Hedgerow Update 1

When I wrote my initial post on the ancient hedgerow that leads uphill out of the secret valley I intended to update it on a monthly basis (click here).  What a failed idea that has proved to be!  For March 10th  was as hot a day as any summer's and that, coupled with a very dry winter, created the worst drought for many years.  The day that I had intended to walk the hedge (and also the day that a hose pipe ban was announced) the heavens opened and we have had torrential rain ever since.  I have been soaked to the skin most days because of work - I had no intention of a second soaking whilst carrying out hedge surveying upon my return home.

A break in the clouds, however, allowed me to sprint up the lane snapping away with the camera moments before the next deluge. No time to marvel at the way nature responds to climate or to look carefully to see what species of plants might be new to my eyes.  The only wildlife I saw was a solitary snail, pale lemon in colour and rather pretty - if you can describe a snail as such - which dropped off it's grass blade perch the moment I got the camera in focus.  I'm sure I heard it giggling in the undergrowth.
Here is what I did see.
Cowslips (Primula veris) are a great favourite of mine bringing back memories of early school for ours had a play area that was carpeted with them.  Years ago no-one worried about picking great bunches of them or digging some up for the garden which we all did yet the numbers there didn't seem to diminish.  However, overpicking (or perhaps spraying roadside verges) meant that the cowslip became a scarce plant.  Happily, they are now seen sporadically along the Cotswold lanes although not on my old school playground which became a high density housing estate in the '80's. Along our hedge, cowslips appear in small numbers which, hopefully, will increase over the years.  Further up the valley a field grazed only by sheep and never sprayed is a yellow carpet at this time of year and on warm, still days, the faint smell of honey wafts around transporting me back more years than I care to admit to.

    Cowslip meadow in the secret valley


The last few primroses are still in bloom, quite late for this time of year and no doubt, like some of the daffodils, lasting longer because of the cool, damp weather.  Primula vulgaris, their botanical name, sounds like a misnomer for their is nothing vulgar about them, for every part of a primrose is pretty, whether it is the palest lemon of their petals, the deeper yellow throat or the fresh green of their leaves.  Even the ribbing and lines of their veins create attractive patternss and textures.  Vulgaris does, of course, mean common - there is nothing common about them in appearance either!

The hot March had an odd effect on plants. Some revelled in it, throwing caution to the wind and paraded their summer finery early, whereas others seemed to remember the old saying about not casting a clout 'til May is out. Proven right, when cold returned in April, they now seem reluctant to even expose a leaf and, as a result, the hedgerow is bright green  in places, yet bare and wintry looking in others.
 Field Maple

Field Maple is a classic old hedgerow plant.  Left to grow untouched it makes a medium sized tree of, to my mind, simple but great beauty.  However, it is usually trimmed to make a reasonably dense, twiggy barrier.  Like all maples the flowers and leaves emerge together but I had never noticed before the rich mahogany colour of the leaf buds. Acer campestre.

Ground Ivy

 A plant so common and so small as to be overlooked, Ground Ivy (not related to ivy but to mint)has to be viewed on hands and knees to see its quiet beauty: tiny, mauve, hooded trumpets darkening at the throat.  According to my old herbals it was used for all sorts of ailments from the uterus to inflamed eyes and everything in between.  Glechoma hederacea, in a greyish variegated form is often used in hanging baskets where it is seen trailing in ugly, thick ribbons.  Leave it where it belongs - trailing over the ground at the foot of a hedgerow.  Perhaps it should be used in the garden in this way? 

Jack-by-the-Hedge or Garlic Mustard is a common plant and quite a useful addition to early spring salads for its shredded leaves have a mild garlic taste.  In the photo above it grows along with stinging nettles and the fine leaves of Cleavers or Goose-grass.  It is the food plant of the Orange Tip Butterfly which is quite regularly seen throughout the secret valley, although scarce so far this spring due to weather conditions.  Occasionally they fly into the house and require rescuing - not always as easy as in this photo!
 Orange Tip Butterfly - only the male is coloured orange

Bluebells with White Dead-Nettle

Bluebells, Hyacinthoides non-scriptus, are another of the ancient woodland indicators (click here for more details of this term) and they flower the whole length of the hedgerow.  In the Chiltern Hills, the area where I spent most of my life, the beechwoods are renowned for their Bluebell carpets (photo below).  Here, they grow more sparsely, with the occasional white flowered sport growing amongst them. In the photo above, it is the white flowered dead-nettle they mingle with.  The dead-nettle, Lamium album, is not related to the true nettle and has no sting, just an unpleasant smell when the leaves are crushed.  In the garden it is a nuisance with a white, running root, quite thick and brittle unlike the stinging nettle's yellow, fibrous root system - a useful way to tell them apart if uncertain, apart from the sting, of course.

A bluebell wood in the Chiltern Hills in Spring

 Burdock leaves
The large leaves of Burdock, Arctium minus, are already forming rosettes.  It will be a while before they send up their spikes of lilac flowers, reminiscent of those of the thistle and even longer before the troublesome round seedheads, the burs, stick to clothing and She-dog.

The secret valley in flood

It was at this point that the heavens opened once again giving me just time to take a snap of the little winding river.  It's clear, sparkling waters have been transformed by rain to a swirling, brown muddy spate that has now burst its banks spreading out across the valley.

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  1. great pics, I particularly enjoyed the Orange Tip Butterfly. Our fields are the same, although the river has not burst it's banks there is surface water everywhere which does not drain away. The pump on the weir and long term residents say they have never seen the Brue so high.

  2. Good blog, Johnson. Interested in the Jack-by-the-Hedge as I think I have some which has just appeared. I didn't remember it from last year but that will be because it's biennial. I need to take some pictures for comparison.

    And, oh, the goosegrass!! We're inundated and I spend a lot of time pulling it out in the garden as it strangles everything. I leave it where it grows in the ditch but there's an invisible line which it isn't allowed to cross! I don't think there was as much last year and I can only put it down to the weather!


  3. In re: your photo of the overflowing river, the term "water meadow" comes to mind.

  4. Lovely post, I really enjoyed reading this. I like ground ivy, it's also known as alehoof as it was used in brewing beer by the Anglo Saxons. It sounds as though your hedgerow might have originally been part of an ancient wood before people started carving out fields and spaces for cottages and farmsteads. I find old hedges so interesting so I hope we'll be hearing more reports if the rain ever stops:)

  5. Kath & WOL - the flooding is now more extensive as the rain just doesn't know when to stop. A subject for another post I think.
    Although the meadows often flood they are not true water meadows which, I think, used to have sluices to control the water levels.

  6. Jane - Jack-by-the-hedge seems to pop up everywhere yet is often overlooked for some reason. I believe in America, where it has been introduced, it is a troublesome weed with no biological controls. I like it! Goosegrass is the bane of my life however. Sticks to everything and seems to suddenly appear tangled in the garden plants. And those seedheads get into everything!

  7. Rowan - it would be good to know the ale recipe for Ground Ivy - such a diminutive plant that you can't imagine what sort of quantity would be needed.

    I believe our old hedge is the last remnant of the Wychwood Forest which covered a huge area of the Cotswolds but has mostly been cleared for agriculture over the centuries. The wild flowers suggest this and there are some good coppice trees in the hedge bank too.

    The hedgerow posts will be (hopefully) part of a year long series charting its changes and wildlife.

    Glad you enjoyed the post and thanks to you and to the others for taking time to comment.

  8. I loved this post! All these years I've read about them, but had never seen cowslips! I've seen a few bluebells in Cornwall in early spring, but have never been there when they were truly in bloom. The bluebell carpeted woods are so beautiful in photographs.

    I'm entranced by your hedgerow, and the indicators that it is part of an ancient wood. It just gives me chills!

  9. Hi Patricia. Glad you enjoyed the post. The bluebells and cowslips are still in flower, later than has been usual in recent years because of the cool, damp month we have had.

    Today, however, the sun is shining and the temperatures have soared - summer at last, hopefully.



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