A Visit to RHS Harlow Carr in Spring

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This is more than just about a garden visit.

I am writing this blogpost retrospectively, having visited RHS Harlow Carr in early Spring this year.  Our visit this time, occurred just as the buds were opening on the blossom trees (prunus of several types), the fresh leaves were unfurling in many shades of green on chilly trees, the bulbs’ leaves were emerging from their cosy soil beds, many flowers bravely blooming in the still and freezing-cold Yorkshire air, and various heathers and ericas were in abundant show-off pink colour blaze.

Harlow Carr has become a special place to me, a place where I have enjoyed a few visits since my children attended boarding school in that British county, which is several hours’ drive south of our current home. Visiting gardens is a way for me to connect with the pure life force that I sense is so lacking in society today, a vital way for me to unwind and to find inspiration for all the tasks I’m still learning to understand and to manage, and for strength in the journey of life itself, as well as simply to be in the presence of beauty and grace, for wonder and for fun.

On this day back in April 2017, my husband and I had driven down from the area where we live south of Edinburgh, met our daughter at a train station nearby, and we’d all set off for an afternoon of grounding, family time and chatting about life plans, on a very rainy afternoon. We were lucky to find a table fairly quickly in the very busy cafe on site, and happily enjoyed a simple lunch in an attractively glassed area, which afforded us the privilege of seeing the beautiful grounds around us, while keeping warm and snug inside.  Magically, the heavy dark clouds had moved on just as we were sated from a few hours of chat, so we gathered our coats and cameras and stepped outside into the crisp, damp, fresh air for a quick and intentional walk around the tidy paths.

 

 

As we live further north than this garden, it was interesting to note what was happening there, and to know that our turn would come next. The further south one travels in Britain, the earlier the seasons begin and the warmer the climate is.  Our growing season is brief, when it finally starts, and I always sense a wave of panic when everything suddenly begins to grow like mad up here, all maintenance and other jobs becoming necessary at once.  Thus, it helps to see gardens further south, for the warning signs before they take place where we are.

As we wandered about, strategically and fast (by then near to closing time), I was surprised to see so many heathers in bloom at Harlow Carr. Most surprising, I thought, was that the hungry bees were already out and feasting on their tiny little blooms … a sign that this (the various types of heather or erica) is a good plant, one type of species to encourage others to include in their plantings everywhere – at least in every area of Britain where it does not already naturally grow in the wild (where still allowed).  The British landscape does not currently afford much scope for wildlife to find either food or haven, there being little naturalness or biodiversity left on the main island of the United Kingdom; in most areas a begging starvation of diversity exists wherever one looks.

Gardeners can address this suicidal environmental travesty, but alone we cannot – the large landowners and land managers must take the situation into their hands too. We urgently have to address the plight of our wild pollinators  and other creatures that exist to form a healthy eco system, which we each will benefit from. I digress.  Lungwort (pulmonaria) in its many forms, is another plant that bees love in the early months of the year, flowering profusely before much else is in bloom.

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Lungwort (pulmonaria)

It was lovely to see everything looking ready to receive the new season’s growth, beds tidied and mulched … no doubt left a little wild during the winter, to afford habitat for wildlife and to allow some seeds to feed birds, as well as to drop into the ready soil.  I especially loved the little area near the potting shed, which boasts elegant garden architecture, as well as tastefully careful landscape design.

 

 

 

The potting shed itself was delightful to visit – attractive and of great interest; it was useful to find a description there of how pest control was managed in the past. Nowadays so little thought is given to the damage that we are doing to ourselves, to wildlife, to ecology, and to the future of our children’s experiences of the natural world by the use of so many toxic pesticides, synthetic fertilisers, all manner of cleaning materials, genetically engineered plants, etc. Indeed, we are “shooting ourselves in the foot”, instead of learning from and following in the footsteps of our clever ancestors, who knew how to work with Nature, to create something out of little, to harm few or none in the process of fending for themselves. I think about these things, when I wander about!

 

 

 

The notice on the potting shed wall reads:

“The Potting Shed

The potting shed is the gardener’s laboratory! Before commercial pesticides became available, gardeners mix their concoctions of chemicals on a stove in the potting shed, using recipes that have been handed down over generations.

Most ingredients can be found easily and cheaply such as soot, elder leaves, dung, urine and ashes.  Other materials that are used can be bought locally such as soap, lime, sulphur and tobacco.

It is a real factory … in order to realise why gardens have so many flowerpots, it is important to remember that every plant in the garden will  have been grown from seed, carefully nurtured and then planted out (there are no garden centres for instant effect at this time).

Potting sheds are the domain of the workforce and the gentry never visit them, just as there is a definite line between ‘upstairs’ and ‘downstairs’ in the house.

Use of Poisons

Dangerous ingredients, such as arsenic and strychnine, are used regularly in the garden as they can be bought very easily – however the Arsenic Act (passed in 1851) allows only people over 21 to buy it, and the sale has to be recorded in a Poisons Book.

The most dangerous ingredients are generally kept in a poisons cupboard in the potting shed. In true Agatha Christie style, if there is a murder on the Estate, the first place the police tend to look is in the potting shed!

In order to keep flies out of the potting shed and prevent them from laying eggs in the compost mix, the walls of potting sheds are painted with Reckitt’s Blue.  This is a blue powder added when washing clothes in order to produce a clean blue-white appearance.”

I find all of this fascinating, don’t you?

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A thirsty honey bee, sipping raindrops from the petals of a white daffodil flower.

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Lovely white narcissus (daffodils) at RHS Harlow Carr ~ and the little honey bee I spied, which features in another photo here, captured close up.

As we ambled quickly along the paths, we encountered a few surprises, such as the very tall willow statue of a Roald Dahl story character, The BFG, which would surely delight every child who visits there and also provides inspiration, perhaps, for what one might do with natural materials found outdoors.  He, the BFG, was a ‘friendly chap’ ~ I took a quick photo to remember the artwork by …

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Heading uphill, onto the side of the garden opposite the entrance, we wandered through tall trees and shrubs, admiring the majestic trunks of rhododendrons, many of which were in beautiful (and some fragrant) bloom.  The honey of rhodendron is toxic, apparently, but the bees need these blooms too and the flowers are always a wonderfully welcome sight, after a long, dark period of Wintry gloom.  I have learnt, at cost to one or two of the mature garden shrubs at our home, that only some rhododendrons (of which azaleas form the same general family) are fit to be pruned!  Would that ours could look as tall and elegant as those at Harlow Carr, which have been cared for by clever people in the know about these things.

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I think this must have been about my fourth or fifth visit to RHS Harlow Carr, since our first visit there in September 2011.  On that day, we had been travelling back up north, having taken our youngest child to boarding school for the first time, and my emotions were in torment.  I remember wandering around Harlow Carr on that day, with my heart in my throat, tears brimming, feeling as though I were a tree whose limb had been ripped off in a whirlwind.  It was an ache I shall never forget … and I thank the universe for making sure that everything turned out well, despite the pain and the challenges and the things that were to come, after that agonising time.  My soul was soothed by Harlow Carr, stopping there as if to apply a plaster to a gaping wound, and it helped me to keep breathing as we left the county, where both of our children were now boarding … it is a relief to have all of that behind me now.

If you have the chance to visit any of the Royal Horticultural Society gardens in Britain, do consider doing so; I am sure you will not be disappointed.  So much care goes into preserving precious plant species, designing landscapes that stand out, inspire and motivate and heal the soul … and now the RHS are also behind a great push to make the public, citizens of all ages and all walks of life, aware that we must take care of our natural environment, our pollinators, our precious and vital earth.  I am so grateful for the chance to see such places, to absorb the positive energy there, to benefit from the calm and order and consciousness … very grateful indeed.

In mindfulness,

Holly x


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Autumn’s Artichoke

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There is something very satisfying, even decadent, about being able to settle down to a solo lunch of home grown artichoke. What a luxury!

Somehow, with this being the last artichoke of the season in our garden, there was a special tang of just (yet mingled with guilt for not sharing) reward about the perfect plate of goodness before me …

Nothing nicer than a freshly picked, steamed organic artichoke, with freshly melted, organic lemon butter and lashings of pepper  …

Ah. Some days one really feels like a “King”!

 

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How slowly I savoured every last morsel, feeling utter gratitude that I had managed this year, at long last, to produce our own artichokes from the little plants that had held onto dear life in the greenhouse, year upon year, as I tried to figure out whether we had the right garden (climate) conditions for them, and how on earth to go about it.

And what did I do with the precious green liquor remaining in the saucepan that had steamed the delicious artichoke?

 

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Well, it looked far too healthy and full of goodness itself so, instead of tipping the vegetable water down the sink, as so many do, I collected it, diluted it with cold water, and fed it to some thirsty pot plants.

Oh, and the remains of the artichoke?

Well, they went into the composting system, of course!  Winners all round.

In Autumn health and wholeness,

Holly x

Blackberry Herbal Tea

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The blackberries are just beginning to ripen in our organic garden and, plucked off the ‘vine’ to snack on, make truly delicious little powerhouses of goodness, superfoods par excellence.  As today is the first day of the Autumnal Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere, it seemed like a fitting time to post something about blackberries, so here is my little recipe for (an Autumnal) homemade herbal tea, to lift anyone’s spirits.

 ~ : ~

BLACKBERRY HERBAL TEA

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Ingredients:

1 TBS Blackberries

1 Dsp Rose Petals (eg rosa rugosa ‘Roseraie De l’Hay)

1 Dsp Lemon Balm leaves (a good sprig or two, and can include flowers)

1 tsp Rosemary leaves (small sprig, and can include flowers)

 

Method:

Wash ingredients.

Pop all into a clean, warm teapot.

Pour boiled (not scalding) water over the herbs and flowers.

Cover and set aside to infuse for a couple of minutes.

Pour into your choice of a beautiful cup.

Inhale the delightful fragrance, while you sip and enjoy the benefits.

*Sweeten with a little honey, if required.

NB.
If foraging for blackberries, or other edible plants, please be sure never to collect them from beside the road or anywhere near agricultural cropping fields.
Only ever use organic / chemical free herbs and other edible plants to make your herbal teas, and be sure to identify the plants correctly before using.

~ : ~

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To your good health!

Holly x

[Note this recipe has also been posted onto the Towards Greener Borders Facebook page today at http://www.facebook.com/towardsgreenerborders.%5D

Harvesting Blackcurrants

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At our current home we have a little courtyard area, where I have collected a number of plants in pots, in order to experiment and easily study them, while I learn about plant habits in the British climate. Gardening here and learning to live here is a challenge unlike any I have known, and having my most special plants in a protected environment around me helps to ease the transition at times. It would have been easier learning to garden productively in the northern hemisphere first, and then going to live and garden in the southern hemisphere, but my life has worked the other way around. So, for now I am learning the harder way, but the lessons are, at last, reaping bountiful rewards.

Besides being a study zone and handy to the house, there is another reason why the little courtyard, which still houses the original cobbled floor stables, is used as a sanctuary for my pot plants, one that is a deeper, more personal reason … perhaps I shall write that story another day. The photograph above hints at the part-wilderness, which I have allowed freedom in the enclosed courtyard space. Whilst not entirely private, it has become a space that, for me at least, offers solace to the soul. The growing numbers of wild creatures that join me there seem to think so too.

About a year ago, I bought two fairly large pots of blackcurrants, from a small local nursery who pride themselves on growing their own. They are not an organic nursery, which I would naturally prefer, but a small concern who deserve local support and whose heart is definitely in the right place. Much of what the nursery sells is for the benefit of bees, butterflies and ladybirds, which is what appealed to me when I first saw their sign, and curiously followed a road I had never been on, in order to discover who and what they were. Having semi-nursed my original two small pots of blackcurrants through a few ferocious Winters here, I know that without some proper care or replanting their fruiting days are numbered, so I was delighted to discover, at very little cost, the big black pots of prolifically fruiting blackcurrants. Can you imagine the impossibility of resisting such delights?

Over the past nine years, since setting off from Australia (where I’d lived in a fairly un-rooted way for fourteen years), leaving behind (more like “being dragged away from”) a rather substantial, elegant and valuable plant collection, I have almost sub-consciously amassed an impressive (or obsessive) number of new botanical treasures. Plants are my one true and enduring ‘weakness’, that is clear. Other than providing bird seed and fresh water, I have learnt to leave wildlife to take care of itself, and to let others adopt needy stray creatures, but I still find it impossible to walk blindly past a beautiful plant. Thus, despite my meagre spare means and full intentions not to collect any more botanical treasures on that day, a plant that was not only beautiful, but also fruiting prolifically in a pot, providing food at a cheaper rate than a bought beef burger, meant that it was coming home with me – and that was that.

If truth be told, I hardly expected the two tempting blackcurrant bushes (yes, two, not one) to make it through the Winter – they looked too lush to be hardy – but could only hope and see. I told myself that, if they did not survive, I could reuse their large pots – perhaps even for the blackcurrants I already had, which remain pot bound and awaiting roots-into-soil release. Well, my hope was not in vain: this year the lush new blackcurrants’ bounty has been tremendous, and so I set myself up to harvest each pot’s offering in style … as you can see!

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I realise that, without proper care, there is little chance that any of my potted blackcurrants will continue to prolifically produce and that, if they are going to live in pots ad infinitum, I shall have to manage their living conditions appropriately, of course. I have also learnt that one has to make the most of what Nature offers when it offers it, a lesson not always fully appreciated in the southern hemisphere, where so much grows all year round. I have learnt too that, when the sun shines, one must go outside and make the most of it … it so rarely shines in the part of Britain where we live … and being outdoors, gardening or harvesting in the very long colder months, for a warm-blooded creature like me, is nigh on impossible.

Thus, despite eating almost the same amount as that which I harvested, while comfortably seated and soaking up the sun’s gorgeously balmy rays, I have squirrelled away into our little deep freezer about four punnets full of delicious, juicy, fruity, vitamin-packed organic blackcurrants, and am incredibly proud of myself!

Holly x

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The Truth Is Not Always Beautiful

A Red Admiral butterfly sitting on asters in Autumn, which started its life earlier in the year, as a tiny caterpillar.

A Red Admiral butterfly, which started its life earlier in the year as a tiny caterpillar, sitting on our organic asters during Autumn.

 

 

Living in the British countryside, this is the time of year (Spring in the northern hemisphere) when I find myself becoming increasingly agitated, on alert, frustrated and not a little fearful. I am twitchy at the thought of what is about to happen with a vengeance, and what has already begun in some fields this year … agricultural chemical spraying taking place beside or near our home and organic garden, and around the living and working environments of many others in or near the countryside too.

In our garden, one of the few creating a tiny island of some biodiversity, in the midst of miles of chemically managed agriculture, the birds are welcoming in the Springtime with their presence and their song. Flowers are beginning to open, adding more life and loveliness to the stunning displays of our many snowdrops (galanthus), which have been lighting up the Winter dark for weeks, and fresh leaves are showing on any number of different plants … signs of hope.

Yet with the charm and relief of the arrival of Spring, I know that soon Man’s dominance will roar into action all around us and the toxic agricultural spraying will recommence, where it has not indeed done so already, to shatter the beauty and peace.  With so much resting on humans being able to transform the damage that has been escalating  on our planet, I find it completely irrational that modern, toxic agriculture be allowed to continue at the pace and severity that it currently is.

Chemical Agriculture businesses all around us, our organic garden amongst the few areas of refuge for wildlife, and one of the few gardens for miles offering biodiversity without the use of chemicals within them.

Chemical Agriculture businesses all around us, our organic garden amongst the few areas of refuge for wildlife, and one of the few gardens for miles offering biodiversity without the use of chemicals within them.

Not long ago, it was hard to find many who would agree that farming can be done sustainably, with financial viability and sensitivity, and be done well, without increasing the demands that we are placing on our landscape, our soil, our natural food and drinking supply, and our life-giving air. However, that has all changed now and many are up in arms at what is happening to our life sources on this planet, agreeing wholeheartedly that there is a better way, with statistics, examples and heavy paperwork to prove it.

I am aghast at the monstrous reality that farmers continue to use toxic pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and synthetic fertilisers, when they are the ones to whom stewardship of the land and our food supply has been entrusted. Nowadays, there is a murmur so often heard that the only reason this toxic farming continues is “for money” or “out of greed”. I know it is not that simple. As to the companies who drive this … well, that is another story.

How can this all be acceptable?
How can these people live with themselves?
And what of the many farmers committing suicide?

What value is there to farmer or society, when we plunder the earth and transform the natural health and viability of our soil?  What intrinsic value is there in devastating the land, dominating all species bar a few allowed to remain, and seeking to control the earth wherever we can?  How can our eco-system survive this madness?  How can our food supply be healthy, whole and ensured?  How can we continue as a species ourselves, when we are wiping out those very species who offer us their unconditional support, and without whom we could not long continue to exist? We have all now heard, I assume, the quote by Einstein that, without the bee, Man would have a mere four years left.

We cannot expect to go on, if we wipe out our natural cycles and try to perform every task in Nature ourselves.  No number of men and their machines can ever replace the work done for us by our vital insect pollinators, birds, soil micro-organisms and varied underground species, and of course the many different types of bee – all of whom are being either harmed, mortally wounded or wiped out by chemicals to a lesser or greater degree. Our established trees we are losing at a frightening rate, and with them so much life and vitality, not least providing us with the vital clean air we all need. Whatever we do on the land, we are causing to run off and harm the many, precious life systems in the sea … the cycle of harm is alarming.

Monoculture, reliant on manmade chemicals to produce viable crops, the farmland in this photograph owned by three separate farming businesses, all operating their machines and cropping activity at the same time.

Monoculture. Reliant on manmade chemicals to produce viable crops, the farmland in this photograph is owned by three separate farming businesses, situated within and around our hamlet. All operate their machines and conduct their independent cropping activities at the same time. Chemicals know no boundaries.

How can we be so arrogant as to think that we have a right to strip our children’s planet and their right to an inheritance of a future filled with hope, healing and diversity?  How can we be such murderers, stripping the tapestry of our green and wooded environments, raping the Earth with our monstrous, egotistical and idiotic, swiping and sweeping destruction of all that was here before us?  How can we possibly hope to go on this way?  How can we look our children in the eyes with love, when we are meting out to them such poison?

Have those who climb into the cabs of their killing machines ever looked into the face of a child holding a butterfly?  Have those very souls and others like them, not heard that a butterfly must start its life as a little grub … a caterpillar?  Do these adults not know that a whole and functioning, diverse eco-system is vital, in order to sustain our lives, our health, our right to good food to live?  Can those who seek to dominate the economic markets with their greed not see the damage that their choices and their actions are doing to each and every little child? Do they not care? Do they not live on the Earth too?

Soon I shall hear the rumbling of a farmer neighbour’s smart new piece of machinery, pulling behind it a vast tank filled with a product made by Man … glyphosate … whose detrimental, cancerous and deleterious effects are being made known around the world, yet people continue to spray and dab it on.  I cannot hold back the ire that rises up inside me when I hear about and see the use of “RoundUp” (or glyphosate by any other name) and I believe that every person who dares to use this poison ought to be held accountable if they indeed know how evil it is.

September 2014, Autumn - RoundUp (glyphosate) being sprayed on the field beside our house - we had not yet closed our kitchen windows, nor are we protected from this toxic spraying in any event anyway.

September 2014, Autumn – RoundUp (glyphosate) being sprayed on the field beside our house – we had not yet closed our kitchen windows, nor are we protected from this toxic spraying in any event anyway.

There is a vast body of evidence already available to everyone who cares to seek it, which fully and substantially shows how dangerous this way of treating Nature is, and what a devastating effect it is having on so many people’s lives, through sickness, failed wellbeing (psychological and otherwise) and cruelly shortened life.  How can we call this way of producing our food “farming”? How can we call this of way doing things “growing food”?

As the anticipation of Spring brings with it so much joy and promise, there is a tug of war going on inside, as for me there lurks a deep undercurrent of frustration and fear at what is coming and what could be.  I know that we are not safe, and nor are the farmers who work with toxic products rather than listening to Nature and working with her instead.

It has been proven that organic agriculture is viable and can feed the world.  Why then, does an intelligent, wealthy and forward thinking country like Britain continue to fund and allow its farmers to harm us, as they are subsidised to unwittingly rape the land?

This picture taken one recent April (Spring) on a verdant ORGANIC farm in the region. Here the land is managed without any chemicals whatsoever and, whilst a monoculture system too, the farmer’s response to me, when asked how he dealt with pests, was “Pests? What do you mean?”.  And weeds? He uses a mechanical hoe. No chemicals necessary.

My deepest hope and greatest dream, as a mother, a thinker and a human being, is that our harmful reliance on chemical farming will cease with urgent effect, and the countryside become once more the healing, safe for foraging, bountiful and biodiverse place it used to be. If only that dream could sprout, take root and blossom to grow abundantly this Spring!

In hope,
Holly x