We might have no Summer sunshine to share with you (at least not here in North East England!) but never fear, here is a Summer meadow filled with the sunshine of flowers for our Summer Solstice celebration.
While I’m sharing my Summer meadow flowers with you, let’s also be thankful for the bees, butterflies, moths, hoverflies and many more pollinating creatures that feed on our wild flowers – and garden flowers – and allow us to enjoy their beauty. Another blogging friend shared in a wonderful post that it has been Pollinator Week this week and she gave some great gardening tips on how we might all do our small bit for our pollinating creatures. You’ll find Woodland Gnome’s post on her Forest Garden Blog.
Memories of warm Summer days are welcome on cool, damp Autumn days. The pastel pinks of wild Dog Roses Rosa canina scrambling over a field hedge are certainly a sign of Summer for me. I love the gentle pinks in this photo of the wild roses my son took when we were out on one of our Summer walks this year.
Nature has a keen eye for colour and she greets us in every season with so many different colour contrasts.
Pink and yellow
In our valley we are treated to some colourful Winter sunrises when the sky is aglow with amazing pinks and yellows.
Yellow and green
It was mid-February this year when we spotted the glorious golden globes of the Winter Aconites Eranthis hyemalis as we took a woodland walk one sunny afternoon. I always look forward to seeing these flowers blooming for they bring with them the promise that Spring is not far off.
Yellow and blue
Gorse is a rather prickly shrub that grows widely in wild places in our area. Its yellow pea-type flowers begin to bloom from late January bringing some welcome brightness in our hedges and woods, replacing the browns of Winter.
Purple and orange
Like many people, we grow a pot or two of crocuses in our back yard. When our purple crocuses bloom, I know that Winter really is past and Spring is here to stay. The bright orange stamens seem to glow when the Spring sunshine catches them.
Purple and green
Our family has spent many happy hours focusing on creatures on Common Knapweed – literally! This beautiful purple flower of Summer is one of my favourite colours and the greens of the grass and foliage create a perfect backdrop.
Orange and purple
Colourful butterflies are another delight of Summer. The orange of this Comma butterfly contrasts well against the purple thistles.
Red-orange and green
As the Summer draws to a close, the hedgerows fill up with Autumn fruits. Red berries against green foliage are a certain reminder that it is time to stock up the larder with these juicy fruits, full of captured Summer sunshine, to see us through the dark days of Winter. We also make sure we leave plenty for the birds and beasties.
I’m very fond of Swallows, their grace and elegance in flight is mesmerising. Watching them is one of the joys of Summer. I love the way they ‘talk’ to each other, constantly, whilst they are on the wing too – though I have occasionally pondered on this propensity to ‘talk’ and eat at the same time! However, I will forgive Swallows their table manners because here in the UK they are our often-longed-for heralds of Summer.
If the weather is sufficiently mild, from early April I will scan the skies regularly, searching for the Swallows returning after their Winter sojourn to Africa. By chance it was Easter Sunday when I spotted my first Swallow flitting high in the sky over our street – that was 20th April this year and we’d been enjoying a warm and sunny few days. There is an old saying, “One swallow doth not a Summer make,” but seeing the first one is always cause for uplifted spirits and hope.
There is an old saying, “One swallow doth not a Summer make,” but seeing the first one is always cause for uplifted spirits and hope.
There are really two reasons I am pleased to see the Swallows return to our skies. The first is the happy one I have said above, the Swallows bring with them the promise that the sunny days of Summer are not too far off. The second reason is rather darker – I am thankful that at least some of them have survived the long and dangerous journey that they must endure as they migrate between here, in the north of England, and South Africa, then back again in the Spring. Starvation, exhaustion and storms mean that many birds will not survive this hazardous round trip. Flying around 200 miles each day and a total of over 5500 miles (9400 km) in each direction is an amazing feat for a bird that is only 7 1/2 inches (19cm) from its beak to the tip of its long tail feathers.
I always feel a tinge of sadness when I see our Swallows begin to gather on the wires outside our house. For us, it means the end of Summer and the year drawing on into the colder months of Autumn and Winter. For the Swallows, it means they are about to embark on their dangerous adventure – for the young ones it is their first time. I wish them well for a safe journey and a safe return.
The Swallows’ migration route takes them from where we are in north east England, to the south coast of England, across the English Channel and down through the west of France, across the mountains of the Pyrenees and down the east of Spain to Morocco. Then, incredibly, many Swallows cross the Sahara Desert as part of their migration route, though others take a course down the west of Africa to reach South Africa.
I wonder, how did Swallows and many other bird species evolve to have this adventurous spirit that causes them to cover such vast distances and face such huge risks? Migration truly is one of the wonders of nature.
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.
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!
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 tall, slender Marsh Thistle Cirsium palustre decorates the stream banks and other damp areas in our woods with its deep purple tufted flowers.
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.
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.
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.
Hedge Woundwort Stachys sylvatica is a plant that you often notice with your nose before you see it with your eyes.
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.
There are so many wildflowers we see that contribute to the purple of Summer. Purple is definitely the colour of Summer for me.
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.
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)
3 squares of chocolate
1 teaspoon of raisins
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! 🙂
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.
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.
Our fifteen minutes of sunny surveying netted us a reasonably healthy number of butterflies in this spot.
The raspberries are ripening! The sun is shining! … and so fruit-picking time begins for 2014!
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 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!
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The flower buds are globular but then the ‘upper lip’ opens like a mouth to reveal its maroon throat and a yellow ‘tongue’!
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.
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 🙂