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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