Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Hedge Woundwort

Hedge Woundwort (Stachys sylvatica)

Hedge Woundwort (Stachys sylvatica)

This is my new favorite.

I noticed this scruff of purple a week or so ago. At first it looked to me like some sort of stinging nettle so I kept my distance. Having befriended yellow loosestrife, and knowing there was something called purple loosestrife, I took a chance and took a closer look.

What I saw was amazing. Whatever it was, I thought, it has the most beautifully decorated tiny purple blooms. The plant, at first glance, appears not to be worth the second glance. But then you'd miss those flowers.

I realized later that it wasn't the elusive purple loosestrife but was, instead, something called a "hedge woundwort" - and as you might guess from the name, is reputed to have healing powers. Now I notice this fellow almost everywhere, a little patch here or there, and I'm always ready to take that second glance.

Hedge Woundwort (Stachys sylvatica)

Hedge Woundwort (Stachys sylvatica)

Hedge Woundwort (Stachys sylvatica)

Hedge Woundwort (Stachys sylvatica)

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Cut Flower Gallery

As you may have noticed, I take a very limited number of cuttings every Tuesday, arrange them as only an amateur can, and hope for the best.

I admit, it took me several weeks to give myself permission to snip. It's not something I do recklessly. I only cut what I need for the arrangement and I pay attention to the list of Britain's protected plants.

That said, I'm quite enjoying finding out which plants work well in an arrangement.

Some scattered notes:

Each week's cuttings are scored (spreadsheet view) (list view) with respect to categories that are important to me. Some of the results may surprise you, as they did me.

Yellow loosestrife, so far, is in the lead. When I first put it in the vase, it dropped a disconcerting number of flowers in the first couple of hours. But after that, it was just fine. A bit of shock I suppose.

Elder (not Ground Elder), so far, failed miserably. So miserably that it didn't even make it into the vase. I used Ground Elder with success the week before and I expected somewhat similar results. Wrong. Elder wilted almost immediately and never recovered.

Common mallow hasn't been used yet because I can only find it at Walney Island and I haven't been there on a Tuesday. Just in case it doesn't find its way to the vase, I did want to mention that I picked a few flowers and brought them back to identify and was surprised to find them, the next day, still looking fresh. That is, sitting on my desk, no water, and the flowers still looking vibrant. An interesting idea, perhaps, might be to sprinkle some flowers on a white table cloth for a nice dinner party?

Nipplewort, with its beautiful tiny lemony-yellow flowers, closes up at night and reopens in the daylight. Perhaps not the best thing for an evening affair.

Finally, this week I cheated and used some St. John's Wort from my garden. It's been so dry lately that there's not much blooming and I needed some color. Oh, yes, foxglove is out but there's not much yet and I really don't want to snip anything that isn't out in abundance.

Update July 9th: The St. John's Wort, I now believe, is Rose of Sharon.

Monday, June 28, 2010


Hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium)

Hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium)

Oh, I know what you're thinking.

Oh, Michele, why don't you tell us about something pretty, like Meadow Vetchling?

Shel, why don't you tell us about Forget-Me-Nots or Foxglove?

Hey, why don't you tell us more about that dream-boat Herb-Robert?

First of all, Herb-Robert isn't all that dreamy. In fact, he's getting a bit long in the tooth around now. Besides, Hogweed is on my mind.

Hogweed is a fascinating plant. Like foxglove, there's really no mistaking it for anything else ... except Giant Hogweed which I'll get to in a moment.

more Hogweed
Unfortunately for Hogweed, it's that member of society that I just don't really want to befriend. Oh, I acknowledge it when I walk by but that's it. It sort of reminds me of the dogs next door. I think they're called "Border Terriers". Now anyone who knows me knows that I love dogs but these dogs are like Hogweed. For instance, I walked out of my house one afternoon and those terriers were yapping at me as they always do. One of them strode up to me and looked at my leg, as if wondering whether it was worth peeing on or not. He decided not to (thank you for that) and walked over to a nearby parked car where he started to chew on something from the wheel well. I think you get my drift.

So what makes Hogweed both interesting and mildly revolting at the same time? It's because it has this amazing ability to attract insects. Just so you know, the ability to attract green bottle flies is not something I really look for in a friend [despite recent news from the medical community suggesting that green bottle fly larvae can be used to treat gangrenous foot ulcers].

Hogweed and associates Hogweed and associates


Hogweed is said to be edible (!!) and even delicious. Remember however that some folks enjoy nettle soup and chow down on parsnips. Also consider that Hogweed looks remarkably similiar to Giant Hogweed.

One source warns:

The [Giant Hogweed] plant exudes a clear watery sap which sensitizes the skin to ultraviolet radiation. This can result in severe burns to the affected areas resulting in severe blistering and painful dermatitis. These blisters can develop into purplish or blackened scars.
Enough said.

Update July 1: I was able to find this photo of the type of insect to be found on Giant Hogweed. Yet another reason to avoid this plant when possible.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Yellow Loosestrife

Yellow Loosestrife (Lysimachia vulgaris)

Yellow Loosestrife (Lysimachia vulgaris)

Yellow Loosestrife is an absolutely magnificent plant.

I usually choose one of three different walks each day. It seems odd to me that, even though all three walks follow narrow rural roads edged by hedges and stone fences, some flowers are found in just one or two spots. Yellow loosestrife is one of those. Lucky for me, the largest patch of them is just outside of St. Michaels church in Pennington which we pass every day.

The yellow is simply brilliant. Unlike foxglove, yellow loosestrife seems to favor growing in large colonies rather than a single plant here or there.

Yellow Loosestrife
Yellow Loosestrife

Update June 27th: We traveled to Malham Cove (in the Yorkshire Dales) to catch a glimpse of a family of peregrine falcons nesting there as well as green woodpeckers and redstarts. On the walk back to the car, I took this photo of a charming patch of yellow loosestrife.

Friday, June 25, 2010


Daisy (Bellis Perennis) 21June2010

Daisy (Bellis Perennis)

I regret to inform you that this is a daisy and it's going in the tiny flower series.

There. I said it.

Believe me, it's been a rough couple of days. I took photographs. I looked through all the books. I measured. Surely this tiny little insignificant miniature bit of fluff can't be a real daisy. Maybe it's Mexican Fleabane.

It turns out that the daisy that I grew up with, (the real daisy), the one we used to play "He Loves Me... He Love Me Not," is known as the OXEYE DAISY here in the UK. OXEYE DAISY? You have got to be kidding. How unromantic.

So this, in the UK at least, is the Daisy. Reminds me of a conversation we had with our British neighbors about robins. The robin here in the UK is the Robin; the bird known as a robin in the US is the AMERICAN ROBIN. Bah!

If it's any consolation, the USDA calls this plant [which, despite my bad-mouthing, I still love] a "lawndaisy". Amen to that.

Thursday, June 24, 2010


Goosegrass (Galium aparine)

Goosegrass (Galium aparine)

Next in the tiny flower series is something quite unexpected, I think.


This was one of the first plants that attracted my attention last year. I don't think I've ever come across anything like it back in New England but it's all over the place here. It attaches itself to anything and everything like velcro. Seriously, someone should design something that sticks so well. If I'm out in the back and weeding, it sticks to my hands, my gloves, my shirt. Someone told me that kids will throw it onto their teacher's back for a laugh but I seriously doubt whether it would come cleanly off their little hands that easily. I *could* see it sticking to the back of someone's sweater for the entire day.

Goosegrass makes the tiny flower series because this month, if you look closely, you may notice a tiny little white flower. It's a pretty unremarkable part of the entire plant but there, nevertheless.

Goosegrass (Galium aparine) 29May2010 Goosegrass (Galium aparine) 16June2010

Monday, June 21, 2010

Scarlet Pimpernel

Scarlet Pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis)

Scarlet Pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis)

This little cutie is going to start off a short series of short flowers. Get it? Short? As in small? Tiny? Oh, never mind.

The Scarlet Pimpernel was one of the easiest flowers for me to identify. It's just about the only orange/red flower in the book (Collins Nature Guide - my first source because the flowers are arranged by color). Okay, I'll flip through again just to prove it ...Pheasant's-eye (no), Common Poppy (no), Scarlet Pimpernel (YES). There, took me 2 minutes.

That said, there's not much else to say about it. That's the problem with these small ones. I notice them (especially this one because the color is unusual), but there's not much else going on there.

Whoa, whoa, whoa. What's that? Skull and crossbones? My Collins Nature Guide is trying to tell me something. According to the Wildflower Finder site, all parts of this innocent-looking thing are poisonous. Well, there you go. You just never can tell.

Scarlet Pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis) Scarlet Pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis)

Friday, June 18, 2010

Hedge Bindweed

Hedge bindweed (Calystegia sepium)

Hedge bindweed (Calystegia sepium)

Most of the flowers that I've been befriending are found along the walking routes that the dogs and I follow every morning. This one, Hedge Bindweed, was in abundance at the local car wash and I couldn't resist saying hello.

This car wash was no different than most. Someone invested some time and money in landscaping and then let it go. The bindweed saw this as an wonderful invitation and now it completely covers the place. When I shuffled through my reference texts, trying to come up with a match, I wouldn't have been surprised to find:
Habitat: hedgerows, scrub, car washes, and Kwik-e-marts.

According to one site this plant is ...
Also known as Greater Bindweed, Bearbind, Bellbine, Withybind, Devil's Guts, Hedge-Bell and, most appropriately, Hell Weed
Hell Weed? I'm not feeling the love.

Dave's Garden Newsletter June 21 2010

Moonflower (Ipomoea alba)

And yet, consider a similar plant, the Moonflower (Ipomoea alba). Check out this excerpt from "Dave's Garden Newsletter":
Ipomoea alba is a member of the morning glory family. Grown as a perennial in mild climates, or an annual in temperate regions, its fast-growing vining habit creates a beautiful backdrop to its stunning flowers.

The saucer-sized luminescent flowers appear at night, sweetly scenting the air until morning light closes the blooms, earning it the well-deserved common name of moonflower or moon vine. Large moths (such as the hawk moth) are a primary pollinizer of this nocturnal plant.

Hello?? Both plants bloom at dusk and dawn, both have showy snow-white flowers, both have twining stems, climbing vines. They even share the same pollinator, for heaven's sake, the convolvulus hawk moth! Why all the glory and praise for Ipomoea and dark stares and ridicule for Calystegia?

Hedge bindweed (Calystegia sepium) 18June2010 Hedge bindweed (Calystegia sepium) 18June2010

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


Vetches are vexing.

This image illustrates the issue. From artist and designer Henny Donovan, the stencil is called "Wild Vetch". Do you see? Wild Vetch ~ as if there was only one sort of vetch and "wild vetch" was its name and that was that.

Alas, I attended a guided tour of the wildflowers of Leighton Moss (Silverdale) a couple of Fridays ago and Iris (the guide) informed us otherwise. Why, within the space of several yards we came across at least two different vetches (tufted and bush). I hate when that happens.

On my subsequent walks, I resolved to try to figure out the difference. Which vetches had I been photographing? Remembering (incorrectly) that it had to do with the stems, perhaps the stems of one was hairy and the other smooth, I examined vetch after vetch. The damn things all looked the same to me. I plucked them up and brought samples home for further scrutiny. Again, the damn things all looked the same. I tried to match the samples against the illustrations in my reference texts. They all looked the same. I honestly couldn't tell what sort of vetches those d... well, you see now why I found them vexing.

Side-by-side comparison with Tufted Vetch on the left and Bush Vetch on the right

Side-by-side comparison

THEN, Cooper (our Norfolk Terrier) insisted on travelling in a different direction one day and LOW AND BEHOLD! a vetch. A different vetch! I mean different from all the vetches that I've been examining so closely.

I thought I'd pee my pants.

So I gathered up more specimens and carted them all home and here we can quite clearly see the Tufted Vetch on the left and the Bush Vetch on the right.

That's my story and I'm stickin' to it.

Tufted Vetch (Vicia cracca)Bush Vetch (Vicia sepium)
Tufted Vetch (Vicia cracca)Bush Vetch (Vicia sepium)
Tufted Vetch (Vicia cracca)Bush Vetch (Vicia sepium)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Garlic Mustard

Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata)

Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata)

Garlic mustard is a strange bugger. I notice it most often up against a wall, arms raised, like it's backing up away from an armed robber. It's not a lovely creature and is easily forgettable so it was never high on my "what-the-heck-is-its-name?" list. And yet, whenever I saw it, it'd make me laugh. A tall plant with toothed, heart shaped leaves at the base; pointing-to-the-heavens slender pods like arms; and a teeny tiny cluster of white flowers at the tippy top.

When I finally resolved to figure out the name of the thing, I cursed the sad fact that I don't know how to use a key, relying only on images and descriptions. And this plant, unlike Herb-Robert, is not at all photogenic. It's either all leaves or all arms or teeny tiny uninspiring flowers. All conspiring to make it frustrating for me to figure out.

The problem, I think, was simple. I'd missed the prime flowering season which must have been in April or May. At that time, there would have been richly colored green leaves and larger splashes of white flowers. By June, they were starting to pass and the seed pods were becoming a more dominant (and amusing) feature.

Garlic mustard. Also known as "Jack-by-the-hedge" and as "hedge garlic".

Garlic mustard. What sort of name is that to remember? Well, it turns out that the leaves are supposed to be quite tasty. If I had only ripped off a leaf or two and crushed it, I'd have noticed the smell of garlic. A recipe for Garlic Mustard Pesto calls for these ingredients:

4 cloves of Garlic
150g Garlic Mustard taproots
100g Parsley
150g Garlic Mustard leaves
50g Basil
200g Olives
250g Pine Nuts
120ml Miso
300ml Olive Oil

Yum! Doesn't that sound irresistible?

Now as I pass by, I think it's backing up away from me, arms in the air, shrieking "Don't eat me!"

Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) 28May2010 Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) 31May2010
Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) 03June2010 Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) 03June2010

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Green Alkanet

Green Alkanet (Pentaglottis sempervirens)

Green Alkanet (Pentaglottis sempervirens)

The hawthorn hedges are fading and the bottom leaves of the cow parsley are turning burgundy brown, but green alkanet is still going strong.

There's a spot along one of the walks that I take with the dogs, just down the hill from Rosside, and there's a patch of it there. It seems to love the shade.

The blue of the flowers is really very striking so I wondered a bit about the name "Green Alkanet." Why green? A quick search for more info didn't produce any results except to give the plant a big thumbs down for gardening. Evidently the hairs on the stems and leaves are irritants; it's not poisonous but doesn't taste good either; the roots are tentacious; and the plant can be invasive. Oh my! Well, I *still* love that color blue and will *still* enjoy seeing it on our walks.

Green Alkanet (Pentaglottis sempervirens) 28May2010 Green Alkanet (Pentaglottis sempervirens) 08June2010

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

White Dead-Nettle

White Dead-Nettle (Lamium album)

White Dead-Nettle (Lamium album)

This one made me stop dead in my tracks. I was running with Maggie along the A590 (a very busy road) and noticed a small patch of these white flowers. At first I thought they were those dreaded stinging nettles but, no, these are different. I didn't touch so I don't know if they'd bite me. Odd that I've only seen them in this one place. Nothing else around except the road and a pasture for sheep (bordering on a landfill, I think).

Friday, June 4, 2010


Herb-Robert (Geranium robertianum)

Herb-Robert (Geranium robertianum)

Herb-Robert is one of those flowers that I see everywhere. It sometimes pops through from a mass of other plants and is, at least to me, pretty distinctive with its little pink flowers and uncomplicated leaves.

Unlike most plants, this one's name is easy for me to remember. Why? Because I used to work for someone named "Robert". Not "Bob" or "Rob" or "Bobbie" or "Bert" - his name was "Robert". Unlike this flower, he was a very tall guy - a big guy with dimples. So in his own way he was cute. But the kicker is that Herb-Robert doesn't smell very good. So that just makes me laugh when I link this cute little flower to my old boss.