfly Count

www.bigbutterflycount.org

As soon as the buddleia comes out I always take some time to watch the myriad different butterflies who just love the purple spikes.  There’s often a dozen peacock butterflies sunning themselves on the flowers, sipping nectar, fluttering their wings and showing off their spectacular colours.

Counting butterflies on a beautiful sunny afternoon is a tranquil, calming experience, watching them flutter from flower to flower, sometimes dancing together against the blue sky and skating clouds, seeing how many different butterflies join the feast; large and small whites love the flowers and there’s usually one or two red admirals and commas as well.  This year there were also two painted lady butterflies – but no small tortoiseshells – evidently they have been attacked by a parasitic fly – one of the reasons why David Attenborough’s butterfly count is so important – we can see the effects of these invasive insects.

Butterflies love buddleia because it produces lots of nectar, its deep flowers are accessible only to insects with long tongues and its flowers are clustered together so a butterfly can collect lots of nectar from one place.  Verbena and cosmos also attract butterflies – and food plants for their caterpillars include nettles and thistles.  Also ragwort which is a fascinating plant to watch – dozens of different insects love the flowers and the black and yellow caterpillars of the beautiful red cinnabar moth love the leaves.

I also discovered that we have two different blue butterflies – the common blue – which likes bird’s foot trefoil – and the holly blue which (as the name suggests) feeds on holly (and ivy).

Meadow browns (left) and ringlets (right) love the marjoram in my herb garden.

Published in the August edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

Today’s Treasures – Summer is here at last!

Today’s Treasures – summer is here at last

Summer took so long to arrive, it was so cold – and so wet – for so long, we seemed to miss Spring altogether and, when the sun finally did come out, summer crash landed with a profusion of flowers, all blooming at the same time.  The daffodils slowly struggled into life, then the sun shone and the tulips rapidly joined them, celandines and coltsfoot dotted the hedgerows and then they all quickly faded away, giving way to bluebells and buttercups.

All the flowers came out in rapid succession with hardly any time to savour their individual colours and scents.  The apple blossom was amazing, a profusion of apple white touched with pink, raining down confetti petals in the breeze.  Now lilacs and wisteria vie for attention with their delicate mauves and sweet scents.

The clematis climbing up the ancient barn surprised me one morning with an array of flowers which seemingly opened overnight and, trying to catch up with weeding the vegetable patch I looked up and suddenly noticed that the irises were all out, flashing their yellow flowers at the sun.

And the roses – they all seemed to bloom together, to open in a rush, to catch the sunshine, before it disappeared again.  Clouds of petals, sweetly scented, creating a beautiful archway that saturates the senses with perfumed peachy petals, a paradise for bees.

I almost despaired of ever planting the onions and potatoes this year, it was so cold, and the garden was so wet you couldn’t tell where the pond ended and the garden began.  A veritable smorgasbord for slugs and snails who have proliferated everywhere, I like those little banded snails which are so pretty but not the slimy slugs, you would need really big frogs to eat some of the slugs I’ve found this year.

I was really worried about the frogs, they were very late arriving in the pond to find a mate, then when the first frog spawn did appear, the pond froze over again and I thought the tiny eggs would all die – but they didn’t and the tadpoles have had lots of rainwater to grow up in.

The fields are now full of buttercups ‘the little children’s dower’ I often think of William Wordsworth languishing abroad and am so glad I live in England – even with its precocious weather.

This article was published in the June edition of the Whitchurch Gossip