Communing With Orchids On Windmill Hill

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Yesterday morning he who presently spends his time making a scale model of a static steam engine, surprised me by abandoning house and shed to take part in the orchid count on Windmill Hill. We had the first count last year, but this year the orchids are far more numerous. The hill is in the care of the Windmill Trust, a group of local volunteers, and in the past the limestone grassland was mostly kept in check by a flock of small ponies, brought in to graze at the end of summer. Unfortunately the little ponies had to be sold, so last year at summer’s end  the Windmill Trust had the hill mowed, the hay baled and dispatched to the local riding centre and the ground harrowed. It’s certainly given the purple pyramidal orchids a boost, though later when I went up the hill to see for myself, apart from the pyramids, I could only find this single Bee Orchid and one Spotted Orchid, though I was probably a bit late for the latter; they anyway prefer the parts of the hill where the soil is less calcareous.

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With all the rain we’ve had, the grasses are knee-high and the orchids not as conspicuous as they usually are. But there are also masses of other limestone meadow flowers: wild thyme, mallow, agrimony, viper’s bugloss, knapweed, thistles, ladies bedstraw, hop trefoil, vetches, yellow rattle, cinquefoil, brambles, St. John’s Wort and hawkweeds. The place was alive with insects too – not only bees, but also blue damsel- and dragon flies and masses of Meadow Brown and Small Heath butterflies. Also a Common Blue. I didn’t see the peregrine falcon though that Graham had seen in the morning, but I went home thinking what a treasure place is Windmill Hill.

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P.S. Hot off the press come the orchid count results: 3,574 pyramidal orchids (compared to 864 last year); 129 spotted orchids; 15 bee orchids.

 

Six Word Saturday

A Matter of Focus ~ Fond Thoughts Of High Summer On Windmill Hill With Greater Knapweed And Assorted Grasses

 

It’s blowing a frigid gale in Wenlock today; Met Office warnings of 60-80 mph winds as Storm Doris comes tearing through. What a woman! Talk about flighty.

First thing this morning I had to dash outdoors in my nightie to rescue the sweet pea seedlings: they were being blown out of their pots. Not only that, the freshly open daffodils were all askew, and the garden canes whipped off the shed wall into giant Pick-Up-Sticks.  Phew and phew. Just TOO much wind.

So it’s good to think about warmer weather, of lying in the grass on Windmill Hill, and peering at things botanical with the sun on my head. So thank you, Paula, for this week’s Thursday’s Special.

Focus is the watch word, however we care to interpret it,  and it has had me happily trawling through summer days in my own version of A la recherche de temps perdu. Which also reminds me that Marcel Proust used to do his writing in bed. Today, with all the draughts, and in places where we never knew we had them before, this is a very tempting prospect. So I’m wondering if He Who Recycles Pallets Builds Walls And Binds Books would mind delivering sustenance at regular intervals to the office bed where I might huddle under the duvet with my laptop. Seems unlikely somehow.

Here’s another shot of the knapweed, this one well and truly open for business along with assorted small bugs:

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In the Distance ~ Much Wenlock’s By-Ways In Black & White

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For once I wasn’t using my Lumix Dramatic Monochrome setting when I took this photo on Wenlock’s Linden Walk back in early June. But I think the manual colour version-turned black & white has come out quite well despite the deep shadow and lots of zoom.

The next photo was taken on a winter’s day using the monochrome setting. It’s the path that runs from the field behind our house and up onto Wenlock Edge. The horizontal line of tree tops marks the top of the Edge. (I like the strange effect of false horizons). When you stand up there the land falls away from you rather hair-raisingly, dropping almost vertically through ancient hanging woodland. In winter, through the bare trees you can just make out the rooftops of Homer village way below.

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This is the footpath to Bradley Farm. It lies on the far side of the town away from the Edge. Also a change in seasons here: this was taken in full sun last August just as the wheat was ripening.

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Windmill Hill sunset. I think it’s early autumn because the little ponies that are brought in to graze the hill have not yet been moved to their winter quarters.

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I take lots of photos of the hill on Down’s Farm. It’s an interesting shape and the spinney on top gives added character. But with distant views I always like some structure in the foreground too, in this case the Windmill Hill bench. I took the next photo with same idea in mind.

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The subject here is the cricket club’s shed on the Linden Field. It stands between the lime tree avenue and a line of Wellingtonia or Giant Sequoias. From this angle I think it looks rather mysterious. A Tardis type portal of some kind. It simply pretends to be the place where Wenlock’s cricketers keep the lawn mower.

 

Cee’s Black & White Challenge: In the distance

Please visit Cee for more distant compositions.

Return to Windmill Hill: Of Grasshopper Stalking, Lady’s Bedstraw And Other Random Discoveries

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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And here’s another bee favourite – Wild Thyme:

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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:

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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