Sunday at Muswell Hill Playing Fields

Greater knapweed (Centaura scabiosa)

Dear Readers, I realise that I forgot to mention the ‘closing date’ for the Moths Quiz yesterday – I will be posting the answers tomorrow morning, and if you want to be ‘marked’, please pop your answers into the comments by 5 p.m. UK time today. As you were!

Dear Readers, Sunday has become the day for visiting my favourite spot for wildflowers along the edge of Muswell Hill Playing Fields. One gift of the current lockdown has been the chance to experience a single place repeatedly over the progress of the seasons, and I am becoming attuned to the way that plants and insects have a natural succession, with one fading as others come into flower. And so it is that the greater knapweed are just starting to go over, although their seeds may attract finches later in the summer.

White Comfrey (Symphytum orientale)

The white comfrey is almost finished too, but there are still common carder bees visiting the flowers.

Creeping thistle (Cirsium arvense)

The creeping thistle has taken over from the greater knapweed as the plant of choice for all the bees at the moment, but even here we can see it going to seed.  The seedheads always remind me of tiny shaving brushes.

I always check the ragwort for cinnabar moth caterpillars, but actually there isn’t much of this plant about – I think it’s out-competed by some of the other plants.

The white deadnettle is in full flower now, and there are little patches along the edge of the ‘border’, as I’ve come to think of it. If you planted up a garden bed for pollinators and other wildlife, you couldn’t do much better than this.

White deadnettle (Lamium album)

There are a few open spots where the birdsfoot trefoil is growing. I love the raindrops on the leaves, and the different colours on the flowers and buds.

Common birdsfoot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus)

The fennel is in flower, and when you look at the shape of the ribs that support the flowerheads, they look just like upside-down umbrellas, hence the old name of the group – umbellifers (from ‘umbel’, a parasol or umbrella). It’s little things like this that help me remember what group a plant belongs to.

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)

And now we have some white campion, to succeed the ragged robin and bladder campion that I noticed earlier in the year.

White campion (Silene latifolia)

And here is something really interesting (to me at least). You might remember that when I first discovered this area, I was speculating that it might have been the remains of a cottage garden, and it’s certainly the case that this area was a farm up until the mid 1850’s. Why else, I wonder, would there be a beet plant collapsed in the middle of all the thistles and knapweed? Whether this is a sugar beet or a beetroot I have no idea, but if you have any notion, do let me know. I am still holding onto the idea that this was once the farmhouse garden, but they are unlikely to have been growing sugar beet.

Beetroot or sugar beet?

Beet flowers, but which kind?

Another passing pleasure is the development of the greater burdock flowers. I love the way that, if you look closely, you can see that the buds are covered in tiny hooks. This plant was, after all, the inspiration for Velcro.

Greater burdock (Arctium lappa)

The mugwort is just coming into flower too. This is such an inconspicuous plant that it took me nearly four years of the ‘Wednesday Weed’ to notice it. But it was one of the most powerful of all ‘weeds’ according to Anglo-Saxon lore, and it seems to me that we need those powers now. She was known as the Mother of Weeds, and this is what the Nine Herbs charm has to say about her:

‘Remember, Mugwort, what you made known,
What you arranged at the Great proclamation.
You were called Una, the oldest of herbs,
you have power against three and against thirty,
you have power against poison and against infection,
you have power against the loathsome foe roving through the land.’

Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris)

And finally, there is the enduring mystery of what on earth some lambs-ear (Stachys byzantina) is doing here. This is a garden plant, much loved by wool carder bees who take the hairs from the silvery leaves for their nests. It looks so out of place here, amidst all the ‘weeds’, but then there’s that beet. This is a most puzzling piece of wild edge, neither one thing nor another, incapable of categorisation. Maybe that’s why I love it so much.

Lambs-ear (Stachy byzantina)

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