Saturday, 26 December 2015

Late Flowers

It is possible to see the odd flower blossoming at any time of the year in Milton Country Park.  Outside of the two garden areas, there were a few plants defying the season and flowering during October and November.

Brambles in flower
South of Park - 4 October 2015

In early October, there were still a number of blackberry bushes flowering quite vigorously, alongside ripe fruit on the same bush. In the background of the image above, the bushes are just beginning to turn yellow.

Herb Robert in woodland
By Dickerson's Pit - 12 October 2015

Herb robert seems to be one of those plants which are forever flowering.  No matter when, if you search hard enough for the easily overlooked small flowers on the low growing plants, you can always find these pretty pink flowers somewhere.  Here they are in the tangled undergrowth of the woods on the east bank of Dickerson's Pit.

Single convolvulus flower amongst brambles
Deep Water - 12 November 2015

This single convolvulus flower is the last straggler in an area that was once white with its blossom.  Within a week of this photograph being taken, all the convolvulus flowers had gone from the park.

Hogweed flowers and dead stems overlooking meadow
South of Park - 8 November 2015

Probably because of the mildness of the season and lack of any frosts, this hogweed, shown here against a background of autumn colour, was flowering quite profusely.

In the Garden

Solitary rose flower
Garden - 8 November 2015

In the gardens in the park, there were a number of plants with little bits of blossom on, the left overs from a summer show.  Once such plant was this rose which is in almost perfect condition. 

Flowering winter jasmine climbing wooden fence and gateway
Garden - 8 November 2015

By contrast to the previous pictures of plants flowering at the end of their season, my final photograph is of winter jasmine which is just starting to blossom.  If anything, this is early.

Next: High Autumn

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Early Autumn

The first tentative signs of autumn in Milton Country Park first appear in late September and early October.

Oak tree with a few red leaves
Remembrance Meadow - 22 September 2015

The signs can be almost imperceptible: in this case just a few leaves on the oak tree have turned a vivid red.

Single reed by small inlet
Todd's Pit - 20 September 2015

Or, an equally subtle change, the leaves on a reed turning yellow.

Such changes can be the result of stress or disease.  But, as there have been no extreme weather during the summer of 2015, it is likely that the alterations in colour are a genuine response to the change in season.

Yellowing elder tree in woods
Path on East Side of Dickerson's Pit - 22 September 2015

In the woods to the east of Dickerson's Pit, this elder bush is turning yellow before any other trees in the vicinity.

Hawthorn bush with red foliage amongst other green bushes
South of Park - 22 September 205

Amongst any other factors that affect the rate of change to autumn colours, position has some role.  This hawthorn bush is growing in a position to catch the afternoon and evening sun, and has turned red a long time ahead of most of the other hawthorns in the park. I have already noticed during previous months, that there can be anything up to a month between the first and last appearance of some change or other in the park.  

Sycamore beside deep water
Deep Water - 4 October 2015

One of the earliest trees to complete the transition to autumn colours was this sycamore tree on the south east corner of Deep Water.

I have found it a lot easier to capture these very early and tentative signs of the change of season than I did the corresponding changes in spring.  This is partly because the transition from the bare and brown to the green and fully leaved happened very quickly: in the case of hawthorn the change completed in little more than a fortnight.  This autumn, at least, the changes have been far more gradual and spread over a period of months. Secondly, by the time a fledgling leaf on a bough is large enough to register in anything but closeup, the tree or bush is already covered in confluent vegetation and the change is complete.  Finally, as shown above, there is a wide variation in the start of and the speed of change across the park: a sycamore completely yellow when other sycamores stayed green for another couple of months.

An Autumn Morning

Footprints in dewy grass
Sundial Meadow - 11 October 2015

I finish with that most autumnal of scenes: grass covered in dew shiny in the early morning sunlight, complete with the photographer's transport and footprints.

Books and Blogs

There are a lot of nature blogs on the net, most of which are more concerned with the fauna than with the landscape.  One of my favourites is Tales of the City featuring wild life in London.  Two others, mostly photographic, are Roy's Nature Logbook and The Quiet Walker .

Next: Late Flowers

Saturday, 12 December 2015


In spring, Milton Country Park is transformed by successive waves of white blossom, which, in turn, develops into ripe fruit from late July onwards.

Cherry plums
By Path to Fen Road Exit - 23 July 2015

The first trees to blossom in the park are the cherry plums and the blackthorn in late March (see post Blossom).  Four months later, appetizing ripe plums hang on the boughs.  At the time this photograph was taken there were masses of unripe plums on the tree.  When I went back to photograph the tree just over a week later, all the plums had gone.

Ripening blackthorn berries
South East Park - 28 July 2015

At the same time as the cherry plums are getting ripe for picking, the blackthorn berries still have a way to go.  I only found this one bush by the poplars in the south east corner of the park with any berries on it.  

Ripe red apples growing on tree
By Fen Road Exit - 10 September 2015

About a month after the blackthorn, came the apple trees (see post Apple Blossom Time).  By September, a variety of apples, large and small, red and green, could be seen on the trees around the park.

Green windfall apples litter the path
North of Deep Water - 20 September 2015

In some cases, the windfalls were more conspicuous than the apples left on the trees.

Hawthorn bush with berries
By Hall's Pond - 10 September 2015

There was a magnificent display of hawthorn during May (see post May). But whether it was the weather - there was a very heavy storm just at the peak of the blossom -  or whether it is the position of the bushes in the park, the crop of berries in the park seemed disappointing.  Frustratingly, I saw plenty of bushes around Milton that were red with berries, but none in the park itself.  This bush was one of the bushes that provided an amphitheatre of white in the centre of the park by Hall's Pond shown in earlier post.

Close up of Ripe elderberries
Play Area - 23 August 2015

The last two bushes which produced a profusion of white flowers were the elder and the bramble.  Elderflowers were the slightly earlier of the two, appearing early to mid June (see post Elderflower Time).  Despite the late flowers, elderberries are some of the first fruit to ripen.  Here, in a favoured location with plenty of sun by the play area, the characteristic deep purple berries are evident by the end of August.

Bank of brambles bearing red and black berries
East Bank Todd's Pit - 20 September 2015

Less than a fortnight after the elderflowers, the brambles start their long flowering period (see post Summer Flowers), with the fruit ripening less than six weeks later.  As a result, I could have taken a picture like the one above just as easily in August.  I didn't because I waited to get an image of a bush laden with luscious fully ripe black blackberries.  After a month of trying, I realised that such an image is not possible, because almost as soon as the berries ripen they are eaten - mostly by humans.  So I settled for a bushful of most red but some black berries.

Next: Early Autumn

Saturday, 28 November 2015

The Orchard

I ignored the orchard in Milton Country Park until the middle of August.  I ignored the orchard because all my previous attempts at photographing an orchard had ended in failure.  The lines of trees full of blossom or heavy with fruit always finished up looking messy and lacking impact in my images.

Bench in front of fruit trees
Orchard - 6 September 2015

With the bench donated by Cambridge Building Society in the foreground, this image at least gives some suggestion of serried ranks of trees. 

Wild Flowers

White campion growing in corner of wooden posts and chicken wire fence
Orchard - 16 August 2015

I probably would have continued to avoid the orchard had it not been for this white campion growing in the the corner of the fence.  I am always interested in plants growing in obviously man made surroundings such as walls, pavements, and, in this case, through the mesh of the fence.

Wild flowers including marigold, scabious, and toadflax besides steps
Orchard - 17 August 2015

It was while photographing the campion that my eye was caught by the orange marigolds in the newly planted wild flower bed on the mound below the seat.  I regretted not having visited this area earlier, as clearly the flowers here are past their best.

Teasel plant with orchard in background
Orchard - 17 August 2015

The trees in the orchard provide an appropriate backdrop to this statuesque teasel.


Apple trees with unripe fruit catching morning sun
Orchard - 23 August 2015

At the end of the day, an orchard is about fruit. In this image, the unripe apples gleam in the morning sun and stand out from the surrounding foliage.  There is the promise of a good harvest.

Closeup pictures of fruit on tree including types of apple and two types of plum
Orchard - Various Dates 2015

Finally, here are some of the fruit 'picked' by the camera.

Despite repeated visits to the orchard during August and September, I failed to convincingly capture the trees laden with fruit that I saw with the naked eye.  The fruit somehow disappears into the foliage when it is photographed.  The only time the fruit is the clear star of the image is in close-up, and then you can't see the orchard for the fruit.  This is clear example of the major difference between human vision and what the camera sees.  When we look at a scene, our attention is focussed on what interests us, which looms large; what does not interest us is ignored.  The camera records everything dispassionately and objectively with equal emphasis. 

Next: Fruit

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Intimate Landscapes 2

If you allow yourself to be enchanted by the beauty to be seen in even ordinary things, 
then all things will prove to be extraordinary
Dean Koontz

I came across this quotation on the website of nature photographer Mike Backman , and it seemed so perfectly to sum up everything I am trying to achieve that I thought it worthwhile of repetition at the head of this post.

I have used intimate landscapes extensively throughout this blog. In my previous post 'Intimate Landscapes', I discussed my use of intimate landscapes to show flowers in their environment rather than as isolated portraits such as you may find in textbooks.  In this post, I want to highlight the use of this technique to document plant communities in Milton Country Park.

Purple Loosestrife and meadow sweet on banks of inlet
Dickerson's Pit -  9 August 2015

I think of looking at intimate landscapes of a locality as the equivalent of close reading of a novel: the detailed examination of the book adds to the richness of the experience of the book and exposes the nuances and subtleties that may otherwise be missed.  In the case of these landscapes, which are all taken of the ground cover, what may be taken at first sight to be a fairly homogenous green with a few flowering highlights, is exposed as a far richer tapestry of different colours and textures.  

My first image is of purple loosestrife and meadow sweet growing together in a small inlet off the western edge of Dickerson's Pit.  Besides these two more obvious flowers, two types of reeds and a few pink willow herb flowers can be seen.  Elsewhere in the park on the eastern edge of Todd's Pit there was as similarly attractive patch of purple loosestrife contrasting with yellow flowers of common fleabane.

Short white umbellifers in grass with hemlock leaves
Path to South of Remembrance Meadow - 8 June 2015

Earlier in the year, the path that runs south of Remembrance Meadow was edged with  the white flowers of hoary cress.  Closer inspection shows the different textures in this community: the frothy white flower heads, the lacework of hemlock leaves, the entire leaves of the hoary cress and the threads of the grasses.  Growing through all this are the purple spotted stalks of the hemlock.

Burdoch leaves nettles and hedge parsley intermingled
North of Park - 28 August 2015

Another smorgasbord of differing textures, leaf shapes and shades of green is provided in this image taken at the side of a path in the north of the park.  The large burdoch leaf is surrounded by nettles, convolvulus, and hedge parsley.  

Images like this make me wonder about the evolution of leaf shapes. A search on the web revealed that this is a field of active research and many theories.  Theories include the development of leaf shape to avoid being eaten (apparently finely divided leaves make for less efficient grazing), or to maximise light interception.  It seems to me that the huge leaves of the burdoch must act as a mulch and inhibit anything at all from growing beneath the plant.

Horsetails and bramble leaves
Todd's Pit - 28 August 2015

In contrast to the previous photograph, here a much simpler community provides a strong contrast between the needle-like leaves of the horsetails and the broad leaves of the bramble.

Bracket fungus, ivy , moss and herb robert on log
Hall's Pond - 3 September 2015

The rotting logs in the park have a typical flora consisting of moss, ivy and herb robert, all seen in this image taken beside the path west of Hall's Pond.  Here the plants compete with richly chestnut coloured bracket fungus.

In the Woods


Ground beneath trees completely covered by brambles
East Bank of Dickerson's Pit - 30 August 2015

In complete contrast to the rich and varied plant communities in the open ground, in the woods a single plant - bramble - is all conquering and grows over everything.  The only relief from the brambles are the tree trunks.

Books and Blogs

I have already mentioned Mike Backman's site. 

I feel, probably with good justification, that this project has horribly exposed my lack of knowledge of the flowering plants.  To improve this situation, I have purchased 'The  Wild Flower Key' by Francis Rose.  As the title suggests, it is a key to the wild flowers of the United Kingdom.  With my botanical knowledge, using the key is almost impossibly hard, but, with selective looking ahead at the excellent illustrations, I am slowly beginning to identify a few flowers.

One blog that particularly caught my eye is Caught by the River, a collaboration between writers, poets, musicians, artists, film makers and photographers, all of whom share an interest in the landscape and nature.  I think it is a great pity that there are not more of such collaborations around, instead of the sort of industrialised separation of medium in which blogs are strictly one medium affairs: writers, artists and photographers must never meet on the same URL.  To that end, I would be pleased to hear from  any artists, writers, or poets would be interested in joining me in such a collaboration. 

Next: The Orchard 


Sunday, 15 November 2015

Summer Fruit

Perhaps, more accurately, this post should be titled summer seeds.  We generally associate fruit with autumn, but a lot of plants and some trees produce fruit throughout the year.  

Willow seed on Hall's Pond
Hall's Pond - 16 June 2015

One of the very earliest fruits in Milton Country Park is willow seed which covers the surfaces of the pits with white down.  As the photograph above shows, Hall's Pond was completely covered in early June.

Lords and Ladies in undergrowth
Centre of Park - 28 July 2015

In early spring, cuckoo pint plants are conspicuous on the bare earth beneath the trees in the park.  Although most of these plants go on to flower, the spikes of bright red berries are very hard to find, partly because of the heavy growth of nettles and brambles that has grown up during the summer.   Furthermore, on most of the spikes I did find half of the berries had been eaten. 

The naming of this plant interests me as there seems no obvious connection either between cuckoos and lords and ladies or between either name and the plant.  The connection is that both terms refer to the spadix.  Cuckoo pint is derived from the resemblance of the spadix to a penis: pint is short for pintle which means penis, and cuckoo means lively.  Lords and ladies is a name first used by children based on the fact that the spadix can be either purple or white.  Be careful of this plant: Cambridgeshire folk lore had it, that to bring the plant indoors would bring TB into the house.

The almost complete specimen shown above was found on the edge of the woods between Hall's Pond and Todd's Pit.

Thistle down
Fen Road Exit - 6 August 2015

By August, many of the plants in the park are seeding profusely.  In the meadow by the path to the Fen Road exit the thistle down is at least as conspicuous as the thistle flowers it replaced.  This is a different part of the same meadow that I featured in my post Meadow Flowers .

Three poppy seed heads
Access Road - 10 August 2015

These are the seed heads of the poppies which I found growing beside the access road which runs behind the toilets and which I featured in an earlier post Summer Flowers.

Mass of ragwort bearing seedheads and flowers
Play Area - 23 August 2015

Another plant producing a profusion of seeds at this time of year is the ragwort. These plants were photographed on the bank overlooking the play area.

Hemlock plant with seed heads
Remembrance Meadow - 23 August 2015

Finally, I am finishing with a classic view of an umbellifer in seed - in this case hemlock.  

Books and Blogs


My information on the origins of plant names is taken mainly from 'On the Popular Names of British Plants' by R C A Prior, which is freely available on the internet in pdf format.

Next: Intimate Landscapes 2

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Water Weed

Roughly a third of Milton Country Park is water.  However, very little vegetation grows on the surface of the water, so water borne plants have little impact on the landscape of the park.  

Duckweed on Dickerson's Pit
Dickerson's Pit - 6 September 2015

Duckweed is one plant that does have some impact on the landscape.  It is particularly prominent on Hall's Pond where the whole surface is covered with confluent growth before being broken up by the ducks, coots and swans on that water.  When my pet labrador  was a puppy she obviously mistook the duckweed for grass, jumped down onto it and got a very wet surprise.

The photograph above was taken from the bridge at the north western corner of Dickerson's pit where the covering of duckweed has remained undisturbed. 

Water soldier on Dickerson's Pit
Dickerson's Pit - 29 June 2015

During late June and early July masses of small white flowers can be seen floating on Dickerson's Pit, particularly at its northern end.  Since none of these flowers could be reached from the shore, I cannot be certain of their identification, but as far as I can tell they are water crowfoot.  I would welcome confirmation or otherwise of this.

Amphibious bistort
Dickerson's Pit - 22 June 2015

Another water borne plant confined to the nothern end of Dickerson's Pit is amphibious bistort shown here.

Water lilies in inlet off Dickerson's Pit
Dickerson's Pit - 19 June 2015

My final image of floating plants is also from Dickerson's Pit and is of the one patch of white water lilies in the park.  As far as flowers were concerned, this was about as good as it got! Just a few flowers completely hidden by a very luxurious growth of leaves.  To all intents and purposes, they seem overcrowded despite having the whole of the pit to expand into.

Reed Bed

Flowering reed bed
Todd's Pit - 2 September 2015

I have been following the progress of this reed bed since my post Goodbye Autumn  in May with a further update in June in my post  Going Green.  Finally the reeds (Phragmites australis or common reed) are in full flower, though, even now, there are one or two seed heads left from last year.

Bulrushes among the reeds
Todd's Pit - 20 September 2015

There are a few bulrushes growing in the same reed bed.  Their strong upright habit is in stark contrast to the fluidity of the reeds around them.

Books and Blogs

As I mentioned in my previous post  Intimate Landscapes, one of the major inspirations for this project was Eliot Porter.  His book 'Initimate Landscapes', which I have read and reread any number of times, has been particularly influential.  I have also a copy of his classic 'In Wildness is the Preservation of the World'.  In this book, published in 1962, Porter's pictures of New England are paired with extracts from the work of David Thoreau written a century earlier.  Thoreau spent two years living a simple life in a log cabin in woods besides a pond.  His experiences are recounted in his book 'Walden'.  Both of Porter's books celebrate the beauty of what I would call unspectacular nature; nature that is not sublime or extreme or exotic, just interesting and beautiful for anyone who cares to look.

Another book in my collection is 'Landscapes of the Spirit' by  William Neill with photographs taken in Canada and the United States of America including Hawaii.  Subjects range from grand vistas taken in Yosemite National park to close up studies of tree bark.  I found the intermediate scale images of woods and forests particularly appealing and relevant.  Accompanying the photographs are texts by various authors including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Paul Caponigro, and Walt Whitman.  His work can also be seen on his website William Neill Photography

Next: Summer Fruit

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Late Summer Flowers

When I started this blog, one of my main concerns was that in the middle of August there would be very little new to photograph in Milton Country Park.  I had the impression that, in high summer, the only thing that was changing was the colour of the leaves on trees from a fresh vivid green to something else altogether more tired.  I was wrong, but understandably so: a superficial look as I walked through the park revealed very little that was new or fresh.  But, as so often in the course of this project, on closer inspection I found half or dozen or so flowers worthy of mention.

Clump of soapwort
North of Deep Water - 9 August 2015

One such noteworthy flower was this clump of soapwort nestling at the base of some bushes surrounding the grassland to the north of Deep Water.  Like many things, once seen it was hard to miss on subsequent visits.

At the Water's Edge

Meadow sweet on bank with willow trees behind
Hall's Pond - 30 July 2015

My next three flowers all were found growing at the water's edge.  The first is meadowsweet seen here growing on the banks of Hall's Pond.  The name meadowsweet may have nothing to do with the meadow, but is a corruption of mead sweet, referring to its use in flavouring mead.  The plant's main claim to fame is as a source of salicin which was subsequently synthesised into Aspirin in the late 19th century;  the name Aspirin is derived from the old latin name for this flower: Spiraea ulmaria.

Water mint growing among reeds
Dickerson's Pit Jetty - 6 August 2015

I have already shown a picture of water mint, but I think these growing among the reeds at the end of the jetty on Dickerson's Pit were so pretty that they deserved publication.

Common fleabane in reeds
Todd's Pit - 17 August 2015

The final flower in this trio is common fleabane which can be found growing in the damp margins of the pits in the park.  This image was taken in one of the small inlets off the north bank of Todd's Pit, where it was growing among the reeds along with greater willow herb and purple loosestrife.

Easily Overlooked


Close up of wild basil
Access Road - 28 August 2015

Far more easily overlooked than any of the flowers so far mentioned is wild basil.  This plant, growing only a few inches high, was off the beaten track on the access road that runs behind the toilets.

Yarrow flowers in grass and other non flowering plants
South Path - 4 August 2015

Low growing and never forming a large confluent mass, the clumps of yarrow scattered around the park easily escape notice. This intimate landscape illustrates the fertility of the soil in the park.  Despite rich soil lacking  the biodiversity of the poorer grassland of, for instance, chalk downland, in the space of a couple of very
crowded square metres shown here, there are at least five different species of plant.

White Dead Nettle


White dead nettle and stinging nettles
South of Park - 16 August 2015

White dead nettle seems to be one of those plants that flower all summer long if not longer.  At the time I took this photograph in the meadow at the south of the park, this was an isolated clump which attracted my attention for the way it was completed surrounded by stinging nettles.  Subsequently, white dead nettle has become a lot more noticeable in the area with a lot more of these plants, which seem to have become more conspicuous somehow, as if the stinging nettles have grown shorter. 

Blogs and Books

In a former life as a research scientist, I would have started any project such as this blog with a literature search to find out what others were doing in my chosen field.  With the carefree attitude of age I plunged straight in to writing this blog without any reference at all to other blogs.  Over the last six months, I have started to read both blogs and printed books that are of potential relevance.  So seven months and twenty posts later, I have started a list of blogs that I am reading to the home page of this site.  Blogger does not seem to offer me a good way of listing books, so I have also added a page of further reading including both blogs and books.

My first two blogs are both finished and their authors have moved on to other blogs.  Nevertheless, I think both are well worth the visit.

Fen-edge encounters is highly relevant and very local, as it documents the landscape, wildlife and occasionally people to be met rambling around Oakington.  It is almost completely text, but none the worse for that.

Boxmoor, naturally   The author is a volunteer on the Boxmoor estate and the blog documents, in text and photographs, the wildlife and landscape on the estate for a year.  This blog really does underline how much can be seen in a relatively small area for anyone prepared to look.

The first book on my list is also testimony to the amount of wildlife that can be found in a small area.  Meadowland: the private life of an English field by John Lewis-Stempel is the account of one year in a single English meadow complete with badgers, foxes, rabbits and moles.  I find it hard to believe that such variety could be found in a single field in the over-farmed fens.

Next: Water Weed