On Monday 13th Springtime on the Farm aired on Channel 5 featuring North Ronaldsay. The filmmakers were lucky with the weather and the drone footage especially is stunning. It’s always so cringeworthy watching and hearing yourself on TV, so I watched the parts with me in with my fingers in my ears! The rest of the programme was interesting too, and they did so well to bring the latest from the farms while adhering to the current coronavirus restrictions. You can watch the episode on the Channel 5 website
A lot of the vegetable plants are springing up, the tomatoes are growing taller by the day. I’m desperate to get the homemade polytunnel up so they can be planted out, but getting the right materials to upcycle is not proving successful so far. Hagrid has even been out helping to dig the garden over!
We’ve been missing catching up with the fellow islanders but positivity has been shared through kind folk dropping off our shopping from the freight plane, care packages from Alex delivered by the shop at the Bird Observatory, and baking goodies from Louise. I hope we can repay the kindnesses with fresh garden produce soon! There’s been a lot of rhubarb springing up on the island, perfect for crumbles (topped with Orkney ice cream!) and jam. Some of the crowns are huge, abandoned and growing in small walled gardens for decades.
The daffodils are still lining the roads giving the island a wonderful splash of colour, but other flowers are starting to emerge too....
One of the first wildflowers to bloom, the word 'celandine' comes from the Greek chelidon meaning ‘swallow’. Both the swallow and lesser celandine appear around the same time and herald the coming of spring. The 21st of February is known as “Celandine Day”, named by naturalist Gilbert White for when the first celandines usually appeared in his village in Hampshire.
Another common name is "pilewort" since the herb was given for haemorrhoids. This belief came from the tubers growing under the plant, which look a bit like piles! The glossy dark green heart-shaped leaves are high in vitamin C and have been used to prevent scurvy.
It was once thought that you could use lesser celandine to predict the weather as they close their petals before raindrops and the flowers only open in the sunshine.
There is a Flower, the lesser Celandine,
That shrinks, like many more, from cold and rain;
And, the first moment that the sun may shine,
Bright as the sun himself, 'tis out again!
William Wordsworth, The Small Celandine, 1804
Speedwell was sewn into clothes of travellers for good luck, the bright blue/purple flowers meant to “speed” them on their journey. The good luck charm reputation may well have come about because of its habit of forming large clumps in hedgerows, roadside verges and grassy lanes.
The bitter taste and smell of speedwell when brewed in hot water led to its use as a tea substitute in France in the 1800s, where it is still called d’Europe (“Europe tea”).
It was also believed to cure gout. According to botanist Sir John Hill, in 1755, this belief was so popular that the plant was decimated for many miles around London, with people going out to pick and sell the leaves at market.
Sometimes called Coughwort, Coltsfoot has long been used as a remedy for coughs. The soothing effect is most likely due to the high amount of mucilage in the plant. It’s scientific name name, Tussilago, is derived from the Latin tussis, meaning cough, and ago, meaning to act on.
The flowers appear before the leaves, which leads us to another common name: ‘Son-before-father’. When the leaves finally appear they are hoof-shaped, hence the common name of Colt’s foot. The felt-like covering on the leaves was considered to be excellent tinder after being dried in the sun.
Pliny and others recommended smoking the leaves to relieve a cough, asthma and bronchitis induced breathing difficulties. A 1930’s recipe for British Herb Tobacco dictates the main ingredient is coltsfoot leaves, in addition to Buckbean, Eyebright, Betony, Rosemary, Thyme, Lavender, and Chamomile flowers. Hence the common name Baccy plant.
More wildflower facts soon!
Olly has been missing his climbing fix at the Picaquoy Centre and has taken to climbing whatever he can on this very flat island!