Country diary: Bees eye up the golden centre of the daisy

Ox-eye daisy.
Ox-eye daisy.
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“A swarm of bees in May,

Is worth a load of hay,

A swarm of bees in June,

Is worth a silver spoon,

A swarm of bees in July,

Isn’t worth a fly.”

A heaven-sent swarm of bees descended in the vicinity of Michael’s apiary towards the end of June. They just made it! Now they’re in a hive close beside his original two.

Having recently returned from a grand holiday in north Devon, the journey was enhanced by roadside embankments of dazzling whiteness. The ox-eye daisy, also named dog daisy, moon daisy or Marguerite was in full bloom. ‘Daisy’ means day’s eye. The golden centre of disc florets have an outer ring of showy white ray florets to attract pollinating insects. On local moorland heaths and forest clearings where the ground is acidic, bloom tall, elegant stems of foxgloves. The flowers of pink, purple or white are like two-lipped bells.

In 1542 Fuchs first called this plant digitalis on account of the finger-like or digital shape of the flowers. In 1775 Dr William Withering investigated the properties of foxgloves, and for more than 200 years physicians have used digitalis as a specific heart tonic. This potent drug steadied the heart beat, and gradually the retention of water in the body receded, giving life to people who would have died of heart disease.

Rosebay willowherb is another handsome plant now decking moors and wastelands with brilliant patches of oriental pink or purple. It was far less common 300 years ago. During Wold War Two, self-sown seeds established themselves on bomb sites in the heart of London, being one of the first plants to colonise areas cleared by fire. Consequently it became known as fireweed.

From June to September it bears loose racemes of rosy-purple flowers in pyramidal spires. They’re so beautiful that during Victorian times it was grown in gardens as an ornamental herb. Its long narrow leaves resemble those of the willow tree, hence the name willowherb.

On the edge of woodland and among grasses, the common spotted orchid is in bloom and quite abundant. It’s lanceolate, keeled leaves are darkly spotted, and the flower spike is easily recognised. The flowers are pink or purple with the petals dotted or lined. Each individual flower has a three-lobed lip, and a long spur behind.

Take a leisurely walk at dusk on a summer’s evening. The scent of honeysuckle perfumes the air in woodlands and hedgerows. Samuel Pepys called it ‘the trumpet flower’, whose bugle-like flowers, ‘blow scent instead of sound’. Honeysuckle is also called woodbine, as it entwines itself around young trees and saplings.

A romantic superstition states that if honeysuckle is brought indoors, a wedding will follow. If the flowers are placed in a girl’s bedroom, she’ll dream of love!