Keeping Things Together

I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that the world around us is in danger of disintegration. The trouble is, nobody seems at all clear about what we should do to put things back on track. We saw this quite clearly in the results of last week’s local elections where the ruling Tories were given a clear vote of no confidence, but Labour only did really well in London and the Lib Dems were greatly improved, but are still not an immediate threat to the Tories – on their own, but maybe in alliance with Labour; that, however, still seems a long way off. The disillusion with the Tories was also plainly visible in Scotland and Northern Ireland, where the situation is even more complex: for the first time ever there is now a small majority in favour of Sinn Fein (the one-nation Irish party) while the hard-line pro-United Kingdom, Unionist parties are losing much of their erstwhile popularity. Younger Irish voters clearly dislike the old Protestant/Roman Catholic split, which they see as irrelevant to the Ireland of today (and I agree with them!). So what on earth is happening? As the title of my Blog suggests, I think we must try to take A Long View and try to place recent events in a broader historical perspective.

On the face of it, it seems to me that the United Kingdom is splitting up. Scotland, with its long historical links to France will probably have another independence referendum and may well end-up part of the EU once more. Northern Ireland will become part of Eire/Ireland and also in the EU. England (and Wales???) will have Brexited. All very odd at a time when the countries within the EU are coming closer together in the face of a growing threat from Russia. It’s hard to be very optimistic about these historical trends and what they say, or don’t say, about uncertain England’s future. And on that cheery note I want now to retreat to my garden.

I cannot remember a drier spring. The vegetable garden has wide cracks and newly planted shrubs are having to be watered every few days. Hand-weeding works quite well, but hoes simply bounce off the surface and fail to remove the roots. Happily I set the mower blades quite high back in early March and haven’t lowered them since – as I would normally have done, were it not so horribly dry. So the lawn still looks nice and green, unlike the brown, parched, doormat-like patches I see around me. This is what the main border looked like on March 30th. I think you’ll agree, it’s all very luxuriant.

I took the following four pictures a couple of days ago, on May 9th. Conditions are very, very much drier. The first shows the wisteria on the front of the house. The one at the back, that covers the poop deck is quite good, but we lost plenty of flowers in a sharpish frost in mid-April. For some reason that frost didn’t do much damage at the front and I can’t remember it flowering more freely. So I think it wasn’t the cold so much as the rapid transition to early morning sunshine which did the damage. Early morning sunshine can be disastrous for hydrangea flowers.

Every year brings fresh surprises. This year the bluebells and wild garlic in the wood have been very free-flowering, but I don’t think they’ll last very long in the drought. Squirrels have dug up many bulbs, but they also re-bury them as hidden food supplies for the following winter. Often they forget about these hidden mini-larders. I think this explains how bluebells are slowly spreading along the Nut Walk as you can see in the next picture.

In Britain we think of bluebells as the most spectacular of woodland plants, forming vast sheets of blue in the later spring. But in North America their equivalent prefers to grow in damp meadows. The Quamash (Camassia esculenta) is a slightly paler blue and very much taller than the British bluebell and rather strangely it’s a relative of asparagus, our favourite vegetable, which Maisie and I devour in silly quantities, when the Quamash are in flower. Our garden provides ideal, damp meadow-like conditions and Camassias really thrive in it. Here are two clumps growing around the white-bark trunks of the two silver birches that from the entrance into the meadow from the formal garden.

We originally planted the two soakaway beds behind the barn as semi-formal bog gardens, but over the years they have acquired characters of their own, as has the narrow ‘spit’ of dry ground between them. They get very full of water (from off the large area of barn roof) following even medium-heavy rain, but this year they have been horribly dry. I haven’t yet been reduced to sprinkling them with watering cans or hose pipes, but as soon as I spot any plants wilting, I might. The soakaway nearest the house is dominated by a large Skunk Cabbage (Lysichiton americanus) which I had to plant on my return from Canada where run-over skunks can scent the air along rural roads for many days. I also love the reaction of visitors when they first smell the stink. The soakaway nearest the vegetable garden, which features in the next picture, is dominated by the native Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris). They thrive in the bottom of the soakaway and provide a wonderful attraction for bees and butterflies. I think the pure, radiant yellow of the flowers is close to absolute perfection. Just behind, and slightly to the left, you can see the pendant white bell-like flowers of the variegated Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum x Hybridum ‘Striatum’). Solomon’s Seal is another relative of asparagus.  Incidentally Shakespeare mentions Marsh Marigolds, which he calls Marybuds; Marsh Marigolds have numerous other memorable names including kingcup and Molly-blob.

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