Buddleia Coming Up to Full Bloom and Lots of Butterflies

IMG_8826 Buddleia & California PoppiesTwo summers ago on 30th July 2012, I wrote a very short post about how the huge buddleia here at home was in full bloom but that, unlike every year for almost a decade previously, there were hardly any butterflies around to visit the bush. It seemed a very lonely butterfly bush that year and we felt keenly the absence of the red admirals, commas, tortoiseshells, gatekeepers, large whites, meadow browns and peacocks (we’d counted up to two hundred at a time in the past).

Now, this Mark in Flowers blog has a modest number of visitors, it’s true. But a post that comes up again and again when I do check the stats, is precisely this one called Buddleia in Full Bloom but Very Few Butterflies. But it’s better news here this year as far as butterflies (and other insects) are concerned, so I thought I’d better bring things into the present.

20140715_115910 1024x768 enhThis is what’s happening today (15th July 2014) as the buddleia comes up to its full summer bloom. On the bush itself I just counted over two dozen butterflies, mostly peacocks and also several red admirals, tortoiseshells, three large whites and some meadow browns. And more flying elsewhere in the garden. It’s also been a good year for hoverflies, who love the St Johns wort and plantain, and we’ve been visited by many bees of both the bumble and the honey kind.

And the atmosphere is fuller, more vibrant and joyful for the presence of these creatures visiting the plants than when they weren’t here.

16th July: More butterflies today than yesterday, including commas.

Images: Beautiful but lonely – butterfly bush with no butterflies, wild carrot, california poppy, July 2012; this year as the buddleia comes into full bloom the butterflies (and bees and hoverflies) are back

Test and images by Mark Watson, Creative Commons with attribution, non-commercial, no derivatives

This Midsummer Life (1) Creatures

P1010454 Frog detailIt was only when I sat down to reflect on the past few weeks that I realised what I thought had been a stream of ordinary and uneventful days of the usual work and household tasks, in fact, turned out to be a midsummer period filled with life.

This includes: the exciting and abundant flowering of a cactus for the first time in the twelve years it’s been with us, and which rarely blooms at all in cultivation; a visit to Bury St Edmunds to lead a wildflower, feral flower, cultivated flower, all-flower walk and talk (and teapot!) through the town with a great group of people from Sustainable Bury; and celebrating both Summer Solstice and Charlotte’s birthday with a local walk and picnic of mainly local and seasonal ingredients along with perhaps the most delicious herbal refresher I’ve made yet.

I hope to post some words and images about all of these things in due course. But first the creatures…

This year three creatures have returned to the garden and the field beyond we thought had disappeared for good. All of them used to be regular visitors and inhabitants. At least five years had gone by since we last saw a hedgehog here, but last week I came upon the fellow in this picture ambling nonchalantly up the path and into the long grass. I’ve seen her/him several times since then, so it may have made a home with us.

Almost the same amount of time has passed since there were any frogs here. I have seen several recently though, leaping over plant pots when I take the watering can around. This morning I found a young one peeking out from beneath a sunflower.

Winter 2012/2013 was a bad time for barn owls. A deadly mix of continual cold weather right through into the spring and the widespread use of rat poison, brought the populations in the country to a serious low. Suffolk, where we live, is well known as a stronghold for these birds. For the past couple of years we had really missed the familiar jizz of the barn owl at dusk (sometimes we’d see a pair), and how they would skirt the fields beyond the house on their hunt for prey. I only realised how much I’d taken them for granted when they were no longer there. Then last week we saw one again making its rounds. That was a very joyful moment.

We have also found common lizards again on the anthills, and the grass snakes continue to render the compost heap out of bounds for the season.

Insects too, seem to be more abundant this summer than of late. I’ll finish here for now with a picture I took earlier of hoverflies pollinating the ribwort plantain flowers…

P1010461 plantainhoverflies23June2014

Text and images by Mark Watson under Creative Commons license with Attribution Non Commercial No Derivatives.

Remembering Memorandum Nº 13,874

Quito - AndesMemorándum 13.874 is a song I first heard in 1985 as a language student in Mexico, sung with beautiful harmonies on a wonderful album called Así Como Un Gorrión (Like A Sparrow) by a little-known Argentinian duo, Nora y Delia.

I recently rediscovered the song on YouTube and found out the name of the author of the original poem (Argentinian writer and poet Humberto Costantini).

The text takes the form of a letter in which, after 20 years of continuous work in the same office, a clerk dictates to the senior administrator his 13,874th memorandum, setting out a “list of essential materials” that his boss must supply as soon as possible if the clerk is to continue with his task.

This song will speak to anyone who finds themselves inside for long periods of time under the pressure of unceasing administrative tasks.

Below are the original lyrics in Spanish followed by an English translation. Here is the link to the song on YouTube: (It begins properly at 0:18 secs) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qtCQZiiIkB4

Spanish original (adapted by Nora y Delia from the poem Memorándum Nº 13.870 by Humberto Costantini)

Sr jefe,
Me dirijo a Ud a los efectos de informarle que
habiendo cumplido ya 20 años de trabajo continuo en esta oficina
es imprescindible para proseguir en esta tarea
que me envíe a la mayor brevedad posible
la lista de materiales que detallo a continuación:

Un cielo gris
algunas nubes bajas
y una tarde de otoño, si es posible.
Además, muchos árboles viejos,
casuarinas oscuras, como el tiempo.

Sería mucho pedir también,
algunos álamos?
Humedad y una llovizna lenta
y tierra, claro está,
y el olor de la tierra
de la lluvia
y del otoño
y de los árboles también.

Podrían faltar quizás las hojas secas
pero no el corazón ardiendo
ni la sangre, trinándose de pájaros.
Ni el vértigo
ni la muchacha rubia
ni toda su ternura a mi lado
ni la sangre, llenándose de pájaros…

A rough English translation by me

Dear boss,
I’m writing to inform you that,
having now completed 20 years of continuous work in this office,
it is imperative, if I am to continue with this task,
that you send me, at your very earliest convenience,
the items I list below:

A grey sky, some low clouds and an autumn day, if possible.
And a lot of very old trees…
casuarinas, as dark as time.

Would it be too much to ask for some poplars as well?
And dampness,
a slow drizzle – and earth,
definitely earth,
and the smell of earth and autumn and trees.

You could perhaps omit dry leaves,
but not the heart on fire,
nor the blood full of birdsong;
and don’t leave out vertigo either
or the blond girl at my side with all her tenderness,
or the blood filling with birds…

800px-Casuarina_equisetifolia_0004

Images: Quito Under Cloud 1992 by Mark Watson; Casuarina* by Atamari (from Wikipedia) under CC BY-SA 3.0 license
*Casuarinas are large shrubs and trees native to the Southern Hemisphere (though introduced to Argentina).

Teas in Transition go walkabout!

I wrote this piece for the latest edition (Spring/Summer 2014) of Transition Free Press, the quarterly grassroots UK newspaper which reports “on a culture that’s shifting the way it looks at and engages in the world… with news and feature stories that other papers don’t quite reach.” I manage the distribution for the paper. The piece both records the first Sustainable Bungay* wellbeing walk of this year, which I introduced with a pot of tea, and looks at how paying attention to where we are can show us how we belong in a place.

Teas in Transition go walkabout

“Can you guess what’s in this tea?” I am standing in the community library garden in early April, introducing the first Sustainable Bungay wellbeing walk of the year. The liquid I’m pouring from the large white teapot is a light golden green in colour; “pale sunshine” someone calls it. Though no one recognises its fresh, mild taste.

The tea is from the leaves of a nearby birch tree. I’m talking about its spring tonic qualities – the theme of this walk. Birch leaf tea helps cleanse the system and reduce uric acid. Several people here have told me recently that they suffer from rheumatism, arthritis, even gout. Time to get acquainted with birch!

The monthly walks themselves are about paying attention to where are and discovering what makes us belong in a place. They began last year after a Green Drinks discussion about wellbeing and community, where we decided to walk together and map the places and green spaces around town that we valued and made us feel at home.

The route is decided collectively on the day by everyone who turns up. As we walk people show each other the meadows and alleyways that have resonance for them, as well as swapping local knowledge and stories. One month we may hear about about the history of local trade and shops, and another discover how the relationship between human society and the River Waveney has changed over time (and take a swim!). It’s also about engaging with the people (and plants and places) you meet along the way.

When I organise a walk I there is a strong focus on plants and trees and learning to see them as multi-faceted fellow inhabitants of the Earth with their own reasons for being here, as well as their medicinal qualities. And there is always a pot of tea!

Birch leaf tea: 5 fresh or dried birch leaves per person (picked spring/early summer), infused 5-10 minutes in just-boiled water. No harmful side effects. Drink freely.

I teach people how to connect with the living world through plants (and my ever-present teapot!). I also manage distribution for Transition Free Press and chair Transition initiative Sustainable Bungay* in northeast Suffolk.

Photo caption: Me with a teapotful of wild and community garden flowers at Transition Town Tooting’s foodival, September 2013

Credit: David Thorne, Transition Town Tooting

The Spirit of Lemon Balm

P1000185 detail 768x1024P1000185 enh 2 1024x768Lemon balm is a plant that always has a place in our garden and it appears in almost every herbal drink I prepare, in particular for groups of people.

In the mint family, lemon balm is probably at its most attractive in late spring to early summer, before it flowers and the whole plant is bushy with deep green leaves. Attractive to us, that is. When in flower it is beloved of bees – its Latin name of Melissa officinalis refers to both honey and its age-old status as a medicine.

But it’s also a plant that is easy to overlook and its gentle nature belies some quite powerful properties. One of these is its ability to cheer the heart and lift the spirits. Just smelling the lightly squeezed leaves has a noticeably uplifting effect.

Among other actions lemon balm can help improve a poor appetite (plants that do this are called aperients) and assist in cases of nervous exhaustion. The fresh leaves make a lovely tea on their own and you can combine them with different types of mint, rose leaves and other favourite herbs. I also put them in my herbal refreshers in the summer, see here for one I made a few years back.

Lemon balm is also a great presence just as itself, both for people and bees. The ones here at home are particularly vibrant this year.

Text and images by Mark Watson under Creative Commons license with Attribution Non Commercial No Derivatives.

A Quick Run Round The Dandelion Field

P4110006 - detail“Can I have some of your weeds?” I said to Malcolm as we picked up our weekly veg box from his smallholding.
“How much is it worth?” he laughed. “Yes, of course you can.”
“Do you reckon I can pick 100 dandelion heads in five minutes?” I said.
“No chance,” he replied.

But that is in fact what I did. Or it may have been six minutes. Whilst Charlotte picked up the box and chatted with Malcolm, I moved swiftly round the field picking fresh flowers for the ‘dandelion beer’ recipe I’d found in Hedgerow Medicine.

Got home, shook out the small black beetles, boiled a few litres of water with 100g of sugar, let cool to blood temperature, poured into a large bowl along with a whole finely sliced lemon, covered with a clean dishcloth and that’s it. I’ll give it an occasional stir over the next few days, then on Monday or Tuesday I’ll pour the lot through a sieve into a couple of bottles and it should be ready to drink by Thursday or Friday.

P4110013 - detail

Hedgerow Medicine is a great book by Julie Bruton Seal and Matthew Seal, full of simple recipes like this, all clearly written, which can be followed by anyone, herbal old timers and novices alike. I’ve written here (and elsewhere!) about the book, which continues to be one of my favourites.

And dandelions are one of my favourite spring tonic plants. A herbal treasure chest, rich in potassium and other nutrients, and a strong but gentle cleanser for the urinary system, the leaves and flowers are also great in salads. Plus goldfinches love the seeds. And they are just plain joyous spring sunshine plants!

And if they can get me moving so quickly around a field, there must be no end to their extraordinary qualities!

Postscript 29th April
Made two delicious, refreshing litres from this first batch. It’s really good value too, the cost of one organic lemon, 100g sugar and the heat to boil the water. Batch no. 2 is now on the go.

Short spring post for small spring wildflowers

I’ve been so busy organising the distribution for the upcoming Spring/Summer issue of the Transition Free Press newpaper recently, I’ve hardly had time to focus on the plants. (Do take a look at the above link if you might be interested in subscribing to the paper or ordering a bundle by the way – order deadline is mid-April).

P4020083 lowres
So when we went to pick up our weekly veg box on Wednesday from Malcolm at his smallholding and I noticed an area on his land the size of an allotment full of red deadnettle and field speedwell, I threw myself down on the path beside them to watch the bumblebees whilst he and Charlotte talked about how the vegetables were doing. “I left all those deadnettles there for the bees,” Malcolm told me afterwards. “They really like them.” “Look,” I said, “The whole area is glowing.”

I managed to take a quick photo too, though you can’t see any bees in it. Ah well, can’t win them all!

But I’m definitely in the mood now for leading the wellbeing walk with Sustainable Bungay tomorrow (5th April) where we’ll be visiting spring tonic plants and trees in and around town, and making an energising tea with some of them.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 33 other followers