July 13th - A vitally important mission begins.
These are the seed heads of my favourite flowers, cowslips, and the wee dots the seeds themselves. For the next few weeks, I’ll potter around anywhere I saw cowslips in spring, looking for the seeding plant. I’ll gently collect a little pot of seeds, and then spread them on land where it would be nice to see some in spring (praying I don’t get pulled by the coppers in the meantime).
It’s how most of the cowslips got on Clayhanger Common in the first place. I’m rather proud of that.
Guerilla planting is a random act of natural kindness. Do it now.
July 10th - I’m really concerned about an early autumn, or maybe I’m just being paranoid because I’m missing so much sunny weather being trapped at work. These rowan berries - great for wine and jam - are ripening really well and seem very early to me.
I spotted them on the way to work at Clayhanger. It’s nice to see, and the colour - bright, vivid orange - will be excellent. But it feels like the summer is slipping away…
June 30th - With the passage of the early summer, we move from the flowering to the fruiting. Most fruits and seeds will be weeks in development, and not become of anything until late summer and autumn, but many flowers and trees seed early. The lupins by the canal at Clayhanger have long passed their best, but the seed pods they’ve formed, resplendent with downy fur, are a treat in themselves.
The dandelions, of course, such masters of natural engineering, seed all summer through. Such common flowers, rarely studied, but so gorgeous in their perfection.
June 24th - The wildflowers have peaked now - as summer draws on, only the old familiars will really remain as the more showy specimens fade. One of my favourite long lasting flowers - up there with birds foot trefoil - is this vetch, an electric blue/violet delight. It’s growing in abundance on Clayhanger Common and near the Pier Street Bridge in Brownhills, and is really rather splendid.
It always seems alive with bugs, too, so it serves a useful purpose to boot.
June 21st - I think the poppies growing so beautifully on the traffic island in Clayhanger must have been planted, possibly as part of the Great War commemorations this year. It’s fair to say that whether by accident or design, they’re really beautiful and a lovely display.
If you’re passing, do take a look, it’s magical.
June 15th - The flora was also showing well, and the blackberry and dewberry brambles are flowering intensely this year - so if we get a nice few days with plenty of bees and bugs, there should be another ample crop of blackberries this autumn. The lovely, paper-white flowers are rarely studied closely, such is their proliferation, but they are most delicate, attractive things.
I was also pleased to note that following the great marsh orchid massacre - where the plants I had been lovingly watching were mown off by a C&RT grass cutting crew a week or so ago - another abundant patch seems to be growing on the slope down to the new pond at Clayhanger.
I love those orchids. I never saw anything like them here when I was younger, and cherish them as a sign of how much better the ecology generally is around here these days.
June 15th - It was only a short run around Brownhills and up to Chasewater, as I wasn’t feeling to clever and it was a dreadfully overcast, grey afternoon.
My mood was lifted though by all the young animals I saw around and about - two families of goslings at different stages of development at the Watermead; a foal grazing on a lush meadow yellow with buttercups at Brownhills Common; the Catshill swan family, still numbering seven, growing all the time.
Inbetween, too quick to capture, I saw terns, a couple of herons, rabbits, squirrels and buzzards.
I particularly liked what I assume to be the foal’s mum, who was wading through the pool in their meadow munching on the lush green shoots growing from it.
I might not have felt any better physically, but the sights I saw cheered me up no end.
June 12th - They missed one! Thankfully, here are still one or two marsh orchids the mower didn’t slay; I spotted this healthy speciment on the opposite flank of the Clayhanger Bridge opposite the towpath. I still can’t forgive the buggers for mowing the others down.
These are gorgeous blooms. Look out for them.
June 2nd - Coming home on a pleasant summer afternoon, I came around the new pond then cut over Clayhanger Common. I don’t normally go that way, but it’s beautifully verdant at the moment, so it’s worth putting up with the anti-vehicle gates that are so irritating here. In the three decades since it was created, this place has matured beautifully, and it’s a real asset for the local area, and a testament to a period when local authorities were allowed space to take on large environmental projects - a period that has sadly now passed.
It does suffer a degree of antisocial behaviour, but is generally peaceful and well looked after. I know deer like to come around here, and was hoping to spot some but sadly, they were elsewhere today…
May 16th - Early summer, I guess now. I noted yesterday the dog roses in Tyburn, Birmingham, yet hadn’t noticed the highly fragrant bush on Clayhanger Common, just by the canal near Catshill Junction. This time of year is predominantly purple, pink and blue for flowers. Close by, a gorgeous cornflower, and a tiny, delicate vetch.
The flowers will be excellent for the next month or so. Bring it on!
May 13th - The purple lupins (always earlier than the pink ones) are coming out on the canal bank above the big house at Clayhanger. I’ve never been sure if these are truly wild, or long-time feral escapees from the long gone garden of Ernest Jones, who had tennis courts and delicate flowerbeds at the foot of the embankment here nearly a century before.
They are beautiful, complex and fascinating, and yet anotherindicator of the seasons escapement clicking over another notch. Spring goes from whites and yellows to blues and then purples. Summer is pretty much upon us now.
April 24th - Commuting in spring is a joy. Sod the traffic, taking 10 minutes extra and hopping on the canal, or taking a backway rather than the main road provides all manner of rewards. From the beautiful deep pink blossom in Shelfield, to my first set of mallard ducklings at Bentley Bridge, to the guerrilla seeded cowslips on the bank of Clayhanger Bridge the ride is full of contrasts: colour, life and sound.
April 17th - Cowslips everywhere this year. From a rarity 15 years ago to being all over everywhere like a cheap suit, these wee, delicate primroses come in a whole variety of subtly different forms, and are just crying out for attention.
My favourite flowers, without a doubt. Go find some and take a look for yourself. Wonderful little things.
April 14th - Clayhanger Common is wonderful. On this sunny, spring afternoon, it was green, clean and beautiful. The meadow looked verdant, and the forget-me-nots, cowslips and dandelions were all well in flower.
The new pond too - usually the last place to green-up in spring, is looking great, although the swans don’t seem to be nesting here this year yet.
There’s little here to indicate the polluted, barren wasteland this all once was. A fantastic thing.
April 7th - I’d spotted a good sky in the offing, and hopped onto the old rail line at Coopers Bridge, then headed towards Ryders Mere. On the way, I spotted something I’d not noticed before; you can actually get a clear view of Walsall and the Black Country to Turners Hill at Rowley Regis from the old bridge at the rear of what used to be Binks Bullows.
The sky was great, and I was fascinated - there are all the landmarks of Walsall, visible over Ryders Mere and Clayhanger Marsh. A great view.
It just goes to show - you can pass the same spot loads of times, and still notice something new.