Escape to Cornwall

Summer is when most people wake up to what’s going on in their garden, and hence it can be a busy time for garden designers.  However, we did manage to escape for a few days to Cornwall.  With its sheltered coastal gardens, full of exotic sub-tropical plants, contrasting with the exposed and rather bleak moors, it inevitably turned into something of a busman’s holiday.

Trelissick, standing on a promontory at the head of the Fal estuary, is a 1750’s house surrounded by parkland and a 20th Century garden. The 375 acres of parkland offer truly extensive walking trails and absolutely stunning waterside views.

Trelissick House

Trelissick House

The gardens comprise mainly woodland with an extensive collection of camellias, rhododendrons, azaleas, photinia and hydrangeas.  At its heart is a relatively small area of lawn and herbaceous planting, but nonetheless full of vivid colour and interest.  A new orchard, featuring local varieties, was planted recently, and there is also a “sensory garden” near the entrance and ubiquitous shop.  However, this is perhaps a garden where size, rather than interest, is its main claim to fame. (The house isn’t open to visitors.)

Trelissick - Herbaceous Border

Trelissick: Hedychium densiflorum “Assam Orange”, Persicaria microcephala “Red Dragon”, Crocosmia masoniorum, Eupatorium purpureum

Trebah, near Falmouth, manages to achieve an entirely different feel.  The main garden runs down a valley, leading down from the house to a secluded beach on the Helford river.  The plantings are truly varied, and very extensive.  Near to the house are mainly Mediterranean plants, leading succssively past the stumpery (really a fernery) and cascade, “baboozle”, gunnera passage (where you can walk under their giant leaves), rhododendron valley, various ponds, the hydrangea valley, before arriving at the little beach at Polgwiddon Cove where they even offer complimentary loan of bucket and spade, in case you’ve forgotten yours (well, I did say it was a busman’s holiday 😉 ).

Trebah - bronze fountain

Trebah – bronze fountain

Hydrangeas beside Mallard Pond

Hydrangeas beside Mallard Pond

(If you’re interested, I’ve posted some more photos on Flickr and our Facebook page.)

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Trees and Planning Permission

Pollarded veteran oak

There's life in this this old oak yet!

As some of our readers may be aware, most local planning authorities in the UK require that planning applications address the retention of existing trees on and around the site.  There is a British Standard BS5837:2005 “Trees in Relation to Construction – Recommendations” which covers such things as surveying the existing trees and ensuring retained trees are protected from damage during construction works.

A new edition of BS5837:2012 “Trees in relation to Design, Demolition & Construction – Recommendations” comes into effect at the end of April, and supersedes the 2005 edition.  This includes some significant changes, to reflect the perceived importance of trees in climate change adaptation as well as current practices and building regulations.

Some key changes include:

  • soil assessment is considered necessary at the conceptual design stage;
  • provisions added to address new planting design;
  • it is no longer permitted to displace root protection areas by up to 20%, making tree constraints much less flexible;
  • additional limitations on hard surfacing allowed near trees.

There are other changes, too.  Taken as a whole, it seems that getting planning permission for projects where there are existing trees will become more complex right from the design stage.  As such, it’s unlikely to be welcomed by developers, given the continued depressed state of housebuilding in the UK.  (However, it is worth remembering the recommendations apply equally to projects that don’t require planning permission.)

As landscape and garden design professionals, we’re ideally placed to help with the design of sites with trees.

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Building Beehives

Last week Tim ran a weekend course at his workshop, teaching how to build beehives, and it prompted considerable discussion about the health and viability of the UK’s honey bees.

Native "black" honey bee

Our native honey bee - extinct?

The importance of bees for plant pollination is enormous and, since the devastating arrival of the varroa mite, active bee management is essential for bee survival.  There are certainly some feral bee colonies in the wild, but sadly it’s currently not known whether we still have any colonies at all of our native black honey bee Apis mellifera mellifera.

The course was teaching how to build a simple beehive know as a “top bar hive” – a low cost alternative to the standard Langstroth hive that is becoming increasingly popular with amateur bee-keepers.  In a top bar hive the bees build their comb suspended from a rail or “top bar”, without the constraints imposed by the frames of a Langstroth hive.  The main reasons for the increasing popularity of the top bar hive are that only a small part of the colony is exposed when inspecting the hive, and that honey is harvested by taking individual combs, rather the whole “super” of a Langstroth hive (containing 8-10 frames).  This makes bee-keeping in a top bar hive much less invasive, and proponents claim this approach has significant benefits for the health and prosperity of the hive.

Tim Ayers' Top Bar Hive course March 2012

Tim Ayers' bee hive course - students proudly displaying their handiwork.

It isn’t all upside, of course.  The main drawbacks of the top bar hive are lower productivity, and the honey can’t be extracted by centrifuge so it’s usually produced as a honey comb – something some people consider a special delicacy.  But for many people the primary role of bees is to pollinate plants, and the fact you can only harvest part of the honey is a fair trade-off.

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Wildlife Gardening

Gardens, like so many things these days, are subject to changing fashions.  Recently, as a garden designer, I’ve seen a groundswell of interest in gardening for wildlife – insects, small mammals, amphibians and of course birds.

The key to attracting wildlife into our gardens is the use of native plant species, rather than the exotic ones we see at our local garden centre from as far afield as China, the Himalayas, South Africa and the Americas.  Attractive though they may be, they don’t do a lot for our native fauna.

Thankfully, there are plenty of native plants to choose from.  If your garden is big enough, an oak tree can support nearly 300 species of insects (plus up to 150 species of mites).  Willow, birch, hawthorn and blackthorn are the next highest ranking, so a traditional mixed hawthorn and blackthorn hedge, with the occasional elder, alder buckthorn and hazel mixed in, is a great habitat – and the haw berries and sloes will feed the birds well beyond Christmas.  Other small trees and shrubs you could consider include crab apple, wayfaring tree and guilder rose.

Herbaceous plants are perhaps more of a challenge.  A weed is often defined as simply a plant growing where we don’t want it, and that certainly applies when designing a wildlife planting.  Some of my favourite natives for the garden include ox-eye daisies, bisort (Polygonium bisorta) – which is also useful for its foliage, angelica (very structural), foxgloves, fennel, harebells (Campanula rotundifolia) and giant bellflowers (Campanula latifolia), as well as native bluebells. The daffodil is a native, too.

Nettles and thistles are ideal for butterflies, but if you’re worried your garden will end up looking like a collection of weeds, how about a wildflower meadow?  A strip of long grass, cut only once a year to encourage flowers to seed, can provide a miniature wildlife corridor to connect separate areas of native planting.  Wildflower meadows have a reputation of being problematic, but one of the easiest techniques is to simply strip off the top 2 inches of topsoil and lay wildflower turf.  (You can see some photos of a project where we did this on our Facebook page.)

Even if you only have a tiny, paved courtyard, you could still make your own “insect hotel”!

Insect hotel seen in a garden in Germany

........you could consider an Insect Hotel

Whatever you choose to do, by including some wildlife-friendly areas in your garden you will be making your own unique contribution to our wildlife.  You could even enter The Big Wildlife Garden competition organized by the RHS and Wildlife Trusts – see  http://www.bigwildlifegarden.org.uk/wildlife-garden-competition.

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SLANT Garden Design Competition 2011

Certificate of MeritI am delighted to report that we (Alex Lehne and Svend Rumbold) were awarded a Certificate of Merit for our short listed design “Magic Bavaria” in the SLANT Open International Garden Design Competition.  (As some of you may know, Rumbold-Ayers draws on the skills and expertise of a small core team with design and related skills; Alex and I are landscape and garden design specialists.)

The competition was organised by Irish designer Hugh Ryan, who was joined in the judging by Anthony Paul and John Brookes MBE.  Such an illustrious panel of judges makes the effort that goes into preparing a competition entry all the more worthwhile.  In fact we prepared two entries, one located in Bavaria and another set in the Sussex downs (which made the long list).

I thought you might like a short insight into the design process.

  1. Site Analysis:  normally we would visit the site and take photos etc., but the competition rules left us free to choose the location and topography of our garden, so instead we assembled photos from various sources, to convey the look and feel of our imaginary site. We prepared a site analysis diagram, showing the principal influencing characteristics.

    Site Analysis - "Magic Bavaria"

    Site Analysis - "Magic Bavaria"

  2. Sketch Plan: establishing the the allocation of space across the site, routes of flow, and the size and shape of all significant features.  This is the heart of the creative process, and we applied a technique known as pattern analysis – best illustrated by the trial-and-error evolutionary sketches that ultimately led us to the plan.  We spent 5 days working together, culminating in hand drawn sketch plans for the two designs.

    Sketch Plan Development - "Sussex Downland Garden"

    From Pattern Analysis to Sketch Plan - "Sussex Downland Garden"

  3. The final stage was to refine the details and prepare the illustrative visualisations that would make up the competition posters* (four A2 or A3 sheets).  We used 2d and 3d CAD (computer aided design), with hand and computer rendering, prepared plant lists and indicative planting details, and collected photographs to help illustrate the design.
    Sketch Plan - "Magic Bavaria"

    Sketch Plan - "Magic Bavaria"

    Perspective Views - "Magic Bavaria"

    Perspective Views - "Magic Bavaria"

    Planting Mood Board - "Magic Bavaria"

    Planting Mood Board - "Magic Bavaria"

The competition attracted entries from all over the world, and we were pleased to see both our designs make the long list (final 30).  When the short list was announced, “Magic Bavaria” was one of only three UK entries listed (and two of those, including ours, were actually UK/German team entries).  The winning design was by two young Portuguese landscape architects Ricardo Alexandre Lime Gomes and Daniels dos Santos Silva.

*The competition rules called for posters to be submitted, rather than drawings we would normally prepare for a client.

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Is it too late to plant herbaceous perennials?

Last spring Judy and I were invited to visit a newly created garden in Warwickshire that had been planted up the previous autumn, and we were shocked to see many apparently hardy plants had been killed by last winter’s frosts.  Obviously, when we design a planting plan, we are careful to select plants that are suitably hardy.  So what caused these plants to succumb last winter?  (It wasn’t one of our designs, by the way.) And if we plant new herbaceous perennials now, will they suffer the same fate this winter?

It’s the formation of ice crystals, which rupture the plant’s cell walls, that causes frost damage.  Some plants are not at all hardy, whilst others are hardy to varying extents.  A plant’s ability to withstand freezing temperatures derives from its physiology and acclimatization.  Hardy plants use certain “tricks” to help withstand frost, including:

  • strengthened cell walls;
  • desiccation: they lower the water content in the cells during the winter (ice in the spaces between cells is much less of a problem for a plant);
  • natural anti-freeze: they manufacture chemicals inside their cells that inhibit freezing.

Importantly, hardy plants generally deploy these survival techniques as a reaction to shortened daylight hours and lower temperatures.  This process takes time (which is why locally grown stock is hardier than plants imported from somewhere warmer).  New growth is more susceptible as the cell walls are thinner and, by implication, growth means warmth and so less time for acclimatization.

Geranium "Jolly Bee", Aster Lutetia and Erygeron Karvinskianus

Geranium "Jolly Bee", Aster Lutetia and Erygeron Karvinskianus in 9cm pots, waiting to be planted.

Last winter was characterized by some very severe frosts – down to -15ºC here in south Wiltshire – and the frosts came in late November, which is early for such severe frost.  It was the combination of (early) timing, and severity, which was to blame for the damage.  The cold weather also lasted for a considerable time – several weeks – which allowed the frost to penetrate deep into the ground, reaching roots that would normally remain frost-free.

And what about soil water content?  Well, it is certainly true that wet soil will lose heat much more quickly than dry soil, and so will allow a frost to penetrate deeply.

OK, enough science – is it too late to plant?  No, it isn’t.  In fact, as long as the plants are sufficiently mature (not just new growth) and have been properly acclimatized, there is no scientific reason why you shouldn’t be able to plant all year round (as long as the ground isn’t frozen solid!).  As they start to go into dormancy, plants are less likely to suffer from the “shock” of transplanting, and there’s still plenty of warmth in the ground at the moment for the roots to get established.  Another great advantage is that autumn transplants are much less likely to suffer from drought.  Of course, it does all still rely on adequate soil preparation, but that’s another story.

But, and here’s the catch, how do you know if your new plant purchases are acclimatized? Perhaps they arrived on a lorry from the continent only yesterday!  (And that little locally propagated 9 cm pot may be much cheaper than a 2 litre pot, but is the plant mature enough to survive a sharp frost? )  The one thing I certainly wouldn’t do now is pot on from 9 cm to 2 litre, as the pot will be much more susceptible to frost than a plant in the ground, and it’s quite likely to put on a growing spurt that just won’t be mature enough to survive weeks of snow and ice.

fresh from Italy?

........fresh from Italy?

But if you’ve prepared the ground well, then I’d say “go for it!“.   (And as for what caused the losses in the Warwickshire garden?  Well, my money is on plants newly arrived from northern Italy.)

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Summer Planting

Ok, so I’ve been neglecting this blog for a couple of weeks…. well sometimes I have to do some real work.  I guess most people consider summer to be June, July and August, so I’ve left it a bit late to write about summer planting, but here goes…….

If you live in the south of England you might have paid a visit to the gardens at Exbury, in the New Forest.  It’s perhaps best known for its trees and shrubs, especially rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias and acers, but there is a lot more besides – last year I actually bought a season ticket.  With so much on offer, the herbaceous borders next to the house are easily overlooked, but I think they’re really quite special.  Here is just one example.

Exbury herbaceous border

Herbaceous border at Exbury

There are some glorious hot summer colours here, with tall architectural elements adding another dimension.  Its a sandy acid soil, and most of these plants will thrive best in well drained, sunny conditions.

Masses of vibrant yellow and orange lilies fill the foreground, including the bright orange Lilium “Brunello”.  The sword-like leaves and upright trumpet shaped flowers of the lilies contrast with the softer clusters of green leaves and bright yellow-green bracts of Euphorbia cornigera “Goldener Turm” – all interspersed with the tall, thin, spear-like stems of Pennesetum macrourum, whose thickened seed heads sway above the dense yellows and oranges and serve to lighten and enliven the whole effect.

Lilium Brunello

Lilium "Brunello"

Euphorbia cornigera Goldener Turm, Exbury Garden, Hampshire

Euphorbia cornigera "Goldener Turm"

Echinacea purpurea Magnus - Exbury Garden Hampshire

Echinacea purpurea "Magnus"

Helenium Moorheim Beauty - Exbury Garden Hampshire

Helenium "Moorheim Beauty"

Cephalaria gigantea

Cephalaria gigantea

In the middle distance the dark copper-red flowers of Helenium “Moerheim Beauty” combine well with the dark-centred pink daisy Echinacea purpurea “Magnus”, and a haze of round white Cephalaria gigantea lightens and enlivens the show, just as the Penesetum does.

In my view, an interesting example of how different plant structures and form combine to create something that is greater than the sum of the parts – without the Penesetum and Caphalaria, this would appear quite different – heavy and static.

PS Sorry about the random photo arrangement – WordPress has defeated me on this occasion!
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Oxford College of Garden Design 2011 Student Exhibition

A couple of overdue errands in Oxford provided the perfect excuse to visit the Oxford College of Garden Design 2011 Student Exhibition yesterday.  It was a great opportunity to catch up with people I hadn’t seen in a while, and it’s always interesting to see how a new crop of garden designers measure up ;-).

OCGD 2011 PGDip Student Exhibition

2011 Student Exhibition

Several students’ work was of an exceptional standard, relative even to the high level that has come to be expected from the OCGD (this is a postgraduate level course, in contrast with most other diploma courses).  At the risk of being a bit unfair to her fellow students, my “one to watch” for the future is Sophie Dixon.

Duncan Heather and external examiner Vincent Marley (Writtle College) compare notes.

Duncan Heather, OCGD Principal, is due to take a one year sabbatical from face-to-face teaching, to focus on the new OCGD interactive on-line diploma course.  The new course, which covers almost all the same material as the traditional classroom version (garden history and the thesis are omitted, as it’s not strictly a postgraduate course), looks like a very practical and cost-effective (but no less intensive) option for those wishing to pursue a career in garden design.  The next course starts 30th September 2011.

(Both Svend Rumbold and Alex Lehne, respectively the founding director and German affiliate of Rumbold-Ayers landscape designers, studied under Duncan Heather and graduated from the OCGD PGDip course with distinction.)
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Highs and Lows of Chickens in the Garden

Keeping a handful of chickens in the garden has increasingly become the “in thing” in recent years.  We too keep a few hens, and have just acquired two new ones following the loss of the second of our original “ex-batts” last month.  I thought you might be interested in our experiences.

I had promised Judy a chicken coop one Christmas, and fulfilled my obligations by ordering a Chicube at RHS Hampton Court Flower Show a couple of years ago. I had done a fair bit of research into coops, and the Chicube seemed well made, with a convenient and hygienic plastic liner. We ordered one in oak, complete with wire mesh run, etc..  I’m sure we said “no thank you” to the offer of hens to complete the package, but when the lady from Chicube called to arrange delivery it transpired that “….oh, yes, you’re down for chickens.”  Sly one, Judy ;-)!

So it transpired we started out with three “ex-batts” – Patience, Cordelia and Esther.  The good things about ex battery hens are:

  • they’re vaccinated against many common ailments
  • they’re extremely friendly and sociable, and full of character
  • they lay eggs almost every day!

The not so good things are:

  • they’re hybrids, developed to maximise their egg production during the first 12-18 months, and so “burn out” pretty fast
  • consequently they tend not to live more than 2-3 years, unless you’re lucky
  • because they lay so may eggs they are voracious eaters, and will quickly devour your garden if you’re not careful
  • they love digging holes, too
  • they lay eggs almost every day!

So, unless you eat an awful lot of eggs, and/or aren’t particularly bothered about what they’ll do to the garden (or you plan to keep them confined to their run), you might want to consider a traditional pure breed. But at least with ex-batts you can feel good about giving them a nice home after their time in tiny cramped cages.

Patience having her pink jersey fitted

Patience having her pink jersey fitted

Patience came to us with almost no feathers, and wore a specially knitted jersey for her first few weeks until her feathers grew back.  She was by far the most friendly and inquisitive, and loved to explore the house and lead foraging expeditions down the road.  Very sadly she only lasted a year, having started to lay soft-shelled eggs and suffered repeated episodes of being “egg-bound”: we even tried regular calcium injections, but ultimately it was clear the stress of daily egg-laying had taken too much out of her. (She also couldn’t cope with being shut in the 6ft run, and had to be left free all the time – a legacy of her early life.)

As a “going away present” on the day before he left for college, our son David proudly came home from Romsey Show with a replacement hen.

“How old is she?”
“Err oh, the lady did say… I think it was 10 weeks, or was it months….. or maybe it was 18…, or 20…, oh I dunno.”
“And what breed?”
“Err… she’s really rare, an Ix something, I think.  The lady said she’d get on well with ex-batts as she’s the same size.”

Don’t you just LOVE teenagers!  Mirabel, as we called her, is an Ixworth.  She’s white, with only a very small comb, mad as a box of frogs, and Esther and Cordelia bullied her mercilessly – so much so that for weeks she refused to go into the coop, and would peck at the patio doors at dusk, asking to be let in (whereupon she would hop straight into the cat box and settle down for the night).  In the last 9 months she’s doubled in size, and trebled in weight, but has yet to lay an egg.  And therein lies the problem with traditional breeds – they just aren’t such reliable egg layers, particularly in the absence of a cockerel.  On the other hand, they do live much longer, up to eight years or more.  Ixworths are a “dual purpose” breed, so I suppose we could eat her if she doesn’t lay any eggs – at least in theory!  There are dozens of traditional breeds, ranging from Old English Game (originally bred for fighting), to the Cream Legbar (an autosexing breed – you can tell the sex from their colour).  The Omlet site has some good information if you want to know more.  Perhaps for a smaller garden a bantam type might be more suitable.

Both Esther and Cordelia stopped laying in about February, and seemed a bit off-colour ever since. Sadly Cordelia died about a month ago, asleep in front of the Aga, despite our best efforts (de-wormed, de-loused, mite powder in the coop, pro-biotics and a precautionary course of antibiotics), whilst Esther seems to have picked up again, although she is now beginning to moult.  A I said earlier, ex-batts just don’t live that long.

Egglet Emma and Limpy Lucy

Egglet Emma and Limpy Lucy - our new hens

Our new hens, “Limpy” Lucy and “Egglet” Emma are hybrid Lohmanns from a local farm where they rear day-old chicks until they go to free range egg producers as 17-23 week old “point of lay” pullets.  Out of a flock of up to 125,000 there are always a few “odd ones” that can’t be passed to the customer: these are mostly hens with leg deformities (probably a consequence of the way the male and female chicks are sorted at birth – and no, you don’t want to know what happens to the male chicks) or otherwise just don’t look right.  And a few that elude being caught!  Lucky for them, they all get to live a free-range life, on plenty of grass, until they find a loving home.

Introducing new hens can be problematic, as a new pecking order has to be established: newcomers can be severely bullied.  Received wisdom is to put new hens into the coop at night, after the others have gone to bed.  It can also help to keep them in separate but adjacent pens, so they get used to each other.  It’s a good idea to isolate newcomers for a few weeks, in case they have any parasites or diseases, especially if they are pure breeds from smaller breeders, as these birds will not have been vaccinated.

We rearranged our electrified plastic mesh fencing to create two adjacent pens – one for Esther and Mirabel, and the other for Lucy and Emma, and adapted an old dog kennel as a coop for our new Lohmanns, and all went well for the first 24 hours – we even had two eggs, the first for months :-).  Then DISASTER!

A spine-chilling wail of despair from Judy brought me out of the office, to find her cradling an apparently lifeless Lucy, while calling Esther all the names under the sun.  Lucy had managed to strangulate herself in the mesh fencing, and Esther had been viciously pecking at her head, which was covered in blood.  Some quick work with the scissors had Lucy released from the fence, but it was a minute or so before she revived.  Two trips to the vet later, one to collect some anti-inflammatory painkillers, and a second, once Lucy had a chance to recover a bit, to get her badly mauled eye looked at, and we began to think she might survive. (If your hen suffers an eye injury, its really important to keep the eyelids from fusing together, so do get it checked out by your vet.)  She spent the rest of the day indoors, in the cat box, but by evening she seemed well enough to rejoin Emma, who had been looking very lonely and anxious and was obviously relieved to have her friend back.  And Lucy even laid an egg for us! After a night indoors, she’s now back outside pecking about and receiving daily painkillers and twice daily eye drops.  Her bruised face has gone quite black, but  Lucy gave us another egg today – what a good little girl!  Fingers crossed, she’ll be fine.

Poor Lucy has taught us one important lesson, though: if you do choose to use electrified plastic mesh fencing, make sure you use a fairly powerful energiser.  Netting takes quite a lot of power, and chickens are well insulated by their feathers, so our little battery unit just wasn’t enough to discourage her from poking her head through the mesh.

All in all, our chicken keeping has been something of a roller coaster ride, and our eggs have hardly been cheap, but it has been hugely rewarding.  If you’re thinking of getting your first hens and have a specific question, just post a comment and we’ll do our best to help.

Footnote about Vets
Although there are some poultry specialists out there, they tend to work with commercial operations and their advice is often influenced by economic considerations.  If you’re like us you will probably be willing to spend a little more money on veterinary treatment than the replacement cost of a hen (£25-50 for a pure bred, and £8-12 for a hybrid).  We’ve chosen to stick with our small animal vet, Sandra.  If she prescribes anything she only charges for the prescription, not the consultation, so our costs have generally been quite modest.  The biggest, by a long way, was £60 to check a poo sample for pathogens (which came back negative).
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Chalk Downland isn’t Just Buttercups and Daisies.

Most days I take the dog for a walk over Fovant Down, and around this time of year the grassland bursts into a mass of wild flowers.  It’s all too easy to look no further than the familiar buttercups and daisies, although you could hardly miss the sea of yellow cowslips (Primula veris) from mid April.

Primula veris

Cowslips - Primula veris

Bright blue clumps of chalk milkwort (Polygala calcarea) follow on soon after.  But a closer examination reveals plenty of other surprises.  In amongst the blue chalk milkwort are scattered clumps of white, and even occasional pink forms. In the more shady spots, next to the scattered blackthorn and hawthorn clumps, there are blue flowers of a different kind – germander speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys).

Chalk Milkwort (Polygala calcarea)

Blue, white and pink forms of Chalk Milkwort - Polygala calcarea

Amongst the ubiquitous buttercups are plenty of “dandelions” (Taraxacum) – but on closer examination these are not all the same: with over 200 species and microspecies, telling one from another is a science in its own right.  Experts are known as “taraxacologists”.  But that isn’t the end of it: not all of those familiar yellow flowers are dandelions at all: the rough hawkbit (Leontodon hispidus) is a common plant on calciferous grassland, distinguished by its hairy stem, as is the mouse ear hawkweed (Pilosella officinarum) which has leaves that are… well, more like rabbit’s ears, actually.  And then there’s the beaked hawksbeard (Crepis vesicaria).  And…. well, let’s just say that on unimproved chalk grazing many of those yellow flowers are probably not dandelions, which tend to prefer disturbed ground.

Mouse Ear Hawkweed and Birdsfoot Trefoil

Mouse Ear Hawkweed - Pilosella officinarum (left) and Birdsfoot Trefoil - Lotus corniculatus (right)

With so many buttercups and dandelions, hawksbeards and hawkbits etc., it would be easy to miss some of the other yellow flowers.  Birdsfoot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) is sometimes known as “eggs and bacon”, because of its mixed yellow and orange colours.

Kidney Vetch - Anthyllis vulneraria

Kidney Vetch - Anthyllis vulneraria)

Kidney vetch (Anthyllis vulneraria), with its protective fluffy calix, is one of the few plants that can survive on virtually bare chalk, which is probably why I found it next to the worn path. It’s also vital for the small blue butterfly Cupido minimus.

There are plenty more flowers to come as the summer progresses; these are just the ones I photographed today.  Indeed, ancient grassland on the chalk downs, lightly grazed by cattle, is probably richer in plant species than any British woodland, and it is a top priority habitat in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.

Oxeye Daisy - Leucanthemum vulgare

A swathe of Oxeye Daisies beside the Old Sharston Drove - Leucanthemum vulgare

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