New Year, New Blog

Good afternoon one and all. Exciting things are afoot; I’ve started a new blog. It’s called Kind Hearts and Corydalis and it promises to be rather jolly indeed. As well as having a slightly different focus to this blog (although describing this one as having a focus is perhaps a little generous), it will be much more regularly attended to (by both author and readers, I’m sure), be twice as entertaining, much more informative, wildly witty and three times as virile. Do have a look.

I still hope to take the odd field trip to the field-less environs of Birmingham’s industrial heartlands, and when I do I’ll post any thoughts and observations here as well as at the new blog.

Here’s the new blog again: Kind Hearts and Corydalis

Happy New Year!

Tree following – October 2018

It’s difficult to claim that I have really been following Felix the magnolia with any great diligence. Not for lack of willing, more due to a lack of time management and life in general. It has to be said though, as someone commented many moons ago on an earlier tree following post, magnolias lead a pretty enigmatic, borderline anonymous existence for much of the year. In theory we would all be much enlightened about this existence after several months of tree following posts, but a huge gap in my blog posts leaves us all with a huge gap in our knowledge (in quite a specific area, it must be said. I’m sure your knowledge is quite sufficient for most purposes, with or without this blog). In March Felix was snoozing, he flowered in April and since then he has been in leaf with not that much visible change. Dormancy, flowering and photosynthesising (which I think we should call sleep, sex and snacking, so that it fits in alliteratively speaking).

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This was my first impression anyway. Then I felt very guilty for reducing Felix to his basest functions without really giving him due credit. Most lifeforms work on variations of the sleep, sex and snacking principle, so I can’t really blame him for applying himself to those things with such integrity.

We’ll get to the details in a moment, but we shall begin with a broader look at the canvas laid before us.

P1000093editThe photo above shows the front of Rookery House with Felix on the left. I feel like he looks pretty well, especially compared with the other rather bedraggled specimens that share his border. Below are a couple of pictures, firstly from the right, then from the left:

 

Not great pictures I’m afraid, it was very sunny and I’m still getting to grips with the new camera. The photo on the left shows the general mass of growth that sits to one side of Felix, increasingly dominated by an ash sapling which has made it’s home there. The photo on the right shows Felix from the other side. There’s a nice carpet of weeds developing but not directly around the trunk. I’m not sure whether this is due to it being weeded at some point or whether the weeds have just not deemed the area suitable to their needs. Either way, Felix strikes a lonely figure. Whilst the other plants in the vicinity are competing against each other to create a verdant cacophony of growth, Felix stands alone in his grandeur with just two rather lacklustre ferns loitering under his canopy. All in all I think he comes across as quite the eccentric. Like a man who gives himself a title, dresses in tweed jackets and burgundy trousers, but lives in a bedsit above an adult shop.

Moving on from his general, then more immediate environment, perhaps we ought to indulge Felix with a more intimate examination.P1000094

The leaves aren’t showing any signs of autumn yet but at the base of each set of leaves you can see that next year’s flower buds are already formed. You can also just about see the extent of this year’s growth: in the centre of the picture, at the end of the branch, are a couple of inches of new wood. The rest of the leaves are all sprouting out of previous years’ wood. You have to look pretty closely to see all that but I trust that you will do so. Especially if you are in a public place; I expect the utmost devotion from all readers.

Far from doing nothing at all, our trusty friend has in fact been looking towards the future and preparing for the following year. What an admirable and optimistic fellow. That’s all for now, but I will endeavour to update you on Felix’s progress next month.

Botany in Birmingham Continues to Return

In which the simple tale of a walk along a canal deteriorates into overextended metaphor, nostalgia and overuse of the word metaphor.

So here we are, back home in the bowels of Birmingham’s cathedral of concrete; lighting a candle at the Shrine of the Eternal Combustion Engine, kneeling before the Altar of Industry and Taking Metaphors Too Far As Usual.

This post is a conclusion to the previous post, revisiting a couple of landmarks and friends whilst spotting a few new things and seeing things in a different light. Mostly because there was more light than on previous visits.

Let’s start with the different light. The clarity and intensity of the sunlight filtering down through the columns and archways (I’d like you to know that I was tempted to return to the cathedral metaphor at this point) was such that I could see the bottom of the canal. P1000084editI don’t think it’s meant to be seen. With the back of my throat stinging from the vomit that I’d barely kept down, I continued to gaze into water. I’m not sure whether I was seeing a reflection of the worst version of myself or whether I should have called the missing persons hotline. After some time bearing witness to the decay that sitting in stagnant water brings, I began to see life. (I’d like you to know that I’m really struggling to keep away from the aforementioned metaphor.) If you look carefully you may be able to see a shoal of fish soaking up some rays in the picture below. P1000091editMore relevantly to this blog however is the following picture of some sort of water-dwelling plants:P1000088editI’m afraid I know nothing about water plants but I was rather happy to see these particular specimens so clearly all the same.

Now that we have dealt with the new, let us return to the old. You may remember the arid bank of earth that I was hoping would be slowly colonised. Well it is, albeit very slowly. P1000087editWhilst there are a few buddlejas doing their thing, the rest of the vegetation is very slowly making headway and working it’s way down the slope. Exciting times for those brave pioneers.

From a cultural point of view, Spaghetti Junction seems to be undergoing a renaissance. It’s walls are freshly and colourfully adorned with graffiti bringing an altogether more cheerful sort of atmosphere to some of the darkest spots in the area.

There were a couple of pretty funny little chickens that appeared here and there but I was running out of time so I didn’t get a chance to photograph them. Hopefully they’ll still be there next time.

Finally, do you remember this chap?p1020016Well here’s a quick update:P1000081editHe says thanks for all the support.

That’s all for now, I do hope that your lives are much improved and your souls rejuvenated after our return to the spiritual home of this blog. The trip was so productive that not only did it produce enough material for two posts, but we popped in to see Felix on on the way home, so I’ll have something to say about him in the next week or so.

Cheerio!

 

Botany in Birmingham Returns

In which the blog returns to it’s roots as a blog about labyrinthine road networks, canals and the botanical treats contained therein. Good fun is had by all, with the probably exception of the reader.

It has been some time since the subject of a post on this blog has actually had anything to do with Spaghetti Junction, which if you recall was the vague purpose of this misguided literary shamble in the first place. I intend to rectify this as of now.

We approached the spiritual homeland of this blog’s affection from the east, joining the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal at Wood Lane. As far as I can recall, I don’t think I have been along this stretch of canal before, so I beheld it’s dubious wonders with wide-eyed enthusiasm. After perhaps as many as 3 enthralled seconds, my eyes narrowed as I scanned the towpath for dog mess; dark corners for ne’er-do-wells and scallywags; and my apprentice’s determined footsteps for deviations towards the murky, stagnant ‘swimming pool’.

The view from the towpath offered the usual urban canal-side scenery: old factories, new industrial complexes and various other endeavours which utilise (relatively) cheap land. Botanically speaking, I’d split the vegetation into three or maybe four categories. Unfortunately I decided on this after the event so don’t have photos to illustrate exactly what I’m talking about. This will have to do:P1000042edit

  1. Stuff that gets mown. Either side of the towpath is a little strip of grass and other low-growing plants that don’t mind a haircut, mostly plantains, ragworts, ox-eye daisies and plants of that ilk.
  2. Stuff that gets strimmed occasionally. Behind the strip of mown grass (on the opposite side to the canal) is an area of nettles, dead nettles, brambles, bindweed and anything else tough enough to out-compete these chaps. I assume that it all gets strimmed once a year.
  3. Stuff that gets left alone. Beyond that are small shrubs and trees that are smart enough to make a living on the land that no-one is quite sure who owns. Silver birches, goat willows and the occasional hawthorn and elderflower seem quite happy to make a go of it in this marginal sliver of land.
  4. Stuff that doesn’t conveniently fit into the other three categories. Plants growing in mortar, buildings, old beer cans, signposts or anywhere else like that, or indeed not like that. Buddlejas are the main plant in this category. They’re pretty much everywhere:P1000054edit

This is all a pretty broad generalisation but sometimes it’s helpful to generalise things so that they fit into our own small-minded and ignorant view of the world. But that’s not the case here. Botany in Birmingham strongly supports the rights of all plants to live where ever they want in whatever way they see fit, as long as they can be broadly grouped into generalist categories that support our expectations.

Moving on.

As ever, the closer one looks the more there is to see, but time was breathing heavily down my slightly clammy neck so I didn’t dwell too long on the details then and neither shall I here. Here are a few highlights:

A HeronP1000060edit

Hops

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Like wot goes in beer.

A Rowan

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Looking rather resplendent, in less than splendid surroundings.

A Yellow Corydalis

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Psuedofumaria lutea – a favourite of mine. Chillin’ on the water’s edge.

A Big Tunnel

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For some reason this factory/warehouse has been built over the canal. I’m not quite sure why this would be, when this doesn’t seem to have occurred elsewhere.

An Expanse of Russian Vine

 

I Didn’t Get a Picture…

of the hazel that lined the towpath as a sort of informal hedge which separated us from the railings, which in turn separated us from an unexplored expanse of land that surrounded the various electricity pylons leading to the electrical distribution thing. Luckily for future posts, the hazel hedge is a rather ineffective barrier and the railings have been removed in various places, probably by obstinate dog walkers. It seemed to me like just the sort of semi-maintained-wasteland-with-an-interesting-backdrop worth exploring.

A Rather Unpromising Fire EscapeP1000075edit

I have prattled on more than intended. You have been a kindly seat offer-er on a bus, minding your own business; and I have been the greasy, racist and very talkative man that took up your generous offer of a seat. You look round, realise that all the other seats were empty anyway and that you are an hour away from your destination.

To give you the option of continuing whatever you were doing before you started reading this, I’m going to make this post a two-parter. For those of you who mean to continue, please await my further instructions. For those who are leaving at this point, thank you for your time, I hope you enjoyed this post, shut the door behind you and don’t come back. I hope that whatever you read next is mispelled and   poorly punctuated,

As the canal nears Spaghetti Junction, the M6, and the River Tame just beyond it and out of view, draw parallel giving the following view as we advance on our goal:P1000078edit

Thus ends the first part of our pilgrimage. Part two will follow shortly.

Weedy Weekday III

Just a quick one: many thanks to my brother for sorting out a new camera for me. I am now much more technologically advanced than I was last week, both materially and spiritually. With this positively futuristic new gadget of mine, I have been able to discover why the weeds grow so well on my patio:P1000035

Belated Wildlife Special!

I wrote this post in mid-July and then forgot about it. Seeing as I’ve written it I thought I may as well post it even though it’s a bit out of date. Cast your mind back, if you will, to the hazy mid-summer days of 2018…

It’s been a dry old summer here in Birmingham and, I believe, in most other places on this fair isle. The lawns look a bit like this:P1030070

and the general populace is beginning to take on a similarly tired and crispy sort of bearing. Whilst the landscape as a whole is as dry as a biscuit, I will endeavour to water your fertile minds with the sweet liquid of my thoughts and musings. Although this may be against your better judgment I feel we’ll all be better off for it.

In a slight break from the non-existent routine of this blog, I’m going to take a detour into the world of butterflies. Of course butterflies lead pretty plant-based lives so maybe it’s more of a change of perspective. I’m not particularly knowledgeable about these matters but I happened to see a few of these fellows in the garden and they rather piqued my interest:P1030016After a little research it turns out this is a Small Tortoiseshell. There were anywhere between 3 and 5 of these particular butterflies in the garden on that particular afternoon. Nearly all of them were feeding on the oregano (Oreganum vulgare), as seen above. This is actually a golden leaved variety because I’m a fancy sort of person. This is exemplified by the owl ornament in the background of this photo. Just in case you were wondering, and I’m sure you are, this magnificent sculpture makes up part of the owl-pine garden that lies next to the herb patch.

Regardless, this oregano has rather occupied my attention of late, on account of it’s many and varied visitors. The Small Tortoiseshells have departed, but have been replaced by Gatekeeper butterflies, half a dozen of which seem to have taken up semi-permanent residence in my garden over the past week or so.P1030045I realise that having banged on about the oregano, the picture above features a rather flamboyant shasta daisy (Leucanthemum x superbum (no sniggering please)). Shasta daisies were originally bred in 1890 by Luther Burbank, an American botanist and horticulturalist, famous for breeding, amongst many other things, the Russet Burbank potato. You will have eaten one these if you’ve ever been to McDonalds. In breeding shasta daisies, Burbank used ox-eye daises (Leucanthemum vulgare) in the genetic mix somewhere, which you may recall featured heavily in the saga of my driveway. Back to the butterflies: having gorged themselves silly on oregano-flavoured butterfly morsels, the Gatekeepers have moved onto the mint (Mentha …: I can’t quite remember what sort it is), that sits just behind the oregano.

There have also been visits from a Small Copper; what I assume is a Common Blue (it proved rather difficult to photograph so I’ve put in one blurry photo that shows a glimpse of the colour of the upperside of it’s wings, and a more focused one of it with it’s wings closed);

lots and lots of Small and Large Whites (which never seem to settle anywhere, so no pictures); a Comma (apparently a type butterfly as well as a punctuation mark; also too flighty to get a picture of) and finally a few Speckled Woods. The Speckled Woods seemed to congregate in the greenhouse for all sorts of unseemly acts but here’s one of a cleaner nature, with some very unclean glass as a backdrop:P1030037I think that pretty much finishes the list, and what mighty list it is. There were also lots of honey bees and a few types of bumble bees on the oregano but I feel I’ll save that for another time.

I hope you enjoyed our little sojourn to earlier in the year and may I offer my most sincere apologies the lack of plant based material. I will endeavour to rectify my phyto-negligence for next time.

 

‘lions and Train lines and Berries!

Oh my!

If you didn’t join in on the “Oh my!” then don’t worry, it was a little forced it must be said. I feel like the ‘ ‘lions’ (as will become clear shortly, this refers to dandelions) and ‘berries’ were okay, but the ‘train lines’ doesn’t quite work despite being the right number of syllables. Perhaps it’s the visual disparity with ‘tigers’ that throws the whole thing off. I think I should have done a different title, but became too emotionally invested in the Oz reference to back down. It’s not just the allusion to the original film itself; it’s the implicit connection to the multitude of quotes and spoofs that litter our culture, creating layer upon layer of meaning. I just wanted to be a part of it, and now I feel like I’ve let you all down. And I’ve let the whole of Western civilisation down. Worst of all I’ve let myself down. In retrospect perhaps I should have gone down a summer solstice kind of theme.

The whole tree following thing is turning out to be a bit of a shambles/non entity on my part, but I do promise to report back to you on that matter as soon as possible. In the mean time, here are a few other botanical delights to really get your juices flowing.

Firstly, as promised, here’s a dandelion:P1020962The rosette of leaves beneath the flower is actually a plantain – the dandelion leaves are in the top right of the picture. The main flush of flowers has been and gone so this was pretty much the only flowering dandelion in the area. However there were some other treats and trinkets:

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Aquilegia vulgaris sporting a rather fetching shade of purple
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A patch of Aegopodium podagraria (Ground elder) in rude health

I promised train lines, so here you are:P1020973This proved to be a big hit with all members of our expedition. It’s got trains, things to climb:P1020968plants to look at:P1020975and a free art exhibition:P1020972We could have spent quite a while up here but people kept looking at us strangely. Not that that is particularly unusual.

I also mentioned berries, so here’s a picture of some blackberry flowers in various stages of flowering and fruit-forming:P1020956

I’m afraid it’s been another rushed post. At some point I will write extensively on a topic of my choice which is guaranteed to scintillate and bore you by turns so frequent and maddening in their audacity you won’t know where to look. Until then, I bid you a sun-drenched solstice.

Obituary, addendum, et cetera, et cetera.

Good afternoon to you all. This is in fact the main article. Now, onto some other business.

Tree following update

I, again, neglected to do a post about Felix at the appropriate time this month. I was actually in the vicinity, but my efforts in documenting it’s progress were hampered by the unpredictable movements of my apprentices and also by a large scale assault that the council’s contractors were undertaking on both my senses and the area in which Felix resides. Let me paint you a word picture:

Four hi-vis clad chaps armed with lawn mowers, hedge trimmers, strimmers, leaf blowers, flame throwers and machine guns made a spirited and courageous, if somewhat haphazard, attack on anything that moved, or indeed didn’t, leaving no blade of grass or inch of tarmac or innocent bystander unscathed. Witness to their industry stood Felix, stoic and unwavering; blossom fading whilst fresh green leaves emerge, one stage finishing whilst another begins, death and life sat beside one another. In the distance, a dog runs: owner chases dog, one apprentice chases owner, I chase said apprentice, other apprentice pokes beer can with stick.

Obituary

You remember those colonisers of my drive? So do I. Remember them well, dear reader, for now they are gone. We had some work done on our roof and the gentleman doing the work very kindly and thoroughly cleaned our drive. It was a very nice thing to do and he also did it very well. As is so often the case, man’s desire for cleanliness and order did not find common ground with the zest for life expressed so vigorously by our verdant friends. Of course such plants make a living and indeed a death-ing from choosing risky and exposed niches to colonise. Perhaps some fragments of dandelion root have survived to grow again, and more than likely the chickweed managed to set seed before it’s demise, but some how their absence makes the drive a mere shell of it’s former self. It does look better though.

Appendix

Here are some very close up and therefore blurry and amateurish pictures of some plants:

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Shepherd’s Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris)

As with humans (and who knows, perhaps with neanderthals too), I feel that a double-barrelled surname lends an air of distinction to a plant. Despite the fuzzy picture, you can see the seed pods going up the stem which give the plant it’s common name.

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Creeping Woodsorrel (Oxalis corniculata)

A cheerful chap enjoying the sunshine.

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Procumbent pearlwort (Sagina procumbens)

This plant is tiny. To give you an idea, the strip of mortar that it’s growing in is not much wider than your finger. It’s actually in the same family as carnations and sweet williams, so if you’re feeling light of wallet and nimble of finger, why not give a bunch of these to your mother for her birthday? I’ve attempted a close up of one of the flowers to really sell the idea.

Addendum

Here’s a picture of a bicycle tyre in a tree:

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Could you ask for a finer example of either tyre or tree? If you could, then please post the negatives of your alternative offerings to the following address:

Rt. Irrev. Quentin “the Butcher” Jones GCSE, Under tree with bicycle tyre in, Rookery Park, Kingsbury Road, Erdington, Birmingham. B24 9SE

Many thanks.

Tree following – April 2018 part II, Return of Felix

As promised, I’ve been out to Rookery Park to take a look at the ol’ magnolia. Of particular noteworthiness was this:P1020921I know, I hadn’t seen such a sight for a few months either (blue sky for those who aren’t sure what I’m referring to).

Anyhow, it’s a good job I went as the magnolia was on fine form:P1020908On the March post there was talk of naming the tree. The only name offered so far has been Felix and unless there are any other suggestions, I think we will have to acquiesce. So here’s close-up of Felix, now in fully-named glory:P1020910The undergrowth around Felix is a little underwhelming; a couple of ferns, some bluebells and the first signs of a few weeds here and there:P1020911.JPG

As I walked away, I was pleased to see that I/you weren’t the only people basking in the Felix’s glory – the lady in the photo below had just stopped to take a photo.

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Sorry, a slightly poor long-distance shot. Felix in the centre of the photo, lady slightly to the right.

Whilst letting my apprentices burn off some energy (presumably they were so enthused because of the botanical treats we had been feasting upon) in the playground. I took a few pictures of the surrounding flora as a little present to you all.

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I’m afraid that is all for now, but I should think you have been rather impressed with my general prolificacy of late and may well need a rest. I can’t promise it will happen again.