• A strange orchid occurrence

    Spotted something yesterday evening on the Downs that I've never seen before. The orchids are at the peak of their annual show on Bromyard Downs - arguably one of the very best sites and sights in the UK. I looked very closely at this particular flower assuming that it was two stems with the flower heads wrapped around one another, but no! This common spotted orchid has what I'd describe as a bifurcated flower head. I'm sure it will have happened before and there will be lots of folks out there who've clapped eyes on this phenomenon before. Now I know exactly where the plant is it will be fascinating to see if it does the same next year.

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  • In the footsteps of Henry John Elwes

    Last Saturday was a blast. Invited to Colebourne Park to talk at Gloucestershire Tree Warden Group's AGM. Colesbourne is the home of Sir Henry and Lady Carolyn Elwes; Sir Henry being the great grandson of Henry John Elwes (1846-1922) who, along with Augustine Henry, produced the monolithic seven volume work on trees - 'Trees of Great Britain and Ireland' between 1906 & 1913. It was marvellous to hear Henry talk of his great forebear and his travels and passion for trees, an enthusiasm that has certainly been carried on down the family line. The park around the big house at Colesbourne is a fine if somewhat eclectic collection of trees from every corner of the globe, and our afternoon guided walk by Henry illustrated his intimate knowledge of the collection, to which he has added many new specimens himself. There are eight record breakers in the collection, including the greatest girth true service tree and a gargantuan Populus x canadensis 'Robusta' - an impressive 37 metres high (but sadly starting to die back in the crown). One of the more entertaining tales of the trees appertains to the Oriental plane (see below). Apparently the tree was struck from a cutting taken from a tree growing on the grave of a Chinese emperor in Beijing. It has always had this strange low and sprawling character and, as Henry avers, 'a descendant of the emperor, when visiting Colesbourne, is said to have remarked that it lacked its usual sustenance.'

    My personal thanks to Ann at GTWG for inviting me to talk and to Sir Henry and Lady Carolyn who were wonderful hosts for the day.

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  • Spots Spots ...... and a bit of grass

    We've been very lucky again and our spotted flycatchers returned once more to nest in the garden. One little brood of four are wedged in a hollow in the old stone wall of the walled garden outside the kitchen. They go very quiet and freeze when we approach the nest, which we try not to do too often. Couldn't resist a shot of these four little urchins crammed in there. I think they'll be up & away very soon.

    Turned round and there's an extremely spotty frog watching me from the pond.

    As the sun dipped down this evening I spotted this clump of grass on the track outside the kitchen window. It wasn't there last year & it's not one of our commoner grasses, so how it arrived I've no idea. Wind? Bird? Boot? Tyre? After a quick look to see what species it might be I reckon it's possibly called black bent. If anything, backlit by the sun, it looked more like a golden rain or some such firework tonight.

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  • Black poplar in peril?

    At the request of one of the villagers of Blakemere in Herefordshire I went over to have a look at their beautiful village green native black poplar today. A fine old tree that I have photographed a couple of times over the last 20 years. In the last bout of windy weather one of the boughs blew off and this has led to the usual predictable kneejerk reaction that one has come to expect these days. It's only a matter of time before more boughs detach themselves or perhaps the whole tree topples over, so let's just cut the whole thing down.

    Well, no! There are other solutions - compromises that could see this tree carry on. How about pollarding?

    I have written back to my village contact who, needless to say is keen to retain the tree, explaining my views and suggesting some alternative action. This black pop is not only an almost unique village green tree (I only know of one other over in East Anglia), making it a very special landscape feature for Blakemere, but it is arguably one of the finest and more unusual heritage trees of Herefordshire and should rank as a nationally important tree too.

    Big meeting of the villagers and local parish council tomorrow. We live in hopes of a little sanity and vision.

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  • A good morning at Kentchurch

    Last Friday I requested special permission to take a small group on a tour of Kentchurch Court deer park and its fabulous trees. Met up with Jill Butler from Woodland Trust and Ted Green from Windsor Great Park, along with Allen Davies and head gardener Tristan. Weather was grim at 9a.m., but by 10 the sun started to burst through. Jill and Ted seemed suitably impressed with what they saw. Lots of measuring going on, but a little deflated to realise that I took David Alderman from The Tree Register round a couple of years back. Still, who knows, some of them may have grown a tiny bit!

    Much conjecture about how and why certain trees are in the park. The huge old open grown yews have always been a puzzle, but I am convinced that they were part of the continuous woodland that was here before the park was empaled in the medieval period. Exactly how the process of clearance around them has evolved is a mystery - possibly a mixture of browsing by animals and some tree clearance by man. Still, a longstanding rule on the estate forbids anyone to cut down the yew trees on pain of instant dismissal. One assumes that it has long been considered a sign of bad luck to harm these trees....which is very fortunate for us today that they are still around to be enjoyed. Almost all these yews have very bristly boles, densely packed with epicormic shoots. My assumption was that this regen. has been stimulated by the constant nibbling of the deer over hundreds of years. Ted suggests that it might be a viral or fungal stimulus. Worth looking into I think.

    Anyway, here are a couple of pictures of the crew at work.

    For any visitors thinking they might like to see this very private and special site please note that we are intending to do another of my Walk'n'Talk days here in October. Exact date to be announced later, but everyone who's been to our previous ones has had a great time. Watch this space!

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