Friday, May 30, 2008

Mr Douglas’s eagle

A fine young Calumet Eagle, two years old, sex unknown, I have acquired, brought from the Cootanie lands in the bosom of the Rocky Mntns, near the headwaters of the Saskatchewan River. His plumage is much destroyed.

Many strange stories are told of this bird [aka Golden Eagle] as to strength & ferocity, such as carrying off young deer entire. By most of the tribes the tail feathers are highly prized for adorning their war caps and other garments.

Are caught as follows: A deep pit is dug in the ground, covered over with small sticks, straw, grass and a thin covering of earth, in which the hunter take his seat; a large piece of flesh is placed above, having a string tied to it, the other end held in the hand of the person below.

The bird, on eyeing the prey, instantly descends and while his talons are fastened in the flesh the hunter pulls bird and flesh into the pit. Scarcely an instance is known of failing in the hunt [and this has unfortunate resonance with how Douglas himself would die in Hawaii in 1834]

This one having been taken only a few days after hatching is now docile [But] the boys who have been in the habit of teasing him for some past having ruffled his temper, I took and caged him with some difficulty [Not so docile, huh?]

Monday, May 26, 2008

Filling Up!!

The plot is filling up. Today the Courgette plantation went in ( a mere 12; if they all come good, ratatouille will be big this summer).

And the 'salad/herb' plot at the top in full sun is now full, with Sweet Peas, Cornflowers (yes, I know they ain't salads but that's where they've gone), lettuce (green salad bowl, poor, neglected too long), basil (very poor, xplanted well but no roots in the pot so they won't thrive and replacements have already been sown. And the rest of the tomatoes.

If the replacement cucumbers and the supplementary climbing french (ascenseurs francais?) come good, and the beetroot, rainbow chard & spinach need somewhere to grow (well they will; they ain't gonna mooch around moodily on the path are they?!), I can see that one of the fallow sub-plots is going to have to come back into circulation.

And don't forget the Leeks. They're ready, they're waiting. They had a small setback when I inadvertently strimmed the tops off them (neat huh? Decapitation as a small setback!) but they've recovered well and are ready to go go go.

Thank goodness Wilma Wilbury is looking after the garden at home, and here it is.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Things I am having to re-sow

Basil - because it's all gorn orf. It's very odd. It germinated well, grew well, transplanted well but then it's gone all pale and limp and clearly won't survive. Being Neopolitan Basil, I suspect it doesn't really like northern latitudes and has caught a cold.

Climbing French Beans - nothing wrong with them, just that I need some more to fill a few gaps (cos not enough germinated).

Lettuce - nothing wrong with them either, just that I'm trying to be better at successional sowing to avoid boom or bust in the Lettuce department

Cucumber - soddy buggery cucumbers. germinated well, grew well, then died. Think they've taken Umbrage (a well-known disease of plants, caused by proximity to Lovage. TEST - what is the common German name for Lovage? Let's see if you've been paying attention)

Nasturtiums - sowed 30; germinated 1. I think they took offence; I only had a very short stub of a label, which wouldn't accommodate Nasturtium but would just squeeze in Nasty. They clearly thought I was being rude to them.
Fatigued so much.....

..... with yesterday's walking that no sleep could be had; rose at daybreak [May 22nd, 1827] and had my box [of collected seeds] opened. Found the seeds in much better order than could be expected.

Seeds or plants should be enclosed in soldered tin-boxes to prevent wet or moisture and placed in strong wooden boxes. Fortunately my shirts were in the box, so they absorbed the moisture. However from my very small stock [of shirts] being entirely rotten I can at the moment ill spare them

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Don't you just love them? On an allotment, definitely not but you have to admire them as a really successful plant. Tenacious, adaptable, vigorous, ineradicable, and with lovely yellow flowers too. What more could you want?

I spent two hours this afternoon digging the little beggars out of one of the sub-plots, with the results you see.

But effort is it's own reward because that part of the plot now holds twenty-ish cabbages. I'm trying something new to deter pigeons - it's some reflective holographic tape which flashes and twists and [supposedly] scares them off. We'll see. I suspect they are, at this very moment sitting next to it, hooting with derision before gorging themselves on MY cabbages.

The only good pigeon is roasted and on my plate. I have actually eaten pigeon. It was OK but I couldn't eat enough of them to make a dent in the population!
At daylight, four a.m. …………..

…… [21st May, 1827] started on foot accompanied by an old Nipissing Indian who had spent many years west of the Rocky Mountains. Although to appearance upward of seventy years of age I found him a most excellent walker. Passed a deep muddy swamp a mile broad and entered a thick point of pine of five more, when I was informed the laborious part of the journey was over.

Continued my route along Lake Bowland where two men had been sent on to fish. Having been unsuccessful and no breakfast my stay was short.

Passed the small deep rivulets by means of throwing down two trees. All the hollow parts of the plains overflowed with water – to all appearance shallow lakes. Appears to have at one time abounded in Red and Long-tailed deer, many horns being strewed over the ground.

At three o’clock came to Sturgeon River, a small deep muddy stream but at this season large, the banks overflowed. My hatchet being small, two hours were spent making a raft. I would not have lost three minutes in crossing [says intrepid Douglas], but my poor old guide was afraid the chilliness of the water would injure him, having perspired much, and on his account I assisted him in raft making.

Being then only nine miles from Fort Edmonton on the Saskatchewan my spirits revived and I hastily tripped over the ground and passed many muddy creeks, wading to the middle. Night creeping in on me, my view of the country gradually disappeared. At eight I heard the evening howl of the sledge dogs, which to me was sweet music, and perceived fires in some lodges which I knew to be near the establishment [Fort Edmonton].

Being all over with mud, I returned half a mile to a small lake, stripped and plunged myself in and then comforted myself with a clean shirt.

I was most kindly received, and had supper prepared for me of fine moose-deer steaks, which were most acceptable after a walk of forty-three miles through a most wretched country without having anything to eat.

[Now let’s just reprise that. He has risen at 4, with no breakfast, walked 43 miles with no food, wading through swamps to the middle, building rafts for his old Indian guide, and still has time to scrub-up and comfort himself with a clean shirt before supper. Fit as a butcher’s dog!]

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Tomatoes in!!!

26 tomato plants in tonight, just ahead of the predicted rain. They're a mix of Tamina (a potato-leave variety), Gardener's Delight and some Beefsteak variety. Unfortunately, mix is the right word because the labels have gone astray so, apart from Tamina whch I can recognise from the leaves, I know not what they are. Hey Ho

Now there's only the small matter of the remaining 14 to squeeze in somewhere!

Grape vine is coming on too. Just visible, altho sadly not to a camera, are the flower buds which will become grape buds which will become...... Chateau Brincliffe?
A sufficiency of fish……

….being caught for a part of the journey, raised camp at ten [May 20th, 1827], keeping a south course. Road very bad [heading SE towards Edmonton], much worse than any yet gone over; passing the numerous swamps often sinking nearly to the middle in mud and water. Some of the horses obliged us to camp earlier than expectation, being broken down with fatigue and paving to pass a thick wood five miles long where no fodder could be had.

The distance to the establishment being only (!) about forty miles I intend to start on foot in order that a few more days may be had to collect [seeds]; at the same time I am most anxious to learn the fate of my packet of seeds [entrusted to another before departure]. This day’s march is nine miles.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Three large rafts being made.....

....sufficient to carry all the baggage and persons in one trip, the [Pembina] river being too broad and rapid to return with one, we all crossed. Went before the brigade in quest of birds, but still unfortunate. path a little better than the preceding days, ground high and not so thickly wooded.

Shortly after two o'clock [May 18th, 1827, north-west of Edmonton] arrived at Eagle Lake in which are caught grey sucker, white fish, and pike or jackfish, where we must stay to procure wherewithal to complete the remainder of our journey to the Saskatchewan. Thirty one were caught before dusk.

May 19th, 1827

The fishermen during last night caught only sixty fish, all good eating

Monday, May 19, 2008

Back to the plot!

I've got the whole week off so this is a good opportunity to catch up on allotment work.

First job - connect the hose, empty the bottom bath of winter sludge and refill with lovely cold clean water. I love that first refill of the new season.

While that is filling, a massive weed of "Tomato Plot", then a massive weed of "Bean Plot", accompanied all the while by a robin who ate so much it's a wonder he can still fly.

I remembered the camping stove this time so plenty of tea before putting up the bean canes. This really feels like progress, even more so as the beans are sitting patiently at home, ready to go in.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

May 17th, 1827

Morning raw and unpleasant. Two hours walk through an excessively bad road took us to Paddle River, a rapid muddy creek, thirty yards wide and at present swollen over its banks from melting of the snow. A raft was constructed and two men swam across and pulled it over by a rope; by this tedious operation we all got over in the space of three hours.

This place affording no fodder for the horses, went on until we came to a low plain at midday. As soon as refreshed in the afternoon, continued through a thick woody country intersected by narrow lakes until we reached the Pembina River at dusk, and regretted at not finding the canoes which we parted from six days ago.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

May 16th, 1827

Continued our route through the same sort of country as yesterday, still bad road and nothing in the way of plants. Breakfasted in a low wet plain near a narrow lake, where we made a stay of a few hours to refresh the horses. Passed through a low point near a creek bank, in many places by old beaver dams. Entered a second plain and camped in the wood at the south end. rainy with thunder.

[Douglas is at this point in present-day Alberta, heading roughly south-east from Fort Assiniboine towards Edmonton, still some days off. The small town of Camp Creek is a good estimate of where he was. Tomorrow he'll reach the Pembina River]

Thursday, May 15, 2008

This uninteresting wretched country.......

.......affording me no plants, I took a gun and went in quest of partridges [very fond of his partridges, Mr D, especially roasted in front of an open fire, or boiled]. Killed three but only one was worth skinning. Camped at "Two Rivers" much fatigued. Observed two species of Ribes, both common west of the mountains on the margin of mountain rivulets. Showery, with hailstones of large size

David Douglas, botanist, May 15th, 1827

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Western Canada, 1827

"May 14th. Morning dull & cloudy. At two o'clock crossed the [Athabasca] river. Took our course in a south direction through a low marshy country. path very bad, sinking to the knees in mud and kept by the still frozen soil at the bottom from going further. Killed a female partridge. Could not preserve it. Regret it"

David Douglas, botanist

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Parallel lives

Long-standing readers of this blog (sit down, take the weight off your feet) will recall my interest (obsession?) with the life and works of David Douglas, botanist & plant collector extraordinaire, 1799-1834. I've followed him around the world, from his birthplace in Scone to where he died in Hawaii and his grave in Honolulu. If you have a flowering currant or California poppy in your garden you have a direct connection to Douglas. If you live in a house built in the UK since the late 1800s you have an even more direct connection because all your structural timbers are probably from species introduced by Douglas.

Anyway, later this summer I'm off following him again, to York Factory on the shores of Hudson's Bay. To mark this I thought I'd give you some contemporaneous accounts from his 1827 journal of his trek across the continent from the Pacific Northwest to Hudson's Bay.

Douglas has a very laconic style. Always travelling in hard, nay harsh, circumstances he makes light of his difficulties. This is a man who observes that " much worn out was I three times by fatigue and hunger that twice I crawled, for I could hardly walk, to a small abandoned hut. I had in my knapsack one biscuit."

Later, on the Columbia River, he observes the effect of the native's diet - "Lewis observes that when eaten in a large quantity they [Camass roots] occasion bowel complaints. This I am not aware of but assuredly they produce flatulence.; when in the Indian hut I was almost blown out by strength of wind."

He ends 1826 on the Multnomah River above present-day Portland, Oregon ending a hard-bargaining session with an Indian with the immortal words "He had my blessing and promise of a sound flogging should I ever meet him in a convenient place."

Now let's pick him up contemporaneously. Here he is on May 13th, 1827 on the Athabasca River, on his cross-continent journey with the voyageurs of the Hudson's Bay Express. He has already spent two months coming up the Columbia, over the Rockies through the Athabasca Pass and is now working his way down the Athabasca River.

"Sunday 13th. Close and cloudy. By making an early start 10 miles was gained to breakfast; shortly afterwards we left the canoe and cut over a low point of wood and arrived at Assiniboine at two o'clock. Mr Stuart killed a male partridge. I make some small slug and procure a pair of this fine bird."

Watch this space for more from David Douglas, as well as normal service from his mate Woody Wilbury at Allotment 81.

Sunday, May 11, 2008


Just look at this

It is of course the Titan Arum, fast approaching flowering. It currently stands at around 2 metres tall and will reach 3 metres before flowering. Then you need to batten down your nostrils because the smell it emits is obnoxious. And the female flowers are receptive for one night only, the night before the male flowers produce pollen. There's playing hard to get and there's being positively awkward. Hand pollination is difficult and involves two inflorescenses flowering in perfect sequence or the use of frozen pollen. Frozen pollen!! Ye Gods.

You'll deduce from this that Woody has been to Kew, where this is growing in the Princess of Wales Conservatory. Kew is fabulous, and I hadn't been since I was a teenager, umpty years ago. Why? Fool.

Outside Woody was pleased to spot Kew's Gingko biloba, dating from 1762.

This is one of the few trees remaining from the first botanic garden established by Princess Augusta, George III's mother, in 1759.
And just for North Atlantic balance, here's the oldest Gingko in North America, growing in Bartram's Garden, Philadelphia, and also dating from the late 1700s (1785 to be [fairly] precise). The tree was there when David Douglas visited Bartram (King's Botanist in N America) in 1823. Bartram himself wasn't there, having inconsiderately died 6 weeks earlier. The tree is still in good shape, or at least it was in 2001 when I was there, but if you look closely you can see steel cables holding it together. But at 250+ yrs old I think it deserves a bit of support.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Massive Attack....
..... on the weeds and general herbage, which is going forth like ye olde clappers at the moment, it being moist and waarm (a Sheffield word for 'not-quite-hot'; usually prefacing a nice pint of Waards - a Sheffield word for beer, sadly now defunct in it's home town). I work less than a hundred yaards from the former Waards brewery and lament the lack most days.

Anyway, back to the point (terrible stuff for making you wander, this Waards). Weeds seen orf today, don't y' know:

Yer garlic patch
Yer onion patch
Yer blackberry patch, and
Yer raspberroonie patch.

Only one of them proved photogenic so here's the garlic patch, newly weeded and pristine, with a quick glimpse of AlcaBrassica behind.

And here's a bluebell looking very Young At Heart, we're so Yo-ung at Heart.

Very pleased with the blackberries, which are sending out new shoots like they mean it, much ahead of where they were last year. Perhaps piling manure around their rootstock really does work? Perhaps they're trying to get away from it? I would if you piled manure around my rootstock.

And the raspberoonies; what about the raspberoonies, eh? Thought dead, no signs of life, nailed to perch, choir invisibule etc. But no, 19 of the 20 have rooted and are putting forth new growth. Well pleased about this because the last attempt was an unmitigated failure.

And finally, the grapevine looks as though bud break is imminent. The buds are huge and furry and look truly fecund. Fecund, I tell you, Fecund. Pictures next time.