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