Woodland Walk in April

April is the month of showers and young shoots in England and once again the nettles and the wild garlic are overwriting the brown manuscript of faded winter leaf litter in vivid shades of green;  baby saplings are shooting from where the squirrels have planted forgotten acorns and hazels – and when the sun shines, muddy puddles glint and poodles dive in for a quick paddle.

 

We walked through the woodland at Ashton Court, passing by the new mountain bike trail along the deer park fence; it has weathered and is not as intrusive looking as it was when it was all raw and new and finally came out on this dusty path down the hill with a view to the sky and Dundry Hill in the distance.

The buzzards were busy carrying nesting material around, beautiful big birds outlined against the blue.  There was much rustling and squawking and the alarm calls of birds which I couldn’t quite identify; tall trees creaking and rubbing alarmingly against each other in the wind. We walked softly down the side of the hill and along the lower wall.

Wood pigeons flew out of hollow trees, wrens whirred and fizzed on their short flights from woodpile to streams, goldfinches bathed in the shallows and for a big city there are always surprises. We heard talking up in the air at one point and realised there were two people chatting in one of the ancient pollarded oaks that are cared for at Ashton Court. I took a picture of the tree they were in two years ago almost to the day. It is a miniature ecosystem in itself, with ferns and fungi and grass growing in its centre.

Pollarded Oak Ashton Court

Celandine and wild violets were a couple of the more common wildflowers that we recognised. I nibbled a blooming violet and it was gently sweet.

If you can identify nettles, then at this time of year you have a free source of the most wonderful healthy (and, dare I say it, fashionable)  green vegetable to add into your supper dishes. I saw a piece by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall about them the other day here in the Guardian. Brian’s Dad and Gran always ate nettles in the springtime and Brian says his Dad could pick them with his fingers the way he can – must be a special nettle picking gene!

Last year around this time I made nettle gnocchi and wrote about them in this post. I haven’t made them since, but I remember they were very good and I really should make them again!

 Yesterday we picked (that is the ‘royal we’ – Brian picked the most because he has asbestos fingers and I didn’t have any gloves, good excuse!)  the top four leaves of young nettles on our walk and I picked a bunch of wild garlic.

Both nettles and wild garlic are fairly easy to identify and I have written about the wild garlic on a page here. If you are unsure about any wild plants find someone who is confident about their identification skills and go out with them the first time. Better safe than sorry.

You could always borrow Zeb as he is expert at finding wild garlic.

We made a risotto with the wild garlic and the nettles that we picked which I will post about next.

27 thoughts on “Woodland Walk in April

  1. Jeannette

    Lovely pictures, we have been quite lucky with the weather in the last few days, haven’t we? At least, better than I expected. Zeb looks happy!

    1. Joanna Post author

      I’m away from home right now, drove through downpours and hail storms and I can see snow on the tops of the hills. I love April, always exciting :)

  2. Misky

    As I’m reading (and writing) this, there’s thunder and lightening crashing above the house. Spring is a funny old time of the year.

    1. Joanna Post author

      i love the changing weather, no thunder on my journey today, just sunshine and showers and hail.

  3. hotlyspiced

    It’s lovely to see images of England’s changing seasons. I’ll look forward to seeing your risotto made from nettles (that I have never tried and not sure if we can buy them or pick them here in Australia) and wild garlic xx

    1. Joanna Post author

      I looked up on Google about nettle species in Australia and came across this http://www.naturalmedicinalherbs.net/herbs/u/urtica-incisa=scrub-nettle.php. but have no way of knowing how accurate it is. You would need to ask an Australian botanist I suspect. I have only ever seen dried nettles for sale here, usually in herbalists like Neals Yard, but sometimes in wholefood shops like Scoopaway in Bristol. Nettles grow everywhere in England, the problem is usually getting rid of them!

  4. teawithhazel

    such eloquence and description took me on your walk too jo..i could smell the smells and hear the sounds and feel the fecundity..

    looking forward to seeing your nettle nosh..:)

  5. Ann Hall

    Loved going on your walk with you Joanna – and I can smell Zeb frm here! I can imagine that wild garlic would be very attractive to dogs. I have not seen any nettles here in WA but I seem to remember that the trick to picking them was to grab them firmly and quickly.

    1. Joanna Post author

      You are like Brian then, you have that gene for picking nettles ;) I just have to look at them and I get stung. I was talking to my Dad last night and he said he had picked them and made soup with them in the past. They are only worth it for a food when they are young, though they have other uses apparently Ann.

  6. cityhippyfarmgirl

    Love all the descriptions in this post Joanna. Its a beautiful time of year both yours and ours going into the cooler months. I wish my boys could find wild garlic like zeb does…

  7. heidiannie

    I, too, enjoyed your walk, Joanna.
    I’ve been running around with 2,3 and 4 year olds all week. We have run down hills and trampled on plants, regardless of their edibility or beauty, I fear.
    Zeb is much less intrusive- and I’m sure didn’t smell any worse than my collection.
    We went to a Farmpark yesterday and came home with horse, cow, goat and sheep aromas wafting in the car. ( must teach everyone to be VERY careful where one steps!

    1. Joanna Post author

      Some plants just spring back from being trampled though, what a joyous time you have been having ! Zeb has small poodle feet – I am more likely to squash plants than him ;)

  8. Just A Smidgen

    Joanna.. this was such a poetically written post today.. right up my alley! Well, and I wish it was right up my alley and not miles away from here. I felt like I was wandering the path with you and would have loved to… we are still in snow today. Gorgeous.. I love the sweet face in the last shot!! xo

    1. Joanna Post author

      Thank you Barbs! I met a little sleet and hail over the weekend as I drove up and down England. I remember that Canadian snow well from an Easter trip many years ago and sitting in the hot pool at Banf with snow falling off the trees. :)

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