Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Ne'er cast a clout....

...till May is out. So the saying goes.

It's one of the oldest ones in the book - but there is a certain amount of debate as to what exactly it means.

The clouting bit is clear enough: it's all to do with warm clothing. A 'clout' is an olde-Englishe word for 'cloth' - so 'casting' (throwing) a 'clout' (cloth, or coat) means taking off your coat.

So you might interpret it as warning you against thinking that just because there's a spate of warm weather going on early in the year, you can go ahead and act like it's summer: chances are we've got more cold weather on the way and that coat will be going back on.

In gardening terms, this means you can't be absolutely sure there won't yet be a late frost - even if it is 25°C, hasn't rained in weeks and everyone's heading like lemmings to the seaside.

But what about the 'May is out' bit? Some say it means you shouldn't lower your guard (or your horticultural fleece) until the beginning of June. But, it has also been pointed out, it could refer to the old word for hawthorn - still known as 'may' by my mum, who used to eat the leaves when she were a nipper. She called it 'bread and cheese', but don't try it - it's horrible.

Well guess what.

This is the may in my hedgerow: it opened its pure white flowers over the Easter weekend and is now 'out' in the outest way it is possible to be.

So to continue my selfless pursuit of research and truth in the services of English etymology: this is by way of marking your card. If there is no further frost from this point forward, I think we can safely say that 'may' in the saying refers to the hawthorn.

If however I have been entirely duped and bamboozled and my new potatoes - now already at the earthing-up stage and about as vulnerable to frost as it's possible to be - are clobbered to black slime by a perfectly normal May frost, I think we can probably conclude that the May in question is the month.

Actually, for completeness, I could do with some fellow researchers a bit further north: is there anyone not quite as close to the south coast as I am with may in blossom at the moment? Let me know and we'll see if you get caught short by a late frost too. Citizen science - it ain't just the Natural History Museum at it, you know.

Oh, and I hope you all had a very happy Easter, by the way!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

April flowers

This is my post for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day.

Yes, I am aware I am four days late for the party. However on the morning of the 15th, I reached out for my trusty camera and discovered that while lurking at the bottom of my bag it had had a close encounter with a leaky water bottle, with disastrous consequences for all concerned.

After many howls of anguish and much prodding of unresponding buttons, I bowed to the inevitable and bought a new camera.

In the process I discovered that my old camera, which was the first thing I bought when I jacked in the day job to become a garden writer five years ago, had reduced in value from £350 to just £59.99.

How are the mighty fallen. Actually being bloody-minded and terminally uninterested in technology, I figured if it ain't broke, don't fix it (well, the camera was, but bear with me here) and so I wasn't going to change a make of camera I was perfectly happy with just because there was something newer and more modern on the market (note I didn't say necessarily 'better'; I don't have any particular need for the capacity to hot-wire pictures to my Facebook account on the move, even if I had one, which I don't).

So I have congratulated myself on my frugality and bought a camera that's exactly the same, but for around a fifth of the price of what they tell me is the equivalent these days.

(and the more up-to-date version didn't even have a viewfinder. I use my viewfinder all the time on sunny days. Why wouldn't they include a viewfinder?)

Anyway. Inconsequental rant over. The camera in question is an Olympus SP500-UZ by the way: discontinued these days therefore ridiculously good value.

So the reason for carrying on with GBBD regardless is that my garden is currently brimming over with flowers and I just couldn't let the chance go by to get out there and take pictures of them in all this gorgeous sunshine. Enjoy!

Thanks as always (if a little late this month) to Carol at May Dreams Gardens for hosting Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Where the wild things are

Ever since I saw the wonderful wildlife tower Nigel Dunnett built (with, no doubt, the aid of a small army of helpers) for his 2009 Chelsea show garden, Future Nature, I've had a bit of a thing for them. It's not often, after all, that you come across something that's useful in the garden, doesn't cost a penny, yet - unlike most things with what might be called an allotment aesthetic - looks fabulous.

I came across this one at a spring open day held at the Magdalen Project, a sort of experimental eco-smallholding place just round the corner from where I live. It was tucked away at the back of a not particularly inspiring - mainly because it had only just been planted - forest garden. Though the jury is still out, for me, on forest gardens, I am totally sold on the whole idea of bug blocks, wildlife stacks, call them what you will.

It was made from old pallets, sawn in half and stacked: if you use full-width pallets you'll only fill the outer six inches or so, therefore to save space you really only need the end bit (this also means you only need three pallets for a six-storey stack, if you get my drift, as you use the two halves on top of each other).

Then you just let your imagination rip to create as many little hidey-holes for bugs and beasties as you can. I loved the way they used roof tiles on the top stuffed with holey stones gathered from the beach.

Bits of old garden hose inside a flowerpot on its side....

...and these rather pretty old slates, interwoven with larger stones to create not only gaps for small things to crawl into (looks like this bit is a favourite with spiders) but also a range of textures and colour, part of what makes these things so pretty.

You can just about make out next door another flowerpot filled with hollow stems - the dried-out remains of cardoons, run-to-seed parsnips and carrots, or Queen Anne's lace from the hedgerows are ideal.

Anything can be co-opted for use: here some old engineering bricks with bits of cane stuck into the holes. You could of course just leave the holes open: the canes just add a bit of quirkiness. The blocks which hold the pallets together have holes of varying sizes drilled into them, too.

And if you don't like the whole pallets thing, there are other shapes and combinations you can use: here a tower of marine ply circles built up like a wedding cake on sturdy lengths of fencepost and topped with a bicycle tyre. Personally I prefer the 'conventional' pallet look: and whichever you choose, it's a fantastic project to do with the kids on aimless school holiday weekdays.

There's a very serious point to all this imagination and frippery: there are so many benefits of attracting insects to your garden. Pollinators - and pest-devouring creatures like beetles, frogs and toads - need every bit of help we can give them, thanks to our tendencies to throw pesticide cocktails around and remove every wildflower we can strip out of the countryside in favour of executive homes. By giving them somewhere safe to live, not only are you helping out your garden (especially if you grow veg), you're doing your bit for biodiversity too.

I've already squirrelled away my first pallet (is there anything, I wonder, for which pallets are not useful?) and I can no longer pass a skip without having a quick peep inside just in case. I've even got the perfect spot for it: just below the window in what will, one day, be my fruit cage - a place where I need as many pollinators and pest-eaters as I can get. Time to get creative...

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