Thursday 25 May 2023

In the Garden............ ensemble of bird song fills the air as the butterfiles dart and flit around the flowers.


A Red Admiral - Vanessa atalanta, drinks nectar courtesy a Bellis perennis - daisy.
The Robin family - Erithacus rubecula are now on their second brood. Do you know that it is impossible, even for an expert ornithologist, to tell a male from a female?
Bees are busy collecting nectar and pollen.
I think this is a Brown carder bee, but if I am wrong, do let me know.

Centaurea montana - knapweed

At this time of year the garden is a riot of colour, but it sad just how quickly the flowers come and go. I want to stop the clock, and enjoy them for longer.

Currently the tree peonies are the "show stoppers". The two at the top are hybrids, and the yellow and red flowers at the bottom are trees native to China. The yellow flower is Paeonia Ludlowii, and the red flower is Paeonia delavayi - these two trees are now roughly 2.44m high, but we prune them at the end of autumn to restrain their size and height. The red one is not commonly seen, but the yellow one is easy to propagate via its very large shiny black seeds. Many of our friends and relatives now have a Paeonia Ludlowii offspring growing in their garden from this tree.

I love this Geranium phaeum - mourning widow, or black widow. It makes a striking little flower in a mixed border.

An Allium flower ready to open....

............One day later

The smell of moist earth and lilacs hung in the air like wisps of the past and hints of the future......Margaret Millar
Every year we look forward to the May flowering of this glorious Cercis Siliquastrum, Judas Tree, a tree that we nearly lost as a young sapling. A local male deer entered the garden and proceeded to rub his antlers up and down the trunk tearing away the bark. We thought all was lost, but it is now almost the same height as this Aesculus hippocastanum - Horse Chestnut tree.

When the world wearies and society fails to satisfy, there is always the garden - Minnie Aumonier

Wednesday 17 May 2023

The Greening of the Shires

The month of May is green on both our high Cotswold escarpments and in our valleys, but Mother Nature has added some magical splashes of pink, white, yellow and blue with her flowers.

A plentiful clump of Common comfrey - Symphtytum officinale luxuriates on the high grassy banks that line the narrow country lanes - bees and butterflies enjoy its clusters of flowers, but it is also used in herbal medicines to treat cuts, sprains, and bruises. Join me now, and we can wander along the pathways and byeways together through Elkstone, at 1000 feet above sea level, it is the highest village in the Cotswolds.

The Church of St. John the Evangelist has a graveyard showing a lovely display of naturalised blue and yellow flowers, blue Quamash - Camassia Cusickii - and yellow Cowslips - Primula veris.
However, we cannot pass the church without a stop to admire and view the fine Norman Gargoyles, carved stone corbel table, south door tympanum, and the beautifully preserved chevron arches inside.

Some of the grostesque heads and mythical creatures running around the corbel table.

This mythological character is my favourite. I wonder if the Norman who carved this stone had a sense of humour or perhaps a vivid imagination? It appears to be a centaur, having the body of a horse, a rather flamboyant tail, and holding a bow and arrow ready for action.  It is remarkable to think that this quirky little stone carving has survived outside through centuries of storms, tempests, and momentous historic events for well over a 1000 years.

 The tympanum above the southern entrance.

The hand of God is seen above Christ's head whilst he holds the book of judgement in his left hand and points to the Agnus Dei with his other. He is surrounded by the emblems of the Evangelists.

A large serpent devours its own tail as a lugubrious lion looks on.

Arriving Inside the eye is immediately captured by two sets of exquisite romanesque Norman arches - the first set lead from the nave into the chancel and the second set lead on into the sanctuary. Decorated in deep cut zigzags, also known as chevrons, they are a glory to behold. The outer hood mould is pelleted, terminating at each end with a dragon's head. 

Moving swiftly on past the Old Rectory, now privately owned, we look for the pathway which hopefully will lead us around the outskirts of the village and back down to where we left the car.

Over a style to an inviting pathway. The smell of the freshly mowed grass fills the air.

Following the pathway through several meadows leads us into a small woodland carpeted in Wild Garlic - Allium ursinum. The leaves are now perfect for those who like to forage the leaves and make pesto. However, it is very important to take care when removing the leaves to not disturb their bulbs. Personally I still prefer to make my pesto using basil leaves. 

Suddenly rooftops appear amongst the trees below our walk, and then we spot the flag perched on what used to be the village school.

The building now houses the village hall, and this is where we parked the car.


Monday 8 May 2023

Bluebells Galore

We were keen to return to Badbury Hill, a large Iron Age Hill Fort dating back to 600 BC. In the Dark Ages it is believed to have been a key battle site between the ancient Celtic people of Britain and the encroaching Anglo Saxons. Today, however, it is renowned for its carpets of native bluebells - Hyacinthoides non-scripta, and its tall military-straight beech trees. A circular walk rejoices in stunning views over the Upper Thames Valley and walks along wide avenues, nature's equivalent to urban boulevards, offer the walker spectacular carpets of bluebells. 

Gazing skywards we spotted this squirrels drey made from last years fallen autumn beech leaves and twigs. We waited, and watched, hopefully, but no signs of life appeared. Apparently squirrels normally have two litters of young a year - one between February and March and the other between June and July. It appears that we were just too late or maybe too soon.

Unlike Spanish bluebells - Hyacinthoides hispanica, which have no scent, our native bluebells have a sweet delicate scent, which drifts around a bluebell wood on warm days. 

The bluebells scent is similar to that of a Hyacinth but softer.

The bluebell is the sweetest flower

That waves in summer air;

Its blossoms have the mightiest power

To sooth my spirit's care.

Emily Jane Bront

Thursday 4 May 2023

May Day

It was 5.30am at sunrise on the 1st May. People were up with the lark. Girls were singing and dancing, muscians playing, Morris Men with bells on their legs danced, words courtesy local novelist and poet, Laurie Lee, were delivered, lots of children and dogs too were all marking the beginning of summer high up on the Cotswold escarpment where we live.

May festivities were first recorded in Ancient Roman times. The Floralia - the Festival of Flora- took place at the end of April beginning of May in honour of the goddess of flowers, fertility and spring. It involved athletic games and theatrical performances. 

In the British Isles the first day of May began to emerge as a day of feasting and dancing in towns and villages from the medieval period. A host of exuberant traditions developed to mark the day, now mainly forgotten. 
In Victorian and Edwardian times a May Queen was chosen, not many happy faces here! 

 Traditions included gathering wildflowers and green branches, weaving floral garlands, and setting up a Maypole, May Tree or May Bush, around which people danced.

Monday 1 May 2023

The Fruit Quiz

We have just arrived home, having been away for a few days to celebrate our eldest granddaughter's special birthday. Thirty close family and friends were all seated outside on a glorious sunshine/blue sky day in her parents' garden. We enjoyed a delicious lunchtime feast followed by chocolate cake and bubbly, there was lots of laughter and fun, which made for a really happy, and memorable day for us all

However, as soon as arrive back in the Cotswolds, we are always happy that we are once again almost safely home, and in our own special corner of the world.

1. The fruit is called Scelerocarya birrea - Marula

2. The principal country in which it grows is South Africa.

3. The local indigenous people call the tree the Elephant tree. Elephants are particularly fond of Marula, and once the scent of the ripe fruit drifts throughout the air, they travel great distances in order to taste it. This is also the signal for the local people to begin harvesting the fruit.


4. The main commodity made from the Marula fruit is a liqueur spirit called Amarula. The producers of the liqueur run a not-for-profit conservation organisation in order to fund an elephant programme in a bid to better understand what prompts their migrations, the herd dynamics and their feeding patterns. The likelihood for conflict between people and the animals is expected to escalate as humans take over more of the land where elephants roam.  

Clue. The main product made from this fruit is processed in the Netherlands after it has been distilled and matured. I mentioned this because as soon as the fruit is picked its pulp is immediately transferred to cooling tanks in order to prevent uncontrolled fermenting taking place. It is then despatched to the wine growing region of Stellenboch and prepared for distillation by the wine growing Dutch settlers in that area. It is distilled and matured for two years in French oak barrels before being finally dispatched to the Netherlands where it is blended with cream and other ingredients before being bottled and distributed.

The first correct answer to questions 1. 2. 3. & 4. came from Margaret, and the second correct answer to questions 1. and 2. came from David. The third all correct answers came from Britta following a second attempt. 

I must also mention that David said the main commodity made from the fruit was oil. Whilst they do make an oil from the kernel and husk inside the fruit it is not the main commodity made from using the fruit. Marula oil is similar to Argan oil which also derives from a tree in Morocco. 

Another comment which I must mention came from Gina who happened to answer question 3. The indigenous people name this tree after a large animal, and jokingly Gina said - That is a most magnificent tree. Whatever fruit it produces, there must be mountains of it. Maybe even enough for a herd of elephants. Except the tree has such beautiful symmetry, not something that elephants would leave in good shape!

We only discovered Amarula liqueur recently when we were gifted a bottle. The liqueur has a similar taste to Baileys Irish Cream.

I am not promoting this liqueur