Alpine Flowers from the Vanoise National Park

As a final drop of photos from my August trip to France: this time some of the alpine flowers from the Vanoise National Park, mostly from high up in the French Alps above Courchevel. Supporting the profusion of butterflies & insects and the nibbling of the local marmots, there is an even greater profusion of wild-flowers, especially on the upper pastures. Most of these examples are alpine plants taken on a hike up to the Lacs Merlet, though the Helleborine and Willow Gentian were photographed on the wild-flower trail at Lac de la Rosière just outside Courchevel.

Still Finding New Plants

In the chaos of my flower beds it is still proving possible to find some new wild flowers. I’m also not so knowledgeable on plants, so I don’t always spot them until quite late when they flower.

Hedge Woundwort (Stachys sylvatica) is in flower in July, and now I know what it is I’m seeing plenty of it in other places too. It has pretty purple spike of flowers and soft leaves. As the name suggests, in days before elastoplasts and savlon, the leaves were made into a salve and applied to wounds as an apparently quite effective herbal remedy.

The other plant, which I might easily have taken to be cleavers and pulled out as a weed, is Field Madder (Sherardia arvensis). It has similar looking circles of leaves as cleavers, but the leaves are more pointed and the flowers on closer inspection are pale lilac colour rather than white. This one is growing in my veg plot where my peas should be if they had germinated properly, so it’s still a weed, but at least it’s a more unusual one and also not as fast growing as its sticky relative which gets tangled everywhere in my flower beds.

In Search of the Roman Villa

I had been meaning to go looking for the ruined Roman villa near Winchcombe for ages, and finally got around to it on Sunday. The villa is hidden deep in the woods up the valley from Sudeley Castl. There’s not much to see of the old walls especially with the vegetation so high, but a section of mosaic can be seen kept under a low roof canopy and protected by plastic sheeting. Pretty low-key compared to most Roman ruins in UK!

Aside from the local archaeology there were plenty of flowers to be seen. I found this pure-white albino pyramidal orchid among the common spotted, bee and purple pyramidal orchids in some very lovely wildflower meadows. Wood Vetch (.Vicia sylvatica) was a nice find; something of a local specialty along the Cotswold scarp.

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!