2018 in Wildflowers

As anybody who follows my twitter feed will know, wildflowers are a constant source of inspiration and fascination for me. Here are a few of my favourite finds from 2018

This tiny forget-me-not is called changing forget-me-not because of the way the petal colour changes as the flowers mature – they start off yellow/cream and brighten to blue in time
Red campion is a common wildflower in the midlands, especially in shady habitats like hedgerows and woodland edges. It can be a beautifully architectural plant
Wood sorrel is a woodland wildflower of early spring – this was taken in the Quantock Hills in a pine plantation.
Wood anemone are a characteristic indicator of ancient woodland – spreading at a rate of only a few metres per year, they are testement to the continuity of the habitat
Green winged orchids are one of the first to flower in the spring – I am lucky enough to live very close to Muston Meadows which has a stunning display each year
An ancient woodland in South Wales rewarded me with herb paris this year – the first time I’ve seen this species in perfect flower in the UK
Pasque flowers are a real rarity these days, but are emblamatic enough to be the designated County Flower of two different counties in England. This one taken at Barnack Hills and Holes NNR
A sea of English Bluebells with a mighty fallen oak branch to lend character to the sunlit scene
Oxlip is one of our rarest wildflowers – the ancient woodland of Hayley Wood near Cambridge is one of the best places to enjoy them amongst the bluebells
There can be few sights more synonymous with springtime that the white of greater stitchwort and the bright blue of the bluebell amongst the fresh green leaves
The limestone grasslands which punctuated the Peddar’s Way in May rewarded us with these salad burnet – tiny red stars set within a globular flower head
A trip to see the fly orchids in Bedford Purleius NNR has become something of an annual tradition now – they never fail to delight!
A new species for me this year and a wonderful treasure hunt to find it – violet helleborine in Bedford Purleuis NNR
Small but stunning – the arable flora on St Mary’s, Scilly away from the industrial scale agriculture of the mainland meant a host of scarce arable wildflowers persist, such as this small-flowered catchfly
Yellow bartsia – a relative of yellow rattle and eyebright – was another first for me on the Isles of Scilly
Pale toadflax established on a railway arch near the Thames
Black nightshade is a member of the same family as potato and tomato and could be found flowering right up until Christmas!
Wild snake’s head fritillaries flowering in Portholme Meadow, Huntingdon
Cowslips flowering along the cycle path which passes along the Grantham Canal in early springtime
Harebell flowering in the dry grasslands in the meadows above Grantham
Early purple orchid amongst the bluebells and greater stitchwort flowers in a woodland edge in Lincolnshire

Weeds in Harlaxton (the tyranny of the Best Kept Village inspectorate)

The most recent issue of the Harlaxton Voice, the monthly newsletter for the village of Harlaxton a couple of miles to the west of Grantham, outlined the issues raised by the ‘Best Kept Village’ inspectors in 2012. Amongst their criticisms (although they were overall very impressed with the village), was the number of weeds. Many people may agree but I would offer a different view; I would hope that the village does not take this complaint too much to heart.

Harlaxton Monument; aubretia growing along the kerb edge, dandelions and daisys in the grass along with planted daffodils. Which are the weeds?
Harlaxton Monument; aubretia growing along the kerb edge, dandelions and daisys in the grass along with planted daffodils. Which are the weeds?

I took a walk around the Harlaxton between the rain showers today for a quick survey of the unauthorised village vegetation. There are garden escapee’s; valarian growing in the walls, forget-me-nots forgetting to keep within the beds they were planted in, yellow corydalis and the beautiful and characteristic aubretia which bubbles and tumbles down the walls as you drive through. I would suspect that the committee would approve of these plants, they look sufficiently ornamental and their establishment within the village adds to its character.

Forget-me-nots (garden escapes)

Then there are the colourful flowering species which may split opinions a little further; dandelions imitating the sporadic sun in the otherwise dismal tarmac, broad-leaf willow herb, purple-flowered violets, buttercup-yellow lesser celandines, yarrow, herb-robert and purple toad-flax. These all take foothold in tiny patches of soil where you would never expect a planted seed to grow; they live against the odds where little else could. My personal favourite is the exquisite creeping toadflax which creeps out of the gaps in the walls and trails down, a native accompaniment to the bolder aubretia.

Dandelion growing in a crack in the pavement - a splash of sunshine with surprisingly few friends!
Dandelion growing in a crack in the pavement – a splash of sunshine with surprisingly few friends!
Delicate bittercress flowers growing at the base of a wall
Delicate bittercress flowers growing at the base of a wall

Finally are those which would be sprayed off by most without a second thought; spear thistle, common chickweed, groundsel, cleavers, bittercress and ivy-leaved speedwell. These do flower but generally they are so small and unappealing to the casual observer that they would be dismissed as scrubby vegetation. But look a little closer and these too are beautiful plants.

Weeds are defined as plants in the wrong place but the wrong place depends upon the viewpoint of the observer. There is no reason why our pavement edges should be sprayed clean of those opportunistic plants which have found a way to take a temporary root, add splashes of green to the tarmac and provide nectar sources for pollinators such as butterflies and bees. The inspection committee were pleased with the ‘tended beds’ – small squares of soil with specimen plants placed in the centre which I personally find rather dull. Are the daisy’s in the grass considered weeds? Some would say yes, some would say no. Weeds are a matter of aesthetics and I would hope that the village does not pander too much to the view of the itinerant inspectors who will not be visiting again for another year. I would say that the right place for our native wildflowers is wherever they can survive in our otherwise often too inert landscape but I suspect this is a minority viewpoint.

The Best Kapt Village Inspectors' ideal?

The Best Kept Village Inspectors’ ideal?