Tuesday 30 July 2019

A Safari In The Bush

OK, it was a butterfly safari in a Buddleia bush - so no danger of being eaten by lions! Though the Red Admiral at the top of the photo has been badly savaged by a sharp beak and has lost a big chunk of his wing.

I was visiting the RSPB's bird reserve at Sandy in Bedfordshire, though there were precious few birds to be seen; many species hiding away while they moult and grow a new set of feathers.

Strictly speaking Buddleia is an invasive species in the UK though one that many nature reserves tolerate, if not encourage, as it attracts some of our most colourful butterflies. It also often occurs in places where nature is thin on the ground, like abandoned industrial sites and alongside railways, so it's generally a welcome invader.

The beautiful Peacock butterfly was present in large numbers on Monday, taking full advantage of a bright sunny day.

A few Red Admirals also paid a visit to the bush, which incidentally is named in honour of the Rev Adam Buddle, a seventeenth century vicar and naturalist. Though he was actually an expert on liverworts and mosses and never set eyes on the plant that bears his name, as it wasn't imported into Britain till 15 years after his death.

Most years only a few Painted Lady butterflies reach these shores but 2019 seems to be one of those exceptional years when they are frequently seen.

Sometimes butterflies don't play the game and close their wings on landing. Many of the group of butterflies known as "blues" have this sort of pattern on the underwing - there are slight differences which experts can recognise but the rest of us have to wait till the butterfly is good and ready to reveal itself....

There you are it's a Brown Argus! And contrary to all the rules of common-sense this brown butterfly is a "blue" too. But I'll leave you with a simple shot of a bracken shadow on a fallen birch trunk.

Take care.

Monday 29 July 2019

July Tree, July Flower

Last Thursday the University Botanic Garden in Cambridge recorded the highest-ever temperature for the UK, 38.7 C (that's 101.66 F for anyone still using the old money). I was there a few days before that when it was just pleasantly warm and these were the tree and flower that attracted my attention.

Silver Lime - tilia tomentosa (Chelsea Sentinel)

Towering over the scented garden is this Silver Lime tree, known as a Silver Linden in the USA. This specimen is derived from a now fallen tree which once stood in the grounds of the Royal Hospital in Chelsea. This particular tree, Chelsea Sentinel, is known for its habit of growing to form a tall slender tree with a nicely rounded crown.

It's not merely by chance that it finds itself growing next to the scented garden; at this time of year, when it's in flower, it adds its own powerful fragrance to the mix of plants in the garden below.

To fully appreciate its scent and graceful lines it's worth walking around to the tree, pushing through the overhanging branches and entering that special intimate space directly under the canopy.

It gets its name Silver Lime from it's habit, in hot or dry spells of weather, of turning its outer leaves to reveal their whitish underside, which cuts down the amount of water it loses. I really should have been there on Thursday to witness this phenomenon!

It comes originally from the Balkans but it's by no means a rare tree to find in British parks and gardens. Our flower for this month is also frequently grown in gardens, adding it's own brand of spicy hot colour even in our usual more temperate summers.

Crocosmia or Montbretia

Although they are grown as garden plants over most of the world Crocosmia is a small genus of flowers coming exclusively from Africa and Madagascar. 

They are considered an invasive species in the British countryside, though it doesn't seem to grow wild anywhere around here. I have seen it growing in a valley on Exmoor and presumably it does grow wild elsewhere too. I suppose you could also say it grew wild in my mother's garden - we planted some in the 1960's when we moved in and it was still there 50 years later without any care from us.

In the Botanic Garden it's mainly found around the new research labs and Corey Lodge, which used to be the residence of the Director of the Garden. It has the effect of unifying the disparate architecture of the two buildings.

There are also a few examples of the orange variety growing close to the glasshouses.

I've always admired the precise symmetry of the buds before they begin to flower.

And now I'd better click on "Publish" or it'll be August before we know it!

Take care.

Sunday 28 July 2019

July's Garden

The Systematic Beds

The year is 1845 and a 35-year-old Andrew Murray is being considered for the post of curator at the new Botanic Garden in Cambridge. Just how would he organise the plants in the garden if he were appointed? The possibilities are endless: in alphabetical order? according to flower colour? with beds in a fiercely regulated grid? or arranged chiefly with an eye to beauty?

Murray had done his homework. He knew that the Chair of Botany at the University, John Stevens Henlow, was very enthusiastic about the ideas of plant classification described by Swiss botanist Augustin de Candolle. Murray suggested a series of "Systematic Beds" planned to illustrate de Candolle's work. Needless to say, he got the job!

The way in which Murray and Henslow's garden is set out is unique and it's recognised as a site of historical and scientific importance. It is currently undergoing a major face-lift, including the feature pictured above. It's called the "Rising Path" and not only provides a raised platform to give an overview of this part of the garden, but also the space underneath contains a display explaining the origins and layout of the beds.

The model above reveals the overall plan of the garden, with hedges dividing off the main plant types. In the centre oval are the monocotyledonous plants - those having just one seed-leaf - while outside are various groupings of dicotyledons. 

Here is the display of grasses in the central area. Nearby are other related plants including palms and that strange Triffid-like Yucca-Leaved Beschorneria which we saw back in May.

Some groups like the Crassulaceae or stonecrops, houseleeks and kalanchoes can be represented in a small bed.

Other groups, like the carrot family, are much larger and require more space. OK, I'd have guessed that parsnips and cow parsley would be in the same group, but I didn't realise that things like eryngiums or sea hollies would be snuggled up alongside them in the same bed!

Right next door to the carrots and sea hollies we find the asters and daisies.....

Here I also encountered a gaggle of schoolchildren engaged in an end-of-term photography competition. The many varieties of flowers grown here make for beautiful pictures anyway, even if the main aim is to afford botany students the opportunity to study the structural variations and similarities of the plants.

If I were still a schoolboy I might have enjoyed a class photography competition. I was always tardy about handing in work, so here it is just 50 years late!...

And here's a pleasing story, which I noticed on the display beneath the Rising Path, and which should prove instructive for the young photographers. When Charles Darwin was recommended by John Stevens Henslow for the voyage on the Beagle, it was not, as one might expect, because of his botanical expertise. No, it was because he knew that Darwin was extremely observant and would be sure to notice anything of interest.

Take care.

Tuesday 23 July 2019

Poppies A-Plenty

It's been a good year for the poppies. Everywhere I wander I find their cheery scarlet faces smiling up at me, as farmers become a little less eager to spray every last inch of their land. So here's a pocketful of poppy pics just for you....

I've also glimpsed, as I wander near my home, another of those completely red fields of poppies. I've gone to the trouble of taking compass bearings and plotting them on a map, only to find that there are no public roads of paths within a mile of it, so no chance of photographing that one.

If you're suffering from too much summer heat in your part of the world then I hope you'll manage to keep cool any way you can....

Take care.

Monday 22 July 2019

The Lost Words: Spell Songs

Back in 2007 something happened which those who perpetrated the act thought would go unnoticed. But since then a movement has quietly grown and it appeared in its latest incarnation at the Folk By The Oak festival at Hatfield House.

Early in the afternoon three people appeared on the Acorn Stage. They had no instruments with them and were not about to burst into unaccompanied three-part harmony. On the left was the writer Robert Macfarlane. In the centre, the artist Jackie Morris. And interviewing the pair of them was the broadcaster Matthew Bannister.

Rachel Newton

(just what the Scottish harpist and singer, Rachel Newton, and others who follow have got to do with this will become clear later. Back to the interview...)

The Oxford Junior Dictionary of 2007 made a decision to exclude certain words from its pages to make room for other words which they deemed more relevant to today's children.
The missing words included "dandelion", "acorn", "bluebell" and "otter", all words to do with the natural world, left out in favour of words to do with the internet and computers.

Kris Drever

The loss of the words from the dictionary was of course not the fault of the publishers; they merely reflect what's going on in the world. But if children do not know the names of these things how will they know how important it is to protect them?

Julie Fowlis

I can't recall the exact details of how it came about but the landscape writer Robert Macfarlane and wildlife artist Jackie Morris came together to produce the book "The Lost Words" to celebrate the beauty and mystery of the very words left out of the dictionary.

Beth Porter

Each double page contains one of Robert's "spells", illustrated by Jackie's painting. The word "spell" here has two meanings: firstly the initial letter of each line spells out the name of the subject - O T T E R for example, but the words also conjure up a vision of the animal - like a witch's spell. There is absolutely no "talking down" to children - more like the words of Dylan Thomas than Enid Blyton!

Seckou Keita

Every year Folk By The Oak brings musicians and singers together to produce a suite of new songs on a theme, and these are presented as the central set of the afternoon's music. And this year the songs were based on the Lost Words. And the musicians pictured here are the ones who collaborated in the project.

Karine Polwart

The book itself has been the subject of a crowd-funded scheme to introduce it into every primary school in England. And recently a CD of the songs has also become available.

Somehow I didn't get a picture of Jim Molyneux apart from where he sneaks into the left-hand edge of the band shot above. Kerry Andrew, who was also part of the group, was not at the event but does appear on the CD. So here they are, The Lost Words book and CD, floating ethereally above the festival site surrounded by a golden glow....

There's lots online about the project for those who are interested:

Take care.

Saturday 20 July 2019

Oops! - June Tree, June Flower

I've been doing very well keeping up with my regular monthly posts from the Botanic Gardens, I thought. But when I visited yesterday and saw the Hop Hornbeam tree still flowering I realised that I'd not shown you the photos from last month. Oh well, better late than never...…

Hop Hornbeam - ostrya carpinifolia

The Hop Hornbeam grows on the southern edge of the garden in amongst a varied selection of other trees. It makes it rather difficult to photograph, or indeed appreciate, the whole of it at a glance. It's as if the learned gardeners here have made the mistake that everyone else makes when planting trees - that of not realising just how big they're going to get!

Not that it's a tree to sink into anonymity amongst its fellows. It leans out over the path, dangling its branches in the faces of passers-by and demanding attention! And it gets that attention too, judging by the number of people who make their way over to read the little sign attached to he trunk.

The sign will tell them that it's origins are in Southern Europe and Turkey. The English name, Hop Hornbeam, refers to the hop-like clusters which it produces in summer, but seems suggest that it's a Hornbeam. In fact the Ostryas, although in the Birch family along with the Hornbeams, are a distinct group, though the carpinifolia part of the name means "with leaves like a Hornbeam".

Either way it makes it an easy tree to identify and remember the name of - as long as you know what Hornbeams and Hops look like. As you can see it also bears long catkins.

The trunk has many bumps and hollows as well as intricate though rather scruffy bark which is full of character. The timber is very hard and was traditionally used for making the old-fashioned wooden carpentry planes. It was too difficult to work to be of much use for anything else.

Rose - rosa

You sometimes overhear rose-enthusiasts muttering that they don't think much to the roses here and that some of them are no more than the wild roses that you find growing in the hedgerows.

They are rather missing the point: this is not a show-garden but a teaching resource and the roses here were laid out according to the work of Charles Hurst who spent a the first quarter of the twentieth century unravelling the hybridisation which had resulted in our wide array of modern roses. 

Luckily, those of us less obsessed than Mr Hurst, can still enjoy some wonderful blooms.

Now, as long as I don't forget to show you the July photos from the garden, we shall have caught up!

Take care.