Coming in from the garden this evening I was amazed to find a stag beetle upside down on my shed desk, legs in the air and struggling to right itself. Though it does suggest I probably ought to clean the place a little more often, I’m pretty pleased to have been sharing dwellings with an endangered species.
Having said this, I’ve no doubt the monstrous beetle wandered in at some point fairly recently; most likely from the large wood pile just by the shed. I stacked the logs during my first Winter at the garden when erecting my firewood log-store, the idea being to slowly work through the wood (left from the initial tree-thinning during the garden landscaping), splitting it to dry out. As it happened I vastly misjudged the amount of wood to get through, and the store filled up before I’d even got through 10% of the logs. Therefore the pile has remained more or less left to its own devices for 3 years.
The other week I saw the tail of a grass snake slip away down through a gap in the stumps, and last year hornets chose a hollow within the logs for their nest. Wrens dart about the pile daily; I often watch them from my desk, speeding from log to log, scouring for insects. This year a pair made their nest at the base of the stack, under a discarded railway sleeper. In fact for such a dim and seemingly stark element in the garden, there’s no greater source of diverse wildlife on the property; a rival even (in conservational terms) perhaps to the pond, although it does support a completely different range of habitat. So I suppose my message to all wildlife enthusiasts and the conservationally inclined with even the smallest of gardens would be stack yourselves some logs. If you’ve no room for a pond, there’s an equally important and engaging environment to be created, and one that requires far less effort too.
A month or so ago I spotted a patch of meadowsweet that had crept up unnoticed at the back end of the top meadow. It must have been growing there for some while as the scattered stalks were well into flowering. It’s not a plant I see in this garden very often, other than the cultivated variety we have in the long border (Filipendula rubra), as the soil conditions are generally too dry and free draining. However, there is one area in that top meadow that was once the site of a small pond. Having been dug up and re-landscaped some time before I started at the garden, you wouldn’t know it had ever been there, save for the particular plant species that show up from time to time. Among these have been the usual indicators of damp ground; docs, nettles, various lamium and now the newest arrival, meadowsweet.
Meadowsweet thrives in the damp and fertile areas of British grassland. It’s a Summer fixture up and down the West-Welsh lanes that surround the family home in the Towy valley, which is the ideal perma-sodden ground it loves. If you crush one of the flower heads in your fingers there comes a distinctive sweet smell followed by an unmistakeable waft of antiseptic – the reason for its notoriety as ‘one of the most sacred of the druid’s herbs’. In fact it’s herbal and medicinal uses are widely listed, and great in number. According to Julie and Matthew Seal, co-authors of the informative and super-handy, ‘Hedgerow Medicine’, meadowsweet helps sooth arthritis and rheumatism, dispel uric and oxalic acid, is used to tackle gout, mouth ulcers and bleeding gums and aids pain relief, forming the synthesised basis for aspirin. Also listed in the book are traditional methods of using the herb, including a pretty simple tea intended to settle the stomach and help you feel ‘Summer’s heat and brightness return’. Sounded pretty hippy to me but I did want to see what it tasted like.
The process of converting the plant into tea is really just drying, which is simple enough, but does take quite a long time. I cut a bunch from the meadow, quite close to the ground so as to keep the longish stalks, cleaned away any dirt and dead leaves, and hung them with an elastic band in the shed. I’ve learned through experience that an elastic band is always more favourable than string when hanging plants to dry. As the moisture departs, the stems often shrink, slipping loose from the tie and dropping over the floor.
Once the bunch has had a long while drying -mine were at least a month- they can be cut down and then crumbled (all parts, minus the stems) into a container.
Tea dried and prepared, I brewed a spoon-full through a strainer and enjoyed a mug at home. It’s not too bad at all. The flavour is distinct and you can definitely taste the Summer. It does feel like it ought to be doing you some good too. Certainly no bleeding gums anyhow, Summer’s heat and brightness, possibly..