IT’S EXPECTING a lot to wedge my wildflower meadow between the potato & onion bed and the bottom corner of the garden. I’ve still got to to dig out the chicory that has muscled out all the competition on the strip alongside the hedge, on the right of my photograph. I weeded this attractive but invasive wild flower out along the other two edges the triangle in the spring and resowed with a wildflower meadow seed mix which has sprouted so luxuriantly that I now need to trim it to create a perimeter path.
I’m pleased that in the central area the yellow rattle is flowering again this year. The theory is that it will keep the grasses in check because it is semi-parasitic on their roots but the grasses are thriving.
HAIRY BITTERCRESS, Cardamine hirsuta, growing in the shady flower bed by the front door, is one of those little green jobs, a garden weed that looks so nondescript that you might think that it would be impossible to identify it.
The four-petalled cross-shaped flowers show that it’s a crucifer, a member the cabbage, cress and mustard family, formerly the Cruciferae but now known botanically as the Brassicaceae family.
The leaf-shapes and the sausage-shaped seed-pods help me narrow it down to hairy bittercress and a hand lens reveals that, as the species name hirsuta suggests, the stems and the backs of the leaves are covered in little hairs.
You also need a hand lens to spot that its flower has four stamens. This distinguishes hairy bittercress from a similar looking species, the wavy bittercress, Cardamine flexuosa, also known as greater bittercress.
THIS PLANT looked both striking and unfamiliar when we saw it by the ponds at Alverthorpe Meadows and my friend Roger suggested that it might be Astragalus, Wild Liquorice. In fact, it’s a close relative of Liquorice, Goat’s-rue, Galega officinalis, a plant introduced to Britain in the 16th century and now naturalised on waste ground, such as roadsides and railway banks. The trees in the background mark the line of the old Wakefield to Ossett railway and this particular bit of ground was disturbed during recent work on the ponds.
As we walked up through a small wood towards Silcoates School we passed this conspicuously rust-red spring. Roger and Sue said that there used to be a spring on the far edge of this wood, at the edge of the meadow and they wondered if it had ‘migrated’, as springs occasionally do, to emerge in the wood.
As I understand it, it’s the action of bacteria which precipitates the red ochre deposit from iron-rich water. Groundwater percolating through the bedrock leaches iron salts, changing the composition of the rock. Spring lines normally occur where permeable rock, such as sandstone, sits upon an impermeable layer, such as shale.
The geological map shows that the hill on which Alverthorpe Church and Silcoates School stand is capped with sandstone. A fault, branching out like a letter Y towards the south-east is marked in the area where we photographed this spring.
I can’t remember ever having met someone following one of my walks but as we made our way back to Roger and Sue’s we met a couple from north Leeds who were half way around the Melbourne House walk in my Walks in the Rhubarb Triangle. Not only that, but they were going to try Barbara’s recipe for rhubarb bread and butter pudding when they got home. By coincidence Barbara had made her rhubarb cheesecake from the book yesterday when we had friends for dinner.
It’s great to see my booklets being used. This couple were going to try all the walks (as well as all the recipes, apparently).
They said they liked the book not only because it got them out to a place that they might not otherwise have visited but it also tells them something about it’s history – in this case the story of Prophet Wroe who built Melbourne House as a kind of latter day Temple of Jerusalem and fully expected the Tribes of Israel to gather there on Judgement Day.
The man said what had persuaded him to buy the book when he saw it on the internet was the cover design. I like that rhubarb and custard coloured image and wish that I could always come up with something like that which is striking but also neatly sums up the contents.
If only one of us had had a pen, I could have signed their copy for them!
Wainwright would probably have hidden behind a rock if he’d seen a hiker approaching, following one of his routes over the fells but for me it’s a novelty. It’s encouraging to have some positive feedback.
Common Red Poppy, Papaver rhoeas
Dip pen, Indian ink & watercolour
4.45 pm: THREE SMOKY BROWN butterflies fly around our little sun-trap of a meadow, two of them are chasing each other. They’re all fresh-looking, as if recently emerged and don’t look as if they were out in the torrential rain a week ago.
They’re darker than Meadow Browns, and slightly, very slightly, smaller. The name refers to the ringed eye-spots on the wings but the feature that registered with me was the light-coloured margin. I noticed this along the rear edge of the hind-wing but it fringes the sides of both wings too.
The trailing edge of the Ringlet’s hind-wing is smooth rather than scalloped (as it is in the Meadow Brown). This might sound like a subtle difference but it changes the character, the jizz, of the butterfly.
A Song of Summer
It’s great to have my own little meadow area, even though it’s so small; a 7 foot triangle sown with a meadow mix, with a strip of imported (from North Yorkshire) meadow turf across one end. I can pop down there with my canvas chair and just start drawing.
What I miss though is the meadow soundtrack; nothing but the rustle of leaves, the hum of insects, the call of birds. That would be lovely; that kind of peace has always meant a lot to me. It’s one of the reasons that we head to the Lake District for a break, rather than a vibrant resort such as Blackpool. But this little wedge of meadow is in semi-detached suburban garden so the soundtrack is dominated by next door’s kids screaming. Heigh ho.
Okay, I’ll admit that they are screaming happily except when it comes, as it inevitably does as the excitement builds, to injury time! Boisterous children’s play has long been a part of the song of summer;
Whenas the rye reach to the chin,
And chop-cherry, chop-cherry ripe within,
Straw berries swimming in the cream,
And schoolboys playing in the stream
George Peel, The Old Wives’ Tale, 1595
(used by Benjamin Britten in his Spring Symphony)
I OCCASIONALLY feel the need to do what I call an ‘inky’ drawing, with free-flowing ink, so why not go all the way and use a bamboo pen and Winsor & Newton black Indian ink?
- once you’ve dipped your bamboo pen in the ink, the first time you hold it over the paper a drop of ink will blot down onto the paper
- you can’t take your time drawing the lines while the ink is running freely or you’ll end up with another blot
- the ink soon runs out and you start to get a broken scratchy line
- you get a bold line, one that reminds me of a woodcut
- there’s an organic quality to the diminishing size and changing quality of the line as the ink runs out. In the same way that slug slime trails are organic!
- makes me work more quickly
That last one, ‘makes me work more quickly’ isn’t necessarily an advantage; the main point of observational drawing for me is to slow down and make contact with the natural world (or in some cases the manmade world).
I just try to work as accurately as I can within the limitations of the medium. There’s no rubbing out if a line goes wrong, so you just have to go for it. I’ve never skied but I imagine the feeling of barely controlled chaos that I get when I’m drawing with a piece of sharpened bamboo and blottily viscous ink is similar to the feeling you must get when you first go skiing down the nursery slopes.
Bamboo pen and Indian ink is the white knuckle ride of drawing. Perhaps next time I’ll try the comfy armchair and slippers version of drawing and go back to my ArtPen!
A QUAKER SCHOOL since 1779, the main buildings of Ackworth date from 1757 and were originally built as a Foundling Hospital, taking in homeless children from London. Two decades later the Society of Friends bought the then empty Hospital and 84 acres of land surrounding it for £7000.
We’re here on a Wakefield Naturalists’ summer field meeting to explore the grounds, which originally included 5 acres of garden and orchard in addition to the the 1¼ acre quadrangle.
Francis Higginbottom, science teacher at Ackworth School, our guide this morning has left a moth trap on overnight. Perhaps because of the recent unsettled weather there are only half a dozen moths in it, including this Gold Spot, Plusia festucae. This moth is found in damp habitats, such as water meadows and riverbanks. The trap was set up a hundred yards or so from the River Went. Those gold spots have a metallic sheen to them.
A QUICK update on the patch of wildflower meadow that I replanted on the 6 April; it looks even smaller now that the hedge is in full leaf and the surrounding Cow Parsley, nettle and Chicory have grown but you can see how effective our weeding out of Chicory and docks in the central area has been. At this time of year this would normally be wall to wall Chicory and dock.
The strip of turf at the back has established itself successfully and the grass seed in the meadow mix has greened the bare soil but I can see that there are also a lot of seedlings of Opium Poppy coming up, a species that wasn’t in the meadow mix but whose seeds are scattered all over our garden. It’s a plant that I like to see and to draw but I’ll have to weed them out to prevent their lush foliage shading out the wild flower seeds that I’ve sown.
Next job; to mow down the Chicory to create a path around the edges. I don’t want it to spread into the central area again so it’s going to mean some more weeding and then I’ll sow the edges with suitable grass seed.
The hawthorn blossom has a sweet smell, I wouldn’t call it a ‘heady’ smell; it’s not an over-the-top sweetness nor is it sugary sweet like sherbet it’s just, um, sweetish.
Each flower has five petals, which is not surprising because Hawthorn is a member of the rose family, Rosaceae. There’s one female pistil in the middle surrounded by a number of male stamens, each with a reddish tip. When you see the haws, the hawthorn berries, later in the year, the petals and stamens have withered away but you can still see the remnant of the pistil at the end of the berry.
Botanically the haw is a true berry, even though it might seem too pulpy and woody to qualify as what we’d expect if we bought a ‘mixed berries’ yogurt. From a botanical perspective raspberries and blackberries aren’t berries, they’re collections of drupes; fleshy, thin-skinned fruits containing the seed in a stone. Smaller versions of single drupe fruits such as the cherry, plum and olive.
What bird sings from a bush by the canal, opposite a flooded marshy field known as the Strands, in what I’ve described in my field notes as an ‘agitated chattering, rasping, stoccato, occasional morse code phrases’?
Like smells, bird song is difficult to describe in words!
Sunday was International Dawn Chorus day. At this time of year you get the full variety of the dawn chorus as the summer migrants have joined our resident birds. I’m no expert on bird song but at least having got out a bit this spring I’m familiar enough with our residents to spot a new and noticeably different song.
Crab Apple blossom at the Strands last week
This song is one that I’ve heard down by this marshy field before and I know that it’s either Reed or Sedge Warbler. I always forget which one by the time it appears next year. I didn’t manage to focus my binoculars on it but thought that I glimpsed it singing inconspicuously from halfway up in the bush.
The RSPB website (see link below) describes the song of the Sedge Warbler as ‘a noisy, rambling warble compared to the more rhythmic song of the reed warbler’. Reed Warblers are, anyway, as the name suggests, more typical of areas with large reedbeds. You’ll find Sedge Warblers in reedbeds too but also at damp wetlands like the Strands, where you’re less likely to find the Reed Warbler.
Link; The Sedge Warbler page on the RSPB website helpfully includes a recording of the song.
I’M NOT FINDING pen and Indian ink a responsive medium as I draw these Kingcups by the pond. If I don’t press heavily enough on the paper I don’t get a mark but if I press too hard on the springy nib the pressure builds up for a moment and then – whizz! - the nib sets off and draws a straighter line than I’d intended!
Surely, if I keep at it, I can exercise some relaxed control over the recalcitrant medium. The ink soon goes claggy and even during this short session of drawing I have to pause to clean the coagulating Winsor & Newton black ink from the nib.
Is it the beautifully sunny but not sultry weather that’s drying the ink too quickly or is it the shrill excited scream every five seconds of next door’s children playing happily on a trampoline a few yards away that’s putting me off my stroke?
I think that I’ve been spoilt by the predictably flowing combination of ArtPen and Noodler’s ink. It’s second nature to draw with that combination, but I would like to experiment with different mediums, which create different marks.
Anyway, time to admit defeat, perhaps I’ll add some colour later when it’s a bit quieter!