Tales from the photo archive part five – falling leaves

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So we come to the last of my series of tales from my photo archive. Autumn began damp and cloudy in Southampton and I seemed to spend a great deal of time looking for autumn colour that wasn’t there. There was plenty of other colour to occupy me though, even if some of it never made it into posts.  Continue reading Tales from the photo archive part five – falling leaves

Exbury fungi and sundials

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24 October 2016

In the end Gilbury Bridge wasn’t quite the end of our Exbury adventure. Distracted by all the halloween decorations, we’d missed a few of the things Commando wanted to see so, instead of turning for the exit, we carried on. As far as I could tell we were on the Hydrangea Walk. At least there were plenty of hydrangeas along the path.

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Hydrangeas weren’t the only things to capture my attention. We seemed to have hit a vein of fungi somewhere along the trail. The first was an odd clump of brown feathery stuff at the base of a bench. Close by I spotted the remains of something much larger. It looked as if it might have once been interesting, perhaps a cauliflower mushroom, but, with so little of it left I couldn’t identify it.

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The next crop I came to were far easier to identify, although I’ve rarely seen them. The white ball shaped fungi, covered with tiny spines were spiny puffballs, lycoperdon perlatum, and they are, apparently, edible when they’re young. Oddly, the only time I’ve seen them in England before was right here in Exbury, although I did stumble upon a few on my wanderings in the woods in Canada.

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Commando, I’m fairly sure, wonders what all the fuss is about mushrooms and such, but he waited patiently while I took my photos. Not long after my puffball find we came to the first of the things he wanted to see, Jubilee Pond.

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At first sight the pond wasn’t quite as exciting as I’d expected. Unlike Top Pond, which was surrounded by colourful trees and stunning reflections on our last visit, this pond was far more subdued. The trees surrounding it were mostly willows and still green. Perhaps a little sun and blue sky would have helped.

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A closer look revealed there was more to see than reflections though. The pond was teeming with fish and they weren’t shy in the least. As we stood at the edge looking in they came right up to us and seemed to be watching us as much as we were watching them. Perhaps people feed them?

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Leaving the fish behind, we walked around the pond. There was more colour to be found and even a sloe bug who, with his beautiful burgundy red colour, might have been well camouflaged had he chosen a different tree to sit on. This cheeky bug was probably not too worried about being seen though, he was after the juicy red berries. Like his cousin, the shield bug, this little fellow excretes a smelly substance, used for protection. It seems the taste is even worse than the smell and predators will only ever eat one before they learn their lesson.

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Our wanderings took us back to the trail and across a boardwalk before leading us back to the other end of the pond. Here, behind the willows, green was the order of the day. The willow leaves and the huge gunnera leaves were green and the water, where it wasn’t sprouting acid green weed, was covered in a scum of algae. It put me in mind of pea soup.

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As we left the pond for the second time the the jolly sight of the hydrangea flowers seemed like a welcome contrast after all that green. Back on the path it was back to the fungi and the colourful foliage. There must be something a little magical about the woods here because I’ve never seen so many different fungi anywhere else in England and we even found a lone azalea flower somehow still clinging to its branch.

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A few of the side trails we passed were marked private and I couldn’t help wondering if, somewhere at the end of them, there was gardening magic going on. A garden this size must take an awful lot of work to keep looking nice so I imagine there are greenhouses, potting sheds and masses of equipment hidden away somewhere. Perhaps they are at the end of these tantalising trails?

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On the trail we were following we passed rhododendrons as tall as trees with buds forming high in the branches waiting for next spring to burst into colourful flowers. Some seemed to want to get in on the autumn colour act, turning a few of their old leaves bright yellow.

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Further on we found a pair of paperbark maples with curls of russet coloured bark hanging from the trunks and branches. This is one tree that doesn’t need to change the colour of its leaves to get attention and these were keeping their leaves steadfastly green.

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Not long after this we reached the final destination on Commando’s itinerary, the Sundial Garden. The entrance was through a rickety looking gate with a small blue notice. This warned us to close the gate to keep the rabbits out. A quick look around didn’t reveal any rabbits and, from my experience, it would take more than a gate to keep them out if they wanted to get in. We went through and closed the gate nonetheless.

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On the other side we found a beautiful pergola made of stone columns and covered with wisteria. It was tempting to stop for a closer look but Commando was determined to find the sundial so, slightly reluctantly, I passed by.

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The sundial, it turned out, wasn’t hard to find. It stood in the centre of the garden supported by a quartet of stone lions. The tall column was topped by a griffon and, just beneath it the most unusual sundial I’ve ever seen. Each of the four faces had a copper dial, each angled differently. A closer look showed numbers carved around the edges, although most were worn away by time and weather. Sadly, with no sun, we couldn’t tell how well it worked.

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The extraordinary sundial wasn’t the only thing to see in the garden. There were flowers around every corner, bursting with colour. Unfortunately, none of them were on the wisteria covering the pergola. Now that would have been a wonderful sight.

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With the sundial ticked off Commando’s list, I could now go back to look at the beautiful green bower of the pergola. The stone columns were almost hidden by the lush green wisteria leaves but, inside, there were thick wooden beams supporting the branches and a wooden seat to sit and contemplate the garden. When the wisteria is in flower the scent must be breathtaking. Even without it, it was a hard place to leave.

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Exbury is a magical place where time, even with a sundial to tell it, seems to bend and distort. It would be easy to get lost in its beauty and never leave but leave we must. Sadly, walking slowly past the rainbow coloured trees and the giant spiders on the bridge, we made our way to the exit. Maybe next time I’ll visit in spring.

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Exbury Gardens, a Halloween adventure

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24 October 2016

So far this autumn has been decidedly subdued so, when Commando suggested a trip to Exbury Gardens today, I wasn’t exactly hopeful. We last visited in Autumn 2015, just after we returned from Canada. Then, the trees might not have been as startlingly bright as those in Toronto, but they were beautiful all the same. This year I had the feeling everything would still be green. I was wrong…

Continue reading Exbury Gardens, a Halloween adventure

2015 life is too short to be unhappy

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31 December 2015

The final lesson of 2015 was that sometimes, if you stick at something long enough, success will come. Conversely, I also learned that there are times when you have to cut your losses and give up. The main theme was that life is far too short to be unhappy. Continue reading 2015 life is too short to be unhappy

More Exbury Garden secrets

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31 October 2015

Commando, the keeper of the map, knew exactly where he was taking me and, as usual, I was following blindly, enjoying the show of hydrangeas and the crunch and scent of the dead leaves beneath my feet. After a while I could see water sparkling through the trees. We’d reached the Beaulieu River, which borders one side of Exbury Garden. Through the branches of the oaks we could see small sailboats and the hazy trees near Bucklers Hard on the other side of the river.

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Exbury House was requisitioned in 1942 and used as HMS Mastodon in the planning, arming and training of the D-Day landing crews. There was a sign near the water explaining this. For many of the men and women who took part in the D-Day landings, this view would have been the last sight they had of England, or so the sign told me. The thought of women landing on those beaches was something I’d never even considered but it seems they did although information about them is hard to come by. Certainly there were women there. British women were parachuted into France before D-Day to act as intelligence agents and there was at least one woman amongst those brave men on 6 June 1944. A female journalist called Martha Gellhorn stowed away on a hospital ship and came ashore disguised as a stretcher bearer. The women of the Red Cross, supplying food, water and other necessities were there too and the nurses of the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service. They may not have been in the first wave of troops and they weren’t there with guns but they risked their lives all the same. It seems a shame that their efforts and sacrifices have been largely forgotten.

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Beside this interesting sign was a large stone bearing a plaque in remembrance of the sailors and Royal Marines of the British Royal Navy who lost their lives during those terrible hours. This was originally set into the Allied Forces Memorial at Arromanches at Gold Beach. Possibly I even saw it there when we were in Normandy visiting the beaches. When the memorial was replaced in 2002 it found its final resting place here at Exbury where it all began.

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After standing for a moment reading the signs and thinking about those men and women we strolled along the leafy trail beside the river in thoughtful mood. Through the oak trees along the shoreline the river seemed peaceful and it was hard to imagine the urgency of those far off days when the place would have been filled with troops and landing craft preparing for D-Day. A tree, half fallen, it’s rootball ripped up but still somehow tenuously clinging, had been saved by the trunks of other trees nearby. It seemed a good metaphor for those landings somehow.

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Soon enough the riverside walk turned away from Beaulieu River and the salt marshes and we climbed a gentle slope through the woods. The trees here were mostly oak and maple and the trail was thick with their leaves. As usual, it wasn’t long before Commando was way ahead of me, mostly because I kept stopping to take pictures.

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When I spotted gem studded puffballs, lycoperdon perlatum, beside the path I got even further behind. For me these were a rare find, although I’m told they’re common in fields, gardens, woods and even along roadsides. Apparently, they’re also edible when young but I wasn’t about to test that theory. When mature puffballs explode and release their spores when touched and closer inspection revealed that one of the mushrooms did have a hole on the side. Whether this was caused by the release of spores or by something eating it I couldn’t tell. Either way I left the other alone to let nature take its course.

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There was some running to catch up and, a few minutes later, we’d reached Lower Pond or Bottom Pond, depending of which guide you read. The water was murky and part of the pond was roped off where workmen are cleaning it and securing the concrete linings. In early November the gardens close for winter so I suppose this is the ideal time for maintenance work. We carried on across the stone bridge but, with the water so low, there wasn’t much to be seen.

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Now we were skirting the edge of Daffodil Meadow where thousands of bulbs have been planted since World War II. Obviously, being autumn, the hosts of golden daffodils were nowhere to be seen but there were red berries to add a little colour to the green.

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Soon enough the maples were adding to the colour. We came upon a whole group of them with leaves in brightest red and orange. Its hard to believe that most of this autumn colour is there all the time but we just haven’t been able to see it. The brilliant yellow and orange is actually the natural colour of most leaves but, during the spring and summer, the deep green colour of chlorophyll masks it completely. The trees use chlorophyll in photosynthesis, allowing them to absorb energy from light but, as the weather gets colder, the chlorophyll is broken down and the nutrients stored in the roots until spring. As the leaves lose their chlorophyll we begin to see the yellows and oranges that were there all the time. Towards the end of summer the sap cells of the leaves begin to produce another group of pigments, the anthocyanins. These give us the bright reds and are brightest in cold bright autumns.

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This was where we got our last look at the river and headed off into the trees. Amongst them was bitter orange, poncirus trifoliata, filled with downy fruits. The little bitter oranges were still green but, even when they ripen and turn yellow, they’re too bitter to eat although some people make them into marmalade. Edible or not, they were the first I’ve seen growing outside in England.

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With all the stopping for photos I was getting further and further behind even though Commando was dawdling along, at least for him, and kicking at leaves. Despite this I couldn’t help myself. The leaves were just crying out to have their photos taken as were the blue green lichen growing on the bare twigs. In the end I had to concede defeat and run onece again to catch up. Sometimes I wish he’d just wait for me.

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Still, I shouldn’t complain because, when I did catch up I discovered the kicking about in leaves had all had a purpose. He’d discovered some interesting fungi. There was a whole group of them growing beside the path and, when I got closer, they looked like stylised flowers rather than fungi, with convex centres, wavy edges and deep splits. A lot of Googling hasn’t helped much with identifying them although they could be Clitopilus. Whatever they were I liked them and I was glad Commando found them.

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A few minutes later he’d done it again and this time I was pretty sure I knew what I was looking at. For all the world it looked as if someone had been peeling satsumas or tangerines and scattering the peel amongst the leaves. I’d read about orange peel fungus on New Hampshire Gardeners’s blog and now I thought I was seeing it. Crouching to look thought I wasn’t quite so sure. For one it didn’t look quite as orange as I expected, although I couldn’t remember the photos I’d seen as much as I remembered the name. Once again I resorted to Google and I think I was right to think I was wrong, if that makes sense. Now I’m almost convinced that what I saw was Hydnum, or Hedgehog fungus. Of course I could be wrong.

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Just when I thought all the fungi were over, Commando came up with more growing amongst the fallen rhododendron leaves. These were fairly unremarkable, small and brownish and I think they were probably waxcaps. Even so I took a photo because he’d gone to the trouble of pointing them out so it would have been churlish to ignore them. These were the last we saw because, a few moments later we were back at Gilbury Bridge and our walk in the garden was almost over.

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We’d had a wonderful adventure in this enchanting garden although we hadn’t seen everything by any means. The garden covers two hundred acres after all and two hours of wandering about was never going to be enough time. Perhaps I’ll come back in spring for another look.

The not so secret garden

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31 October 2015

As October drew to a close Commando had a trick up his sleeve to cheer us both up and banish the post holiday blues.
“Let’s go out for a drive and a little walk,” he said late on Saturday morning, when he’d come back from his Parkrun.
“Where to?” I wondered.
“That would be telling,” he said.
So we got in the car and, before too long, I realised we were heading for the New Forest. When we turned left at Totton I thought maybe we were going to Calshot or even Lepe Beach, although it seemed a bit chilly for a beach walk. In actual fact we were heading for Exbury. To be more specific, Exbury Gardens. Continue reading The not so secret garden