Monday 20 July 2020

On the map

Chain making, a Black Country trade
(see photo acknowledgements below)
I have lived in Tipton for 55 years. When I first arrived few people outside its vaguely defined borders seemed to have heard of the Black Country. In the intervening years Lenny Henry, Julie Walters and Pork Scratchings helped change that (the last named is a delicacy not a celebrity). Then, suddenly, as of ten days ago, the Black Country is on the map as a UNESCO recognised World Heritage area!

The announcement was so unexpected that it seemed to catch everyone on the hop. Even their own website seems not to have caught up. I had planned to report earlier but was struggling to get pertinent and accurate information

This parkland not by
Capability Brown
However, as of Friday July 10 the Black Country in the form of Dudley, Sandwell Walsall and Wolverhampton has officially become a UNESCO Global Geopark. To quote the local website, “This is fantastic news for the Black Country. We’ll be updating the website as soon as we can.”

Having said that, the Geopark website is certainly worth checking out. Probably, the best place to start is here, where lots of specific sites are listed and linked. Some you may recognise – the Wren’s Nest and Saltwells (near Merry Hill), for example. From a gardens point of view the most interesting is probably Leasowes – parkland in the style made widely popular by Capability Brown but, in fact, not by him

Leasowes in 1811 - some years after Jefferson had seen it
The designer was William Shenstone – a poet famous in his day – who, in the mid-18th century, retired to his estate in order to improve and landscape it. It became a popular place to visit and, along with other such estates, it was viewed by two future US presidents, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. The latter was to design his own parkland at Monticello and was probably looking for ideas 

Thomas Jefferson, the third president
of the United States and who visited
Leasowes in 1786
Reports of his reactions vary. He wrote:
Shenstone's Leasowes is the simplest and plainest, but the most rural of all. I saw no spot so small that exhibited such a variety of beauties

But he also had many criticisms (Jefferson’s notes are now available online). Gardens – large or small – are a matter of taste but, it seems, that through poor maintenance and shaky finances the setup had considerably deteriorated by the time the future president inspected the site. You may now follow in his august footsteps aware that UNESCO, no less, has Leasowes under its umbrella and has, literally, put the Black Country on the map

From the sublime …
Turning to Codger’s own vast manicured estate, I would like to tell you about a little experiment I am engaged in. Just before lockdown I acquired two apple trees which I planted just as the PM was announcing his measures. Being short on space, I had already decided to grow the trees espalier fashion

Note the lateral being trained in a curve at the top of the bow
I had read about a pattern of training called the Belgian espalier and wanted to try it out. The first step, after planting, is to bend the sapling so it makes a low arch – rather like a bow. This I did and it has grown quite happily in this shape – see the photo – root to the right, tip to the left. The second step is to trim back the laterals, leaving just one near the top of the curve. This becomes the new leader and has also to be trained to a curve but in the opposite direction. This process gets repeated – back and forth each year, producing a sort of cascade

Happily, I had a length of plastic pipe to hand, which I have used as a former. This may make it easier to follow the shape. I had also intended to do a more traditional espalier with the second tree. But, I have hit a snag – more on this next time

Turk's Turban seeds in the process of collection and cleaning
Another little experiment
Every year we grow at least one member of the squash family called Turk’s Turban. The fruit form part of the display at our Harvest Thanksgiving. (Normally, the first Sunday in October – we wait to see how things shape up, this year.) We usually keep one of these squashes afterward – looks attractive in the conservatory. They are surprisingly long lasting; in fact, the fruit we kept has only just been consigned to the compost heap – so that is October to July – 10 months. The flesh was still fresh and completely edible – very similar to Butternut squash. I decided to save the seed – see photo on the right

Turk's Turban as of yesterday
Just let me know if you would like some. Send me an SAE – that would be the easiest way – you’ll get them by return (that way I won’t forget). GYO next year! The shot on the left shows the first of this year's crop - about half-grown, I would reckon

These are amazing plants - many more fruits are also growing. I am also growing Butternut squash and intend doing a flavour test

And some rhubarb
Speaking of flavour, I am slowly and gently reworking the veg patch. As a result, some rhubarb plants have become available. There are two varieties and you can take your pick – first come, first served. There is a commercial variety (I think, Livingstone) that has an extended cropping period. Also, we have a variety that has been passed down the generations, known in the family as raspberry rhubarb. Superb flavour and reliable cropping. Both are yours for the asking – potted up in good soil and ready to go. I would love these to do some good in another garden. You have only to remember one thing: water rhubarb, even when it's raining!

Everything is lush green at the moment
Engine room
I shall spare you the details, but the Blogger community has been ruffled by the supposed software upgrade. Despite the seemingly bottomless resources of our host the upgrade feels more like a downgrade in the way it handles fonts, among other things. So, please bear with me whilst things are put right. I have prepared this page in the old version

Perhaps this is where I should remind you that I am doing best to keep the plant list up to date. To find out what is available you need to click Plants for You at the top RHS of the page

Photo acknowledgements
All the photos are mine with the exception of the first four. I gratefully acknowledge Wikipedia as the source of these taken respectively from the entries on the Black Country, Capability Brown, Leasowes and Thomas Jefferson. As I am sure you are aware, Wiki is a great source of information

A question
Finally, a little quiz question for you. Look at the photograph below. What do you think a plastic crate is doing on the bottom of the pond? It is there for a dual purpose. The answer will be in Friday’s post

… with best wishes from the Garden Codger

Footnote on Leasowes for local readers
Leasowes deserves to be better known. Many times mine has been the only vehicle in the car park when I have taken our younger granddaughter there. Halfway up the hill, as you follow the stream, a poem is inscribed on a stone bench. When she was younger we would spell out the words together - I imagine the words are by William Shenstone. The visit by Adams and Jefferson seems relatively unknown. Leasowes is on Mucklow Hill, on the left as you come down from Quinton. There was a big restoration project a few years ago 

What's the crate doing? All will be revealed on Friday

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