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