Left to right- Dove's foot cranesbill, ivy-leaved toadflax- catsear
Exploring the Cityscape
'Always fond of flowers, attracted by their external beauty and purity. Now my eyes were opened to their inner beauty, all alike revealing glorious traces of the thoughts of God, and leading on and on into the infinite cosmos....
my eyes never closed on the plant glory I had seen.'
This time has been great for me to connect with my home city of Brighton for usually I am working out on the Downs or in the woods away from home. Although I have been an avid botanist for over 30 years this has created a rare time for me to really observe closely what's on my doorstep and marvel even more deliberately on the common plant that grows through the cracks in the pavement. Isn't nature a marvel, here is a poem I wrote to acknowledge her tenacity and unaltered beauty:
'Delicate blooms of tenacious power, soft lush growth produced wherever it can flower.
Over rubble and concrete, plastic and glass, nature regenerates, cares not if you've asked.
Green fresh growth encapsulates beauty, every tiny flower tells a story.
Showing no fear it grows where it can, covering up the waste produced by man. '
I wish to emphasise most stringently that walking around Brighton from pavement to park, from shore to scrub and from busy coast to the start of the countryside has not felt a second-rate experience compared to the wilderness but an exciting pursuit to quote once more from John Muir :
'Everywhere and always we are in God's eternal beauty and love. So universally true is this, the spot where we chance to be always seems the best. '
I started my life living in centre of the City of Portsmouth in high rise flats and busy streets which meant the verges and parks were my way into nature. I always carried my note book and a pair of old heavy binoculars which I did hide most of the time because I felt I looked a little out of place. However I still remember that rush of excitement at discovering new plant and bird friends.
Being a naturalist for me is finding the joy in the common place, the common wildlife and it seems I am not the only one as Patrick Kavanagh states about the plant below:
'O the prickly sow thistle that grew in the hollow of the near field I used it as a high jump coming home in the evenings.
A hurdle race over the puce blossoms of the sow thistle.'
One of our most common plants also pictured below is the daisy which John Muir describes thus:
'Daisies confiding wild children of light, too small to fear. To these one's heart goes home, and the voices of the storm become gentle.'
Left to Right- Sow thistle - Daisy
I now find myself acquainted more intimately with over 100 wild plant friends within an hour walk of the city where I live, which doesn’t include shrubs, trees or planted species.The plants vary from pavement rockets and mustards offering a ray of yellow petalled sunshine to clambering ivy- leaved toadflax and the dull pellitory of the wall in contrast to the bright red valerian growing through walls and crevices.
Minute corn salad and swine cress flowers just a millimetre across, and larger but still small purple flowers of Crane and Storks bills so named from their beak-like seed pods. I still, after thirty years exclaim at the common sights of golden buttercups and dandelion and the deep purples and blues of ground ivy and speedwells sprawling or appearing to hover in the grass.
I sit for a moment on a concrete slab and squinancy wort and mouse ear look out from crevices. My excitement when I see long horned poppies and bucks horn plantain growing on pebble and rubble. And then quite unannounced an area of unimproved grass boasting purple wild thyme, bright yellow catsear, autumn hawkbit (with its striking red streaks beneath its petals), and a mat of silvery fur produced by mouse ear hawkweed. The larger knapweeds, hawksbeards and ox tongue begin to flower and the promises of rest harrow and native peas.
Left to right knapweed- yellow horned poppy- mouse-ear
As I walk to the local shop I stop to admire the beauty of a dandelion peeping out from the pavement. The ray florets spreading out around a golden centre capturing the sun and inviting winged delights to pollinate them. Other native asters (members of the daisy family Asteraceae the largest plant family in the UK) also peeping out of cracks in the pavement include the common sow-thistle and the daisy already mentioned above whilst groundsels droop under the weight of yellow buds and little white stars shine up from the green foliage of chickweed.
Bittercresses and shepherds purse grow through the tinniest of spaces with hedge mustard and eastern rocket beside them. Germander speedwell finishes the pavement design with sky blue flowers on small patches of soil exposed to plant street trees.
Luscious abundant foliage of the green alkanet, red valerian and jack by the hedge paint the pavement green and in the grass verges clovers, yarrows, nettle, and dock create a green oasis under blossoming cherries and plums.
On the way back a single yellow flower of wood sorrel delighted my keen eye, common mouse ear stood proud and the red dead nettle lifted my spirits. I marvelled at so many common species decorating my urban neighbourhood from dainty and spiky to upright and sprawling to tiny and majestic to dull and shiny. As already quoted above:
'my eyes never closed on the plant glory I had seen.'
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Poetry of flowers
Join me to explore the flora of the British Isles on this blog. My intention is to attempt to capture the unique quality and beauty of each species of flower, tree or shrub. For every species featured I will be growing many more wildflowers to celebrate the joy of their existence, their intrinsic conservation value and bewildering array of uses. For nearly 30 years I have noted, studied and explored wildflowers in the field much to the patience of the walker beside me. To share this passion is a heartfelt plea to respect, preserve and care for all British Wildflowers no matter how common they seem.