A Summer Walk in Coldfall Wood

054Dear Readers, it has been a difficult couple of weeks. A fortnight ago, my Dad was rushed into hospital with a suspected heart attack and chest infection, which turned into blood poisoning. For a few days he was delirious and didn’t even know who my Mum was, after 58 years of marriage. It is so hard to watch the people that you love suffer, and to feel so helpless, and my heart went out to my Mum, who is not well herself. But praise be for antibiotics, because after ten days in hospital my Dad was well enough to come home, and is now gradually getting back to his usual wry, patient self.

And so it was a rather wrung-out, raw Bugwoman who took herself off to Coldfall Wood to see what had been going on in her absence. And after about fifteen minutes, I started to notice the extraordinary mix of flora that is coming into bloom along by the stream. First of all, there was this plant.

Himalayan Honeysuckle (Leycesteri formosa)

Himalayan Honeysuckle (Leycesteria formosa)

016This is Himalayan Honeysuckle which, as the name suggests, is native to the Himalayas and south west China. I’ve noticed it a few times, not just in Coldfall but in Highgate Wood as well. It is also known as Flowering Nutmeg, and is considered invasive in Australia. Here, it doesn’t seem to be a particular problem, though it does grow to about 8 feet tall, and has bamboo-like stems that could, at a pinch, be mistaken for old friend Japanese Knotweed. Further along by the stream, the whole plant had collapsed, and I wondered if it had been unmercifully attacked. In fact, my plant books tell me that when the plant reaches a certain height, it faints away like a Victorian Lady who has glimpsed some naked male pectorals,  and then regrows from the roots.

Raspberry (Rubus idaeus)

Raspberry (Rubus idaeus)

Right opposite the Himalayan Honeysuckle there was an unexpected snack, in the form of a little stand of Raspberries. It’s easy to forget that these plants are natives, and indeed the only time that I ever contracted a tick was when I was standing up to my armpits in a patch of wild yellow raspberries in Scotland. I assume that the plants here have been transported from the gardens on the road above by the stream. At any rate, I have to say that the one in the middle of the photo was absolutely delicious, and that there is something about sun-warmed fruit that does wonders for the spirit.

Onwards!

019It surprises me how quiet it can be in the wood during the day, when most people are at work, the dog walkers have largely been and gone, and the children are all in school. The only bird song came from the Song Thrush, which is sad, because it means that he hasn’t been successful in finding a mate this year – Song Thrushes stop singing when they are paired up, unlike most birds who will continue to defend their territory with sound.

A Capsid Bug

A Capsid Bug

There were lots of insects about: a tiny capsid bug stayed long enough to get a photograph before flying away. Capsid bugs are ‘true’ bugs, insects that use tubular mouthparts to bore into a plant and suck its sap. Aphids are the best known ‘real’ bugs, but most go about their business unremarked, doing little damage and living out their life cycles without us even knowing what they are. If I looked hard enough, I would be willing to bet that there are insect species here that are unknown to science, as there are in most suburban gardens. For a great insight into the sheer biodiversity that is all around us, I recommend ‘Wildlife of a Garden – A Thirty Year Study’ by Jennifer Owen.

065

Woody Nightshade (Solanum dulcamara)

Entangled with the other plants was that distinctive scrambler, Woody Nightshade, or Bittersweet. Later in the year, it will have bright-red berries that are extremely poisonous, but also very bitter – the author of the Poison Garden website, John Robertson, has bravely tasted a couple, just so that we don’t have to . One look at the flowers will tell a gardener that this is a member of the same family that gives us tomatoes, potatoes and peppers, the Solanaceae. This family also provides us with Deadly Nightshade, but that is a small price to pay for chips and pasta al arrabiata.

063Now, what would you think if you saw the plant below?

Garden Escape, or Native Plant?

Garden Escape, or Native Plant?

There are several bushes with bright yellow flowers and rather attractive blushing berries along by the stream. I took one look, and thought ‘these have escaped from nearby gardens’. And indeed, maybe they have, but the story is a little more complicated than this.

051

Tutsan, or Sweet Amber (Hypericum androsaenum)

Tutsan is actually a native plant, a member of the St John’s Wort family. Its name is said to come from toute saine meaning ‘all-healthy’, and it is mentioned in Culpeper’s 1653 Herbal as being useful for gout and sciatica, and for healing burns. So, while these individual plants might have escaped, this is a plant with a long and venerable wild history. Which just goes to show how much there is to learn every time I step outside, and how things are never exactly as they seem.

I turn for home.

024But what’s this?

Hedge Woundwort (Stachys sylvatica)

Hedge Woundwort (Stachys sylvatica)

What a delicate and yet upright little plant this is, another favourite of herbalists, particularly John Gerard, the seventeenth-century plant healer. This is a common plant but I had never noticed it before, so I was delighted to add another species to my list of Deadnettles. A large bumblebee was obviously enjoying it as I arrived, and it reminded me that plants don’t have to have large, showy flowers to be full of nectar.

I was nearly out of the wood when it gave me another gift.

Black and Yellow Longhorn Beetle (Rutpela maculata)

Black and Yellow Longhorn Beetle (Rutpela maculata)

When this insect first landed, I thought that it was an ichneumon wasp or somesuch, but in fact it is a very handsome beetle. The larvae spend up to three years maturing in rotting wood, and then emerge, fresh-minted like this one. The beetle visits the flowers of cow parsley and Queen Anne’s lace (and helps to pollinate these plants in the process), finds a mate and the cycle begins all over again. And indeed, I managed to get just this single shot before the beetle lurched into the air again and headed off on his reproductive quest.

So, I headed back home, renewed by more than just my filched raspberry. There is something about walking in familiar places and deepening our knowledge of them that reminds me of the process of building a friendship, or even a marriage. We see the loved one in all moods and all weathers. Sometimes, as today, the whole wood feels open and generous. Other days, the wood seems closed and morose, and I need to be patient until I see what it is she needs me to see. I have never had such a relationship with a place before, and yet it feels as true as many human partnerships that I’ve had, and truer than some. I would recommend the slow burn of getting to know somewhere profoundly, over years or decades, especially in our fast-paced, easily-distracted, superficial society. We should all have a place that has become part of our heart.

 

17 thoughts on “A Summer Walk in Coldfall Wood

    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Dad is definitely on the mend, Anne, thank you! Though both my parents are 80 this year, and in poor health, so it’s a bit of a rollercoaster. I’m just really grateful everytime they pull through another crisis. They are tough, the pair of them!

      Reply
  1. Jill

    Well, now I have a lot more respect and tolerance for Tutsan which has spread itself around my garden. It’s got more right to be there than I thought!

    Reply
    1. Bug Woman Post author

      I never stop being amazed at what pops up where you least expect it. I would never have taken Tutsan as a native, I guess we know it and its close relation Rose of Sharon as garden plants. I learn something new every day!

      Reply
  2. Katya

    Thank you so much for sharing not only your uplifting moments but the unnerving ones as well. How wonderful that a simple walk in your nearby wood was able to steer you back on track.
    Glad to know your dad is doing well. When you think about it, given the power of modern medicine to cure our ills, being 80 years old sounds almost young!

    Reply
    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Thanks Katya! I know, 80 isn’t really that old these days, but I suppose that there’s a lot of luck involved in what quality of life you end up with. My mum had a bad start as she was born 6 months prematurely, and weighed only 2lbs 2oz – this was in 1935, and I imagine that not many babies survived a start like that! Both of them are very resilient, thank goodness.

      Reply
  3. mawrth

    A lovely post m’dear with sage words about getting to know a ‘certain place’. I have said before that I always learn something from your posts and this one is no different.
    Hope that the aged ones are soon back in fine fettle

    Reply
    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Thanks for your kind words, John! I’m sure the parents will soon be back on track.Really, it’s all about just making the most of the good times at the moment.

      Reply
  4. gailp955

    I’m sorry about your dad’s ill health and glad that he is recovering. Thank you for sharing the difficult times as well as the good. I learn something from every one of your blogs and really look forward to them. This week I learned that what I’d thought was bamboo growing in the garden is in fact Himalayan Honeysuckle.Thanks to you as well, I now receive Earthlines, which is also a glorious read.

    Reply
    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Thanks Gail – I did wonder about whether to share what was going on, but I’m sure that many of us have our trials, and it’s always good to know that we’re not alone. And so glad that you’re enjoying Earthlines, I am delighted to be associated with it, it’s wonderful!

      Reply
  5. Classof65

    Sorry for your troubles and I know that it will happen now and again, given the age of your parents. I have lost both my parents in the past few years and they both had their ups and downs before our last goodbyes. It is part of the cycle of life and we have to remind ourselves that we, too, will experience as we age.

    You seem to be able to handle it all philosophically by wandering through the woods and letting the everyday troubles drift into perspective as you become more aware of the survival of life — I love your photos, especially the beetle picture. Isn’t it amazing that they can lift their hard shell, spread their delicate wings and fly away while we remain anchored just inches away…. Lovely!

    Reply
    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Thank you, Class of 65 – it seems that almost everyone I know is going through the slow pain of losing their parents, and I am sorry for your loss. I am so grateful to still have both my paremts at the moment, but every ’emergency’ makes me wonder if this will be the last. Still, there is a lot to be said for loving them with everything you have while you have them, while being fully realistic about what is actually going on. And you’re right, we are all aging, and this is a completely natural process. Our society seems to view death as an insult, when it’s actually a necessary culmination of life, for everything that lives.

      Reply
    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Thank you Babogbeag, glad you’re enjoying the blog. And yes, Dad is doing very well thank you, he’s home from hospital and gradually recovering….

      Reply

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