Sunday, September 2, 2012

In the dark wood

A walk through Blake's Wood to see if the sweet chestnuts were ready (they are not) and some fungi hunting, but all there was to see were puffballs, creamy yellow by the paths. The woods were dark, overgrown with young briars and grass, summer is slowly dying.  No wind, but the trees talked amongst themselves, gently creaking and snapping, this is part of an old wood's history, we came to the coppiced bit with one tree tall standing amongst the great heaps of branches shorn from the felled trees. A hawk flew off, cross perhaps because we had disturbed his sanctuary, strangely there are not many birds in the wood, a tiny mouse-like wren alighted on a stump as we walked by but apart from wood pigeons and the far 'chink' of a blackbird it was ominously silent.  
The brightest thing we saw was  fireweed, Rosebay Willowherb something I had been meaning to look up for a long time.  We all know its history, this ragged flower of the roadside, said to sprout on all waste ground enlivening the areas round towns.  So turning to Geoffrey Grigson I learnt a little of its history.
Gerard is the first to talk about it, he grew it in his garden in Yorkshire and describes it thus
"it grows to the height of sixe foote, garnished with brave flowers of great beauty, consisting of fower leaves a piece, of an orient purple colour".
It was the industrialisation of the country alongside the railway and the second world war that spread it far and wide, those "downie matter" seeds blowing far in the wind, coming to rest on fire bombed land, it has become so 'common' we ignore it.  
In America, around Seattle (remember Grigson is writing in 1958) they make Fireweed Honey apparently and it grows in greater profusion than in England.  As you can see from the following photos Angelica is also growing in this damp environment, a rather splendid plant, dark purple stems and feathery white umbrels.
Whilst reading about fireweed came across that other 'common' plant that has spread along the railways, Oxford Ragwort - Senecio Squalidus. Yes, it was named as a squalid plant, whether because of its habit of travelling far and wide or because it just happened to alight in squalid surroundings I'm not sure.  But Grigson defends it stoutly as a cheerful plant like fireweed (though I do hate these two colours together (yellow and pink).
So what else spreads itself with wanton ease, well the pretty little Ivy Toadflax which grew in my last garden hugging the steps and walls for shelter and warmth, and of course the Red Valerian which adorns our walls with equal enthusiam.


  1. I have a battle with the willow herb trying to keep it from invading the garden, but it does look beautiful in big swathes....just elsewhere!

  2. Yes it is a bit promiscious, and not really welcome in a garden but pretty all the same.