Well, the big news for today is that it isn’t raining – yet. Today, Jackie wanted to clean and dust. The Dog likes nothing better than to get into a argument with the vacuum cleaner. Dog and vacuum and furniture makes cleaning complex, so The Dog and I went out for a walk while all that was going on. It was a dull, grey day but that nasty cold wind had taken the day off and temperature-wise is was quite pleasant.
On the way back, as we passed the big pine trees that grow up the back of our hill an agitated guttural bird call drew our attention upwards. Whoever it was, was quite high in the ivy covered tree and it took a while to pinpoint the source of the noise, I certainly wouldn’t call it bird song. With a quick point and click we snapped a few photos. Not sure if we had actually been pointing the camera in the right direction, but not wanting to prolong whoever’s agitation we carried on home.
And here’s the picture, a starling. Quite a surprise, we hardly ever see starlings around here. According to the RSPB, they have been having a tough time lately and have needed to go on the Red List of birds needing a little extra TLC.
Starlings are good mimics, and people who are interested in how humans first learnt to speak have been studying what the birds mimic and why, to see if they can pick up a few hints.
Rain, rain, rain. It started late last night and it is still going strong. The Dog and I set out this morning, neither of us over enthusiastic about the prospect of a walk in the rain. But you can’t let a little bit of rain stop you. Can you? We went down the road to look at the beck. It was far too busy to stop and chat. I think it had been ‘Crowd Sourcing‘ and it was full to the brim with enthusiastic supporters, all in a hurry to just get on with it. There were a few cows on the other side of the beck and we said “Good Moo-ning” but they didn’t think it was a good enough day to rate a reply. The blackbird, who lives along the lane was in a grumpy mood and just shouted at us, so we thought, least said soonest mended, and trotted on.
On the way back we stopped to chat to a buttercup. It was feeling pretty miserable too, so we did our best to cheer it up, it just muttered “I don’t want to know, unless the sun’s out.” It probably won’t be pleased to have its picture taken, standing there dripping, in the pouring rain but we did take a quick snap. We had thought of mentioning that buttercups in the garden bring wealth and our garden was just up the road.
Perhaps today isn’t the day for it. Next time the sun comes out and things are looking a little brighter, maybe.
Grass is funny stuff. It quite deliberately makes itself available to be eaten. You see, if the world was left alone, it would quite happily wrap itself up in forest. Now grass is a sun worshipper and it doesn’t like forest, how can you live in there, it is so dark! Give it a nice clearing any day. As it happens, grazers and other grass munchers tend to be large, so they like clearings too. Not only that but, as these large browsers munch their way round, they trample any tree seedlings, that are trying to encroach the grassy space, into the ground.
So like good marketeers, the grass came up with the idea of offering a free lunch to anyone who is prepared to do a little trampling. They even adapted themselves to growing at the base of their leaves, instead of the tip like other plants. That way it doesn’t matter if the top gets bitten off.
We can’t be sure until the flowers form, but we think this is Meadow Foxtail. Our reasoning here is straightforward, the flowers of Meadow Foxtail appear in May – they are usually the first of our grasses to make the effort.
They like damp moist places best of all – no problem there, then.
Remember, you saw Chestnut flowers here first! I know they aren’t open yet but we need to stay ahead of the game. Is it going to be a white chestnut flower or a red chestnut flower? An important question.
Dr Edward Bach (1886 – 1936) devised a system of flower essences that could be used by anyone, without any special medical training, to modify their emotional state. Among the thirty six flowers that he recommends, are both red and white chestnut.
White chestnut to quieten an over busy brain for those who, for instance, can’t sleep for thinking about things.
Red chestnut was for those who take their responsibilities for others to extremes – he always phones at eight o’clock, and it’s nearly five past now, I hope nothing serious has happened – for example.
Mrs Grieve (1858 – 1941) mentions that the nuts are not suitable for human food and this may be the reason for its name i.e. Sweet Chestnut – an edible, similar but unrelated nut and Horse, as in only fit for animals, Chestnut. She says that the bark has some medicinal properties. She also relates that during the First World War, Horse Chestnuts were soaked and boiled then ground into meal. This was mixed with animal feed and fed to a cow, a sheep and a pig. The cow and the sheep ate it and showed a satisfactory weight gain and good health but the pig refused to eat any of the food with the nut meal mixed in.
Still, by doing this every pound of nut meal fed to animals saved an equal amount of barley or oats, which could be used as food for people.
As they say, necessity is the mother of invention.
If you’re American, look away now, or at the very least put your fingers in your ears while you read this. Garlic Mustard is a very useful plant, in fact that’s why it was taken from this side to that side in the first place. It’s not our fault that your flora and fauna can’t stand up for itself, now is it? Just stop whining about it and get the damn stuff eaten.
We need a little entrepreneurial spirit here and the problem could be as good as solved. Let me give you a hint, I know that your wildlife isn’t particularly partial to the stuff but people have been eating it with relish for centuries.
Just think of all those Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato bagels. Yes, I know it’s probably turkey bacon and the way you pronounce tomato makes it virtually unintelligible but a few Garlic Mustard leaves in each Big M?? would soon thin the vegetation.
It just needs a little imagination, pretend it’s a new version of the phone made by that other fruit and vegetable purveyor. A viral YouTube video or two and a couple of Super Bowl ads should move things along nicely – and work out a good deal cheaper than all that weed-killer.
Oh, and by the way, if you stuff the seeds up your nose it makes you sneeze. That’s useful to know isn’t it?
Earlier in the year we spent quite some time admiring the Lesser Celandine. Very pretty they were too, particularly as then, there were virtually no other flowers around. Of course the Snowdrops and Daffodils turned up around that time, but they’ve mostly gone now and it’s hard to find a Lesser Celandine flower anywhere either.
Suddenly, we have the Lesser Celandine’s larger namesake, the Greater Celandine in the verge (thanks to Wild About Britain for help identifying it). They aren’t actually related at all, and that might be why the Greater didn’t turn up until that little upstart was out of the way. He of course, is a fully paid up member of the poppy family, not a mere buttercup like that Lesser fellow.
The plant is fairly toxic – so it’s best not to eat it. It is though, used in herbal medicine and here, it is best to stick to the recommended dose. It will kill or cure a large number of ailments and is either very good or very bad for your liver.
Someone studying Saxon herbal cures, noted that it was necessary for Greater Celandine to be heated very gently, being careful not to let it burn, in a brass pot. They also remarked that there was a specific incantation, or spell, to be said while heating it. This, they thought, was a way of timing the preparation, not a bad idea when you can’t just check your watch.
Laidees and Gentle Men. Today for your edification we have the Cuckooflower, but don’t be deceived it isn’t as simple as it seems. OK. Enough. It does seem to be a silly name but ‘Once upon a time’ – probably in the ‘Middle Ages’ – someone, somewhere thought that the plant flowered just when you heard the first Cuckoo.
Times change, the tide turns and Global Warming makes this part of the world too cold and damp for birds as finicky as the cuckoo. They seldom bother with Britain these days. They are doubtless too busy refurbishing the stone farmhouse they bought on the ‘cheep’, ripe for renovation, in the south of France. Still, those of us who aren’t blackbirds, remember them fondly.
To avoid the poor flower becoming the butt of bullying, we ought, perhaps, refer to it by one of its other names, how about Lady’s Smock. As far as Google knows there is no connection between lady’s smocks and the first call of the cuckoo. Perhaps, in those first warm days of spring, it was the practice of the time to give your clothing a good wash and spread the washed garments out over the hedges to dry in the sun.
It is supposed to be edible, in fact one of its names is Bittercress, and naturally, it is full of vitamin C. It is also the favourite flower of the fairies and it is bad luck to pick it during May, so tasting will have to wait until next month.
You can’t be too careful.