Poor Bastard! (Balm)

Since I decided a few weeks ago to start logging all the wildflowers that I come across, I have learnt a lot. I have spent hours on the internet comparing images and trying to identify plants, finding that some are far easier than others. Some have me stumped for days, until suddenly I have a breakthrough, and this was one such plant.

Cycling up a valley road I noticed some splashes of pink on the steep, almost vertical bank. Closer inspection showed it to be a slightly nettle-like plant, with a scattering of large-ish pink flowers up the stem.

Interestingly, amongst a fairly small group of plants, there was quite a wide range of colours, from pale to deep pink, as well as one plant that combined both of these shades in each flower.

Bastard Balm

The closest I could get to identifying it for some days was some type of lamium: the leaves were about right, but the flowers were not quite the right shape – not narrow enough, and far larger and more impressive than most lamium flowers. Another option that kept cropping up was a type of stachys – perhaps Hedge Woundwort. The flower shape was closer, but still not quite right, and the leaves didn’t have their own stalks. Finally, more by chance than anything, I came upon it, and the poor thing with the beautiful pink flowers is called Bastard Balm!

Despite the name, I just wanted to show you how lovely it is.

Bastard BalmBastard Balm

Bastard Balm

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Colour of the Moment: Purple

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Wisteria blossomIt’s mid-April, and purple seems to have taken over as the colour of the moment.

Swags of wisteria adorn stone buildings in every village and hamlet, filling the air with their perfume. I especially like walking around the hamlet in the early evening when the smell seems to be magnified by the warmth radiating off the stone walls, and hangs trapped between the houses.

I have heard the scent of wisterias described as sweet, or musky, or honey-like. To me it is sweet, but also slightly nutmeggy, although I’m sure different varieties have different scents.

20170413_165000-1-120170415_181006 (2)Next are the purple irises, which seem to grow like wildflowers. Not only can they be found in gardens and growing along the bottom (or the tops) of garden walls, but clumps of them can be seen in the verges and even in more wild and remote parts of the countryside. Again, they have the most wonderful scent. It is delicate, but I’m sure a large clump in full bloom in the sun would have a good go at scenting the air around.

Back to more cultivated areas, growing in gardens but also sometimes in hedgerows, lilac trees are now in full bloom. While the white-flowered variety bring a lovely freshness, the shades of the deeper purple-flowered variety can be quite striking, especially when the flowers are newly-opened and before they start to fade. Do I need to mention that they smell wonderful? Maybe something to do with being purple…

Lilac tree

Finally, one of the most notable trees in gardens at the moment is the Judas tree, Cercis siliquastrum. The trees are clothed in the deep pinky-purple pea-shaped blossoms, outlining the shape of each branch and twig. As the flowers come before the leaves, it makes for quite an unusual sight. Unfortunately I haven’t yet got close enough to a Judas tree to see if they smell nice as well. Maybe when I plant one in my own garden I will find out! It was also harder to get good photos of them, seeing as they mostly grow in peoples gardens on the outskirts of towns around here…

 

New (or)chids on the block

It really does seem like new orchids pop up overnight. I know it’s probably me not being observant enough to spot the new stems pushing through (hard to do when cycling, you have to admit), but there also seem to be new species coming along week by week. First were the Early purple orchids, following a few weeks later by Lady orchids. Earlier this week I started to notice lots of tightly closed, small orchids which look pale pink from a distance, but are actually more of a speckled purple and white, up close. I wasn’t able to identify them immediately because the flowers weren’t fully open.

New (to me) orchid species. What is it….?

A day or two later and I have seen a dozen or more of them, almost fully open. And they are …. Monkey orchids! What a great name. Also known as Orchis simia. The spike of flowers is relatively short, and looks noticeably spiky and with little tongues sticking out. When you look closely at the flowers you see that they have very narrow lobes, deep pink/purple on the ends and a very different shape to most other orchid species. The shape of the flower is supposed to resemble a monkey.

Monkey orchid

Monkey orchid (Orchis simia)

The second new species I found this week, only 100 yards from my gite in the verge beside the road, was something I immediately thought must be a Bee orchid, so distinctive were the flowers. However, a bit of research suggests it is the Woodcock orchid (or Woodcock bee-orchid), Ophrys scolopax.

Woodcock bee-orchid

Woodcock bee-orchid (Ophrys scolopax)

Woodcock bee-orchid

 

 

Orchids

In the last few days of March I noticed the very first Early purple orchids (Orchis mascula) poking through in the roadside verges, adding a bright splash of colour. Now I’m seeing more and more of them – mostly in ones and twos, although sometimes they grow in sparse patches. The largest I have seen has been about 30 cm tall, although I gather they can grow up to 60 cm.

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Early purple orchid

The flowers are stunning close up, as is the colour:

Early purple orchid

Close up of Early purple orchid

Today, as a cycled along, I also spotted what I think I have identified as a Lady orchid (Orchis purpurea), growing on a very steep bank beside the road, which made photographing it a bit difficult.

Lady orchid

Lady orchid

Cowslips

One of the most incredible sights throughout February and March, and into April, has been the swathes of cowslips (primula veris) growing on roadside verges, and in meadows and gardens. 20170331_101729-1 (2)At first glance you might think they were dandelions or buttercups such is their abundance. (As an aside, dandelions are also common here, but buttercups far less so – at least at the moment – as I was pleased to note, my former East Sussex garden having been under constant threat of being completely taken over by them). 20170329_150002-1 1 (2)20170329_145922-1 (2)And some close-ups: