Saturday, 22 April 2017

March 2017

It is March, and the beginning of spring.  It is a good year for plum blossom,  and the trees are covered in masses of white flowers, making the park feel bright and cheerful. This is all helped by a spell of dry settled weather with more sunny days than the pessimists at the Meteorology Office would have us have.

Large bank of cherry plum blossom along one side of path
Bank of Cherry Plum Blossom - 15 March 2017
This bank of blossom bordered the path along the southern boundary of the park

I realise that in writing the second sentence 'It is a good year for plum blossom...' , I risk sounding like a gardener (which I am not) taking proprietorial pride in his crop.  Nevertheless, it is an indicator of how much more aware I am becoming of the changing seasons and the differences from one year to the next.

Large bush laden with blossom, other such bushes visible in the distance
By Dickerson's Pit - 13 March 2017
 At the north end of the park, large bushes like this one laden with blossom
could be seen, which ever way I looked.

I have spent a lot of my life outdoors in the countryside, albeit the compromised landscape of intensive arable farming: as a schoolboy, I chased butterflies and moths; later, I cycled to work; walked at the weekends and on holiday; and, most recently, took the dog for a daily walk.  But in all these activities, the changes in the countryside was a backdrop to the main activity; I was aware of the passing seasons, but took little notice of the detail.  Changes in the weather was always a more immediate concern.

Arch of white blossom over path with more blossom laden trees beyond.
Blossom Arch - 12 March 2017
So abundant is the plum blossom that it forms an arch over the path
and frames another blossom filled bush beyond.

I wrote at the start of this blog, that the challenge was to see the park, that was so familiar to me, with new eyes.  Comparing this year's tree blossom with that of last year suggests a degree success in that direction.

Close up of plum tree with branches thick with flowers
Plum Blossom - 12 March 2017
A close up shot shows just how profuse the blossom is

There seems to be virtually no folklore or legends attached to plum blossom, probably because the plum is not native to the British isles.  The cherry plum was originally introduced for its fruit and grafting stock for domestic plums.  However, the blossom of the cherry plum is used in one of Dr Edward Bach's Flower Remedies as a remedy for people who are in fear of losing control. 

In contrast, where the plum is part of the native flora, in Japan, the blossom is seen as a symbol of spring, and a sign that the worst rigours of winter are past and that better weather is on its way. In China, plum blossom is used for decoration during the spring festival.

Plum blossom is scatted among the stems of hazel bushes
Blossom Among the Hazel Bushes - 13 March 2017
It may simply be because the sun was shining,
but this blossom among the bare hazel stems appeared far more obvious than in previous years.

Originally, I planned to write just a single post about Milton Country Park in March.  But there has been such an explosion of blossom, I now have enough material for three posts.  I decided to restrict this post to the plum blossom alone because of its importance to the appearance of the park at this time of the year.  My next post will be of other blossom in the park during March, followed by a closer look at some of leaf and flower buds developing on the trees and bushes. 

Next: Flowers from Hell 

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Tree Down

On February 23rd, storm Doris swept across England.  Although the centre of the storm passed across northern England and Scotland, the winds in the south of the country were still strong enough to cause considerable damage. In Milton Country Park, a number of trees, mostly the older ivy encrusted willow trees on the eastern edge of Dickerson's Pit, were either uprooted or broken in two.

Root ball of fallen tree
The root ball of fallen trees always seem improbably small.

The park was closed on the day of the storm, and by the time it reopened the following day, all the paths had been cleared of fallen trees.  All the photographs in this post were taken on either February 24 or 26.

Willow tree with trunk snapped in two just above ground level
Willow tree snapped in two.

The root ball of a felled tree always seems impossibly small for the size of the tree above the ground.  The diameter of the roots is far less than I would expect, and there is no long tap root burying deep into the ground.  Yet the leverage exerted by the trunk and crown swaying in even a moderate wind must be quite immense, and, one could well imagine, far too much for such a small anchor.  All those thousands of little roots must effectively stitch the tree into the ground.

Trunk split as if by an axe
Close of fracture gives some idea of the forces involved.

But, even more impressive, are the forces that must be involved to break the trunk of a tree in two, splitting what appears to be quite solid wood in two as cleanly as if cleaved by an axe.  

Fallen tree seen from root end with trunk sawn off at the path
There's a certain sadness about a fallen tree.

The woodland trust are quite clear that ivy does not kill or harm its host.  However, I wonder if the presence of a heavy growth of ivy on a tree in anyway increases its chances of being blown over in a high wind.  The ivy must increase the wind resistance of the tree, which together with the weight of the ivy, must put an extra strain on the root system.  On the other hand, the thick ivy tendrils surrounding the trunk, grounded in their own independent root system, could be acting as guy ropes and actually help to stabilise the system.

Large heap of branches and ivy beside path covered in sawdust
Ivied crown heaped up beside the path

I found the sight of the remains of a once mighty tree lying on the ground quite sad.  On one side of the path was a heap of what appeared to be ivy, but the sawn ends of branches showed it was the canopy of the fallen tree.  On the other side of the path, was a line of  neatly sawn sections of its trunk, which seemed to me to be like chapters of a biography - a life parcelled out into manageable sections and lifeless.  

Four sections of the trunk in a row
The trunk of the tree sawn into neat sections.
However, in time, the wood will become an active biosystem, and provide a home and food for insect larvae and fungi; and, a surface for moss and other small plants to grow on.

Next: March 2017