Blithe Spirit and Dead Nettles

    Hail to thee, blithe Spirit! / Bird thou never wert / That from Heaven, or near it / Pourest thy full heart /In profuse strains of unpremeditated art. (From: To A Skylark by P B Shelley)

What a cold hearted wet May we’re enduring, most unfavourable after a frosty dry April. But there is always cheer and interest every spring, whatever the weather, as light and life return. One of the more cheering things has been the increased presence of skylarks. We hope they may be nesting in our field, having detected their presence by sight and sound as early as February. Numbers have been in steady decline since the late 1970’s and despite considerable research no one can say exactly why. Most experts agree though that the trend away from spring sown to autumn sown crops and the ploughing up of winter stubble and spraying off of weed species have all played a part in affecting survival rates of this most iconic of birds, celebrated in verse and music, from Chaucer to Vaughan Williams.  

My cycles along the lane are made special not just by the songs of high flying competitive male skylarks but also by sightings of common wayside wild flowers. Take this one for example, white dead nettle (Lamium Album) As the name implies it’s not the roughly similar common stinging nettle. Similar plants, with different colour flowers, are red deadnettle and yellow archangel,  and are all common plants of disturbed waste ground. WDN is a hairy perennial with square stems and has hooded white flowers in whorls much loved by mason bees and bumble bees. Each flower has a small drop of nectar at its base and the leaves can be eaten raw or cooked. In herbal medicines, the plant is an astringent mainly used as a uterine tonic and to reduce excessive menstrual bleeding.

Second Covid jab means a return to Kendal. This time the town much busier, with shops open and energy and hope restored to everyday life. Coffee & bacon baguette in the market square, watching the world go by. We travel home via the A6 and get treated to some rare cross-country views. Stop off at the wonderfully stocked Larch Cottage nurseries for a bunch of plants .

Head on to near Penrith to finally get to visit Clifton Hall (usually just glimpsed from the motorway) in the care of English Heritage. Impressive tower the only remains of a Tudor fortified house on a gentle eminence now surrounded by its former farm’s modern outbuildings. Clifton was also the place where a delaying defence skirmish by Murray’s highlanders prevented Cumberland’s army catching up with Prince Charles Edward Stuart’s retreating rebel army in 1745.

Excited to see that a flurry of yellow rattle (Rhinanthus Minor) has sprung up across our roadside verge, under the shade of the copse’s willows and dry stonewall. Scarified and sown last autumn with a mixture of shade tolerant native meadow seeds these plants are pathfinders, the medal winning meadow makers, annuals that will lead a semi-parasitic existence on the grass, weakening it and making life easier for the more delicate flower varieties to flourish in its wake. Yellow rattle is named for the beak like pods that turn black after flowering and seeding itself freely. Look closely at a traditional meadow and you’ll see them there for sure.

I love taking the new Hayter lawn mower for an outing every three weeks or so. It replaces the sturdy old model whose undersides had finally rotted away after years of great service. Living up to its British racing green livery it proceeds at a steady 2 mph walk over sinuous stretch of grass that frames and connects all the garden elements of flower borders, meadow, bushes, fences, walls, trees and pond.  

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