Thursday, 20 January 2022

I can smell summer coming thanks to nature’s perfect perfume

I can smell summer coming thanks to nature’s perfect perfume

AS I get out of bed on this spring morning and open my window, I reflect that the most wonderful aspect of the onset of a new summer is the scent of it all.

A transformation seems to have occurred overnight. All of a sudden the world seems to have turned into nature’s perfect perfume parlour and the race to reproduce has begun.

Leaves are bursting from the twigs of trees and shrubs and flowers are unfolding above and below. The humble daisy and dandelion are shining brightly. Shepherd’s purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris) and cuckooflower or Lady’s smock (Cardamine pratensis) have announced their presence on my lawn.

It is heaven for emergent bees and other insects right now. Nutritional nectar is exchanged for pollination and so the symbiotic cycle of botanical and entomological life continues at its renewed and annual pace. I’m quite enthralled by the derivation of plant names. The little daisy (bellis perennis) comes from “day’s eye”, old English for the sun, and does it not look like it too? Dandelion (Taraxacum officinalis) comes from the French “dent de lion”, or lion’s tooth.

The ephemeral brimstone butterflies have now vanished and have been replaced in act two of nature’s play by dainty orange tips (Anthocharis cardamines). There are quite a few of these small insects flitting about. Only the males have the bright colouration to the ends
of their otherwise white wings. The females are rather inconspicuous but will be laying their eggs on the cuckooflower and garlic mustard. Butterflies can be quite fussy with their host plants! Holly blues (Celastrina argiolus) have appeared too. They are small but dance like tiny sapphires in the morning sunlight. The first speckled woods (Pararge aegeria) are on the wing also, fighting over their little territories. Small whites, the scourge of the allotment holder, join in the butterfly display.

Making my way from Emmer Green towards Caversham to meet up with my friend Dave Kenny, I decide to take the “green” route via a small old patch of woodland and on through Balmore.

After leaving the protected “back field”, I find that the ground has been scalped. I wish that the local council would wait until flowering had finished and seed set. I feel sorry for the bees as this hillside now resembles a golf course.

A whitethroat (Sylvia communis) sings in the dense cover of a hawthorn bush after its great journey from across the Mediterranean Sea. It has a rattling but charming song, quite unmistakable.

I pause and hope that the grasscutting regime will be changed as it would help and encourage a greater variety of flowering plants, insects and birds. I hate to think that we might end up with plastic parks.

I meet Dave and we are off to visit some protected and privately owned woodland in the hope of seeing some handsome spring flowers or two, long off the radar of the zealots with their mechanical scythes.

Thicket Copse and Nuney Copse are close to Cane End and exploring here feels like a step back in time. Underfoot lie great piles of flint deposited at the end of the last glaciation.

The fallen branches of ash and hazel are scattered all around. The stones are covered in moss. In between yellow archangel (Lamiastrum galeobdolon), bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta), ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea) and wood anemone (Anemone nemorosa) fill the rocky cracks.

Among these woodland flowers is another, the early purple orchid (Orchis mascula) with its darkly spotted leaves and striking flowers. There are many here today. A few years back we found maybe five or six, today 50 or so. This is heartening.

All around the fresh, semi-transparent leaves of the beech trees and nascent bluebells will provide a magnificent sight in a few days’ time.

It is time to return home and after a brief but enjoyable visit to the Black Horse pub near Checkendon, I’m dropped off by Dave’s house. After a brief shopping trip, I’m delighted to see that housemartins have returned. Wonderful. Swallows and swifts next, I hope.

Vincent Ruane

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