Posts Tagged ‘flowers’

Sunflowers and Tree Spinach to Brighten up the Back of the Library

A couple of years back I suggested to Charlotte and Lynne at the local library that it might be nice to brighten up the back border behind the building with some summer flowers. They thought that was a good idea, and this year I got round to it.

I felt it should be kept simple, with some tall plants to reach the top of the fence – so I started off some sunflowers and tree spinach at home, dug, sieved and prepared the soil in spring and popped the young plants in at the end of May.

Here is a collage of the border, starting in May and going up to the end of August. Unfortunately there are no pictures of the moment when most of the sunflowers were blooming – including a very large one which decided it wanted to face the house over the fence and not the libary! – because I forgot to take them.

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But as you can see, it did make a difference to that bare edge… and as of today, 8th September, the ‘China cats’ are still putting out blooms, the tree spinach has flowered, and the one here has outgrown the sunflowers:

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Flowers, Fruits and the Colours of the Day

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Every year I sow heavenly blue morning glory seeds hoping that they’ll flourish and flower together with the (yellow) sunflowers. Every year they tend not to do either, preferring to stay inside and push out some blooms when they feel like it. On Sunday (30 Sept) I found three truly glorious ones in the conservatory when I’d almost forgotten about them.

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The chillis have done really well this season. The slim red ones here are Ring of Fire, They bite like hell and have the extraordinary effect of bursting about six different flavours into your mouth in the two seconds before the skoville factor hits and all subtlety vanishes! The small red ones are the Apache variety, again hot but less so with good flavour for general cooking and salsas and beans. The yellow ones are Ají Limón or Lemon Drop chillis used a lot in Peru. They took a long time to germinate, grow & ripen but wow! what a fantastic multiflavour, multiaroma chilli. Like the Ring of Fire they smell great raw – just don’t rub your eyes (or nose) with your fingers afterwards – they’re really hot! You can get the seeds from The Real Seed Catalogue and then save your own for next year. Well worth it for the colour alone.

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The fiery hummingbird sage comes back year after year with its compellingly pungent leaves and bright red flowers. A native of northeast Mexico, I started growing it in 2003 from seeds gathered at a herbalist friend’s land in Arizona. Here in Suffolk I keep it going by cuttings every couple of years. So far they’ve set no seed though.

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And then sometimes you just have to leave the house and garden and get out a bit amongst the subtler but equally stunning wildflowers. Here is Charlotte ’52 Flowers’ walking amongst the flowering Devil’s-bit Scabious on a nearby common last Sunday (28 Sept).

Because the worlds are round… and wavy

For the Summer Solstice and 24 Hours of Possibility I stayed offline and concentrated on connecting with the living systems of the earth, beginning with a visit to the beach at four in the morning to see the sunrise half an hour later.

It sounds like the simplest thing in the world to just remain offline for twenty four hours. The truth is I can’t remember the last time I had an internet-free day. Much of Transition communications is a web-based business. Just the previous day I’d been emailing and tweeting everyone in Sustainable Bungay about Green Drinks that evening and updating a post on the website about it. I went to the Green Dragon with a host of flowers in jars to speak about plant families for the second Plants for Life event in three days.

It was a misty dawn just off the sunrise coast here in Suffolk and I settled for sensing the moment of the sun coming up over the sea rather than seeing it. It can be just as exciting, that moment when you FEEL it and become aware of other senses than the visual at play.

But the coast was clear, the tide was out and the sea was calm! And here’s what it looked like a few minutes after the sun rose.
The photograph gives only the merest impression of the stillness and the quiet fullness of everything. No one else was around. The tide was out. The wind was occasional and light. I stilled my thoughts and tuned in with my feet on the ground. Everything felt big and wide and yes, if I had to put it in words, filled with possibility. My body felt relaxed and alert all at once. The sun seemed like a being, something like a person.

Back home

I set about making a midsummer birthday herbal drink for Charlotte to take on her journey to the Transition Tin Village at the Sunrise festival later that day. It was some time before seven, the sun well risen and the whole garden alive and shining with its mix of wild and cultivated plants and bushes. Plant and flower time can be a very different experience from clock time and when I glanced again at the kitchen clock it was way past nine o’ clock!

By then I had gathered 47 different plants for the midsummer herbal cocktail, and they were infusing in the teapot. You could smell them throughout the house: a whole array of mints, English and Japanese mugwort, elder, heartsease and marigold flowers, two types of fennel, lovage (one small leaf!), anise hyssop, giant mexican hyssop, lemon balm, salad burnet, southernwood, lemon verbena, two sages, chia, epazote (very small leaf!), lavender, vervain, alecost, plantain, white deadnettle… and twenty-odd more. I added some fresh organic lemon juice and some fruit syrup (we’d run out of honey, which tastes better, but the syrup was okay) et voila!

When I asked Charlotte to guess what plants were in the drink, she named at least twenty five that I hadn’t put in along with the ones that were there!
Now it was time for the tortilla, or Spanish omelette, all local eggs, potatoes and onions, Norfolk tomatoes and homegrown parsley, basil and Greek oregano. The birthday, solstice and cross-country journey food and drink were prepared.
So when Simon arrived from Norwich with two friends just after midday to pick Charlotte up for their shared car journey to Somerset, I thought, now I’ll do my reconnecting with the living systems.
Then realised I’d been doing it all morning.
One thing that struck me during these 24 screen-free, pixel-free hours of possibility: How wavy the living world is. And how round.

Photos: Summer Solstice Foxgloves at sunrise, Southwold; Talking plant families at Green Drinks, Bungay June 2012; Summer Solstice Sunrise, Southwold June 2012; Garden Shining, June 2012; midsummer birthday 47 herbs for infusion; mostly local Spanish tortilla (all by MW)

First published on the Transition Norwich Blog – This Low Carbon Life and the Transition Social Reporting Project on 22nd June 2012

 

Anise Hyssop and Me – the story so far

UPDATE 12th September 2014

Time time time, how it goes! It’s more than two years since I posted this short article about Anise Hyssop. Well, next year I’m leading with the theme of ‘Helpful Herbs’ at our community garden at Bungay library in Suffolk and developing a programme of plantings and events on medicinal and culinary herbs.20140910_172149 Anise Hyssop 640x480

There is ALWAYS an anise hyssop or two in the garden (descendants and descendants of course of the original Arizona swap meet one I talk about below). This year though AH lost its position in the central bed and was growing in the perimeter bed. And sometimes sprouting out of the brickwork. Determined to return this lovely plant to its rightful place in the centre of things, I made a mental note to plant some seeds especially.

When I visited the garden later that day, I found the seedlings above growing in an old kale pot. Which has now taken up position in the centre bed for when I transplant them next year. And their medicinal and culinary properties? More about that in future posts…

PS And butterflies also love them.

The original post 16th June 2012:

I’ve just been finally shaking out the seeds from the last of last year’s anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) seedheads, collected from the Bungay Library Community Garden, where I’m curating the central bed this year with the focus on plants as medicine.

Last year the focus was plants for bees – hence the anise hyssop which they love. You can also make a tasty summer tea from the leaves to cheer the heart and celebrate the season (even if it’s not been much of a summer here in the UK so far!)

The text below the picture above tells the story of Anise hyssop and me. All the plants I grow are descendants of one I bought at a swap meet in Arizona a dozen years ago, where a taciturn Arizonan turned to me when I asked him what the plant was, and said “Licorice mint,” which is another of its names.

If you want to save seeds of your favourite Agastaches, don’t grow different varieties anywhere near each other. Giant Mexican Blue Hyssop (Agastache mexicana) or toronjil, very similar in appeareance and used in herbal heart medicine tea mixtures in Mexico, is another favourite of mine. Friends now grow one or other of them and then pass on some of the seeds to me each year. It’s complicated, but they are amazing and friendly plants.

Pics: Anise Hyssop and me timeline; Some years ago in the garden. Both images by Mark Watson (creative commons with attribution non commercial no derivatives)

Book Store, Seed Store

This post was originally published on the Transition Norwich blog, This Low Carbon Life, as Seed Store, Book Store, part of the Seeds and Books theme week (4-10 March 2012). For this blog I begin with the Book Store part of the piece, which is my response to reading the book Dark Mountain, Issue 2.

(i) BOOK STORE

This week is about books as well as seeds and I would like to recommend one that has held my interest to the degree that I keep it by my bed and I’ve read several of the pieces in it more than once – which is rare for me these days.

It’s called Dark Mountain Issue 2 and is a collection of essays, poetry, stories and illustrations on the theme of the ‘end of the world as we know it’. But rather than being apocalyptic or scaremongering and at the same time resisting didacticism or any kind of fix-it approach, the book expresses a diverse cultural response to the multiple collapse scenarios which are currently being played out in our civilisation: environmental, economic and social. A head-on look at the cultural myths and narratives we tell ourselves.
The writers and artists contributing to this book include small farmers in the US, environmental journalists and academics in recovery, and Dartmoor painters. If I had to have a favourite piece, it would probably be (at the moment anyway) writing professor John Rember’s Consensus and Other Realities, not least because I relate to being up in the dark early hours of winter grappling with various scenarios not always pleasant.
In this post which is serious and funny at once, Rember revisits ‘dead British psychiatrist’ RD Laing, who said we create false selves ‘to satisfy the demands of family and culture’ and how these false selves alienate us not just from our real self but from nature as well. Rember then looks at the ‘false self’ of technological civilisation and the ‘false story that backs it up’ – the meta-narrative. Considering meta-narratives is a theme that runs throughout the book, whether the writers are talking about language itself or considering the true story of the ‘Luddites’.

For a book that looks at uncertainty and loss on such a large scale and so directly, Dark Mountain Issue 2 does not leave me depressed. Rather the result is liberating, as if energy that’s been bound up in maintaining illusions and pretense can be released and put to other uses.

Dark Mountain is different from Transition in many ways, but there’s one effect on me that both movements have in common: I don’t feel on my own in facing up to systemic collapse.

(ii) SEED STORE

Last week I undertook the annual task of cleaning out all my seed trays ready for this year’s planting.

I promise myself at the end of each growing year after having spent months planting, tending, sharing and worrying about hundreds of young plants that I’ll only ‘pop a few seeds in’ next time.
Perhaps just some sunflowers, tomatoes, cosmos and ‘wild Oaxaca marigolds’ (or ‘Cemps’ as I call them, short for Cempoalxochitl, which means ‘twenty flowers’ in Nahuatl). Easy, and light on my back.
But the winter comes and the memory of bending over hundreds of flowerpots always subsides. I always forget that the tiny seeds in my hand will grow quite as big as they will and that they will require me to be there – a lot. So come February in they start to go and carry on going in over the next few months – cosmos, Mexican sunflowers, heavenly blues, basils, nasturtiums, tobaccos, anise hyssops, Mexican hyssops…

Last year I planted several hundred chia (Salvia hispanica) seeds just for the hell of it thinking that none would come up… every single one of them came up! And grew and grew until the one in the conservatory reached over seven feet and bloomed in November with its incredible bright blue flowers.
The problem is I love seeds! I love collecting them, planting them, giving them away, sending them to friends through the post. Plants can bring people together and allow for conversations that might never happen otherwise. And it’s brilliant being in Transition because of all the seed and seedling swaps, the community gardens and all the other people who are into plants and the whole ethos of give and grow.
I also love having somewhere to go beyond my own private garden to swap and plant plants and have those conversations. It was in this spirit that I organised the monthly Plants for Life talks, walks and workshops on medicine plants this year at the Library Community Garden in Bungay.The garden’s central bed will feature some of those plants throughout the year. The response so far has been amazing, with many more people coming to the events than I’d expected.
This year I’m growing more Chia, some of them bound for Jeremy at Grapes Hill Community Garden, where The Low Carbon Cookbook will have a small corner for ‘superfood’ plants. I’ve already sown some Amaranth and these will grow alongside the goji berry Charlotte wrote about yesterday.

I’m excited to see what happens with the deep purple sunflower seeds in the picture. The parents of the plants that produced these seeds were a dark sunflower and a light one. I was quite shocked when I first saw the flowers last year and wrote about them here. I came to really love them and they lasted all summer.
You see the power of seeds? Once you get into them and the plants that grow from them they can take over your life. So just one more for the road (or ground) today: Wild Tomato Columbianum. Donated to the Heritage Seed Library by a woman called Nancy Arrowsmith in Arizona and found at the annual seedswap in Walberswick.
Don’t know how wild they are but I love the name!

 

Pics:  Dark Mountain Issue 2 cover by Rima Staines2012 seeds on reused trays and Give and Take baking tray; 2011 Chias sprouting; Wild Columbian Tomatoes at Walberswick seed swap; Deep purple sunflower seeds and seed packets

Postcard from Madre Tierra, Southern Ecuador – Early ’90s

Dear All,

As you can see, the view from the straw palapa I’m staying in here is beautiful. I’ve just been watching a condor circle high above the peaks. We’re in the foothills of the Andes in Southern Ecuador in a place called Madre Tierra near the small town of Vilcabamba.

The journey took seven hours by bus from Cuenca to the north, which is much higher up, and colder. The bus was crammed with passengers and belongings and I thought at one point I’d be driven mad by the 24-hour salsa music the driver had on full blast. Then we started to descend. Banana and papaya trees began appearing. They became more and more abundant. I felt my body unwind with the warmth.

But it’s not really the view or the bus ride I’m writing to you about. Nor the fact that Vilcabamba is famous for people who live to be a hundred years old, and for the San Pedro cactus said to hold the keys to eternity.

It’s this place. Madre Tierra. I don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere like it. You can’t book in advance, so the bus drops you off and you walk up the hill in the warm dark past the sugar cane field twinkling with glow worms under a sky full of stars. I was nervous about finding the place packed. Where else would we go in the middle of nowhere? What if we have to SHARE with PEOPLE WE DON’T KNOW? Kitty, the Australian girl who told us about Madre Tierra in a cafe in Quito, told me “no worries, Mark, it’ll be fine.” (How come Australians are always so laid back?)

We arrived to a friendly welcome and were given a bamboo hut to stay in. Very elementary, a couple of beds, a rickety table, a ceiling light – with a wasp’s nest built around it. WASPS! I’ve had a phobia of wasps since childhood. It took me a VERY long time to get to sleep.

Next morning I saw the other huts dotted about the hillside. On the balcony outside our hut there are coffee beans drying in the sun.

Loos and showers are communal and the water is solar-heated. It took me some time to get used to the low pressure (I’ve always loved a bit of a power shower!), but I’m slowly tuning in to the place. It’s lovely to shower outside with my bare feet on the earth.

Every day at breakfast and dinner, everybody converges upon the communal ‘dining room’, a huge table set under a verandah, overlooking the valley. There you meet fellow travellers on the South American trail from all over the world, and watch rainbows dance between the mountains. The owners are Jaime from Ecuador and Durga from Canada, who live in a small house on site and come and talk with the guests at mealtimes. The wasps won’t hurt you, they told me. And the coffee is seriously local. As are the awesome fruit salads of papaya, mango and banana, and the flowers in the huge pot of afterdinner tea.

Most of the food is grown here in the gardens at Madre Tierra. It’s all vegetarian, the cooks prepare it fresh every day (and eat what the guests eat) and any waste goes to feed the very free-range chickens and turkeys. The latter are glorious fowl who let you know audibly and with a proud display of tailfeathers just who has the right of way when you meet them on the path.

Last night we had a steam bath heated from wood gathered within walking distance. Several of us sat pressed together naked in the warm darkness of a small hut. We threw water on hot stones with a scented eucalyptus branch, breathed… and sweated! And got to know each other.

We’re probably leaving tomorrow or the day after. But we’ll come back whilst we’re still in Ecuador. There’s something about this place that tastes of the future.

(ii)

Suffolk, England 2011

PS: On that visit to Madre Tierra I got over my fear of wasps. It has never returned. You could call it sleeping with the enemy that turned out not to be the enemy.

PPS: Coming to think of it, I’m not addicted to power showers anymore either.

PPPS: I have not been to Vilcabamba since 1993. I’m not addicted to flying now, either. But I do love communal eating, flower tea, rainbows, cactus, condors, turkeys and Madre Tierra wherever I go.

Post first published on 29th January 2011 on This Low Carbon Life; pics and painting: Madre Tierra, Vilcabamba, early 90s, Visions in Ecuador 1993, all by Mark Watson under Creative Commons with Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives license.

 

 

ARCHIVE: Wild Flowers for Bees

by CHARLOTTE DU CANN (September 2010)

This is a wild flower list primarily for honeybees. Honeybees “work” flowers in a different way from bumble and other wild bees. They like to visit a stand of one species of flower at a time, rather than hop from one kind of flower to another. They also have a shorter proboscis which means they can access a smaller range of flowers than bumble bees. Flowers which require deeper probing, for example buddleia and honeysuckle, are inaccessible to honeybees, unless their bases have been pierced previously by other insects.

Certain species of flowers provide food for honeybees – for themselves and the brood, as well as winter stores. In addition to seeking nectar (sugars and essential minerals) and pollen (protein and fat) from flowers, bees are also on the lookout for propolis made from the gummy substances of plants, such as poplar and horse chestnut buds, pine resin and sunflowers. Bees also collect honeydew, the sweet substance exuded from sap-eating insects (e.g aphids) on trees, principally lime and pines. This provides the dark, strong tasting tree honeys, much loved in Europe.

This list has been compiled to bring attention to those wild flowers that have fed honeybees for millions of years. Like all creatures the vegetarian bees flourish best on a varied diet of wild plants. Though they visit the crops growing on agricultural land, from apple orchards and oil rape fields, it is the native or naturalised wild plants growing in uncontaminated soil that keep them in optimum health (and yield the best honey!). So you can really help the bee by protecting wild flowers and trees everywhere and allowing or planting some of the following species in your gardens and backyards:-

Winter quiet

Though the main emphasis is on keeping the hive at a warm and even temperature and preparing the brood, emerging snowdrops and winter aconites will be sought out by worker bees foraging on mild and sunny days. Pollen is collected from the early flowering hazel and alder catkins.

Spring Activity (March-May)

In March the hive really starts to buzz as the Queen starts to lay and focus ison supplying the expanding brood with nectar and pollen. The hedgerows are the first to burst into flower, beginning with cherry plum (sometimes as early as Feb) and ending with hawthorn in mid-May. All blossoms are widely visited by bees including blackthorn, cherry, plum, damson, bullace and crab apple. Other trees that are widely visited are the horse chestnut for its nectar and sycamore for its pollen. Key Spring tree for the pollen is pussy willow. If you stand underneath a willow tree in March you can hear the whole world buzzing.

Meanwhile closer to ground on the verges, before the first cut at the beginning of May, the bees are out seeking wild strawberries, forget-me-not and garlicky jack-in-the-hedge, and in the woods bugle, and the neglected but fine old world medicine plant, figwort. Out on the heath and scrublands the whole hive is making a bee-line to the shocking yellow pea-flowers of gorse, followed in May by the broom. March and April are the best months for their favourite composite flower that grows just about everywhere, the dandelion.

Note on weeds! In Spring weeds are going for it and reaching for the sky, as every keen gardener laments. However bees love weeds, especially those troublesome and untidy thistles and dandelions, so do leave some of those sunny flower-heads in your path for them. And cultivate a taste for a “French lawn” sprinkled with daisies, white clover and self-heal.

comfrey on the verge

June Gap

This is the month where the hive is at its most active but there are few blossoms on the trees (Holly is the exception here) and few large stands of flowers. “Arable weeds” such as field poppies, viper’s bugloss and cornflowers were traditionally in their height this month before pesticides came to the fields and white clover, perhaps the bees’ top-ranking nectar flower, has been equally reduced in the meadows. However these flowers still grow in the margins where they can (and in bee lovers’ gardens). Opium poppies spring up in the wastelands everywhere this month and are avidly worked by bees for their (blue) pollen.

Other key wild flowers out now are the wild dog rose and common mallow in the hedgerows, bell heather in the heathlands, thyme in the hilly places and tree mallow by the sea. The sky-blue meadow cranesbill is also much sought out by bees, as are fruit “bushes” such as the moorland bilberry and woodland wild raspberry.

Harvest Months (July – September)

These are the months the bees start building their store cupboard. The Queen is still busy laying, but the honeycombs are being stocked for the future months, as well as for the brood. Big nectar trees are the three species of lime that flower early in July and blackberry. The ditches and waste places are rich places for foraging bees in high summer, as meadow sweet, St John’s wort, evening primrose, teasel, great mullein, chicory, and the highly attractive rosebay willowherb and the melilots (white and yellow) all start to flower. All species of thistles are highly valued, especially the fragrant creeping thistle.

Down by the river the showy purple loosestrife is now at its peak, alongside great willowherb, Himalayan balsam and water mint. At the seaside the prickly scented flowers of sea-holly are visited by all bees and small butterflies, such as common blue and coppers, as is sea lavender in the salt marsh.

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ling on the heath

Later in the season the purple-headed knapweeds come into play on the verges, with stands of yellow common toadflax and goldenrod. By late August heather (ling) is blazing on heaths and hilltops everywhere (its nectar yielding the much prized heather honey).

Fall to Winter The brood is diminishing and the focus is on preparing the hive for winter. By October the Queen is only laying in good weather and the drones are evicted. Outside the hive, the sturdy knapweeds are still flowering in the hedgerows and meadows, as are the sea asters in the marshlands. The main destination for bees (and all insects) however is the ivy. This green plant that climbs along walls and up trees everywhere is in full flower until the frosts. Though some wild plants flower further into the winter (chickweed, yarrow) the ivy marks the end of the bee flower year . . . until the hazel flowers at the beginning of January.

hazel catkins low res 800x600photos: pasque flower, bluebells and forget-me-nots; Dunwich snowdrops; blackthorn and Danish scurvy grass; gorse, dandelion field, poet’s narcissus; comfrey and bumblebee on the verge; white clover and making frames for the Flixton hives; toadflax on the beach; rosebay willowherb; ling on the heath; hazel catkins

 

Note by MarkInFlowers: This post by Charlotte Du Cann was written and published on Sustainable Bungay’s website in September 2010 as part of the Bungay Community Bees project. The archive of Bungay Community Bees is no longer live on SB’s website (June 2018). Bungay Community Bees’ Facebook page is still available).