The Dene in Summer
As we move from spring into summer we find Holywell Dene is filling out with lush, green growth. The weather patterns of this year’s spring brought flowering forward by a number of weeks, many plants flowered weeks before they were expected to do so, and this may be the case with the summer’s delights. Many of the summer flowers, particularly those that flower much later, are bigger and blousier than their spring heralds, but not always so easy to identify. The umbellifers, buttercups, speedwells, vetches, thistles, may weeds and chamomiles are amongst those that need to be examined carefully if we want to make a proper identification, although if this is not possible, the joy given by the plants is not diminished. By June, the combined heady perfumes of the flora can be overwhelming, oh, the smell of it!
In May, the Wood Forget-me-not, Bugle, and Germander Speedwell make their appearance, and no sooner have we noticed them that we also find Marsh Marigold and Broom in flower. Apart from Marsh Marigold, these plants are found in the lighter areas, perhaps along the Waggonway and along the path at the Old Hartley end of the Dene. The Marsh Marigolds enjoy the very damp areas particularly in the ox bow lake between Holywell Bridge and the Waggonway. The April rain has been a bonus for this particular part of the Dene!
Creeping Buttercup, Bulbous Buttercup and Meadow Buttercup start to flower in May and can be spotted throughout the Dene and its surrounding fields and footpaths. Silverweed and Tormentil start to show themselves now; they are both yellow and low-growing in habit, so to avoid confusion, note that Silverweed has five petals and Tormentil has four and of course Silverweed has pretty silvery green leaves to aid its identification. Wild Mignonette is another May plant with yellow flowers, achieving up to 80 cm tall with a bushy habit. Hop Trefoil, Black Medick, Kidney Vetch and Common Bird’s Foot Trefoil all flower yellow from May onwards and help to cheer us on towards the heady days of June and July when we can extend our walks in the Dene into the later and lighter evenings.
May is also the time to look out for Orchids. They do not always stay in one place, and are not necessarily easy to identify. We would probably find the Heath Spotted Orchid in our environs, but perhaps some careful botanising this year will tell us more. The Cuckoo Flower, also known as Lady’s Smock, starts its flowering now, in pink, and can be found throughout the Dene from Holywell down to the bridge near Hartley West Farm. Sainfoin is another that starts in May but can be hard to find. Much more obvious are the White and the Red Clover, Crown Vetch and Tufted Vetch, in the more open and lighter areas of the Dene. Vetches are a challenge to identify, and we might be happy just to know that a vetch is a vetch.
Herb Robert and Bloody Crane’s Bill are also among those that burst into flower in May, this time in vibrant pink. They are both of the geranium family and delight us for long periods in the summer. Common Valerian is, as its name suggests, common throughout the Dene, spreading readily in the areas where there is more light. The Campions are also waking up in May, and although the Red Campion gets going in early spring, the White Campion and Bladder Campion start in May. Common Scurveygrass, found close to the Burn particularly in the estuary has made an early start this year and will be followed by Hoary Cress, found in the estuary area, too. Common Comfrey is another plant found at this time, and in the lighter areas and entrances to the wooded paths. Curled Dock and Sheep Sorrel make their entrance in May, and like most of the May arrivals, have a long flowering period and we enjoy them for weeks and weeks. They may not be the prettiest of flowers, but they do have their place, especially Curled Dock, in case of nettle stings, as all small children will learn!
The Field Pansy is a May arrival; look out for it in the field edges on your way into the Dene.
Come June, we can look out for the Yellow Flag, or Yellow Iris, which may be in great profusion in the ox bow lake if the amount of foliage is anything to go by this year. Unlike many of our May and June arrivals, they don’t last long, so make sure you take the path from Holywell Bridge along to the Waggonway, or you will miss a great photo-opportunity.
Agrimony will be coming out in June, and should not to be confused with Wild Mignonette mentioned earlier. Creeping Cinquefoil shows up in June, and this should not be confused with Silverweed or Tormentil. This one has five petals and five leaflets.
There are so many yellow flowers in these early summer months that it is good to find the lovely blue Harebell. It is not found in abundance in the Dene but have a good look down at the estuary and you may spot it. We need to look in the field edges for the Scarlet Pimpernel, growing low to the ground and shutting up its flowers when the low temperature doesn’t suit it. Hedge Woundwort is another colourful addition to our list, usually being a rich red colour. It likes a bit of light so it is one that you should seek on your way into the Dene. Woody Nightshade is often found along the Waggonway and although it is poisonous to us, the birds like its red berries in the autumn and its delicate flowers are a very pretty shade of violet.
Wood Avens show off their yellow flowers in great profusion from early June throughout the summer months. Water Avens have red flowers, earlier than Wood Avens, but I have not yet found them in our Dene, it would be great to find them this year.
Hedge Bindweed is another June arrival and spreads and spreads and spreads. So pretty in the wild Dene, but what a pest in the garden – everything has its place! Also in the hedges we will find Common Knapweed, flowering deep pink from June onwards.
In the watery areas of the ponds, the ox bow lake and the estuary, the Bulrush (or Reedmace) makes its appearance from June onwards, just as the previous year’s flowers are disappearing. Look out for the Water Plantain too.
Around the time of June, a number of other yellow flowers appear: Dark Mullein, Yellow Rattle, Nipplewort and Common Toadflax can be found in and around the Dene. The summer months are a time of such profusion where yellow flowers appear that it is well worth going abroad in the Dene with a camera and a printed guide to help you name them all. Don’t be too worried if you spot a prone body in the Dene, it is probably a fellow enthusiast taking a photograph in super macro mode!
June also delivers the Willowherbs to us. Rosebay Willowherb is the most well known, but Great Willowherb and Broad Leaved Willowherb are around in similar profusion. Like Hedge Bindweed these pink flowers are unwelcome in our gardens but have great beauty in the wild.
Already in leaf, the Stinging Nettle flowers from June onwards. They say the leaves make delicious soup, but they must be harvested before the flowers come. They are also a host to eggs of certain butterflies, so although not exactly beautiful, they have a significant role to play in the eco system.
The Common Figwort is to be found from June alongside the footpath from the Waggonway to the former site of the railway viaduct over the estuary. It is a curious plant that benefits from close inspection, but you will need to keep a look out for it because there only seems to be one plant each year, in varying locations along this path near to the unnamed copse.
The plant that inspired your author to identify and learn the names of the Dene’s flora is the Hairy St John’s Wort. Found in just one known location on the bank opposite the meadow, this spindly plant with yellow flowers almost hits you in the face on the right of the path if you are heading for the stone bridge. You will find it where the path has risen and narrowed where water streams down through a large pipe under the path between two big boulders. It flowers from July through to the end of summer.
Greater Burdock can’t be missed once it starts to flower in July, thistle-like in red, and later yielding its burr like fruits. Yes, it is true; its roots were once combined with dandelion roots to make Dandelion and Burdock. Perhaps they still use them…
Returning to the yellows, Tansy and Common Ragwort come into flower in July. The Tansy is usually a deep golden yellow and seen at the estuary end of the Dene. Common Ragwort, while host to the pretty Cinnabar Moth, can be lethal to livestock, particularly horses, and has legislation all to itself with regard to its presence in fields.
Another plant with only one location in the Dene known to your author is the Hop. Find it at the Hartley Lane entrance to the Dene at the site of the Old Engine. Mugwort is not the prettiest of summer flowers, nevertheless it adds to the long list of flora of our Dene.
Coming very late to the Dene and its surrounding paths are the Asters. Perennial Aster is found along the Waggonway and the Sea Aster is found in the estuary, both flowering from August onwards.
We appear to have some Small-leaved Elm trees growing along the course of the Burn. If you wondered about the tree that was bare of leaves while bearing clusters of seeds or “achenes”, each seed surrounded by flat skin like wings, it is this Elm. As the UK has lost most of our mature Elms, we tend not to look for them; it is a joy to report their presence in our Dene.
This list is not exhaustive and even a thorough search may not turn up plants that others have found, and vice versa. It is only by walking the Dene and surrounding footpaths week in, week out, that we see everything. There are many species of thistles and other members of the daisy family such as sow thistles and hawk’s beards, and polygonums, umbellifers, mustards, figworts, members of the mint family such as woundworts and horehound that would benefit from very detailed study and perhaps in years to come they will be mentioned. There are also plants that have not been mentioned in detail, such as the daisy, the dandelion, pineapple plant, shepherd’s purse but that is not meant to demean their value, just that they are usually so well known.