Derek – Friday 7th May 2021

It’s been cold and windy these first days of May. The wind blew away the blossom from the large cherry in a gale that one can imagine picking up our book shed, like Dorothy’s house in Kansas. But not quite a whirlwind, though it knocked over pots and chairs, and flattened the maize seedlings I had planted that same day. They are beyond rescue and I have sowed some more at home to be part of Americana, our display of food plants from that continent.

I also have sugar cane growing at home. It won’t stand this chill, so it stays at home until the weather warms up. I have started off quinoa at home too. That’s a tougher plant, so there’ll be no worries putting it out. They will go in cardboard boxes on our sleeper stands. So far just two are out: potatoes and dwarf beans. Neither showing above ground as yet. The plants we’ll be growing were part of the native American diet for thousands of years before Columbus and other Europeans arrived. Apart from gold, silver and other pillage, the conquistadors brought these plants to Europe.

The matting has come off the wild flower bed, and it was seeded on Saturday. In the past few years, the display of wild flowers has been June and July’s highlight. I look forward to them. We all need some colour and brightening after the gloomy days of lockdown.

The tadpoles are fattening, no sign of limbs. But a skeleton has to come first. A tadpole is akin to an embryo, a blob with a tail. And like an embryo, a skeleton, lungs, head with a larger brain, nervous system, all have to develop. The changes are invisible to us; we can see fattening but there’s lots more going on in that swelling body, before we see rear legs and a frog-like head in the next few months.

Near the pond, I see the first California poppy in bloom. Nearby, a purple wallflower blooms on. Wallflowers are usually grown as biennials, but we have simply left this one to grow, and now for three years it has been flowering. Our chives are flowering too and there are leaves on the silver birch, the sycamore and the small hawthorn near the front of the garden. And the buddleia irrespective of the weather grows on and on in our yearly jungle.

In our largest ceramic container, a large ringed horn affair, a fern is unfurling. I have called this one in the past a lady fern, but it might well be a male fern. The appellation has nothing to do with their sex, but the appearance of the fern. The lady fern is more curling, like feathers in a Victorian lady’s hat.

The fern dies back completely in late autumn, like many herbaceous perennials. They are not though flowering plants, but enjoyed for their foliage. Ferns were early land plants, first showing up in the Devonian era, c400 million years ago, and in the Carboniferous, around 300 million years ago, they grew as tall as trees, 60 feet high with 3-foot leaves in the richer oxygen of the period. Carboniferous plants became the coal bearing seams, and ferns are a common fossil in coal. Flowering plants were relatively late arrivals, coming in with the later dinosaurs, around 150 million years ago.

The honey bees from the nearby hives are all about the garden, sucking nectar from the flowers and passing pollen around. I note that flies like bluebottles do the same. They too are attracted by nectar in the flowers, and pollen sticks to their legs and body as they feed, which they unwittingly carry away to another plant.

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