Monday, 30 March 2009

Wonders of Wild Flower Life

Over the next few months I shall share little bits of this book, when appropriate flowers come into bloom.

Here are Polypody Ferns growing on one of the trees along by our river.

In these parts we generally have good air quality, and proof of this is in the ferns growing on the trees (so I have heard). These Polypody ferns grow readily on oak, ash and any tree offering bark rough enough for it to find a home. The rough fissured bark collects dust and decaying leaves and rainwater, and the epiphytes soon take advantage of this, and the humous offers these perching ferns a home. They are lodgers rather than parasites. My book states: "During a spell of dry weather the absorption of moisture by their roots slows down or for the time being is suspended. But when there is a spell of wet weather, the rain streaming dwn the upper surface of the trunk and boughs cleanses the bark, and as it travels lower and lower brings down particles of dust which have been blown into the fissures by the wind. All soluble matter is in this way caught up and dissolved in the downward progress of the rain and is carried along together with the less readily soluble particles mechanically held in suspension, and ultimately deposited in the larger cracksl, where the Ferns have found lodgment, so that the requisite water and humus reaches them. Thus these perched plants are provided with all the necessitives for sustaining life and vigorous growth without contact with the soil at the foot of the tree." I am sure there is a much shorter way of putting that though!

A close-up of the Polypody fern amongst hazel and blackthorn saplings on a mossy bank.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

What price knowledge?

Yew Tree at St Michael's church, Llansteffan, which has the wonderful pilgrim's gravestones debated recently on Codlins and Cream. Apologies for not having posted regularly this week but I am busy with gardening and painting . . .

This morning it was twice times 50p . . . I picked up two tatty old books from a car boot stall (actually 3 x 50p, but I've forgotten one's downstairs so I will have to review that tomorrow.) I am certain that no-one else would have bought these books as their covers are warped and one very faded, and even I thought twice, but when I really looked at them, I had to have them.

One is 'Wonders of Wild Flower Life' by F Martin Duncan. Undated but I would guess late 30's or just around wartime though paper quality is quite good. It has black and white photographs and photographs of line drawings and an absolute wealth of information which will get imparted on this blog in due course. No other book I have (or ever read) deals with what times of day wild flowers open and close. Or the movements of plants - I knew that the Compass Plant followed the sun around, but apparently other plants including the diminutive little Ivy-Leaved Toadflax will move their fertilized flowers so as to deposit their seeds inside the wall they grow in. I could go on at length, but you get the picture.

The other book I have on my lap is a battered copy of 'The Countryside Companion', dated by Gillian Riley in 1942. Again, black and white illustrations, but lots of them and all sorts of information. I never knew, for example, that yew trees, like holly trees, came in male and female varieties. The Poplar is the same. The Rowan has long been known as a powerful charm against witches, especially I believe in Scotland. It deals with wild animals, birds, flowers, trees, and all manner of countryside topics.

Edited to add a scanned photo of the other 50p's worth of book. I'll scan some of the wonderful illustrations tomorrow. It's 1878 and I love the title!

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

More about Orpine

GTM's comment yesterday about the "Livelong" name of the Orpine has led me to do some research, and I am amazed to find that it is just one of many names for this familiar plant. I say familiar, because its very close relative grows in our gardens as the Ice Plant - properly called Sedum spectabile in its 'tame' form. The wild form is Sedum telephium. Otherwise known as Livelong, Midsummer Men, Vazey flower, Alpine Broklimbe, Arpent or Arpent-weed, Harping Johnny, Jacob's Ladder, Lib-long, Orphan John, Orpies, Orall, Solomon's Puzzles. Arpent, etc., is a variant of Orpine, and Harping is probably a corruption of the same.

It has a rich folk-lore: "The people of the country delight much to set it in pots and shelles on Midsomer even, or upon timber slates or trenchers daubed with clay, and so to set or hang it up in their houses, whereas it remayneth greene a long season, and groweth if it be sometimes over sprinckled with water". And hence the name Midsummer Men. Orpies is a contraction for Orpine, and Orpy leaves were said to be good for wounds. The name Orpine was given first of all to yellow-flowered species, hence its origin. In Chaucer's day they called it Ornal.

Orpine was used as a charm against lightning. With St. John's Wort it was hung over the doorways to scare away witches. Formerly, too, it was employed as a love-charm."

Extract above taken from:

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Recent walks

I am trying to walk every other day, 3 miles or so - would like to manage more but I am SO busy in the garden right now, which is very time-consuming as it has been quite neglected whilst I had the horses and was nursing mum. By the way, tadpole update, they are hatched, and in little black 'rafts' above the egg sacs in the pond, but starting to wriggle more and some moving away when the sun comes out, but they all congregate together each night.

Yesterday's walk saw me dropped off 3 miles up the valley so I could walk back along the lanes.

The bridge across the river where I was dropped off. I must say, I'm not sure I would have been so keen to cross when it was a rope bridge 50 years ago . . .
Looking upstream from the bridge. Not much colour in the landscape yet, but in 6 weeks' time it will be a hundred shades of green.

This is Orpine, growing on a bank. It's other name is Livelong, and it is one of the Sedum family. It is supposedly fairly common across most of England (not Eastern though), but I have only ever seen it growing here in Wales. It has a mid-pink flower head in high summer.

The silver paws of the Pussy Willow have turned golden with pollen now. They vary in the time of flowering however. I saw some with silver paws in December in Carmarthen, yet ours at the gate is only just starting to put out silver paws now, and these are somewhere in between . . .

Looking like a golden powder puff, this Pussy Willow stands out from the mainly Alder woodland around it. You can just see the faintest maroon-purple haze on the Alders.

A beautiful Beech tree with its graceful branches and smooth silver bark.

The rough bark of the wild Cherry Tree (Gean).

They grow in our local woodland and this one is particularly tall.

These are Marsh Marigolds growing in wet (Alder carr) woodland about a mile or so from home, which I passed on Friday's walk. Council workmen were taking down leaning trees there last week and I was worried that they would trample all over the MM's, but fortunately they were back beyond where they were working.

These are the little wild daffodils which grow in such splendour still in the woodlands at Dymock, Gloucestershire. Little pockets of them still remain in our part of Wales to show how beautiful the countryside must have looked a century or so ago. I sigh at the thought of how our countryside has changed, and for the worse. Imagine how stunning it must have been in Shakespeare's time, with all the flowers of field and hedgerow growing in profusion. Roger Phillips' 'Wild Flowers of Britain' lists 8 "corn" species - Corn Buttercup, Corn Chamomile, Corn Cockle, Corn Crowfoot, Corn Marigold, Corn Mint, Corn Salad, Corn Spurrey and Cornflower. We live a long way from corn-growing areas (Pembrokeshire just about gets away with having enough warm weather), otherwise it's near the English border, and I doubt I would ever see any of these nowadays due to efficient spraying . . .

The Spring Walk (poem)

Spring on the river Cothi.

I was looking in a lovely1970s book this morning (as I feel in a retro mood!) - Country Bazaar - does anyone else have it? Anyway, I came across this lovely poem which really sums up my spring walks at the moment. I know it's Mother's Day, but if you have a chance - get out for a walk today and enjoy the countryside around you.

THE SPRING WALK by Thomas Miller

We had a pleasant walk today,
Over the meadows and far away,

Across the bridge by the water-mill,

By the woodside, and up the hill;

And if you listen to what I say,

I'll tell you what we saw to-day.

Amid a hedge, where the first leaves
Were peeping from their sheaths so shy,

We saw four eggs within a nest,

And they were blue as the summer's sky.

An elder-branch dipp'd in the brook,

We wondered why it moved and found

A silken-hair'd, smooth water-rat

Nibbling and swimming round and round.

Where daisies open'd to the sun,

In a broad meadow, green and white,
The lambs were racing eagerly -

We never saw a prettier sight.

We saw upon the shady banks,

Long rows of golden flowers shine,
And first mistook for buttercups

The star-shaped yellow celandine.

Anemones and primroses,

And the blue violets of spring,

We found whilst listening by a hedge

To hear a merry ploughman sing.

And from the earth the plough turn'd up

There came a sweet refreshing smell,

Such as the lily of the vale

Sends forth from many a woodland dell.

We saw the yellow wallflower wave

Upon a mouldering castle wall,

And then we watched the busy rooks

Among the ancient elm-trees tall.

And leaning from the old stone bridge,

Below we saw our shadows lie,

And through the gloomy arches watch'd

The swift and fearless swallows fly.

We heard the speckle-breasted lark

As it sang somewhere out of sight,

And we tried to find it, but the sky

Was filled with clouds of dazzling light.

We saw young rabbits near the wood,

And heard a pheasant's wing go 'whir',

And then we saw a squirrel leap

From an old oak-tree to a fir.

We came back by the village fields,

A pleasant walk it was across them,

For all across the houses lay

The orchards red and white with blossom.

Were I to tell you all we saw

I'm sure that it would take me hours,

For the whole landscape was alive

With bees, and birds, and buds, and flowers.

Perhaps not the BEST poetry I have ever read, but it certainly sums up what can be seen outside at present, though of course it's a bit early for swallows yet. The earliest they've arrived around here is on my birthday, early in April. Mind you, with this warm weather, you never know. Our starlings have upped and gone, sometime in the last week. They were here a week ago and gone by Wednesday, who knows where? No singing ploughman round these parts - they all have the tractor radio going full blast these days, and sadly no water rats either - I remember them vividly from my childhood - even in the polluted stream down in our valley - but here although the river has Dippers and 'Water' (Grey) Wagtails, the vicious Mink have done for poor ratty . . .

Friday, 20 March 2009

A bit about voles, and whose nest is this?

I've been working very hard in the garden all week, making the most of this glorious spring weather. In the hay barn I found a nest which had been made, then abandoned, last spring. I know who made it - any guesses out there as to its owner? It is beautifully crafted and SO cosy inside and was built inside a haynet hanging from the beams . . . .

Out in the new intake veg/soft fruit area in the paddock, I have laid down old bits of carpet to try and kill the grass a little before I dig it. Yesterday Lucy, our one-eyed cat, could hear the voles beneath it so I rolled it back and found a little vole-town. I took some photos of one part of it - and how easy to build an extension to your home!

First of all the bedroom, cosily lined with chewed up bits of grass woven into a bowl-shape and SO snug.

Then there are the runs in-between the "rooms" - no need for a roof with a carpet on top, but normally they just go beneath the top layer of longish grass. My cats spend hours hunting in the paddock now it is overgrown.

Finally, the loo. If you look in the centre between the two stems forming a V, you can see droppings. I never knew they were such tidy creatures, and clean in their habits.

Next time one of the cats brings one home, I shall think of the family it left behind . . .

Here's Lucy sniffing them out!

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

The Millennium Way from Burry Port

I had to go to Llanelli yesterday, to have my eyes checked at the hospital. As it was such a beautiful day I set off early and stopped at Burry Port, so that I could have a walk along the Millennium Way coastal path. I happened to park right by a memorial commemorating Amelia Earhart's epic flight in 1928.

The walk was well worth it, as I spotted a Kestrel straight away. He was hovering above the path and then stooped to pounce on something in the long grass the other side of the fence. I was hoping to lean over and capture him close up with the camera, but he heard me coming and took off again. However, he did deign to come to perch on his favourite tree and I got a reasonable shot of him. For some reason, I haven't seen many Kestrels in Wales (though we have been here 21 years today) - we see them when we are driving along the M4 in or out of Wales, but I have NEVER seen any locally and I was surprised to see this one.

I could hear Oystercatchers, but not see them - the sun was very bright on the water - and there were the usual gulls, full grown and juvenile, on a little lake, plus some Mallards. Then I heard a Skylark. It filled me with joy to hear it. Then several others joined it and one descended to my right, giving me a good close-up view (but fumble fingers couldn't get the camera focused in time) and it sank into the long grass a few yards away. I quietly crept up hoping to see it but it sat tight.

Then I spotted a plant I've not seen for years - since I lived in Dorset I think - when we would see it regularly. It was Coltsfoot - whose flowers appear before the leaves - and which is an easily identifiable plant because of the "scaley"-looking stem. Its botanical name is Tussilago farfara - which derives from tussis ago (to drive away a cough). In earlier times it was used for treating lung complaints. I believe you can still get Coltsfoot "tablet" at some old-fashioned sweetshops.

I walked back along the shore, which only had a few shells to offer of the commonest sorts, such as the Razor shell, below. Unlike Pembrey beach, it could only offer a single fragment of Sea Potato. At Pembrey it is the dominent species.

The only rockpools were sadly of the Industrial variety. There used to be a Generating Station here and when it was demolished in the 80s, the remains were dumped along the edge of the beach.

The sunshine and spring in the air was wonderful and really lifted my spirits. I shall go back again, as I would like to walk much further.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

A country walk . . .

Some more photos from a walk I took yesterday. How I stayed awake I don't know, as I could NOT sleep the previous night.

A harbinger of summer, let alone spring. These are the leaves of Rosebay Willow Herb (or Fireweed as it is known in America and Canada). It has tall spikes of pretty fuschia pink flowers in summer.

Wind Anemones we call these, though their proper name is Wood Anemones.

Maths in action! This thistle is so beautifully symetrical.

I have heard these Canada Geese honking as they fly overhead up our valley. These have decided to have a few night's B&B on Next Door's pond, before heading further south.

This plant always brings great plesure - it is the Wild Columbine (Aquilegia). We used to have 14 plnts growing along our top hedgerow, but sadly farm machinery and the council men chucking heaps of salt and grit have done for all but five of them, but I have just spotted one growing further along the bank, so I am hopeful of 6 this year. They come in some stunning dark reds, purples and blues as well as white and the very palest of pinks (which is what mine are). There was half an acre of them in a Chapel graveyard near us and they were stunning - made me think it was such a beautiful place to be buried. Then the Chapel Elders or whoever, decided they would "tidy" up the graveyard and chopped them all down before they could set seed . . .

The easily-identified Foxglove-to-be.

The Scarlet Elf Cap fungus on rotton wood. It is quite prolific in this area and adds a splash of colour in the woods where I was walking yesterday.

A close up of the largest Elf Cap, against the bed of Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage.

Along the top of the Chapel wall, all sorts of little plants have taken hold. Here a wild strawberry is flowering.

This is Bistort, which will have a pale pink flower head between May and August. In the North, a pudding is made (Ledger Pudding) at Easter time - a number of edible wild plants with hard boiled eggs, the most important of the plants being the Bistort.

You can see a Fox (probably other animals too) has been using this part of the bank as his personal pathway down to the road. Usually you will find the onward path on the hedge opposite, but not on this occasion. You can often tell if it is a Fox which is using it by the sharp tang of Fox. There are some rabbit exit holes along the top of this bank, so I think he is probably hopeful of catching something unawares.

A badger sett in woodland half a mile from my house. One of several, with huge mounds of excavated clay outside.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Back to BB . . .

View across Dartmoor fields and moors and tors.

It's no good, it was annoying me. Meadowsweet that is, in my header. I just didn't feel right, and I have had to change it. "BB" is my shortened pseudonym - in full Bovey Belle, which is a name I post under on my favourite forum. It derives from Bovey Tracey in Devon, the gateway to Dartmoor, and where my dad's paternal side of the family hail from. BB sounds right, and you never know, there may be some folk looking up the REAL "BB" (Denys Watkins-Pitchford) and come across this blog.

Elder - and a few more leaves!

Well, I could write "Leaves Are Us!" right now, as lots of plants seem to have suddenly started putting out either leaves or buds for same. I am delighted to see the first little leaves on my Elders at the bottom of the yard (photo above) - very dark when they first sprout, but lightening up as they grow larger. We have a tree a little further along on the stream bank which is much darker anyway in the leaf, and its flowers are a slightly creamier colour. The Elder has so many uses - you can cook the blossoms in batter, add them to jam, make a soothing hand cream with them (as I do, and something very similar was also shown on Tales from the Green Valley), make Elderflower Champagne and E. Cordial and E. Wine, and then there are the berries which make a wonderful port-like wine, and can be used to make Elderberry Rob, wonderful for winter coughs, or added to Hedgepick Jam, or pies. The branches are hollow and used to be hollowed out and turned into pea-shooters in country areas. We found this out when a man turned up at the door who was evacuated here during the war. He used his as a protection against the geese which were kept in the yard and which used to pinch his short-clad legs when he had to go amongst them to use the little Ty Bach which straddled the stream.

Below, Red Dead-Nettle growing with the creeping buttercup in my VEG patch!

I think these will be Red Campion, but they don't look quite right, so if YOU know exactly what they are, tell me or else we'll have to wait until they flower!

Ground Ivy.


Cut-Leaved Cranesbill - I 95% "think". Lack of sleep is making me groggy.

Sun Spurge on bank down by the river.
Below is Ivy-Leaved Toadflax. It has a little lilac flower later on. I first saw it growing in a wall beside the - then defunct but now restored - railway line which ran from Swanage up through Corfe Castle and beyond.

On the way to Hay-on-Wye we pass this wonderful apple orchard where the trees are bedecked with Mistletoe. Winter is the best time to spot Mistletoe growing of course.