Saturday, 26 March 2016

The Garden

There are two small garden areas in Milton Country, both to the west of the Visitor Centre. 

Pink hellebore flower with red spots
Sensory Garden - 25 January 2016

The more colourful of the two gardens in early spring is the Sensory garden.  Besides beds of snowdrops and daffodils, there are a couple of large hellebore plants.  The individual flowers, like the one above, seem far more impressive when seen singly, than when hanging their heads amongst the vegetation.

Snowdrops and a fern beneath willow and hazel
Sensory Garden - 25 January 2016

There are beds of snowdrops right round the garden, mostly growing beneath trees and bushes, like those shown above.

Daffodils with polyanthus and hyacinth in raised bed.
Sensory Garden - 20 March 2016

The daffodils shown here are in the raised central bed of the garden, and, are particularly eye catching when seen through from the path which runs along the western edge of the garden.

The daffodils pictured here had been flowering for over a month by the time that I took this picture.  A spell of cooler weather ('below average for time of year' as the weather forecasters put it) had put the brakes on everything that was growing.  It was not cold enough to do any damage, but cool enough to put further development on hold.

This example of prolonged blossom should help lessen my tendency to rush about, always trying to capture any plant the moment it starts to flower.  My justification for such behaviour is to point to those that got away (or nearly so): hawthorn blossom ruined by rain after two days; apple blossom that deteriorated almost before it was out; and, elderflower nearly missed because the flowers, once out, lasted such a short time.  Examples of sustained flowering such as forget-me-knots and green alkanet, both of which flowered for weeks and weeks, did nothing to prevent the next panic - finding ripe blackberries if I remember rightly.

Folklore has it that bringing either snowdrops or daffodils into the house had dire effects on the poultry yard: both had the power to prevent eggs from hatching.  They were also associated with disasters in other ways. The hanging heads of the snowdrops were seen as a symbol of death.  Daffodils, if first seen hanging towards the observer, were also an omen of disaster.  Is it coincidence that both these early flowers are associated with bad luck and calamity? My source for these tales is:  'Discovering the Folklore of Plants' by Margaret Baker.  

Cyclamen around bole of tree
Garden - 25 January 2016

The second garden is much more interesting later in the year.  But, a couple of things did catch my eye.  The first was this clump of cyclamens growing around the base of the tree.

Row of young rhubarb
Garden - 25 January 2016

The second was this row of rhubarb growing by the fence.  This is always a tendency to concentrate on the colourful flowers and ignore the vegetables. But plants without flowers can be every bit as interesting, as in the contrast between this picture and the previous one.  The cyclamen, to me, epitomise spring: this is an image of the here and now, and a culmination of growth.  On the other hand, the rhubarb is full of promise and speaks of summer.  It is the start of things to come.

Purple polyanthus
Visitor Centre - 28 February 2016

My final image is not from either of the gardens, but from a little triangular border between the path and the walls of the Visitor Centre.  There were polyanthus in the sensory garden, but they looked drab and world weary, even at the beginning of March.  The flowers shown here were a lot more vibrant.

Next: Mists

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Snowdrop Time

January and February is snowdrop time in Milton Country Park. 

Clump of snowdrops in angle of fallen log
By Visitor Centre - 31 January 2016

Although I first photographed snowdrops in late December, most flowered at their normal time in the first two months of the year.

A lot of the snowdrops in the park are in the garden area, which is at its best at this time of the year.  For that reason, I will deal with the garden in my next post, and concentrate on the flowers in the main area of the park in this post.

Spread of snowdrops besides grassy path
Tomkins Mead - 24 February 2016

In the park itself, many of the larger clumps are beside the path leading through Tomkin's Mead. In writing this, I realise how many of the photographs I have published on this blog have been from the margins of the paths, the lakes or the woods. What makes the margin so interesting? There is the aesthetic aspect of course. A group of snowdrops flowering beside a path to lead the eye further into the picture is undoubtedly pleasing. As in this image, the path also serves to guide the viewer around the wider environment of the flowers. 

Clumps of snowdrops among leaf litter
Woods by Hall's Pond - 31 January 2016

But I think it goes beyond this, and that the biodiversity is greater at the margin. Take, for example, a common situation in the country park: a path running beside a wood. In the wood, the dense canopy tends to block the sunshine and stifle plant life beneath. On the other hand, the centre of the path is trampled down with only the toughest grasses surviving. It is in the intervening margin that plants can thrive in semi shade without being trampled down. This photograph dramatically illustrates how little can grow beneath the trees: these three clumps of snowdrops have the ground almost entirely to the themselves.

Snowdrops on top of bank
Tomkins' Mead - 16 February 2016

There may not be that much around to photograph at this time of year, but what there is has made me think, not only of biodiversity but also the difference between human vision and what the camera records. I am particularly interested in the way the brain will focus on one particular aspect of a scene at the exclusion of almost everything else. The object of interest seems to fill the whole field of vision. When presented with a 2D representation of the same scene, the brain seems to take an almost perverse pleasure in focussing on everything but the intended object of the image.

Take this picture of snowdrops growing on a small bank west of Todd's Pit. In the wild, I saw a bank with a row of snowdrops growing surrounded by grass and trees, to which, except for a cherry plum flowering in the background, I paid no attention whatsoever. In a way, they did not exist, they went unseen. In the picture, the nettles, the broken branches, the twigs growing up, and even the dead leaves left hanging on the dead stalks of last year's growth all demand my attention. No longer are these 'features' to be ignored and looked past, they have become very insistently part of the story of the picture. Since this story, of snowdrops growing amongst trees and the detritus of last summer's growth, is the story I want to tell, I have published the picture. To clean the picture up, I would have been left with just another pretty picture of snowdrops, that would say nothing about snowdrops growing in Milton Country Park. But I am left wondering, why the intellect focusses so selectively in the wild, and so non-selectively on a picture.

Cherry Plum

Cherry plum blossom just visible against bare trees
South West of Park - 19 January 2016

This same selective / non-selective viewing also affects my next subject. When I first tried to photograph cherry plum blossom last March, I described the flowers as playing hide and seek with the camera. This year the blossom is at least a month earlier, but is still every bit as elusive. This tree appeared, at the time of taking,  to be a mass of white. Somehow, the act of photographing the tree shrivelled the flowers! No longer is there a myriad of blossom, but more a smattering of small white flowers.

Park with cherry plums on either side and arching over
South West of Park - 7 February 2016

To fully do justice to such a bush in a photograph, you need a bush or bushes big enough to photographed at a such a distance that the space between the flowers is no longer visible. Just such a situation is here on the path through Tomkin's Mead. It is an archetypal country park scene with the path running between flowering trees that meet overhead to form a tunnel.


Small clump of daffodils at base of silver birch
By Car Park - 31 January 2016

The other spring flower much in evidence in the park is the daffodil.  These are scattered around the park, mostly in small clumps, like these growing among the birch trees by the car park.

Clumps of daffodils besides access road
Access Road - 24 February 2016

Finally, in this last image, we have flowers - daffodils - growing beside a path.   These daffodils, with their new growth and bright flowers, are in stark contrast to the cold bareness of the surrounding landscape. 

Next: The Garden


Saturday, 12 March 2016

Midwinter Spring

As a warm autumn gave way to winter, with the mild wet and windy weather continuing through December and January, it became obvious that winter would be either late or not happen at all. By the end of January, there had been only three frosty nights. As a result, many plants in Milton Country Park continued growing, with some flowering precociously early.

Periwinkle flowering with trees behind
Play Area - 13 January 2016

This periwinkle for instance has continued to grow and flower unchecked since the previous summer.

Clump of snowdrops in flower
Garden - 3 January 2016

Some of the snowdrops in the garden were well advanced and flowering by early January.  This clump must have been in a well favoured positioned, as elsewhere in the park,  there were very few of these flowers in evidence.

Hazel bush laden with catkins
Car Park - 8 January 2016

Amongst the plants flowering earlier than usual, the hazel was the most numerous and prominant.  One of the best displays of catkins was on this bush in one corner of the car park.  It is symptomatic of the season that, even by midwinter, the bush had not lost all its leaves.

Hazel with catkins in hedge
Southernmost Path - 13 January 2016

More generally, the catkins proved far more elusive to photograph.  The small yellow tassels on bare branches, which seemed so obvious to the naked eye, seemed to shrink to nothing and disappear in a photograph.  Here, the catkins, spotlighted by the sun and taken against a blue sky, are some way to having the impact they had when I saw them.

Cherry plum bush with buds and flowers
Shirley Close Exit - 3 January 2016

The snowdrop and the hazel were early but not that early.  This cherry plum by the gate to Shirley Close was blooming at the beginning of January.  I started photographing the park for this blog at the end of February 2015, and there was certainly no blossom out at that time.  This makes these flowers two to three months early.

Green Shoots


Cuckoo pint leaves breaking through fallen leaves
Woods North of Park - 9 December 2015

Besides the flowers, a lot of plants were starting to grow.  In the woods, the cuckoo pint was beginning to come up.  These short, compact,  green plants are particularly conspicuous in the woods during the winter months. 

Large patch of comfrey at base of trees
Woods South of Park - 12 January 2016

One plant that was making the best of the conditions was comfrey, with large patches like this in the woods and besides the path at the south of the park. 

Next: Snowdrop Time