Monday, 17 January 2022

After damp May, beautiful flowers are emerging to sweet birdsong

After damp May, beautiful flowers are emerging to sweet birdsong

ON a clear and favourable morning, we collect my mother Maggie from her home in Caversham and take her to the riverside at Henley.

We have brought some wholemeal bread to proffer to the waterfowl. Mum loves it and feels transported back to her childhood as she is surrounded by begging birds.

She feeds them with glee. There are mallard ducks (Anas platyrhynchos), some odd-looking hybrids, a boisterous mandarin (Aix galericulata) punching above her weight and a strange-eyed Egyptian goose (Alopochen aegyptiaca).

The water is clear with yellow water-lily (Nuphar lutea) below the surface.

Canada geese (Branta canadensis), greylag geese (Anser anser) and mute swans (Cygnus olor) drift about, unconcerned. They have probably had their fill from somebody else earlier. Mum is most entertained.

On the way home, we call in at the garden centre at Playhatch and Rosemary buys some plants that she feels sorry for.

The next morning our friend Chris Kelly calls and we invite him in for a tour of our garden.

We then drive him out into the countryside for a walk. Rosemary has booked a table at the Unicorn pub at Kingwood Common so we leave the car there while we have a look round the area — we have not been here for months.

We head north and find Colmore Lane full of flowers, including Prickly sow-thistle (Sonchus asper), mouse-ear hawkweed (pilosella officinarum), nipplewort (Lapsana communis) and black medick (Medicago lupulina) with its yellow flowers, white campion (Silene latifolia) and dogwood (Cornus sanguinea). All look splendid.

White and blue campanulas, garden escapees, enhance the narrow road alongside white clover (Trifolium repens) and herb-Robert (Geranium robertianum). Bloody crane’s-bill (Geranium sanguineum), with its deeply divided leaves and purply-red flowers, also graces the roadside.

We go left and enter a small open area to admire a large array of foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea), white and purple, growing alongside heather (Calluna vulgaris) and gorse (Ulex europaeus).

The swaying grasses that surround it make for an unforgettable scene. Various bumblebees seem to think so too as they busy themselves with their quotidian tasks.

We then rejoin the potholed lane and continue to take in the sheer beauty of land, sky, trees, grasses and happy-looking flowers accompanied by the cheery sound of birdsong. This is how it should be in June. After all, we’ve all waited long enough through the dark months of winter.

Chris is clearly enjoying himself and Rosemary and I are happy to be able to share wonderful places like this with another.

We come alongside the “blue house” to our right and turn left down a marked bridleway to the west.

An initial open area is brimming with not just more foxgloves but lesser stitchwort (Stellaria graminea) with its pretty little white flowers.

The tiny flowers of heath bedstraw (Galium mollugo) cover the ground in between many wild grasses, including false oat-grass (Arrhenatherum elatius). I’ve not come across the species before but it is handsome and distinctive with its spikelets and nutlets.

We leave the openness and stride into the young forest. Chris seems to be enchanted.

Woodbine clambers over anything it can find. I would not advise standing here too long as you may soon become strangled, even if you will smell lovely!

As we make our way along a wondrous, sinuous path through an open area and into tree cover I hear a familiar voice calling from behind.

It’s our friend and Henley town councillor Stefan Gawrysiak out cycling with his friend David, from Woodcote. We have a chat and then off they go, surging through the young trees.

There are some splendid arboreal examples here — silver birches with knotty, gnarled, moss-covered trunks, aspen leaves quivering in the slightest of breezes, crab apples leaning as if deprived of water and oaks and beech looking to eventually dominate.

Having been the site of a Second World War hospital prisoner of war camp, it is a young woodland. It is easy to see the residue of old infrastructure, capped gas lines and concrete work.

I have never been anywhere with such a large quantity of honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum).

One could really get lost in here as there are so many unofficial paths that flow in every direction. A truly magical place. Thankfully, for the three of us intrepid explorers, I have no recourse to map or compass as I have known this setting for so long. I love the fact that some trees bisect our path.

We move on and after stepping across hoof marks left by horses and deer, we pass one of the largest drifts of hedge woundwort (our source of seeds, nonetheless). We find the lane that takes us north towards the most impressive colony of broad-leaved helleborines (Epipactis helleborine) that I know. They are in profusion and will be in full flower within days. Such a wonderful sight. Chris is quite taken.

Moving along a public right of way, we encounter two tutsans (Hypericum androsaemum) in full flower. What a charming sight as the plant is rather uncommon in these parts and flourishing.

We pass through an open glade that will be full of flowers in a week or two, so we will have to return to witness nature’s bounty.

I’m looking forward to seeing common centaury (Centaurium erythraea) with its delicate pink, unstalked flowers which should be showing now. As I mentioned last week, many plants seem to be late in flowering. I put the delay down to the dark, damp May. No worries, all will appear in due course.

Today, we are presented with more lesser stitchwort, herb-Robert, foxgloves, green alkanet (Pentaglottis sempervirens), selfheal (Prunella vulgaris), Germander speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys) and creeping buttercup (Ranunculus repens).

We enter the wood proper, a lovely mix of deciduous trees with distinct old boundaries and curiously shaped beeches, towering oaks and cherries.

Birds are singing all around — chaffinches, great tits, blackbirds, robins and song thrushes. The occasional crow sounds off, jays shriek. Chris is loving it.

Regaining Colmore Lane, we check on the health of a wild service tree (Sorbus torminalis) on a corner. It is looking fine.

Then we head south towards the pub. Along the way, the roadside banks are full of woodland grasses and mosses below statuesque oaks, beech, cherries, ash, hollies and hazels.

Opposite a mighty two-trunked oak, Rosemary spots some emergent violet helleborines (Epipactis purpurata). The nascent plants are strongly violet-hued and like heavy shade on clay-with-flints, which is exactly what we see today. The flowers will appear in early August and last into September.

The Chiltern Hills are a major fortress for this tough plant that is distinctive from other members of the helleborine family in that it can present many spikes, sometimes up to 20. Rosemary and I counted some 30 plants along the lane last year.

As we continue, Rosemary spots a hoverfly (Epistrophe diaphana) on rough hawkbit (Leontodon hispidus). Common vetch (Vicia sativa) and bush vetch (Vicia sepium) are both plentiful.

After passing some attractive properties, we reach the Unicorn and are seated at a comfortable table inside.

Our beers are fresh and fruity and the food is excellent. Chris and I opt for the fish and chips with mushy peas and Rosemary has a sandwich of Aberdeen angus steak, caramelised onion, blue cheese and rocket. Chris treats us, which is most kind.

When we leave, Rosemary wants to introduce Chris to one of our favourite patches of woodland.

Off we go down Wyfold Lane, past Park Farm and Wyfold Grange. We turn left at the crossroads, where Rumerhedge Wood meets Nippers Grove and Wyfold Wood, and then park.

This is indeed an extraordinary place with majestic large-leaved limes (Tilia platyphyllos) and another colony of violet helleborines.

We see a pond which is covered with a film of common duckweed (Lemna minor).

Rosemary spots a white-tailed bumblebee feasting on the nectar of a hedge woundwort. Chris admires the interior of the pinky-purple flowers.

We drive back to Caversham down one of my beloved lanes past an ancient rhododendron-covered fort and pass through Kidmore End where I look longingingly at a super house by the village pond and the New Inn, an old haunt.

We drop Chris off and agree to go for another walk together soon as we’ve all had such a great time.

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