The lovely Bogbean and the blundering Cockchafer; confusing Butterfly-orchids; Woodlark heard from the front door; Wild Gladiolus at last, and a friendly child in the Forest; a Blackbird attacks a Slow-worm and too much tennis for an aging body.
On May 9th 1950 Gran is worried about “her” little colony of Small Wintergreen in the nearby woods. She writes:
I was pleased to find the Pyrola minor (Small Wintergreen) is just about to flower again in the wood bordering Oakwood Road but sorry to see that the woodman is burning the undergrowth on the opposite side of the road…It always seems to be the wrong time of year for burning, for, apart from the budding plants, many of the migrant birds build their nests on the ground or in low-lying bushes.
Times are a little more enlightened now; it’s against the law to do this, though many people still undertake work in their gardens during the bird nesting season, which causes birds’ nests to fail. Later, early in June, when walking through the oak wood, she finds that the patch of Wintergreen had been burned and almost completely destroyed.
After a period of sickness and severe headaches, during which, “Barry, Jane and Jock coped admirably with my neglected duties”, Gran cycles, apparently with her seven-year old Godson, to Colden Common to record flowers. Among many others she records Bogbean, saying of it:
…this last, I think, almost our loveliest wildflower and its inherent beauty quite hidden under the misnomer Bogbean, for although it certainly likes a boggy locality it is certainly not a bean but a gentian, and its Latin name of Menyanthes trifolia far more in keeping with its loveliness.
While writing-up her notes for the day, she is interrupted:
A diversion here whilst I chased and put out a Cockchafer, which would fly round the room zooming as though jet-propelled and then landing with a thump on my bed near the lamp. I have closed the window until I finish writing. I do not mind some bedfellows but I do object to Cockchafers – they are so stupid and so blundering!
It’s true that Gran happily shares her room with all manner of flying creatures, which are attracted to her light and enter through the constantly open window as she writes.
On May 27th, Gran, keen to play her part in the Southampton Natural History Society’s study of the Bishop’s Dyke area, cycles out to the New Forest to meet other Society members, arriving there at 12:30. However, after eating her packed lunch and also compiling a substantial list of every species of bird, invertebrate and plant she finds, while wandering over an extensive area, no other members appear until she is about to leave! Two of these members are named: Mr Southwell and Mr Knowlton, the former telling her, she writes, “that Herb Paris grows prolifically in the woods round Timsbury Manor”. No doubt she will make a visit there before long.
Another name mentioned at this time (Gran rarely does give her acquaintances names) is Mrs Freestone. She, older than Gran, lived in Hiltingbury Road, two houses west of The Ridge and Gran has several times recently taken her out to find wildflowers. She has lent her books too, as Gran notes that while books are being returned, and the two ladies are chatting in the garden, a hen Chaffinch with food is seen to enter a low shrub and to feed a nestfull of young there. Dad tells me that while he was quite young, Mr Freestone attempted to teach him to count from 1 – 10 in French! Little can one foretell the seemingly minor actions, or words said, that may be remembered in years to come!
As in 1949, Gran records the evening and morning bird chorus for the Bird Research Station at Glanton on the 27th and 28th May respectively. She is up very early for the latter, writing:
Barry arrived home from Stockbridge [where he had been entomologising with friends] at 2.55 just as I was about to get up to record the dawn chorus. He had heard Woodlarks singing and said one was then doing so in the opposite wood. I dressed quickly and sat on a stool in the front porch, notebook and pencil ready. At 3 a.m., besides the Woodlark, which sang without intermission for a solid hour – a downscale crescendo, getting rapidly quicker – Brown and Barn Owls were calling and a Nightingale was singing down by the lake.
And she continues to record new additions to the chorus until about 4.40 when:
I retired to bed again for an hour or two (I thought) and was rather disappointed at not hearing any of the Woodpeckers, but as I snuggled down again I heard the Greater Spotted call from the Pyrus tree outside my window at 5 a.m. I slept, I’m afraid, until nearly 8.30…
She spends the afternoon writing-up her journal for the last two days, noting as she did, that in the garden there was “much forceful demanding of food from young Blackbirds”:
I wrote steadily for two and a half hours, when my young, in the shape of Jane, also demanded food on her return from tennis. After tea I returned to my writing until my other “chick” returned, much gratified at finding Fox Moths in numbers in their old haunt near what is now the Families Camp, in Hiltingbury Road.
The following afternoon:
I went to Bishop’s Waltham to play tennis with friends, and apart from the enjoyment of the game, I was charmed with the beauty of their garden and the magnificent view all round it. The situation is high, and from the tennis court, an unbroken view across tree-lined meadows makes it possible to see the hills round Bassett, Southampton, in the distance.
This appears to have been on a farm, because Gran continues, “A Magpie was chattering but reference to this species was not met with enthusiasm as they apparently caused damage on the farm”. While she is there:
Barry had been to a new area of downland between Pitt and Compton and found a good patch of what Gran records as:
Habanaria bifolia (Butterfly Orchis)…and great numbers of Cowslip plants, upon which the larvae of Duke of Burgundy Fritillaries feed, and there was a great many of these attractive little butterflies on the wing.
Today, two Butterfly-0rchid species are recognised but their identification appears to have been less understood at this time, each considered to be a form of a single species. There is little doubt that these downland ones would have been Greater Butterfly-0rchid Platanthera chlorantha and not Lesser Butterfly-0rchid P. bifolia.
Bentham & Hooker (1947), Handbook of the British Flora, which was the standard reference in those days, states the following:
“Habenaria bifolia Br. Butterfly Orchis… There are two forms, H. bifolia proper, a less robust plant, with anther-cells parallel, occurring in heathy places, and H. chloroleuca Ridl. (H. chlorantha Bab.), a more robust plant, with generally broader leaves, larger flowers, usually very white (although the name means “green flowered”) and anther cells broadly diverging at the base.”
Dad adds that true Lesser Butterfly-orchid Platanthera bifolia is widespread but local around Beaulieu Road, in the New Forest, and especially reliable on the left of the roadside to Beaulieu as you go downhill beyond the Hotel/Station and the left turn to Ipley. Greater Butterfly-orchid on the other hand, is on the chalk, sometimes on open downland e.g. Porton Down or along wood margins, e.g. near Farley Mount.
Gran’s body pays for its tennis efforts the following day, when she is labouring in the Park Road garden. She writes that the Russell Lupins there, together with Irises, provide a “joyous sight” in the border, but:
Unfortunately less beautiful things demanded my attention today and I found manuring and sticking peas a tedious and extremely warm job – the perspiration dripping off the end of my nose as I bent my reluctant back to the task of hoeing. Tennis, after an absence from the court of nearly two years, makes back, shoulders and ribs very unwilling to bend about much on the day after playing for the first time and one grows not younger during the interval!
On June 1st, Dad and Gran are botanising on the downs between Hursley and Compton. They record a long list of chalk-loving species, and:
The most unusual and spectacular find was a small patch of Spurge, which, if it is as we suspect, Euphorbia esula, is a very important discovery for us. I am sending a specimen to Kew to be verified. The typical species (Leafy Spurge) is probably not indigenous to Britain but is said to have established itself in places in Scotland, but a smaller plant, similar to a continental species occurs on the chalk downs south of the Thames, and it is this latter that Barry thinks we found this evening. I came upon it suddenly, and as the patch lay in full sunlight and the plants varied in colour from bright vermilion to golden yellow, the beauty of it can well be imagined.
Gran loves the downs and sits in quiet but sad contemplation for a long time. She writes that, “…it will be ever thus”:
But while on the downland the cheerful sound of a country child’s piping voice, singing in a farmstead away over the fields carried right up to me on the hillside, over space and through the silence of the quiet countryside and filled me for a moment with a surging tide of ecstatic love for my England and a momentary longing to go on living.
Dad has followed the fortunes of, not only Hawfinch nests, but also a fair number of other species breeding nearby, including Willow Warbler, Nightjar and Chaffinch. The garden Blackbirds, Gran tells us, fledged their second brood on May 27th, and on June 2nd, she notes:
Barry visited his various nests this afternoon and found that the Garden Warbler has young and saw two broods of young Hawfinches flying about the woods, both parties still without tails but safely launched into the world. He also found a Spotted Flycatcher’s nest in the course of construction.
Two days later he discovers a third brood of Hawfinches in the opposite woods, and the garden Blackbirds are re-furbishing their nest for yet another clutch, though, as yet, no egg has been laid. (This occurred later, on June 5th). The same day Gran, another severe headache notwithstanding, cycles to the downs beyond Owslebury to renew acquaintance with the little colony of Man Orchids that she knows there:
…and I parked my bicycle in the usual place. I had just climbed on to the down when, to my delight I found half a dozen Man Orchids in a new situation. Feeling very pleased to think that this rarity was increasing, I hurried along to the original place but, to my horror, discovered that it had been ploughed up.
June 5th is a botanical Red-letter day for Gran:
The late afternoon and evening brought me today’s greatest pleasure, for I went into the New Forest with a friend to look for a flower that was to be a new one for my Hampshire list if we were successful…Arrived at Bank we set out on foot to search for Gladiolus communis, the New Forest being the only known locality where this flower is truly native.
They fail in their search so decide to find a cottage in Bank, with a garden where the plant grows (presumably having been originally dug up from the wild) and ask the owner how to find the wild ones. A lady, with a small child in one of these gardens offers to take Gran and her companion to a site for the plant, at Gritnam, and Gran is ecstatic at finding there, just a single plant, “…here, at last, was the flower which for many years I have tried to find”.
Gran derives a little more pleasure from her experience:
By this time, the small girl, not quite five years old, had become very friendly and slipped her hand into mine. I asked her if she was tired and she replied, “Oh no, I am not tired, I just wanted to hold your hand”. So we walked the rest of the way hand in hand, and when we left she stood waving until we were out of sight. Altogether we enjoyed a heart-warming and happy experience…We returned [home] through Cadnam, Ower and Romsey and after a refreshing orange squash at the John Barleycorn at Cadnam, the home journey was pleasant and extremely beautiful.
I initially wrote here that I thought alcohol probably never passed Gran’s lips, but Dad enlightens me, saying, “Cider at Christmas, and occasional sherry, which she downed in a single gulp, like a medicine”!
On the hot evening of June 6th, Gran plays tennis again “as sticky a business as garden work”, she says, and she also records that:
Barry found an immature Hawfinch lying dead in the gutter on the corner of Lakewood and Hiltingbury Roads today. It was fully fledged and had lost all trace of down, and appeared to be older than any of the broods of youngsters so far discovered.
Gran records an interesting observation concerning a Blackbird in the garden of The Ridge on June 7th:
A cock Blackbird was struggling with a Slow-worm in the garden this morning. It seemed unable to kill it or to hold it but it grappled very determinedly. When Barry went to investigate, it flew off and examination of the Slow-worm showed several beak-marks where the scales had been removed but the skin was not punctured. After lying inert in Barry’s hand, it was placed on a tuft of grass when it immediately recovered and slithered out of sight.
‘Lizard’ and ‘snake’ are recorded in Cramp (1988), Handbook of Birds of Europe, the Middle East and North Africa: the birds of the Western Palearctic as being on the diet of Blackbird but it must surely be unusual and involve only very young prey items. I wonder if this Slow-worm was merely being attacked, perceived as a threat to the nest or young of the bird. This Blackbird may not have been of the pair just starting it’s third breeding attempt in the garden, but Gran writes that, “Our Blackbird laid her third egg this morning”. Incubation begins the following day, and she notes too, that Spotted Flycatchers appear to be nesting on the corner of the roof.
There is news of the strange Spurge, found on the downs:
Kew has identified our Spurge as Euphorbia cyparissias, a form [properly referred to as a close relative rather than a form] of E. esula, which is occasionally found on the chalk downs of southern England.
Next day Gran provides “a diversion from Natural History” when she goes to Southampton Sports Centre:
I went there to see Jane and her partner, Mary Milnes, play in the doubles of the Junior Tennis Tournament and was surprised and delighted when they safely negotiated two more rounds and found themselves in the final. I found watching them far more nerve-racking than playing in tournaments myself (and I have had plenty of experience in this, but being the mother of a competitor is new to me!) But they both played extremely well, and I include this in this book, not only from a natural sense of maternal pride but because there was so much beauty in the sight of all the young players, boys and girls, so full of youthful grace and enthusiasm, and the sportsmanship shown makes one proud of the youngsters of this dear old country.
Oh dear – I’ve had a peak ahead at some entries in the 1970s and 80s concerning sportsmanship in tennis! She has much to say about John McEnroe!
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 1)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 2)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 3)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 4)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 5)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 6)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 7)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 8)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 9)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 10)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 11)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 12)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 13)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 14)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 15)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 16)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 17)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 18)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 19)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 20)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 21)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 22)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 23)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 24)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 25)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 26)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 27)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 28)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 29)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 30)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 31)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 32)