Monday, 21 July 2014

Some Unexpected Arrivals

Last week I had a dream from which I awoke with the following question on my lips:  'Which one is Herb Robert?'  I didn't clearly know the answer, I have mostly guessed over the years which is which. So - I found out, and I thought I'd tell you, just in case you couldn't tell them apart either.

The picture above is of Herb Robert, the one below is Round Leaved Cranesbill.  Until I had a really good look I found them fairly indistinguishable (small, green, spreading on long stems with lots of angular changes of direction) the flowers are very similar, but the leaves are very different - Herb Robert being much more frond like and deeply serrated. They share the same habitat and both come from the same family - Wild Geranium.  This family, the Latin name is Geraniaceae, contains something like 300 variants, all pretty similar to one another.

They are all called 'something Cranesbill' except Herb Robert - although even that is apparently sometimes called Foxy Cranesbill but probably only in America.  They all have approximately the same medicinal uses but there does seem to be an emphasis on the usefulness of Herb Robert over other Cranesbills.  Until the dream question about Herb Robert it had never occurred to me to wonder why it was a Herb and what it cured - it seems to be quite a panacea: Among it's many magics it is said to boost the immune system, especially the action of the kidneys, lower blood sugar and it is a folk remedy for cancer in some parts of the world. Most importantly from my perspective it makes a wonderful salve for inflammation and I need that for someone I love. I'm not going to attempt to list here the many uses for this versatile little plant, there's plenty of information available on the inter-web if you're interested.

So from 'Foxy Cranesbill' to THE FOX.... or not.
Every now and then one of our chickens disappears - heads off into the great chicken yard in the sky via a fox's belly.  I'm sure they're all happy up there - or more likely down - and I don't feel any particular rancor towards the fox, after all we've all got to live and only once has he taken all our chickens.

Some weeks a go we thought that 'Fat Chicken' (not very imaginative I know, but we've been keeping chickens for years and all the good names have gone!) had gone to the chicken yard on the other side of the fox's belly.   As it turned out - actually - she'd gone to the back of our neighbour's garage with a very large pile of eggs.

So - do you know any good chicken names? There are eight new arrivals!
I might call them all after grasses.  I've been attempting to learn the names of some of the exquisite grasses that grow all over the fields hereabouts.  They have such beautiful names but I'm quite likely attaching the wrong ones to the plants I'm photographing, this is an area I know less than nothing about.

I can't find a picture of this one in Roger Phillips book 'Grasses, Ferns, Mosses & Lichens of Great Britain and Ireland'.  It's bound to be there - just at a different stage of it's life.  Or perhaps it's just a particularly long Oat Grass.

I did find Purple-stem Cat's-tail

Rush-leaved Fescue,

And what I think are Silvery Hair Grass,  Red Fescue, Sheeps Fescue, Smooth Meadow Grass, Totter Grass or Common Quaking-grass, Cocksfoot, Yorkshire Fog, Creeping Soft Grass,

Silvery Hair Grass might be my favorite.

I think this is Yellow Oat Grass,

This is definitely Barren Brome growing in the hedgerow.

The same fields that were yellow with buttercups just a few weeks ago and full spiders webs and clover

are now turning a beautiful golden colour.

and in the glorious heat of a July day everyone is seeking a bit of shade, or just somewhere to flop down.

and some find very appropriate places to do it...

Druid dog under the Crested Dog's-tail grass!

Monday, 7 July 2014

Bamboozled by Butterflies

Once upon a time - not much more than a week ago - we walked across fields seeding with clouds of butterflies.  Each step caused Small Heath Butterflies to rise into the air and flutter around us, performing impossible airborne pirouettes and tiny pas de deux before shimmering away. Dogs danced amongst brightly painted wings, enchantment was everywhere and we felt blessed, as if the flying circus was just for us.  Of course I didn't have my camera, but here's a Small Heath from another day.

When we got home the lepidoptera flirtations continued.  Four Small Tortoiseshell Butterflies swooped and tumbled through the air, chasing each other in a gorgeous summer game of catch me if you can.  Their dance was so wild and ecstatic, seeming almost bacchanalian in it's abandon that it was almost impossible to photograph, but these stayed still for just long enough.

They flew round my head, they landed on my arm, they persuaded me that beyond any doubt they were very very beautiful and rare and special.  And suddenly I saw why they were making so much effort!
In my garden there was a flower, a very lovely pink Mullein flower.  I loved this flower very very much, not just for it's cottage garden beauty, I also loved it because it seemed that the slugs didn't.

It's flowers sing to my heart and make me smile and it had survived the onslaught of slugs and snails that had decimated every last Larkspur, Lupin and Delphinium that I planted.  I was looking forward to having many more of it as the flowers were starting to turn to seed.

Why were the butterflies flirting?  Here's why...

It only took them a couple of days to turn my beautiful flowers into bare sticks. I was sorely tempted to pick them off, but these are the caterpillars of the Mullein Moth, another of natures beauties that isn't as common as it ought to be (or used to be before the advent of pesticides).

Next year I'll know what to do... apparently they are just as happy on Buddleia leaves.  Hurrah! I'm hoping that when they'd quite finished my Mullein they dropped off and made their cocoons in the ground, where they can apparently stay for years before hatching out: but they did all disappear rather abruptly, so it's possible that they went somewhere else entirely.

The House Sparrows have been looking pretty smug lately, and they've definitely got lots of chicks.

This song has been going round in my head all week. I used to adore it when I was a child and haven't given it a thought for years. Hope you like it too!

The walk that takes me through fields of butterflies begins in the woods,

Daisy is always keen to get ahead in case there is something to chase.  Her favorite is rabbit, but for her the fun is in the chase not the catching so she's been known to slow down for young rabbits and even just give up on the ones that jag from side to side rather than running 'away'. 

There are still plenty of things to pick in the hedgebanks, I've been drying Valerian for teas (really excellent for insomnia - although  you mustn't have it for too many days in a row),

Elderflowers for colds (brilliant for encouraging sweating to break a fever - even better if you add Yarrow too and also useful for cutting congestion and catarrh) and when combined with nettle it's a great Hay Fever remedy.

I've dried Rosemary and Yarrow leaves in the seemingly boundless sunshine

and picked some of the bounties of our garden.  We've had a mountainous haul of broad beans this year.  I love them covered in garlic butter with roasted butternut squash and bacon and pasta.  They are one of my favorite vegetables, not least because their empty pods look like cosy little sleeping bags for faeries, or perhaps for the rapacious caterpillars of the Mullein Moth.