Untangling a hedgerow

We have always been inspired by the beauty and complexity of the natural world. We chose the name for our business, Tangled Bank, from a famous quote by the famous British Naturalist Charles Darwin. For us, this is one of the most evocative and poetic pieces of scientific writing we have ever seen. Here is an excerpt from it;

“It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth… There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”

After one of the wettest winters on record, spring has now arrived in full force; the sun is shining, the birds are nesting, lambs are playing in the field. As early as February, green shoots were pushing up through the damp earth, and we took delight in anticipating what surprises and delights might be lying hidden in the winter ground, waiting for the spring to reveal themselves. Now, in late April, we find ourselves surrounded by a cacophony of colour and life in our meadows and hedgerows, and we have been trying to identify the various species we have found.

Our tangled banks, ancient hedgerows, hay meadows and woodland are abound with stands of snowdrops, celandine, primroses, bluebells, yellow archangel, cuckoo flower, dog violets and stitchwort, not to mention crocuses, wild garlic, early purple orchids and many more. Each flower brings its own delight, before giving way to the next tranche as spring melts into summer.

Each year, from January to March, snowdrops can be found pushing up through the winter soil and transforming the woodlands into white wonderlands. We have some wonderful spreads of snowdrops on the land at tangled bank, and we are a stone’s throw from some of the most specular snowdrop displays in the UK, with Devon being a real hot spot for this beautiful little plant.

Celandine is one of the early spring flowers to lift the spirits. As one of the first flowers to bloom, celandine provides an important source of nectar for queen bumblebees and other insects waking from hibernation. It was once thought celandine could predict the weather as it closes its petals before rain falls, and was a favourite of the poet Wordsworth who wrote three separate poems about it:

“There is a Flower, the Lesser Celandine,
That shrinks, like many more, from cold and rain;
And, the first moment that the sun may shine,
Bright as the sun itself, ’tis out again!”

Primroses are another early bloomer and an important source of nectar for butterflies. Their friendly cheerful yellow flowers can be found carpeting grassy verges, banks and woodland clearings from early spring, and sometimes even in late December. In folklore, primroses in the doorway protected the home from fairies.

Bluebells are now a protected species, and like to grow best in wild and ancient woodlands. We are lucky enough to have bluebells growing in the glades of our woods, as well as along the banks and hedgerows. Bluebells have many older names, including wild hyacinth, wood bell, bell bottle, Cuckoo’s Boots, Wood Hyacinth, Lady’s Nightcap and Witches’ Thimbles. In folklore, the bluebells are said to ring when the fairies were summoning their kin to a gathering. Bluebell colonies take a long time to establish, 5-7 years from seed to flower, and they can take years to recover from footfall damage. By standing on a bluebells leaves you destroy its ability to photosynthesise, and it will die from lack of food. So tread carefully!

Yellow archangel comes into bloom just as the bluebells are beginning to fade, and carpets of golden-yellow flowers carpet the woodland floor. This is a plant of ancient woodlands and hedgerows, and takes its name from the shape of its petals, which look like the wings of angels.

Cuckoo flower is a pretty wild flower, common in damp pastures and beside streams. It is so called because it blooms in April and May, when the cuckoos return from Africa and start to sing.

Dog violets can be found in a variety of habitats from woodlands to old pastures, grasslands and hedgerows. Its pansy-like purple flowers bloom from April to June, brightening fields and verges. It is vitally important for several fritillary butterflies, including the Small pearl-bordered, the pearl-bordered and the silver-washed fritillaries, because they lay their eggs on it.

Greater stitchwort grows in woodland and along roadside verges, hedgerows and grassy banks. It has many other common names, including ‘wedding cakes’, ‘Star-of-Bethlehem’, ‘daddy’s-shirt-buttons’ and ‘Snapdragon’ – the latter because its stems are brittle and easily break. Its pretty, star-shaped, white flowers bloom from April to June; as the seed capsules ripen, they can be heard ‘popping’ in late spring.

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