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.