Hurrah for Hellebores

The weather has been so dreadful , we have been lucky compared to lots of people just some fence damage and a very wet garden ( under water in parts)

To brighten up this miserable weather the hellebores are flowering and they are beautiful.

There are two native hellebores in the U.K. they are stinking hellebore and green hellebore.

There are lots of wonderful varieties for the garden , we have some lovely ones in ours . I’m looking out for a yellow one to add to the ones we have.

Other signs of spring poking out of the bad weather are increasing. In the garden there are bulbs flowering, buds bursting and leaves unfolding.

Snowdrops grow wild in the U.K. and naturalise and spread . These are the first I have successfully grown in the garden .

Magnolia buds, furry and swelling. This is a magnolia Stellata, which has small white flowers .

There is a sweet scent of primulas promising spring’s arrival.

Colour and fresh greens are cheering us up.

This is an exciting time of year as plants and insects start to grow and increase in numbers. A huge bumble bee was exploring the flowers yesterday . Frogs and toads are spawning . Change is afoot !

Issue 2 of Explorations moving forward

Issue 2 of Explorations magazine has been out for a few weeks and people are really enjoying the range of articles, photos and information. A huge thank you to everyone who contributed to the issue.

This Issue is full of new features and some amazing articles from all over Britain and even Iceland.

I am trying to bring the magazine to school libraries and develop a love of the natural world with young people. A school Subscription is three issues plus newsletters three times a year. Information can be found in the schools and groups tab. Email- I am looking for schools to become ‘explorer schools ‘ and deliver natural history focussed projects at them.

Please think about becoming part of the naturetableexplorer (NTX) project . If you would like to send ideas or photos, notes or an article for issue 3 email in . If you would like to subscribe to the magazine Explorations use PayPal with the same email .

I am also looking for outlets for the magazines , if you have any ideas let me know !

I have set up a Facebook group page called nature table explorers and would like people to share their photos on this page and build a virtual nature table of discoveries.

Explore more !

Roman Moss

A visit to Shropshire and to Wroxeter Roman City was a good bit of exploring. The sky was an unbelievable blue.

Wroxeter Roman City – Viriconium Cornoviorum was once the fourth largest town in Roman Britain.It was founded in the mid first century and was inhabited until being abandoned in the seventh century.

The hill in the distance in the photograph is the Wrekin. This hill is very interesting geologically. It is where some of the oldest rocks in the country are found , 677 million years old !

The Wrekin is very cone like in shape but is not a volcano , it is however made up from Layers of lava erupted from volcanoes.

Geologists describe Shropshire at this time as a lot like Japan , a volcanic island sitting in an ocean on the edge of a larger continent.

The Wrekin is 400m high and was a hill fort in the first century of the Celtic Cornovil tribe.

Ercall hill is a smaller hill next to the Wrekin and is famous geologically. In the quarry it is possible to see a change from bright pink rock to a pale grey. This marks the change from the pre Cambrian where there is very little Life and the Cambrian period where life suddenly exploded. As you drive up the M54 it is all in front or to the side of you !

Back to Wroxeter- the walls that can be seen today of the Roman ruins are home to Mosses and lichens. The tops of the walls form moss gardens.

Most of these mosses are pincushion species growing in a tight cushion shape.

The moss in the photo is probably wall screw moss (Tortula muralis) .Moss and lichen cover the walls especially on the tops but also in-between the tiles and stones in this ancient city.

These miniature gardens of moss are beautiful and interesting . Mosses provide good habitats for invertebrates due to their structure and their ability to hold water . They also provide insulation against rapid changes in temperatures and humidity. There is definitely more to moss than meets the eye.

Venus flytrap update

My Venus flytrap has been shooting up flower stalks and promising flowers for weeks. They have tight buds that seem to take ages to open.

They are opening !

I really enjoy growing some unusual plants in the house and watching them each day . Carnivorous plants are brilliant.

This plant has now started to grow some new leaves and hopefully flytraps.

I had an interesting plant given to me by the inner wheel after a talk. It is a brilliant colour and texture and is now developing some flowers too.

There are three small plants in this planter and they are really interesting.

I’m excited and planning more unusual plants to enjoy as we are installing a greenhouse and I’m hoping to grow some really fascinating plants .

Harry Potter Discovery

On New Years Day we had a walk at Blenheim Palace at Woodstock. The Parkland surrounding the amazing palace was designed by Capability BrownThere are some amazing views and trees as well as bridges and columns.

It was the trees that stood out on this dull day especially the base of the trunks. The roots and the moss were really interesting.

Along a ridge above a huge lake tall Beech trees tower over you. Their root systems are impressive.

Closer to the lake there is an area of Lebanon Cedar trees one of them is very distinctive and is known as the Harry Potter tree.

This tree appeared in the 2007 film the order of the Phoenix . It is in a scene where Professor Snape has a flashback about being bullied.

The tree was planted in the 1760s when capability Brown was creating the landscape. The large hole in the tree would have caused the tree to collapse. To save the tree a plan using straps and supports costing £5000 has saved the tree. It took tree surgeons two days to complete the work.

The tree is 55ft tall and 20 ft in diameter and attracts Harry Potter fans in huge numbers.

An unexpected movie star on a winter walk !

Magical Mistletoe

It is the last day of 2019 and a dull cloudy walk was brightened by some huge mistletoe plants in apple trees at Baddesley Clinton near Leamington Spa.

There is one species of mistletoe in the U.K. it is Viscum albums. There are approximately 900 Species worldwide.It is a plant that is found across the U.K. but the main population is centred in the SW Midlands. In recent years the range of mistletoe has expanded into more eastern areas. One explanation of this is the higher numbers of continental blackcaps from Germany that have started to overwinter in Britain and spread the seeds.

Birds such as blackcaps and mistle thrushes love eating mistletoe berries. The berries are sticky and the birds wipe their beaks on a tree branch and the new plants of mistletoe can grow.

Mistletoe is a semi parasite, it has sucker like roots that attach it to the tree where it can tap into water and nutrients from the host tree. It does photosynthesise and produces it’s own food.

It is found in trees such as Apple, lime , sycamore ,ash ,poplar ,hawthorn but very rarely in oak.

Mistletoe is a dioecious plant which means that a plant is either male or female. Female plants have the creamy white berries that the birds love.

The mistletoe marble moth is a priority species for conservation and needs mistletoe to complete its lifecycle.It has declined in the six counties it is found in and this is thought to be because of the commercial collection of mistletoe in these areas.

A walk at Wrest Park a couple of days ago was full of trees covered in Mistletoe.

Mistletoe is at the centre of folklore and myths it is wrapped up with fertility, love, protection and Christmas .

It is a strange plant , it grows between the sky and the soil it is neither a tree or a shrub , it is a semi parasite . There are many tales to explore about this mysterious magical evergreen in the trees.

Happy exploring in 2020 !

Winter Illuminations

It has been a bright, blue sky day today. At 2pm we set off with the dog for a walk across local fields and through some woods. The sun was low making driving painful at times. This low winter sun transformed the trees and landscapes making marvellous shadows and colours against the bare branches and skeletons of last summers flowers.

Shadows and light drew attention to the structures in the woods and the shape of skylines and fields.

This walk follows the edge of a very large undulating field that has large stones scattered all through it . At the top of the hill a woodland follows the ridge. In the spring this wood is full of bluebells, today the floor was carpeted in oak leaves and muntjac deer were trotting through.

There is a large pond in the centre of the wood that was very full and illuminated with winter light making it mystical .

The light adds interest to even collapsed sedges creating a picture .

Moss glowed emerald green against the browns and greys of the wood especially when caught in the sun.

Teasles looked colourful as we walked back through the field as the sun dropped lower and the sky became a beautiful colour.

A lovely walk on an amazing Winter day .

2019 in Photos

As Christmas draws to a close and we start to focus on the start of 2020 I thought it would be fun to post one photo from exploring in 2019 one for each month. A calendar of discovery !

January – chilly skies at Pitsford reservoir

February – waders at Holkham beach

March– Daffodils in the Forest of DeanApril– coming in to land at Harlestone Firs.

MayExploring bluebells at Everton Stubbs

June Insects galore , thistle tables

July Beautiful Devon Coast

August wonderful West Runton in Norfolk

September Cambridge Botanic gardens

October Fungi at Batsford

November first Ice

December moss covered trees

Looking forward to exploring more in 2020!

Merry Christmas Eve

Merry Christmas Eve , I’m sitting in the lounge looking at the Christmas tree. It is a rooted tree and is going in the garden in a big pot after Christmas.

In the front garden we have a very tall Norwegian spruce that started life as one of our Christmas trees years ago. It is visited by so many birds. Pigeons nest in it as do blackbirds. Goldcrests hop about its branches eating insects, often with blue tits , great tits and others.

Collared dives coo coo in it and robins sing the arrival of morning from the top of it.Recently a squirrel has discovered it.

When this years tree loses its decorations and moves outside I’m Sure it will become a frequently visited part of the garden. Merry Christmas and Happy Exploring !

Midwinter moments

On the shortest day of the year we ventured to Anglesey Abbey close to Cambridge. This National Trust property has a house , a working flour mill and a large winter garden.

It did not feel very wintery today it was very mild and there were plenty of small insects in clouds.

The winter garden is full of colour with amazing stems in colours you wouldn’t believe. They have been pruned to make dramatic shapes and lots of impact as you follow the winding path.

The path takes you into a glade of silver birch with their striking white bark.

As you follow the path the scent of these Daphne follows you, the mahonias are bright yellow and also heavily scented.

There is lots of yew planted around the grounds creating small enclosed areas with statues and lawns. I loved this corner where the wind had arranged the leaves perfectly.

As we wandered along there are snowdrops pushing through , Anglesey Abbey is famous for the snowdrop displays and has snowdrop days in February.There are also hundreds of hellebores just opening up their flowers.

A walk through the woodland paths was full of butchers broom. Butchers broom is sometimes called knee holly because of its hight and the prickly leaves and it also has red berries. Bunches of this stiff evergreen were used to brush down butchers blocks. It can live well in dense shade beneath trees and is good at competing with tree roots for water and nutrients.It is a plant found in ancient woodlands, it forms clumps and can be older than the trees around it.

In this woodland walk we spied a strange tree , almost Ent like. It has split and grown back together in the main trunk. It looks like either the pair of Ent legs or the eye of a needle, very unusual !

A good walk on the shortest day , looking forward to longer days and more exploring.