Sunday 27 March 2011

At the march for the alternative

Kevin and I joined the WDM contingent of the March for the Alternative yesterday in London. Whilst I have some reservations about the TUC; refusing to let Caroline Lucas speak at the rally and their refusal to work with feeder marches from groups like UK Uncut, for example, I felt it was important to join the mass of solidarity of people around the UK against the governments' cuts agenda and neo-liberal policies.
WDM 'Cuts Monster', plus Kevin to left with Green Party placard

It was a massive rally, over 600,000 at least. Of course the media reported a smaller figure, like 250,000, but given we heard police say something like 600,000, and the police under-estimate rally figures all the time, I trust the higher figure more.

Of course, like all big rallies, it took 3 hours just to march from where we started at Embankment up to Trafalgar square - that's about a mile and a bit.

The cuts are going to get you...

At Trafalgar Square, Kevin and I left the WDM contingent with the plan of joining UK Uncut up at Oxford Circus. We stopped for a quick bite in our traditional rally eatery, St Martins in the Fields cafe in the crypt. Fortified by apple crumble and custard and tea, we headed up to Oxford Circus.

Kevin passing Biggus Bennus/Big Bernadette (as I like to call it)

Part way up Regents Street we had police vehicles speeding past us, and then found a large crowd of people with samba music heading our way. Turns out the riot police were trying to stop UK Uncut, so between that and the large crowd, we never made it to join them.

WDM staff and group activists, including Jeff, St Albans WDM, to right (academic cap)

We ran into Jenny & Mark (fellow allotmenteer) who were heading down to activities in Trafalgar Square. As we couldn't get up to Oxford Circus, we joined the Samba group/anarchists etc and ended up in Piccadilly.

indeed, it is not (Trafalgar Square)

However, by this time more riot police were turning up, and it looked like a show down and a possible kettle was able to take place, so we scarpered.Time to head home.

It was a good day. It was great to be a part of the WDM contingent. WDM has been joining the fight with people in the global south for years to fight the neo-liberal policies that are now being brought to the UK. It felt good to be a small part of bringing these global-local issues together on the march.

P.S. For an insiders view of what actually went on with the UK Uncut actions, including in Fortnum & Mason, visit the UK Uncut blog.

Thursday 24 March 2011

Garden visit: Anglesey Abbey

 Along the winter walk

It is frequently claimed that the winter garden at Anglesey Abbey is one of the best in the country. I heartily concur. I've visited it several times over the last few years, and it never fails to delight with its warm winter and early spring colours. This years' visit was no exception. The Cornus above (perhaps midwinter fire?), with hellebores in the front, Prunus serrula behind and the gorgeous blue sky as a backdrop was quite breath-taking.
Prunus Serrula

Along with Acer Griseum, Prunus Serrula counts as one of my most favouite trees ever. The bark on both are warm through-out the year, but it is the late-winter-early-springtime when they best show this feature. You cannot but want to stroke the bark and branches. Pure garden-porn!

We were visiting with Audrey as part of a weekend break. Audrey turned 80 on Saturday, so we wisked her off for a couple of days in celebration, visiting Anglesey Abbey, as well as Pensthorpe and a lovely B&B (of which I'll write in another blog). Here is mother and son looking a bit unsure about being photographed by yours truly yet again, in the lovely Birch Grove.

Other beauties to be found on the day...

Tulipa turkestanica

 Chionodoxa sardensis through red Cornus

Hellebore hybrid (goodness knows which one, they are rather promiscuous!)

Scilla siberica

If you haven't already visited Anglesey Abbey, do visit. If you have, go again. It's just stunning.

Colours of spring: hellebores

Tuesday 15 March 2011

Early spring at the lottie

With my back much improved and the sun shining, Kevin and I got down to the lottie on Sunday. It was well and truly time to get the green manure beds dug over, which is what Kevin is doing here.

This is Vicia sativa (winter tares) which I sowed late last September. It's hardy, it survived a couple of feet and several weeks of snow, and it's a nitrogen fixer. Digging it in, I'll leave it for a few weeks to rot down and release the nitrogen, and will then be planting my brassica's in this bed. Brassicas are nitrogen hungry, so hopefully this will help them grow big and strong.

Whilst Kevin was digging in the green manure, I was trying to rescue my strawberries from encroaching couch grass. I also grow narcissi with my strawberries, so I have some early spring colour to lift the spirits and make me feel the growing season is really starting.

The garlic is coming along nicely, as you can see here. Over winter, I have been trying out the many different varieties I harvested last year. Some, such as Irkutsk, are way way WAY too strong even for me, and I love garlic (no, really?). We used a quarter of a clove in an omlette and it was not only overpowering, we had garlic breath for days! Most aren't that strong and it's been fun trying them out in key dishes (ie. pasta sauces) to see what difference each makes. I'll update the garlic varieties record sheet in the next month or so, which will include how they are storing.

The lottie next to us has an unintentional pond. An 'unintentional pond' is a hole that started as a, well, hole, and then started collecting water and then frogs started spawning and so then Tess, the lottie holder, decided to more intentionally turn it into a pond. The black clump to the top middle-right is this years frog spawn. We do get lots of frogs around our beds, which is great as they eat the slugs. However it can be a little nerve-wracking at times, nearly putting a fork into a froggie! I try and return them to the pond, however they don't seem to get the message and it's an ongoing saga. In summer the pond can dry out a bit, so we help out adding water to keep the frogs from being parched.

By the end of a couple of hours work, the green manure was dug in, I rescued most of the strawberries from couch grass, gave the asparagus bed a bit of a mulch (furthermost right), and got up my new polytunnel. At the moment this is over the broad beans to help them along a little, but mainly it's going to be for the brassicas. It will protect them from blasted pigeons and the dreaded white cabbage moth. Learning from previous experience, I'm going to mollycoddle my brassicas and keep them protected all year round. It will be me eating cauliflowers, cabbage, kale, brussel sprouts and broccoli and not the naughty beasts!

Tuesday 1 March 2011

Garden visit: Welford Park


Every February I like to visit at least one snowdrop garden. In the past I've been to Painswick in Gloucestershire and Kingston Bagpuize in my own shire (Oxon), this year it was Welford Park in Berkshire.

snowdrops and aconites in front of Welford Park house

I read about Welford in the RHS journal. It's known for it's carpet of over 10 million snowdrops, the common Galanthus nivalis. The idea of a carpet of snowdrops intrigued me, so we made it our snowdrop destination for 2011.
a carpet of snowdrops

And what a carpet! I've never seen so many snowdrops in one place before. It was impressive. However, also a little disappointing. They have a fence around the main snowdrop garden, which means you cannot walk through the snowdrop carpet. I found this really disappointing. I yearned to stroll through the snowdrops and it felt like a 'keep of the grass' sign. It really wouldn't be difficult to have a few paths go through the snowdrops and would make such a difference to the experience.

the shadow to the bottom left is the fence that prevents you from tip-toeing through the snowdrops

So although it was an impressive sight, the snowdrops at Kingston Bagpuize remains my favourite snowdrop haunt. Kingston Bagpuize has no fences, has a large variety of snowdrops including their own Galanthus Bagpuize Virginia, and you can get up close and personal with them.