NATURALLY THINKING

By Margaret Waddingham

Articles published in the Caundler Magazine

The cuckoo seems to be getting more and more rare, so I was delighted to hear one in the distance early in the morning in May. My daughter, who lives in Hazelbury Bryan, was luckier.
She had one perching on her next door’s television aerial, though I’m not sure she appreciated it at 5 o’clock in the morning.
Talking of cuckoos, but straying from bird to flower, I was looking at a Cuckoopint one day. What an odd sort of plant it is. It’s almost the sole British representative of a very large
tropical family, yet it seems perfectly at home growing in our erratic climate, tucked at the bottom of hedgerows or sheltering in a wood. In spring, it has a pale limey-green sheath that gives way to glistening orange berries in late summer. Inside the sheath, stiff hairs encircle the base of a central column beneath which there is a ring of male flowers. The female flowers are below these and consist only of ovaries and stigmas. The sheath opens at mid-day, the column heats up and releases a scent to attract a variety of flies which fall through the hairs onto the female flowers, which are then pollinated only if the flies are already carrying pollen from another plant. Goodness, how complicated nature is.
The A303 to the South-West is a busy road but there are some wonderful views and the verges are a delight. In June swathes of Ox-eye Daisies cover them for miles, overhung with wild roses. A rose is a rose, I think as we pass them by, and then I read that there are 100 different varieties. The most common are the Burnet Rose, which has small, solitary creamy-white flowers, producing purple-black hips in the autumn, which is only 6-18” high, and the Field Rose which usually grows in deeply shaded places, scrambling up to 6ft over hedges. This has pure white flowers followed by small, bright red hips. The other common ones are the Dog Rose, which again grows in woods and hedges and is abundant everywhere with delicate shell-pink flowers, and the Downy Rose which is smaller, with leaves densely covered in soft hairs and deeper pink flowers. The apple- scented rose is the Sweet Briar and bears bright pink flowers.
On one of those rare fine mornings that we had in May, we took to the lanes and stopped on top of a hill to admire a spectacular view. We’d only been there for a few minutes when there was a hatch of hawthorn flies in the low hedgerow beside us ‒ black, ungainly creatures with long legs. They hatched in waves, moving along the top of the low bushes away from us until the air round the car seemed full of them. Had we been near water they would have ended up as fish food, but as it was they swarmed over the meadowland until they disappeared from sight.
During those two fine weeks in May, the garden seemed full of the hum of bees. A great many of these were bumble bees (sorry to go on about British varieties, but there are 26 of these), the most common being the Red-tailed and the Buff-tailed. Identification of both of these is easy ‒ the clues are in the name. There were a good few honey bees about too, their little pollen sacks bulging and golden, and quite a number of our little mining bees that have made their home in our front lawn joined them.
Amongst the birds we have in the village is a Kingfisher that flashes up and down a stretch of the brook in Cat Lane. What a treat!
And last but not least, we seem to have another sultana-eating blackbird ‒ a female this time. Wonder if it’s Mr B’s daughter? We have christened her Rene because she sings almost as well as Rene Fleming. She comes to the step and peers in but is much more timid than Mr Bocelli for as soon as we open the door to put sultanas out, she hops off down the path or flies to the top of the hedge and waits until we close it again. The other day she brought one of her youngsters to share the spoils ‒ a fat, awkward looking baby who will, no doubt, soon change into something a bit more elegantly blackbird looking.

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.