We were in Oxfordshire for a few days last week mainly because it was my birthday and as a treat Jude the Undergardener arranged for us to visit a garden designed by one of my favourite garden designers, Tom Stuart-Smith. (If you are a regular reader you will already know that!) He had designed a part of a much bigger garden which we discovered included two of our favourite features, meadows and an arboretum. But that is the subject of my next post so you have to wait for that treat!
A mile or two from out hotel was a nursery specialising in herbs (The National Herb Centre) and it had the added benefit of being in farmland to which visitors had access. We did enjoy looking at the huge variety of herbs especially the mints, lavenders and thymes but we mostly wanted to get into that countryside.
We wandered through wet grassland where even the cut paths were saturated from the heavy overnight rain. As rain still threatened and dark clouds loomed overhead we headed for the woods in the bottom of a valley. We were glad we did as the air was thick with birdsong. It was so loud and there were so many birds there, that it brought back memories of country childhoods where this volume of birdsong resounded everywhere. Sadly it is now rare. So rare that it stopped us in our tracks. Blackbirds, Dunnocks Wrens, Robins and Song Thrushes. These resident birds provided the main chorus but the solos were performed by the summer visitors, the warblers. Blackcaps, Whitethroats, Chiffchaffs, Wood Warblers and Redstarts.
A loud buzzing sound emanating from behind a notice on a tree trunk made us stop and investigate. Dark bodied bees were busy around a crack in the bark and in the shelter of the notice. They seemed calm so I moved in close to take a photo and they didn’t seem to mind. However they changed their tune when the camera flash went off, their gentle buzzing sounded more urgent and aggressive so we moved away rapidly.
Leaving the shelter of the wood we were pleased that the rain had stopped and the world looked a lot brighter so we followed a path around the meadows which we discovered were very damp so in patches were covered in that most ancient of plants the Mares Tail, always a sign of damp ground. Anywhere that the ground dipped a pool had formed.
Between two of these pools a surprise awaited us. Look at the next photo and see if you can work out just what lurks in the greenery.
Have a look at this second view taken a few steps further back and there is a clue.
Yes, here in the soggy ground between two pools the farmer had abandoned a pair of old tractors. The one deep in the undergrowth would never pull a plough to turn the earth but with a little persuasion the second might. The amount of wildlife living in the oldest of the two must have been vast. The bodywork was host to mosses, lichen and algae and spiders had crafted their webs from the wing mirrors. But the biggest surprise of all was that a pair of Bullfinches, surely one of our most colourful native birds were feeding a nest of young within its heart. So there was plenty of life in the old tractor still!
Of course once we had finished enjoying wandering around the fields we returned to the garden centre for a coffee and to purchase a few choice plants. Who could ask for more?