Pansies … and Pigeons!

Pansy

I’ve never grown pansies in my garden before, except occasionally the wild Johnny Jump Up from seed, but my daughter is fascinated by them. The rich depth of colours, the softness, the fact they flower when little else does. So over the holidays I took her with me to buy some plants and allowed her to choose which ones she liked. I ended up buying twenty four mixed pansy plants covering just about every shade between them – which earned me some very strange looks from my prize-winning horticulturalist neighbour, and also ex-boss, that I happened to meet with my trolley-full! (His garden is a little different to mine…)

Actually there was some logic in my apparent madness. The unpredictable winter with its late snows (by local standards) has left many gaps in my borders, and as I haven’t been growing so many flowers from seed over the past few years, I do not have a ready supply of new stock with which to fill the gaps. I figured the pansies would bring happiness, especially to M, and would hopefully last all summer. If most are gone by next year then at least I will have more time to plan something else new!

But as I started to get them out of their pots for planting, I had a revelation. I realised that if regrouped them into their approximate colours, I could reduce the crazy mixture to approximately four colours: dark red, mostly yellow, purple-blue, and white with a bit of dark purple.

I have a vague colour theme going on, inspired by John Fothergill and his writings about his pub garden in the 1920s, (An Innkeeper’s Diary, published 1931), placing hotter colours near the house and fading out to white at the furthest distance to make it look further away. It works well in my small garden, as there are fields beyond, and helps me decide where to put a plant – although some seeds don’t read their labels like ‘yellow’ hollyhocks turning out to be pink, or Welsh poppies seeding everywhere they can, so I’m not too strict about it! So I mostly followed my usual scheme with the pansies, M helping me to place them around the garden in colour groups, mostly three or four at a time with me helping to show where geraniums or campanulas or giant scabious were about to be, and suddenly they looked amazing. Blending in tastefully, yet full of cheer. I really enjoyed the sight.

However, trying to take photos of them to go with this post revealed another problem that I hadn’t considered: several of the flowers were being eaten. Being edible to humans, and also freshly grown, they must have appeared to be a new delicacy in my garden compared to all the hardy plants that had survived outside all winter. I have never liked to use poisons in the garden, preferring to find natural solutions and letting the garden balance itself over time; copper rings made out of an old hot water tank are one of my best against slugs, but I didn’t think that was the problem here, since it was the flowers being eaten rather than the stalks. A few days observation finally revealed the truth. Pigeons.

Immediately another incident in the holidays with M came to mind, when I had to wait at a zebra crossing because a pigeon was using it. I had watched as the bird looked both ways at the side of the road, in the way pigeons do, then walked very fast all the way across, exactly in the middle of the crossing. I didn’t want to run it over, so I ended up having to stop while it completed its journey to the other side and then over to investigate the gutter. My daughter of course found all this hilarious. Given the Highway Code says drivers must stop when a ‘pedestrian’ is on the crossing, rather than specifying a ‘person’, I presume this was what I was required to do. I now wonder whether I should have reduced the pigeon count slightly, as I am getting a little fed up with them.

Cock pheasant seen from my window. (There is a layer of ice below the surface.)

One more possibility springs to mind however, before I curse the fat grey birds, as we had an even more unexpected garden visitor recently that makes a pigeon look tiny…

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Water Unfrozen

Through the centre of Ambleside, like many Lake District towns and villages, runs a stream. When wet, it can be quite a torrent as it runs over a series of ledges; Stock Ghyll once powered so many mills in the town that it had the nickname of Rattle Ghyll. However, it took me several years to realise that just a short walk upstream is something far more dramatic.

Stock Ghyll tributary running under the footpath.
(Click to enlarge)

Just outside the town there is a rather lovely circular path through woodland alongside the stream that was engineered by the Victorians. The first photo shows where a small tributary stream is crossed early on in the walk. The bridge is almost invisible from the main path, most people seeing it only on the return journey if the arrows are followed. (I prefer going sunwise as I am perverse, and also it is prettier if I am not planning to return directly to Ambleside.) Below the bridge are some stepping stones, from where you get a wonderful view of this beautifully built gateway into another realm – as well as the easiest place to dip a hand in the water.

Continuing upwards, whichever side of the river you walk there are several different viewpoints from where you can see the main waterfall, the 70 foot high Stock Ghyll Force. Some of these still have the Victorian ironwork in place; others are very muddy and are less protected.

Stock Ghyll Force
(Click to enlarge)


I have seen the falls at lower water levels, when most of the water falls river left (ie the right hand side as in the photo), but what I liked on this occasion was the near perfect balance of the two falls, which then come together to make one. It always feels a good place for me to connect with falling water, especially going sunwise so crossing above the falls (the wooden bridge is just visible) before following with the water in the direction it is flowing in order to see them in their entirety.

These pictures were actually taken in February, when the previous snowmelt was underway. I had every intention of posting them on our return – and then the snow arrived. I just couldn’t connect with running water! Now the snow has melted again here, I finally felt ready to edit the photos (as the colours didn’t come out the way I saw them) and to write about the waterfall, however briefly. So I learned something about myself at the same time, and how I live in ‘now’, at least as far as weather is concerned!

Imbolc Quilt

Quilt for Imbolc

Here is my quilt for Imbolc, season of Winter thawing to Spring. It is always a special festival to me, celebrating Brigid, the one Goddess I have had a really long term relationship with, and I wanted to reflect the square shape of her cross in the quilt. So this has a more organised colour pattern than the previous seasonal quilts I have made.

I’m still managing to use up scraps, although a certain amount of trust is now being called for that I won’t run out before I finish the series. Having enough backing fabric is also starting to get tricky – for this one I used white as without wadding any other colour showed through the white squares on the front, but I had to make it in three pieces.

The colours of Imbolc always make me think of snowdrops, which are often associated with Brigid and the festival itself – despite having only been introduced to Britain in the 1500s. It is true that they often flower at the right time of year, although this year one clump of mine were showing white just a day or two after the winter solstice.

This quilt has again raised the question of when to create a display for each Sabbat. Mostly I change things a few days or a week before, except the Yule display was started at the beginning of December. However, there seems to be a strong tradition around here of removing all Christmas things on or by the 5th January, which leaves a surprisingly long time for an empty display! So I waited a few days and then put out the new Imbolc quilt, but found I was then ready to clean the house and bring the freshness in! Did Spring arrive early this year? I now understand why Steiner schools sometimes have the addition of ‘Mrs Thaw’ to fill this gap, although she could come any time up until May depending on the weather!

Wombling

Before my daughter was born, I used to go Wombling regularly in the winter months, collecting rubbish along the local footpaths I walked, targeting a different area each time. Now she is at school, and I am able to walk a little easier, I have been at it again.

For those not familiar, the Wombles were furry little creatures who lived on Wimbledon Common, created by Elizabeth Beresford in the late 1960s in a series of six books and later turned into children’s television episodes. They collected all the rubbish they could find, then carefully sorted it for reuse, having great stores of everything from usable paper to string to building materials. In those days there was not much plastic, and rubbish was collected every day before it got rained on. Today paper usually biodegrades by the time I am collecting, but plastic, glass, aluminium and steel can remain in place under plants forever if it is not removed. I collect in winter when the plant growth has died down, and often at the new moon as it feels like a good time for renewal.

It is a satisfying activity from the point of view of seeing the massive difference it makes to clean up an area, and I can almost feel the land sigh with relief when I have removed all the waste that should never have been left. I always feel the energy itself change as well; I have noticed that when I have started to clean a bad area but run out of time or bags (which of course are not given out free by every shop as they were 6-7 years ago!) as if by magic someone else comes along and finishes the job. Council, scouts, community payback, whatever. If this continues, then I will try doing small amounts by roads I want to see cleaned up and hope those better equipped and better protected from traffic can finish.

Most of what I collect is rubbish that should have been recycled a long time ago. Sadly I do not have the capacity to sort the rubbish, nor can I take it all home and put it in the correct bins – I usually find the nearest bin with space to leave that day’s bag in. But just occasionally real treasures get found and given a new home. Over the past 10 years these have included:

  • A complete set of plastic picnic gear, beach towel and bag, only slightly eaten by small creatures. (The bag proved essential for carrying the rest out, including the food rubbish.)
  • 6 Hammers of different types, found by roadsides.
  • Lenco Turntable, excellent condition and still in use by us after a decent base was built for it. Better sound quality than the one we had, after a quick arm and stylus swap, although we disposed of the cabinet.
  • Glass Marbles.
  • Money – usually given to charity if found in this way. Now that notes are being made of plastic, I wonder if there will be an increase in the number found at the bottom of hedges?
  • Moles … Again!

    There are grass verges in front of most houses at the outskirts of our village, a legacy of Edwardian planning, setting the houses back from the road. Most of the verges are neat, mown regularly by the council, though occasionally covered in wheel tracks or removed altogether where space is needed for parking. Ours currently is not neat or tidy. Ours is completely covered in little brown molehills, where a small, black creature has evidently been digging in circles.

    When I started this blog, I asked which animals would like to help me and offer their support. The result is the sketch I made at the top of the page. One of these animals was the mole, who made himself known to me in the same way as he is now, by making molehills all over the place. And then disappeared as silently and completely as he had appeared.

    So now he is back, I felt he had a message for me.

    Unfortunately with the holidays my meditation time was massively reduced, my focus has been elsewhere, and I never made the time to simply ask Mole what he had to say. Instead I spent three weeks being puzzled. Not annoyed with the destruction of the otherwise perfect lawn – it is winter and no one is harmed by a few molehills, but it is so extreme as to be very odd. And then suddenly the penny dropped.

    Molehills on the grass verge.

    I have been working with the elements individually, something I do every so often in a cyclical way, deepening my connections each time, and this time started with Earth knowing I find that element hardest. It is also the element of the North, and of Winter. A good time of year for working with rocks, crystals and other gemstones indoors, and going for (short) walks on Derbyshire gritstone, but not for gardening and connecting directly to soil with my hands. The ground in my garden has alternated between frozen or waterlogged for the past three weeks and certainly wouldn’t be helped by digging or compacting right now. But then I looked again at the molehills. Perfect soil, not frozen, not waterlogged, already loosened for me. Created by an animal of the Earth. So obvious in retrospect.

    My original intention had been to try meditating with some soil indoors, just as I had done with different types of rock – one from my pond, another I brought back from Wales last summer, etc. Soil is after all the basis for trees, which I have never had a problem connecting with! But when I got outside I realised I had already done all the indoor work I needed to, exploring loam, sand, silt, clay etc. and how they relate to different types of trees growing, and if I did any more was in danger of becoming so Earthed that all would reach a standstill. I needed to be active, practical. So instead I had a really enjoyable time raking all the little heaps level, seeing the various qualities and ingredients in the soil that help plants to grow and moles to feed, and marveling at how much the soil can vary in colour and texture even over quite a small area. Not only that, but I managed to do it in the only hour of sunshine for about three days. A really lovely working meditation. So thank you mole, and I expect it is goodbye again for now.

    Happy Solstice!

    Winter Solstice Greetings

    May light fill your hearts and your lives as the sun returns, bringing inspiration and happiness.

    I have seen various images of winter trees in lino printing, all snowy white silhouetted against a dark sky. However I needed the sun in my sky, not the moon and stars, so after a lot of thought and several sketches, I came up with this design.

    This is a tree I see to the East every morning, growing in a garden a short distance away and now tall enough to show over the rooftops. It always intrigues me to look at things in mirror image when creating lino prints, so I took that idea further by drawing the tree the right way and its mirror – knowing that once printed I would still have the right way and the mirror. For once I drew straight onto the lino, knowing that any copying and image reversing was superfluous.

    Last summer I was able to acquire a small roller press, and this was its first use which was a joy. I can still improve my inking, but the ‘misty effect’ improved some of the images for me on this occasion. All a learning process which takes a long time when I seem to do only one a year!

    Evergreen plants have long been a symbol of life and fertility for the middle of winter. Many ancient cultures used to bring sprigs of greenery into homes or temples for decoration at this time of year, and that has never stopped. A wreath, to me, symbolises the cyclical wheel of the year, always turning through each season, while trees are life themselves as well as representative of the World Tree from which all life grows. This particular tree is probably an overgrown Christmas tree planted out several years ago…

    Sewing in Circles

    Knotted Button

    A winter coat … and an opportunity to try out some different knots. These (there are three, but it didn’t feel right to photograph the whole thing) were fun to make, although a little tricky. I like to use knots to bind good emotions for the wearer, and it felt good to have three circles in each.

    Three is an important number in Neolithic and Celtic art – I think of the triskele with its three spirals, or the triquetra of three interlocked semi-circles. There are three realms to our world: Earth, Sea and Sky, and within these we live through three stages of life: maiden, mother, crone. Our health is often seen in terms of Body, Mind and Spirit. When we journey, we choose Upper, Middle or Lower Worlds to explore.

    Goddess Brigid has three aspects, as does The Cailleach. Badb, Macha and Morrigan work together and are collectively known as The Morrigan.

    Three makes me think of a tripod, or a milking stool, perfectly balanced no matter what the terrain, each leg supporting the others. It is the potential of two parents with a child. A triad in music is a perfectly balanced chord, major or minor, that forms the root of Western harmony.

    There is a lot of energy stored in three-ness, as there are always forces acting together. It is not a stable energy like four is, there is constant change, growth, development. Things can happen. The triskele has three legs going out from the centre, balancing yet full of movement, looking outwards. The child will pull forwards. Triple Goddesses include Creativity. Triads can become counterpoint and fugues as well as chorales. Yet there is perfection and completeness within that three-ness.

    Sewing these knots on took longer than making them, and needed me to turn the coat on each stitch. Definitely sewing in circles.

    Yule Quilt

    Yule Quilt

    This is now the fifth quilt I have made in the series of 8 for each sabbat display, and the first where the colours had a small amount of planning in their arrangement – rather than just the total random, ‘scrappy quilt’ look. I did not have many suitable fabrics for Yule, 3 golds, 3 greens, and 4 reds although one was in very short supply. Had I started with this quilt, I would have probably made it far more definite in its design by using some colours for the stars and different colours for the borders, yet this interests me precisely because it wasn’t done that way. It draws me in more.

    The stars made me think of spiky holly with its bright berries, as well as poinsettia plants sold everywhere but needing more warmth than our house generally offers on a winter’s night. There is also the coming of the light, directly from the sun as we celebrate its return – and for two months of the year I have an unobstructed view of the sunrise through trees from my bedroom window. Most years (but no longer guaranteed) there is also light reflected by snow, bringing a wonderfully uplifting feel at what is generally a dark time.

    Making a series of quilts that are supposed to be an exact size has also been a learning experience. My sewing accuracy wasn’t bad before, but sew each 1/4inch seam just 1/2mm out, and over 25 seams you have gained or lost a whole inch, 25mm. That is assuming my cutting was accurate to within the same tolerances! So it took me to quilt 4 to get almost the right finished size, and this one is just slightly long. Given they are all made slightly wide, long looks good. The other good thing I have finally learned is how to work methodically when picking up each pair of pieces to sew, in order to keep them in the same position and rotation. It has taken me a long time to master this basic skill!

    Normally I change the display about a week before a sabbat, but it felt appropriate to get this out last weekend. Not because lights and decorations are up everywhere else and M enjoys them being up in our house as well, but because winter arrived with the last leaves falling off the trees, two dustings of snow and ice on the pond. Autumn has passed, it is dark outside, and I feel ready to close the curtains and be looking within. Enjoying candlelight, being cosy in the long dark evenings, and preparing for what is to come. In my case, a completely crazy, exciting, holiday season with so much packed into about 3 weeks that I have had to write down what I need to do when.

    Blackthorn Weatherforecasting

    Blackthorn Blossom

    For the past two weeks, almost since the March equinox, the Blackthorn has been increasingly floriforous around here. It is a ghostly presence in the hedges, with its white flowers growing along the smaller branches and tops of Prunus spinosa trees, leaving their black trunks bare underneath – almost like the child dressing up at Samhain with black leggings and a white sheet over their heads. Yet the hawthorn which makes up the bulk of the hedges around here is now glowing green with fresh young leaves, creating a patchwork effect.

    The old saying for this time of year was “Beware the Blackthorn Winter.” With high pressure dominating and the weather having turned beautifully sunny and warm for much of the country, I have felt that Spring has finally sprung – yes there is the occasional nightly frost, but nothing particularly long lasting since most days it has gone within an hour of sunrise. So I have been puzzled as to why Blackthorn blossom should suggest a return to winter, and decided to investigate further.

    Patchwork of white Blackthorn and green Hawthorn

    It turns out that normally the blackthorn flowers at the middle to end of April – when there is very often an unexpected cold period. This year winter has been mild, and the weather seems to be continuing that way, so I am thinking this has caused the blackthorn to be particularly early. It is not alone; bluebells have been flowering since the beginning of April around here, 3-4 weeks earlier than normal. But the result of this is that the Blackthorn is not coinciding with a cold spell as it usually does; MET office forecasts are currently predicting ‘rain or showers, turning wintery’ ie snow for next weekend…

    I now await confirmation from another tree for my planting out, using that other favourite saying “Ne’er cast a clout ’till May be out.” It refers to the hawthorn blossom, which is usually in flower in mid-May around here – and has generally proved a reliable guide to the last frosts (provided I wait for my own hedge to flower rather than those in more sheltered locations). It already has flower buds, but as I have seen before, the tree is happy to keep its flowers in bud if necessary until the cold weather is over. Wise old trees!

    Happy Imbolc

    The 1st/2nd February may be the start of Spring, but Imbolc was not a sunny day here this year!

    Maybe I should be glad – it is said in Scottish folklore, that if the Cailleach wishes to make Winter last longer, she will ensure Imbolc is bright and sunny so she may gather lots of firewood. If the weather is foul that day, the Cailleach is fast asleep and Winter is nearly over. It was so windy that I had trouble taking any photographs at all, although at least our everlasting fog has been blown away. The poor snowdrops in my garden, pictured in snow at the start of February two years ago, have not had enough warmth or sun to open properly yet this year and are now looking ragged.

    Rosemary flowering for Imbolc

    Rosemary flowering for Imbolc

    But an unexpected find: Rosemary just coming into flower. It is a wonderful Winter herb, full of flavour through the darkest months when nearly all the softer herbs have lost their leaves or disappeared below ground, as well as giving shape to the garden. Then just when I start thinking the ‘evergreen’ plants are looking stiff and tired they spring into new growth, or bring out these wonderful blue flowers. It makes a great herbal tea, full of robust energies – as well as being anti-bacterial anti-septic, and an antioxidant. I also like it mixed with my other winter herb, Thyme, which is great for coughs.