Sadly our backyard is shared with twenty cars. For many decades it was a builders yard and then when the block was built it was levelled and covered in tarmac but – never maintained – it now sustains a small community of absolute diehard plants who make a scant living on the thin accumulated dirt. They change from time to time, and even move around – one patch of slime mould has retreated down the concrete steps and taken up residence next to a clump of Herb Robert which can live on fresh air it seems. You might curl your lip at a blob of gelatinous olive green goo; but I’ve seen reports that it’s capable of being extremely purposeful and has some efficiency at negotiating mazes.
I did once make a list of species and it was in the high twenties; but it seems to change every year. This year we’ve got a splendid collection of Great Lettuce along with its cousin Wall Lettuce. They won’t win any beauty prizes but they’re brilliant for practicing your botanical skills because getting a proper ID demands a good deal of close attention to detail.
The smaller cousin, Wall Lettuce, is doing exactly what it says on the tin and is growing in a narrow crack between the ground and the wall.
However, none of this is going to stimulate much more than a forensic interest in an urban specialist. The fact is – even to my friendly eye – they look a lot like weeds. The only wonder is in the fact that these ugly sisters are related to the lettuces we grow on the allotment. In fact the Latin name of the Great Lettuce –Lactuca Virosa – suggests some kind of toxic properties – maybe they’re soporific? who knows. That’s an experiment I’ll leave to someone else.
Anyway, the real excitement this week came from a visit to Dyrham Park’s White Field – in the photograph at the top. Untouched by modern agrichemicals or ploughing it’s the kind of wildflower meadow that once existed almost everywhere. It was our first visit for three years after Covid rampaged across the country. The field is cut for hay at the end of the month – I bet it smells heavenly – and if I use the word awesome I mean it precisely in a way that trespasses into the territory of the spiritual. Our main target was the Bee Orchid, but sadly we didn’t find any. However within fifty yards of walking into the field we found Early Purple and Pyramidal Orchids – they were everywhere. I’ll put some photos below this – I’ve been avoiding using Latin names because Madame reproached me for rehearsing them as we walked through the dense flowers. I love the English plant names for their poetry and history but I’m afraid Latin is the way to go if you’re trying to ID something. I’ve got a book on English plant names by Geoffrey Grigson and when you look at the number of plants that share the same English name you soon realize that wildflower lovers from two adjoining counties might use the same name for totally different plants.
So among the plants we soon noticed was one known in English as Jack go to bed at noon, or Goatbeard. Huge downy heads resembling Dandelions but filmier and even more lovely. Down in the hands and knees zone were Yellow Rattle and Common Broomrape; Purple and White Clovers, Birdsfoot and all the usual suspects. Towering above were drifts of Smooth Hawksbeard and Oxeye Daisies with the seedheads of Ribwort Plantain, Sheep’s Sorrel and Cocksfoot grass. It was a joy to see them bending in waves against the strong wind which was limiting the activities of butterflies. You can often find Marbled Whites there. It’s a shame that despite the nearby car park being almost full, we were completely alone except for a solitary dog walker. It seems that most nature lovers prefer their wildlife mindfulness moments on the telly. Anyway; the photographs convey – to me at least – far more than any words could do.