Tuesday, 26 January 2021

From our autumnal garden to panoramic hilltop views (via 6in of mud)

From our autumnal garden to panoramic hilltop views (via 6in of mud)

I AM sitting outside on one of our sturdy wooden benches on a sunny morning.

A robin “tic-tics” in a tree and then proceeds to sing, a magpie hops through branches, a wood pigeon sits in one of our tall trees and a greater spotted woodpecker “kick-kicks” in the depths beyond. Mistletoe swings in the breeze.

As I gaze into the clear blue sky, a large flock of jackdaws cackle as they argue on the wing with some cawing carrion crows and a pair of red kites wheel high above, indifferent.

The amount of fallen leaves on our terrace is overwhelming. We will wait until they have all fallen and then distribute along our garden paths and under the shrubbery. Worms will take care of them and enhance the earth.

I have noticed the absence of our varied species of titmice (apart from long-tailed tits) and also dunnocks. Maybe they are simply quiet or hiding away.

Shortly afterwards, Rosemary and I take our daily, early tour of the garden.

Leaves are falling as we walk under one of our large deciduous trees, Acer cappadocicum, or Cappadocian maple, named after central modern-day Turkey. It is releasing a vast quantity of yellow leaves while our Indian bean tree (Catalpa bignonioides), a native of south-east America, is losing its huge pale leaves too.

Acer platanoides “Drummondii” is nearly bare, as are Toona sinensis, or Chinese mahogany, Acer platanoides Crimson King, a cultivar of sycamore, and Acer pseudoplatanus var brilliantissimum.

Other trees are slowly but surely letting go of their leaves. The honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos), black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia), eastern redbud (Cercis Canadensis), sweetgum (Liquidambar), pocket handkerchief tree (Davidia involucrate), black gum (Nyssa sylvatica), dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides), Persian ironwood (Parrotia persica), paperbark maple (Acer griseum), prehistoric Gingko (Ginkgo biloba) and our own humble field maple are all on the turn.

What a sight this is and that’s only a small part of our tree collection. The largest and most colourful leaves, though, are from a wildly rambling crimson glory vine (Vitis coignetiae), a native of the far-east of Russia, Korea and the Japanese islands of Hokkaido, Honshu and Shikoku. The large, orbicular leaves carpet the ground, some bright yellow, others a deep, crimson red.

We have just bought three more trees from the Woodland Trust, a crab apple and one each of large-leaved and small-leaved limes, all natives.

Rosemary plants the saplings in suitable spots. We will ring them with some green mesh and posts to protect them from deer for their first few years.

Some of our ferns are already closing down for winter, notably the lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina). Others, such as the soft shield-fern (Polystichum setiferum) and hart’s-tongue (Asplenium scolopendrium) are winter green. Our common male-ferns (Dryopteris filix-mas) can survive cold weather but are particularly susceptible to frosts, as are our broad buckler-ferns (Dryopteris dilitata). These are all natives but we have some exotics too. I count a total of 84 ferns this morning but we probably have many more.

We also have some interesting fungi appearing. Wood mushrooms (Agaricus silvicola) have emerged under some maples.

There is also some intricately shaped, yellow-tipped coral fungus. After carrying out some research, taking some advice and viewing it through my microscope, I conclude that this is an example of upright coral (Ramaria stricta). It smells of aniseed.

After a hearty breakfast, we head off to some relatively unknown territory at Whitchurch Hill. Once again, we take the A4074, pass through Chazey Heath and Cane End and take the same left turn as per last week down Deadman’s Lane. The trees along here are turning burnished copper and gold.

At Goring Heath we take a right turn and then shortly afterwards a left that takes us past Ladygrove and Copyhold farms along a twisting, dipping and rising little thoroughfare. We park by the village green.

Here there are some shapely oak trees, which are shedding a huge bounty of acorns.

A young child is hooting with laughter as she is pushed to and fro on a swing in the adjacent playground. It is lovely to hear happiness in children.

We cross the grassy green that is full of little toadstools. They are spangle waxcaps (Hygrocybe insipida) and rather enchanting. They have viscid caps but dryish stipes or stems.

We then cross the road to our west just past the church of St John the Baptist, built in 1883. Small cyclamen grow under an iron fence.

We take a path to the west shortly after passing Goring Heath parish hall. The lane is initially concreted for access to Beech Farm. After a few paces the sound of traffic diminishes.

It is very damp here, which explains all the mosses that are growing on tree branches. We come across a sign that advises us not to dig. Apparently, there is an oil pipeline underneath.

There are a few dead trees, including a fairly young oak. I cannot be sure of the cause and the tree is out of reach on the other side of a nasty looking fence.

As we approach the entrance to Beech Farm, we pass through a small woodland that is dominated by hollies with one or two gnarled, ancient silver birches. I have never seen such a sight. “We’ve made it to Hollywood,” I joke and am greeted with a sardonic grimace from Rosemary.

We break out into an open field. To our right, another dead oak has crashed to the ground and resembles an alligator.

Symphoricarpos, or snowberry, is profuse. Neither of us likes this shrub. It is an alien plant from America and to me looks plastic.

A crab apple has shed a great amount of fruit. Rosemary gathers some, not with the intention of making jelly but to plant the pips. With any luck they will develop into little saplings.

The grassy path rises on a gentle slope and is pleasant.

Bramble leaves are turning. Most people only think of the fruit but these members of the rose family can take on so many different leaf colourations through the autumn. At the moment they are gorgeous, some leaves turning a bright red.

Moving up the hill, we meet Coombe End Farm but then, unfortunately, we cannot progress any further as our intended path is about 6in deep in sticky mud akin to quicksand, as I find when my boots sink. With the help of my walking stick, I manage to extricate myself. Some straw laid on top would have helped. We warn some fellow walkers of the conditions as we head back.

But all is not lost as we agree to check on the fine meadows that lie to our east and on towards Path Hill.

We recross the road and head on to see what remains of the grassland that lies beyond a row of attractive cottages.

Meadow buttercups and red clover are still in flower, as is field scabious. We find some delicate pale brittlestem toadstools (Psathyrella candolleana), ghostlike, among some bedstraws.

We walk on and join a firm path that take us past a neat little copse of oak, sweet chestnut, hazel and cherry to reveal some great views.

The panorama here is quite outstanding. At about 125m above sea level, we can see for miles. On a day like this, it is quite extraordinary. Through a line of trees, Reading town looks tiny. The Berkshire downs are visible too, blueish in the distance.

The next day it is wet and windy and not a good one to go out in but there is always plenty to do indoors. After completing my household tasks, I am deep in a book. My only craving is for an open fire. Alas, that ability was removed from our house some while ago.

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