Monthly Archives: June 2022

At Crewkerne Station

Dear Readers, Aunt H’s memorial service went very well on Sunday – the church was packed, and the tributes felt as if they gave a real picture of a whole human being, with all their faults and virtues. Sometimes on these occasions it feels as if the person honoured was a saint, but this one recognised that Aunt H was definitely not a saint, and yet was respected and loved, and very much missed, and I think that’s a much better way to be remembered. Although she died in February 2021 she was still very much alive in everyone’s memory, and there was a lot of fond laughter, and plenty of tears.

And on Monday, we caught the train back to London from Crewkerne station for what could be the last time. Now that Aunt H and her sister Aunt M are gone, there’s no reason for us to come back to this part of Somerset. I’ve been coming for twenty years but my husband has been coming since he was a teenager, so it’s even more of the end of an era for him. But, as with my ongoing relationship with Dorset even though my parents have died, it’s up to us whether we want to keep coming back. Only time will tell.

The station itself, though, is a rather fine Grade II  listed building made of the local yellow stone. It dates back to 1860, and was probably pretty busy back in the day. However, it now has one train per hour going in each direction (when there aren’t train strikes and cancellations). This has to be carefully timed as there is only one line, which can make for some epic delays on a bad day. Today, however, was a good day.

Photo One by By Geof Sheppard - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8921876

Crewkerne Station – Main Building (Photo One)

I have long been fascinated by the way that ‘weeds’ are so very local. At Crewkerne, for example, there is a row of evening primrose, interspersed with mullein and ragwort.

A fine row of evening primroses – the flowers always remind me of tannoys.

Lots of Oxford Ragwort…

…and a very stately mullein alongside some Herb Robert and some groundsel.

Now, normally when we were at Crewkerne Station the small but sprightly figure of Aunt H would either be meeting us at the gate, or dropping us off. Now that she’s gone, I suddenly realised that I’d never gone beyond the traffic bridge over the line.

Filled with a sense of adventure (and 40 minutes to wait until the train arrived) I headed down the platform.

First up was this railway building, all shuttered now. I wonder if it used to be a workshop? It certainly has a very high entrance way, big enough to pop in a steam train I imagine (though maybe not wide enough).

And then, on the other side of the bridge, there was a quiet bank of wild and cultivated flowers. None of the trains are longer than six carriages these days, so no one ever comes here. There was creeping thistle and ox-eye daisies, billowing grasses and yarrow.

There is lords and ladies, just setting its berries…

And day-lilies and yellow loosestrife….

..and a whole tribe of noisy sparrows.

Someone had planted some yellow achillea back in the day…

…but some rosebay willowherb had planted itself.

It was magical, this little wind-blown spot beyond the bridge. It made me wonder how much else there is to be discovered just around the corner. If we take a different route, what might we find? Overhead, the jackdaws chinked which for me is the sound of the West Country. I realised how tense I had been after all the preparations for the Memorial Service, and I could feel my poor brain wondering what I could find to be worried about next. But for now, I could just breathe, and be happy that things had gone well, and that there were still strange and wild spots everywhere, if I had the eyes to see them, and the gumption to diverge from my usual route.

Doves on Crewkerne Station

Photo One By Geof Sheppard – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8921876

At Broadway’s Bluebell Wood

Dear Readers, on our last day in Broadway before Aunt H’s memorial service we took what could be a last walk up to the remnant of ancient bluebell wood that stands on a hill just behind the village. Last time I was there it was bluebell season, and it was full of native bluebells.

It is still a magical place though – you enter through a little overgrown path, and you have to bow your head to get in, which seems somehow appropriate once you’re amongst the huge oak trees.

There is a path around the inside of the wood, but in many places you have to limbo under branches or tiptoe over fallen logs. In contrast to the woods of North London, this one is not very frequently visited, and so it retains its wildness.

Here and there, massive trees have fallen, or have died but continue to stand. Dead wood is so important for all kinds of animals and fungi, and there is only one small den right at the entrance to the wood, rather than the dozens that appear in my local woods.

And everywhere the hoverflies are dancing in shafts of sunlight, and the trees are creaking in the wind. Visiting it for this last time feels sad, but also calming, in view of the formal goings on tomorrow. I can take a piece of the wood with me in my heart, to calm me in the weeks ahead.

View over the hills and back towards Broadway village

Synchronicity

Well lovely Readers, no sooner do I do a post about Phacelia, and its role as a cover crop/green manure, than I see this field just outside Tisbury in Somerset. The farmer has planted a strip of wildflowers right along the edge of the field and it’s busting with Phacelia. It looks very pretty, and hopefully the bees are delighted.

We always wait outside Tisbury for a while on the way to Crewkerne, as it becomes a single-track at this point and so you don’t want to encounter any trains coming in the opposite direction. It gave me a chance to watch a red kite hanging above the field – I must have seen a dozen on the stretch down to Andover, and drove my long-suffering husband mad by pointing them out every time, even though he was wearing his reading glasses and couldn’t see them.

We waited so long that I was able to take this short film of the crops in the field waving in the breeze, to a soundtrack of South Western Railway air conditioning. Enjoy.

At the next station there was an accidentally Piet Oudolf-ish combination of grasses and ragwort.

Templecombe has won an award for its floral displays, and clearly a lot of time and effort has gone into them. I definitely have raised-bed envy – these, with their double-decker construction, look just the thing for my front garden.

And at Sherborne I was much taken by this combination of leaf, brickwork and purple door.

So now we’re in Ilminster, staying at the Haunted Hotel (The Shrubbery in case you fancy some paranormal activity). However, the 12-foot tall metal giraffe that used to grace the gardens is apparently in pieces near the shed. How are the mighty fallen.

I have been tasked with finding some flowers for Aunt H’s memorial service on Sunday, but the only florist in town is now a ‘floral studio’ and so I have had to resort to Interflora, though hopefully they will use a reasonably local florist. I do hope I don’t end up with something too multi-coloured, although I love the flamboyant Aunt H definitely didn’t. Oh well, we shall have to see. What a shame I didn’t have time to just leap out of the train and gather a bunch of Phacelia. I’m sure it would have been as pretty as anything that a florist will be able to produce.

Monday Quiz – Pretty in Pink

Delosperma (Or Mesembryanthum as we used to call it)

Dear Readers, I don’t know who makes these things up, but apparently June 23rd (which is when I’m writing this post) is National Pink Day. Whether other colours are similarly rewarded I’m not sure. In Nova Scotia, International Pink Day was designated to protest against homophobic and transphobic bullying, and to support those who are its victims, but National Pink Day simply seems to be about celebrating the colour, and is no doubt an opportunity for fashion editors worldwide to opine. However, for this week’s quiz I thought I would draw your attention to some pink (ish) flowers, to see how many you can match to their names.

As usual, all answers in by 5 p.m. UK time on Saturday 2nd July please (and where on earth did June go?). Answers and plaudits will be published on Sunday 3rd July. So, if you think the plant in photo 1 is Common Ramping Fumitory, your answer is 1) A.

Onwards!

Plants

A. Common Ramping Fumitory (Fumaria officinalis)

B. Ragged Robin (Silene flos-cuculi)

C. Grass Vetchling (Lathyrus nissolia)

D. Pink Sorrel (Oxalis articulata)

E. Thrift (Armeria maritima)

F. Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum)

G. Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria)

H. Great Willowherb (Epilobium hirsutum)

I. Musk Mallow (Malva moschata)

J. Common Centaury (Centaurium erythraea)

Photos

Photo One by liz west, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

1)

Photo Two by Joli, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

2)

Photo Three by Phil Sellens from East Sussex, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

3)

Photo Four by Anne Burgess 

4)

Photo Five by AnemoneProjectors, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0CC BY-SA 2.0 Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

5)

Photo Six by Björn S..., CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

6)

7)

Photo Eight by Trish Steel, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0CC BY-SA 2.0 Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

8)

Photo Nine by Anne5578, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

9)

Photo Ten by AnemoneProjectors, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

10)

The Monday Quiz – Marine Birds – The Answers!

Photo of the only albatross in the Northern Hemisphere (from The Yorkshireman https://the-yorkshireman.com/the-northern-hemispheres-only-albatross-has-returned-to-the-yorkshire-coast/)

Dear Readers, this week Fran and Bobby Freelove, Mike from Alittlebitoutoffocus and Anne all got 10/10, so well done everybody! There’s something plant-related tomorrow 🙂 so let’s see how we all get on….

Photo One by Hobbyfotowiki, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

1) F. Common Guillemot

Photo Two by © Copyright Anne Burgess and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

2) B. Kittiwake

Photo Three by AWeith, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

3) C. Arctic Tern

Photo Four by Sir Iain, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0CC BY-SA 4.0 Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

4) G. Little Auk

Photo Five by https://www.flickr.com/photos/naturalengland/36310015891

5) A. Mediterranean Gull

Photo Six by Charles J. Sharp, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

6) E. Razorbill

Photo Seven by MPF, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0CC BY-SA 4.0 Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

7) D. Sandwich Tern

Photo Eight by Richard Crossley, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

8) I. Storm Petrel

Photo Nine by Avenue, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

9) H. Northern Fulmar

Photo Ten by JJ Harrison (https://www.jjharrison.com.au/), CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

10) J. Little Tern

Photo Credits

Photo One by Hobbyfotowiki, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo Two by © Copyright Anne Burgess and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Photo Three by AWeith, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo Four by Sir Iain, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0CC BY-SA 4.0 Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo Five by https://www.flickr.com/photos/naturalengland/36310015891

Photo Six by Charles J. Sharp, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo Seven by MPF, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0CC BY-SA 4.0 Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo Eight by Richard Crossley, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo Nine by Avenue, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo Ten by JJ Harrison (https://www.jjharrison.com.au/), CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

The Last of Somerset

Wild Garlic along a Broadway path

Dear Readers, I feel a little shame-faced about this post as I notice that I’ve already said goodbye to Somerset several times, but here we are again. Regular readers will remember that we used to visit Broadway, where John’s aunt H lived. Sadly, she died last year, and this weekend we will be fighting our way through train strikes to get to the village for the Memorial service on Sunday. The house is sold, and this really is the end of an era.

There are many things that I remember. I loved seeing the rabbits in the garden, and in the nearby fields – there used to be rabbits in Wanstead Park, just up the road from where I used to live, but not any more. They’ve gone the way of the cuckoos and the water voles that I grew up with. At least they’re still around in Somerset.

I loved this country lane right outside John’s aunt’s house, with its abundant wildflowers that changed through the seasons.

Bluebells, stitchwort and dandelions

I remember how much I loved hearing the rooks cawing in the trees as they refurbished their nests and fed their nestlings.

I remember how I loved watching the wasps feeding on nectar in the ivy flowers outside the house.

But most of all, I remember the garden, where primroses, cyclamen, snowdrops and bluebells had run riot over the years.

Cyclamen from Aunt H’s garden

And I loved this West Country speciality, Eastern Gladiolus, a most elegant plant  that seems to pop up everywhere.

Eastern Gladiolus (Gladiolus communis ssp byzantina)

So, on Sunday we will gather in the church of St Aldhelm and St. Eadburga, which has been witnessing christenings, marriages and memorial services since the 13th Century. The church is perched on a hill outside the village, and in the summer you can hear the skylarks trilling above the nearby fields. Sometimes swallows nest in the church porch, and polite notices will ask you to keep the door closed in case they fly into the church itself and can’t get out.  Aunt H was a devout woman who led a life of service, and who gave many of her final years to the church, so it’s fitting that we gather in the building that she loved so much to say a final goodbye. I hope that, if she looks down, she will be satisfied that the goings on are being done properly, even without her being physically present to make sure that we’re behaving ourselves.

St Adhelm and St Eadburga’s Church, Broadway, Somerset (Photo by Ruth Sharville)

Summer Solstice Parakeets

Dear Readers, we sat in the garden on Tuesday night (Midsummer Eve) and two parakeets dropped into the hawthorn tree to see what they could find. Parakeets are creatures of habit, and I suspect that these two have been popping in to eat a few peanuts from the feeder regularly for the past few months. Today, alas, there were nasty humans sitting on the patio chairs and drinking shandy,  and so the birds stuck to the treetops with the sun setting splendidly behind them.

The parakeets kept one eye on us for the whole five minutes that they were in the hawthorn. They were clearly munching on something, but I did wonder if it was displacement activity, and that they were really waiting to see if we would go indoors. But one has to keep some sort of balance between having a garden for wildlife, and a garden for humans. After all, the robin keeps coming down and ‘asking’ us to move the pot plants so that s/he can get at the creepy crawlies underneath, so I think that’s quite enough physical activity.

After about ten minutes they headed off in the general direction of Coldfall Wood, squawking as they went. There are apparently designated tracks in the sky that the parakeets follow every day, like small green commuters, though without the problems of signal failures and train strikes. How splendid it would be to be a parakeet!

With the Barnwood Silver Birches

Male Large Skipper (Ochlodes sylvanus)

Dear Readers, yesterday I was lucky enough to meet with the Silver Birches groups for the over-55s that are held in Barnwood Community Forest here in East Finchley. What a lovely day it was! We had sessions on pollinators and on the folklore of plants, and the afternoon group learned how to make moss hanging baskets with Ursula from The Flower Bank, an amazing enterprise that recycles and reuses the flowers that would otherwise go to waste at corporate events, supermarkets, weddings and fashion shoots.

Of course, being Bugwoman it was very important to get people up close and personal with the amazing variety of insects that live in Barnwood. Here are just a few…

Comma Butterfly

Tree Bumblebee

Marmalade Hoverfly

Side view of the Comma, showing the ‘comma’ mark on its underwings

Speckled Wood underside

What impressed me so much with the Silver Birches was how much fun they were, how welcoming, and how patient they were when chasing some very flittery insects from one place to another with their camera phones so that we could get a snapshot of what was around on this sunny Midsummer day. It has been a long, long time since I’ve had the chance to do something like this and I had a wonderful time. So thank you to Leo and Linda who organise the sessions and to everyone who attended, it was a day that I’ll remember for a long, long time.

Wednesday Weed – Candytuft

Candytuft (Iberis umbellata)

Dear Readers, candytuft has been a popular garden plant for as long as I can remember – it has a lot of garden variants, many of them pure white, but the ones I have in my windowboxes are palest pink when young. Candytuft is actually a member of the Brassicaceae, or cabbage family, and as with most of these plants there are four petals arranged in a cross-shape (hence the alternative name for the family of ‘crucifers’). The name ‘candytuft’ doesn’t relate to the plant’s sweetness, but to the old name for Heraklion the main city of Crete, Candia. The genus name ‘Iberis’ also emphasizes the Mediterranean connection, with Iberis coming from Iberia, the classicaal name for Spain.

Wild candytuft (Iberis amara) grows all over Europe but its heartland is around the Mediterranean. The wild plant can be found in the UK but is extremely rare, as it lives on the south-facing slopes of chalk downs, a habitat that is becoming increasingly rate. You can tell the plant from its garden cousin because the flowers grow up into little cones and the petals are asymmetric.

Photo One by By H. Zell - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10426344

Wild Candytuft (Iberis amara) (Photo One)

All members of the cabbage family have chemicals called glucosinolates, which produce the pungent garlic/radish/mustard smell of many brassicas, and which defend against many insects. However, members of the candytuft family have an additional chemical defence, cucurbitacin, which is more commonly found in cucumbers. Interestingly, this defends against cabbage white butterflies, who are not deterred by the strong flavours of other kinds of brassicas.

Although a member of the cabbage family, Candytuft doesn’t seem to be particularly edible, what with its teeny tiny mustard-flavoured leaves which are hardly worth the gathering. Some people do admire the flowers though, and I’m sure that a few thrown into a salad would brighten things up no end.

Medicinally, the flowers have been used for gastro-intestinal complaints, such as bloating or acid reflux. I note that chemical company Bayer are growing their own candytuft flowers to produce ‘Iberogast’, a herbal treatment for these problems. In Mrs Grieve’s Modern Herbal (from the 1930s), the plant is said to have been used to treat gout, rheumatism and atrial fibrillation. Presumably the wild plant was much more  common then than now.

In the Victorian language of flowers, Candytuft is said to signify ‘indifference’, perhaps because it’s tolerant of a variety of growing conditions. I do wonder how the Victorian lady managed to decipher any bouquet sent to her, and whether spats developed with different posies winging their way backwards and forwards, becoming ever more insulting. For example, a bunch of flowers containing amaranth (pretension and foppery), aspen (lamentation), basil (hatred) and bilberry (treachery) would be a most irritating thing to receive. Maybe the only response would be to buy some very woody plants and throw the whole lot at the sender.

Photo Two by By Stefan Laarmann - Own work, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=947261

Candytuft (Photo Two)

And finally, a poem. Christopher Morley’s ‘Our House’ features lots of things that I would like – the old-fashioned garden, the window seat, the summer house, the banister – but I think a moat is a step too far. See what you think. Morley was a journalist, poet and great fan of Sherlock Holmes, and I find this poem as cozy as an old armchair, and none the worse for it. We don’t need to be challenged all the time, eh.

Our House
by Christopher Morley (1890-1957)

IT should be yours, if I could build
The quaint old dwelling I desire,
With books and pictures bravely filled
And chairs beside an open fire,
White-panelled rooms with candles lit-
I lie awake to think of it!

A dial for the sunny hours,
A garden of old-fashioned flowers-
Say marigolds and lavender
And mignonette and fever-few,
And Judas-tree and maidenhair
And candytuft and thyme and rue-
All these for you to wander in.

A Chinese carp (called Mandarin)
Waving a sluggish silver fin
Deep in the moat: so tame he comes
To lip your fingers offering crumbs.
Tall chimneys, like long listening ears,
White shutters, ivy green and thick,
And walls of ruddy Tudor brick
Grown mellow with the passing years.

And windows with small leaded panes,
Broad window-seats for when it rains;
A big blue bowl of pot pourri
And-yes, a Spanish chestnut tree
To coin the autumn’s minted gold.
A summer house for drinking tea-
All these (just think!) for you and me.

A staircase of the old black wood
Cut in the days of Robin Hood,
And banisters worn smooth as glass
Down which your hand will lightly pass;
A piano with pale yellow keys
For wistful twilight melodies,
And dusty bottles in a bin-
All these for you to revel in!

But when? Ah well, until that time
We’ll habit in this house of rhyme.

Photo Credits

Photo One by By H. Zell – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10426344

Photo Two by By Stefan Laarmann – Own work, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=947261

 

Midsummer Goings On

Visiting Red Admiral

Dear Readers, by the time you read this it will be the summer solstice, the shortest night of the year, and a day much celebrated all over the world as the very height of summer. Here in East Finchley it’s forecast to be bright and sunny, and certainly this red admiral had got the message. It looks new-minted, and although many butterflies migrate north this one looks so fresh that I suspect it’s actually hatched out recently – females migrate north, lay their eggs and the caterpillars emerge as butterflies from late June/early July, so this one is a little early. It could also have hibernated over the winter. Male red admirals are territorial and fly ‘laps’ of their territories, fighting off other males and courting any passing females. Only a male holding a territory will have a chance to mate, so I shall keep an eye open to see if this butterfly is hanging around, or just passing through.

In other news, the wood pigeons are extremely crochety, and I had plenty of opportunity to observe their dominance behaviour when two of them landed on the same seed feeder, which I hadn’t yet topped up.

First we have the ‘peering round the tube’ behaviour as the birds attempt to size one another up.

 

 

Then we have the ‘how tall are you?’ phase when both birds stiffen and stand on their tippy toes to try to make themselves look bigger.

Then we have the ‘do I dare try and actually feed’ stage, when each bird gingerly lowers its head, anticipating a nasty peck to the cranium.

 

And then, sad to say, we have a nasty bout of wing snapping and general nonsense, until one of the birds gives up, only to be replaced by another who has been waiting in the wings (ahem) to try his or her luck.

Dear oh dear. Still, I have noticed that everyone seems to get fed in the end, and no one is seriously the worst for wear. After an hour or so of this nonsense the wood pigeons head off for a snooze, to be followed by the much more peaceable collared doves, and finally the goldfinches and house sparrows (who both use a feeder with no tray that the pigeons can’t perch on).

And at the front of the house the lavender has reached peak floral display…

The candytuft, Mexican fleabane and Delosperma is all in full flower (you might remember the latter as Mesembryanthemum back in the day)

And Some Animal has done a rather pungent poo on the windowsill, much to my surprise – it doesn’t look like any of the usual suspects, and although someone has been digging in the windowboxes, it doesn’t look like squirrel poo. Oh well. Any ideas, pop them in the comments (and apologies if you’re just having your breakfast). At least the greenbottles are happy.