Friday, 13 April 2018

St Giles' Churchyard

Friday the 13th, but Chris' visit to Northampton General Hospital was just routine. She has been receiving treatment for nearly two years now, and the staff have been excellent. These are cautionary treatments as she is now clear of illness and the idea is simply to prevent any return.
The administration of her cocktail of medications is quite a lengthy process so I grabbed the opportunity to go to Northampton's town centre for a few odds and ends. (I got the odds but couldn't find ends anywhere.)
My walk took me through the Churchyard of St Giles. A public right-of-way passes through this hallowed ground and although an effort is made to keep it neat and tidy it is always a bit scruflected - scruffy and neglected.
A bush of Box, Buxus sempervirens, sprawled over a nearby wall. Box is a curious shrub giving its name to the Buxaceae, a family of about 100 species worldwide. With holly, Box is one of only two native evergreen hardwoods in Britain - if, that is, it is actually native.
Box sprawls over a wall near St. Giles' church, Northampton.
13 April, 2018

In their authoritative book 'Alien Plants' (Ref. 1) Stace and Crawley plant do not even give  Box a mention, suggesting that the writers are happy to regard it as a 'true Brit'.  The species has certainly been in Britain for a long time, with charcoal from Neolithic sites in south-east England having been identified as box-wood. Furthermore there is a scattering of settlements incorporating 'Box' into their name, reaching as far north as near Dunstable and west into Gloucestershire at the village of Boxwell.
Box flowers are insignificant - to us, that is, not to the plant!
Billing Road, Northampton. 13 April, 2018

Box certainly isn't grown for its flowers although the clusters of cream blooms were plentiful today. It has however been valued as a low hedge since Tudor times, when it was a vital feature of knot gardens.
With spring being held back by chilly, miserable weather not a lot was blooming in the churchyard. Comfrey was in flower and I took the species to be our native plant, Symphytum officinale, although given time I would have checked out other possibilities. It is an excellent bee-plant.
A small clump of Comfrey was flowering in St Giles' churchyard.
13 April, 2018
Poor weather or not, the grey squirrels are always a feature of the churchyard, scrabbling around for the biscuits or nuts provided by visitors. Endearing they may be, but the damage they can cause is so varied and extensive that a whole blog would be needed to consider their nefarious ways.
The squirrels in St Giles' churchyard are very confiding.
13 April, 2018
Just before I left one curious but easily overlooked feature caught my attention. A number of headstones from Victorian graves had been set against a wall at the edge of the churchyard. Lichens had colonised the stone, as they generally do, but the decorative features on one stone had provided a tiny but interesting series of niches for these strange organisms.
A series of little niches on a headstone provided a home for lichens.
When examined closely half a dozen little carvings had provided the substrate and dampness for a particular species to flourish, forming little crescent-shaped, repetitive colonies around the edge of the stone.

Each patch formed a more or less crescent-shape colony.
St Giles' churchyard. 13 April, 2018
Very curious. What was it Shakespeare said?

                                    Find tongues in trees, books in running brooks,
                                    Sermons in stones, and good in every thing.

                                                                                         As You Like it.



Stace, Clive and Crawley, Michael (2015)  Alien Plants  Collins New Naturalist Series

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