Dear Readers, it’s funny how ‘weeds’ seem to appear in the garden in waves. Earlier this year, I was inundated with cleavers, or goose-grass. But as I sat in the garden this evening, sipping a cup of tea at the end of the work week, I thought that I had never seen so much herb robert, or noticed how delicate and pretty it is. True, it smells of mice, or burning tyres, depending on your sense of smell. True, it’s a bit of a thug. But how pretty it is, with those soft pink flowers, furry stems and lacy leaves!
As the plant grows, the foliage and stems turn fiery red – you can just see the colour changing in the photo above. It’s been used medicinally for nose bleeds and headaches, to ease tummy upsets and even as a mosquito repellent. Deer and rabbits can also be deterred from their nibbling by the smell of the plant. It’s also known as bloodwort, though I’m not sure if this is because of its late-summer colour, or because of the nosebleed connection.
Not all the flowers are pink, either: I found one plant that was lily-white, blooming away in a dark corner. Herb robert is a great plant for a shady area, and rather underappreciated, I think.
While I was admiring the herb robert, though, a very familiar noise drifted into my consciousness. There was a strange wheezing sound, and looking into the cherry tree next door, I saw my first fledgling starling of the year.
No doubt the next few days will follow the usual pattern. To start with, the youngsters are completely hopeless, expecting their parents to pick up the suet pellets and feed them. But the patience of mum and dad wears thin very quickly: first of all they start flying away from their youngsters with a harried expression. Then they leave them parked in various trees for longer and longer periods of time. The hungry fledglings soon start to peck at everything that looks remotely edible, and eventually the garden is filled with gangs of marauding adolescent starlings, who squabble and get into all sorts of trouble. I fear that the cats and corvids who visit the garden may soon be having a lot of fun. Infant mortality is high, especially as young starlings have no sense of danger – every year I fish one out of the pond, and spend time on high alert for predators, though I can’t save them all. But nonetheless, many survive to join the growing flock of starlings. I love the idea that some of the birds visiting the feeders now might be the great great great grandchildren of the starlings who first found that there was food available in the garden. Will there soon be an East Finchley murmuration, I wonder, to replace the great clouds of birds that used to mass over St James’s Park and Leicester Square? I can but dream.