Woodbrooke is very fortunate to not only have acres of land, within it; gardens, woodland and a lake with an array of plants and wildlife but we also have volunteers that help us tend our organically managed grounds. Whilst they are out and about they often spot things not all of us are so lucky to see! Margo has been recording the sightings within Woodbrooke over the past few months and this is what has been found in the months coming up to Spring!
31st January. It was cold (50C), windy and sunny. Snowdrops and winter aconites greeted me on the right of the entrance drive as I came in off the A38. A welcome splash of colour to herald the hope of Spring.
8th February. The snowdrops and the aconites were still flowering colourfully. Some crocus flowers were making a valiant effort too. It was cold (60 C) and cloudy but again there was a pleasing reception committee of bright blooms at Woodbrooke’s entrance .
16th February. Exploring the grounds a little further revealed that dramatic patches of snowdrops could be found encircling trees behind and on the way to the Quiet Room.
It was still cold (5-60C) but sun in the favoured spot at the entrance drive meant that the aconites and snowdrops were playing host to two or three honey bees. On the bees’ early excursion they floated around the flowers and seemed to particularly enjoy the aconites but the small white snowdrops were attractive too. (Hadn’t anybody told them that Wikipedia said they don’t normally fly below 100C?!!!)
Today, a more detailed exploration of the grounds revealed some fungi (turkey tail, candle-snuff and cramp balls) near the campfire. In the woods there were carpets of yellow archangel leaves which seemed to be the variegated type known as Argentatum.
A flock of Siskin (A little Green Finch. The male has a back cap on its head) was active in the alder trees on the north side of the lake.
Not a natural feature, but enjoyable none the less, was the Yew hedge bordering the southern edge of the lawn on the south east of the site. I liked its bumpy wavy profile.
8th March. It was cold 50C and had been raining but, although windy, brightened up mid-morning. This month’s visit was special because I walked in the
garden and found Scarlet Elf Cups. These are very distinctive bright red fungi that can grow up to 5cm across (but are usually smaller). They are spherical cups that look like something from out of space. Actually they are not uncommon on dead wood in winter and early spring.
Birds included the Magpies that always seem to be around, Wood Pigeons, Coal Tits in the pine trees on the north side of the lake, Robins, Blackbirds, Blue Tits, Great Tits, a Wren and on the lake a Moorhen and a pair of Coots and a pair of Mallards. (Will there be coot chicks and ducklings?) A Chaffinch sang in the tulip tree on the north eastern edge of the lawn.
The Japanese Larch tree on the lawn near to the Chinese Garden hosted a big crop of Lichen. I thought this was a good sign that the pollution from Birmingham and the Bristol Road wasn’t too bad. Looking on the internet however it seemed that not all Lichen was very susceptible to pollution. If this Lichen is the widespread Dotted Ramalina it is not a good indicator of clean air because it is said to be quite tolerant of acidity and nitrogen.
There is not much colour from wildflowers yet but the Snowdrops, Croci and Daffodils are enlivening many areas. The Winter Aconites at the entrance are now looking a bit tired. I think their flowering efforts are coming to an end.
14th March. A party of long tailed tits patronised the turkey oak on the path to the woodlands by the fire circle. The weather was cloudy and windy but least benefited from being a bit warmer, 100C. It was just warm enough to sit for a while in front of the Quiet Room but I was largely alone just here. Only a small spider put in an appearance by the seat.
Some lesser Celandines have now come into flower and the daffodils are showier. The scarlet elf cups in the Wet Glade seem to be more luxuriant. Perhaps they are at their best now. A couple of winter aconites are in flower in this shady area even though the patch by the entrance drive is well past its best.
March is a month of great change in Woodbrooke’s Gardens. At the beginning of the month the grounds can seem rather austere. The path down to the lake passes the Copper Beech and affords a view of the house. There are not many coloured flowers to punctuate a scene of green, brown and white.
26th March. A warmer, sunny day (120C) was blessed with a fine show of yellow Daffodil flowers, carpets of Blue Squills round the Beech Tree, and a special joy some blobs of frog spawn in the pond channel in the Chinese Garden. I first saw the spawn on 25th March when a grey heron was taking a worrying interest in the channel. Was it watching the stickleback or did it fancy an amphibian meal?
A week-long residential course at the end of March (starting on 25th) gave me a chance to conveniently see the garden on several days at different times including early in the morning and at dusk. A Chiffchaff was chirping to herald the spring and was seen along with many other birds such as Green Finches, Nuthatches, a pair of Canada Geese, Jays, Carrion Crows and a Buzzard swirling over the north of the garden bordering the adjacent Fircroft grounds.
Primroses were in evidence at the end of March. Their pale yellow flowers were a delight on lawns and in the woods.
The northern banks of the lake by the concrete dam and walkway were home to a few western/yellow Skunk Cabbages (Lysichiton americanus) whose yellow cowls or spathes are just becoming visible. The dramatic spathes enclose a club-like spadix. When they get bigger they should live up to their name and get distinctly smelly! The plant (a type of arum) was introduced into cultivation in the UK in 1901 and has escaped to become naturalized in marshy areas. The humble British arum is also much in evidence. Lords and ladies or cuckoo pint will usually have a dark spadix and bright red berries. Its leaves are common in Woodbrooke’s grounds in early spring.
On an evening walk we enjoyed some old puffballs in the woodland bed at the northern end of the lake’s concrete dam. They were prominent in a purple planting of Vinca minor.
We look forward to what Margo finds on her next visits to Woodbrooke!