Monday, 22 December 2014

The Shortest Day - amended

Winter solstice, the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, is 21 December. Of course, the soil and the environment generally will get chillier for a few more weeks before the extra sunshine begins to take effect.

For me, I'd rather be in the countryside but there's no doubt that being in a large town has its compensations.

Bergenia cordifolia in a flower bed, Leamington Spa.
19 December, 2014 (Note the carefully positioned
 camera strap, included to enhance the picture).
Municipal flower-beds remain colourful with carefully chosen plants. Bergenia cordifolia is a member of the Saxifrage Family and is planted for its early flowers (I can think of no other reason why people would plant this coarse species). Named after the German botanist, van Bergen, Its flowers are attractive enough but, oh those leaves; no wonder one popular name for the plant is Elephants' Ears. 
Cultivated forms of Bellis perennis share the same
Leamington flower bed.

Our common lawn daisy is Bellis perennis. Carefully selected strains provide large, brilliantly coloured flowers in the middle of winter. Do I like them? Yes - but I'm not sure why. The disc-flowers are always yellow but the rayed flowers around the edge can be bright carmine-red, as shown in the picture.

Sometimes the disc-flowers are almost non-existent and in this condition are known as flora pleno. This term is usually taken to mean 'double flowered'  but strictly speaking it just means 'full-flowered'.

Of course, it is not unreasonable to expect these bedding daisies to be in flower, because here, in a lawn, is its wild counterpart happily flowering in the teeth of a cold near-gale a couple of days later.

Chrysanthemum leucanthemum, the Ox-eye
daisy,  blooming despite a cold, buffeting
wind. Browns Road, Daventry.
22 December, 2014

But what one does not expect is that its close relative, Ox-eye Daisy, Chrysanthemun leucanthemum, should be in flower on the same day. Yet here it is, in Brown's Road, Daventry; a bit tatty, yes, but blooming freely three months after flowering should have ceased!

Around Daventry, as in parks and gardens the length of Britain, Dogwoods are planted. I'm no great fan of these shrubs but the slender red or yellow twigs do create quite a pleasing effect, particularly when planted en masse.
Dogwoods, Cornus sericea, butchered by contractors.
Daventry, 22 December, 2014

The usual choice is Cornus sericea. Its upright twigs are a dark wine-red and, as I say, can be quite pleasing. It is therefore particularly silly when a local authority arranged for all the shrubs to be cut back hard, rendering their original planting quite pointless by removing all of their gracefulness.

The shape of certain plants is their most important main feature (and in the case of dogwoods, with their undistinguished, off-white flowers, their only redeeming feature). I am pleased to note that more and more use is being made of hornbeams, Carpinus betulus.

It has to be said that these examples, with their up-swept branches, are rather different from the famous gnarled specimens growing in parts of the old Epping Forest. The trees shown are cultivars and have been selected for their shape. I had a rant recently about the mania among local authorities for Lime trees; these hornbeams surely make a much better choice and I am pleased to see that their usage is becoming widespread, with a lovely avenue of them beside the Oxford Road, leading out of Banbury.

A Lombardy Poplar at the edge of the
playing fields in Byfield, Northants.
23 December, 2014

This upsweeping form, known as fastigiate, is well-known from the more familiar Lombardy Poplars (Populus nigra, var 'Italica') where the shape is even more exaggerated. I am glad to say that this shape does not discourage the insects which depend upon these trees, for both Populus nigra and Carpinus betulus are native to Britain.

Eucalyptus gunnii tumbles over a fence in Daventry.
23 December, 2014

On the subject of trees, I was delighted - though not surprised - to find a Eucalyptus tree in full flower here in Daventry. The species in question is Eucalyptus gunnii and generally flowers about now. It is a native of Tasmania so, having been transferred to the northern hemisphere, it is to be expected that its flowering times are a bit out of synch.

Members of the genus Eucalyptus are mostly (all?) from what was once called Australasia, so it may come as a surprise to find that they are members of the Myrtaceae Family and are therefore related to the European Myrtle, Myrtus communis.

So, in these short, gloomy days, there are things to be seen and mulled over. There has been much talk over the last couple of decades about S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder) but I suspect that a brisk walk in the local park will do much to dispel the feeling of gloom which descends upon many in these months. Well, it works for me.

On 23 December these Eucalyptus gunnii flowers
are hardly likely to attract insects!

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