Monthly Archives: July 2014

Purple flowers of Rosebay Willowherb

Purple Wildflowers of Summer

Every season has its dominant colour in the UK’s wildflower calendar and the colour of Summer for me is definitely purple. A myriad of tonal variations of purple, contrasting beautifully against their accompanying greens, add so much to Nature’s Summer palette.

Purple flowers of Summer - Rosebay and Thistle
Small Tortoiseshell at the Nectar Cafe … aka Creeping Thistle. That’s some spikes of Rosebay Willowherb behind too.

The thistle family give us some beautiful purples and with their soft tufted flowers are very popular with butterflies and other insects. Creeping Thistle Cirsium arvense, in particular – whilst you might not want to be introducing it into your garden, we find is a very popular nectar cafe where butterflies and their ‘friends’ love to meet and linger – which is ideal for slow photographers like me!

Carder Bee feeding on Common Knapweed
Bee-on-a-flower – a Carder Bee feeding on Common Knapweed

Another member of the thistle family that we find is much loved by bees and hoverflies is Common Knapweed Centaurea nigra. Many of our family’s ‘bee-on-a-flower’ photos feature the purple tufted flowers of Common Knapweed. So you could say, it is popular with us too! The deep cerise-purple of this grassland wildflower is one of my favourite shades of purple.

Here are two thistles that live up to their traditional spiny thistle appearance while also adding to Summer’s purple display.

The very spiny Marsh Thistle, growing in damp woodland
The very spiny Marsh Thistle, growing in damp woodland

The tall, slender Marsh Thistle Cirsium palustre decorates the stream banks and other damp areas in our woods with its deep purple tufted flowers.

Spear Thistle, or as we call it, the Scotch Thistle
Spear Thistle, or as we call it, the Scotch Thistle

The Spear Thistle Cirsium vulgare is a sturdy plant with grey-green stems and leaves that contrast beautifully with its purple flowers. I call it the Spear Thistle, as this is formally its correct name. But we have always called it the “Scotch Thistle”, as this flower is the national emblem of Scotland. Though apparently this species is by no means the only thistle that claims to be the true Scottish Thistle!

Two more purple flowering Summer stalwarts that grow quite ubiquitously in our local area are Rosebay Willowherb and wild Foxgloves. You can see the tall purple spikes of Rosebay Willowherb in the photo at the top of this post … and some more growing near the Creeping Thistle that I showed above too. Some areas of disturbed ground can become overrun with Rosebay Willowherb – it is hardly surprising given each plant produces something like 80,000 seeds! The 20th century botanist and ecologist, Sir Edward Salisbury, noted that Rosebay Willowherb “empurpled” London’s bomb sites in World War II.

My first Foxglove of the Summer
My first Foxglove of the Summer – growing on a local spoil heap

Wild Foxgloves are one of my own personal notifier species. I consider them a sign of the arrival of Summer and watch out for the first ones flowering each year. This year I spotted my first flowering Foxglove on 6th June, growing on an old coal mining spoil heap we often climb when out on one of our regular walks. This heap supports an interesting variety of flora and fauna, despite its industrial heritage.

Wild Foxglove in woodland
One of my son’s close-ups of a wild Foxglove growing in our local woods

Vetches are another family of wildflowers that contribute to the Summer purples. On a coastal walk recently I spotted a good number of my favourite vetch, Tufted Vetch Vicia cracca, with its dense spikes of blue-purple flowers. This cliff-top purple patch was especially noticeable.

Purple patch of Tufted Vetch growing on the cliff top
Purple patch of Tufted Vetch growing on the cliff top at South Shields Leas

Hedge Woundwort Stachys sylvatica is a plant that you often notice with your nose before you see it with your eyes.

Hedge Woundwort
Hedge Woundwort

Its distinctive but not-very-pleasant smell is a common feature of the dense wayside greenery in our woods where we find it growing with many other wildflowers among the grasses and nettles. The reddish-purple flowers of Hedge Woundwort grow in a spike at the top of a single stem.

My final purple flower of Summer for this post features another landscape I love – heather-covered moorland. When the Bell Heather Erica cinerea blooms on the moorland, we can see it miles away across the valley – it literally turns the landscape purple. Here’s a closer look. This photo was taken while we were out on a Summer hike.

Purple heather moors in Summer
When the Bell Heather’s in bloom the moor takes on a purple tinge

There are so many wildflowers we see that contribute to the purple of Summer. Purple is definitely the colour of Summer for me.

J Peggy Taylor

The campfire is alight

Campfire Cooking for Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge

Campfire cooking – one of our favourite Summer fun family activities ideally fitted the Fire/Summer theme for Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge this week 🙂

There’s really nothing quite like cooking on an open fire outdoors – and it doesn’t matter what you cook, it always tastes amazing! What we cook is determined by how long we intend to stop. A lunch-stop campfire during a day hike is usually a simple affair, such as the toasted sandwich and baked banana you’ll see in the images below. We do cook more elaborate meals too and then on other occasions it will just be toasting marshmallows for fun.

Over the years, our boys have grown increasingly adept at the various stages of fire-lighting and cooking, including safely managing the fire whilst it is burning and ensuring the fire is completely out and cold before we leave. Nearby to one of our favourite campfire spots there are some blackened trees that served as a prompt for an educational discussion on the dangers of fire, especially in remote places.

I will never forget the Christmas our two younger sons got their firesteels! Light my Fire fire steels are easy to use. Believe me, a couple of hours on a Christmas morning is all it takes to get the knack!! Then that snowy Christmas afternoon was spent out in the woods trying hard to put the new skill into practice. There’s been a lot more practice since then, though more often in Summer than Winter.

Out on Summer hikes or on lazy days at our favourite spots in the woods, cooking on a campfire is always fun. This little photo story tells the tale of a lunchtime stop when we were out on a woodland ramble last Summer.

Lighting the campfire with the firesteel
Lighting the campfire with the firesteel – the shower of sparks produced by the back of a knife against the steel soon sets the birch bark tinder alight
The fire is alight
And it’s away! Flames!
Watching the campfire burning
Watching the campfire burning – although this is only a small fire, you can see the heat haze somewhat blurring this image
cooking toasties on sticks over the campfire
Jostling for the best position over the embers – cooking toasties on peeled green hazel sticks over the campfire
A well-cooked campfire toastie!
A well-cooked campfire toastie!
A Campfire Special - Baked Bananas stuffed with chocolate and raisins
A Campfire Special – Baked Bananas stuffed with chocolate and raisins

Baked Bananas with chocolate and raisins have become something of a tradition for our family campfire cook-outs. They are very simple to prepare right there by your campfire so it’s a fun dessert for children to make.
… and of course, they are very tasty 🙂

How to make Baked Bananas on a campfire

Ingredients: (per person)
1 Banana
3 squares of chocolate
1 teaspoon of raisins

To Make:
Sit the banana curving upwards like a boat, or a smile 🙂
Start by slicing lengthways into the inner curve of the banana, being careful to leave the skin of the outer curve of the fruit intact. You need to end up with a banana boat joined at the base, rather than two halves.
Now, stuff the 3 squares of chocolate into the slit you have made and finally stuff in the raisins between the chocolate squares. That’s it! Done!

Now your banana is ready to go in the embers of the fire, just as you can see in my photo above. You don’t want any flames on your fire for cooking the bananas – just some nice warm embers. If it’s a little windy, to keep the wood ash out of the bananas, we wrap them in Dock leaves and pin them with a peeled green stick. But mainly we just sit the bananas in the embers to cook.

How long does it take to cook? HA! I can’t tell you exactly, because it will depend on how much heat you have there. But you’ll know your Baked Banana is ready to eat when you can see the chocolate is softened. Ours usually take around 10-15 minutes, depending on how much the embers have cooled.

Do take care retrieving the bananas from the fire embers as they will be very hot. I usually use a glove or some sticks as tongs. You’ll need a plate or improvised container to place the banana on to eat it. Then all you need is a spoon. Enjoy! 🙂

J Peggy Taylor

Pink Sweet Peas on willow garden screen

Air-pruning plant pot success! My Sweet Peas are flowering!

When I sowed my Sweet Peas in their upcycled air-pruning plant pots, way back in April this year, I wasn’t sure how well my plants would grow. I’d never experimented with air-pruning plant pots before so this was a whole new experience for me.

Despite being in somewhat smaller pots than would normally be used, the Sweet Pea plants I’d hung on my yard gate have still grown to their full height – the fully grown plants are now 175cm (69″) tall. The Sweet Peas are supported on one of the willow and jute garden screens I’d designed and created for this purpose. This project was part of my idea to expand the growing space in my back yard by vertical gardening.

Air-pruning plant pots firmly secured to the gate and the Sweet Pea plants arranged on the jute and willow garden screen
Air-pruning plant pots firmly secured to the gate and the young Sweet Pea plants arranged on the jute and willow garden screen

I have been watching closely as the flowers have been developing on the Sweet Peas. This week I am very happy to report that my first of my Sweet Pea plants has revealed its first beautiful pink blooms 🙂

The first buds appearing on the Sweet Peas
The first buds appearing on the Sweet Peas
Flower buds bursting on the Sweet Peas
Flower buds bursting on the Sweet Peas
The first Sweet Pea flower gradually unfurls its pink petals
The first Sweet Pea flower gradually unfurls its pink petals
Pink Sweet Pea flowers in full bloom lit up by the evening sun
Pink Sweet Pea flowers in full bloom lit up by the evening sun

Looking at the other plants along the yard gate that are now budding, we have some creamy white flowers and some deep crimson flowers, so with the pink flowers too, that’s going to be a lovely range of colours growing together.

J Peggy Taylor

Small Tortoiseshell butterfly on Creeping Thistle flower

Big Butterfly Count – our first 15 minute survey

This weekend’s warm and sunny Sunday was the ideal time to kick-off our Big Butterfly Count for 2014. We made our first count on a patch of reclaimed industrial land right on the edge of our village.

Small Skipper butterfly on Creeping Thistle flower
Small Skipper butterfly on Creeping Thistle flower

In the past this land was part of the mineral railway line that carried coal from local mines. Now it is a grassy walkway bordered by trees on one side and on the other, a field area, part of which is kept mown by the local council and part of which includes a large patch of Rosebay Willowherb interspersed with several species of grass, the common Creeping Thistle Cirsium arvense, Broad-leaved Dock Rumex obtusifolius, Hogweed Heracleum sphondylium and some brambles.

Ringlet butterfly on bramble leaf
Ringlet butterfly on bramble leaf

Our fifteen minutes of sunny surveying netted us a reasonably healthy number of butterflies in this spot.

  • 7 Small Tortoiseshells
  • 10 Small Skippers
  • 8 Meadow Browns
  • 2 Ringlets
  • 1 Small White


Small Tortoiseshell butterfly on Creeping Thistle flower
Small Tortoiseshell butterfly on Creeping Thistle flower

If you’ve not heard about the Big Butterfly Count, there’s still plenty of time to join in. Please take a look at my previous post about it for more information or visit Butterfly Conservation’s website.

Hopefully the sunny weather will stay with us for our annual butterfly counting.

J Peggy Taylor

Fruit-picking time! Choosing containers for raspberries

The raspberries are ripening! The sun is shining! … and so fruit-picking time begins for 2014!

An assortment of my fruit foraging containers
An assortment of my fruit foraging containers

But before the fruit-picking can begin, the first job is to dig out my old and trusty recycled containers. There are those that I like to take out with me for holding the berries whilst I’m picking. Then there are those that fit together well for storing my fruit in the freezer. My many containers come in useful different shapes and sizes. It seems WordPress must have read my mind this week when choosing “Containers” as the topic for the Weekly Photo Challenge!

I love foraging for wild fruit. We spend many happy Summer hours fruit-picking. We’re lucky as we have a good variety of wild fruits growing nearby to us. For me fruit-picking is such a calming and tranquil activity – a chance to slip away from busyness into my own little world for a short time.

The raspberry canes grow in the tangled undergrowth amongst the stinging nettles and thistles
The raspberry canes grow in the tangled undergrowth amongst the stinging nettles and thistles

The raspberries are the first of our fruits to ripen, so I’m usually picking them by mid to late July. They grow in a rather overgrown but sheltered spot, which is lovely in the warm sun. I get so absorbed in seeking out and picking the fruit that I always end up with more than a few nettle stings when I’m finished! ‘No pain, no gain’ … so the saying goes!

Our first raspberries of 2014
Our first raspberries of 2014 – growing in their quiet, sunny corner.

As raspberries are rather soft and easily squashed, I tend to pick them in small batches. I take a shallow recycled tub to hold the raspberries – I’ve had some of my foraging tubs for years, but they are ideal for this job.

Juicy fresh raspberries for a delicious dessert
Juicy fresh raspberries for a delicious dessert

When I return home, the raspberries are washed and checked over. The berries are either eaten immediately for quick and easy desserts or I put them into a container and place them in the freezer. Sometimes my sons come along to help with the picking, then even more of the berries get eaten immediately! … including before the raspberries actually arrive home, as you might imagine!

Storing raspberries for home freezing
Adding a second batch of raspberries to the container of frozen berries

Over the next few weeks more batches of raspberries will be picked and frozen. As I gradually amass a good quantity of berries in the freezer, we begin watching out for the apples ripening. They also grow close by to us, so we’ve not far to go to keep checking them. … and then it will be time for jam-making to begin!

J Peggy Taylor

Woods and Spring for Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge

Springtime in the Beechwood
Springtime in the Beechwood

Spring is one of my favourite seasons of the year. It’s the season when everything bursts back into life after a Winter rest. Walking in the woods is a real treat for the senses in Spring as the trees are developing their fresh green leaves and the Springtime flowers begin to bloom. I know I’ve said before, but you can smell ‘green’ in the air! This is a time of renewal, a time for making new plans. Spring is full of promises to be fulfilled.

Waterfalls tumbling over ancient sandstone rock
Spring leaves stretching out across the busy burn

I’ve chosen beechwoods in Spring for Cee’s Wood and Spring Foto Challenge. I love the way the sunlight filters through the the new citrus-green leaves.

We love walking in our local beechwoods in Springtime when the new leaves are just bursting from their tightly rolled buds
We love walking in our local beechwoods in Springtime when the new leaves are just bursting from their tightly rolled buds
Beech bark showing network detail and green algae
Beech bark showing network detail and green algae

The bark on this Beech tree really caught my eye. Beech trunks are usually quite smooth and grey – they always remind me of elephants! But on some trees, like this one, the bark develops into a network pattern. When it rains the rain runs down in rivulets and the algae on it glows an irridescent green against the dark tree trunk. It’s beautiful to see.

J Peggy Taylor

Peacock butterfly resting on a warm stony path

Join in – it’s the Big Butterfly Count!

This year’s Big Butterfly Count runs from Saturday 19th July to Sunday 10th August. Many of the UK’s butterflies are declining in numbers and around a third of species are threatened with extinction. They need our help.

“… butterflies are a key indicator species of the health of our natural environment -if they are struggling, then many other species are struggling also. Every single person taking part in the Big Butterfly Count this summer can produce a statistic that is of real value as their records help build a picture of how butterflies are faring and how we can best conserve them.”
David Attenborough

Comma butterfly on thistles
Comma butterfly on thistles

What is the Big Butterfly Count?

Anyone and everyone, old and young, can join in this easy-to-do survey of butterflies and day-flying moths here in the UK over the next two weeks. The Big Butterfly Count is an annual survey organised by Butterfly Conservation and supported by Marks & Spencer. The reason for choosing butterflies as the survey species is that they are very sensitive to changes in their environment and so are a really good indicator when changes occur.

Butterfly Conservation describe this annual butterfly survey as –
“taking Nature’s pulse”.

How do I take part?

We have been taking part in the Big Butterfly Count for a few years now and it really is a fun family activity but also a very worthwhile citizen science project.

You only need to spend 15 minutes watching butterflies in your garden, local park or other green space. You can either stay in one place and count the highest number of each species of butterfly you see during the 15 minutes. Or if you take a walk, just add up how many of each species you see during the 15 minutes.

Carry out your survey in bright or sunny weather – just like most of us, butterflies prefer to go out when the sun is shining, so if it’s sunny you’ll get a more accurate snapshot of the butterflies that live in your survey spot.

… and if, like me, you’re batty about butterflies – you can do as many 15 minute surveys as you wish during the two weeks of the Big Butterfly Count 🙂

Identifying your butterflies

If you need help with identifying the butterflies you see, Butterfly Conservation have a handy free Butterfly ID Chart to download from their webpage. There’s also a free App for iOS and Android that you can use for the Big Butterfly Count. You can take a look on the interactive map to see what butterflies other people in your area and across the country have found too.

Ringlet butterfly on a bramble leaf
Ringlet butterfly on a bramble leaf

What did you see?

After you’ve counted your butterflies don’t forget to log your sightings online, either on the website or directly via the App.

Why not give it a try? … help to take Nature’s pulse this Summer!

The Big Butterfly Count – 19th July to 10th August 2014

J Peggy Taylor

Tyneside's historic bridges

Tyneside relics for the WordPress Photo Challenge

The landscape of North East England is rich in relics from past eras. The images I have chosen to share for this week’s WordPress Photo Challenge range from relics of the Romans and the Normans to reminders of the English Civil War and the wonders of Victorian engineering.

The bridges you can see in the image above are both ‘relics’ that were designed by giants of Victorian industry on Tyneside. I talked a little about these men in my previous post. Despite being relics of a bygone age, these two bridges remain in daily use. The Swing Bridge doesn’t swing open as often as it once did for ships to pass through but the roadway across it is still a popular route across the Tyne. After being closed for three years (2005-2008) for restoration work, the High Level is less used than it once was. The roadway on the lower deck of the High Level Bridge now only carries public transport but the two-track railway on the upper deck remains in regular use.

The site of the Swing Bridge also very closely marks the line of older Tyne crossings including the Roman bridge. Pons Aelius was named after the Emperor Hadrian whose wall marking the northern frontier of the vast Roman Empire originally started at this bridge before it was decided to extend the Wall along the north bank of the River Tyne to Wallsend.

Newcastle - Castle Keep, Black Gate
The Norman Castle Keep built on the site of the original wooden structure that gave ‘New Castle’ its name

The Castle Keep, founded by Henry II in 1168, is regarded as one of the finest remaining examples of a Norman Keep in Britain. Standing on a useful defensive position above the river, the Castle Keep also stands on the site of previous Roman fortifications. The first Roman fort on Hadrian’s Wall was located here. Underneath the stone-built railway arches immediately below the Castle Keep, you can still find some of the Roman foundations marked out.

Newcastle West Walls - Heber Tower
Newcastle’s medieval West Walls – Heber Tower

To the west of the city centre you can visit the remains of the Newcastle’s town walls. These historical relics are known as The West Walls. The town walls are first mentioned in a charter given by King John in 1216, though it is believed that Newcastle was walled from the same time that Robert Curthose built his motte and bailey on the site of the Castle Keep (around the end of the 11th century). Newcastle’s wall’s were renowned for their strength. The nineteeth century historian, Eneas Mackenzie, tells us, “These famed walls were twelve feet high, eight feet thick, and strengthened by a wide fosse.” As Newcastle was on the ‘frontier’ between England and Scotland, strong walls were needed in those days of frequent border warfare!

Newcastle West Walls - arrow slit close-up
The bottom part of this arrow slit was rounded out to accommodate a musket in The Siege of Newcastle, 1644

This extended arrow slit detail from the Heber Tower shown in the image above is another relic of Newcastle’s battle-scarred past. During the English Civil Wars, Newcastle was beseiged for a good part of the year 1644. The Royalists of Newcastle, fighting from the town walls, had evidently adapted the original arrow slit to allow their musket barrels to fit through.

Roman bathhouse at Chesters - Hadrian's Wall on the hill
Bath house at Chesters Roman Fort on Hadrian’s Wall, Northumberland

Moving from town to country, but staying on the banks of the Tyne – this Roman relic is the bathhouse at Chesters Roman Fort and is regarded as one of the best preserved Roman bathhouses in Britain. Chesters is one of the Hadrian’s Wall forts and lies about five miles north of the town of Hexham on the picturesque North Tyne river. Hadrian’s Wall runs along the ridge. Hadrian’s Wall is a World Heritage Site and the adjacent Hadrian’s Wall Path is a National Trail that runs the 73 miles from Wallsend in the east to Bowness on Solway on England’s west coast.

J Peggy Taylor

Tyneside icons for Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge

With Circles and Curves as this week’s theme for Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge, I decided to share some of my images of Tyneside’s famous curved landmarks – from ancient to modern.

Newcastle Castle Keep - external view of original entrance
This elaborately carved arched doorway is the original entrance to Newcastle’s Castle Keep

This Norman castle keep was built in 1178 on the site of the original wooden ‘New Castle’ built by William the Conqueror’s son, Robert Curthose, in 1080.

Bridges over the River Tyne
The iconic Tyne Bridge in the foreground, then the Swing Bridge, the High Level Bridge and the Queen Elizabeth II Tyneside Metro bridge.

Along just a short stretch of the River Tyne between Newcastle and Gateshead there are no less than seven bridges crossing the river! You can see four of them in this picture.

With its curved steel arches, the iconic Tyne Bridge is often used as the symbol of Tyneside. This bridge opened in 1928 and was much needed at the time for the increased road traffic between Newcastle and Gateshead.

The Swing Bridge, can turn 90 degrees on a central pivot to open for larger ships to pass upriver. It was designed by the Victorian engineer and inventor, William Armstrong, to allow ships to reach his engineering works. This bridge is built on the site of the original river crossing point. The Roman bridge, Pons Aelius, was the original starting point of Hadrian’s Wall – Pons Aelius translates as ‘Hadrian’s Bridge’.

Opened in 1849, the High Level Bridge and is another piece of Victorian engineering, designed by the famous railway engineer, Robert Stephenson. This double-decker bridge carries the railway on its upper deck and the road on the lower deck.

The Queen Elizabeth II Tyneside Metro Bridge opened in 1981 and carries the region’s light railway over the River Tyne on its journeys through Gateshead to South Shields and Sunderland.

Gateshead's Millenium Bridge across the Tyne
The Gateshead Millenium Bridge with the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art at the right-hand side of the bridge

The award-winning Gateshead Millenium Bridge is the newest bridge across the Tyne. This bridge can be opened by a tilting mechanism to allow river traffic through.

The Sage, Gateshead across the Tyne
The Sage centre for music is one of Gateshead’s newer iconic landmarks

The Sage, Gateshead (as it is known) was designed by Lord Foster. The curved steel and glass structure enhances acoustics for this world class music venue.

… and in case you are wondering, yes, they do clean all of those windows! … by abseiling down the outside!

J Peggy Taylor

Dog Roses

Spotting Summer wildflowers

Our Summer woodlands are painted with an artist’s palette of wild flowers and greenery. Wherever we walk, our senses are treated to a kaleidoscope of colours and scents.

On this occasion our walk took us along a favourite path that is always rather wet and muddy. Either side of the narrow woodland path, the tumble of undergrowth was dotted with the bright pinks of Herb Robert, the purples of Tufted Vetch, the pastel pinks of Dog Roses, the bright yellows of Buttercups, the creamy whites of Honeysuckle and the lofty white umbels of Hogweed.

However, this time I decided to seek out some of the less obvious flowers to share with you.

Brooklime - the puddle flower

This is Brooklime Veronica beccabunga. I love that Latin name – I think it sounds like it should be the name of a character in a Roald Dahl story!
Brooklime belongs to the Speedwell family and has a small bright blue flower with a pale greenish-white centre, fairly typical of Speedwells. However, unlike other Speedwells it is likely to be the fleshy green oval leaves you’d notice first.

Brooklime flowers
Brooklime flowers

The delicate Brooklime flowers grow in pairs from the leaf axils and I always feel look rather small for the size of the leaves. As its name suggests, Brooklime grows in marshy places. Our patch here grows in a very muddy spot and is often part of a puddle.

Meadowsweet - close-up

At the next path junction I smelled a tell-tale Summer smell and soon spotted some stems of Meadowsweet Filipendula ulmaria with their fluffy sprays of creamy flowers. It was from these flowers that this distinctive scent was drifting. In some parts of our woods Meadowsweet grows in swathes but here there were only a few stems.


They had sprung through a bare patch of earth bank on the side of a drainage ditch, dug as part of some footpath repair work earlier in the year. It will be lovely to see a little colony of these flowers developing along this muddy ditch. Meadowsweet is another plant that likes to grow in damp and marshy places.

Common Marsh Bedstraw
Common Marsh Bedstraw

On the other side of the path I spotted some straggling stems of the delicate Common Marsh-Bedstraw Galium palustre, growing through the path-side vegetation. As you’d expect, the ‘Marsh’ in this plant’s name confirms the habitat in which it grows. Similarly to other Bedstraw species, the leaves of Common Marsh-Bedstraw grow in whorls around the stem. Its 4-petalled white flowers grow in small clusters. Unlike some ‘little white flower’ species, the flowers of this Bedstraw are quite sculptured and well-defined. I love the curve of the petals – they look like tiny sugar flowers.

Common Figwort
Common Figwort

Another plant that was re-establishing itself on the side of the drainage ditch was Common Figwort Scrophularia nodosa. This curious flower is another inhabitant of damp woodlands. It is unusual in having square stems and Figwort flowers are quite odd too.

Common Figwort - square stem
Square stem of Common Figwort

The flower buds are globular but then the ‘upper lip’ opens like a mouth to reveal its maroon throat and a yellow ‘tongue’!

Common Figwort - flower close-up
Common Figwort flower

My son said it reminded him of a mini version of the Pitcher plant we’ve seen in botanic gardens. However, unlike the Pitcher plant, I don’t believe Figwort is carnivorous! We see lots of it in our woods, especially along the verges of the wide woodland rides where its moist habitat is often found.

Heath Speedwell - close-up
Heath Speedwell

Along the path edge I spotted some pale blue spikes of Heath Speedwell Veronica officinalis. On closer inspection you can see the pale blue flowers of Heath Speedwell also have violet veins running through them. The soft furry leaves are spoon-shaped with a serrated edge. I love the shape of the pale violet flower buds with their protective green sepals. Heath Speedwell is a grassland flower but we often find it along woodland rides too.

I must give credit to my son for the photos in this post. His efforts to capture images of small flowers in difficult lighting conditions are usually more successful than mine 🙂

J Peggy Taylor