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by Lucy Smith

On Saturday 11th of June ecologist Peter Sturgess came to Global Gardens to lead us on a walk mapping the native plants found growing in the garden. From the moment we began, we were plunged into a new world when he told us to look down at the grass we were standing on. White clover, lesser trefoil and three different types of grass were all there for us to examine without having to move an inch.

As Peter lead us round the garden, we looked closely (sometimes through his magnifying lens) at the native plants we often disregard, trample on, or think of as weeds. We learned how we can identify different species of grass by the hairs on their stems, the way wood avens seeds are hooked (all the better to stick to your socks!), how composite flowers (e.g. dandelions) are really a group of many flowers inside a floret. The attention to detail that goes into identifying plants is incredible. Holding a leaf of ribwort plantain (which we found in the grass) up to the sun, you can see the strong pinstripe ribs that give it its name.

In the orchard, there was even more to find. Yorkshire fog grass, in all its many variations of colour and shape, bird’s-foot trefoil (whose dried seed head supposedly looks like a bird’s foot when you hold it upside down), oxeye daisy, red campion, meadow buttercup and spear thistle to name a few. Peter also recommended the best way to get started to anyone interested in wild plant identification. A lens with a x10 magnification will be sufficient to identify most plants, and Francis Rose’s The Wildflower Key is a great book to start with. Peter’s enthusiasm for the plants around us was infectious, and there was always a small thrill to holding leaves and flowers up to a magnifying lens; a window onto a strange new world. Peter also added that he still finds something he’s never seen before every day – it seems that curiosity, not mastery, is the main concern of a plant identifier.

I already knew of some plants on the walk. Herb Robert, sticky grass, bird’s-foot trefoil (‘eggs and bacon’ to my mum) and ragwort are pillars of childhood nostalgia for me (the latter hosts the black and yellow caterpillars my brother and I kept as ‘pets’… oh dear). But the new names I learnt that morning have stuck with me; hairy tare, Yorkshire fog, cat’s-ear, tall melilot, spear thistle, sun spurge. Beautiful names for just a few of our many native plants that deserve a second glance and a closer look.

Photos by Paddy Faulkner


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