Wildflowers in the garden

The seeds for this patch of wildflowers in my daughter’s garden in Wormingford, Essex, came from the packets given out by LEAP at last year’s Ewhurst Carnival.  They were sown in early Spring and she said there was still some flowering by the middle of August.

Claire McGill


Watch out for the mistletoe
For it’s that time of year
Once you’re under it, people insist
You’re full of Christmas cheer

A large part of December is taken up with a) preparing for Christmas, b) undergoing Christmas and c) recovering from Christmas. One the decorations that tend to be hung around the house at this time, is often mistletoe. Although its association with Christmas is more coincidental than genuine, the plant has had a special place in mid-winter customs for a very long time, and its use pre-dates Christianity. It’s still considered to be a pagan plant by the Church and often banned from Church decorations; however, having a piece of mistletoe hanging in an appropriate spot is still favoured in many homes at Christmas. Mistletoe is actually a parasite, which grows on the branches of trees, particularly apple trees; it is actually very rare to find any on oak trees. If you are driving down The Street towards Deblins Green, you can see a large bunch of mistletoe at the top of an apple tree on the right hand side of the road.

On what was a beautiful, if absolutely freezing, Saturday morning at the beginning of the December, some LEAP volunteers replaced old waymarkers around the village in order to make footpath routes a bit clearer as well as a bit of trimming back. This was really enjoyable, as long as your aim with the hammer was true. It was good to be outside on such a day and the temperature became more bearable in the sunshine.

We had the first power cut of the season near the end of December and, though it only lasted for about 15 minutes, it made me think of last winter and the number of blackouts we had then, one of which lasted nearly 48 hours. It is very humbling to realise how dependent we are on having continual electrical power to make our lives bearable. Perhaps it is no coincidence that the final object in Neil MacGregor’s, ‘A History of the World in 100 Objects’ is a small solar powered lamp and charger made in China in 2010, which, when it is exposed to eight hours of bright sunlight, can provide up to 100 hours of even white light and is not expensive to buy. Solar power may provide part of the answer to our dependence on fossil fuels as well as providing most of the energy in countries where the population don’t have access to an electrical grid but do have bright sunlight. Apparently, Thomas Edison said in 1931: “I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that;” an interesting comment from the man who invented the light bulb.

Busy July

Rain, rain, go away
Come again another day

Since its inception many years ago, rain had hardly ever (and probably never) fallen during LEAP’s Clear Out Day. 2014, however, did not obey the rules. Every time a bit of blue sky was sighted through the grey cloud cover, spirits rose, only to be dashed when the next torrential shower appeared. Hero of the hour was the gazebo, which offered shelter to quite a few people together with various objects. However, plants involved in the Plant Swap, which Lesley Wood kindly organized again this year, decided to stay outside and have a drink.

Carnival Day, on the contrary, was blisteringly hot. Once again, the gazebo was invaluable, this time in providing shade. LEAP had organised a Wild Flower Quiz, similar to last year’s, as it had been so popular. This one was also a great success, once people summoned up enough courage to have a go! There was quite a bit of controversy as to whether one of the exhibits was yarrow or hedge parsley (it washedge parsley) and about 5 people knew all the answers – no mean feat as the quiz wasn’t that easy

To commemorate the hundred years since the outbreak of war in 1914, Flanders poppy as well as wildflower seeds were given away so there should be some attractive wild patches next year in a few of Ewhurst’s carefully tended gardens.

In the Hurtwood and other parts of the Surrey hills, ground hurts (bilberries) are now plentiful and much enjoyed by dogs, possibly because they are at dog level. I have also spotted Burnet moths in the fields hovering over the thistles and bird’s foot trefoil. They have the most beautiful wings of translucent grey with red spots and in flight the wings appear red. I’ve never seen any before but it seems these moths are extremely common within the UK.

My next brush with local wildlife occurred one morning in the kitchen when I noticed a giant spider silently resting on my arm. How it had achieved that position was a mystery. Its legs reached from my elbow to half way up my arm. There was no doubt that this was a big spider. Trying not to panic, I moved quickly outside and managed to remove it (two attempts) onto the ground, hoping the dog wouldn’t eat it. Then I screamed. After recovering from this encounter, I heard a warning on Radio 4 regarding carnivorous slugs, which sounded very similar to the one (at least 8 ins long) that has been lurking in our compost bin for a while. They are supposed to have arrived from Spain, via a ship’s cargo of fruit and veg, and each of them rumoured to be able to demolish over 20 slug pellets with no ill effects. The carnivorous element of their diet is meant to be slug related, but I’m still not rushing to deposit any vegetable peelings from the kitchen into the bin at the end of the garden.

Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud

Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud – Nothing Quite Like It for Cooling the Blood!

Well, cooling the blood in January might not be at the top of everyone’s list, but mud is certainly one of the more tedious side effects of the continual rainfall we’ve had this month. To set the scene: it rained for virtually the whole of January 1st and things haven’t really improved since. If you dare to go off-piste, so to speak, you will have to cope with varying degrees of mud. These vary from relatively wet, which means you won’t get too dirty, to complete slime and that’s bad news as it’s also slippery.

However, if you want to avoid treading in eternal mud, there are some areas nearby with sandy soil, like Holmbury Hill and Farley Heath, where you (and the dog) can have a good walk without having to be hosed down before you enter the house. Unusually, we have a black Labrador, carefully bred to retrieve duck in the icy lakes of Canada, who doesn’t like getting her paws (or any other bits of her for that matter) wet. She tiptoes round puddles and teeters on river banks desperately trying to reach a stick without having to take the plunge. If there really isn’t any alternative, and totally as a Last Resort, she will follow a stick into the water and, in doing so, occasionally gets what has to pass for a bath.

From the perspective of looking outside from inside, the countryside can appear wet, cold and unfriendly, if not downright nasty, but, once you manage to venture out there, it’s surprising how pleasant it can be. Ignore the mud, wear the boots, and you might find a walk isn’t that bad, especially now a number of footpaths have been cleared by LEAP volunteers. The wintery smells, trees, birdsong, and just the quiet, can be quite addictive. I have certainly heard a few birds around, but am not adept enough to identify a bird by its song. Some snowdrops can now be seen around the village, though the continual rain has made them look a bit squashed.

Let’s hope February brings drier weather, though we’re probably due some snow and ice. Mind you, anything will be better than more rain, but ……


July has been a busy month in Ewhurst with various events taking place including the Big Day/Night Out, the Horticultural Show, and, of course, the LEAP Clear Out Day on the 6th July. Again, this was a great success with a wide variety of items, from toys/books and small pieces of furniture to gardening tools, being brought along and taken away plus the added attraction of bacon butties sold by the Youth Club in aid of the new Playground. The smart new LEAP banner was also on display and everyone, dogs and children included, seemed to be having a really good time.

This year, Lesley Wood from the Horticultural Society organised a Plant Swap, which proved so popular that we hope this might become a permanent feature of future Clear Out Days.

LEAP has recently taken on the responsibility of helping the SCC with footpath clearance and waymarking around Ewhurst. An interesting and informative training session was held in June when were each issued with a basic kit containing sufficient tools necessary to trim back a footpath (e.g., secateurs, small saw, waymarkers, etc).

The training session was followed on the following Saturday by a working party to clear vegetation and do some waymarking on Footpaths 70, 71 and 75 around Buildings Wood. This took place under the leadership of SCC Rights of Way Officer, Nicky Scott, and was great fun as well as being constructive. We avoided treading on the wild orchids which grow in the area. We expect most working parties to last a couple of hours or so and be held on Saturday mornings. We are hoping that Leadership training for volunteers wishing to take on that role will be provided soon, possibly in August. If more advanced equipment is needed for clearing an area, specialist training will be given and a Leader + First Aider would accompany any group undertaking these more arduous tasks.

Additional volunteers would be extremely welcome, so please let us know if you think you would enjoy such an activity.


Now the nights are drawing in, trees are slowly starting to change colour and hedgerows have their Autumn decoration of berries. I’ve spotted Hips and Haws (Rosehips and Hawthorn berries), Sloes, and Black Bryony berries. Lords and Ladies can be also found by the hedgerows. On the green opposite the Bull’s Head, there is a Hawthorn tree with an amazing number of berries. Hawthorn trees, in particular, are associated with fairies, and it is considered bad luck to bring a branch of hawthorn blossom into your house without asking the tree’s guardian fairy for permission. Oak, Ash and Thorn trees growing together are supposed to have magical powers.

Sadly the blackberries are not good this year, presumably because of the rather bizarre weather we’ve had this summer. Usual hotspots have proved unfruitful – barely enough for an apple and blackberry pie. When testing ripeness, I aim for the upper branches and Minnie (black lab) works the lower ones. Quite a few dogs like blackberries, so it is probably not a good idea to pick any near the ground as they may well have been licked. For some reason, the few juicy ones this year seem to have been more at Minnie’s level than mine.

A couple of months ago, I was woken by loud squawking noises in the garden. Looking out of the window, I was amazed to see an alarming number of jackdaws lined up on the lawn, tree house and runner beans. The squawking had been caused by a couple of aggressive magpies dive bombing them on the lawn. The jackdaws were patiently queuing up for bird seed placed into the new guaranteed jackdaw (and squirrel) proof containers. This was depressing. However, after a few more abortive attempts, a feeder was purchased, which actually kept jackdaws/squirrels out and let small birds in. Since this acquisition, the jackdaws have turned their attention to our apple tree, from which they have been taking one of their ‘5 a day’. We are more than happy with this development as the apples, despite their promising appearance, are dry and tasteless.

Thanks to the LEAP Wild Flower Quiz at the Ewhurst Carnival, I can now tell the difference between Cow Parsley and Wild Angelica. I was wondering whether Wild Angelica was the same sort that is candied and sold as a cake decoration but Garden Angelica is generally used for this purpose.

LEAP plans to have an Autumn walk before the weather becomes too chilly, so keep an eye on the website to find out when this will take place.