The garden has hardly seen snow this year, and not much frost either, very different from the cold weather in the south of the UK. Yet not much is moving, and the remains of last year's plants still hold most of the fine-scale architectural interest. The buds on some of the hedge species are swelling and those of the honeysuckle Lonicera (probably a cultivar) have burst. The photographs below were taken just before sunset on 16 February 2012 - left, young honeysuckle shoot (1 cm across), and right, crooked, dead fruiting stem of last year's rosebay willow herb Chamerion angustifolium (10 cm across the crook).
The annual cycle of work has now begun. The paths have been scraped. The mixed-species hedge separating the east and west gardens has been neatly cut to about one metre above the ground, all bar a few holly Ilex aquifolium whose last year's growth has been left intact to form bushes emerging out of the hedge. Holly has its sexes on different plants. It should be possible to tell this year - if they flower and fruit - which ones are male and which female.
The photographs above of light reflecting off holly leaves in the garden, around 5 pm (1700) on 16 February, just before the sun dipped out of sight behind the farm hedges.
The garden lies quiet in January. The meadow plants are gathering their reserves and slowly pushing out small bunches or rosettes of leaves which may yet get burnt if the weather turns cold. Most form and colour still come from the dead remains of last year's plants and the branches and bark of the trees and hedges as they filter and deflect the low sunlight.
The images above, 13 January 2012, show (left) the delicate remnants of a flowering stem still holding the open seed-bearing capsules of one of the small willow herbs, species of Epilobium, and (right) the top of a teasel flower head Dipsacus fullonum in the morning sun.
Left above (also 13 January 2012) is an image of a frosted leaf showing the veins that last year carried the leaf's water, and are now raised clear and white against the brown background of the dead tissue. The image on the right, taken 16 January 2012, is a part of the trunk of a young birch (both Living Field collection).
Early December 2011
The severe cold of last year has yet to reach the garden. The plants sit out a dull wetness, relieved by the occasional day of clear sun, when the skeletal architecture of the dead stems and fruiting heads strikes as much as the few living blooms remaining. The umbels of the wild carrot Daucus carota take first place for intricacy of structure, as they did when alive in late spring and summer.
The photographs above (Living Field collection) show, top left, a single flowering head, an umbel, and (right and lower) two closer views of the same umbel, all taken on 5 December 2011, a bright day just over two weeks before the winter solstice. Insects and microorganisms still find a place within these carrot structures, which with the heads of the teasel stay intact most of the winter, unlike those of the thistles, which tend to fall apart.
To see lichen shrouding rocks and trees, you have to go higher, to the blackthorn thickets of the Sidlaws, or even farther to the highland birch and pine forests, but very slowly, lichens are growing on rocks in the garden, and on walls around the farm. This yellow lichen is spreading on the low wall at the entrance to the met site. If you stop to look closely, better with a hand lens if you have one, you can see the convolutions of flat spreading forms and cup-like rising forms, and some parts that look older and maybe dead, and bright new vigorous parts that will continue the colony.
Lichen is, as you learn in school, eaten by reindeer (though none have been seen in the garden this year), but the main use of lichen to people - except when they have been very hungry - is as a dye for natural fibres, including of course wool. We won't go into the way the lichen is soaked in urine, but see T Darwin's book for an informative and amusing account of lichens in medicines and dyeing.
Only a few plant species continued budding and flowering into November - the cornflower and corn marigold and the dyer's greenweed, coreopsis and chamomile. A few remaining heads of the greater knapweed Centaurea scabiosa, a close relative of the cornflower, still offered a place for small insects to eat and be eaten.
The photographs above of a battered flowering head of the greater knapweed, taken 4 November 2011, are shown more for the overall blend of the colours than for the detail. The image at the top covers about 2 centimeters of the flowering head. Each floret (with the deep red line from the base of the tube to where it splits) is about 2 millimeters wide. Several insects buried themselves at the base of the florets and the whole head was laced with threads about one-tenth of a millimeter thick (lower right).
All photographs - Living Field collection.
Geoff Squire for enquiries on this page
Gladys Wright for further information on the garden