10 things I love (and 3 I do not) about Fulford Show

10 things…

  1. Walking there from our house – so no battling with Bank Holiday traffic!
  2. Early morning mist on the expanse of field as we get there first thing to help put up the stalls and gazebos
  3. Being one of the few ‘veterans’ who knows how to put up an old-style gazebo! Getting all the numbered poles in order, and raising the edifice in such a way that its legs don’t drop off at the crucial moment is a Black Art.
  4. Bacon butties and coffee for helping
  5. The queue at the Social Hall door: people carrying everything from giant beetroots (complete with leaves) to bottles of wine, floral displays and model castles. I have to get there with our wine and fruit before the doors ‘close for judging’ at ten – it’s almost apocalyptic.
  6. Fulford Community Orchard stall – I generally put my name down on the rota for the whole day. The produce we sell there – jams, chutneys, cake and cards with arty pictures of the trees in all seasons – helps pay for tree maintenance and insurance. Barry brings his apple-press and we hand out juice to the kids, who always want to know how the almost steampunk-looking device works.
  7. The other stalls! We take turns away from our own stall to amble around. I’ve bought some amazing (and very cheap) things over the years: big planters, winter pyjamas, an entire set of bed-linen – deep purple with a design of cursive letters (for £1), lego Vikings, numerous books and even a book-case. One year someone came selling nothing but root ginger. We bought enough to keep us in stir-fries for months.
  8. The actual ‘show’ part: seeing everyone else’s beautifully-crafted work, seeing if Dee or Azzie have won in the Jam (‘Have you got your jam ready? Let Midsomer Murders commence!’) and finding out what I’ve won for my wine. It always wins something because so few folk enter wine. It’s a bit of a cheat, really, but it’s nice to say ‘my prize-winning wine’…
  9. The ‘auction’ – well it’s a bit more like a free-for-all. Everyone has the chance to buy any exhibits that haven’t been ‘reserved’ in advance. I’m afraid I reserve our wine, but not the fruit or veg.
  10. The takings! For our stall these help keep the Orchard going for another year. For the show as a whole, they keep the whole thing on the road – the show pays for itself.

3 things…

  1. Taking down the gazebos – it means it’s all over for another year. Worse still if it’s raining and they’re all sodden wet.
  2. Weather lottery! We’ve sweltered in 30 degree heat (and none of us was used to it), and braved freezing squalls. Some August Bank Holidays it’s blowing enough for a poorly-anchored tent to get airborne. More than one year we’ve been in pouring rain – not too terrible by itself, but grievous if it’s also windy and you’re having to wrestle putting up the gazebo ‘sides’ before everything gets wet. But then, at least it’s something to boast about afterwards.
  3. The field is silent this year, and I’m at home. The Social Hall is locked and empty – I checked, moved by that strange way you think that if you return to a place where you once lived, then you’ll also go back in time to the years you lived there. Or just in case someone had decided to go ahead with a few informal stalls anyway. I have no idea how long a tradition the show is, but I like to think it’s one of those things that ‘Hitler couldn’t stop’ back in the day. We even had a Spitfire flyover last year, for the 75th anniversary of the D-Day Landings. But this year, Plague has done what War has never managed. It makes sense to hold off at the moment, but it’s too sad. To cap it all, Barry – our apple expert and Custodian of the Press – passed away in March. Of a heart attack – not Covid. He always was a one-off. We have a bottle of his home-made cider waiting in the kitchen. This evening we’ll drink to his memory, and to the Return of Fulford Show.

For forty days…

Saint Swithin’s Day, if thou dost rain

For forty days it shall remain.

Saint Swithin’s day, if thou be fair

For forty days ’twill rain nae mair.

trad

A quick count finds that we’ve now come to the end of those forty days. How did St Swithin’s prediction do? Well, on 15th July it rained for some of the day – and for the last forty days it has, indeed, rained on some of the days! A prediction like that can’t go wrong, really, can it?

But to the point.

Rain on St Swithin’s day is supposed to ‘christen the apples’ – though my bet is this particular piece of lore pre-dates Christianity by quite some time.

They don’t seem to have done too badly.

Neither do these:

Our pears don’t seem to want to be out-done, either. This is the same pear-tree which, all those years ago during ‘The Year-Long Lunch Break’ – my first ever blog – was the beneficiary of ‘the Sporting Chance School of Gardening‘, also known as my tendency not to bother digging up a plant and chucking it on the off-chance that it might come good. That was over ten years ago. This is now:

The tomato plants, from Lockdown times, are giving us our first toms ever. I think the secret is to have them near enough to the back door that you can water them in your slippers, and pick them as soon as they are ripe!

Finally here are some pretty calendulas. Just because.

The Plot: Late summer

Late summer – that is, from about now – has a scent all its own. I’ve no idea why, but it always makes me think of Scotland. The heatwave is over; everything has its energy and is no longer thirsty. There’s petrichor – the smell of rain on dry earth – but even that isn’t the whole of it. There’s pine, grass; a spot of night. Where we live, the first day of August brings the first proper night that isn’t just Astronomical Twilight.

And the Plot, bless it, begins to Produce.

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Last year I bought beans in a Hungarian market. Like an idiot I put them in the fridge rather than do the correct thing and hang them up to dry. They went manky but I couldn’t bear to sling them so I planted them anyway (this is what’s known, in our house, as the Sporting Chance School of Gardening). And some came good! Here they are, in all their puce-speckled glory. They’ve been joined by some half-a-dozen more now, which are all being kept to sow for a proper crop next year.

And now, meet our first potato:

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Yes that’s a life-size hand, and quite a large one (mine).

Here’s the first celeriac we’ve ever sucessfully grown:

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And finally, here’s one of the 20 or so Kale plants which, when in their tiny pots, I thought had all been eaten by slugs, but planted the little sticks out anyway:

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Our plot is surrounded by brambles. They’re a nuisance to keep in check but this year they’ve given us nearly three kilos of blackberries. Just the right quantity for a batch of dark red wine…

Back to the Plot…

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Here’s one of the last of our Globe Artichokes. The patch – about 4 square metres – produces a couple of dozen of these beauties every year. We eat them French style: saw off the bottom, cut off the top, sharp spikes of each leaf (I use sturdy scissors for this), and steam for 40 minutes or so. Then each leaf can be peeled off and the inner side has a nutty-tasting soft bit that you can pull off with your teeth! Having eaten all those, and peeled off a sort of hairy top-knot inside, you get to the heart. Mmm…

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The Radishes are also ready now: here are our first few. We may have left these in the ground too long: they certainly have ‘character’!

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Runner beans are taking over – they’re even outgrowing the bindweed! (You might be able to see it there – in the lower right-hand corner by the poppy-head.)

The plot can look a bit bedraggled now the first flush of green has had a few weeks of summer weather thrown at it, but to us that just means it’s ‘wildlife-friendly’!

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Wildlife, though, are the reason we have to spread nets over the purple spouting broccoli. If we didn’t, the greedy wood-pigeons would have the lot.

Finally, here is part of last week’s harvest:

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The plot thickens

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It’s that time of year when the garden and the Allotment are dressed in their best.

The Chard is taking over the world:

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The cherry tree went completely bananas:

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We’ve even had our first walnut (For a 5 year old tree at our latitude, that’s quite something!)

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Currnts and gooseberries – this year’s and last – will combine in a new departure for the homw-brew:

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And finally a follow-up to the mystery seeds in 17th May’s post – a Neural Miner has begun to show:

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But is it Evil?

 

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For reasons known only to the Great God WIP (Work in Progress, which at the moment is a novel with a botanical theme) I took it upon myself to write a scene from the point of view of a Bindweed.

For this I had to find out more about the Nature of the Beast than the little I already know: that, given half a chance, the thing would outgrow and strangle practically everything on our vegetable allotment (with the noble exception of the Rhubarb, who apparently makes its own weed-killer, and the Globe Artichoke, who is basically just a giant thistle with gourmet pretentions).

Plants communicate with each other, including across species. Not by whispering when we’re not listening (though to be fair this has never been proven), but by chemical messages below the soil, and occasionally above it. I have personally experienced this. Picture the scene: one spring morning I noticed a couple of cheeky dandelion flowers on our lawn. With nothing better to do, I dug the plants up. In doing so I noticed more that hadn’t flowered. And more, and more, until I’d dug up every dandelion I could see. I remember their fragrance – quite strong but not unpleasant.

The following day the several who’d escaped this intended wipe-out were all in brazen flower. I’m still convinced that they knew, somehow, that they were in danger and were doing their level best to make sure someone among them got to make seeds.

Another one from my own experience: watching the bamboo on our allotment bend away from a bonfire we’d lit next to it. You could actually see it move.

And there’s a lab in Australia who have managed to show that plants can find water just from the sound it makes.

So why not write from a plant’s point of view? In checking certain things for research (for example, the technical term for the tubular white roots which form that infuriatingly durable network from which the Bindweed draws its apparently boundless energy) I discovered they are Rhyzomes (Rhizomes in the States) and the plant itself is a Bine.

Bine?

Why had I never heard the term before?

A Vine  – for example a Pea plant or a Grapevine – throws out little curly tendrils to clasp on to whatever it has chosen for support, whereas a Bine – the Bindweed, or indeed our Beans – wraps its whole stem about its support in a helix. The Bindweed helix always turns clockwise (as you lie on the ground looking up, that is), so here in the Northern hemisphere that means it turns against the path of the sun – widdershins, as they say.

It is, therefore, obviously Evil. Which makes it an interesting character to write about, no?

 

 

Story seeds

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The back of the Seed Drawer is a weird and wonderful place. Its inhabitants, those seeds unlucky enough to have been bought in a ‘bad year’, gather dust in the quiet time between one upheaval and another.

Perhaps their purchaser was lured out early to the garden centre by an unusually warm and sunny March, only to have had all hopes dashed by an April loaded with gales and sleet. Good intentions may, on the other hand, have been stymied by the unforeseen imposition of a house move, a new job, or some other devourer of time like the sudden need to care for an elderly relative who lives 150 miles away. Or open heart surgery.

But this year has brought something else altogether.

Here in the UK those of us lucky enough not to work one of the ‘key’ jobs formerly known as ‘unskilled’ have had to stay at home – and to do so through an unusually sunny spring. Only Wales had the good sense to keep garden centres open. Us Sais here in England had to make the best of what we’d got.

What I found, on gleaning the drawer, were not so much seeds as story prompts:

Mrs Lei (a bean, not shown here) works as a Neural Miner in the dark underbelly of some evil organisation powered entirely by disembodied captive brains – a bit like The Matrix only with added pickaxes and dirt.

Munstead Strain is obviously a closer-to-home version of The Andromeda Strain (A search for Munstead reveals it is, indeed, in the Home Counties. It was even designed by somebody called Jekyll. The plot thickens…)

Double Mixed and Fiesta Gitana Mixed bring to mind rom-coms, the first one peopled with Updike-type characters only less serious, and the second with English ex-pats in Spain.

At this point I felt the need to search for mentions of these seed names: where had the companies, or gardeners, got their inspiration from? I found only one site, in the whole world, bore any mention of ‘Neural Miner’ seed and that site, by a bizarre coincidence, was the only place I could find mention of ‘Weretors of Elgebar’.

And in a further twist, since I drafted this blog yesterday, that site appears to have vanished!

So I may never know what curlicues of the imagination could have caused someone to give a plant such a name.

Midnight, on a jagged mountain top. Clouds scud across the full moon. A cluster of fractured towers loom black against the sky. A single, cold blue eye gleams, as if alive, from one of the empty windows. Elgebar, finally aligned. Tonight, the towers have awakened and will claim what is theirs…