Friday, 30 April 2010

Rain means weeds reign

Fantastic to feel the rain when it came yesterday as everything was so parched I was afraid to do anything to the soil. It is still dry but if it carries on raining at today's rate everything will be well watered very soon and I'll be hoping for it all to stop. Of course the disadvantage with the rain is that suddenly everything gets growing, not only the plants I want. As an incurable optimist I had once again completely forgotten about our worst weed here. Not docks, nor creeping buttercup or field thistles or hemlock relatives though we have all of those in great abundance, not even the bittercress that is now so widely distributed it ensures it will never disappear, not even the dreaded couch grass which is invading certain areas again, along with ground elder. It is small and very pretty in flower, but ideally you should never see it in flower as it seeds even more readily than bittercress. My most hated weed here is corn spurrey. It is not native to this area but I've an uneasy feeling that I must now be spreading it far and wide, though luckily my field and gardens are surrounded by pastureland rather than arable so the soil doesn't get disturbed to allow corn spurrey seed to settle. 

At this time of year you suddenly notice a green haze appearing everywhere in the field on the ground. It looks as though someone has come along and maliciously sown fast growing grass seed on every naked patch of soil. It chokes out other annual seeds because it seems to grow from germination to setting seed in about 30 days, adapted to be a very unfair competitor. And it is everywhere, even in areas where I managed to keep it out last year. It costs me a fortune every year in weeding and in strangulation of seeds so that virtually the only way to sow annuals here is in modules first. I hoped that liming the soil would help because it likes slightly acid soil. I thought mushroom compost would help for the same reason. And then I think I thought forgetting about it would do the job. But no, the time is right for its re-colonisation of every space and the only way we'll keep on top of it is to wait until it is a few inches high and weed out every blessed bit by hand.  Not ideal.

So where did this clever (and very pretty when it flowers with a cushion of small white flowerheads) invader spring from? From the Organic company (formerly HDRA). When I bought the field I determined to convert it to organic status and began by following the appropriate routes to improve the soil. I sowed four different batches of green manure, including phacelia which I sowed in two separate blocks. And under the phacelia appeared this soft frothy duvet of little white flowers on dark green slightly twining sticky stems. I had never seen it before so didn't worry unduly. I should have done. Corn spurrey must have been hiding in the phacelia seed, so small it got through the processes I suppose, and it hitched a ride here where it loved the slightly acid soil and has been with me ever since, and  I'm guessing that it will always be here. I just hope I do not infect half of Herefordshire....

The other thing about weeds, any weeds, is their astonishing ability to hide here. Why is it that iris and pinks particularly attract couch grass which is so hard to distinguish and detach from young growth, buttercups have a thing for delphiniums, speedwell for veronicas, plantains for stocks, docks for persicaria and so on. I did have a few moments looking at the possibility of despair today when I looked over the expanding acres and wondered Why? as well as How? It does look a bit of a job right now!

Especially when I am doing markets and fairs for the next three days then have a huge wedding next weekend so will be at least three days preparing for that by which time the triffids may have moved into different areas of the gardens, and I probably won't notice until it's all far far too late!

On the positive side, apart from the amazing tulips, we now have lovely camassia as well as the first splurge of scillas, Solomon's seal, spurges, sweet brunneras, the first alliums and a lovely range of different foliages so things are definitely picking up.

And on an amusing note, I had a photographer here from The Independent earlier this week, charming young guy who, it turned out, had never taken a photograph of flowers in his life but his main specialism was as a fashion photographer - he definitely got a rough deal here with this grubby madwoman with hair that (according to friends who came round last evening) is currently indistinguishable from the spaniels' ears. Anyway he did what he thought he had to do, and I hope I stopped him from taking photos of the unpicked finished tulips because he particularly liked the structure of their decay and thought it would make a good photo (it might, but not ideal to promote the cut flower business!), and he left with a big bouquet of vivid flaming tulips. He kindly emailed me later to thank me for my hospitality (chocolate brownies as usual) and for the bouquet. He wrote "... thank you for the bouquet of daffs, they really make my kitchen sing. " My tulip obsession obviously passed him by!

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