18 November 2012

Rimes and reasons

A windy wet night as I write this; rain has swept in from the Atlantic, reaching Dublin just before darkness fell. We were oblivious to its arrival as we were listening with wonder to the Cantando choir weave magic into the chilly air of St Bartholemew's Church in Dublin: light and dark, a chiaroscuro of sound as they sang the Sanctus and Benedictus of James Whitbourn's Son of God Mass.  

Before the rains came, we got out to the Wicklow hills while a watery wintry sun was still shining. It was early enough that the frost still rimed the beech leaves with tiny ice crystals crowding onto the undulating edges. 

Beech leaves rimed with frost
In the sheltered parts of the woods we came across solitary and dying oaks, crowded out by encroaching conifers. But we were delighted and surprised by coming into a clearing where the light poured in not on a carpet of grass, as often happens, but on a sward of mosses: Sphagnum and Polytrichum

Sphagnum (the shorter shaggy one) and  Polytrichum (the taller spiky one); isn't Botany easy?
Sphagnum and schnauzer
The Sphagnum here grows in the damp open space of a woodland created by humans in a place (a Wicklow mountainside) that we generally see covered in blanket bog. Sphagnum mosses are one of the main builders of our bogs in Ireland; in Donegal on my walks in the heaths and bogs, I have a spring in my step as I tread on hummocks of Sphagnum rubellum and S. plumulosum, amongst others. I notice on the IPCC website that a Sphagnum hummock of just one square metre can contain up to 50,000 individual plants... Sphagnum was one of the first mosses I learnt to identify (it's an easy one to start with!) and for me it's one of the plants I associate strongly with this sometimes rainy island we live on. 

Whether it's the blanket bogs of the Atlantic seaboard and the mountains, or the raised bogs and fens of the midlands, these landscapes (complete with  visual whispers of bog cotton in the summer, the climbing songs of skylarks, the jewel-like tiny Sundews, the drifts of purple heathers) are one of the reasons I came home to this island nearly 20 years ago. In a week when the conduct of our legislators, our medics and, on a more personal note, some of our government officials left me and so many others terribly sad, angry and upset, it was good to remind myself of this.

But righteous anger can be a good fuel and I got into a bit of a cleaning frenzy in the greenhouse. I removed the last of the tomato plants, cleaned the panes of glass of webs (inside) and algae (out) and did some general tidying up.  At the end of that, nothing had changed in the world of government and politics, but I felt a bit better, and I had a greenhouse ready for winter.  
Ready for winter
On Saturday morning, I looked out to see tiny coal tits swooping and flitting in and around the birch trees in the front garden, alighting  to help themselves to seeds dangling from bare branches. 

A coal tit  feasting on the seeds of one of our birch trees, Betula utilis, "Jacquemontii"
I noticed this week that other bloggers have been checking what's in bloom still in their gardens; for me the asters are still going well (and not too nasty at all with mildew), there's an odd welsh poppy, there's even some Cosmos still! And one of my tenants, the gorgeous Salvia uliginosa is still incongruously blue. Of course the Sedum is still doing its deep pinkish burgundy thing too. 

Autumn colours: Asters through a haze of Molinia caerula "Transparent);
Miscanthus zebrinus is on the right
Autumn colours: Sedum spectabile contrasts with the yellowing dying stems of Agapanthus
I'll end this week with Agapanthus. Here's how it has looked in the garden from bright mid-summer through to darkening mid-winter; each stage has brought its own delight, from candles of green, through blooms of blue, to finish as intricate seed-heads, each case unfurling to release its cache of anthracite-black seeds. Such intricacies can be hard to capture with pencil but I'm hoping to learn bit by bit this year how to do that better.

Agapanthus flower buds in June

The flowers glow blue in July

And seeds break free in October and November

The starburst of an Agapanthus seed head

An attempt to draw ... 

... and another
A coda: I mentioned the nubbly black buds of ash last week and noticed some lovely examples on a walk in the local field this week; a pic taken with my phone was dull but my resident photographer went back on a bright morning and did the job right:

Buds of Ash, Fraxinus excelsior (thanks BvG).
Have a good week all. 


  1. 19-11-12
    Canine Tolkien - Precious Izzy puts one in mind of a hobbit treking miles of Middle Earth.
    What your blog has over other's ramblings is that it is both informative and satisfying - like early Viney.
    Agapanthus sequence is great and followed fittingly by your skilful drawings

  2. I'm going to get you a robe and a stick Erica - that post was the most beautiful alchemy. To quote The Outsiders by way of Robert Frost, stay gold! xx CH

  3. Thank you both for kind comments! Frost and frost sounds like a good combination CH, thanks for the recommendation--I haven't read him for a while and now seems like a good time to go back.