[TREE YEAR] April

Yes I know this is now 6 months late! But last time I looked it was April. What happened to Summer? It makes me feel a bit sad to look at these pictures now. Spring had just sprung after an awful Winter, the air was warming up and I looked forward to a Summer sitting underneath my Tilia trees…

But then came May with late frosts, June with unseasonal gales and Summer ended up just dull, damp and disappointing. Now Winter looms again and I never did spend as much time as I had hoped with my trees.

I did spend much of April sitting under them though; knitting hearts for my newest niece Cara; taking time out to read a book and not a computer screen; snoozingzzz and taking pictures as the plants unfurled around me…

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APRIL’S BLUE SKIES – the unfulfilled promise of Summer 2011

 

[TREE YEAR] April's blue skies

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APPLE BLOSSOM – sadly lost to the late frosts of May – no apples

[TREE YEAR] Apple blossom

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HAWTHORN – blossom just about to burst…
[TREE YEAR] Hawthorn blossom

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MOTHER ELDER – stretching bony fingers in the warm Spring air
[TREE YEAR] Mother Elder

As for my Tilia trees? The miraculous development of a canopy, that I had imagined, didn’t happen. The lady across the road would say to me as she passed “don’t worry, they’ll come…” Something to look forward to next Spring?

Medicinal Meanders Around Muthill

With predictions of an early snowfall followed by promises of an Indian Summer, no-one knew quite what to expect of the weather for the Crieff and Strathearn Drovers’ Tryst this year. But Saturday came and went fairly dry and fingers were crossed for my walk. Sunday dawned, grey and damp but nothing wet was falling from the sky at least. My trusty backmarker and I made our way to the Crieff Visitor Centre to meet our walkers and what a lovely bunch they were!

sun on our faces - cropped and compressed

An immediate ease settled on the group and we all chatted away happily as we waited for everyone to arrive. Then off we set. We met our last two walkers in Muthill and headed through the village and out along the bug road.

As we trailed through the woods many of us started to peel off some layers and by the time we broke from the cover of the trees the sun was splitting the sky. I kid you not. It was properly, actually sunny! Along the farm track and onto the old railway track, we stopped to take pictures of the stunning views and enjoy the beautiful feel of the sun on our faces. It was still very wet underfoot but we were all well prepared for that so we hardly noticed as the group mingled back and forwards chatting and getting to know each other.

under the bridgeUnder the bridge and heading out to the river the wind got up a bit and clouds came over but it stayed dry and the cool was welcome. The only near disaster was that some of the plants we had reccied only two weeks previously had almost disappeared! My plucky apprentice (and backmarker) managed to hunt down some Yarrow though and, having nearly given up on the St John’s Wort, I gave a big cheer as we discovered some further along the track. Time was getting on and we knew there was coffee and cake waiting for us back at the Hall so we headed up for an easy trek back to the village on a quiet back road.

What a pleasant surprise we found at the Hall! The Muthill Paths and Walking Group had laid on quite a spread! Mountains of tasty rolls were devoured, tea and coffee flowed and a wonderful range of home baking was sampled by a very appreciative bunch of Medicinal Meanderers. A happy, warm glow spread round the room. Eventually, everyone made their farewells and went on their way offering compliments and thanks all round.

cups and saucers washed - compressed

Tables were cleared, cups and saucers washed and this pleasantly puggled Herbalist and her wilting backmarker headed home. It was wonderful to part of such a great festival and to have the support of the generous and lovely people from the walking group. Heartfelt thanks to everyone for making it a truly magical day.

♥ ♥ ♥

Garden V Hedgerow

I have a confession to make. I have been neglecting my Hedgerows. The cause is a wee patch of ground I have been allocated which I rather grandly call a Garden. Last year was mostly spent turfing and digging and manuring and planning but we did get a bumper crop of Salad and some lovely Red Pak Choi. I also transplanted various herbs that I had been harbouring in my pavement pots until a more suitable home could be found. My Thyme lushly declared its new home ‘most suitable thank you’ with a quite breathtaking spurt of growth and is flowering away quite happily at the moment. The Lovage is looking a bit more like itself without the confines of a pot. The Chives are brightening the place up and keeping order with their purple rows dividing up the patch. The Valerian was magnificent until the gales came and knocked it down. I left most of the stems on though as it was just coming into flower which the bees loved (I did too – a curious scent but strangely mesmerising). The other side of the path is for veggies and I’m hoping for at least a wee crop of beans, lettuce, pak choi, courgette, cabbage, radish and spring onions. I’m also making a bold attempt to raise Globe Artichokes from seed (for medicine well as food). So the veg side is all planned out but I’ve still got space in the herb bed.

A curious thing is happening though. As I flip through books and catalogues trying to decide what else to plant in my patch, I find myself pondering Wild Garlic, Elder, Hawthorn… Some Raspberries have made a surprise appearance so I’ve transplanted them over near the fence. I’ve carefully lifted the nettles from the veg patch and made them a home near the rasps. I’m lenient with the Plantain hugging the wooden boards around the beds and I’ve given the Yarrow pride of place alongside the Rosemary and the Lavender… It seems I’m making a Hedgerow in my Garden! Oh dear… it seems you can take the Herbalist out of the Hedgerow but you can’t take the Hedgerow out of the Herbalist. Time to order some more ornamental herbs perhaps and return to the Wild…

Hedgerows here I come!

The Amazing Buzzing Tree

It was one of those days. I had spent most of it at the desk doing wee bits and pieces but nothing that gave any sense of satisfaction (it all needs done and I’ll be glad it’s done when I get to the next bit – but no achievement factor today). I was restless…

So I decided to nip just down the road to get some nettles for tea. Which I did and it turns out it was a lovely evening. Much milder than I expected so I thought “och I’ll just take a wander up the circular walk and see what the nettles are like there”. And I am sooo glad I did. Never ever underestimate the power of a good walk and a bit of fresh air! It wasn’t much of a walk really – no big expedition – more of a saunter… but man did I feel good after it. I found a stone to sit on up near the golf course and reminded myself what a beautiful country I live in. The high rise views to the North tapering out Eastwards to the flatlands of Fife in the distance. Sheep to the fore, golf to the left and the Two Towers and rooftops of the village to the right.

I didn’t want to go home. Himself was working late and I had done enough work for one day. So I decided to go the long way round and pick some wild garlic too. With the added bonus of going past the Amazing Buzzing Tree. I discovered this the other day. It’s alive with Bees! If you stop and look vaguely at it, trying not to focus on any one bit in particular, you eventually become aware of them all buzzing in and out of the canopy. And the noise is immense! This is one reason why I think walking is superior to cycling. You hear things that the wind would otherwise whip away, notice colours that would blur into the green as you speed by. I don’t mind a bit of cycling but for the most part it’s a means to get me to a spot where I can dump the metal and immerse myself in the world around me more gently…

THE TREE YEAR – Disaster! (and Lichens)

On the way home from work last week, I spent a good while sitting watching my trees to see what was living in and around them. Since then I’ve basically been housebound with a dodgy back and, having written up this post, I went out today to go to the GP and…

chopped

They’re chopping down my bloody trees!!! I’ve yet to find out why or whether they’re taking them down completely but I’m sure I’ve heard chat in the past that they “spoil the view of the Church” – don’t get me started on that one…

Anyway, for what its worth – heres what was living in and around the trees last week:

Nothing it seems… I could hear the little birds but I couldn’t see them – I think they were in the Beech Hedge underneath. There were crows but they flew from the church tower over the top to the Copper Beech [now I wonder if they knew something I didn’t…]. No new growth coming on yet – the third round of snow has only just melted. But then I noticed something that was growing… all of the Tilia were covered in lichens! Lichens are a collaborative entity made up of an algae, which provides food by photosynthesis, and a fungus which protects the algae in return for a share of the food. They are a good indicator of clean air as they are very susceptible to air borne pollution. As very slow growing entities, they are also a good indicator of age for the tree or building they are found on. The flat types are the most difficult to ID but I’ll keep an eye on them over the year and see if anything happens to them to make them more distinctive. Probably best to take my loup along next time. The 3D (I think technically called fruticose) ones are less difficult but I’m no expert!

lichen twig

I initially thought that the one on the twig was Reindeer Moss (Cladonia portentosa) but now I think its Heather Rags (Hypogymnia physodes). The smaller hairy one I do know as Usnea – it’s the medicinal one. You can tell you’ve got an Usnea by pulling a strand apart. It should be stretchy (known as ‘knicker elastic lichen’ in Scotland) and when it breaks you should see a white cord running through the centre. Not one which came up in my training but, as a local ‘herb’, it’s definitely one I’m interested in getting to know better. It is used as an anti-biotic and has been researched for its anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties.

The charity Plantlife have produced a great wee booklet on lichens which I picked up a Countryside Ranger talk last year. As well as Richard Armstrong, the Ranger who gave the talk, I must credit it with alot of the information presented above.  It also tells me that lichens have been used as natural dyes for Harris Tweed, with colours from browns and fawns through to, remarkably, reds and purples! I particularly like this wee quote:

“Lichen dye once fetched such a high price that it gave rise to the Scottish saying ‘cattle on the hills, gold on the stones’.”

Sadly, this says nothing of the treasure in the trees. This is not how I thought my Tree Year would go but I’ll follow developments and keep posting…

THE TREE YEAR – Which tree?

To celebrate International Year of Forests I’m going to be participating in the Tree Year project. The idea is to:

1. Pick a tree – either one you like a lot or one that you see every day on your way to work or that happens to live on your balcony.

2. Observe it: every day or once a week or less. What grabs your attention? What kind of animals are and what kind of plants grow on it?
3. Write about your observation, make sketches or take photographs and share it with us.

I loved the idea the second I came across it on Twitter but deciding on which tree took a bit longer. Eventually, I decided on the Lime tree. There is a lovely avenue of them that I walk past on my way to work but there’s also one or two in another local park and several lining the walk down to the river. They all seem quite different so I’ve been wanting to get to grips with the differences between the different Tilia species for a while. This seemed like the perfect opportunity.

So, this afternoon I took my camera down to the Millenium Gardens to record the Church Limes on the first day of the Tree Year.

Church Limes

Lime Avenue

The trouble, of course, is that I then noticed the beautiful Birches

Silver Birch

Copper Birch

And remembered our little baby Apple Tree

little baby Apple Tree

And the marvellous Hawthorn/Ivy embrace at the entrance to the gardens

Hawthorn/Ivy embrace

So I recorded them too just in case I feel moved to share their story later on. I like the discipline of having a focus on one tree but, as the Tree Year people say:

This is a start – we’ll see what grows…

It’s really exciting and inspirational to know that I’m taking part in a wonderful global project. This map shows the location of participating trees. I’m looking forward to seeing my little Tree Year tree sprouting out of Scotland soon.

Happy New Year

Cx

10/10/10

10/10/10 saw a cold white sky in Strathearn but I braved the garden to harvest some more beautiful Borage flowers. Used in traditional medicine to raise the spirits, just looking at them makes my heart smile (much needed after a hard week and 3 dreich days in a row). I’ll write more about Borage, one of my favourite herbs, another time but for now here is my contribution to Flickr‘s 10/10/10 event:

BORAGE AGAINST A COLD WHITE SKY
borage against a cold white sky

10 BORAGE FLOWERSborage 10

Raspberry Beret

Autumn has arrived and the last time I wrote about my hedgerow adventures was Spring! Not that I haven’t had any. I’ve just been too busy enjoying them to find the time to write about them.

The memorable harvest for me this year was Raspberries. I’ve always managed to get an adequate supply of leaves but somehow seem to miss the best of the berries. Not so this year. Recruiting help not only increased the yield but passed a pleasant couple of afternoons by the river. It is a day of solo gathering that shines in my mind though. It was a hot day in early August and, for me, the best way to spend days like that is in the welcome shade of the woods. Sunshine still managed to glitter down through gaps in the canopy however, occasionally revealing a jewel-like raspberry hiding behind a leaf.

Raspberry Beret

The best of them; the most perfect, plumpest, juiciest of pinky-red ones; never made it to the bag. They were, of course, enjoyed on the spot. A refreshing taste bomb enjoyed with eyes closed and a little squeak of delight as I shuffled contentedly through the woods humming Prince songs to myself.

But Raspberry picking is not an occupation without its hazards. Although the prickles of this plant are relatively benign, she often lives close to her more aggressive cousin, the Bramble. And, when Bramble has a hold of you, only patience, gentleness and soft placations will eventually extract you from his rough grip. I also discovered, to my cost, that Raspberry has another ally, safeguarding her from our foraging raids. With eyes on the juicy prize, my greedy fingers reached deep into the hedgerow for the best berries; always at the back, just out of reach; oblivious to the Nettles threatening to tickle my chin until a breath of wind woke me from my trance as they said hello a mere millimetre from my nose. I soon realised that the best ones are not always at the back. They are right in the heart of the hedgerow surrounded by a cohort of prickly, caustic protectors, waiting to grasp your ankle or sting your unsuspecting underarm!

Although I managed a respectable harvest, I’m still 400g short of a full demi-john of wine so I’m open to ideas on what to top it up with. Will Apple be too dominant a flavour? Bramble? Should I go with Nigel Slater’s idea that “What grows together goes together” and add some Nettles too? Maybe I’ll give up the idea of wine and make vinegar and syrup instead. Some of the harvest inevitably made it into a jar of vodka. This is a stunning big Raspberry punch on the nose but with perhaps a bit too dry a finish to it. Maybe the raspberries in the freezer might end up as a liqueur…? Made with vanilla sugar…? I’ll let you know how it goes…

Hazel Catkins

As my pictures from our walk in the woods turned out to be so disappointing, I decided to search Flickr for a picture of the catkins. And boy did I find a cracker! This picture perfectly captures everything I wanted to say about my discovery that day. Andrew Kearton has very kindly given his permission for me to post this picture. You should seriously head over to Flickr and have a look through his photostream – there are some truly breathtaking shots, particularly of plants. Thank you Andy, for your generosity and your

talent…

Andy Kearton catkin pic

A Tale of Two Trees

Inspired by some chat on Facebook and a great video and article from the guys at Natural Bushcraft, we set off last weekend to find a Birch to tap. I’ve read loads over the years about the wonders of Birch sap and, seeing as the video made it look so easy, I decided now was the time to give it a go. It was a beautiful, brisk Spring day and a walk in the woods was just the tonic we both needed so we took it easy. It wasn’t a full blown mission to gather bottles-full but a first foray to at least get a taste and see what we were dealing with. After a slightly false start where the birch wood from memory actually turned out to be a beech wood (?!) we finally found a couple of likely looking specimens; strong and sturdy. We got nothing from the first one except a tantalisingly lush scent from the knife. Maybe the sap wasn’t rising here yet we thought; Central Scotland is a fair way North of Kent where the first sap had been recently reported. However, we tried its neighbour; this time making a cut much lower down. It started to flow. Excitement! Much wooping and joy. Then we tasted it. Oh! ‘Well its ehm… not nasty or anything…’.  It kind of tasted of nothing much. Insipid really. Maybe a slightly bitter dryness to it but deeply disappointing. Certainly not worth all the effort strapping a bottle to a tree for 5 hours and collecting a gallon. Not to mention stressing the tree out! I suppose its something I know now and will bear in mind if I find myself in some sort of post apocalyptic survival situation.

On an infinitely more positive note, we found loads of Hazels! Wandering through the woods down by the river (not telling which one!) I spotted a yellow catkin and stopped in my tracks ‘hazel! hazel! hazel!’. My slightly calmer companion pointed out that loads of things have yellow catkins. But my enthusiasm couldn’t be dampened. ‘No no, but hazel gets them before the leaves… and look at it – its all bushy and, and, and, well, hazel looking!’. So we took lots of pics (all of which turned out to be out of focus) and having admired the little shocking pink tips of the emerging leaves, we headed home with me itching to get to my books and look it all up. Well, if you know Hazels at all, you’ll know what’s coming next. YAY!!! They are Hazel and the shocking pink tips are in fact female catkins. I cannot tell you how excited I am! Once we had spotted one we saw them everywhere and I am so looking forward to getting back there later in the year to gather my first wild hazelnuts. Recipes anyone?