Issue 147    Sept 1st   to December 1st 2020

Wonderful Wildflowers on Hungerford Verges

West Berkshire Council are to be congratulated.  Their campaign “wildflowers on verges” is an incredible success.  Colourful wild flowers brighten our car journeys along the A4.  They form a great display against the backdrop of the hedges. It is now an absolute joy to be chauffeured, even on a rainy day.  Moreover, insects such as bees, butterflies and moths will benefit immensely.  This in turn will help birds. Furthermore it is now a pleasure to drive around  the A338/ M4 roundabout.   The wildflowers here are stunning this summer.  A mini nature reserve has been created.   I think colourful wild flowers flourish all year round.

Obviously no-one should risk looking at wildflowers whilst driving or walk along the road to see them.

From the car I am sure I noticed Butterbur in winter; Greater Stitchwort in spring as well as Scarlet Pimpernel.   But this summer the Everlasting Sweet Peas have been stunning.   According to my text books  they will flower until September.   The  flower of the sweet pea is  described as a vivid magenta-pink in the books.  However all sorts of colours  seem to be present on these flowers.  

Fortunately the sweet pea is a perennial and so we should enjoy it every year,  Yet, sadly, it is treated as an invasive  weed in some areas and, bizarrely, I cannot get it to grow in my garden.  An expert told me my soil was very poor and alkaline in nature. Botanists will know that there is a broad-leaved sweet pea  as well as a narrow-leaved sweet pea.  They will know their scientific names… such as lathyrus latifolius.

Perhaps the fumes from the cars encourages the growth of these flowers and I suspect that nitrous oxide is the main culprit.  Nitrous oxide is also known as laughing gas and is added to fuel to help efficiency or conversion to oxygen for burning in the cylinders. Seeing these wild flowers inspired me to go for a walk on the Downs to try and find English Orchids.  Although it is a little bit late for them as they are at their best in June.  Orchids used to thrive on road-side verges.  However a walk on the Downs or on the Marshes is safer and almost guarantees orchids and a host of other flowers.    

Fortunately I did see Spotted Common Orchid in full bloom in July but the wayblades  had formed seed heads. This pleased me as much as seeing their white flowers   Strangely I saw Harebells and Clustered Bell Flowers which was a pleasant surprise…  I had forgotten they sometimes appear.   Perhaps I am lucky in so much as I know a landowner who lets me wander around his estate in exchange for helping to pull Ragwort.

The owner maintains Ragwort is a wonderful flower and is ignored by livestock but is poisonous if fed to them in hay.   We often have chats about cinnabar moths which use Ragwort as a food plant.   In my opinion the moth would control the plant if bred in large numbers.  The caterpillar is black and yellow like a wasp and the moth is red and black.

Purists will know there are several species of Ragwort including Common, Oxford and Marsh.   Every year Oxford Ragwort arrives in my garden, as if by magic, because I have converted a lawn into a mini wild flower meadow.          

Richard Barker aka Hawkeye