Thursday, 19 March 2015

Dartmoor sun and splitting snowdrops

Our weeks have now settled into a pattern which involves a lot of driving up and down the country in order to spend time with my father.  Normally we make a flying visit to Devon but this week we stayed longer and took a day in the middle of the visit to walk, in the morning, and to visit younger son and his family in the afternoon and overnight.

It was a cold bright morning with an edge to the breeze and a milky light.


We parked high on the edge of Dartmoor and walked immediately out onto the moor, heading for Cox Tor.  The grass was bleached to straw by winter and everywhere stones were piled on either side, crusted with lichen.   Underfoot the grass was springy to walk on.  Blackfaced sheep grazed, their rumps marked red by the ram, not yet ready to lamb.  They are a hardy breed to lamb up here.


The tors rise up in piles of stone.  They look man made but they are not, although the stone is piled like liquorice cakes.



It is extraordinary to think that Dartmoor, like the Clwydian hills where we live, is a place of ancient habitation.  People have lived on Dartmoor for five thousand years or more, since the Bronze Age at around 2300 BC to 700 BC.    All over Dartmoor are standing stones or menhirs, stone circles and stone hut circles.  The Iron Age which followed, running from 700 BC to the arrival of the Romans in the first century AD, has left the remains of hillforts.  Dartmoor and our own high hills are empty today and they can feel desolate and inhospitable.   To the twenty first century mind it is hard to see why people would have chosen to live in these high places when there is softer, gentler land close by. It is hard to imagine that when the country was heavily forested it was the lower lands that were hunting grounds and places of darkness and danger and the higher places which provided refuge and safety, the chance to build settlements which could be defended against your enemies and the chance to see your enemies coming!


There are tarns and streams in these high places and more life than you would expect.  All morning we walked under lark song.


The moors are dotted with Dartmoor ponies, stocky and shaggy in their winter coats.  In the village on the edge of the moor where my sister lives the ponies move into the village in winter, crowding the lanes, grazing on the green, invading gardens if the gates are left open.  This pony was surprisingly friendly and unphased by close human contact.  Dartmoor feels like undiscovered country to me.  I hope we get to explore a bit more.


And at home again today I have been splitting snowdrops.  This is such an easy thing to do and makes a real difference to how quickly snowdrops spread.  For the last five years I have been counting my snowdrops every year (I know, I know, I need to get a life) and I have seen them steadily increase.  The first year in which I counted was 2009.  It is not the most scientific process in the world and I am pretty sure that I miss things and miscount from time to time but I use the same approach every year.  In 2009 there were 725 snowdrops in the garden.  That year I split the larger clumps and spread them about and by 2010 there were 1094.  When the flowers were going over but the foliage still green I split them again and by February 2011 when I counted towards the end of the season the numbers had jumped to 1480.  Then I had a couple of years when I didn't do the splitting on the same scale and 2012 produced 1486, followed by 1580 in 2013.  I decided to return to splitting them up and moving them around in 2013 and was rewarded in 2014 by a great rush of growth to 2693!  Last year I didn't get round to it and this year's count was 2504.  So this year I am lifting all the larger clumps and pulling them apart.  The bulbs are then planted out in groups of seven to ten, still with their foliage and some of the last of the flowers.


So next year I hope there will be snowdrops all along the drive, washing out in a wave of foam from the base of the side garden wall and pushing up amongst the hellebores down by the native trees. And it is becoming clear that I need more crocuses...

23 comments:

  1. The carpet of snowdrops must be such a brightening sight! I wonder if the moor ever in its past was covered with trees. Does the wind blow with much force across them?

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    1. There were trees on the moor thousands of years ago. Now it is very bare. It does take the wind but the tors also provide lots of little sheltered pockets when the sun shines.

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  2. Thanks for this interesting post. It is amazing to see landscape so wild in what to Americans is a populated country. I like that roughness and the openness somehow.

    Love the snowdrops and you propagating them with such success. Bulbs are a lost cause here unfortunately: wildlife digs them up and eats them. Such clean white flowers and so hardy.

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    1. I would hate to be without bulbs! I think they are amongst my favourite flowers. MInd you I do also like some of the so called prairie flowers like echinacea so I suppose I would adapt. There are many areas of wildness in the Uk despite its size. Scotland and Wales, where I live, have some areas which are close to wilderness. It is surprising I can see, in such a small country!

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  3. I too love the snowdrops and the idea of your splitting and spreading them. Lovely and so cheerful!

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    1. Snowdrops always make me smile. They don't quite represent spring to me, too early, too chilly, but they do mean spring is not far away.

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  4. What a BEAUTIFUL post...the landscape is amazing, I love it!
    Have a great weekend, take care...
    Love,
    Titti

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    1. I am so glad you like it. Dartmoor is a very beautiful and distinctive place. Some find it a bit too bleak but I love it.

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  5. Good luck with your snowdrop splitting Elizabeth, there is nothing better than the sight of them growing en masse.

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    1. I seem to be finding that I never get en masse, the more I have the more I feel I need!

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  6. Lovely post, I love the beauty and history of our land, especially the high and wild places. Isn't it great to creat more plants for nothing but a little bit of effort. I started doing the same in my last garden, splitting and planting snowdrops to make lots of impact in the garden. I hope they are doing that now for the new owner :)

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    1. How generous of you to wish the increasing snowdrops to the new owner of your garden! Yes it is a lovely thing to increase plants for free. I am a total addict.

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  7. The snowdrops are lovely, and a much needed bit of color! I follow another blog of someone who lives on/at Dartmoor. I find the moors so beautiful and captivating with the life that they hold, and the ponies truly are amazing and intriguing, aren't they?

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    1. It is quite moving to watch Dartmoor ponies on the moor. We so rarely see wild ponies in this country. Is the blog you read called Dartmoor Ramblings? She has the most amazing photos.

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  8. and those purple and white striped crocus?
    Will be a while before my splits become mass.
    I do see determined inherited arums pushing thru.

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    1. I love arums. I have arum italicum here and it can't grow fast enough for me!

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  9. Elizabeth, isn't it grand how your snowdrop population increases, with or without your intervention. These brave little flowers are definitely amongst my favorites.

    Now. On to telling you how much I enjoyed seeing your Dartmoor photographs and historic information. This afternoon I finished reading Kazuo Ishiguro's The Sleeping Giant, and think that much of my enjoyment and appreciation of this novel came from having had the opportunity over the past years, to visit posts like yours.

    I do think that I would like to see some of these open, perhaps even wild and desolate parts of the UK for myself. What makes me wonder a bit is my lack of curiosity about similar wide and open spaces of my own country.

    Wishing you a very Happy Spring. xo

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    1. I have been intending to read The Sleeping Giant! I must get myself a copy. Next time you come to the UK you must come to North Wales and see the ancient hillforts that march across our skyline Frances.

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  10. A great post, your photos of Dartmoor are wonderful.
    I count my flowers too, but not my snowdrops; I couldn' t manage that.I found myself counting daffodils yesterday though and I told myself very firmly to stop at once. I bet all gardeners count their flowers sometimes. I know just how many buds there are on my magnolias.

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  11. A great post, your photos of Dartmoor are wonderful.
    I count my flowers too, but not my snowdrops; I couldn' t manage that.I found myself counting daffodils yesterday though and I told myself very firmly to stop at once. I bet all gardeners count their flowers sometimes. I know just how many buds there are on my magnolias.

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    1. I have been wondering about counting my daffodils too but thought I might be getting a bit too anal! I am not sure how much longer the snowdrop count will persist now that I have around two and a half thousand.

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  12. Very impressed with your snowdrop figures! And that it makes such a difference dividing them. Lovely to see pictures of Dartmoor. I was a student at Exeter in the dim and distant past and still have a strong affection for Dartmoor... and not just its many wonderful pubs!

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  13. Love your beautiful very delicate looking snowdrops and the countryside. A bleak beauty, untouched.
    Alexa-asimplelife visiting from Sydney, Australia

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