Sunday, 11 December 2016

A farrago

farrago  n. a disordered mixture.

And that sums up the observations I made on my morning walk today.
Daventry has its limitations. There are, for example, a limited number of retail outlets (Chris grieves that there is no Marks and Spencer's), but as compensation there are lots of open spaces with any number of interesting walks to be made.

Today I set off to explore the more immediate neighbourhood of which, I am ashamed to admit, I know little, to visit an area known as The Grovelands. On my way I passed a number of birch trees. We have three native birches in Britain and the best-known is clearly the Silver Birch, Betula pendula. It is an excellent choice for the garden as it is fast-growing and quickly develops into a graceful tree.
Not long-lived but lovely while it is with us. Silver Birch, Badby Road West,
Daventry. 11 December, 2016
Despite its delicate appearance it is as tough as old boots and is a pioneer species, having been quick to colonise open ground as ice and snow retreated at the end of the last Ice Age.
By now the autumn fruits and berries which hitherto have sustained birds have largely gone. Elder berries disappeared long ago, to be followed by those of rowans, but rose hips are still available and, as they grow softer and birds go hungrier, they will become acceptable.
Not a bird's first choice, but if needs must...
Pressing on I soon reached the Grovelands area, but not before passing some gaunt, dead trunks of elm trees. They each had a girth of some 10-12 inches (250-300 cm) and this seems to be the usual size they attain before succumbing to Dutch Elm Disease. Of course the root-stock remains intact and healthy, soon to throw up new shoots. Elm is the main (only?) food-plant of the White-letter Hairstreak, Satyrium w-album, and this butterfly has suffered a decline since the appearance of Dutch Elm Disease. I am pleased to learn that resistant strains of elm are currently being planted to help in the butterfly's recovery.
Dead elm was present in hedgerows. Daventry. 11 December, 2016

Few plants were in flower, an exception being Rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis. One specimen could scarcely have borne more flowers even though the chance of a visit from a pollinating insect was remote.
Rosemary in the Grovelands area, Daventry. 11 December, 2016
But there was promise of things to come. The buttercup relative, Helleborus foetidus, was already carrying its pale yellow-green inflorescences and in a month or so the flowers could be fully open. They can hardly be termed spectacular, but I for one will be pleased to see them.
Stinking Hellebore,aka Dungwort. Grovelands, Daventry.
11 December, 2016
The species has an odd status hereabouts. G. Claridge Druce, in his  Flora of Northamptonshire, published in 1930, mentions no localities for the species in the west of Northants. The latest (2012) flora of the county, by Gill Gent  and Rob Wilson  shows a scattering of records around this area and suggests, 'The apparent spread of this species is probably indicative of its popularity as a garden plant...' Really? Its vernacular names of Stinking Hellebore and Dungwort tell you rather a lot about the plant and I suspect few people choose to grow it. For me the plant's presence is still a puzzle.

Another plant promising flowers soon was Spurge Laurel, Daphne laureola. This is another puzzle for it too has insignificant flowers: small, pale lime green and easily overlooked. Although these flowers are fragrant the plant is not an obvious choice for the gardener, and yet here it is. It prefers a taste of lime in the soil and as a native Northamptonshire plant it is most common in the east. I suspect it is bird sown for, despite the berries being very poisonous to humans, thrushes eat it with alacrity.
The decidedly unspectacular Spurge Laurel. 11 December, 2016
A large specimen was present in a garden and the plant I photographed was one of several presumed offspring within a few yards of it. As can be seen, it is decidedly unspectacular.
Gorse, furze or whin. Daventry, 11 December, 2016
Finally, and far from dull, a gorse bush was ablaze with colour along Badby Road West. Like the Rosemary its chances of having an insect pay a call are practically zilch but self-pollination will have to suffice.


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