Thursday, 3 November 2011

Halloween and Rain

My mother was born on halloween so I always like to make a special day of it - it is in any case a magical time! The year is dying, and those who have gone before are said to be nearer to us at this time - Hi Mum, I miss you.
Missed buying the pumpkin this year as well though, so I had to make do with a butternut squash - then I stuffed and roasted it the next night. He looked more entrancing glowing in the dark, but was mighty tasty with bacon and mushrooms oozing out of his eyes, nose and wibbly mouth.
The village children looked fab in their costumes, and are probably too well-behaved to do some of the awful tricks I have heard about, but I handed out sweets anyway. The treat is they taste nice, the trick is they rot your teeth - enjoy!
Two days later we have high winds and torrential rain forecast, so I headed out early this morning while it was still dry. Our little Cam river is already pretty high, after record lows just a few weeks ago, so it looks like we might get some flooding if the forecast is right - ours is a watery little valley and flooding is very frequent.

Because it is morning, everyone is having their breakfast, including this little chap, dining off a late hogweed flower.

 In the long meadow the ponies are munching away too, and because I am a bit scared of big animals I move up to the edge of the field to skirt round them - and find this beautiful late yarrow plant - pink tinged perfection.

It's been a rich year for berries, and it's good to see that there are still plenty around for the redwings and fieldfares when they arrive - so if the  promised Siberian weather arrives (always two weeks after the east coast of America, and they have had up to 32 inches) they won't go hungry.


Hawthorn Berries

Last nights rain is still in evidence as I trudge through the mud in my wellies, through the new wood in it's yellow and orange autumn glory.

The mud is strewn with their discarded leaves - a beautiful decaying tapestry. And there is someone else having their breakfast!

The alder trees are wearing their cones alongside next years buds, and the elder has it's usual adornment of jelly ears - I give them a little squeeze for pleasure. Not sure I'd want to eat them like the Chinese though.

Jelly ears on Elder

I gather some burdock seedheads to stick round my lampshade at home (they look so jolly!), trying to make sure I avoid the ones full of hibernating ladybirds - only one in this bed but some have three or four crammed in together. And the little one said "Roll over'...

Burdock and Ladybird
Walking through Little Scotland towards Splott Hill and home I find a dead crow, so I pick it up by it's lovely chunky leg with an ivy leaf and take it up onto the bank. Find a place to lay it on the earth then cover it with leaves, a hogweed seedhead and a last Himalayan Balsam flower. Rest in peace crow, and enjoy your new weightless flight. I love crows!

Joy is a butterfly
Fluttering low over the earth,
   But sorrow is a bird
With big, strong, black wings.
   They lift you high above life
Flowing below in sunlight and growth.
   The bird of sorrow flies high
To where the angels of grief keep watch
   Over death's lair.
Edith Södergran (1892 - 1923)

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Birthday Ramble

Tiggy looking out

This entry is dedicated to Tiggy, our beautiful boy cat, who died last month - we miss him so much! And to everyone who has lost cherished companions, big or small, two or four-legged.
Another year has gone, and my blogging times get fewer and fewer! Life fills up again and again, and time for reflection and celebration must be hoarded.
No work at the printers today - and it’s a beautiful sunny day, lucky me!
Off to the fields with my camera - hoping to see butterflies and find some Melilot in the Magic Kingdom. There was swathes of it there last year, but since the farmer has razed the ground for his cattle I don’t know what I will find. Melilot is rich in coumarins and when dried gives off a lovely sweet smell (like grass and Woodruff) - I want to tincture some to see if I can use it in my perfumes.
Found a big patch of Marsh Thistle by the side of the road - it’s very distinctive in its straggly habit, with spines down it’s long stems, and beautiful purple anthers. Very popular with hungry insects.

Marsh Thistle

First butterfly I met was a Speckled Wood, sunning itself on a hop plant - it must have been a bit chilly ‘cause it let me get quite close.

Speckled Wood - caught on the hop!

The meadowsweet is turning to seed now, but there is still some frothy blossom left in places - one day I will try and capture that scent, it is so lovely. It is a great herb for helping with poorly stomachs and achey joints, and like a lot of the ‘rheumaticky’ herbs it likes to grow near water - like curing like for joints that ache in damp weather.


Walking alongside the Cam on the way to the meadow I see signs that the summer is coming to a close - already! 

Willow on Burdock

Yellowing leaves and seeds and berries forming. Just when the schools break for the summer holidays it’s really almost autumn in the round of the year - harvest and food gathering time. The squirrels are already plundering the hazels for their nuts, even though they’re not really ripe just yet - when you walk along and your feet crunch on neatly opened shells you can tell what month it is!

Self-heal grows here too - this one has a visitor that I can’t identify yet - but I see this fly quite often - big red eyes and alarming mouthparts put it firmly in the creepy section of creepy-crawlies! We all have our part to play though, and I’m sure his is very important - looks aren’t everything...

Self-Heal and mystery fly

Do you know your snails? I certainly didn’t, so it was a useful exercise to look up these chappies - turns out they might be the same species, even though one is banded and the other isn’t - the difference is in the colour of the lip of the shell. Cepaea hortensis has a white lip and Cepaea nemoralis has a brown lip. These are both white-lipped!

Banded snail - Cepaea hortensis

Here is an old friend, the green-veined white butterfly, dining off some Wild Basil. Wild Basil sounds tasty but alas doesn’t taste of basil - a bit pungent and Thymey. I wouldn’t put it in my pasta sauce...

Green-veined White on Wild Basil

Into the Meadow which the farmer has mowed and cleared, leaving a small strip by the top hedge. There are patches of Agrimony and lots of Rough Chervil, interwoven with beautiful candy-striped Field Bindweed. 

Field Bindweed

Soldier Beetles are pretty common in these parts, and I often see them on the lacy umbrella plants - when I looked them up in my book it said they ‘breed on the Umbelliferae’. Sure enough here are a couple on a Rough Chervil plant!

Soldier Beetles on Rough Chervil

More butterflies to add to my count on this walk - a Small Skipper, a Small Tortoiseshell, a Gatekeeper, a Meadow Brown, Small Copper and a Peacock!  Along with the Cabbage Whites, and the Red Admirals on the blooming Buddleias, that makes ten kinds today. Not a bad count, but no sign of any Commas or Small Blues.

Small Skipper

Small Tortoiseshell


Small Copper on Rough Chervil

Small Copper on Ragwort

Meadow Brown and 
Large Garden Bumble Bee
 on Knapweed


Walked up the steep path to the Magic Kingdom, and luckily this end of it has not been flattened, although there are signs of cow activity, so I have to watch out for ankle turning.
The Melilot was not nearly as lush and prolific as last year, but there was still plenty to enable me to gather some for my scent experiment.


There is lots of Wild Clematis (Traveller’s Joy or Old Man’s Beard) and Wild Carrot here, along with other plants not so common in the fields -maybe the fact that this was the site of the old railway has made it a different environment. It is fascinating to see how different soils and micro-climates attract different plants - for me that is one of the joys of exploring different places.

Wild Clematis blossom

Wild Carrot

Back down through the meadow, and a huge stand of Himalayan Balsam sent it’s sweet smell and the sound of a hundred humming bees to waylay me. I know it’s an invasive plant and must be controlled for the sake of our natives, but I do find it beautiful, and the bees are at their busiest.

Bee and Himalayan Balsam

As I walked through the new wood another sound drew my attention - an equally busy-sounding one. ‘Cheerip, chip chip chip, cheerip, chip chip chip’. The same notes coming from a dozen beaks at different times, resulting in a kind of miniature barber-shop choir cacophony. I looked up into a willow tree, and it was alive with a band of long-tailed tits in a feast of bug-picking off the leaves and branches. They are such cheery and industrious birds, and although they travel together they don’t seem to bicker like the sparrows.

Long-Tailed Tits in Willow

The Red Campion is seeding now - the seed cases reminding me of fairy goblets, but instead of Rosehip wine they hold dozens of seeds. I expect the fairies wait for the seeds to drop before they replenish their goblet cupboards.

Red Campion seed heads

Back up the hill to home, and a welcome cup of tea. The swallows are gathering on the wires, they will soon be gone for another year.

It’s summer still, but something is round the corner...
The swallows wheel about the sky,
Trying their wings for overseas;
The thistledown goes floating by;
At midnight shine the Pleiades;
And there are mushrooms in the dawn,
And blackberries all wet with mist;
Ripe chestnuts dropping on the lawn;
Red apples that the sun has kissed.
The beech is touched with fire o'erhead,
Largess of gold the lime down flings,
Cool asters crowd the garden bed,
And over all the robin sings.

Teresa Hooley

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Dandelion Days

This spring has been extraordinary. Day after day of sunshine and warmth, like the Spring of our imagination, but which in reality never happens- until now. It is really beautiful, but also a bit sinister, because we have had no rain to speak of for weeks now.

I set off to visit Badger Oak and the Magic Kingdom today, to see what was stirring now that the year is in full flow. Walking down Wick Lane to the Poplar Walk it's all looking a bit dry - more like later in the summer. The moss on the bridge top has gone dry and brown.
Lombardy Poplars

I was determined to try and get a picture of an Orange Tip butterfly today - there has been one (or more) fluttering through the garden for a while now. I only saw my first one last year, and they are so lovely. It wasn't long before one fluttered by, and I stood stock still hoping it would settle. No such luck though, so I walked on. There are plenty of bumble bees around at the moment, and I have seen a couple of BeeFlies too, with their funny hovering and darting motion - they remind me of mechanical 'spy-bots' in science-fiction films.
I rounded the corner and saw to my dismay that the sweet little elm tree with the incredibly corky trunk had been damaged - presumably by the wind. One of it's limbs has been torn off and is hanging down - it looks sore!

 Still held on by a thread though, so it wouldn't surprise me if it kept on growing through this connection, if the farmer doesn't come along and tidy it up.
Walked up past the doctors and into the Magic Kingdom.......!!!!!

Big shock - magic no more. The farmer obviously has other plans for it than to delight the souls of ex-townie locals. Rumour has it that this has been done before, so I shall keep visiting to see how nature reasserts herself. It doesn't extend quite all the way along yet, and I am hoping that the patch of Melilot further down will grow again this year. I want to try and experiment with it to get the smell of coumarin for my perfume making. If that fails I might have a go with grass!

I leave the superhighway and walk across the domed meadow - a mass of dandelions! They are such a wonderful flower, I'm sure if they weren't so common and vigorous we'd be growing and treasuring them in our gardens.

Onwards to climb the hill to Badger Oak. I have to step carefully as the cattle use this field and it's very bumpy - I am watching my step when almost at my feet a rabbit leaps up and bounds off down the slope - big surprise for us both. He has gone to ground in the patch of trees to the left so I move towards them - one of them always yields some good tufts of fallen oakmoss - another great perfume ingredient. You can see the bunches clinging to the branches.


Oakmoss is a kind of lichen, a symbiotic relationship between a fungus and an alga - it has a very distinctive smell, with more than a little of the sea about it. I love it, and make a tincture as a fixative and lovely earthy basenote in my perfumes. It is in a lot of traditional conventional perfumes too, but has been largely done away with by the powers that be, as it can be an irritant for some people. Bonkers european laws - very irritating!
One of the trees has a hole at the base of it, makes me think of fairy folk or Badgers place in Wind in the Willows, but no little door with brass knocker, alas.

I straighten up from my gleanings, look down the slope and there is Peter Rabbit, sitting very still for his portrait. Wish I had a better lens...

Badger Oak is still there, thank goodness - no doubt trees like him are protected, or maybe not - that would be interesting to find out.

Lots of nettles around him, so make a mental note to come back and harvest, while they're still fairly young. The leaves on the oak are just starting to come out, and they look very delicate against it's massive limbs and fantastically fissured bark.

 Further on I find a massive entrance hole to the badger den, but it doesn't look like it's being used, and the earth over the whole sett looks disturbed - more interference?

Time to head back home, through a field that is a mass of Shepherds Purse. It is a timely gift from nature for a friend who is losing too much blood - Shepherds Purse is great for reducing the flow, and tradition says that it is best fresh - I stuff some in my pocket.

Through the kissing gate, and I can see my village in the distance - across the Fossil Field (none to be looked for today with this burgeoning crop) and down through the new copse onto Stoneage Lane.

 As I emerge from the trees I see a movement, and a butterfly settles onto a dandelion. I focus in and it's a brimstone, the first one I've seen this year - cheers, my dear!

Brimstone Butterfly

The waste land here is growing some very fine comfrey and a big patch of white deadnettle - another useful female herb.

White deadnettle
Red Campion
Through the New Wood (very actively managed this year by the new owners) and into little Scotland, where I found some Red campion and Cuckoo Flower, right on cue as April flowers - and everything being well-supported by the ever-striving-upwards cleavers!

Cuckoo flower

And as for the Orange Tips - every where I went one would appear suddenly from behind me, whizz by me and off -  perpetual motion. No chance for a picture, but the sight was a lovely one.