A constellation of wild flowers is now in bloom on the hills. The volunteers have cleaned the jewel in the crown of Ashridge, the Beacon Hills by removing the aftermath of last years flowering along with the course grasses from the regular strimming of the sward, allowing the flowers to display their charm. You don’t have to have a specific interest in flowers, simply the ability to enjoy their beauty and the countryside in which they thrive.
The new foliage has lost it’s spring freshness, and summer’s maturity is in deepening greens replacing the delicate shades or bright gloss of adolescence. The spring flowers have vanished, many of the autumn blossoms are not yet in bud , but the summer flowers – typical of maturity , like youth and maidens who have left youth behind – are everywhere. When grass is short and undergrowth scanty. Look out for the eyebrights, the milkworts, cinquefoils, bedstraws, daisies, thistles and of course the orchids. There are over sixty species of wild flowers to be found in season and there is the temptation to pick them which is frowned upon – unless you are a young lass picking a posy according to Plantlife.
Where the flowers are plentiful the sward is not grazed by sheep or cattle for at least eight weeks between May and August to allow the plants to flower and set seed for the following year. Most of the aftermath is grazed in the Autumn and Winter, the sheep preferring the plants while the cattle take out the grass. The flowers are mainly perennial coming up every year although the orchids are temperamental. Most flowers are classed as herbs, being used for culinary and medicinal purposes in past centuries by the country folk, and many are poisonous. More recently during the second World War the hips on the dog roses were collected for Government use because of their high vitamin C content.
Unusual names abound like squinancywort, ploughmans spikenard, restharrow, devil’s bit scabious, yellow rattle, and many have localised country names. Rarities include the pasque flower, early gentian and fleawort.
The stocking density of animals influences the condition of the hillsides where over-grazing leads to nutrient enrichment with an increase in “weeds” and a loss of flowers.
The volunteers will be back later in the year to do their bit climbing the steep hillsides, forgetting the health and safety brigade, to clean up for another season of flowering for everyone and forever.