Slicing out the sky.

When the leaves are gone, there is less to distract us from the enormity of winter skies. Little, colurful birds cluster around the seed feeders and the fat balls, but the blank, cold skies are left for black birds: for the crows and for the best of all birds : the pitiless raven.

As the flowers shrivel in the first frosts, she bristles out her throat, throws back her head and laughs long and loud into the empty air. The dreariest time of year is the ravens’ flirtation . While we fret and fart with wretched leaf blowers in our tidy corners of the world, the ravens shout into the wind, roll  extravagantly, over and over with the sheer joy of aerial mastery, wings heavy bell beat in the frozen air. Their’s is delight in cold; delight in dark. This is their time to pair, to impress with improbable devilry; to call to their mate and to slice out a piece of sky for their own winter territory . In their magnificent racous laughter, they wait for the carrion that will feed their young in the months before spring returns.

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Heart of a Witch.

The autumn leaves were falling in a dry rustle around us as the trees slowly, reluctantly gave into the darkening days and sighed down to the woodland floor. My eye was caught by something bright red:  careless trash, I assumed, but stopped a moment to check.

Among the leaves was something far odder, older and much fouler than a discarded sweet wrapper. Spongy, fleshy, organic and disturbing, on an October afternoon I had stumbled upon a witch’s heart lying decomposing on the forest floor.

Clatharus ruber has many names: witch’s heart; stinking basket; Stinking cage and it is found in Europe and also in the Americans. The cage of rubbery bright red life erupts from a white egg and the first naturalist to describe it in the 16th century thought it was a marine animal . This fungus appears and decays into a stinking mass in 24 hours. This film clip shows the whole gruesome process:

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=pdN4pJXEDuE.

It took the contents of my water bottle to wash the stinking fungal spores off my fingers. The smell is utterly repellent. You would have to be a carrion fly to appreciate it, but I am glad I got to hold the heart of a witch for just a few jellified, soul shuddering moments!

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Wide Eyed.

Deadly Night Shade has a beautiful name in English and in Latin. It’s English name ushers us in to dark oblivion, but the Latin name shows us something more dangerously seductive. Atropa Belladona, used as a poison works quickly and effectively, but used in very small doses it apparently dilates the pupil of the eye and makes the user strangely attractive to the viewer – she becomes the bella donna.

Blossoming and fruiting together on its long stems, this Deadly Night Shade seemed well hidden by the forest. The fruits are black and disturbingly luscious, but I think no eyes dilated on seeing them here beneath the cool beech trees. Atropos, the fate who can cut the thread of human life, held her breath. Everything was quiet and innocent in the woods: only the names of the flowers breathed murder and lust.

 

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The Lengthening Shadows

The year is turning and the shadows creep up the wall.

These saplings pattern a chapel in the forest nearby. This chapel is all that remains of a village that was never rebuilt after plague and invasion wiped out the inhabitants. A local history buff has carved its named on a picnic bench, where hikers might pause for a moment to wonder who lived here as they chomp down their energy bars amongst the quiet of the trees.

Only the name and shadows remain.

 

 

Deamon slayer

Today is the autumn equinox and a day to sing the praises of michaelmas daisies

(aster amellus).

In my garden I have showy purple michaelmas daisies and simple white ones and I think I prefer the white ones for the way they blaze light against the dark bushes. Their latin name comes from the Latin for star and the simple flowers sparkle and are absolutely covered in hungry honey bees.image

Their English name is an abbreviation of St. Michael’s mass and the prince of angels who is credited with defeating Satan, is celebrated on 29th September, when the flowers are in full bloom.  I like the idea that such a biblical warrior should be commemorated in this unassuming flower. Old St. Michael’s day was celebrated on 10th of October and when St Michael threw Satan out of heaven, the devil  landed in a blackberry bush and spat in disgust on the fruit, which is why traditionally you should never pick or eat blackberries after that date.  The fact that they have gone mushy and taste bad has nothing to do with it!

On a French note, St Michael made an appearance in Normandy on a rock which is now the famous sea-girt Mont Saint Michael.

I wonder if they grow michaelmas daisies there?

Making the summer last or gothic inspiration.

 

Most of the flowers of summer fade, but some can be kept all year to decorate the house during the dark winter months.image

I have already written about my favourite dried flower:  Lunaria annula or honesty , which is really the lovely delicate silver inner seed case stripped and  revealed, but other garden flowers will also maintain their beauty for months.image

Hydrangeas come in many shapes and sizes and all of their flowers can be picked, hung up and dried, or if like me, you have no time for dangling plants on a line, you simply pick a few fresh heads and put them in a vase with no water and they will dry themselves – no effort required at all!

imageYellow Yarrow , Achillea millefolium  is equally easy.  Just pick some wonderful sturdy yellow flowers and put them in a vase without water where they dry, unwilted and stay colourful for the whole year.   You can get fancy and make arrangements by combining  white hydrangeas and yellow yarrow, and  make surprisingly elegant gifts in no time at all.

I have had a bunch of yellow yarrow in a vase next to my bath and when lying soaking in some bubbles and gazing up at the underside of the flowers one afternoon, I had an extraordinary revelation about how the medieval builders of Europe came up with the idea of gothic fan vaulting. The supporting stems of the flowers reach up under the flat head of fused flowers in exactly the same way that fan vaulting spreads out from column in the cloisters of Gloucester cathedral.image

I wonder which master builder lay drowsing in a garden and looking up into the yarrow, decided to recreate this botanical masterpiece in stone?