Nature's palette

Rebekah O'Driscoll

Communities and Wildlife Manager Becks takes us on a relaxing tour around the colours of nature...

In these strange and uncertain times when life has slowed, our worlds have shrunk, where interactions have become virtual or altogether absent, where anxiety of loved ones, friends, colleagues is high, one thing we can rely on is that the natural world continues on….oblivious to our plight and perhaps somewhat thankful of a more peaceful time with cleaner air!

So I turn my attention to the garden, lucky as I am to have this space, and immerse myself in the colour of nature and the busy daily lives of those resident, or just passing through. As I immerse myself into this world I feel a restorative wave, shoulders relaxing, spirits lifting as fascination of the natural world takes over any thoughts of worry and a sense of calm comes from the chaos.

I step out and am met by the flowering redcurrant, a dense wash of baby pink flowers adorn the bush in early spring. These beautifully delicate flowers provide nourishment as an early nectar source for many insects, especially the queen bumblebees emerging from their winter slumber. The bees are manic, bumbling from one flower to another gathering pollen and nectar to begin the creation of this year’s colony…….a lifetime condensed into a season, a clear purpose; collect, provide, procreate.

Peeking out from under the hedge I find the lesser celandine; the brightness of the sun encapsulated in the delicate petals of this early spring flower, seen abundantly in the countryside growing on any available open patch. They open and close with a circadian rhythm and are inundated with tiny visitors, pollen beetles, arriving to glut on the early bounty. We may be familiar with these little fellows if we ever wear yellow on a hot summer’s day!

In the more managed side of the garden I find the young plum tree, planted two years ago and paid barely any heed, it now holds my full attention and listens to my daily natter while I revel at the sight of the delicate white flowers, a promise of sweet and juicy fruits in the autumn….the unrivalled taste of home grown to look forward to.

The wild cherry, another promise of an autumn harvest but this time for the blackbirds who come to feast on the fruits before they have chance to hit the ground. The cherry bark is so tactile, glossy and a deep hue akin to the fruit it produces. I love how this tree goes unnoticed behind a hedge and then shoots up high towering overhead, used as a perch by many a songbird.

Walking along to the hidden part of the garden the crunch under my feet reminds me of the song thrush who nests here each year and litters the garden with smashed snail shells. The beautiful song resounds in the dawn chorus, its short bursts of four repeats is one I always remember.  I make a note to try to witness this feeding behaviour this year and hope to hear the gentle tapping on its favourite paving slab.

A crowd of electric blue faces catch my eye, dotted with the occasional soft pink variety, this cheerful little flower brightens the borders and grows in the patio cracks unchecked. The ancestors of my garden variety of forget-me-not are still found in the wider countryside and the water forget-me-not is one of my favourites to see at Woodwalton Fen NNR.  While I long to be able to return to these beloved places my garden provides an equal pleasure which I will be sure to remember.

The white dead-nettle dotted all over the garden in unkempt corners, a never ending source of entertainment to my young child that these can be touched without hurting, unlike its stinging cousin! The hooded flowers remind me of an orchid with its intricacy and insect landing platform, truly beautiful functionality. The flowers and young leaves are edible too….but I will leave them to the bees for now.

Forget-me-not in flower

Rebekah O'Driscoll

Nestled under the hedge I find a clump of early dog violet, starting to wither. Appearing in March this is indeed an early bloom…..they pop up in a wild patch of the garden each year, a species usually found in ancient woodland particularly in central and eastern areas. I ponder the possibility my garden was once a tree covered habitat, home to bears, wolves, wild boar…..or perhaps not given my fenland location! This little flower is scentless and the ‘dog’ is a derogatory term meaning the lesser of the violet species comparing to its sweet smelling relatives….just as beautiful in my eyes.

Common Comfrey, affectionately named ‘Humphrey’ by my husband in a desperate attempt to remember plant names, it works this one has stuck! I had no idea this little patch of Comfrey was in the garden and so it has bought great pleasure to discover their droopy heads gathered together providing a treat for the pollinators. Comfrey has many medicinal uses, from wound dressing to bronchitis and has been cultivated since Roman times, no surprise it appears in gardens and abundantly in the countryside. It takes me to the little secretive path at the very back of Ramsey Heights reserve where comfrey grows in abundance…..my daily place of work will be so much more treasured on my return.

Growing happily in the middle of the lawn is the beautiful daisy, carefully mown around to preserve their delicate heads. A favourite from childhood, making chains and laying amongst them, their delicate pink tipped petals are deceptively robust enduring endless activity on playing fields and school grounds. I wonder at the intelligence to flower short in an area that is mown and grow long and scraggly when unchecked. I always look forward to the giant ox-eye daisies, abundant on the road sides in the summer months, a sight which may be limited this year with less travel but will thrive all the same.

I sit now watching the plump wood pigeons hoovering up the spillage from the bird feeders and listening to the chattering of sparrows in the hedge. A starling sings from the neighbours’ chimney pot and a flock of goldfinches tinkle as they flit over in a matter of seconds. How lucky I am to have such a bustling garden and to share it with such a huge number of species. Our gardens are so important in providing a network for wildlife, providing corridors for joining up more unchecked spaces. We are not apart from nature, we are in it, dependant on it in so many ways and we can play our part in helping to conserve the species with whom we share our world. Let’s spend this time getting to know our gardens, creating spaces for nature, allowing the ‘weeds’ to thrive in parts, creating mini habitats from a bucket pond to a log pile…. and most of all appreciate what is already there!

Great Fen volunteer Jessie Boucher talks us through how to make your own Nature's Palette from natural things you can find outdoors.