Nature Walk at Greystones Farm

This was my first visit of the season around the reserve at Greystones. Spring seems always a bit slow to arrive up there, but the meadows were starting to come alive. The Cow Parsley was in full bloom on the Iron Age ramparts; meanwhile orchids (Spotted, Southern Marsh and Early Marsh) were all in bloom, as were some nice patches of blue Vipers Bugloss. It was a bit windy, but even so very few butterflies and dragonflies to be seen.

La Fête du Muguet

Giving a bouquet of Muguet or Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis) on 1st May is a tradition in France. Mine in the garden are only just ready in time, recent cold weather having slowed things right down. Other flowers looking good right now are the Welsh Poppies (Meconopsis cambrica), Apple blosson (Malus pumila) and the only new species for a little while, Field Wood-rush (Luzula campestris, #471),, This is a Spring-flowering grass and common weed in lawns, which is also sometimes called Good Friday Grass. Insects are few, but when the sun shines butterflies soon appear (Holly Blue, Orange Tip and a Red Admiral today) and the first returning swift was overhead yesterday.

Lords & Ladies

I do like these plants; the red berries in the Autumn last for ages (they are poisonous, which helps) and the flowers are quite exotic-looking, They have an unpleasant smell to attract insects, more for pollination than for nutrition. Lords & Ladies goes by a whole host of country names such as snakeshead, adder's root, devils & angels, cows & bulls, cuckoo-pint, soldiers diddies, priest's pintle, Adam & Eve, bobbins, wake robin, friar's cowl, sonsie-give-us-your-hand and Jack-in-the-pulpit to name a few; many of them referring to the flowers’ likeness to genitalia Not surprisingly the plant also has a whole lot of folklore associated with it. While the berries are poisonous, the large, starch-rich roots used to be eaten as porridge - but they have to be prepared correctly to neutralise the toxins, so probably not something you will want to try at home.

Wild Geraniums

Two members of the geranium family growing like weeds in the garden. Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum, #22) grows in the cracks between paving slabs and rocks all around the garden, but this is first time I noticed the closely related Shining Cranesbill (Geranium lucidum, #466) with its smaller flowers and shiny, rounded leaves growing in overgrown gravel down by the shed. Quite a pretty little flower.

Three New Weeds

I found this trio of new weeds around the garden this week.

Hairy Bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta, #454), popping up between the paving slabs is an unassuming little weed with small white flowers and leaves shaped like watercress. The leaves are edible, adding - as per the name - a bitter taste to your salad.

Cuckoo Flower (Cardamine pratensis, #453) also goes by the names of Lady’s Smock or Milkmaid. One of the main food-plants of the Orange-tip Butterfly, it is often plentiful in Spring in damp meadows, but not so widespread in my rather dry garden. It’s closely related to the bittercress, both being members of the cabbage family, and is also edible. After flowering in spring it produces seeds then dies back until the next year.

Ivy-leaved Speedwell (Veronica hederifolia, #455) is c common garden weed, originating from Eurasia and by now spread widely as an introduced species. It has a blue form and a white form, the latter being the one in my garden.

Butterflies at Greystones Farm

Back at Greystones today for a walk. Despite the windy day there were still some butterflies about in the sheltered spots. Several Commas around the brambles, Small Coppers and also some Speckled Wood butterflies. The meadows are growing back a bit after their July hay harvest haircut, allowing some flowering of Devils Bit Scabious, Silverweed and hawkbit. Four Little Egrets on the nearby gravel pit were a sign of the season.

September Flowers

Two new flowers this week, a quite late-flowering Great Mullein (#341) in one of the shadier spots in my garden, and a host of Michaelmas Daisies (#342), which grow like weeds everywhere. It would be good if these can entice out some pollinating insects, as the numbers of these have dropped right off due to late lack of flowers in the garden and summer coming to an end.

Poisons in the Garden

These two common plants that crop up as garden weeds are both very poisonous. 

The red berries of Lords & Ladies add some nice late-summer colour in shady areas of the garden, but there's a good reason why they don't get eaten by the birds - they're very poisonous.  Thankfully they are so unpleasant tasting that nobody would ever get to eat enough of them to have a dangerous dose.  

The white flowers, one of many different kinds of similar-looking umbellifer is called Fool's Parsley, as it looks superficially like parsley or chervil, but can be distinguished by the small spurs that hang down under the flowers and seed heads.  Like many other umbelliferae, such as hemlock, it's pretty poisonous; though apparently it was also used in the past as a medicine for children's stomach aches - hopefully only in small doses!