Monday, 15 August 2022

Trees racing back into life despite a final blast of wintry weather

Trees racing back into life despite a final blast of wintry weather

I AM just getting used to British Summer Time. Well, sort of. Initially, it always throws me out a bit.

Our cats, on the other hand, are delighted to be supplied with breakfast unexpectedly early.

Things are certainly on the move in the garden. Our 37 or so Japanese maples are bursting into leaf in various shades from light green to luxuriant red. I love the subtle differences in the shape of their leaves.

Some recently planted stand-alone trees, including a crab apple, are doing something similar.

I particularly admire the wild service tree, my birthday present to Rosemary two years ago, which is growing with untold vigour.

So, too, is a wayfaring tree, one of our two native viburnums that I love.

Others like the red oak, sugar maple and red maple are all holding back somewhat. The buds look vibrant and should expand soon with the sun’s blessing.

While I normally recommend native species, I have a soft spot for these Transatlantic trees, having seen them gracing the wildest sides of shallow, rock-strewn, fast-flowing rivers in Nova Scotia.

Elsewhere we have many “rescued” trees that for the moment reside in earthenware pots. Many will be planted at the far end of our garden once it has been tidied up. These include limes, a wych elm, an alder and a downy birch.

I have mentioned previously that we like to rescue saplings, in most cases unintentionally damaged by heavy vehicles like tractors.

We find them growing in vulnerable positions on the very fine edges of country lanes where they would have little chance of survival. We remove and nurse them and when the time is right share them with friends to be planted where they have a chance to flourish. (In case anyone is wondering, I have a licence to do this.)

Our native mixed hedge of beech, hornbeam, hazel, wild privet, holly, guelder-rose, hawthorn, fly honeysuckle and box that we planted over a year ago will eventually replace an inherited line of Leyland cypress.

The conifers will gradually be removed after the bird nesting season. At the moment, the evergreen trees are full of singing goldcrests (Regulus regulus), our smallest resident bird.

With all our trees growing with such force they will soon be of great benefit to birds and beasts, large and small.

Our little spurge laurel (Daphne laureola) — Stan as we call him — has settled in nicely, leaves shining. He should display little yellowish flowers very soon.

Epimedium, or horny goat weed, a native of China, is in full creamy-yellow bloom.

Underneath our trees and shrubs we have a broad array of native flowers and ferns, at least those that have not been consumed by destructive deer.

One of the first to appear is a form of yellow archangel (Lamiastrum galeobdolon ssp argentatum) bearing rich yellow flowers.

A well-groomed magpie glances at me from high above and a pair of jackdaws shuffle together on a branch in the breeze.

A peacock butterfly shimmers in the morning sun on flowering heather, a robin sings his heart out, a wood pigeon, plump and content, studies its surroundings. The garden is so full of life.

One of our cats, Buffy, takes a great interest in a small platoon of large black ants (Formica fusca) milling about on an area of paving. She gives one or two a swipe. Typical.

It has turned cold so we decide not to venture too far today and head up the road to see what is happening at Clayfield Copse and Blackhouse Woods in Emmer Green. We have not been there since late autumn.

As we make our foray, it starts to sleet followed by hail and then snow. Crazy weather.

I’m reminded of the prolonged cold spell and deep snowfall of 1963 when my sister was born in early January.

I’d go shopping in Caversham led by my maternal grandmother Freda and to this day still have vivid memories of planting my then small feet (now size 11) into the deep imprints left behind by previous folk. The weather today is mild by comparison.

We leave our vehicle in the car park next to the tennis club, part of the recreation ground to the north side of Caversham Park Road, and set off across one of the delineated football pitches into the woods.

One of the first things that I notice on entering the semi-deep cover is an oak tree that seems to be walking out of some fable as it appears to have three legs. I’m sure that when I glance away, it moves.

A blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) on the woodland edge looks miraculous with the finest of white-petalled flowers. It’s an insect magnet.

Along a ride, a crab apple (Malus sylvestris) that I have known for ages seems to bow in recognition.

We encounter limited storm damage within the small, old forest. A few trees have fallen but the main casualties are branches, wrestled to the ground by the wind.

Wood spurge surges in full-throttle and common dog-violets smile. Oak trees tower above us.

Thirty years ago, I came across a sole primrose out here. It has spread with alacrity.

Crossing the county boundary, notional I think, as Caversham is part of Oxfordshire botanically, we step into Blackhouse Wood. Bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) are already showing, as are white-flowered wood anemones (Anemone nemorosa). So early.

These should be joined by native yellow archangel and greater stitchwort (Stellaria holostea), which will form a beautiful display, blue, yellow and pure white.

The cold will stall each plant’s development for a short while.

I shall be leading a walk here on behalf of the Ashmolean Natural History Society of Oxfordshire at the end of this month, which in all hope will be fun. I’ll meet some old friends and hopefully make some new ones too.

As we stride along a part of the woodland’s edge, we stop to admire an oak tree that at some time must have gone in different directions. Not now. It has fused into a single trunk with a stunning gap at the base. How odd.

Great-spotted woodpeckers drum, a green one laughs and a willow tit goes “tsi tsi”.

There are many signs that these woods are truly ancient. The sheer diversity of species is a bit of a giveaway and yet they are so close to a conurbation. Miraculous in a way.

What a great day with many more to look forward to.

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