Just How Green Was my Valley?

What a summer we’ve had so far. Sunny, warm days filled with unobstructed light stretching late into the evening. Soft breezes rustling the trees, leaving enough insects in the air for birds and bats to swiftly buzz past as they take their in-flight meals. It has been fantastic. It has also been green.

In 1961, Johnny Cash wrote the song, Forty Shades of Green about his memories of Ireland. I wonder had he visited Crockern at that time whether he would have written a different song, because I know I am seeing across the meadows and moors, at least fifty shades of green.

The walk is just beginning, and already so many shades of green.

The walk is just beginning, and already so many shades of green.

On a recent afternoon walk with Sam, I pause to look up the vast hillside along the river heading north. I can’t help but notice how the luminous and green earth tones seem to recede into the background helping make the smaller patches of brown and black cows or white sheep appear so clearly. They pop out of the green, as do the yellow gorse flowers and pinkish-purple fox glove flowers. Even so, the dominant colour is green, a variegated patchwork of it!

With so much of one colour, the landscape could almost appear flat and yet it is deeply textured with the acid-neon greens of the grasses closely grazed by sheep laying snuggly next to the jade green of the gorse bushes. At their very base, the clumps of reeds and tall grasses resemble British Racing Green before they transition to the harlequin of the seed heads. Upon closer inspection, the lawn green colour of the grasses under my feet is laced with reds and browns.

A short distance ahead is Witstman’s Woods. Despite its legendary haunted tales, it sits like a fuzzy mirage in the distance. The sun is shining brightly revealing the Hunter, Shamrock, Apple, Spring and Leaf greens of the individual trees as might be captured in a botanical painting by William Hooker. But as the sun slips briefly behind a cloud, this montage of colours morphs into one cool aquamarine and the canopy of trees melts away into the hillside.

We're into the woods.

We’re into the woods.

Sam and I make our way over the stile and toward this jungle-like wood of ancient dwarf oak trees. There is something otherworldly about this grove of trees as if stepping into a stage set for Lord of The Rings. The trees grow from between huge granite boulders that are covered with such a variety of mosses and lichens and the whole place is vibrant with bird and insect life. Each of the trees has an arthritic look with gnarled, stunted branches reaching in all directions; they too are dripping with mosses and lichen. Deeper within the wood, all manner of bramble, wild honeysuckle, bilberry, grasses, ivies, and ferns grow untouched by walkers or grazing animals, making the huge boulders invisible.

We leave the woods and continue north towards the weir. As we scramble over sturdy stones and walk along ancient dry stone walls, my eyes are drawn to the grey-green, green, silver green, and yellow-green on every possible granite and wood surface. These slow growing lichens and mosses, punctuated with the emerald fronds of ferns and the viridian of stinging nettles, remind me of the camouflage uniforms of some military fatigues.

Mosses and Lichens display the continuum of green.

Mosses and Lichens display the continuum of green.

Sam and I looking down the river valley.

Sam and I looking down the river valley.

The return leg of our journey takes us along the leat with glorious views of the river valley. Ahead is a forest of pine trees. The air grows considerably cooler and you can almost smell the green – an equal mix of calming and uplifting — as we enter this stand of tall, straight fir trees planted by the Forestry Commission. Their boughs give shelter to fuzzy mosses and bright green and bottle-green ferns. It is from these woods at night we hear a Tawny Owl and, during the day, a raucous party of squawks from a colony of Herons. The other day, one flew from its nest, circling around our house looking rather prehistoric as it attempted to land in the ash tree, with its Kelly green leaves and bouncy branches. Too heavy to gain purchase in this tree the Heron returned to the forest.

Down by the river, I came across three people dressed in olive-drab waders. They were with the Environmental Agency and conducting a survey. Happily, the fish life in the river is doing well. After just a few hours of counting, these scientists had identified, along with a few eels, over two dozen salmon and over two dozen trout, including one which was 10-inches long!   While standing and chatting, I spot some wild mint growing and marvel at the elegant jerky flight of a dozen dragonflies, their iridescent green and blue wings sparkling in the sun.

Moss, bramble, lichen, and green grass.

Moss, bramble, lichen, and green grass.

Back at the house, I can see the celadon seedpods hanging in the Sycamore and Laburnum trees. The farmer on the other side of the valley has been cutting his hay meadow. Today there are rows of dark green grass waiting to be bailed, exposing the lighter rows of cut grass: a striped tee-shirt look to the field.

Before calling it a day, I make my tour of the garden and to see how green is my thumb. We have seven types of lettuces growing some tinged with reds, others looking like a granny-smith apple. Cabbages, onions, potatoes, spinach and chard all provide their various shades and tones, and the outer leaves of the artichokes have a lovely patina. The stems of the rainbow chard vary from a cool iceberg lettuce towards a purplish-green. The beet leaves are tinted with magenta. Our greenhouse is filled with herbs, strawberries, green tomatoes waiting to ripen, and cucumbers, which make me feel cooler on a hot day by just looking at them.

My green (and blurry) thumb by some of the herbs.

My green (and blurry) thumb by some of the herbs.

Part of our vegetable garden.

Part of our vegetable garden.

The greenhouse.

The greenhouse.

Even our blueberries are green!

Even our blueberries are green!

As the day winds to a close, I’m giving the green light to cocktails. Roger squeezes limes into our G&Ts; I set out a bowl of Gordal Olives and put an Al Greene disc into the player. My mind is filled with the colour green and its equal associations with renewal and growth or the lack of experience and need for growth. The Green Party, Going Green, Green thumb or Green fingers, waiting in the Green room, the Greenback, Green-Eyed Monsters, Greener pastures, Green with envy, Greenhorn, Green around the gills, and more mundanely, should I paint a room green?

Then, as quickly as it started, I stop this internal list making. Roger and I sit back and relax to watch all manner of birds at the feeders, including of course the Greenfinches.


30 comments on “Just How Green Was my Valley?

  1. yvonne says:

    Lovely. Your garden and greenhouse look amazing. Thank you for the prehistoric looking cucumbers. X

  2. Eileen Swanson says:

    I hope you were singing “How green is my valley”
    You’ve made me think in green………
    I moss try not to!

  3. Joe says:

    Beautiful photography Catherine. Stunning countryside!

  4. Ann Dawney says:

    What a lttle gem! Sapphire or emerald perhaps…. Superb photos Catherine – made my mouth water, and your vegetable beds and greenhouse are beautiful. What a change since we were down two years ago!

    • Thanks Ann. Yes, two years ago that veg bed was nothing but nettles! And I think you’ll love the new stairs (no longer a ladder) to get to the downstairs, which should be finished by mid-September with any luck.

  5. Lovely – lucky you! How nice that you capitalized the names of the many Greens you’re graced by.

  6. Paul Blaney says:

    Oddly enough, I recorded ‘How Green Was My Valley’ on Sunday. Clearly, I must make time to watch the movie.

  7. jllevitan says:

    I’m green with envy! What a colourful (notice the spelling) post. Ok, enough with the bad puns. Very enjoyable stroll through Dartmoor with you and Sam. Glad to see your garden is thriving and that you are having such a wonderful summer.

    • The summer has been great and all if us and the garden are thriving. Slow going on the downstairs project but it too should soon be showing signs of ripeness and completion. You won’t recognise it!!!

      • jllevitan says:

        Can’t wait to see the pictures. And see it in person again one day. : )
        We had such a magical time when we came to visit.

      • Believe it or not, I think I might be even more excited about having some photos of the finished project to share! We’ll have to get you back out this way sometime again soon. It was a terrific visit.

  8. Anja says:

    Absolutely enchanting! X

    P.S I’ve seen the Lego Movie and thought of you, it was too funny! You sure are ‘the special’ when it comes to your veg garden!

  9. Polly McLaughlin says:

    Wow! Spectacular! Seemed like an Acid trip!!!!!!!!!!!! Whew. Xoxo,p

  10. Rosie's Dad says:

    Rosie’s favourite colour is green. She is obsessed with it, so let’s hope things haven’t started going brown by the time we see you in a couple of weeks!

  11. RobP says:

    It’s amazing how the colours change with the seasons and add a totally different character to a place!

  12. hilary scotcher says:

    Wow! X

  13. RICHARD TOFTS says:

    Hi Catherine

    We hope all’s well with you, Roget & Sam.

    I liked your blog and your garden looks great! Your mention of Sir William Hooker reminded me of a book by Mea Allen I came across years ago, a dry botanical tome (about William Hooker and his son who also became a director at RBG Kew) racily entitled ‘The Hookers of Kew’. I believe it sold unexpectedly well in parts of the USA although several of the purchasers were reported to be disappointed with the contents!

    I got an email from the BTO today. Amongst other things, it contained a link to the latest results of the cuckoo tracking project. Chris the cuckoo is apparently being unusually lazy and holidaying somewhere in northern Italy at the moment, but the thing that prompted me to mention this is that several of the cuckoos were tagged close to you. I can’t remember if you mentioned them in one of your earlier blogs but if you aren’t following their adventures at the moment you can follow the individual cuckoo’s blogs at *http://www.bto.org/science/migration/tracking-studies/cuckoo-tracking *.

    Janey and I (and Purdey) are looking forward to seeing you all next month.

    Much love

    Richard, Janey & pooch xxx

  14. Very lovely… Wistman’s Wood is on the (rather long) menu for next week… I’m also planning to chuck a speculative trout fly into the Black(a)brook River.

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