The wildflower path

I’ve just renewed my WordPress subscription, not for one year but two which signals something of a commitment to my blog. The reason I mention it is that to be honest, it’s been a bit touch and go whether I bothered at all as I’ve been seriously contemplating packing up for good. I’ve struggled with motivation in recent months, not least because I seem to have had an almost constant stream of technical problems; the WordPress ‘Happiness Engineers’ are a wonderfully responsive bunch who pull out all the stops to help (if all customer service was like them, the world would be a happier place, I think) but even so it’s been frustrating to say the least. I’ve also been wondering if the time I spend blogging couldn’t be better spent on other, more useful activities: one of the things I don’t like about social media is how so much time seems to be spent talking about and sharing the minutiae of life’s events rather than just getting on and living them. Ten years in the bag. Call it a day and move on. I teetered on the edge of the precipice for a while, wobbled big time then had a change of heart . . . and so the writing goes on!

I fell into blog writing more by accident than design when I was invited by a vegetable seed company to join their blog community. At the time, I had no interest whatsoever and the reasons for that haven’t changed: I don’t ‘do’ social media, I’m not a whizz on the computer and my photography skills aren’t the best. However, on reflection it did seem to offer me something new, different, exciting and challenging, the perfect platform for keeping a diary of our first French living adventure as well as an attractive exercise in keeping my brain ticking over with new skills. The bottom line is I love writing and given that from the age of four to forty-six the bulk of my written activities focused on study and work, it suddenly felt very liberating to be able to write for pleasure and waffle away to my heart’s content on subjects of my own choice. I have no desire to be a serious author but I enjoy the creativity and craft of writing, taking an idea and forming it into a string of words with all the polishing, editing and proof-reading that entails. My blog has changed and evolved a fair bit over the last ten years but I think that’s a good thing ~ so have I, after all! One of the things I really enjoy about Blog World is being part of a vibrant and fascinating community and I love the interaction I have with other writers, the deeper engagement and discussion that is possible with people across the globe. In fact, thanks to blogging I have a number of lovely ‘penpals’ in various countries with whom I’ve developed valued friendships, like-minded people with whom I can share ideas or chew the fat independently of our blog pages. It’s an enriching and life-affirming aspect I never imagined would happen, something that brings colour to my world and for which I’m very grateful.

We’ve had some beautiful sunsets this week.

Writing isn’t always an easy or straightforward process, in fact at times it can be downright daunting; as a primary school teacher I had huge empathy for children who sat and chewed their pencil when faced with a writing task, adamant that they couldn’t even think about starting until they’d come up with a title. Talk about procrastination! I’m never really sure where my blog posts come from but I tend to think of my writing approach in terms of a peg or a pathway. The latter is pretty simple, an obvious narrative or recount that has clear signposts from start to finish (even if I have a habit of wandering off piste at times) whereas a peg is an idea or theme that requires a bit more thinking about as I try to pull what are often disparate threads into some kind of coherent whole. I can go for days or weeks without any inkling of what my next blog will be about and then suddenly something presents itself from nowhere and off I go again. This post is a case in point, triggered by a visit to the charity shop to stock up on reading material and noticing a novel with the rather lovely title of The Wildflower Path which started me thinking about ~ somewhat surprisingly ~ wild flowers.

Stitchwort and speedwell

I often talk about how one of our major aims here is to support the ecosystems within our patch and to increase the biodiversity within them but in reality, what does that mean? In essence, I think it’s about letting nature find its own balance inside our boundaries and helping as much as we can along the way, even when that actually means leaving well alone. It’s very easy to make value judgements based on personal preferences or prejudice ~ robins are sweeter than crows, peacock butterflies are beautiful whereas the white ones are nothing but a nuisance ~ but it’s so important that we stop ourselves from doing that and instead see the worth (and yes, the beauty) in everything. It’s also crucial to remember that if we invite them in, they will come, but not always necessarily quite in the way we expect. I was ridiculously excited to see activity in our new bat box this week and then hugely amused to discover that far from the occupants we had been expecting, there is a pair of enterprising great tits building themselves a nest in there; how they are managing to squeeze themselves in through the entrance I do not know but they’re doing it alright! I’ve also been having a fascinating time watching the red mason bees who have just started building nests in the solitary bee box we have put up in the outdoor shelter; they work so hard and take such care in carting pollen in and stashing it before laying an egg and sealing the cell with mud, several little nurseries skilfully built into each tube.

It occurred to me that the mud being used is much lighter in colour than our reddish soil and I had my suspicions about where it was coming from. When the stonemason created the doorway between the house and barn, along with a huge pile of stones he removed the yellow clay that had been packed between them in the traditional way of building; we have spread large quantities of it about on various beds but there is still a pile behind the house and having watched the bee in the photo above fly off in that direction, I set off to follow her. Sure enough, there were several mason bees in the area, collecting the yellow mud for their nests. Incredible.

Away from the bees’ nestbox and there are seemingly hundreds of wild bees making their nests in holes in the barn wall if the amount of busyness in the vicinity is anything to go by. We have been talking about pointing the barn to match the house but given what’s going on, it’s probably more important to leave it as a bee hotel; it’s only aesthetics, after all. What did make me smile, though, while checking on the activity was seeing one innovative bee who is building her nests not in nooks and crannies between the stones or in crumbling mortar but in holes in the wooden barn door. Yes, ask them and they will come . . . but sometimes very much on their own terms, it seems!

Anyway, back to the matter of wild flowers which are of course every bit as important as the resident fauna. Our philosophy is to encourage what is already here as much as possible rather than trying to introduce too many new species which in themselves may not be an appropriate addition to the ecosystem. It’s always lovely to see those beautiful pictures of wildflower meadows but the truth is they are difficult to establish and manage whilst importing seed or plug plants in an attempt to create a meadow can have serious drawbacks. We would rather work with what is here, encouraging different species to thrive and spread in those areas that suit them; if additional species want to arrive of their own accord, then that’s all well and good. I have raised a few natives from seed such as marshmallow and purple loosestrife to plant by the pond and in autumn I shall be sowing wild garlic in the hope of some future forage in our woodland area. Otherwise, it’s a case of recognising what we already have and what we can do to encourage them to stay and spread. With this in mind, I decided to grab the camera and set off on my very own Wildflower Path around the patch to see what I could find; there’s no missing the bold swathes of daisies, primroses and dandelions but it’s incredible just how many other beauties are here if we care to look. What follows is by no means a complete catalogue but simply a taste of what nature is doing at the moment with very little input from us.

Dandelions flourish both in the long grass and where paths have been mown.
The carpets of daisies bounce back straight after mowing, too.
Primroses and ground ivy
Forget-me-not
Bird’s eye speedwell
Dog violet
Field wood-rush, also known as Good Friday grass and Sweep’s broom, has responded enthusiastically in no-mow areas.
Common sorrel
Creeping buttercup
Ribwort plantain
Pignut
Red deadnettle
Fumitory (with goosegrass)
Celandine and wild strawberry
Lady’s smock (also known as cuckoo flower)
Grasses have their own kind of beauty . . .
. . . and willows do, too.

What a lovely little wander. I was particularly thrilled to find that several new lady’s smock plants had appeared in different areas; they are one of my favourite spring flowers, so beautiful when growing en masse, so fingers crossed for some serious spreading. I was also very pleased that a couple of solitary bees (Grey-banded miner bees, possibly?) were kind enough to pose on stitchwort and buttercups long enough for me to catch a photo ~ not forgetting the grasshopper on the dandelion, of course. There is a definite sense of wild flowers blooming in greater quantities and varieties and that is certainly something to encourage in the future. I’ve just sown a large flower bed with a nectar-rich annual seed mix but only between the wild things that have turned up of their own accord and started to colonise the area: yarrow, plantain, knapweed, campion, ox-eye daisies, mullein . . . nature’s garden is managing itself very well. In my last post, I observed how quickly our garden would revert to woodland if left untouched and here is the proof if it were ever needed: on my wild flower wander, the first thing that caught my eye wasn’t a flower at all, but the deep glossy rust of oak seedlings emerging from last year’s fallen acorns.

Coming full circle to where I started, I’m looking for ways in which to move forward with my blog over the next two years, maintaining its essence and integrity whilst also rising to new challenges and embracing different ideas along the way; I’m not into trends and fashions but I think it’s important to give myself a little shake every now and then so that I don’t become a complete dinosaur. I’ve flirted with the idea of shifting to a new layout but I actually quite like this one, especially as my posts tend to be photo-heavy so I’m contenting myself with changing the background of my homepage to something seasonal on a regular basis instead (bluebells and orchids this week). I also looked into the idea of a making a podcast but came to the conclusion pretty swiftly that it really isn’t my thing; I can natter away with the best of them but it’s the writing I love ~ and when I thought about it, the peace, quiet and concentration that accompany the process of arranging words on a page, whether they’re tumbling out of my mind in a torrent or playing hard to get. It’s a little bit like following a path that twists and turns away into the distance; there’s no telling quite where it will lead me over the next couple of years . . . but as long as there are plenty of wild flowers along the way, then I shall be very happy to keep on wandering. ­čśŐ