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  

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Intimate Landscapes

'Intimate Landscapes' is a term used to describe landscape photographs which depict an area of only a few square metres or less.  The horizon is often absent from such photographs.

The term was first used to describe the work of Eliot Porter. Working in the 1950s and 1960s, Porter was one of the pioneers of colour landscape and natural history photographs.   In photographing the American landscape, nothing was too trivial for Porter's eye.  The 1979 exhibition of his work (and subsequent book of the same title) 'Intimate Landscapes' includes pictures with titles such as 'Foxtail Grass', 'Columbine Leaves', 'Long Stemmed Grasses' , and 'Raspberry Leaves and Grass'.  This gives a clear indication of the nature of the work and its range both in terms of area and subject matter covered by the photographs.  For further information on Eliot Porter this review gives a good introduction to his work.

Water mint  amongst nettles and brambles on bank of Dickerson's Pit
Dickerson's Pit - 30 August 2015

It will come as no surprise to readers of this blog that Porter's work has been a major inspiration for my own studies in Milton Country Park.  I have already published quite a number of intimate landscapes so far in this blog.  In this post, I want to highlight my use of the genre to create images of  flowers in their environment such as the example above.   Here water mint can be seen flowering on the eastern bank of Dickerson's Pit amongst the nettles and brambles surrounding a muddy inlet (seen in the middle on the right of the picture).

Hedge parsley growing alongside path on western edge of Todd's Pit
Todd's Pit - 30 June 2015

My second example of hedge parsley growing alongside the path on the western side of Todd's Pit highlights another characteristic of many of my intimate landscapes: the use of a very low viewpoint.  By getting down to within a few centimetres of the ground, I can give stature and importance to fairly humble plants.  

Dickerson's Pit - 2 August 2015

My third example was taken on the bank of the inlet on the western shore of Dickerson's Pit.  This was one of only two clumps of montbretia in the park, both of which were within 20 metres of each other. My first attempt at this image was foiled when my pet labrador ate the subject! 

Bracket fungus on floating logs
Hall's Pond - 6 September 2015

The bracket fungus in this image are growing on some of the logs floating in Hall's Pond.  The photograph was taken from above and the green background between the logs is duckweed.

Hogweed on bank of Dickerson's Pit
Dickerson's Pit - 19 August 2015

For the picture above, I have returned to a spot on the eastern edge of Dickerson's Pit where I have already photographed yellow irises (After the May Flower) and purple loosestrife (Summer Flowers).  This time, I have focused on the hogweed growing nearer the path.  

Some authors have suggested that the horizon should not be visible in an intimate landscape.  However, as here, with a low viewpoint, the sky can be visible without the overall area covered by the image being very large.

Dog daisies on bank of Todd's Pit
Todd's Pit - 17 June 2015

Another feature of the intimate landscape is that it highlights the complexity of the environment at this scale.  In this picture, there are at least another five different plant species beside the dog daisy in an area no larger than six square metres.  In a future post on intimate landscapes, I will be looking at using this technique to document plant communities.

Next: Late Summer Flowers


Saturday, 10 October 2015


For most visitors, the open water of the three largest pits - Dickerson's Pit, Todd's Pit and Deep Water - is probably the main feature of Milton Country Park.  

Todd's Pit from balcony of Visitor Centre
Todd's Pit - 15 September 2015

The balcony of the Visitor Centre looks directly over Todd's Pit.

Despite its prominence, I have paid relatively little attention to water in this blog, mainly because there have been far more, and more significant, changes in the appearence on land compared to the changes in appearence of the open water and wetlands.  I want to take the opportunity in this post to look at the pits and other wetlands in the park at the end of summer.

Sandwiched between Dickerson's Pit and Todd's Pit is Hall's Pond, the fourth and much smaller area of open water.  

Hall's Pond surrounded by trees with floating logs
Hall's Pond - 15 September 2015

By the end of summer, Hall's Pond is full of water weed, including floating duckweed through which ducks, coots and swans leave winding trails of clear water.  As the photograph above shows, it also supports plenty of floating logs.  

Wetlands from south end
Wetlands - 3 September 2015

Another large area is the Wetlands at the north east corner of the park.  By September, most of this area cannot be seen from the path because of the growth of the surrounding vegetation.  At the end of winter, a substantial area of clear water was visible from the south west corner of the Wetlands, but as this photograph shows, by September, the growth of reeds and water weeds has  reduced  this to a small area.  Even this small area can only be viewed through a screen of branches and leaves of the overhanging trees.

Muddy stream in Tomkin's Mead
Tomkin's Mead - 15 September 2015

The other area of wetland in the park is Tomkin's Mead.  This has little clear water at any time.  By the time this photograph was taken, even after heavy rain, the stream through the Mead was reduced to a muddy trickle.

A Temporary Lake


Large puddle by Hall's Pond
By Hall's Pond - 17 July 2015

Overnight heavy rain had left this large puddle to reflect the trees to the east of Hall's Pond.

Intriguing Inlets

Some of the most visually interesting features of the pits are the inlets along their shores.

Dark inlet of water surrounded by lush vegetation
Todd's Pit - 30 June 2015

One of my favourites is this inlet off the north western corner of Todd's Pit.  I find the dark water with the criss cross of branches surrounded by varied and lush vegetation appealing.  In this picture it is difficult to tell what is real and what is reflection - the large dark diagonal branch is a reflection of the branch above.

There are far more small inlets off Dickerson's Pit particularly on its eastern shore.

Inlet off western shore of Dickerson's Pit
Dickerson's Pit - 13 September 2015

However, this pond like inlet is off the western edge of the pit.

Looking across Dickerson's Pit from an inlet filled with floating logs
Dickerson's Pit - 12 June 2015

Many of the inlets like this on the eastern bank offer a view past willows and reeds across the pit to the opposite shore.  

Next: Intimate Landscapes