Wildflower Wednesday – Bluebells and the 2014 Natural History Museum Bluebell survey

Maulden Woods Bluebells

Maulden Woods Bluebells at Dusk

I am linking in with Gail at Clayandlimestone for Wildflower Wednesday today and sharing a great project run by The Natural History Museum who are conducting a nationwide Bluebell survey The data collected will help with a study on climate change. Bluebells are a familiar spring sight in the UK and although records have been previously kept they have not been nationwide or systematic, it is hoped that by collating the data on Bluebell flowering times and identifying which species of Bluebell and then comparing results they can determine if the flowering season is changing.

The NHM have said the survey results from the past 8 years have shown that most bluebells in urban areas are now hybrids but there are countryside areas which support native bluebells, this is quite alarming!

There are now 3 types of Bluebell in the UK, the native Bluebell Hyacinthoides non-scripta. And two non native, The Spanish Bluebell Hyacinthoides hispanica which has one more set of chromosomes, than the native Bluebell and an increasing number of hybrids Hyacinthoides x massartiana which is formed between the Spanish and the native Bluebell.

The Natural History Museum are also asking us to identify the Bluebells. The non-native species, which originate further south, than natives, may flower earlier than the English native Bluebells. Then they can determine if an early flowering season is caused by climate change or by hybridisation of the flowers themselves.

The NHM also provide guidance on identification, and apparently the easiest way to tell the difference is by pollen colour. Followed by smell and flower shape.

Recording results are really easy, enter your postcode and an interactive map comes up, where you can then pin point the location of your sighted Bluebells.

The little white flowers glowing in among the Bluebells in the top picture in our nearby wood are Greater Stitchwort.

Bluebells and Greater Stitchwort

Bluebells and Greater Stitchwort


Woburn Abbey Gardens – through the seasons



Early July long border

Woburn Abbey in Bedfordshire, the beautiful home of the Duke and Duchess of Bedford  first opened to the public in 1955. The gardens in one form or another date back 400 years and amazingly just nine staff currently manage the grounds. The garden as it is now spreads across nearly 30 acres and is set against the magnificent back drop of the house and the surrounding deer park from which the garden is separated by a haha. Since 2004 many areas of the garden have been redeveloped and work is underway for further restoration and development work, drawing on the visions of Woburn’s historic designers. Its a garden I visit regularly, through all of the seasons and I wanted to share my highlights of this past gardening year.

Deer park

Deer park, which supports nine species of Deer

From the gate house a 2 mile serpentine drive winds through the 3,000 acre Deer park which allows some spectacular views of the many magnificent historic trees, passing the private entrance and finally reaching the car park and public entrance to the house and gardens. There are designated public footpaths leading through the Deer park, which can also link to the nearby 40 mile long Greensand Ridge walk.

Early Spring – As well as the huge number of trees to metaphorically hug, admire from afar or get up close to in the woodland area, there were an increasing number of Snowdrop drifts this year and the now restored Camellia House to shelter in and swoon over.


Camellia House Mimosa in central bed


Camellias clothe the walls








Late Spring – my favourite time here and the borders are just beginning to flourish, an exciting time to see how Woburn encourages their bio-diversity areas. Swathes of grass behind the formal borders and throughout the gardens are left long and are awash with wildflowers. This works really well and shows how even the most splendid of borders do not need a manicured lawn to show them off.

Wildflowers in the long grass

Wildflowers in the long grass

Bio diversity areas

Mid June – Orchids and other wildflowers in the bio-diversity areas

Beyond the most formal parts of the garden the grass is also extensively left long for the thriving wildflowers and mown pathways lead the way through to the furthest parts of the garden.

Kitchen garden

Kitchen Garden in June




Early Summer – The Kitchen garden is relatively small and is a recreation of part of the main 4 acre Kitchen garden which is half a mile from the house, this recreation was completed in 2011 and is bordered on three sides by walls and a clipped Yew hedge. Its lovely but I would really like to visit the full working Kitchen garden.


The historic Cedar of Lebanon tree is the pride and joy of the Woburn gardeners, planted over two centuries ago and its pretty spectacular!

Cedar of Lebanon

Cedar of Lebanon in early July

The new borders added two years ago are either side of a wide gravel path which lead towards the Lake, Cone House and Hornbeam maze.


New borders in July

Folly with Rambling rector rose

The Folly entrance – the Folly was restored in 2005

High Summer and The Folly, a design by Humphry Repton who was commissioned in 1805 by the 6th Duke of Bedford to make improvements to the existing landscape and “Pleasure Grounds” surrounding Woburn Abbey, Repton produced a series of Red Books, containing the views he saw in the form of paintings and then an overlay of how he would change and improve these views. Woburn has an exhibition room dedicated to Repton, for those interested in Garden Design history.




Inside The Folly

Inside The Folly, the walls encrusted with shells


The Folly and children’s garden had fallen into complete disrepair, but are now restored and the children’s garden replanted. Apparently the nanny would read to children inside the folly.



Autumn – In October we joined Head Gardener Andrew Stout on a guided tour of the gardens, these tours are free and take place once a month on the same day as the  “come and grow” events. It was quite exciting to go behind the scenes and look inside the normally locked Chinese Dairy. Designed by Henry Holland and built in 1794  to house the 5th Dukes collection of oriental porcelain, the Dairy was originally connected to the house. This building too is now restored and if you get the chance a behind the scenes tour is recommended.


Originally designed by Henry Holland, the now restored Chinese Dairy

The long borders were still looking good in October.


October borders

The Bog Garden was also looking good in October. Opened in 2007 and is sited on a natural spring, the water encourages many dragonflies in the summer.


The Bog garden in October

Winter – Woburn is not known for its winter planting or mass displays of early spring bulbs, but it has the most fantastic trees, my photos do not do them justice, but if trees are your thing a winter visit is well worth the time.

Winter Oak

Winter Oak



Some of the many spectacular Woburn Trees








Woburn is an easy garden to visit, thoughtfully signed, helpful staff and good paths to walk on. A decent cup of Tea too. Currently open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and from April 11th 2014 the gardens are open daily.

Plantlife and the 2013 Wildflowers Count

I became interested in the conservation charity Plantlife when I stumbled across the link to their excellent website on twitter. They do a brilliant job in their mission to speak up for plants and save wildflowers, running conservation projects, campaigning and influencing policy, managing nature reserves and encouraging us all to get out there and enjoy nature. As they were looking for volunteers to take part in the 2013 wildflower count I signed up. The aim of the survey is long term and enables the study of trends and factors affecting plants, I felt instantly connected to the project as I love wildflowers and the great outdoors and thought I could contribute easily and although not an expert botanist by any means, felt I have a good grasp of plants and habitats.


Now in its fourth year, the Wildflower count is well organised and after signing up I received an information pack, including a colour identification booklet of 99 common plants in a variety of habitats selected as they are fairly easy to identify and therefore more of us would be confident to get involved, the majority on the list are wildflowers with some ferns, trees and shrubs too. So no advanced specialist skills required, just the ability to keep your eyes peeled! The list of 99 are all clearly photographed and are very helpfully listed according to flower colour. Details of height, habitat, e.g. bog, heath, what to look for in leaves and stems are also clearly listed.

Common knapweed Centaurea nigra

Centaurea nigra Common knapweed – loved by bees and butterflies

I was allocated a 1km square marked on a small section of an ordnance survey map, within a stones throw of my home. We live in a rural village with a range of habitats, some more exciting than others – village lanes, rural floodplains, small streams and rivers, grasslands, agricultural fields and part of the Greensand Ridge runs through our village too.

Lotus corniculatus Common Birds-foot-trefoil

Lotus corniculatus Common Birds-foot-trefoil

There are 3 options 1) to survey a path 1 km long, 2) survey a plot measuring 5m x 5m square 3) survey a linear plot 1m x 20m. Or you could choose to survey all three. As this is my first time, I chose to survey a path 1km long, rather than monitoring an adopted plot. Plantlife suggest ideally a north to south route through the centre of the allocated 1km square, mine ended up a tad meandering as one field with a right of way had Long Horn Cattle in and at another point the signed footpath was completely blocked.

Greater Willowherb Epilobium hirsutum

Epilobium hirsutum Greater Willowherb

Our first step was to measure the path. We wheeled my husbands bike along the route, which has an odometer attached to measure out the 1km distance, noting the start and finish. Our route ran through some village lanes with a few houses, from there the path leads up through a briefly wooded area, a little grassland, another village lane and farmhouse then finally along a bridleway cutting through an agricultural field (very few wildflowers and lots of oilseed rape).

Crataegus monogyna Hawthorn flowers

Crataegus monogyna Hawthorn flowers

The survey should be done anytime between April and September, Plantlife suggest if possible surveying twice, during that time. Wildflowers in their varying habitats flourish at different times – The late arrival of Spring this year meant the late arrival of Bluebells and Stitchwort too. My first survey was in mid May, even then bluebells in my 1 km path were sparse. Stitchwort was delightfully abundant.

Greater Stitchwort

Greater Stitchwort

The late Spring gave way to early Summer really quickly this year and the Meadow Buttercups were at their best here in late May, whilst the Stitchwort was still flourishing in the hedgerows.


Ranunculus acris Meadow Buttercup

My second survey was this weekend in the relative two day cool respite from the heatwave. The ground is parched here and although my survey path runs through the parts of the village without water, we were surprised at just how much was still thriving and looking fantastic, especially the mallow and knapweed.

Malva Sylvestris Common mallow

Malva Sylvestris Common mallow

Included in the Plantlife pack are contact details to help with any identification queries and suggested websites which may help too. There is also the option to become a super surveyor, if you felt really confident at plant identification, where you can give details of all of the plants identified in your chosen patch over and beyond those in the booklet of 99 common plants.

Wildflowers, Gannets, Puffins and RSPB Bempton Cliffs

On June 8th, we made our second visit this year to the RSPB reserve at Bempton Cliffs, near Bridlington in East Yorkshire, where 200,000 seabirds return each year between March and September to breed.


Our visit at the start of May was our first encounter with Britain’s largest seabird, the Gannet, what a surprise, they are truly spectacular and really quite beautiful with stunning markings and a wingspan up to 180cms. We were told Bempton have 11,000! The reserve has several viewing platforms safely perched at the top of the cliffs, making viewing surprisingly easy. Watching was hypnotic and we spent most of the day there with our youngest daughter, taking a break from uni revision. We saw just one Puffin in May, far out at sea, spotted by an experienced bird watcher who let us view through his scope, at 30 cms tall they are tiny in comparison to Gannets. Later a juvenile Arctic Skua was spotted eating carrion and apparently its very unusual to be seen at Bempton and again we were excitedly asked to look through other bird watchers scopes.

Looking down from the cliff tops in May on nesting Gannets

Looking down from the cliff tops in May on nesting Gannets

Cliff top view, Gannets, Puffins and Razorbills

Looking down from the cliff tops in June, seabird city and two puffins!


Billing is a pair bonding display

The volunteers and staff were really helpful and willingly gave lots of information, we were so taken with the Gannets and Bempton we decided to go back again.

We booked onto a 3 hour RSPB boat trip, to view the spectacular 400 foot chalk cliffs and seabirds from a different perspective.

The Boat sails from Bridlington North pier and is accompanied by volunteers from the East Yorkshire local group, who cheerfully answered endless questions and gave a highly informative commentary throughout the trip.

Our first stop before the boat trip was a return visit to Bempton Cliffs, in May the wildflowers held back by the very late arrival of Spring this year, in June the fields of Red Campion (Silene dioica) were quite simply, wow!

Red Campion (Silene dioica)

Red Campion (Silene dioica)

The Yorkshire Belle sailed at 5p.m, the sea was thankfully calm and the views of the chalk cliffs and the nesting seabirds were pretty spectacular from sea level. Gannets, Puffins, Guillemots, Razorbills, Fulmars and Kittiwakes could be seen from the cliffs and from the boat. Lots of Puffins too this time at sea.


Look closely at the photo below, there are seabirds nesting from the top to just above the eroded arches.


The RSPB reserve at Bempton is open at all times. From March to October the visitor centre is open daily from 9.30 am to 5 pm and from November to February 9.30 to 4p.m.

Italian Wildflowers – Capparis spinosa

We are on holiday in Amalfi and its pouring, so had been fruitlessly searching through Italian wildflower sites to help identify the plants we have been lucky to see in between showers. Having driven my husband mad with obsessive searching, both he and I were delighted to find the answer on Christina’s blog ‘Creating My Own Garden of the Hesperides’

Capparis spinosa

Capparis spinosa

Many thanks to Christina’s brilliant blog.