Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Shepherd's purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris) on church

On one of the buttresses of Whatlington church there are a few plants of shepherd's purse.

The plants are growing in harsh conditions in the mortar and are very small. The largest, in the picture above, is only about 7cm tall.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Wayside pheasant's-eye daffodils (Narcissus poeticus)

One of my spring highlights is the appearance of these pheasant's-eye narcissus flowers beside one of the lanes through my Whatlington grid square. I remember when there was only one flower and now there are twelve, but I always worry that someone might dig the whole lot up. Judging by the white 'petals' this is Narcissus poeticus var. recurvus.

This species is a garden escape, but has been here long enough to be regarded as naturalised and certainly seems to do well in an otherwise ordinary hedge-bottom. It is one of the latest daffodils to flower and does not really get going here until early May. Another bonus is that it has a delicious scent.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Daffodil designs

It is the season for early daffodils and these are an unmissable feature of the road through Whatlington just now. Some, as one of the pictures shows, are deployed in fairly naturalistic drifts, others are in straight lines which, alongside roads, hedges, telegraph wires and other manifestations seems as though people want to geometrise the countryside.

The daffodils in these pictures look like Cyclamineus hybrids and do have a greater elegance than the heavy headed show-stoppers that appear later on. I always wonder why people do not plant more of our native species, Narcissus pseudonarcissus, the kind made famous in Wordsworth's poem. They still grow wild in places in Sussex but are nowhere near as common us they used to be. Unlike cultivated forms, they will seed themselves modestly and can eventually cover many acres in churchyard, lakeside or light woodland. Trouble is, like most good things, they cost more than popular modern hybrids and those looking for "a splash of colour" seem to think any sort of daffodil gold will do.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Floods have come to the Line valley today, with the little river bursting its banks all over the place. My wondering in the post of January 30th as to why anyone would need a rowing boat here is, maybe, resolved. If it floods badly stock may get marooned on islands and the boat is a means of getting them off. Lucky would then seem an appropriate name from the point of view of the stranded animals.

Monday, February 12, 2007

The thatched house

On the side of the valley to the north west of the river Line is this delightful thatched cottage, clearly visible from the Whatlington Road as one heads towards Woodmans Green.

There are usually ducks and chickens in the field, and sometimes horses and other livestock making it look like the farms of long ago.

To the left of the picture there is one of those small, grey Ferguson tractors that were such a feature of my childhood and teenage years and are now collectors items. It gives me an excuse to quote a bit from Sir Max Hastings speech at the CPRE's Annual General Meeting in June 2004:

"Country people, more than townsfolk, find it hard to resist a touch of nostalgia. Some of us vividly remember childhoods when corn was reaped by binders. The great canvas belt powering the threshing machine raced far into the night lit by the harvest moon. We think of grey Ferguson tractors and village railway stations, of grey partridges rooting in the stubble, of ferreting for rabbits, of the days when blissfully silent bicycles were the English countryside's principal means of locomotion.

All this was indeed lovely, and it is right to cherish the memories. Yet, to coin a phrase, there is no future in nostalgia. There is no purpose in pretending that today, we can cause the English countryside to return to the past, nor even to stand still. It has changed, is changing and will continue to change, amid the huge range of economic and social pressures which bear upon it."

Change it undoubtedly will, but it is still astonishingly beautiful and full of amazing variety at every turn as, maybe, my continuing delight in one square kilometre of East Sussex shows.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Black spleenwort (Asplenium adiantum-nigrum)

On the south side of the road bridge over the river Line I found a small plant of black spleenwort fern (Asplenium adiantum-nigrum). This is a pioneer species that often colonises bare, open rocky places though in this area it seems mainly confined to walls.

I particularly like a rather strange piece of writing on this. Talking of scree slopes, C. N. Page (1997) in The Ferns of Britain and Ireland says “In such sites where also semi-exposed but south facing, warm and sunny, some of the largest and oldest clumps of A. adiantum-nigrum can occur, each marking an island of least mobility, with bare unstable portions sliding all around it. Such microcosms of pioneering vegetation are probably mostly initiated by the fern, and thereafter only gradually accumulate a humus content largely from mosses and the fern’s own frond decay, bound only within the zone of the fibrous roots of the fern. Into these eventually also typically establish a few other wind-pruned vascular associates, typically including scattered miniature shrubs of Gorse (Ulex europaeus), wind-blasted Wood Sage (Teucrium scorodonia) and tightly-leaved shoots of low-profiled English Stonecrop (Sedum anglicum) or compact and clinging Ivy (Hedera helix).”

Friday, February 02, 2007

The topiary garden

For the first time the other day I noticed the lovingly tended topiary garden in Whatlington Road opposite the Mill House (to which, I think, it belongs).

I have driven and walked past this small feature innumerable times over the years, but never really looked at it. I wonder at the enormous amount of effort that must go into creating and maintaining it. A season or two's neglect and all would be lost. Maybe it is a kind of green active meditation, with the rhythm of cutting and shaping the bushes having a soothing effect. Maybe it is something that is kept in trim simply because it is there, like turf cut mazes or hill figures.

I like the large ash tree in the centre too, with its winter brown keys hanging still in the misty air.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Boating on the river Line

A perpetually engaging site in the field by the river Line to the north west of Whatlington Road is the small rowing boat called 'Lucky', beached on the grass.

What is she used for, I wonder. The river at this point is only two or three metres wide and someone rowing would find the oars reached the banks. Also there is nowhere much to go. Perhaps the vessel is used to access trees and bushes that need cutting back, or to rescue livestock that fall in.

Whatever the case the boat, the water, the alders, the willows and the peaceful countryside remind me of The Piper at the Gates of Dawn chapter in the Wind in the Willows: "They got the boat out, and the Rat took the sculls, paddling with caution. Out in midstream, there was a clear, narrow track that faintly reflected the sky; but wherever shadows fell on the water from bank, bush, or tree, they were as solid to all appearance as the banks themselves, and the Mole had to steer with judgment accordingly."

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Little Black Cows of Whatlington

For a few weeks this herd of little black cows has been enjoying life in the fields to the south of Riccards Lane. They are an unusual breed - maybe Dexters, the small Irish cattle supposedly developed from ancient Celtic stock. Whatever the case, they are a delight to see as they seem to emanate health and contentment, often trotting about the grass seemingly for the sheer joy of being alive.

If anyone knows for certain what breed they are, I would be glad to hear from them.

Friday, January 19, 2007

The January 2007 gale

Yesterday a great wind swept over Sussex and much of the rest of England, throwing trees, blocking roads and bringing down power lines everywhere.

There were several trees across the Whatlington Road, which was closed for a while, including the one above now tidied away into a lay-by complete with its shroud of ivy.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The path through the wood

One of my most surprising discoveries in the summer of 2006 was the public footpath through the wood next to the river Line - see link here for map (the path is just above the 'i' in 'Whatlington'). A very beautiful, tranquil place with willows and alders, and the bruise blue beautiful demoiselle damsel flies, Calopteryx virgo, flittering from bush to bush. Strangely it isn't marked as a wood on the map, though it looks ancient and shows up in aerial photos.

It led to a wide enclosed field rich in flowers - more of that in another posting