Saturday, 22 August 2015

Summer Flowers

The arrival of summer does not bring any great change in Milton Country Park.  The appearance of the park continues to slowly evolve as new flowers come out and the earlier blossom turns to seed or disappears completely. 

In this post, I return to two issues that have cropped up a number of times previously: short lived flowers and the unreliability of my memory. 

Cultivated red poppies growing on bare earth beside access road
Access Road - 24 June 2015

I start the post with one of those surprises that turn up from time to time: a stand of poppies.  These were growing on the access road at the southern edge of the park. 



Bench  by path surrounded by flowering brambles
North Side of Park - 29 June 2015
Brambles are one of those flowers which are fragile and short lived: one heavy shower of rain ruined most of the flowers that were out at the time, though, it did not appear they would have lasted more than a day or two anyway.  Which led me to wonder what is the advantage to the plant to produce such ephemeral flowers?  Articles on the web tell me that the bramble is either self or insect  pollinated. If it is insect pollinated, then would it not be better for the flower to be out for as long as possible so as to have the best chance of attracting a bee?

A lot of the brambles in the park are in the wooded areas, where they stifle everything but do not flower at all.  Elsewhere the biggest single concentration of these bushes is at the north end of the park where this photograph was taken.

Unreliable Memory or Different Years?


Bank of convolvulus in flower
Edge of Deep Water - 15 July 2015
My impression from previous years is that, in a couple of places in the park,  there was massed growth of convolvulus covered with large white flowers.  There was certainly large masses of bindweed, but the flowers were far sparser than I had imagined.  Is this a bad season for these flowers?  Or is it just the case that when we look at a plant in flower, we see the flowers and mentally ignore the rest of the plants?  This is the reason why so many photographs of gardens and wild flower meadows are so disappointing: we 'see' only the flowers, but the camera dutifully records all the grass, bushes and bare earth between them.  So what appeared a mass of colours turns out in the photograph as a few insignificant coloured spots in a see of green. So, maybe, the convolvulus flowers were never that plentiful in the first place and its my perception that has changed.

Purple loosestrife overlooking Dickerson's Pit
Dickerson's Pit - 21 July 2015
In a different way, my expectation was faulty with regard to purple loosestrife.  I remembered a lot of it in the park, but at first there did not seem to be much about.  However, as time has gone on, more and more has appeared, and accumulated, as unlike the bramble, the flowers remain colourful for quite a while.  This picture of purple loosestrife was taken in almost exactly the same spot as I photographed yellow irises earlier in the year (see post 1 August - After the May Flower ) - in fact you can see the iris leaves in the picture. 

Rosebay willowherb on banks of 13th Public Drain
13th Public Drain - 30 June 2015
One place where my memory is not faulty is the display of rosebay willowherb on the banks of the 13th Public Drain.  This display is exactly how I remembered it, although I thought it was a little later in the year.



Ragwort growing amonst piles of wood chippings
Path to Fen Road Exit - 15 July 2015
Ragwort is another of those flowers that prior to this project I had taken no notice of: it probably just added to a general impression of yellow and purple during July.  It is everywhere in the park.  I have chosen to use this picture of it flourishing amongst the piles of wood chippings besides the path to the Fen Road exit.  The yellow flower seems to go well with the light brown of the chippings, and I am always drawn to images of nature colonising a hostile environment.

NEXT: Fruitful Promise


Saturday, 15 August 2015

Using New Eyes Part 2

This is the second of an occasional series of posts in which I take time off documenting the park to reflect on how this project is teaching me to appreciate and enjoy Milton Country Park even more.  In the first part I showed that simply paying attention to my surroundings opened up whole new worlds to explore.  In this post, I look at how using an inappropiate idea of what makes a good landscape photograph has blinded me to the charm of the country park.

Long view of lake, blue water reflecting blue sky, with trees all around
Dickerson's Pit - 21 July 2015
Some time ago, I read a quote that said we see 'landscape through art, and art through landscape'.  I believe the quotation was accredited to Cezanne, but I have been unable to confirm this.  It is probably more accurate today to say we see landscape through photographs.  It is through the thousands of images we are bombarded with every day that we form our expectations and prejudices as to what constitutes a good landscape photograph.

Received wisdom has it, that a landscape photograph is a grand, dramatic, vista preferably of wilderness, and certainly with no signs of the twenty first century.  Lakes, high waterfalls, and towering  mountains are essential elements.

Milton Country Park clearly does not fit this template.  It is part of lowland Britain, so mountains and waterfalls are out.  It is small at just 95 acres, and the longest vista, shown above, is the 400metres or so of Dickerson's Pit.

Ornamental trees on cut lawn surrounded by other trees
Remembrance Meadow - 23 July 2015

A shorter vista down Remembrance Meadow shows that the park is clearly a man made and managed landscape. No wilderness here!

It is not surprising that Milton Country Park does not fit the stereotype I have just described.  This type of landscape photography was developed by the early American photographers in the west of their country.  It was developed in response to the vast open spaces of that country, and as reaction to the prevailing European style of landscape painting of the fertile manicured landscape.  It seems to me that the latter is far more appropriate model for portraying England's green and pleasant land.  It is certainly how I now see the country park.

Calm water reflects a clear blue sky.  Water surrounded by trees of all kinds.
Dickerson's Pit - 12 June 2015

If instead of looking for and failing to find drama, we look for peace, tranquility and fertility, then it is not hard to find a beautiful image in the park. What could be more appealing than a clear blue sky reflected in a still lake surrounded by a symphony of verdant green vegetation?

Foreground of ragworts and seeding thistles in nettles leading to background of trees with seeding hemlock at base
South End of Park - 6 August 2015

Further more, what Milton Country Park may lack in drama, it more than makes up for in the variety of scenery and plant life in quite short distances.  In this image, the ragwort and thistle down provide foreground interest.  In the background, the feathery brown of the seeding hemlock sits at the base of a row of trees of differing textures and shades of green.  Yet the distance from foreground to background is less than 200 metres.

Ragwort and thistles besides path leading into woods.
Path at South East Corner of Park - 15 July 2015

Shortening the vista still further to, what is often referred to as an 'intimate landscape', moves the focus on to the interaction between the yellows of the ragwort and the purples of the thistles.  The path running alongside these plants leads into trees and a wholly different environment.  All in the space of just a few yards.

Comparing Milton Country Park and its representation in photographs with the type of dramatic grand vistas I described above is bound to be disappointing.  Looking instead at the park as part of England's green and pleasant land, with all the connotations that has, is far more fruitful and rewarding.  

Navigating This Blog

This blog tells the story of Milton Country Park during the year.  However, the easiest way to read the blog (or any blog) is backwards, which I find somewhat unsatisfactory; I would rather read a story forwards.  To make it easier to read the blog in the more natural forward direction, I have added a link under 'The Year So Far' in the sidebar on the right.  Click on this link and you will be taken to the first post of the blog.  At the bottom of this and every other post except the latest, there is a 'NEXT' link which will take you to the next more recent post. 

NEXT: Summer Flowers

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Elderflower Time

In the last few days of spring, Milton Country Park is festooned with white flowers for the fourth and final time in the season.

Elderflowers are clearly visible in the bushes and trees lining the path
By Hall's Pond - 15 June 2015

I have a natural tendency to wait and see if anything better comes along and when it came to photographing the elderflowers, I waited.  There seemed every reason to wait as there was plenty of the flowers in the park: almost every path had its fair share of elder bushes and there were at least two thickets of the plants in the northern part of the park.  There was always a reason not to take the photograph: the flowers were not fully out; the light was wrong; it was raining...  In the end, I almost waited too long.  The image above nicely captures the prominent white flowers lining a path at the south eastern end of Hall's Pond.  But however much I like this photograph, I am aware I did not really capture the spectacle of an elder bush covered in great plates of white flowers.

Bank of flowering hemlock in front of hedge and willow tree stump at southern end  of park
Southern End of Park - 17 June 2015

The other plant contributing to the white in the park was hemlock.  This tall white flower formed an impressive border along two sides of Remembrance Meadow.  There were also very large clumps of the plant on the meadows to the south of Remembrance Meadow.  It is these latter flowers that are shown here.

Dog Roses


Bush of Dog Roses
Bush of Dog Roses - 9 June 2015

Dog roses are one of those plants which I describe as fugitive from the camera.  By this I mean that from a distance a bush will appear covered by near confluent blossom; but, move closer so the bush fills a significant portion of the frame and the flowers look sparse and insignificant.  This bush on the access road at the southern end of the park seemed at first sight quite pink, but on closer inspection shows large areas of green between the blooms.

Bush of dog roses besides path
Southern End of Park - 11 June 2015

Probably the best display of these roses was on the access road at the southern end of the park shown in the first of these two images.  I have chosen this view taken along the southernmost path in the park for a wider view as it shows the typical park situation with the roses alongside a path.

The Elephant in the Living Room

Path through woods with thick growth of nettles on either side
Woodland Path - 17 June 2015

After grass, the nettle must be by far the most common plant in the park.  Despite its well known importance to insects (40 species including the Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell butterflies),  it must be one of the least loved and least photographed of all plants.  We know it is important, but do not want a picture of it!  Even its best friends would not call it picturesque, and I certainly struggled to find a picture that was remotely interesting.  This path in the woods at the southern end of the park is lined on both sides by a large bank of nettles.  

Single stem of woundwort in centre of nettle bed
Nettle Bed - 16 June 2015

Nettles do tend to smother everything else.  But I found this single stem of woundwort in the centre of quite an extensive bed of nettles.  It is the only example of woundwort that I have seen in the park.


Saturday, 1 August 2015

After the May Flower

As the hawthorn blossom fades, and after three months of non-stop change, the park enters a quiet period. There are few new flowers coming into bloom, most of which are  fairly inconspicuous. 

Yellow irises overlooking Dickerson's Pit
Dickerson's Pit - 26 May 2015

One flower that does make its presence felt at this time is the yellow iris.  I remembered the irises as quite prominent and ubiquitous.   But to begin with, so few of these flowers appeared that I began to think they had all died out over the winter.  Eventually, they appeared in small clumps all around the edge of the water, and in something of the numbers that I expected.

The clump shown above is on the eastern edge of Dickerson's Pit.

Yellow irises amongst reeds and trees on edge of lake
Dickerson's Pit - 1 June 2015

This stand is also at the eastern edge of the same pit.  Its presence betrays a small shallow inlet from the main pit which is all but invisible amongst the vegetation.

Something Less Common

A quiet time gives the opportunity to look at some of the plants that are less common in the park.

Single flower of dog daisy in focus in surrounding out of focus vegetation
Wetlands - 6 June 2015

The dog daisy is a common sight along road side verges.  In contrast, in the park, I only saw the plant in two places.  This clump was on the bank at the south western tip of the Wetlands.

Most of what I have found in the park so far have been plants that are generally common  in the surrounding countryside. However, I have not seen the other two flowers that I am featuring in this post in the immediate area surrounding the park.  

Single plant of toadflax growing in meadow
North End of Park - 17 June 2015

The first is toadflax. This plant was growing in the meadow at the north end of Todd's Pit. There were also other clumps of this plant scattered through the park.

White orchid in grass and horsetails

The second, real surprise, is to find this orchid in growing on a piece of grassland at the north of Dickerson's Pit.  I cannot identify it, but scouring the internet suggests it could be the white form of either the early purple orchid or the early marsh orchid.  Either way it had me dashing back for my camera to photograph it before it trampled, eaten or picked.  Any help on identification would be much appreciated.

Goodbye Spring

Intimate landscape of dandelion heads besides path
Southernmost Path - 24 May 2015

I was originally going to call this post 'Goodbye Spring' and lead with this image of dandelion seeds.  This is exactly the type of image that I am aiming for generally in this blog: it is an intimate landscape which gives good prominence to the subject without sacrificing the environment.  

Unlike the previous two plants, the dandelion is far less common in Milton Country Park than it is in the wider area.  Here, in the park, are only a few isolated clumps, and prior to this I had not found any that produced a convincing image.   This was taken at the western end of the park at the southern end of the park that runs by the A14.