At Spitalfields City Farm

Holmes the Kuni Kuni pig

Dear Readers, on Wednesday I spent the day with my Finance Team colleagues in a yurt at Spitalfields City Farm. We were on an Away Day, and for many of us it was an opportunity to meet in person for the first time in several years. It was lovely to be in such a different environment, and I’m sure it made us more creative to be surrounded by sheep, pigs, chickens and sunflowers. If you are looking for a venue with a difference, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

I arrived early and managed to sneak in a quick visit with Holmes, the very chatty Kuni Kuni pig. Holmes is twelve years old now, and lost his brother Watson last year, but he seems very pragmatic, wandering over to say hello and enjoying a quick back rub. Pigs are amongst my favourite animals, and seeing him reminded me of my time working on a city farm in Dundee. The pigs there once made a break for it and headed to the bus station, where they wreaked havoc for half an hour until I could lure them home with some windfall apples. Holmes apparently loves crab apples, so it is clearly a piggy favourite.

Beatrix the Herdwick Sheep

 

Beatrix lost an ear in a dog attack when she was just a lamb, but seems very happy at Spitalfields. She seems to enjoy just watching the world go by.

Grace

Grace was ten years old this year, a good age for a sheep. She was adopted by the farm as a very scrawny, poorly orphan in May 2012 but has clearly been living her best life ever since. She is a Suffolk x Southdown sheep.

Spitalfields City Farm is part of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, for its small herd of Castlemilk Moorit and Portland sheep. There are less than 1500 registered breeding ewes in the country, but the farm has a small herd. These are compact sheep with a fine creamy fleece, and the breed was developed by Sir Jock Buchanan-Jardine on his Scottish estate. The ancestry of the sheep includes both Manx and Shetland sheep and the wild Mouflon, so no wonder they look so rugged and self-assured. When Sir Jock died, the majority of his flock was culled, but a ram and six ewes were rescued by Joe Henson of the Cotswold Wildlife Park. All of the existing sheep are descended from these animals. It’s important to conserve breeds of domestic animal that might otherwise become extinct, not only for their own sake but because we never know what characteristics might be useful in the future as the climate changes.

Katriona the Castlemilk Ewe. Now 15 years old!

The farm also has donkeys….

….some very fine goats….

and this magnificent fluff ball of a cat, who came to check us out, demanded a chin rub and then sauntered past, as cats do.

And the farm has the most magnificent bee hotel that I have ever seen in my life. Five star accommodation if ever I saw any.

And so, instead of moving from room to room for our different Away Day sessions we could wander past the runner beans and the tomatoes, stopping en route to admire a goat or tickle a pig. I for one was certainly more relaxed than I would have been in a more conventional business environment, and surely that can only be a good thing. Plus, after two years of being confined to quarters, it was such a pleasure to hear the birds singing, and the bees humming. I’m sure such a place fosters out-of-the-box thinking.

 

At Crewkerne Station

Dear Readers, Aunt H’s memorial service went very well on Sunday – the church was packed, and the tributes felt as if they gave a real picture of a whole human being, with all their faults and virtues. Sometimes on these occasions it feels as if the person honoured was a saint, but this one recognised that Aunt H was definitely not a saint, and yet was respected and loved, and very much missed, and I think that’s a much better way to be remembered. Although she died in February 2021 she was still very much alive in everyone’s memory, and there was a lot of fond laughter, and plenty of tears.

And on Monday, we caught the train back to London from Crewkerne station for what could be the last time. Now that Aunt H and her sister Aunt M are gone, there’s no reason for us to come back to this part of Somerset. I’ve been coming for twenty years but my husband has been coming since he was a teenager, so it’s even more of the end of an era for him. But, as with my ongoing relationship with Dorset even though my parents have died, it’s up to us whether we want to keep coming back. Only time will tell.

The station itself, though, is a rather fine Grade II  listed building made of the local yellow stone. It dates back to 1860, and was probably pretty busy back in the day. However, it now has one train per hour going in each direction (when there aren’t train strikes and cancellations). This has to be carefully timed as there is only one line, which can make for some epic delays on a bad day. Today, however, was a good day.

Photo One by By Geof Sheppard - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8921876

Crewkerne Station – Main Building (Photo One)

I have long been fascinated by the way that ‘weeds’ are so very local. At Crewkerne, for example, there is a row of evening primrose, interspersed with mullein and ragwort.

A fine row of evening primroses – the flowers always remind me of tannoys.

Lots of Oxford Ragwort…

…and a very stately mullein alongside some Herb Robert and some groundsel.

Now, normally when we were at Crewkerne Station the small but sprightly figure of Aunt H would either be meeting us at the gate, or dropping us off. Now that she’s gone, I suddenly realised that I’d never gone beyond the traffic bridge over the line.

Filled with a sense of adventure (and 40 minutes to wait until the train arrived) I headed down the platform.

First up was this railway building, all shuttered now. I wonder if it used to be a workshop? It certainly has a very high entrance way, big enough to pop in a steam train I imagine (though maybe not wide enough).

And then, on the other side of the bridge, there was a quiet bank of wild and cultivated flowers. None of the trains are longer than six carriages these days, so no one ever comes here. There was creeping thistle and ox-eye daisies, billowing grasses and yarrow.

There is lords and ladies, just setting its berries…

And day-lilies and yellow loosestrife….

..and a whole tribe of noisy sparrows.

Someone had planted some yellow achillea back in the day…

…but some rosebay willowherb had planted itself.

It was magical, this little wind-blown spot beyond the bridge. It made me wonder how much else there is to be discovered just around the corner. If we take a different route, what might we find? Overhead, the jackdaws chinked which for me is the sound of the West Country. I realised how tense I had been after all the preparations for the Memorial Service, and I could feel my poor brain wondering what I could find to be worried about next. But for now, I could just breathe, and be happy that things had gone well, and that there were still strange and wild spots everywhere, if I had the eyes to see them, and the gumption to diverge from my usual route.

Doves on Crewkerne Station

Photo One By Geof Sheppard – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8921876

At Broadway’s Bluebell Wood

Dear Readers, on our last day in Broadway before Aunt H’s memorial service we took what could be a last walk up to the remnant of ancient bluebell wood that stands on a hill just behind the village. Last time I was there it was bluebell season, and it was full of native bluebells.

It is still a magical place though – you enter through a little overgrown path, and you have to bow your head to get in, which seems somehow appropriate once you’re amongst the huge oak trees.

There is a path around the inside of the wood, but in many places you have to limbo under branches or tiptoe over fallen logs. In contrast to the woods of North London, this one is not very frequently visited, and so it retains its wildness.

Here and there, massive trees have fallen, or have died but continue to stand. Dead wood is so important for all kinds of animals and fungi, and there is only one small den right at the entrance to the wood, rather than the dozens that appear in my local woods.

And everywhere the hoverflies are dancing in shafts of sunlight, and the trees are creaking in the wind. Visiting it for this last time feels sad, but also calming, in view of the formal goings on tomorrow. I can take a piece of the wood with me in my heart, to calm me in the weeks ahead.

View over the hills and back towards Broadway village

Synchronicity

Well lovely Readers, no sooner do I do a post about Phacelia, and its role as a cover crop/green manure, than I see this field just outside Tisbury in Somerset. The farmer has planted a strip of wildflowers right along the edge of the field and it’s busting with Phacelia. It looks very pretty, and hopefully the bees are delighted.

We always wait outside Tisbury for a while on the way to Crewkerne, as it becomes a single-track at this point and so you don’t want to encounter any trains coming in the opposite direction. It gave me a chance to watch a red kite hanging above the field – I must have seen a dozen on the stretch down to Andover, and drove my long-suffering husband mad by pointing them out every time, even though he was wearing his reading glasses and couldn’t see them.

We waited so long that I was able to take this short film of the crops in the field waving in the breeze, to a soundtrack of South Western Railway air conditioning. Enjoy.

At the next station there was an accidentally Piet Oudolf-ish combination of grasses and ragwort.

Templecombe has won an award for its floral displays, and clearly a lot of time and effort has gone into them. I definitely have raised-bed envy – these, with their double-decker construction, look just the thing for my front garden.

And at Sherborne I was much taken by this combination of leaf, brickwork and purple door.

So now we’re in Ilminster, staying at the Haunted Hotel (The Shrubbery in case you fancy some paranormal activity). However, the 12-foot tall metal giraffe that used to grace the gardens is apparently in pieces near the shed. How are the mighty fallen.

I have been tasked with finding some flowers for Aunt H’s memorial service on Sunday, but the only florist in town is now a ‘floral studio’ and so I have had to resort to Interflora, though hopefully they will use a reasonably local florist. I do hope I don’t end up with something too multi-coloured, although I love the flamboyant Aunt H definitely didn’t. Oh well, we shall have to see. What a shame I didn’t have time to just leap out of the train and gather a bunch of Phacelia. I’m sure it would have been as pretty as anything that a florist will be able to produce.

Monday Quiz – Pretty in Pink

Delosperma (Or Mesembryanthum as we used to call it)

Dear Readers, I don’t know who makes these things up, but apparently June 23rd (which is when I’m writing this post) is National Pink Day. Whether other colours are similarly rewarded I’m not sure. In Nova Scotia, International Pink Day was designated to protest against homophobic and transphobic bullying, and to support those who are its victims, but National Pink Day simply seems to be about celebrating the colour, and is no doubt an opportunity for fashion editors worldwide to opine. However, for this week’s quiz I thought I would draw your attention to some pink (ish) flowers, to see how many you can match to their names.

As usual, all answers in by 5 p.m. UK time on Saturday 2nd July please (and where on earth did June go?). Answers and plaudits will be published on Sunday 3rd July. So, if you think the plant in photo 1 is Common Ramping Fumitory, your answer is 1) A.

Onwards!

Plants

A. Common Ramping Fumitory (Fumaria officinalis)

B. Ragged Robin (Silene flos-cuculi)

C. Grass Vetchling (Lathyrus nissolia)

D. Pink Sorrel (Oxalis articulata)

E. Thrift (Armeria maritima)

F. Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum)

G. Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria)

H. Great Willowherb (Epilobium hirsutum)

I. Musk Mallow (Malva moschata)

J. Common Centaury (Centaurium erythraea)

Photos

Photo One by liz west, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

1)

Photo Two by Joli, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

2)

Photo Three by Phil Sellens from East Sussex, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

3)

Photo Four by Anne Burgess 

4)

Photo Five by AnemoneProjectors, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0CC BY-SA 2.0 Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

5)

Photo Six by Björn S..., CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

6)

7)

Photo Eight by Trish Steel, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0CC BY-SA 2.0 Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

8)

Photo Nine by Anne5578, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

9)

Photo Ten by AnemoneProjectors, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

10)

The Monday Quiz – Marine Birds – The Answers!

Photo of the only albatross in the Northern Hemisphere (from The Yorkshireman https://the-yorkshireman.com/the-northern-hemispheres-only-albatross-has-returned-to-the-yorkshire-coast/)

Dear Readers, this week Fran and Bobby Freelove, Mike from Alittlebitoutoffocus and Anne all got 10/10, so well done everybody! There’s something plant-related tomorrow 🙂 so let’s see how we all get on….

Photo One by Hobbyfotowiki, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

1) F. Common Guillemot

Photo Two by © Copyright Anne Burgess and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

2) B. Kittiwake

Photo Three by AWeith, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

3) C. Arctic Tern

Photo Four by Sir Iain, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0CC BY-SA 4.0 Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

4) G. Little Auk

Photo Five by https://www.flickr.com/photos/naturalengland/36310015891

5) A. Mediterranean Gull

Photo Six by Charles J. Sharp, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

6) E. Razorbill

Photo Seven by MPF, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0CC BY-SA 4.0 Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

7) D. Sandwich Tern

Photo Eight by Richard Crossley, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

8) I. Storm Petrel

Photo Nine by Avenue, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

9) H. Northern Fulmar

Photo Ten by JJ Harrison (https://www.jjharrison.com.au/), CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

10) J. Little Tern

Photo Credits

Photo One by Hobbyfotowiki, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo Two by © Copyright Anne Burgess and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Photo Three by AWeith, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo Four by Sir Iain, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0CC BY-SA 4.0 Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo Five by https://www.flickr.com/photos/naturalengland/36310015891

Photo Six by Charles J. Sharp, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo Seven by MPF, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0CC BY-SA 4.0 Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo Eight by Richard Crossley, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo Nine by Avenue, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo Ten by JJ Harrison (https://www.jjharrison.com.au/), CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

The Last of Somerset

Wild Garlic along a Broadway path

Dear Readers, I feel a little shame-faced about this post as I notice that I’ve already said goodbye to Somerset several times, but here we are again. Regular readers will remember that we used to visit Broadway, where John’s aunt H lived. Sadly, she died last year, and this weekend we will be fighting our way through train strikes to get to the village for the Memorial service on Sunday. The house is sold, and this really is the end of an era.

There are many things that I remember. I loved seeing the rabbits in the garden, and in the nearby fields – there used to be rabbits in Wanstead Park, just up the road from where I used to live, but not any more. They’ve gone the way of the cuckoos and the water voles that I grew up with. At least they’re still around in Somerset.

I loved this country lane right outside John’s aunt’s house, with its abundant wildflowers that changed through the seasons.

Bluebells, stitchwort and dandelions

I remember how much I loved hearing the rooks cawing in the trees as they refurbished their nests and fed their nestlings.

I remember how I loved watching the wasps feeding on nectar in the ivy flowers outside the house.

But most of all, I remember the garden, where primroses, cyclamen, snowdrops and bluebells had run riot over the years.

Cyclamen from Aunt H’s garden

And I loved this West Country speciality, Eastern Gladiolus, a most elegant plant  that seems to pop up everywhere.

Eastern Gladiolus (Gladiolus communis ssp byzantina)

So, on Sunday we will gather in the church of St Aldhelm and St. Eadburga, which has been witnessing christenings, marriages and memorial services since the 13th Century. The church is perched on a hill outside the village, and in the summer you can hear the skylarks trilling above the nearby fields. Sometimes swallows nest in the church porch, and polite notices will ask you to keep the door closed in case they fly into the church itself and can’t get out.  Aunt H was a devout woman who led a life of service, and who gave many of her final years to the church, so it’s fitting that we gather in the building that she loved so much to say a final goodbye. I hope that, if she looks down, she will be satisfied that the goings on are being done properly, even without her being physically present to make sure that we’re behaving ourselves.

St Adhelm and St Eadburga’s Church, Broadway, Somerset (Photo by Ruth Sharville)

Summer Solstice Parakeets

Dear Readers, we sat in the garden on Tuesday night (Midsummer Eve) and two parakeets dropped into the hawthorn tree to see what they could find. Parakeets are creatures of habit, and I suspect that these two have been popping in to eat a few peanuts from the feeder regularly for the past few months. Today, alas, there were nasty humans sitting on the patio chairs and drinking shandy,  and so the birds stuck to the treetops with the sun setting splendidly behind them.

The parakeets kept one eye on us for the whole five minutes that they were in the hawthorn. They were clearly munching on something, but I did wonder if it was displacement activity, and that they were really waiting to see if we would go indoors. But one has to keep some sort of balance between having a garden for wildlife, and a garden for humans. After all, the robin keeps coming down and ‘asking’ us to move the pot plants so that s/he can get at the creepy crawlies underneath, so I think that’s quite enough physical activity.

After about ten minutes they headed off in the general direction of Coldfall Wood, squawking as they went. There are apparently designated tracks in the sky that the parakeets follow every day, like small green commuters, though without the problems of signal failures and train strikes. How splendid it would be to be a parakeet!

With the Barnwood Silver Birches

Male Large Skipper (Ochlodes sylvanus)

Dear Readers, yesterday I was lucky enough to meet with the Silver Birches groups for the over-55s that are held in Barnwood Community Forest here in East Finchley. What a lovely day it was! We had sessions on pollinators and on the folklore of plants, and the afternoon group learned how to make moss hanging baskets with Ursula from The Flower Bank, an amazing enterprise that recycles and reuses the flowers that would otherwise go to waste at corporate events, supermarkets, weddings and fashion shoots.

Of course, being Bugwoman it was very important to get people up close and personal with the amazing variety of insects that live in Barnwood. Here are just a few…

Comma Butterfly

Tree Bumblebee

Marmalade Hoverfly

Side view of the Comma, showing the ‘comma’ mark on its underwings

Speckled Wood underside

What impressed me so much with the Silver Birches was how much fun they were, how welcoming, and how patient they were when chasing some very flittery insects from one place to another with their camera phones so that we could get a snapshot of what was around on this sunny Midsummer day. It has been a long, long time since I’ve had the chance to do something like this and I had a wonderful time. So thank you to Leo and Linda who organise the sessions and to everyone who attended, it was a day that I’ll remember for a long, long time.

Wednesday Weed – Candytuft

Candytuft (Iberis umbellata)

Dear Readers, candytuft has been a popular garden plant for as long as I can remember – it has a lot of garden variants, many of them pure white, but the ones I have in my windowboxes are palest pink when young. Candytuft is actually a member of the Brassicaceae, or cabbage family, and as with most of these plants there are four petals arranged in a cross-shape (hence the alternative name for the family of ‘crucifers’). The name ‘candytuft’ doesn’t relate to the plant’s sweetness, but to the old name for Heraklion the main city of Crete, Candia. The genus name ‘Iberis’ also emphasizes the Mediterranean connection, with Iberis coming from Iberia, the classicaal name for Spain.

Wild candytuft (Iberis amara) grows all over Europe but its heartland is around the Mediterranean. The wild plant can be found in the UK but is extremely rare, as it lives on the south-facing slopes of chalk downs, a habitat that is becoming increasingly rate. You can tell the plant from its garden cousin because the flowers grow up into little cones and the petals are asymmetric.

Photo One by By H. Zell - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10426344

Wild Candytuft (Iberis amara) (Photo One)

All members of the cabbage family have chemicals called glucosinolates, which produce the pungent garlic/radish/mustard smell of many brassicas, and which defend against many insects. However, members of the candytuft family have an additional chemical defence, cucurbitacin, which is more commonly found in cucumbers. Interestingly, this defends against cabbage white butterflies, who are not deterred by the strong flavours of other kinds of brassicas.

Although a member of the cabbage family, Candytuft doesn’t seem to be particularly edible, what with its teeny tiny mustard-flavoured leaves which are hardly worth the gathering. Some people do admire the flowers though, and I’m sure that a few thrown into a salad would brighten things up no end.

Medicinally, the flowers have been used for gastro-intestinal complaints, such as bloating or acid reflux. I note that chemical company Bayer are growing their own candytuft flowers to produce ‘Iberogast’, a herbal treatment for these problems. In Mrs Grieve’s Modern Herbal (from the 1930s), the plant is said to have been used to treat gout, rheumatism and atrial fibrillation. Presumably the wild plant was much more  common then than now.

In the Victorian language of flowers, Candytuft is said to signify ‘indifference’, perhaps because it’s tolerant of a variety of growing conditions. I do wonder how the Victorian lady managed to decipher any bouquet sent to her, and whether spats developed with different posies winging their way backwards and forwards, becoming ever more insulting. For example, a bunch of flowers containing amaranth (pretension and foppery), aspen (lamentation), basil (hatred) and bilberry (treachery) would be a most irritating thing to receive. Maybe the only response would be to buy some very woody plants and throw the whole lot at the sender.

Photo Two by By Stefan Laarmann - Own work, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=947261

Candytuft (Photo Two)

And finally, a poem. Christopher Morley’s ‘Our House’ features lots of things that I would like – the old-fashioned garden, the window seat, the summer house, the banister – but I think a moat is a step too far. See what you think. Morley was a journalist, poet and great fan of Sherlock Holmes, and I find this poem as cozy as an old armchair, and none the worse for it. We don’t need to be challenged all the time, eh.

Our House
by Christopher Morley (1890-1957)

IT should be yours, if I could build
The quaint old dwelling I desire,
With books and pictures bravely filled
And chairs beside an open fire,
White-panelled rooms with candles lit-
I lie awake to think of it!

A dial for the sunny hours,
A garden of old-fashioned flowers-
Say marigolds and lavender
And mignonette and fever-few,
And Judas-tree and maidenhair
And candytuft and thyme and rue-
All these for you to wander in.

A Chinese carp (called Mandarin)
Waving a sluggish silver fin
Deep in the moat: so tame he comes
To lip your fingers offering crumbs.
Tall chimneys, like long listening ears,
White shutters, ivy green and thick,
And walls of ruddy Tudor brick
Grown mellow with the passing years.

And windows with small leaded panes,
Broad window-seats for when it rains;
A big blue bowl of pot pourri
And-yes, a Spanish chestnut tree
To coin the autumn’s minted gold.
A summer house for drinking tea-
All these (just think!) for you and me.

A staircase of the old black wood
Cut in the days of Robin Hood,
And banisters worn smooth as glass
Down which your hand will lightly pass;
A piano with pale yellow keys
For wistful twilight melodies,
And dusty bottles in a bin-
All these for you to revel in!

But when? Ah well, until that time
We’ll habit in this house of rhyme.

Photo Credits

Photo One by By H. Zell – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10426344

Photo Two by By Stefan Laarmann – Own work, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=947261