Tag Archives: flowers

Michaelmas Daisies Are Confusing

Apparently Michaelmas daisies aren’t native to the UK, but were introduced from America in the 1700s! They grow enthusiastically at this time of year, and the bees and butterflies like them.

To further confuse matters, this isn’t Michaelmas – that’s in September.

But here they are anyway, cheerfully flowering in a green space near the centre of town. I see them a lot on roadsides. They are an iconic summer plant for me.

Although for further confusion, since I first posted this blog it’s been pointed out to me that these may not be Michaelmas daises at all, but Oxeye daisies, and I still have no idea (having looked at the internet) how you would tell them apart! It’s quite possibly the case that some of the other images for Michaelmas daisies online were actually oxeye daises and that there are different schools of daisy naming and that it isn’t just me!


Flower Spirit – fiction

Once there were magicians who made women out of flowers. They wanted women who were pure and innocent, and they understood neither womanhood, nor flowers. For in truth, flowers are promiscuous, happily opening their petals to one and all, welcoming insects, bats, birds, even the wind, depending on their nature. The magicians may have been clever, but they lacked for wisdom.

Why even did they crave purity? Well, the truth of it is that inexperience makes a person slower to detect the failings of others. The less you know, the more easily you may be persuaded that what you are experiencing is normal. Purity is no shield at all. But how can a woman made of flowers be innocent? Made of colour and joy and the exuberant sexual nature of the flowers themselves, the flower women were joyful, sexual, colouringful beings and not the meek creatures the magicians had hoped for.

Then there came a time when the land grew barren. With so many people and so few plants to feed them, the magicians wondered if perhaps they might make flowers out of women. They had learned the art that finds the seeds for all things inside all things, and so it was not difficult for them to make flowers in this way. They did not ask whether anyone wanted to be turned into flowers. However, it was a time of great sorrow and people who are in despair are not always careful of their own interests. 

But still their plans did not meet with great success. They had looked upon women and flowers alike merely as objects for use. It is impossible to truly understand the world if all you can think of is how you might make use of its various parts. For all that they had great magic at their command, they did not put an end to suffering. Because of them, you will still sometimes find women who are really flowers, and flowers that remember being women, and many other strange confusions that their meddling has caused.

(art by Dr Abbey, story may or may not turn out to relate to other projects – I’m not currently sure!)


August Flowers

August tends to be a month for focusing on the grain. This year I’ve not been able to walk so far and there are no grain fields in viable striking distance. I’m noticing the flowers a lot though.

Its ragwort season – tall, straggly plants with yellow flowers, poisonous to cattle and horses but only really a problem if they get in the hay or silage. These plants are home to the adorable stripy caterpillars – now fattening nicely – who will go on to be cinnabar moths.

In the last week or so, the mugwort has shot up and now dominates in a number of places. The scabious and harebells are out on the common. Cow parsley is going over, but yarrow is still flowering.

Every week I see a shift in what’s coming on, what’s flowering and what is going over. The blackberry season has begun, other soft fruit will follow.  I’m intensely aware that the cycle of the seasons moves on a daily basis and that it is clearly visible week by week.

This time last year, there were ducklings and baby moorhens on the canal, and the cygnets were small. This year, everyone seems to have grown up already. No two cycles are the same.


Heading towards the solstice

Recently I wrote about the limitations I’m facing around pilgrimage and my desire to see some of the specific seasonal plants. There are plants I become particularly obsessed with. However, there are seasonal plants outside my door. While my ideas about how I want to engage with the season have been thwarted, my actual ability to engage with the season isn’t really that compromised.

A very short distance from my home, the buttercups are flowering exuberantly. I don’t have to go far to see how glorious they are in the fields, even if I don’t get into the fields. The cranesbill is out, and the campions. There are foxgloves on one of my regular routes. They are glorious, and extravagant, and I am very fond of them as part of the summer.

I have a small pot garden, and a few wild seasonal plants have shown up there – granny bonnets, wood avens, ragged robin…  I’ve got small plants whose names I don’t know cheerfully blooming. The grass is full of daisies, and I’m also really appreciating the groundsman who doesn’t mow very often and lets things flower.

I may yearn for particular encounters with specific plants and landscapes, but the season is here. Summer is right outside my door. Seasonal expressions are all around me. It’s important not to lose track of that through focusing on what I can’t have.


Spring and Cowslips

How spring plays out in terms of wildflowers varies a lot from year to year and from place to place. This year, the celandines and violets have appeared in remarkable profusion around my home, and I’m still seeing a lot of them. Fruit trees have been abundant with flowers as well. I don’t have a fantastic visual memory but even so I’m confident I’ve seen more flowers on blackthorn and soft fruiting trees than I normally would. However, I hear from friends that their apple flowers locally are late.

In the last week I’ve seen my first buttercups and cowslips of the season.  I’m watching for the kingcups, but I’ve not seen any of those yet. Soon, it will be time to go looking for orchids. Last year I only found one bee orchid, which was an unusually low number.

There must be a lot of variables impacting on plants. How the winter went, what the spring temperatures are like, how much rain there is – and different plants are all adapted to thrive in slightly different conditions. Sometimes, if you know a plant well you might have a sense for how it will respond to the conditions as a year unfolds. I don’t have that depth of connection and am generally surprised.

I watch with interest to see what flowers when, and enjoy watching for new plants as the year progresses. The cleavers seem to be doing really well this year, and the garlic is growing large and lush.  I don’t know if I’ll be able to get onto the hilltops for the bluebells and wood anemones, but remain hopeful.

Cowslips are especially significant for me, because they were rare when I was a child. A plant pushed to the edge, they have somehow made a comeback during my life and as such are a symbol of hope, to me.


Summer subtleties

Once we get into summer, the season can feel a bit like a solid block of experience. There have been flowers since the spring, there are flowers now. We may look for early signs of autumn instead for a sense of the seasonal. Those are certainly present – the hawthorn and elder both have small green fruit starting to swell and ripen.

In practice, there’s a lot of nuance in the flowers at this time of year. Seeing it depends on paying attention to the details. There are big swathes of flowers out there, but some flowers come later in the season than the others. The purple loosestrife is at its peak right now, while the meadowsweet is starting to die back. The teasels are flowering, the thistles are producing fluffy seeds. On the ragwort, the cinnabar moth caterpillars are large, and fat, or disappearing as they head for cocoons.

Every day, something is different. Seeing the difference depends on re-visiting and familiarity. Seasonal shifts are subtle processes and the less time a person spends looking for them, the harder it is to read.

There are more teenage birds about, but some birds are into their second and third clutches, so there are young birds around at all different stages of development.

One of the hardest things for me this year has been seeing which trees haven’t come into leaf at all. Some of them were always late, and I kept watching and waiting and hoping. There is a large, ancient hawthorn that stands beside a spring near one of the paths. It was a magical tree, but this summer there have been no signs of life. I don’t know when exactly it died, or how long it may continue to stand in this state. Life goes on within in it and on it – it is still a habitat and still supporting a lot of other life.

Dying away is not just an activity for the autumn. The grass on the commons is already well under way with its own death. Many of the early flowers have already died back. Summer is as much a time of death as it is a time of high energy.


Flowers in the ice

This point in January often combines the first signs of spring with some of the most intense manifestations of winter. And so we get flowers in ice.

Yesterday I noticed that the hazel catkins are opening. They’ve gone from small, tight green potential to open, yellow and active. The alder trees have catkins on too, and the tips of their branches are slightly reddened by the presence of those flowers. Trees have male and female (from our perspective) catkins. If you’re new to all this, have a look at this article – https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/blog/2018/12/which-trees-have-catkins-and-how-to-tell-them-apart/

Yesterday I also saw my first snowdrops of the year, some daffodils in bloom, a primrose and I’ve seen a lot of bulbs putting up leaves in the last few days.

This morning the temperature was down to minus 3, and the frost that was on the ground yesterday is still here. Puddles have become ice sheets. The mud has frozen solid. This is the most wintery it’s been this season, and yet at the same time, the first flowers are appearing. That’s normal, and I might choose to read some significance into it.


The final flowers

There are flowers on the brambles still, and I’ve seen ragged robin and campion in the last few days. At some point, I will have seen the last of these. There are already summer flowers I won’t see again until next year.

First appearances are easier to spot than final showings. When will I see my last bat before they go into hibernation? When will I see my last swift or swallow for this year? It’s not usually until some time after the event that having seen the last one – or the last one for this year – becomes obvious. Spring announces its new arrivals, but as the autumn moves in, those key points of final sightings just aren’t so clear. It means the letting go process is much less defined than the welcoming in.

Of course there are things to welcome in autumn – I’ve seen my first conkers. Leaves changing colour, fruits and nuts ripening, and later in the year, the arrival of winter migrants – these will all be easier to spot. But, the end of summer feels like a falling away without quite knowing what you’ve lost.

It’s useful to reflect on this and spend some time with it. In so many aspects of life, we don’t know when we’ve had the last, or the best of something. People we don’t get to say goodbye to. Things that will never come again. It means that you don’t know how important a meeting is, or a parting, because we never really know who, or what we will see again.

It’s so important not to be complacent about things – you never know when something important may leave forever. Hopefully, the swallows will be back next year, along with the wildflowers and the new leaves. Even that doesn’t feel so certain anymore.


Flowers, margins and trees

Where I live, we’re now at the point in the year when the summer flowering has begun in earnest. Many of the spring flowers appear in the woodlands – getting in before the canopies closer over. The summer flowers can generally be found at the margins – woodland edges, alongside hedges and on road verges. My locality is blessed with some large open commons where orchids and cowslips bloom in profusion at this time of year. We also have a lot of fields that are rich in wildflowers.

There’s been a great deal of intense growth in recent weeks. The cowparsley now comes up to my waist. The cleavers are, where they can lean on anything, about the same height. Ragged Robins, campions, great hairy willowherb, tall grasses and all manner of other wild flowers abound. Beautiful to look at, sometimes challenging for the nose and eyes!

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Margins tend to be the places with most biodiversity. The edges of woodlands are especially lively places. What ideally we need are large woodlands with plenty of room for open glades, thus maximising the scope for life. Butterflies especially like this kind of habitat. One of the reasons cutting small areas of woodland in cycles is good, is that you open up more margins.

Of course to many people this seems unnatural – humans manipulating nature. However, you have to consider what is no longer in most of our woods. We don’t have wild cows, let alone giant aurochs. We don’t have wild boar in most woods, or wild horses or ponies or anything else that might clear out areas of low growth. We used to have these larger mammals. We also used to have beavers.  It is their activity, in the past, that would have created clearings, and in the case of beavers, would have created pools as well.

The other major mechanism for naturally creating clearings is the death of old, massive trees. For this, you have to have a steady supply of massive ancient trees. We don’t have those. There are no giants whose falling will open up a large area – certainly not in most smaller woodlands. We’ve got hundreds of years of work to do if we want to restore them.

Our woodland ecosystems are damaged. If we want the best woodland we can have – and by best I mean most diverse and able to support the most life – we have to help. At least for now. Perhaps one day we’ll have enough woodland to have room to support the boar again. Perhaps the European program to recreate aurochs from what’s left in the DNA of domestic herds will work out… perhaps we’ll have our beavers back to manage water systems and thin out trees. If we get there, we won’t need people to do the work, but in the meantime, people are needed to make up for what’s missing. We have to compensate for the mistakes our ancestors made.

The image in this blog came from The Woodland Trust (with permission) and you can find out more about how The Woodland Trust takes care of woods here – https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/about-us/ancient-woodland-restoration/ancient-woodland/why-is-ancient-woodland-special/ 


Signs of spring

Where I live, there have been many signs of spring during the last week. It would be normal to see celandines, catkins and snowdrops by this time in any year. Some of the fruit trees blossoming don’t seem too early either, but I’m seeing other signs of spring that I wouldn’t normally expect before March, and sometimes later.

There are leaves unfurling. I found a hawthorn tree with quite a lot of leaves on it. Willows are starting to come out and other plants as well. These are early.

The cleavers are up – again, late February doesn’t seem like quite the right time for this, but here they are. The garlic is also starting to show leaf tips emerging. That’s very early.

Yesterday I went walking and at several points was down to bare arms because I was too hot. On this occasion, my bare skin cannot be ascribed to a hot flush. It was warm enough that Tom took off his jumper. Tom is the sort of person to wear three layers of jumpers in the winter. He definitely isn’t having hot flushes.

This, I suppose, is one of the kinder faces climate change can wear. Being warm and enjoying the sunlight is so nice, that it is easy to overlook what’s causing it. A bit warmer in February is pleasant. A bit warmer in July – as with last July, can be overwhelming and lethal.

We had a frost overnight. That’s considerably more normal than warm sun and bare arms.

We all know there’s a climate crisis. And yet, all around me I see people carrying on absolutely as normal. The roads are chocked with cars at busy times. Perhaps everyone is waiting for someone else to sort it out.