Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Of sloes and snails and butterflies

I was lucky to catch the 'wood white' butterfly land on lavender and sage in my kitchen garden today. All animals/insects/foreigners instinctively dislike something or someone that is not the same as them. The butterfly flitted about and then realising that my camera and I were not going to harm it eventually sat very still and quite close to me.

Tonight I opened a 2010 bottle of sloe liqueur that had been gathering dust. I make liqueurs and clean forget about them. The sloes are ready to pick in the late autumn and traditionally one waits for the first frosts to soften the skin of the berries before collecting them. There is a field which I discovered on my hound walking where the sloes grow wild and very prolifically.  On the side of the field that gets the morning sun, the sloes are fastest to grow, big in size and lighter in colour. On the side that gets the afternoon sun, the opposite applies. I soak my sloes for years in eau-de-vie and sugar. This is the result:
Something else I came across in my kitchen garden today:
Don't ask!

Photos copyright SvD.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013


One of my favourite flowers is buddleia, also known as the butterfly bush. The plant grows wild and was first imported by the Chinese in the late 19th century. There are many tales of the healing properties of buddleia which would probably explain its popularity with the Chinese. I love the energetic nature of the plant- it flourishes in spite of the weather- too much rain, great! No rain, even better! Freezing cold, no problem! Buddleia is much loved by bees who feast on the proliferation of lilac or dark purple flowers that are long lasting and extremely fragrant. I have kept a buddleia flower in an old liqueur bottle in my house for many years - the flower is dried and almost black with age but the perfume is as strong as ever. I often wander past the flower first thing in the morning, bleary-eyed and half asleep. As the perfume wafts into my nose, I usually smile. Like an old friend, buddleia is always there and cheery-faced. It is the best way to describe this fragrant, chirpy flower that thrives in all weathers and is a vital source of food for our native bees. Keen gardeners despair at the adaptability of buddleia which never seems fazed by poor soils or awful weather- it thrives regardless. True horticulturalists find it rather unattractive.  The buddleia is cheery, lighthearted and doesn't seem to take the world too seriously- surely those are all excellent attributes that most humans should try and mimic in their own lives?

Photo copyright SvD.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Things I saw in the woods today, part 40

In our supermarket culture we forget entirely about where things come from, how long they take to grow and even the simple fact that berries, for example, do not appear in this world fully formed and ripe enough to eat! In the woods today, the brambles are growing lustily in this warm weather and their fruit is forming. In October, the blackberries will be ready to pick and crumbles galore with thick whipped cream will be consumed up and down the British Isles. So here is a shot of the blackberries forming, growing, but not ready to eat as they are still too immature.

The Romans did many things for us but they are also remembered for their love of food, wine and of course, females. British women were not to their taste at all and there are many woeful tales of the virile Romans feeling rather deflated at the sight of the less than nubile female Angles slathered in goose fat to keep warm. Our intemperate climate has not changed but we use the goose fat for cooking these days. The Romans brought these white snails to the British Isles and their descendants can still be found in the woods to this day. The Romans purged the snails for three days in milk - changed many times- before frying the hapless molluscs in olive oil with lots of garlic. I imagine much debauchery followed. Sigh. I am constantly reminded that I live half a life only.

Photos copyright SvD.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Wind Down Fridays

Why not join me tomorrow at 1-3pm GMT as I present my Friday radio show on I shall be playing my favourite music, announcing the travel and weather updates and chattering away. Most importantly, the music should get you into the mood for the weekend......

Things I saw in the woods today, part 39 - Update

These two baby acorns are a rare sight. I normally miss this developing stage in the life of an acorn and collect the mature specimens in late autumn to fill my dog-walking coat pockets. I saw these by chance today- they look nothing like the fully grown ones but their dimpled carapace is quite cute. Note the unopened leaf buds at the end of the stem alongside the juvenile acorns. The cycle is without end.

Here's a photo I took today of the emerging acorn. Just thought you would enjoy seeing the growing acorn- a marvel of nature.

15 August 2013

Another birdie has lost a feather in the woods - a pigeon, methinks. Notice that the leaves on the ground are going brown.

The summer will soon be coming to an end. This horse chestnut leaf is beginning to dry out and turn brown; autumn, with its strong winds and storms, is not far away.

Autumn winds will drive the seeds, like these of the ash tree,  into the earth in the hope of germinating next spring. The rains, in turn,  will soften the earth allowing the seeds to burrow their way to a safe place, away from the frost and snow that winter will bring.

Photos copyright SvD.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

The mystery of faith.

A young man attends church last Sunday at 10.30am as he always does. He takes communion that morning as he always does. He leaves church and heads off on the motorway in his car, the sun shining, the sky blue. By the end of the afternoon mass at 6.00pm, the priest finds a bunch of keys in one of the offertory baskets. Messages are sent out in earnest to discover the owner of the misplaced keys. At precisely the same time, the police knock on the door of a woman to tell her her son has died in a car crash.

A few days later, the woman is in church discussing arrangements for her son's funeral. The priest asks her if she has lost a set of keys. He shows her the keys. She weeps. They belonged to her son.

This is a true story and occurred in my church last Sunday.

Things I saw in the woods today, part 38

Wild marjoram in great abundance. The bees love the flowers. I am told that marjoram and oregano are close relations and I have observed that the two are often found growing near to each other.

The secret meadow filled with scabious flowers, bees, moths and butterflies.

A rock attempts to go incognito on the parched earth.

Photos copyright SvD.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Things I saw in the woods today, part 37

This feather is from a bird with spotted feathers - 'very astute', I hear you say! I have no idea what the bird is, having not seen one before but I hope you will enjoy its spots - the dalmation of the wild poultry world. As a note: I never move or displace any object I photograph. Everything I photograph is as I find it. This feather was on the ground in the woods, about to be trampled on.

The heat was pretty unbearable today: 34 degrees C and too much for me and the hound. We stuck to the woods where mercifully, the shade provided some respite from the boiling hot sun. The dappled sunlight in the woods, today, on the hottest day of the year - see below:


And as night follows day, here is the fullest, brightest moon in tonight's sky.

Rose bushes occasionally send out these weird-looking spiky appendices. They don't appear often but I find them rather fun and fluffy- totally opposite in appearance to the sultry, elegant rose.

And finally: after a hard day's work, I was delighted to spend the evening with my good friends Barbara and Robyn, both keen gardeners. All of the food on this plate - our supper-  was grown by them in their garden (apart from the salmon). It's been a great year for vegetables- hot days and warm nights - the perfect combination to ward off slugs and pests who thrive in damp, chilly conditions.

And of course we raised a glass to the royal baby as we ate our supper. The church bells pealed loudly at 8.50pm when the news finally broke of the royal birth.

Photos copyright SvD.


A pigeon sends out a telepathic message that the bird food has run out and he is waiting patiently for breakfast.

This morning at my kitchen window.

Photo copyright SvD.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Your happy memories Online Radio | Blog Talk Radio

Your happy memories Online Radio | Blog Talk Radio

The topic tomorrow: What does it mean to be human?

Email me your stories:

Best mates

When I look back at the last 50 years, I've been lucky to have had good friends and also...dogs. Dogs have figured predominantly throughout my life: they are best mates, they love you unconditionally and just think you're wonderful as long as their dinner and walkies happen on a very regular basis. My hound and I like taking pictures on our walks together. Occasionally even of ourselves.

Photos copyright SvD.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

A trance of delight

I find the natural world more enthralling than the human species.

Photo copyright SvD.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Eat me at your peril

The 6 spot Burnet moth tastes pretty terrible plus it is poisonous - hence the reason birds bypass this pretty species which appears, unusually for a moth, during the day. I came upon this 6 spot Burnet moth today when I discovered a secret meadow full of Scabious flowers. Apart from the moths, I had also never seen so many butterflies in my life and for a moment as I stood in this Alice in Wonderland meadow, I really thought I had ascended into paradise. Nature surprises us, almost as if to say, 'never give up and see how much wonder is left in the world'!

The meadow was also filled with the pink rose elder. Against a rare blue sky we could easily mistake this secluded haven for St Tropez.

Photos copyright SvD.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Things I saw in the woods today, part 36

The crow is a noisy, intimidating bird. Here he sits on a dying tree surveying the world around him. A bit Hitchcock-like with the brooding sky behind him.

"Cogito ergo sum"
The cow parsley flower is an abundance of white. Remember, the cow parsley is often mistaken for the deadly hemlock. The flower is pretty though- as if often the case, beauty can be deceptive in every sense.
Cow parsley flowers

The elderflower is used to make a refreshing drink here in the UK or deep fried as fritters. The flowers smell terrible- like pure sulphur in a room with no windows. When the flowers appear, it signals the start of summer and by the time the deep crimson berries appear, it is effectively the end of summer. From experience, one can set one's clock by that occurrence.

And meanwhile back at the ranch (and not in the woods) "Ratty" (a field mouse) was scoffing the birds' food early this morning. This is not a good photo as the sun was behind the mouse so a dull shadow was cast but nonetheless, here is 'ratty' devouring the wrong food. I had to chase him away as I don't mind sharing but I do object to sheer greed.

Ratty strikes again
Photos copyright SvD.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Your happy memories Online Radio | Blog Talk Radio

Your happy memories | Blog Talk Radio

The topic tomorrow: Friendship, the truest love.

Veros amicos reparare difficle est. It is a difficult thing to replace true friends. - Seneca

Email me your stories:

Say what you mean

My papa died almost seven years ago and there is not a day that passes that I do not think of him. I knew the end was coming and wrote him a letter (email) to tell him what needed to be said. This is a story about saying what you mean. Before it's too late.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Is youth wasted on the young?

I think it was Shakespeare who asked the above. I have often been critical of today's younger generation - that happens when you get to be middle aged. I was doing my show at Ridge Radio today and the station was full of teenagers doing their work experience. They were milling around, learning the ropes of radio and occasionally kept politely coming into the studio while I was on air. They waited until the mike was not live and asked if they could come in. In fact, to be young is a pretty wonderful thing and much derided. All of these teenagers were polite, well mannered and quite special. Life hasn't corrupted them just yet. Perhaps that's the reason. To retain that freshness of spirit. Now there's the rub.

Things I saw in the woods today, part 35

The woods and meadows were busy this morning with this particular butterfly known as a 'ringlet'. I caught one as he landed in the meadow and opened his wings wide. A second later he was gone.
Just dropping by

Ringlet butterfly

The symmetry in nature never ceases to amaze me- this ear of grass seeds is just perfect in its own way and requires no effusive description.
Pretty wild orchid just blooming today. Bright pink flowers are quite unusual and even moreso as orchids. The orchids are the last of the wild flowers before the meadow will be turned into hay.
Dog rose
The dog rose produces plump rosehips- the biggest of all I have observed- and which make the best jam. The dog rose is the mother of our cultivated roses and grows wild usually close to woodland.

Right angles
And finally...right angles in nature. Something I have not seen that often, if ever.

Photos copyright SvD.