November Wildflowers

November Wildflowers

Although wildflowers are fewer and farther between in the winter months., that just makes finding them even more exciting. The milder Autumn weather that we are enjoying this year has extended the wildflower season for some hardy species. Here is a November round-up of of wildflowers seen around the Bracknell/Reading area.

Sulham Gap

November Wildflowers
Wild radish flourishes at Sulham.

Sulham Woods is a really popular dog walking area, just beyond Tilehurst. The whole area is criss-crossed with footpaths.  The woods slope down westwards towards the valley of Sulham Brook and the River Pang, which flow side-by-side from south to north. There are woodland and copses throughout the area, on the high ground and also on the slopes and lower down in the valley. The woodlands are interspersed with fields and open grassy stretches of countryside. In these open areas, where the winter sunlight still warms the ground, it is not too difficult to find November wildflowers.

 

Wild radish grows abundantly across the fields between the woods.  Both  the white and yellow varieties are plentiful here. Wild radish is edible and grows to  a metre tall.  It has dark green, deeply lobed leaves and the roots are white, long and slender with a tough outer core. Peel before eating.

Tall Melilot, November Wildflowers

Tall Melilot also grows here but there are only a few plants still flowering in November. The stems grow about up to 1.5 metres. The main stem is strongly ridged and the bright yellow, pea-like flowers grow along the smaller branch-like stems.

Swinley Forest

Swinley Forest
Swinley Forest

In the open spaces at  Swinley Forest, Bracknell there are plenty of November wildflowers to be found. The woodland is part of the Crown Estate,  stretching over 2,600 acres from Bracknell to Crowthorne. The Look Out is based at the edge of Swinley Forest and is a popular place to begin exploring the area.

Bracken.

Today, Swinley Forest is mainly comprised of Scots pine trees. Among the trees bracken,  covers much of the ground and is one of the most common British ferns.  Dying back in the Autumn,  bracken turns orange and brown during Winter months.

Red Dead Nettle.

red dead nettle November Wildflowers

Red dead nettle can still be seen here in November. The leaves are aromatic, hairy and heart-shaped with toothed edges. Some leaves near the top of the plant have a lovely purple tint.

Common Field Speedwell.

Common field speedwell November Wildflowers

Common field speedwell is a low, short and sprawling plant with branched stems and hairy leaves.  Growing throughout the year in cultivated grounds, gardens, and arable fields. The pretty, blue flowers of the common field speedwell are widely seen throughout Britain.

Lesser Hawkbit

Lesser hawkbit, November Wildflowers

Lesser hawkbit is a short, slightly hairy plant without leaves or leaf-like bracts on the stem. Lesser hawkbit grows in grassy places and it particularly likes sandy or chalky soils. The best months to see Lesser hawkbit flowering are from June to October.

Happy Wildflower hunting in November.

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Kim Mackenzy Andrews is a children’s book author, nature writer, photographer, and artist.

Find her Nature books for children on Amazon.

Wildlife articles for nature lovers: – patch reporting for the BBC Wildlife magazine.

Kim Mackenzy Andrews - Childrens Author

Kim Mackenzy Andrews  Children’s Author
https//: www.facebook.com/KimMackenzyAndrewsChildrensAuthor
Twitter:@Kim_M_Andrews

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Tips for Photographing Wildflowers

Wildflower Photography Tips:-

Wildflower photographs

for the non-photographer.

If you don’t have a  camera or just didn’t bring it with you when you spot a wonderful wildflower, you can still take some great photos using a mobile phone camera. These wildflower photography tips will help you.

Scabious Wildfower photography

Sharper images.

Our eyes are always drawn to the sharpest part of an image so consider carefully which part of the wildflower you want to be in focus.

Using a tripod is always helpful but they take time to set up. Shoot lots and lots of photographs because wildflowers are often so gentle that the slightest breeze sends the flowers bouncing and bobbing. Try to protect them from the wind, using your own body or get a friend to hold your jacket as a shield. This can be difficult and also sometimes means that the lighting direction becomes spoilt by your own shadow.  You can always try to capture the flower in between the movements of the wind. Again, you will need to shoot lots and lots to stand the best chance of a sharp result.

Background wildflower photography

Best backgrounds.

A good background is essential because it helps to draw attention to the main subject of the flower. Often the best backgrounds are:-

1) a strong contrast colour from the flower

2) smooth and seamless

3) out of focus

You may need to look around to find the best bloom that with a background made up of one smooth colour which contrasts well with the flower. To get the out of focus background without the use of any specialist equipment or lenses, you simply need to maximise the distance between the flower and the background.

wildflower photography

Creating flower portraits.

The perspective you choose when you take your photograph makes a big difference. If you stand directly above the flower (the most natural angle in many ways) you will be looking down on the flower and this psychologically diminishes feelings of friendliness. To create a more intimate and friendly feeling it will help to make the viewpoint eye to eye. This may mean lying down on wet grass or other unpleasant surfaces, but the results will be worth it.

leave no trace

Leaving no trace.

Be careful where you step. Stick to paths where possible.

Clean away seeds from your shoes and backpack before and after your hike. To help prevent the spread of invasive species.

Only clear dead vegetation from your backgrounds. Don’t remove anything that’s growing no matter how tempting.

Leaving no trace ensures that the next visitor can enjoy the same experience but importantly it greatly increases the chances for wildflowers to return again next year.

wildflower photographs

Make identification easier.

One of the most rewarding aspects of wildflower photography is learning how to identify them. When we can place a name on something, we feel more connected to it. To help with this process, take photographs from lots of different angles. Take photographs of the leaves, both the stem leaves and basal leaves as these may be different shapes or sizes. See how the leaves attach themselves to the stem, e.g. some will have stalks, some will clasp the stem. They may be arranged in directly opposite sides of the stem or be alternately placed on the stem. Look to see whether the stem or leaves have any hairs on them. If there are seed heads, photograph these for reference also as their shape and size are likely to prove important. All these details can help as you look through any wildflower guidebook. When you have identified your flower then label your photograph. If you are not sure what it is, then consider its specific location as that can also provide important clues. If you are stuck and would like some friendly help you can try posting it on #wildflowerhour  onTwitter. Lots of keen experts are online between 8.00p.m. and 9.00p.m. on Sunday evenings to help if they can.  I recommend posting your photos, alongside the question:- Can anyone help with ID? Don’t forget the hashtag #wildflowerhour.

Conclusion.

I hope these simple wildflower photography tips will encourage you to capture the next beautiful or interesting wildflower that you see. Go on, give it a try.

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Kim Mackenzy Andrews is a children’s book author, nature writer, photographer, and artist.

Find her Nature books for children on Amazon.

Wildlife articles for nature lovers: – patch reporting for the BBC Wildlife magazine.

Kim Mackenzy Andrews - Childrens Author

Kim Mackenzy Andrews  Children’s Author
https//: www.facebook.com/KimMackenzyAndrewsChildrensAuthor
Twitter:@Kim_M_Andrews

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Why are wildflowers important?

WHY ARE WILDFLOWERS IMPORTANT?

Thyme Why are wildflowers important?

We find it relatively easy to feel passionate about some of the miserable experiences and conditions that humankind suffers all over the world. We get upset about many injustices and tragedies. In addition, we can feel distressed about the suffering or the threats to the survival of animals in the world.

But we can quite understandably overlook the predicament of wildflowers – This is easy to do, particularly because not many people even realise why they are important. But this may mean we are sleepwalking into a disaster for the world.

All plants play a vital role on our planet: – here are some of the many reasons why.

 

red planet Why are wildflowers important?

Beautiful landscapes and human wellbeing are closely linked.

Can you imagine how the earth may look if there were no plants?  Currently, forests, meadows, highlands, and lowlands are filled with diverse vegetation which beautifies those landscapes.

tree Why are wildflowers important?

Improving Air Quality.

Wildflowers help the air quality of our planet.  Plants take in carbon dioxide and produce oxygen by a process called photosynthesis.  Having plenty of vegetation around ensures we have enough clean air to breathe as it goes through this filtering process.

Waterscape Why are wildflowers important?

Improving Water Quality.

Plants play an important role in the quality of our water.  When water passes through plants and vegetation it is filtered by them. This removes many pollutants. Plants also increase water clarity as they reducing soil erosion. Plant roots can help to hold the soil, sand, and gravel beneath them in their place.

Improving the Weather.

Plants also influence our weather.  Having plenty of trees and plants including wildflowers can moderate climates.  Many droughts happen in places that are devoid of vegetation. Areas without forests record more droughts than elsewhere.

Weather Why are wildflowers important?

Conclusions.

In our town and cities, we may find wildflowers, deliberately planted along the roadsides and verges.  By understanding the reasons why this is a good idea, we can encourage and support to ensure this practice continues and develops more widely.

We can all do our bit to help further as by planting wildflowers in your own garden or windowbox as in this way both plant and animal diversity is increased. Wildflowers also help wildlife, giving them a place to hide and stay. They are a good, natural food source for many insects, birds, and animals.  In turn, these creatures will pollinate the plants and eat them. Helping to spread seeds by dispersing them naturally.

Happy Wildflower Gardening!

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Kim Mackenzy Andrews is a children’s book author, nature writer, photographer, and artist.

Find her Nature books for children on Amazon.

Wildlife articles for nature lovers: – patch reporting for the BBC Wildlife magazine.

Kim Mackenzy Andrews - Childrens Author

Kim Mackenzy Andrews  Children’s Author
https//: www.facebook.com/KimMackenzyAndrewsChildrensAuthor
Twitter:@Kim_M_Andrews

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Where have all the wildflowers gone?

Where have all the wildflowers gone?

meadow saffron
Meadow Saffron is rare in Northamptonshire.

Wildflowers are becoming extinct at the rate of nearly one hundred per year according to a report from Plantlife.

WHY IS THIS? Here is the first in a series of articles  exploring the many different reasons.

Increased Development 

houses

All development whether located in rural or urban areas will have some wildflower or habitat interest.

countryside

Habitat loss cannot be avoided when land is converted from its natural state into a developed one. All wildflowers require certain habitat features to survive and a diverse population depends upon the natural ecosystems that are found in undeveloped areas. Some species are able to survive in urban settings and these may thrive, but the rest will die.

road
Habitat Fragmentation is a process whereby large tracts of the natural landscape are gradually subdivided until only patches of original habitat remain. These patches may be too small or far apart to support the survival of their original plant species. Generally, road development is responsible for this type of fragmentation. In the end, fewer plant species is usually the result even if the total amount of habitat is the same as the original amount.

Landscape disturbance problems also include compaction of soil and effects to the water content of the soil, resulting in the loss of species due to changes in habitat type.

bell-heather
Bell Heather is rare in Middlesex.

In addition, development can easily introduce invasive species, which will kill off less hardy, native wildflowers.

The next post in this series Where have all the wildflowers gone? will examine farming and the use of herbicides.

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Kim Mackenzy Andrews is a children’s book author, nature writer, photographer, and artist.

Find her Nature books for children on Amazon.

Wildlife articles for nature lovers: – patch reporting for the BBC Wildlife magazine.

Kim Mackenzy Andrews - Childrens Author

Kim Mackenzy Andrews  Children’s Author
https//: www.facebook.com/KimMackenzyAndrewsChildrensAuthor
Twitter:@Kim_M_Andrews

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Organic gardening

Organic gardening is easier than you might think. You can have an attractive and productive garden without using chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

compost
Compost

Make your own compost.

Natural fertilizer can be made from garden waste and scraps from the kitchen. It is good to include vegetable peelings, fruit waste, tea bags, plant prunings and grass cuttings. Cardboard egg boxes scrunched up paper and fallen leaves can also be included although these break down more slowly but will help the mixture. Crushed eggshells can add useful minerals to the mix. Don’t include any perennial weeds such as dandelions and thistles or weeds with seed heads.

Air can also be added by mixing the contents. Turning your compost helps to aerate and mix up the waste and cuttings, which leads to faster composting.

Either build a compost heap or try a compost bin. These are particularly useful for smaller gardens. Add some worms as they will digest the waste material and convert it into liquid compost.

When your compost is ready it will be a dark brown soil-like layer at the bottom of your bin. It should have a spongy texture. Spreading this into your flowerbeds improves the soil quality, helps it retain moisture and suppresses weeds. It also reduces the need to use chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

Find out more about organic composting from the Eden Project.

Encourage insect and slug eating creatures.

hedgehog
Hedgehog

Wildlife gardeners friends are frogs and toads, bird, bats and hedgehogs because they eat insects and slugs. Ladybirds, lacewings, and hoverflies feed on aphids. Encourage the right sort of wildlife by providing wildlife shelters such as rotting logs in a corner to make a home for hedgehogs and insects.  Leaving overgrown areas to provide places for animals, to rest or hibernate. Putting up bird and bat boxes will also help. Find out more from the Royal Horticultural Society.

Adapt natural processes to enrich your soil.

Work in 4 inches of organic matter such as well-rotted manure or compost and add at least another 2 inches per year. Mulch around your plants with leaves, wood chips, bark, hay or straw. this helps the soil to retain moisture. Find out more about this at Gardeners.com

Finally, only use pesticides as a last resort.

Pesticides can kill the wildlife you want to attract to your garden, including the predators that eat pests. If you really feel the need to use them, always follow the instructions on the label and dispose of waste products carefully. Don’t pour them down the drain or put them in your household waste bin. Be especially careful to make sure pesticides or other hazardous chemicals don’t get into ponds, as they can poison water life.

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Kim Mackenzy Andrews is a children’s book author, nature writer, photographer, and artist.

Find her Nature books for children on Amazon.

Wildlife articles for nature lovers: – patch reporting for the BBC Wildlife magazine.

Kim Mackenzy Andrews - Childrens Author

Kim Mackenzy Andrews  Children’s Author
https//: www.facebook.com/KimMackenzyAndrewsChildrensAuthor
Twitter:@Kim_M_Andrews

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Encourage Wild Bees

WILD BEES such as bumblebees and solitary bees are facing rapid decline.  Although it’s good to know that a few simple steps (see below*) that could encourage wild bees to thrive in your garden.

macro of bee and pollen

We are increasingly aware of the reduction in our wild bee population and realising the impact of this on many important food crops like apples, potatoes, tomatoes, strawberries, and green beans. About 84% of all our crop and 80% of wildflowers depend upon insect pollination.

Bee on potato blossoms

Some of the reasons for the reduction in our wild bees include the loss of so many plant species. This is partially linked to the use of herbicides and insecticides.  Also, bees need a wide range of landscapes to find their food and shelter. Landscape diversity has been depleted and bees have suffered particularly due to the loss of wildflower meadows, we have lost the vast majority of our ancient wildflower meadows between the years of 1930 1980, and their abundance of nectar-rich flowers.

*There is still a huge amount that gardeners can do to help counteract this loss and these measures will help to increase our population of wild bees.

Bee and ivy flowers.

  • Include nectar and pollen-rich flowers for every season. Some easy perennials include Lungwort and Geranium in Spring-time. Foxgloves and Ice- plants offer nectar in the Summer months. Whilst Fuchsia and Common Ivy are useful in the Autumn and Shrubby Honeysuckle is a good choice for Winter.

 

Bees nest to encourage wild bees

 

  • Create simple nesting sites using bricks, bamboo canes, or by drilling holes in wooden blocks.

 

 

  • Leave some grass uncut when you mow the lawn. Both long and short grass provide good nesting sites and will encourage different wild bees.

Dew on grass

Bees drinking from bird bath

  • Provide a water source. If not a pond, a birdbath or even a pot sunken into the ground offers a welcome drink for wild bees.

 

SUMMARY:-

Just a few simple steps can make a difference to the bee population, providing a fantastic habitat for a wide range of species throughout the year.

For more ideas about nectar and pollen-rich flowers for your garden, take a look at rhs.org.uk/perfectforpollinators

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Kim Mackenzy Andrews is a children’s book author, nature writer, photographer and artist.

Find her Nature books for children on Amazon.

Wildlife articles for nature lovers: – patch reporting for the BBC Wildlife magazine.

Kim Mackenzy Andrews - Childrens Author

Kim Mackenzy Andrews  Children’s Author
https//: www.facebook.com/KimMackenzyAndrewsChildrensAuthor
Twitter:@Kim_M_Andrews

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The small garden and wildlife.

The small garden and wildlife.

If you like the idea of a wildlife garden, but only have a tiny space, here are a few ideas to help:-

The small garden and wildlife

  • Consider walls where you can incorporate planting. There are many wildflowers that enjoy growing in cracks and crevices.  These include Ivy-leaved Toad-flax and Red Valerian.

Red Valerian, in particular, grows easily from walls and has tall stems. It’s a good source of nectar for bees, butterflies, and moths.

The Hummingbird Hawkmoth enjoys the nectar of Red Valerian.
The Hummingbird Hawkmoth enjoys the nectar of Red Valerian.

Violets grow easily between cracks in paving. Thyme will also happily grow through the cracks on a path. It has attractive leaves and produces pale mauve flowers that attract bees.

  • Plant a small gravel area with nectar providing plant like Scabious.  Many flowers considered suitable for rock gardens will grow well but not all offer much pollen or nectar to hungry insects and be aware that flowers with tunnel-like petals can be too long or narrow for bees to feed from.
  • Use a window box on your house or shed for flowers such as Lavender or Marjoram as these will feed butterflies. Try Night-scented Stocks and Tobacco plants to attract moths.

********************

Kim Mackenzy Andrews is a children’s book author, nature writer, photographer, and artist.

Find her Nature books for children on Amazon.

Wildlife articles for nature lovers: – patch reporting for the BBC Wildlife magazine.

Kim Mackenzy Andrews - Childrens Author

Kim Mackenzy Andrews  Children’s Author
https//: www.facebook.com/KimMackenzyAndrewsChildrensAuthor
Twitter:@Kim_M_Andrews

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Attract butterflies to your garden.

Wildlife gardeners love to attract butterflies to their gardens. This is is not difficult if you plant nectar-rich flowers.  For best results, leave some weeds growing in the garden in order to provide food plants for caterpillars.

I always allow a large patch of garlic mustard grow by the hedge because I know it is a good plant for the orange tip butterflies that frequent in my garden in the month of May.

Garlic mustard
Garlic mustard

Nectar-rich plants.

Many cottage garden plants are nectar-rich and suitable as they have simple flowers making it easy for butterflies to reach the nectar.  Ice-plants, verbena, and scabious are all good choices.  I enjoy seeing the large white butterflies drinking the nectar from bluebells in my garden.

Attract butterflies to your garden
Bluebells in my garden.

 

Butterfly Plants for All Seasons

Suitable Spring flowers include:- sweet rocket, aubretia, and primroses.

Whilst in Summer there are many more flowers to choose from such a lavender, buddleia, red valerian, knapweed, hebe, catmint, thyme, and heliotrope.

In the Autumn months, ice-plants, scabious and michaelmas daisies will do well and are loved by butterflies.

Caterpillar Food Plants

It is important to remember to leave some weeds as food plants for caterpillars. These include:- different types of grasses such as false brome, cocksfoot, and Yorkshire fog – enjoyed by meadow brown, hedge brown, marbled white and large skipper caterpillars.

Caterpillar

Large and small white butterfly caterpillars feed on wild and cultivated cabbages.

 

Green-veined whites and orange tips caterpillars will consume ladys’ smock and garlic mustard.  Brimstone caterpillars feed on both alder and purging buckthorn.  Birdsfoot trefoil is the favourite of the common blue caterpillar and the painted lady caterpillar feed on different types of thistle.

Attract butterflies to your garden

Whichever weeds are growing naturally in your garden- consider leaving patches growing deliberately between your chosen flowering plants.  A weed is only such called if it is unwanted. But if managed and not allowed to overtake the other plants then it should be fine. Many so-called weeds can be very attractive plants and are certainly attractive to butterflies.

I have left the nettles at the bottom of my garden but mown path between them because many butterflies lay their eggs here.

Attract butterflies to your garden
A path through the nettles in my garden.

Moths

Don’t forget the moths!

These are evening creatures and will be attracted by night scented stocks, evening primrose, tobacco plants and honeysuckle.

********************

Kim Mackenzy Andrews is a children’s book author, nature writer, photographer, and artist.

Find her Nature books for children on Amazon.

Wildlife articles for nature lovers: – patch reporting for the BBC Wildlife magazine.

Kim Mackenzy Andrews - Childrens Author

Kim Mackenzy Andrews  Children’s Author
https//: www.facebook.com/KimMackenzyAndrewsChildrensAuthor
Twitter:@Kim_M_Andrews

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Wildlife Gardening- first things first.

 

Begin by considering the structural components of your garden. The trees and hedges should be native if possible- although other species can be good for wildlife.

Wildlife Gardening- first things first.

Native trees in the U.K. include:- Alder, Ash, Aspen, Birch, Bird cherry & Wild cherry, Crab-apple, Field maple, Hazel, Holly, Juniper, Oak, Scot’s pine, Rowan, Yew, Whitebeam, Willow and Wych Elm.

In my garden, I am fortunate to have an established Field Maple

and a miniature Crab-apple trees.Wildlife Gardening- first things first.

Wildlife Gardening- first things first.

Native hedges to choose from include:- Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Wild rose, Holly, Hazel and Elder.  Also, some native shrubs to consider:- Alder buckthorn, Blackthorn, Broom, Buckthorn, Dog-rose, Dogwood, Elder, Guelder-rose, Hawthorn and Spindle.

Then consider the situation of a log pile, in the shade, if at all possible. These will feed beetles and provide shelter for many other animals including frogs and toads. Hedgehogs also use log piles for hibernation.

I have used fallen logs as retaining walls for flowerbeds.Wildlife Gardening- first things first.

And logs cut to size make great wooden stools and tables.Wildlife Gardening- first things first.

 

Think about the direction of the sun in your garden throughout the summer and winter to make the best use of sunny and shady areas. If your garden is small this is not a barrier to wildlife gardening, make use of walls, roofs, and other structures to add to your space.

********************

Kim Mackenzy Andrews is a children’s author, nature writer, photographer, and artist.

Find her Nature books for children on Amazon.

Wildlife articles for nature lovers: – patch reporting for the BBC Wildlife magazine.

Kim Mackenzy Andrews - Childrens Author

Kim Mackenzy Andrews  Children’s Author
https//: www.facebook.com/KimMackenzyAndrewsChildrensAuthor
Twitter:@Kim_M_Andrews

 *PARENTS*    – Get your FREE play with nature activity ideas here.