The Orange Tip

details in the dirt

Category: spring

Weeds

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Viola odorata

A little while ago I moved on from the garden which, for the most part, provided the recurring inspiration for this blog. As a near full-time gardener employed by its owner, this small yet indomitable and humbling landscape stimulated within me observations of a certain variety; reflections that would sit comfortably together on a page. This is one of the factors which made the act of updating and maintaining this blog relatively effortless, and something of an enjoyable process. Since my departure from the garden however, it has been difficult to continue at the same pace, having yet to settle on any particular focal point or muse.

I thought for a while that I might instead turn my attention to ‘weeds’. Living in a dense city, when your feet experience little besides concrete, tarmac and mortar, the rosettes and protruding stems which unfurl along the surface have become a new novelty to me. Their contrasting green against the pavement and my insatiable need to identify and familiarise myself with any unknown plant variety combine to form an inquisitiveness that regularly stops me in the street. During the winter months it was the thought and visualisation of what flowers would soon spring from the green that most interested and excited me. Recognising leaves beneath their coating of dirt (kicked up by the street-cleaning vehicles and passing pedestrians); knowing, but often not knowing, what colours and forms they would provide if left to flourish or simply survive, this was to me a kind of secret thrill, an escapism or even refuge perhaps. So I began to take photographs and to log the details, with the intention of beginning a new chapter on this blog.

Sadly both time and preoccupation got in the way, and in place of the garden I’ve been absorbed in a couple of garden designs and a book commission. However the photographs remained on my phone and having spotted a particularly colourful curb-side display this morning, I felt compelled to make use of them.

Forget me not

Forget me not

‘The more we seem effortlessly – but temporarily – to eradicate weeds, the less we bother to understand them. They were regarded as powerful medicines, and more pragmatically as important contributors to domestic economy. Their appearance now sparks reflexes, not reasoning. They are regarded as inexplicable and impertinent intruders, quite unconnected with the way we live our lives’.

Richard Mabey writes this in his popular 2010 book, Weeds. It’s a fine observation of the cultural shift in the association between man and weed. To write much more on this subject would be to power-phrase Mabey’s fantastic work. So I wont. But the question that most often reoccurs in my mind when I stumble upon these unexpected ‘conquerers of the concrete’, is one relating to ornamental quality. To me this is the most interesting; what is it in us that will allow some plants to thrive and others not. Why do we take pleasure in a roadside violet, but chemical spray a dandelion. Is it ignorance? Practicality? Taste? ..Or is it a far more complex response. I have always believed that in taking time to learn about the plants around us, we grow to appreciate and often cherish them. However I myself am guilty of overlooking a Shepherd’s Purse flower (Capsella bursa-pastoris) in favour of another, perhaps more showy plant.

Primrose seeded into the wall of Highgate Cemetary

Primrose seeded into the wall of Highgate Cemetery

Shepherd's Purse flowering with forget me not in the background

Shepherd’s Purse flowering with forget me not in the background

Caldey Island

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Three nights on Caldey Island, Pembrokeshire, West Wales. More information and images on the ‘Away’ page: away

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Soft light

Kingcup

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Marsh Marigold flowering stoically in the pond. The more this area of the garden develops (now in its 6th year since filling and planting up) the more I’m drawn to it. Garden ponds, no matter what the size or scale, are forever an eye witness source of evolution. You begin with a few periphery plants and before you know it you have all kinds of aquatic growth appearing from water mint and iris to frogs and damselflies. Marsh marigold however (Caltha palustris) is the true beacon in the bog, so to speak. It’s one of our oldest native wildflowers in fact, having pushed its little yellow light bulbs up through the thawing ice-age.

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Pond’s Eye View

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Bulrush

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White fluff floating across the garden and in through the door of my shed – it’s only this year that, on opening one of the deep brown rush heads into my hand, I noticed how tiny each single seed is. Such a number cast into the wind. It’s no wonder enormous swathes of bulrush spring up in and around lakes and still shallows.

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Laburnam Cut

Laburnam

Part of the work I did in the wood this Winter involved felling three mature trunks of a Laburnam tree. The tree had begun to fall under it’s own weight, having rooted in loose soil and so I decided to coppice it before it had a chance to topple. I’ve been away from the garden for a few weeks but my fingers are crossed in the hope of seeing a few new shoots on my return..

Traditionally Laburnam wood has been used for turning and as embellishment on fine furniture. The dark coloration of the heart wood makes it an ideal (and cheaper) alternative to ebony. Despite having little plans for the wood as yet, I saved as much as I could from the fell, storing it in the shed and log-store. Pictured above is a small cross section with a little linseed to bring out the colour. It really is a beautiful wood.

Nest Box

Blue tit

Beech Wood

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Last winter a large limb dropped off our stunning yet very elderly copper beech. It took about a day to cut away the brash-wood and smaller diameter branches. Knowing that in a few months the floor beneath the tree canopy would be a wash with spanish bluebells,  I cut the remaining limb  into lengths and piled them below. Beech wood and blue bells just look so at home together.

Being cut Log

Great Dixter Gardens

As part of a five month break from the garden I’ve gone to spend some time at Great Dixter; a stunning and innovative institutional garden in East Sussex. Living on site, my days are spent working alongside the team, led by the world renowned head gardener, Fergus Garrett. I’ve created a separate header on this blog named ‘Dixter’, under which I will be keeping a short account of the things I’m getting up to here: Dixter

Tree Bumblebee

Bombus hypnorum scaling the hedge, like they do.

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