Bugles standing witness

I am being fanciful, plants have their own being and place in this world, however finding these small but elegant dark purple flowers standing amongst long grass and glossy buttercups in the churchyard I cannot help but think they are keeping a quiet witness to the lives and deaths amidst which they grow.

Bugles are one of the first wildflowers I learned the latin name of, ajuga reptans, meaning ‘to drive away’ (a hint of its healing properties) and ‘creeping’. I was out surveying a wood with the Beds, Cambs, Northants Wildlife Trust a classic place to find this shady, damp loving plant. Since, I have discovered that they are often planted in shady places in gardens, where not much else will grow. Do you have them in your garden?

I went out this morning to have another look round St Mary’s churchyard. To my delight I immediately found a patch of ground ivy, germander speedwell – yesterday’s focus blue-purple flowers – growing with bugle, near the new, neatly tended ashes’ burial area.

Once again, I was tripped up thinking, ‘Is that ground ivy, or is it bugle’? At first glance their flowers look similar. Bugle however stands more upright. Bugle’s flowers are packed closer together. Bugle’s flower petals appear to have a touch of yellow, actually that’s the anthers peeping out. The leaves are very different. Ground ivy leaves are scalloped, bugle leaves are gently wavy edged.

Wandering off the main path to the church I found so much more. Left uncut, buttercups, oxeye daisies, red clover – always a good sign of wildlife rich grassland – are all growing. Suddenly I caught my breath. I saw a whole patch of bugle growing, invisible from the path, a startling sign of exquisite nature thriving in what could so easily regarded as unkempt, neglected grass.

I suggest this – and other churchyards with uncut areas – are a great place to have a wander. We will only discover why such areas are important – and a delight – by getting to know what grows in them and watching and listening to the other wildlife that also enjoys them. What we don’t know, we don’t miss. You won’t harm the plants by walking around as long as you take a bit of care where you put your feet. Remember, last year this place would have been cut and these flowers would not have existed…

I’ve been challenged by doing Kelly Holmes’ core session workouts each morning, Nathalie’s encouragement keeps me going. Kelly Holmes keeps saying you can push yourself as hard as you like, but start somewhere… If you haven’t done this before, a bit like I am finding my core (!), you might like to challenge yourself to count all the different species you find, to add to the challenge count the different grasses as well. How about adding the butterflies, hoverflies, bumblebees?

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Blue-purple flowers in shady places

From looking upwards at the leaves of trees, I’ve been looking down at my feet, in shady places under trees. So many flower species are blooming now I am going to give you two in one go, one purple, one blue – ground ivy and germander speedwell – and follow that tomorrow with a third, bugle. Each are only a hand span high, if that and at first glance could be confused.

Ground ivy is a common garden ‘weed’, with a propensity to spread rapidly by sending out runners that root. How much time do you spend pulling up this species in your garden?! Its latin name is glechoma hederacea – maybe the sound of that alone ought to lift this species into the ranks of respected garden plants! However, its common names – creeping Charlie, or hedge maids – perhaps keep it down the ranks! Hedera is latin for ‘ivy’, after its ivy-shaped leaves. I hadn’t realised it belonged to the mint family and is aromatic. Next time I find some, I will be giving it a good sniff. Like other mints, it is edible and has been put to all sorts of healing uses over the ages. I’m not about to advise any here but I find it salutary to remember that many of our medicines have origins in plants. Their survival is important to us as well as to themselves and the creatures that depend on them.

Clumps of germander speedwell are like blue hazy mirages alongside shady paths.

I saw clumps of germander speedwell, like blue hazy mirages in the long grass, on the edge of the footpath, that runs left (NE) just after the railway bridge as you go out of the village towards Exning. Possibly speedwells’ habit of growing alongside paths gave these plants the mediaeval name of speeds-you-well – travellers would pin a flower to their coat for luck. Of the speedwells out in flower now, germander speedwell is the most upright, with new flowers coming out above the one that has just ‘gone over’, so forming a spike.

Germander speedwell has stalkless leaves in pairs up the stem.
Germander’s four petals are so heavenly blue, in Wales they are called ‘Christ’s eye’.

To distinguish germander from the other speedwells, there are several things to look at. First, note how the leaves are in pairs going up the stem and have no stalk. Second, the flowers are strikingly blue, with a stunning white eye. I’m told that the flower is so heavenly blue, in Wales it is known as Christ’s eye. Now for the clincher. One of the things I love about Germander speedwell is that it has a feature that cannot be confused: its distinctive hairy legs! Only this speedwell has two rows of hairs, one up each side of the stem. Maybe this could become a new Lockdown fashion?!

Germander speedwell has a row of hairs up each side of its stem – a possible new lockdown fashion?

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