Saturday 30 April 2022

Badbury Hill......... an area of woodland just over the Gloucestershire border into Oxfordshire. It was once the site of an Ancient Iron Age hill-fort - a defended settlement established in 600 BC. The fort originally had two banks strategically placed above one another on the highest ground in the area. Parts of the outer defence were flattened in the 18th Century, and there is now little evidence remaining. The area is particularly known today for its wonderful beech trees and beautiful bluebells that blanket the woodland floor each spring. Having never visited before we were not exactly sure what to expect.  But as we reached the top of the gently slope leading into the woods the sight that greeted us by far exceeded anything that we could have imagined - a stunning magical deep blue carpet of bluebells, stretching as far as the eye could see.

Over the years we have visited dozens of bluebell woods around the country, but none have come close to the breath taking beauty seen on Badbury Hill.

This beautiful ancient woodland is filled solely with our own exquisite native Hyacinthoides non-scripta - bluebells. They appeared to be far taller and more robust than usual, and their delicate perfume, reminiscent of hyacinths, filled the air. It is unusual to see just one species holding domination throughout an entire woodland, but here, the bluebells were in charge, this was their domain.

Can you recognise British Bluebells from  Spanish Bluebells?
British bluebells have:-
1. cream coloured stamens and anthers.
2. sweet scent.
3. narrow tubular bells with tips curling upwards and hang down one side of a purple nodding stem.
4. they are a deep blue occassionally white or pink.
5. long strap narrow leaves.
Spanish bluebells have:-
1. Blue stamens and anthers

2. Pale blue flowers often pink or white. 
3. Conical open bell flowers with no scent.
4. Long broad strap leaves.
5. Flowers all around a straight stem.

Sunday 24 April 2022

"Loveliest of trees, the cherry now"

Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride  
Wearing white for Eastertide.
Now, of my threescore years & ten
Twenty will not come again,

And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.
And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.
When the cherry blossom season is here I am reminded of A. E Housman's prophetic prose.  Written in 1896 it reflects on the fact that, aged 20, he has just 50 of his threescore years and ten remaining. 
Even though Housman wants to appreciate the cherry blossom while he's still around to do so there is a much deeper message here.
He is exploring the themes of life and death, along with the fast progression of time. The temporary nature of pleasure and beauty - reminding us that time is of the essence.
Great photographer John showed some very rare Oxlips on his blog which are found on the eastern side of the country. They grow in a narrow band stretching through Suffolk, Essex and Cambridgeshire. I too thought that I had spotted some growing here in the west just a five minute stroll from my home. 
I found this particular large lush clump, of what I thought were Oxlips, but could they be the false ones!  False Oxlips are a cross between a Primrose and a Cowslip. Having looked at John's again, sadly, I think that these are false, they look totally identical apart from the small orange flecks at the center of each flower. Mine resemble an orange star whilst his true Oxlips have an orange circle.

Sunday 17 April 2022

A UK Garden Deal

During Spring 2021 we were alerted to a special 12 month garden deal - 2 for 1 entrance to gardens up and down the whole of the British Isles which sadly finished at the beginning of April. The following pictures are from our last two trips in March as we made the most of the end of the deal.. The voucher has taken us to many gardens,  some on our doorstep but others much further away. These last two visits at the end of March included a local Victorian walled garden, and a sculpture park hidden away down narrow country lanes in the Cotswolds.

It wasn't the most fruitful period to visit a walled garden, but even so, we were surprised at what was already growing in a March garden.

As soon as we stepped inside the walls, the chill in the air was left behind, and a cloak of warmth enveloped us.

I knew that we would find some Fritillaria imperialis - Crown imperials - I could smell their distinctive aroma as soon we walked amongst the tulips.
This dramatic fritillary is native to the mountainous regions of Turkey, western Iran and eastwards to Kashmir. We saw tulips galore when we visited Kashmir during Spring a few years ago, but never spotted these beautiful flowers growing in the wild. I planted some in our garden, but although they flowered the first year, the following year they came up barren. This, apparently, is a normal occurrence, unless their growing situation is absolutely perfect they decline to flower.
A solitary bee was very busy, his pollen sacs are full, but even so he continues to forage.

Time to head off, sat nav on, and see if we can locate the illusive Sculpture Park.

After travelling along a network of very narrow country lanes we finally found the entrance situated in a woodland setting. There were over 200 sculptures being exhibited which were for sale at some very high prices. Others that were not for sale were pieces, such as the one below, made out of upcycled metal and revealing some of the dreadful detritus of our modern world.

This pair of ducks are not exactly what they seem. They are actually as tall as a 6ft man. Imagine coming across them unexpectedly in the dark, would they frighten you?
Seeing so many sculptures for sale made us realise just what a precarious life being a sculptor is. All of the design work, the costs involved in making them, and then the added costs of placing them somewhere for sale. Some of the sculptures were so large that they would have required a very big vehicle for their journey and a crane to lift them on arrival.

I have just discovered that the offer I mentioned at the beginning of this post is available again for the coming year. It is in the May edition of the BBC Gardeners' World Magazine, giving entrance to 392 gardens throughout the year from Cornwall to Scotland, Wales and N. Ireland. The offer includes places such as Kew Gardens, Leeds Castle, Bodnant Garden and Nymans. Gardens are great places to get away from the stresses and strains of our world today, especially if like me, you enjoy flowers, trees, birds, butterflies and being surrounded by beautful landscapes. There are 6 packets of seeds also included in the deal plus the monthly magazine. It is available in the shops now, but if you are interested make haste as they will probably go quickly.       

Friday 8 April 2022

Fritillaria meleagris - Snake's-head fritillary

The Snake’s-head fritillary has been in full flower since the beginning of April. Like so many of our flowers this year, they are early. This fritillary is one of our most beautiful wild flowers, with its square-sided, nodding bells, chequered in pink and white, resembling a snakes’ scales. Some flowers are pure white, but you can still see their chequered pattern, especially when the sun is low in the sky - kneel down, let the light of the sun shine through their beautiful translucent petals and see their delicate green chequered veins. Fritillaries are mainly inhabitants of damp meadows in the south of England, particularly along the flood plains of the R. Thames, but they can now also be seen in many of our gardens too. The first time that I ever saw an image of a snakeshead fritillary was during a visit to the Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery at Glasgow University. I saw this painting by Rennie Mackintosh, done in his latter years, and knew that I wanted to find out where I could actually see and find it growing in the wild.

William Morris also captured it on one of his wallpaper designs, but it would have been very familiar to him. His country house, Kelmscott, sits alongside meadows in the Thames valley where they are found in abundance in just two or three floodplain meadows close to where he lived, 

These in our garden multiply each year and thrive well. Their Conservation Status is classified as Vulnerable on the Vascular Plant Red Data List for Great Britain.