Today I thought it was time to check on the floral happenings in our remnant of limestone meadow up on Windmill Hill. It’s a few weeks since I was last up there, and the spring flowers are giving way to summer species. Perhaps one of the most pleasing finds were these drifts of Lady’s Bedstraw, seen here below the windmill.
It is also called Lady’s Tresses, and it smells of honeyed summer pasture. Once it would be gathered and dried and included with the straw that was used to fill mattresses. It was often chosen for the beds of pregnant women, so surrounding those in their confinement with soothing wafts of sweet hay scents.
I think this is a practice we could revive, not that we are allowed to harvest wild flowers. I’m envisaging now a pillow filled with golden stems. Surely it would be just the thing to send us sleep-fractured souls back to dreamland. And even if it didn’t, it would make being wakeful a pleasure.
The spotted orchids I first found last month for Meg are nearly over (by the way, you should see Meg’s sundews found in Australia’s Stanthorpe granite country over at Snippetsandsnaps). But following on from the common spotted are the pyramidal orchids, which range in colour from lipstick pink to purple. I also discover from plantlife.org.uk that these, like many orchids, require the presence of a particular fungus in the soil in order to flower.
I also discover from Richard Mabey’s treasure of a book, Flora Britannica, that when the Victorian art critic, John Ruskin, learned that the name orchid derived from the Greek word orkhis meaning testicle, he urged that the flower’s name be changed to wreathewort. Personally, I don’t think this any sort of improvement. The man was a prude. Besides, the reason that orchids are named after testicles is because their roots’ appearance do a pretty good impersonation of same. Doubtless this was why they were long considered a useful remedy for a lapsed libido – a herbal fancy and fallacy I imagine, so do not try this at home.
While I was scrabbling around on my knees in the grass, thinking what strange things I have started doing since joining WordPress, I became distracted by a grasshopper. This is not the greatest shot. He is lurking on the leaves of greater knapweed, Centaurea scabiosa. Very well camouflaged I thought.
While I was down there, because believe me, once you get down on your knees you need to make the most of it, I also discovered some Lady’s Bedstraw caught inside a web. It looks like a shroud. You can just see the tiny spider due south of the flower:
And now here is one of Windmill Hill’s more sinister-looking plant specimens, – the very upright prickly spires of Viper’s bugloss. Apparently the flower’s fruits resemble adders’ heads, and other names include adderwort and snake flower. As well as colonising limestone areas, you will also find it growing on chalky and industrially contaminated soils. Like other members of the Echium family, which includes borage and comfrey, it is attractive to bees.
And here’s another bee favourite – Wild Thyme:
Thyme is of course a must in the kitchen. It is also a common medicinal herb. All forms of the plant contain the volatile oil thymol, a powerful antiseptic, which is often included in cough mixtures. I use thyme (fresh or dried) steeped in hot water with honey and fresh lemon juice when I have a cold or cough.
And talking of thyme, it’s time to head for home. So I’ll leave you with one last view of the windmill and some more flowers named after testicles. Not that it’s in any way connected, but I had to lie down in the grass to take this shot – a fine way for the minuting secretary of Much Wenlock Civic Society to conduct herself. It was just as well there were none of the usual walkers and their dogs around for me to frighten:
This excursion, but naturally not the bit about the orchid’s etymology, was inspired by Jo’s Monday Walk. Please join her there for some fascinating rambles.
copyright 2105 Tish Farrell