I will be publishing a short series of posts this autumn in which I will show you some of the wild flowers I have seen in my garden this summer. The photographs will be ones I haven’t used before.
Many of you will wonder why we have so many weeds in our garden. Well, er, I like weeds/wild flowers! We have decided that the part of the garden around the big pond should be a wild garden and this is the place where I have found most of my plants to photograph. We do try to control the worst of the brambles and nettles and my husband mows and hacks his way through it all regularly. When we have time we will manage the area a little better.
These hawthorn flowers from our hedge have a definite pink tinge to them. I believe this is a Midland Hawthorn (Crataegus laevigata).
As any gardener knows, weeds grow anywhere and everywhere and some of the plants in these posts I will have found in the lawn or in a flowerbed. We have a country garden and it is surrounded by arable fields and common land. Weed seeds get blown into our garden on the wind. We have a hedge round most of our land made up of hawthorn, blackthorn, hazel, ash, elder and dog-rose among others. We also have ditches almost all the way round our land – our moat to protect us from flooding. We are visited by many birds and wild animals and all these creatures may have contributed to the flora by bringing seeds in on their coats or feathers or in their droppings. We have had quite a damp summer following on from a mild and wet winter and the plants, bushes and trees have grown and grown! This year, we have found many more different types of plant than usual, as well.
This post will be featuring flowers from early summer – mid May until the end of June.
Smooth Sow-thistle (Sonchus oleraceus)
The leaves of this plant have been an important dietary supplement for many hundreds of years; they can be boiled like spinach or even taken raw in winter salads. The plant is thought to be strength-giving and Pliny the Elder says that a dish of smooth sow-thistles was eaten by the legendary Greek hero Theseus before he slew the Minotaur. The leaves are thought to revive and strengthen animals when they are overcome by heat and its local names of ‘rabbit’s meat’, ‘swine thistle’, ‘dog’s thistle’, ‘hare’s lettuce’ denote this.
I thought I would include this fern in this post although not a flower. It is growing in the hedge at the front of the house and it is the only fern we have. By the end of May it has usually been swamped by other plants in the hedge and we don’t see it again until the next year.
Dog-rose (Rosa canina)
I was fortunate when I was a little girl to have a mother who didn’t give me nasty medicine like caster oil and syrup of figs. I was given ‘Halib-orange’ (which tasted of oranges but also contained fish-oil) and also rosehip syrup to which my mother sometimes added a drop or two of cod-liver oil. Rosehip syrup is rich in vitamin C and I remember it tasting absolutely glorious!
King Henry VII adopted the Tudor rose as his official emblem and the rose has continued to be a symbol of the British monarchy and of England herself.
Oxeye Daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare)
I love Oxeye Daisies – also known as marguerite, moon-daisy and dog-daisy – and when roadsides are carpeted with them I know that summer has arrived. I remember lying in a field full of them when I was very young and looking through their swaying heads at a clear blue sky – a wonderful memory.
Elder flowers (Sambucus nigra)
Both the elder’s flowers and berries are edible and it is widespread on land with a high nitrogen content. Rabbits do not damage it and it benefits from their droppings so is often to be found near warrens.
Field Penny-cress (Thlaspi arvense)
Field Penny-cress (Thlaspi arvense)
This plant got its name from the circular shape of its fruit which were thought to resemble a penny. When crushed the plant has a strong, unpleasant smell and is avoided by herb-eating animals. The plant was introduced many, many years ago. Despite efforts to exterminate it the Field Penny-cress still does very well on agricultural land.
Rough Chervil (Chaerophyllum temulum)
Rough Chervil (Chaerophyllum temulum)
This is another poisonous plant belonging to the parsley family. The word temulum derives from the latin word for vertigo. If ingested the effect on human beings is that of drunkenness; staggering incapability and shaking. Most unpleasant.
Selfheal (Prunella vulgaris)
This plant loves our garden. It is all over the lawn and when we take our eyes off it for a day or two we find it has rushed onto the flowerbeds and made itself at home there. I read that it likes growing in grassy places (yes, our lawn) and woodland rides, on calcareous and neutral soils. (I do find a lot of chalk in the soil here). It spreads by putting out runners that root regularly and it produces nutlet fruits as well. The bees love it and it is a very pretty purple colour.
Cat’s-ear (Hypochaeris radicata)
Bees and many other insects, love this flower too. It is called ‘Cat’s-ear’ because it was thought the little scale-like bracts on the flower stem look like cat’s ears. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to get a good enough photograph of these bracts to show you.
Fox-and-cubs (Pilosella aurantiaca)
Fox-and-cubs ((Pilosella aurantiaca)
Looking at the second photo you can see why it is called Fox-and-cubs. These photos were not taken in my garden but in the churchyard of St Mary’s in Halesworth but I haven’t found an opportunity better than this for posting these pictures. This is an introduced plant and has spread quite happily out of people’s gardens and into the countryside.
Dogwood flowers (Cornus sanguinea)
This is another plant that prefers calcareous soil. The stems in winter glow with a rich red colour, the birds love the black berries and the leaves turn a wonderful maroon-red in the autumn.
Bittersweet or Woody Nightshade (Solanum dulcamara) which grows all over our garden. This plant was growing in the ditch at the front of the house.
When the flowers first open the petals are spreading or slightly curved. The older the flower, the more the petals fold themselves back against the stalk. The berries are green at first, then yellow and finally a bright shiny red. The berries are poisonous and can cause sickness. The species name ‘dulcamara’ is derived from two Latin words meaning sweet and bitter. The toxic alkaloid solanin in the stem, leaves and berries causes them to taste bitter at first and then sweet.
Field Rose (Rosa arvensis)
Though called Field Rose it is usually found in woodland or hedgerows. This grows prolifically in the narrow strip of woodland on the opposite side of the lane in front of our house.
Smooth Tare (Vicia tetrasperma)
It is very easy to miss this little plant. It is very slender and scrambles about in grass and in hedgerows. I found it in the grass round our big pond. The flowers are borne singly or in pairs and are 4-8 mm long. Another member of the Pea family.
Field Forget-me-not (Myosotis arvensis)
A probably legendary tale from medieval Germany tells of a knight walking with his lady by a river. The knight bent to pick her a bunch of flowers but the weight of his armour caused him to fall in. As he drowned he threw the flowers to his lady crying: ‘Vergisz mein nicht!’ – ‘forget-me-not’. Since then this flower has been associated with true love. I wonder why the knight was wearing armour when not fighting or jousting? In 1802, Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote a poem based on the story of the knight called ‘The Keepsake’. ‘That blue and bright-eyed flowerlet of the brook/Hope’s gentle gem, the sweet Forget-me-not!’.
Scentless Mayweed (Tripleurospermum inodorum)
Common Spotted-orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii)
This orchid grows very well in our garden. The leaves are shiny and green with dark spots on them.
Lesser Stitchwort (Stellaria graminea)
Lesser Stitchwort (Stellaria graminea)
This plant grows mainly on acid soils – I found it in our lawn.
White Clover (Trifolium repens)
We have White and Red Clover in our garden. I have posted photographs of the red before but not the more common white. This is another plant with creeping stems and we have it in our lawn. We tolerate it because the bees love it and it keeps the lawn looking green during a drought.
Common Field-speedwell (Veronica persica)
This plant is probably not a native but was introduced at some time in the distant past from Asia. Its flowers are solitary on a long stalk and the lower petal is usually white.
Water Mint (Mentha aquatica) growing amongst water lilies
This is the commonest mint of all the species growing in the British Isles and has a very strong mint smell.
The next couple of plants I found on the same day as I found the Fox-and-cubs plant in Halesworth.
Black Horehound ((Ballota nigra)
Black Horehound (Ballota nigra)
There is a little alleyway that leads to the supermarket in Halesworth and on one side of it is some waste ground and that is where I found this plant. Black Horehound smells awful if it is bruised and this has earned it a second name of ‘Stinking Roger’. Poor old Roger! It is quite an attractive plant to look at and its smell is its defence mechanism – to stop it being eaten by cattle. It looks a little like Red Dead-nettle but is larger and coarser. A third name for the plant is Madwort as it was used in the treatment of bites from mad dogs. ‘A dressing prepared from the plant’s leaves, mixed with salt, was said to have an anti-spasmodic effect on the patient’ – to quote from the Reader’s Digest Field Guide to the Wild Flowers of Britain. It could also be used to treat coughs and colds but it was very powerful. Nicholas Culpeper wrote that ‘it ought only to be administered to gross, phlegmatic people, not to thin, plethoric persons’.
Common Mallow (Malva sylvestris)
This was also on the waste ground though it can be seen on most road verges all through the summer. The flowers are very pretty and the plant has long been used for food and medicine. According to my Field Guide young mallow shoots were being eaten as a vegetable as early as the 8th century BC. Cicero the orator complained that they gave him indigestion, the poet Martial used Mallow to get rid of hang-overs after orgies and the naturalist Pliny mixed the sap with water to give him day-long relief from aches and pains. In the Middle Ages it was used as an anti-aphrodisiac, promoting calm, sober conduct. Mallow leaves have been used to draw out wasp stings and the sap, which is quite viscous was made into poultices and soothing ointment. The fruits of the Mallow are round flat capsules and some of the names for Mallow refer to them – ‘billy buttons’, ‘pancake plant’ and ‘cheese flower’.
Soft Rushes (Juncus effusus) in the ditch at the front of the house
Soft Rush (Juncus effusus) with flowers
These grow mainly on acid soils and on over-grazed land. They live in our ditches and sometimes spread into the lawn. The stems are a pretty pale yellow-green and are shiny and smooth. The flowers are olive-green in colour. The name ‘rush’ comes from a Germanic word meaning ‘to bind’ or ‘to plait’. The spongy white pith in the stems used to be scraped out and made into wicks for candles. I remember on wet camping holidays when young (and there were many of those) splitting rushes with my fingernail and trying to remove the pith in one piece without breaking it. This was in the days before Nintendos – simple pleasures!