Thursday, 13 November 2014

The autumn winds begin to blow

Perhaps the first song I was taught at my infants' school began:

                         The autumn winds begin to blow,
                         The trees all wave their branches so...

I was reminded of this today when walking back from Daventry. Real toupee-lifting weather it was. 

A common wasp, Vespula vulgaris, was taking shelter from the wind in a window frame of Wheatsheaf Court. Formerly the Wheatsheaf Hotel, a small notice on the wall informs us that King Charles I stayed there in 1610 before the Battle of Naseby. I suspect that the royal connection had no bearing on the wasp's choice of refuge.

Conditions were also tricky for the taking of photographs but I was not to be thwarted and, as flowers are getting a little harder to find, I took pictures of plants I might normally have ignored.

Weigela florida in a Daventry garden.
13 November, 2014

Weigela, Weigela florida, was still putting on a good show in gardens nearby. This is a member of the Honeysuckle Family, Caprifoliaceae. The links between Weigela and Honeysuckles (Lonicera species) are not immediately obvious until one looks at plants such as Lonicera sempervirens, where the similarities become much clearer.
Weigela florida flowering in a Daventry garden
13 November, 2014

A short distance away Laurustinus, Viburnum tinus, was coming into flower. This has to be one of the most valuable of our winter-flowering shrubs. Varieties can be planted to give flowers from October until June and when I found it flowering a couple of years ago in the hills above Avignon it was late spring. Until recently it was, with Weigela, included in the Honeysuckle family but has now been placed, along with Elder, in the hitherto obscure Adoxaceae family.

Gorse floweing on Yeomanry Way, Daventry.
13 November, 2014
The odd thing about Gorse, Ulex europaeus is not that it was in flower - it almost always is - but that large shrubs of this plant were growing at the roadside only a three minutes walk from Daventry town centre. In Druce's 1930 'Flora of Northamptonshire' he describes it as 'ericetal', by which he means growing, like erica (heather), in acid, heathy conditions. This is true up to a point, but my observations suggest that it will happily grow in neutral or even slightly alkaline soils IF the drainage is good.

Two centuries ago it would appear that, in Northamptonshire, gorse was far more likely to have been referred to as furze. When John Clare wrote:

                                     And yonder, mingling o'er the heath,
                                     The furze delights to dwell,
                                     Whose blossoms steal the summer's breath
                                     And shed a sultry smell

... he was quite possibly referring to Wittering Heath, not a million miles from where he lived in Helpston. Much of Wittering Heath is now occupied by an airfield, RAF Wittering; having served there for a couple of years I can attest to the fact that the soil is not acid. I recorded Autumn Lady's-tresses, Spiranthes spiranthis, there in 1958 and this dainty orchid is definitely a species of alkaline ground. Incidentally this orchid may possibly be extinct in our county.

Anyway, I digress.

Also coming splendidly into flower in recent weeks are plants of Mahonia. These lovely shrubs are the state flower of Oregon in the USA. It is true that some Mahonia species are native to Oregon and adjacent states but the shrub photographed is probably Mahonia x media 'Charity'. Its parents are Mahonia lomariifolia and Mahonia japonica, the former hailing from N.W. China and nearby regions and the latter coming from Taiwan - not Japan as its name might suggest. Whatever, the shrub is not only beautiful but is very fragrant and, given some sunshine, it may get a few insect visitors. Search the internet and Mahonia 'Charity' is constantly referred to as Oregon Grape. Sorry, but from Oregon it ain't. (Tony, stop being pedantic!)

Mahonias and Viburnums will provide flower throughout the winter, taking us through to the crocuses, daffodils, snowdrops and (unfortunately) Forsythias in the new year.

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