Documenting the seasons of coastal Dorset. I'm a complete amateur so don't trust I'm always right. If ever you see I'm wrong - whether with identifications or in anything else - do say!

Saturday, 20 May 2017


New honeysuckle growth and golden elderberry leaf
Honeysuckle beside golden elderberry leaf.
Here's a post where I place my feet somewhere and with at least one of them stuck firmly to the spot, look around to see what I can see. Mostly, I keep both feet 'stuck' but sometimes I wobble then I have to move one or I'll fall over. Once I did fall into a bush by trying to look behind it while keeping my feet in front of it. In some ways this is a meditative exercise. In others, an unconventional form of yoga. Either way, it's surprising what you can see if, for a moment, you stand still and refuse to move.

Today, when I plonked myself in front of a hedgerow, it was its leaves which caught my attention. There are flowers . . . but mostly we're in a kind of flower-lull. Being 'verdant' is currently the 'in' state to be. Or gold. This honeysuckle (above) with it's early reddish-ness is beside a golden elderberry bush. I've never known why some elderberry bushes have golden leaves when most are green. Is it a variety? Is it a deficiency? Is it a mis-identification?

Pale greeny-yellow snail on pale, greeny-yellow elderberry leaves

And here's another puzzle; did a golden snail decide to sit on one of the golden leaves because it would be a good place to hide? or did whatever turned the leaves gold turn the snail gold too?

Dead blackberries, new bramble leaves and new honeysuckle against a blue sky with a mass of brambles beneath

Hedgerow silhouettes have changed again. In winter they were a gathering of arches and spikes. Trees were like frost patterns. With spring they went frothy with blackthorn blossom, then blodgey with hawthorn, fringed with the floppiness of bluebells. Now they have filled out. At first sight they are a green mass, a unity. It's only when you peer in that you see how many plants go into the making of one blob. But the overall hedeginess is broken up here and there with spurts of honeysuckle between us and the sky and the stiffness of desiccated blackberries which somehow got stuck in time last autumn.

Blackthorn leaves against a blue sky.

Blackthorn . . . I think I've mentioned before how it begins the year dramatically then fades into obscurity during the summer and comes out of hiding in the autumn when people search for its fruits - sloes. It's funny that. Apple trees grow apples. Pear trees grow pears. Raspberry canes grow raspberries - but blackberries grow on brambles and blackthorn bears sloes.

Broken brambles and alexanders with fallen and still growing ivy after council mowing.

Underfoot, things are a bit . . . um . . . not very attractive. The alexanders have been mown down and all plants shaved to earth level. Now that cyclists rule the world, we pedestrians have to put up with views less interesting so cyclists won't suffer the inconvenience of driving over us when they come round corners.

A few years ago, it was very aggravating when the council shaved the bushes back as well. Since then, there have been flat sided elders and sheer walls of ivy. One gets used to it. Well, no. I haven't got used to it. Nature is not meant to be flat sided. Resigned may be a better description. No. That's not right. Morose. That's better. Brambles would like to take over the world. A certain amount of cutting back is necessary or we'll end up in a thorny mono-culture. And it is good to have a path to walk along . . . but all the same . . . Ah well, don't worry, green will return. It does.

High in the hedgerow - honeysuckle flowers before thier petals open.
Way high up - too high to photograph crisply -
honeysuckle buds are ready.

Some links.
Countryside Hedgerows: Protection and Management - the Government
Road Verges are a Refuge for Some of Our Rarest Plants - Plantlife
Plantlife's Campaign to Protect Wildflowers and Nature on Roadside Verges - Plantlife

If you too would  like to stick your foot somewhere and see what you can see - the link box for 'Stuck Foot Posts' will stay open till 7pm (UK time) on 25th May.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017


Ribwort Plantain leaves beside tarmac path.
The last few days have been dry -
and this plant is feeling a bit old.
Many plants droop a bit when their flowers are turning to seed.
(It was in shade when I went to take it's picture before.)
You know how beautiful dandelions are yet how few people let them into their gardens? Well, in addition to praising dandelions I'd like to recommend Ribwort . . . or Ribwort Plantain . . or Plantago lanceolata if you want to be posh about it, as a delightful garden flower.

It's only recently that I've noticed how wonderful each individual Ribwort plant is. It has shape and poise. It's usually buried in grass but with space around it . .  well, why doesn't everyone have one?

Upright head of Ribwort Plantain beside small holly tree in street.
Like Hollyhocks and Foxgloves,
the flowers work their way upwards so you get to see the seeds forming,
the white stamens with their prominent anthers and the un-opened bits all on the same stem.
I grew a nettle once. It was in a pot and it looked magnificent. In a pot it couldn't spread. In a pot each leaf could be seen distinctly with its beautiful crisp and distinctly ziggy-zaggy borders.

Now I'd like to recommend Ribwort as a plant to grow at the edge of a flower border - with plenty of space around it so its flowers and seed heads can lean elegantly and its leaves stand erect or splay around as they please. Daffodils - well, their flowers are wonderful but their leaves have little to commend them. And as for shape - well, they are nothing but stalks with trumpets on top. Ribwort, in contrast, is a plant of completeness. You wouldn't want to put its flowers in a vase and you wouldn't want to pick its leaves to pad out a display . . . but you might want to stand back and admire it on its own, where it is and with all its elements intact. Like a beautiful human. The person you most admire might have fantastic arms but you are unlikely to want to cut one off and use it as a centre-piece for your dinner party table. Some things just aren't the same when cut off.

Compact head of Ribwort Plantain with yellow flowers behind.
Photos in this post come from plants round the corner from each other.
This one has short and compact heads.
I walked backwards and forwards between the plants to see what other differences there are.
The one with the compact head has narrower leaves.
Someone will no doubt be able to say why.
Something going wrong with precise identification?
Age of plant?
In this picture you can clearly see the 'ribs' on the stem where a head has been broken off.
I decided on the idea that Ribwort Plantains are worthy of a place in our gardens when planning a Street Plant Post. There were a few, flat, broadleaved plantains in the gutters but the lanceolot type were on the edges of little patches of ground in front of houses. They must have arrived inadvertently and either been ignored or taken to heart as regular front-of-garden flowers.
One of the things I find difficult about Street Plant Posts is that it's sometimes hard to get a good angle on plants without including number plates so although I came across a Ribwort Plant growing on its own through pebbles, with a space cleared around it so its full shape could be seen - well, I would have felt too intrusive to have taken its picture. Plants in the gutter aren't too bad to take photos of (as long as you don't get your legs run over.

Ribwort head showing ribs on stem - with tarmac background
The result, then, is that for all that I'm commending it to you, I can't show it to its best advantage. However, of all the photos on this post, this is my favourite and I'm currently using it as my desktop picture. (You can try it if you like.)

I'm not sure how easy it is to grow from seed but for many of us in the UK it's easy to come across so it's worth a try.

As for proper information . . . anything I could say would simply re-hash what can be read on the internet so I'll offer some links rather than waffle about and pretend I know more than I do!

I'll begin with a link to a Wikipedia Page. It's a Glossary of Leaf Morphology which, being interpreted, means a list of the names of shapes of leaves with pictures drawn and descriptions written. It's brilliant. It's a browsing page. Find 'lanceolate' on the chart and you'll see where Ribwort gets its lanceolata from. Even if you aren't won over to Ribwort as a special garden plant, you may well be enchanted by this link.

Ribwort head with frill of flowers at bottom.
I'm really annoyed that I haven't been able to take
a photo of a plant free-standing without number-plates and people included.
And there's only one picture with leaves.
But don't you think the colours are amazing?
That bluey-black at the top?
This head is about an inch long.
And the stem is twenty-four inches. I measured it!
The rest of these links go to Ribwort Plantain Pages on nature sites with more to them than Ribwort so if you have time, you might like to go on an explore.

Wild Flower Guide - Look for Ribwort Plantain in the index down the right hand side. 'Plantain Family' is another interesting one to click.
Nature Gate
Easy Wildflowers
Garden Organic
Emorsgate Seeds - someone actually sells Ribwort seeds!
Nature Spot
The Wildlife Trusts

* * *
And completely irrelevantly - Butterfly Conservation is raising money by inviting you to take part in an auction to sponsor a moth species and have your name printed with it in The Atlas of Britain and Ireland's Larger Moths. Whether or not you'd like to be a moth benefactor, do take a look at this site because the photos of the moths in their 'auction' (it's alright, they're not selling dead and dusty creatures on tall pins) are delightful.
* * *

P.S. It seems to me that the more boring a flower looks, the more complicated it is to understand. (I struggle with ivy). While trying to understand the flowers on a Ribwort Plantain Spike I found a page in Google Books where Macgregor Skene (in the 'Biology of Flowering Plants') explains that the stigma are produced from flowers in the upper part of the spike while the stamens hang from the lower. This is in relation to wind-pollination.
One of the troubles with wind is that it makes plants wobble so my photos aren't good enough to peer into to see what this looks like . . . however . . .  wandering off at a tangent to find out about the book itself I found this interesting and honest explanation on Amazon about the problems in re-producing a book originally published before 1923. I don't know what's significant about the magic date 1923 but . . . one goes, bee-like, from one place to the next . . . ! (I'll resist.)

Monday, 1 May 2017


Cover of 'The Salad Garden' by Joy Larkcom. (Publisher's picture.)
I have new glasses and the world looks very odd. All my possessions have grown smaller yet the room is wider. I thought I had a medium sized laptop but it turns out it's quite small. I might even have suggested it could fit in a shoulder bag - if my shoulder bag hadn't shrunk too.

I've also bought a pair of prescription sun-glasses. The moment I put them on, my eyes relax. People who are surprised when they come across me staring into hedgerows are likely to be even more disconcerted now I have a spy-like appearance; for it's the sunglasses I'm wanting to wear all the time, even on cloudy days.

It's May Day. The sun is shining. I can hear thunder.
This is supposed to be a book review.

I love this book. I like this book so much I've been carrying it around with me. It's called 'the salad garden' (without capitals) and it's by joy larkcom (she doesn't have capitals either).

A while back I realised that, when reviewing a book, I tend to pay more attention than other bloggers (maybe undue attention) to the appearance, the weight, the size and the smell of a book. In part, this is because I guess gardeners fall into three categories: the mega gardeners who know everything, the middle gardeners who know what they need to know, and people who would like to garden, or dream of gardening. The mega-gardeners don't need books. The middle gardeners will already have a few instructive manuals and consult seed-packets, aspiring gardeners will look for inspiration - and to be inspired the look and the feel of a book matters. This salad-growing book seems to be a sort of cross-over in that new gardeners and dreamers thinking about what salads they might grow may be surprised and delighted to find out that cucumbers and peppers come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and middle-gardeners may be inspired to try out some of the recommended varieties. Both groups might find the crisp description of Cucumber Mosaic Virus helpful.

Page of cucumbers in 'The Salad Garden' by Joy Larkcom'.
"This aphid-borne disease causes mottled, yellowed and distorted leaves; plants may become stunted and die. Remove and destroy infected plants and where possible control aphids. Varieties with a degree of resistance are becoming available."

Here we go with Red Spider Mite:
"Cucumbers grown under cover are very susceptible. Use biological control as soon as any signs of attack are noticed."

Elegant and informative, engaging and somehow inspiring. It makes me think 'Yes, I would like to know more about this.'

There's loads of the usual information: design, water retention, frames, a little bit of cooking. But rather than feeling these have been stuck in by format or padding, there's the sense that it's an all-in-one book . . . that if you want to grow salads you can put this on your shelf as a pleasure and a reference.

Perpetual Spinach and Swiss Chard in 'The Salad Garden' by Joy Larkcom'.
Shelf - yes. Here's something that matters. I don't know what the average shelf-life of a picture-book is. There are wonderful books about gardens that take a lot of space and I don't know whether people treasure them for life or give them to charity shops when their novelty has worn off. Some books do need to be tall; some pictures, some diagrams, need space to make sense. But the problem with this is that most shelves don't accommodate tall books. I have had bookcases made to measure. One was made precisely to contain the tallest book I happened to own at the time. But I'd say this is unusual. Most people buy book-cases 'off the shelf' as it were; and pre-prepared bookshelves are designed more for paperbacks than tomes. One of the maddening things in life is when a book doesn't warrant a place in the 'tall book' space but doesn't quite fit in the 'ordinary' space either. This one is thick (about an inch and a quarter?) but isn't too tall for an ordinary shelf. It's a work-person-like thing.

Radishes in 'The Salad Garden' by Joy Larkcom'.
The paper is lovely. And the pictures are - well, fantastic. There are masses of simple and elegant drawings (or maybe they are photos made to look like drawings) along with enough photographs to give it a more real-life appeal. And there are necessary diagrams. It has a substantial index (good) a list of suppliers (not sure about that - it's bound to be a bit biased) and a year-round 'Saladini Chart'. Saladini (this is new to me) is to do with creating a salad with leafy bulk, sharp flavours, interesting colours and interesting textures. So if you want your salads like this it's useful to have sowing dates so everything can be kept in balance. BUT (here's my one criticism) - the writing in the chart is small (even when wearing my old glasses) and pale; the lines are close together and the colours confusing. One criticism isn't bad though?

I haven't read everything. But I have dipped in and out enough to think this is a 'keeping' book. It's lovely to hold, fits on an ordinary shelf, has beautiful illustrations, loads of information and will be handy for starters and middlers alike. (I reckon.) I took it on holiday with me. I'll have to learn to stop carrying it around. Yea. This is a good one.

The Salad Garden by Joy Larkcom
(Revised and Updated)
Frances Lincoln

(Sent from the Quarto Group for review)
Will be published on 4th May 2017