Saturday, 26 September 2015

Meadow Flowers

To the left of the path that leads out of Milton Country Park and into Fen Road, there is a semi-circle of rough meadow.  At the time that I photographed there in mid to late July, most of the area was covered with long grass which was going to seed.

Hedge parsley and ragwort growing in seeding grasses
Meadow by Fen Road Exit - 15 July 2015

In amongst the grass were patches of hedge parsley, which looks much like stunted cow parsley, but is a separate species flowering later than its larger cousin.  

Thistles in seeding grass
Meadow by Fen Road Exit - 26 July 2015

 Thistles were also very common in the same patch.

Meadow by Fen Road Exit - 15 July 2105

The area did yield one surprise: a patch of lady's bedstraw.  I think this is the only place that this plant can be seen in the park.

All Change


Field bindweed and cinquefoil
Meadow by Fen Road Exit - 15 July 2015

It was the smaller part of this area which was not covered by the taller grasses that prompted me to write this post.  The image above shows the area full of cinquefoil and field bindweed.  It is the sort of scene that is incredibly difficult to capture in a photograph.  To the naked eye, the bindweed stands out from a mass of yellow cinquefoil flowers.  The harsh reality, as revealed by the camera, is that most of the area is green sparsely punctuated with yellow with a few pink and white highlights.

But, for me, the real interest in this area is complete change that occurred in just eleven days.

Ribbed melitot
Meadow by Fen Road Exit - 26 July 2015

The whole area has been taken over by ribbed melitot, with no sign at all of either the bindweed or cinquefoil seen previously.  There was a hint of things to come in the earlier image, in that, on close inspection, ribbed melitot leaves are visible.  

With the twenty twenty vision of hindsight, I would have paid more attention to this area earlier.  Had there already been a similar transition?  Is this an annual occurrence, or is this a one off and the ribbed melitot is now the dominant plant?  I shall watch more closely next year.

Scentless maywee
Meadow by Fen Road Exit - 26 July 2015

The one plant that was not completely overwhelmed by the new regime was scentless mayweed.  

Continuing my interest in the origin of plant names, I was interested to find out why a plant flowering in July is called mayweed.  Was it a case of confusion with another similar plant?  Apparently, the plant gets its name from the Danish 'may' meaning maiden and not from the month of flowering, and was so called because it was used to treat complaints of young ladies.

Next: Water

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Using New Eyes Part 3

"Give something a name and you think you know all about it".  This sentence has stayed in my memory long after either the subject of the lecture or the name of the lecturer who delivered it have been forgotten.  I remember it because there is more than a grain of truth in it.  But what has it got to do with photographing Milton Country Park?

A name, as the aphorism implies, carries with it a whole baggage train of associations.  These associations, both positive and negative,  profoundly influence how we look at an object, our attitude towards it, and, more fundamentally, whether we notice it at all.   Here are a couple of examples from plants found in the park.

Bank of Cow parsley
By Fen Road Exit - 19 May 2015
Anthriscus sylvestris
Commonly called cow parsley.  Cow has connotations of a dim, lumbering beast.  It is also a derogatory term for a woman.  By implication, this plant is not a fine beauty or worthy of much attention.

It is also called Queen Anne's lace.  Now it is regal and associated with the fine and delicate material.  I don't know for certain, but I would hazard a guess which name is used when this plant is in a Chelsea show garden.  I certainly looked at, and photographed, Queen Anne's lace. 

Single dog daisy flower
Wetlands - 6 June 2015
Leucathemum vulgare
The dog daisy.  Not a plant to be admired and only fit for the dogs.  A plant I can't help but apologise for liking.

As ox-eye daisy, it is far more romantic conjuring up images of dewy eye Jersey cows looking dolefully over field gates in pastoral Devon.

If it is the exotic you are looking for, look no further: L.vulgare is the moon daisy.  With a name like that, who wouldn't go out of their way to find it?  I did and I found it here in Milton Country Park!

All Anglo Saxon

I have been very careful throughout this blog to use traditional anglo-saxon names for the plants that I feature.  This is for two reasons: firstly, because I think that the use of the latin name implies a degree of accuracy of identification that I do not want to claim; and, secondly, because traditional names sound as if they have some deep romantic meaning rooted in English folklore.

I have been doing some research into the origins of the names of some of the flowers found in the park.

South of Park - 23 August 2015
Here is a surprise.  I expected the name to be associated with its irritating sting.  But it is not. Instead, the name is derived from a word meaning to sew.  It is a plant from which fibres were once made and used for sewing.

Black horehound
Orchard - 22 August 2015
Black Horehound
Again, I was  totally wrong in my assumption that the name was somehow associated with the vile smell of the leaves when they are bruised.  The reference gives two possible derivations: hoary honey or a corruption of the latin Urinaria  as the plant was used to treat strangury and dysuria.  And the black?  Because it has dark flowers.

Spikes of toadflax flowers
Orchard - 19 August 2015
Finally, and most whimsically, toadflax, so named because of the alleged similarily of the flower to a little toad.  Alternatively, because toads were said to shelter beneath the plant.  

More prosaically, the flax part of the name is derived from the shape of the leaves resembling those of flax.

Queen Anne's lace 
The derivation of this name is worthy of mention.  The story goes that Queen Anne was touring the countryside, visiting her subjects, when she saw these flowers lining the roadside.  Mistakenly, she believed that the locals had draped lace over the road verges to welcome her.  Hence the name.

As a child I knew this flower as keck (used entirely in a derogatory fashion).  This name apparently comes from an old English work 'keek' meaning to peep or to spy, and relates to fact that one can look through the hollow stems of the plant.


This shows that it is all too easy to overlook the interest and the beauty in the plants around us simply because of the names we give them.  It is also certain that I will never look at any of the plants mentioned in this post the same again, now I know something of the origins of the names I use for them. 

Next: Meadow Flowers

Saturday, 12 September 2015


Anywhere there are paths and water, there are invariably bridges to carry the paths over the water.  Milton Country Park with its ten bridges is no exception.

Bridge over spur of Dickerson's Pit surrounded by trees and vegetation
Dickerson's Pit - 12 June 2015
In the height of summer, the bridges, like this one over the inlet at the north end of Dickerson's Pit, almost disappear in the surrounding vegetation.  The bridge forms a small focal point in the rich tapestry of various shades of green and contrasting textures typical of the English countryside at this time of year.

Path leading over one bridge onto second with encroaching vegetation
North End of Dickerson's Pit - 19 August 2015
In this image, the same rich vegetation is encroaching onto the bridge itself, and making it difficult to see the water below.

Bridging Environments

Wooden bridge between Tomkin's Mead and main park amongst trees and bushes
Tomkin's Mead - 19 June 2015
In many cases a watercourse marks the boundary between two areas or environments.  In this case, the bridge spans a small stream marking the boundary between the main park and Tomkin's Mead.  Here it is shown from the Tomkin's Mead side looking towards the rest of the park.  In the summer, the visitor walking through Tomkin's Mead over this bridge and into the main park would notice little difference in the environment.  The trees and bushes are as luxuriant in both areas.  Perhaps, the most noticeable difference, is that the paths in Tomkin's Mead are a lot muddier.

Bridge over 13th Public drain looking towards path lined with tall trees
South East Corner of Dickerson's Pit - 29 June 2015
In contrast, this bridge over the thirteenth public drain links two very dissimilar environments.  This photograph was taken from Remembrance Meadow with its war memorial, mown grass, and formal arrangement of trees.  Over the bridge is very different.  The path is lined by some of the tallest trees in the park, in no particular pattern, and many of which lean at crazy angles.  Beneath the trees, fallen trees and logs lie rotting in amongst a carpet of brambles, ivy and nettles.  For dogs, the bridge marks a similar transition from the constrained on-lead environment of Remembrance Meadow to the off-lead free running regime of the park north of the drain. The trees on the banks of the drain, dark against the sunlit vegetation behind, form a curtain between the two areas.

Bridge and Divide

Bridge over Hall's Pond
Hall's Pond - 15 June 2015
As much as bridges join, they also divide.  Walk over a bridge and the water beneath is split between that which is on the left and that which is on the right.  Between upstream and downstream.  Mostly, the differences are not significant, but in Milton Country Park the two sides can have very different characters.

In the direction of view, to the right of the bridge shown here is the open water of the majority of Hall's Pond.  To the left is a small semi-circle of water at the base of an amphitheatre of trees and which is always dark.

Similarly the first two bridges shown in the post are very different on their left and right hand side.  In the first image of the bridge over Dickerson's Pit, nearer to the viewer is a small inlet barely visible in the picture, beyond the bridge is the wide open expanse of the main body of water.  In the second image, the bridges span two channels between Dickerson's Pit (on the right) and the smaller Deep Water (on the left).

Next: Using New Eyes Part 3

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Fruitful Promise

Summer in Milton Country Park is a time of little outward change. The trees and bushes which dominate the landscape of the park seem to be unaltered for months, with only the green of the leaves becoming tired and losing its spring freshness. However, on closer inspection, the fruit which will make such a spectacular contribution to the autumn display is steadily growing.

Ripening Blackberries
Path by Wetlands - 2 August 2015

A Sprint From Flower to Fruit

Prior to looking through my photographs for this post, I had not realised how much the time it takes fruit to develop from the flower varies.  Some of the latest flowering bushes are among the first to fruit.

It seems the blackberry had barely lost its petals, before fully formed fruit was visible, some of which was already turning red.  Apparently the time for a blackberry from petal to fruit averages just 45 days.  The image above backs this up, as I photographed this bush, in bloom, on the 29th June. 

Ripening Elderflowers
South of Park - 4 August 2015
Another late flowering bush with early ripening fruit is the elder.  Not quite as fast as the blackberry, but the bush pictured above was in flower in mid June. 

In the Slow Lane

In contrast, the fruit of some of the earliest flowering trees and bushes is amongst the last the ripen.

Unripe Cherry Plums
By Fen Road Exit - 26 July 2015
The cherry plum is the earliest of all the fruit blossom.  Here, three months after flowering in March, the fruit is all green.

Unripe hawthorn berries
Southern End of Park - 31 July 2015
Similarly, the hawthorn berries show no sign of ripening.  I don't know if it is just the size of fruit, but the hawthorn berries appear to be a lot sparser than the cherry plums.  Yet both bushes had masses of confluent blossom.

Bunch of three unripe apples on a bough
By Fen Road Exit - 26 July 2015
These apples at least show some signs of ripening.

It is interesting to speculate as to what evolutionary selection pressures have led to the late flower - early fruit, and the early flower - late fruit strategies.


Bunch of hazelnuts on bush
By Fen Road Exit - 23 July 2015

In literature, hazelnuts are an essential part of the English countryside. Yet, until I started this project, my only contact with these nuts was with the pre-packed variety to be found on supermarket shelves. This may have something to do with my upbringing in the treeless fens of northern Cambridgeshire. My wife called these cobnuts, which is apparently the name for a variety of cultivated hazelnuts.

NEXT:  Bridges