Surprise Dessert

Rain has finally remembered us, but it’ll take a long time to refill the ditches out on the grazing marshes. My local river is still running, or ambling, whatever a Norfolk river does. I caught a rare glimpse of a water shrew scurrying between lake and river the other afternoon, but on the whole wildlife seems to be taking the weather as it finds it.

The shock is in the hedgerow. This summer of fierce heat and little rain has grown a fruit garden of banquet proportions.

Haws Aug 22

These are haws, the fruit of the hawthorn. The blackthorn, its notoriously prickly companion, produces sloes that dangling from the gnarled twigs like so many plums.

Sloe Aug 22

Blackthorn was once thought to be ancestral to the domestic plum, but genetic analysis has pointed elsewhere. In fairness, sloes warrant the inverse of whatever kindly adjectives might be given to plums. Dry, dry, dry, sharp and sour. But they are traditionally picked after the first frost to flavour various drinks.

Then there is elder, also having a bumper year.

Elderberries Aug 22

And snowberry, which may catch the eye with its ghostly fruit, but unlike the others, is far from a welcome sight; in the UK, it’s an invasive species, threading its way across native scrubby habitats. I don’t really understand why known problem plants like snowberry and cherry laurel are still available for people to plant in their gardens – they do not stay there.

Snowberry Aug 22

But most of my attention has been on crab apples. To be precise, the hundreds that have rained on my garden from a single crab apple tree, turning the parched lawn into a mosaic of yellow and pink.

Crab apple Aug 22

I gathered a few and mixed them with some local blackberries. That’s my jam supplies sorted for a while.

Jam jars Aug 22

It’ll be interesting to see how wildlife exploits the bounty that’s still outside.

Seasons

Still summer. Still hot, daubing subtropical hues at dawn.

Sunrise 220811

The river banks are green, but that cannot be said of the wider countryside, which is tawny, flat and thirsty. Not unlike the rabbit’s native range in Spain and France, I suppose.

Rabbit 220811

They seem at peace with it, but other mammals are struggling. Moles and badgers need earthworms, which will now be far underground. Foxes, too, feast on them, but they will adapt to alternatives if any are available. It is unclear what the drought will do to the autumn fruiting season for blackberries, cherries and hazel, but this urban fox – photographed by my brother – appears to be dreaming of an upcoming feast.

Fox and blackberries July 22

There is still water: dewdrops at dawn.

Dewdrops 220811

And even a little frost, if you let your imagination run through the seedheads.

Thistle frost 220810

But mostly, it is dry, hazy and hot. Hopefully next week’s forecast of rain will come true.

Mullein 220810

Mixed Basket

I seem to have been away from WordPress for a long time, and the seasons have moved on. Autumn is my favourite time of year – it’s almost like a graduation ceremony for nature, where all the plants get to show the goods that their flowers and leaves have been producing during the summer.

Berries and seeds! Blackberries dot the brambles, at least until they find a higher calling as part of a blackberry and apple crumble.

Blackberries 8 Sept 19

They’re so abundant that there is plenty for both people and wildlife. Blackberries appeal to anything with a sweet tooth, including foxes, dormice and badgers. The parent plant is fantastically prickly but is actually more complex than it seems; there are about 300 micro-species of bramble in Britain alone.

Not that everything in the hedgerow is edible for mammals. Bryony berries have a sparkle, but are bitter and toxic.

Bryony berries 8 Sept 19

And on high chalky slopes grows the most infamous plant of them all: deadly nightshade or belladonna. Thankfully, its giant berries are unmistakable.

Deadly nightshade2 QH 4 Aug 19

On the other hand, hazelnuts are good for the health, and are readily consumed by nearly everything. Happily for mammal surveyors, the toothmarks on the nut show who has opened it. This one was chewed by a dormouse.

Dormouse hazelnut 16 Sept 2018

And, there are sloes, the fruit of the blackthorn tree, used for jellies and jam.

Sloes 8 Sept 19

It is good to reach autumn. Looking forward to seeing how the season unfolds.