NATURALLY THINKING

By Margaret Waddingham

Articles published in the Caundler Magazine

Elephant hawk moth caterpillars are a treat to see

The ash trees are late coming out this year, whereas the oaks seem to have been out for weeks.

Apparently oak is temperature sensitive so this year’s above average temperature caused its leaves to grow well ahead of the ash.
Above average temperature? Really? Sorry, apart from Easter, I must have been asleep because I hadn’t noticed.
However, the ash is less responsive to temperature and is believed to respond to sunshine.
There is a little rhyme about these two trees; I’m sure some of you know it.
‘Oak before ash, there’ll only be a splash. Ash before oak, there’ll be a soak.’
If that is true, then we’re in for a dry summer again. However, there’s nothing to prove this saying according to the Woodland Trust. Fingers crossed then –   we could really do with a good soaking.

Elephant hawk moth caterpillars

Janie phoned to tell me that she had seen hares on three consecutive days near Woodrow. Wonderful. I haven’t seen one for about three years.
She also told me that she had found three elephant hawk moth caterpillars in the corners of her three raised beds where the old wood surrounds had recently been replaced with new wood.
If you have never seen one of these strange creatures, then you have missed a treat.
It is about two inches long, grey and stout, warty and hairless with a little horn at his rear end and a head which he can wave around like a miniature trunk.
The head is very small compared with the rest of his body, and if alarmed, he withdraws it into his thorax which causes two large eye spots to stand out to terrify predators.
Not exactly beautiful but no doubt he has dreams of the day when he emerges into a beautiful moth, brown and pink and feeding on fuchsias or, if handy, willow herb.
Quite harmless and well worth the meeting.

What a pleasure spring has been this year with all the flowers putting on what seems like a particularly spectacular show. I’ve never seen such a lot of primroses, whilst the bluebells, I’m sure, were a
much darker blue than usual, and red campion a much deeper shade of pink.

Once, long ago before the days of chemists, chiropodists, dentists, cosmetics and dating agencies, flowers and plants would probably have provided most of your needs.

For the laundry you would have dug up bluebell bulbs for starching collars and ruffs. Dreadful on the hands but excellent for starch.
You’d hunt for coltsfoot leaves to dry and grind down for the relief of coughs.
You’d pick bunches of primroses to hang in the milking parlor to stop witches from putting a curses on the cows and, if you had toothache, you’d look for young plants of sneezewort.
These have a remarkable numbing effect in the mouth if you chew on them, and, if your horse were suffering with the same complaint, it’s effective for them too.

There were no end of things you could do to find out who loved you

Most especially with daisies, buttercups and roses. You would have pressed them, pulled them to pieces, eaten them, slept with them under your pillow much cheaper than your modern dating agency. I
t should work for men as well as women, but men, of course, won’t admit to doing any of these things.
By the way, did you know that the old Dorset name for a bluebell was ’Granfer Griggles’?
I wonder how that name came about.

Orchid Lane

The other thing that Janie told me was that they were thinning out some of the woodland in Holt lane and there was a lot of wood spurge growing there.
I went down in the car to have a look and also to see what orchids were out. The answer to the latter was none, although I did come across one or two dead ones but I’m not sure what variety they were. Brian and I often used to go down this lane in fact we called it Orchid Lane because at certain times of the year, there are masses.
One day we walked along a half hidden path and found the biggest patch of violets I have ever seen in one place.
The house martins flew round and round the two nests beneath the gutters, inspected them briefly, flew round and round again, then disappeared. They did this for several days as though they were comparing their old homes to some new, more modern ones they have found somewhere else, but now they are back properly, obviously preferring the old and familiar.
I love to have them because their chatter is one of the most delightful sounds of summer, but has anyone any suggestion as to how I can protect a rose which is directly beneath them?

About Margaret

Margaret WaddinghamI was born in Middlesex in 1935 and educated at a convent in Rickmansworth. In 1954 I moved with my family to Cranleigh in Surrey where I met and married Brian. We have two daughters and five grandchildren.
For 21 happy years we lived on the outskirts of Guildford, moving to Hatherleigh in North Devon when our children had fled the nest to get on with their own lives.

My love of writing goes back many years but it was not until I retired from RHS Rosemoor Gardens in 1995 that I was able to devote more time to this and my other favourite pursuits, gardening and the countryside.

For many years I was a regular contributor of short stories, poetry, nature and other articles to three women’s national weeklies, periodical regional magazines and local newspapers. I also had a book of the history of a neighbouring village and a couple of books of poetry published.

One day our daughters phoned to suggest, very gently, that they couldn’t get to us quickly in an emergency and that’s how we ended up in Stourton Caundle.

We couldn’t have chosen a better place and although Brian sadly passed away in 2018, I have come to appreciate the village more and more.

Genevieve (my mobility scooter for those who haven’t met us) and I wander the local lanes, drinking in all that is around me and when I can no longer do this I will still have a small, peaceful garden to sit in where nature comes to visit me.