21 July 2018

We could have been in the African bush!

A "summery summary"..... 

After donning sun hats, sun glasses and sun cream, a group of intrepid nature lovers walked along the River Eden and through surrounding fields and meadows to admire and discover the wildflowers of high summer.  When I walked this route last July I was struck by the almost tropical feel of lush summer plants - this July, after many weeks without a drop of rain, we could have been in the African bush!

This wetland meadow area is on our doorstep just down from the bridge by Waitrose. Managed by the Great Stonebridge Trust and maintained by volunteers. It is frequently under water at times of heavy rainfall.  Now, following weeks of drought, the straw-like crust of the grassy path crunched under our feet - the weeds and wildflowers on the banks wilted and withered and the palette was almost entirely dull green, brown and yellow.   But looking towards the river bank there were some refreshing treats to be found. Parasols of hogweed and spires of purple loosestrife were held up high thanks to the water at their roots; the exotic pinky white Himalayan balsam blossomed under the stone bridge and yellow water lilies formed froggy cups and saucers in the river. 

Languid dragon and damsel flies loomed over the water searching for mayflies to munch.
Masses of willowherb, poor cousins of the regal rosebay willowherb, just managed to hold their little pink heads up in the heat alongside water figwort. On the opposite bank numerous bright yellow ragworts tried hard to look innocent; this plant is deadly to grazing animals once gone to seed. A clump of greater burdock - surely the inspiration for Velcro  - stopped us in our tracks.  We studied the curving bracts hooked at the tip. These flower heads are the bane of doggy walkers as they attach onto the fur of passing animals and hitch a ride to seed somewhere new. Teasels were drying nicely in the hot sun getting ready to feed the goldfinches or decorate our homes at Christmas.

As we moved away from the river bank and into the woodland area there was very little colour but much to be found by looking closely.  Delicate white chervil - a smaller version of cowparsley - was growing along the path where hedge bedstraw entwined around the bramble bushes. Sloe and blackberries were already ripening - very early in my opinion. We identified a tall and handsome prickly plant as "spear thistle" and spotted the silky hammock of a spiders' nest in the undergrowth.  

The earth was cracked deep in this normally muddy area and many of the woodland trees, having shed their leaves too early, looked very unhappy.  But a copse of tall willow trees were defying the drought and appeared surprisingly fresh and green.  Their "toes" must be deep in water somewhere way down below. As we left the woods we followed the river alongside a couple of scrubby fields. These were fringed with bright blue chicory, planted by the farmer for the birds. One was already in the queue! We heard the unmistakable call of a yellowhammer ("little bit of bread and cheeeeeese") and were lucky enough to spot it singing out at the end of a branch.  All the usual summer weeds were in evidence here - dark crispy red sorrel, pungent mayweed, pineapple weed, borage, comfrey, plantain, mugwort, nipplewort, prickly sow thistle - nothing madly exciting but good to identify nonetheless.

Back to Town via the Lingfield Sports Field we pushed ourselves to walk across the dead grass and clover under the relentless glare of the midday sun. We had managed a couple of miles in two hours and were more than ready for a cool drink in the shade.  Mad dogs and Englishmen eh!!

I am planning a return visit to Broadview Gardens at Hadlow College, Tonbridge.  We visited in the depths of winter when the grounds were a bare canvas. It will be interesting to see the transformation and, besides, the café and shop there are VERY good!
Date: Monday 13th August - morning and lunch, admission free.  
Let me know if you would like to join us.

Happy Days,