Here comes the rain again
Falling on my head like a memory
Falling on my head like a new emotion
Here comes the rain again // Eurythmics
We meet at 10am and wait for our entomologist allotmenteer who is conducting a bug walk around the plots this morning. My excitement is disproportionate, I haven’t looked really closely at bugs since my childhood antics of finding tiny things that moved in the garden.
Starting with a brief outline of some of the allotment’s soil structure it is of course the throwaway comment that sticks in my mind as I am surprised to find that a carrot’s root can grow 5 feet down into the earth.
Our first sweep of the nettles bring amongst other bugs, a few ladybirds into the net, including Harlequin Ladybirds; a non native species who took approximately a decade to spread into the UK. When you think the grey squirrel took about 100 years it sinks in how quickly the invasion of the harlequins happened. Brought in to Europe for Aphid Control as it was brought into North America from Asia, it’s thought that they possibly blew across on the wind to land in the UK.
However given that aphids can produce up to 5 offspring a day and the newly born aphid can start to reproduce within a week and that they reproduce parthenogenetically (ie without any help from a male aphid) it’s no great surprise the help of the ladybird army was brought in. It’s not just ladybirds that enjoy and aphid or two though, wee also spot a hover fly snacking on an aphid.
As we walk around the plots and spy on bees and bugs I can hear the other allotmenteers identifying some of the plants/weeds we pass with the most magical names; Herb Robert (also called Red Robin, Fox Geranium and Death come quickly amongst other names), Speedwell, Herb Bennett, Robin run the Hedge (also known as Sticky Bob, Robin-run-the-hedge, Sticky Willy and Velcro Plant), Belle de Nuit (which opens late afternoon or at dusk) and Poached Egg Plant.
I’m intrigued by the romantically named ‘Enchanters Nightshade’, an inconspicuous plant with tiny white flowers. Although called a nightshade it’s not actually related to the other nightshades like Deadly Nightshade.
As we carry on looking at the bugs in the shrubs and on trees I, as usual, become somewhat obsessed with bees and wasps. Standing by the bug hotel that was installed at the allotments we find out there are over 250 species of bees in Britain, just as a wasp beetle; (a beetle pretending to be a wasp,) lands.
We also discover there are also 5,000+ types of flies and 4,000+ types of beetles in the uk and that rape seed can upset the navigation of bees.
At the end of the walk I have made copious notes but can’t make out much of what I’ve written; meanderings, overheard names of bugs and or plants, or facts, I’m not sure which is which!
I loved discovering this other side to the allotments, seeing a whole life that goes on underneath the leaves, hidden away.
My thanks to Dan for a great morning.
Today I’m learning a little about Mare’s Tail also known as Horsetail Weed. In certain areas of the plots it’s prevalent and this pernicious weed is extremely hardy and rather cunning. It rears its head in spring making a cone at the end of the stem, amazingly and annoyingly for the plot holders, one cone can produce 100,000 spores and although it dies off in winter, underground the rhizomes, which can go down a couple of meters below surface, are able to spread out laterally. So not over does this weed spread above ground through spores but also below. It’s pretty determined.
As it’s pulled out on the allotment this devil of a plant is left to one side to completely dry out so that it doesn’t propagate when put on the compost heap later on.
Other parts of the plots have suffered from mice visits, a few newly planted seeds haven’t survived and fallen pray to small hungry animals. But the greenhouses are coming into their own as the seeds started inside get a chance to grow into strong seedlings to be planted out later.
Also in the greenhouses are marigolds placed inside to deter the whitefly around the new tomatoes plants which are establishing themselves. It’s this time of year that plans are being drawn up for the summer greenhouse crops, finding the best places to put them; peppers, aubergines, melons and more.
Radishes are one of my favourite edible root vegetables and as I lean in to take this photograph I realise some are just right for harvesting. Another allotment memory comes flooding back of my grandfather making delicious sandwiches from his home grown radishes, my grandmother’s home baked bread spread with salted butter. It’s still a favourite snack of mine, especially when I’ve made the bread and it’s really fresh.
Today I haven’t really managed to draw very much, I’m enjoying the feel of the allotments, taking photographs and catching up with a friend while she weeds. I listen and take notes as nuggets of information tumble out as she works. These notes will become part of ‘something’ relating to my allotment residency but it hasn’t quite taken full shape yet as to what that something will be.
Before I leave I’m handed a wonderful bunch of radishes that have just been pulled, along with some spinach. I know exactly what will become of these, the radishes will be a sandwich, which will inspire me to bake some bread this evening and the spinach will be washed and cooked ready for tomorrow’s breakfast when it will have some creme fraiche and nutmeg stirred in and a poached egg on top. This is also a throw back to my grandmother as she always made the most delicious spinach.
The allotments are reminding me and bringing back sweet memories of my Swiss grandparents so often that I feel closer to them now than I have done for some time.
As I walk into the allotments the change in the plots is astounding from just one week to another. I knew this season of change and growth was coming and yet it’s still taken me by surprise, everything looks as though its exploding out of the ground and is begging to be drawn. Walking down every path there is so much to see and take note of, I have to work hard to hold onto my anxiety that I won’t be able to record everything.
I have a full day ahead of me though and the sun is shining with no rain forecast. I’m settled comfortably on P7A and as the plot holder isn’t here at the moment I can spread my materials out without any danger of tripping her up.
The pond nearby is bubbling away, its a solar panelled pump working when the sun is shining. Birds are twittering happily and there’s occasional cawing of the nearby crows.
The colours are intense and flowers are alive with wasps and bees. I am dealing with some personal grief and sitting here in the sun, is helping me to quietly process this sadness. Seeing nature going about its daily life while I’m quietly observing and drawing is a precious moment and I cherish how much nature can soothe and help me when I sit quietly and allow it to.
A family arrive at a nearby plot and set up for a Sunday picnic. It looks as though there are three generations enjoying the space and warmth and their gentle chatter lightens the feeling here even more.
I am so sure that I have hours of drawing outside ahead of me I take my time to do some pencil sketches and don’t worry too much about recording colour which I will do later… or so I think…
Things start to go off plan when I manage to tip my water pot all over my sketchbook and needless to say myself. After a brief attempt to clear up the worst of the spill I set the sketchbook out in the sunshine, it dries almost immediately as indeed do I. I am still trying to design and make the perfect drawing and painting set up so that I take as little space as possible but am able to draw comfortably on a supported board where my water pot won’t tip! I’m frustrated that a year into my two year residency I haven’t managed to design the perfect solution.
And then, almost imperceptibly, a couple of rain drops hit my paper. I’m so convinced that it will not rain I don’t really react, until there are a few more and all of a sudden I am alert, like a gazelle who’s suddenly realised they can smell their predator, or rather their predator can smell them. Looking around me I noticed my stuff is everywhere and won’t be quick to tidy away. Thankfully this is not only a plot with a greenhouse but also one I’ve been told I can use, so I scamper inside bringing my chattels with me.
As I sit in this little haven the rain becomes heavy and soon the family have left retreating to somewhere drIer for the afternoon. I set myself up in the greenhouse as it looks as though the rain is here to stay for a while.
I spend a couple of hours in this space while the ground soaks up the much needed water. It isn’t completely closed off (no door) so I can peep outside, however it has bubble wrap covering the windows so very quickly I get lost in this space and my drawings. A cucumber leaf’s veins capture my imagination and as I draw I travel as though a tiny insect over the hills and mountains of the leaf.
At one point the rain stops and I go for a stroll around the plot, but it’s only stopped for a few seconds, just long enough for me to look closely at a peony bud and scrutinise the ants rushing backwards and forwards on it. The solar powered water pump has stopped, sulking that the sunshine has gone away but the bees are still happily buzzing around the blue flowers gorging on nectar. I retreat again into the dry greenhouse and draw a new tomato leaf and a very tasty looking strawberry.
Eventually I get too cold, just the sound of the rain is making me cool off and I didn’t bring a warming flask of tea today. I decide to make a run for it and once I’m all packed up ready to dash up the path, the rain stops. It’s so quiet now on the allotments, everything feels fresh and beautiful. Large rain drops balance on tiny leaves and delicate stems, each one with its own reflection of the world around it.
As I walk away I can’t help but notice all the iris flowers and wonder which flowers will be prevalent on my next visit.