Country diary: Humble beauty of the scarlet pimpernel

Scarlet pimpernel
Scarlet pimpernel

September – my birthday month, usually sets me aglow like the season. Our glorious sunflowers, planted late in the year have risen to 8ft tall. What joy they bring to passers-by. Beneath them, red-orange and yellow nasturtiums tumble in natural array. The humble wayside flowers of scarlet pimpernel sprawl over the border’s edge.

Blooming usually from May to August, it’s uplifting to find them so vigorous at the closing of September. The shiny leaves are oval, and in pairs. The red flowers have five, small over-lapping petals, opening only for a short time each day, around 8am to 3pm. They close during dull or wet weather. On account of this, some call it, ‘the poor man’s weather glass’, or ‘shepherd’s sun-dial’! It was once believed to cure madness and dispel melancholy. Its Somerset name was ‘laughter-bringer’! Ha! Ha!

A lovely autumn scene recently, was a family shuffling through gold and bronze horsechestnut leaves for conkers released from their spiny, green ‘balls’. The shiny, brown conkers, collected for the popular game of conker fighting, used to have other uses.

Conkers contain up to 5 per cent of saponin – a mild soapy substance long used for cleaning wool in France. Vegetable saponins are less corrosive than soaps, and appear to lubricate and absorb dirt particles. For gentlest cleaning they were used for washing ancient tapestries in museums.

A gentle breeze ruffled the water surface at Filey Dams Reserve, and swayed willow wands and rushes. In the Main Pool Hide, friendly chaps greeted us and exchanged holiday news, whilst keeping binoculars at the ready for bird identification. It was 9.15am, and a variety of birds had previously been recorded.

To mention but a few, included greylag geese, wigeon, dunlin, a little ringed plover, and solitary green sandpiper. Although many swallows are said to have departed on their migration route to Africa, many more will be winging their way south through October and even into November.

We took the fine board walk to the East Pool Hide. Suddenly a huge flock of over 150 greylag geese approached, uttering their haunting calls, “arhung-ung-ung.” Circling overhead, the entire flock descended, and peacefully settled on the water. Silence prevailed!

Prior to our visit, parties of lapwing, dunlin, a little ringed plover and one bar-tailed godwit had been recorded.

A teal flew down to join a couple of females feeding. The teal is our smallest duck, readily identified by its green and black wing stripes.

We had excellent views of a snipe feeding from a stone at the water’s edge before wading in the shallows, probing for food with its long, pointed bill.

What a grand morning. The best things in life are free!