Following the contours of the Derbyshire dale, the 15 mile trackbed of a disused railway cuts a picturesque swathe through limestone meadow and sheep pasturage. Drystone walls keep grazers at bay allowing native flora to thrive in undisturbed abundance all along the ‘High Peak’ trail.
Wildflowers grow in semi-uniform tiers as well as dense swathes of species planting; a design template we ornamental gardeners attempt to emulate. Pastels are the dominant palette with towering willowherb and grasses forming a backdrop of rose and oatmeal hues whilst vetch, vetchlings and clover scrabble together at the wayside fringes. In between are the blue-purple midlanders of Meadow geranium, Scabious and Knapweed although so diverse is the flora here that it would take a highly knowledgeable field specialist to identify them all.
Rosebay Willowherb or Fireweed takes a foothold on disturbed ground or scorched earth, hence it probably arrived here after the builing of the railway in the mid 1800′s. Occasional embankment fires from steam engine sparks would have provided the perfect conditions for its continuance.
Growing alongside is the less showy and hence somewhat contradictory Great Willowherb whilst gangly Everlasting pea scrambles further on up the inclines. Their identical rose pink colouration, that gardeners are wont to turn their nose up at, is evidently one of nature’s preferred hues.
Two types of scabious abide side-by-side, classified as separate sub-species and visually differentiated by their leaves and flowerheads; Field scabious (Knautia arvensis) open with obvious pink ‘pin’ inflorescences inserted into lilac cushions which the pom-poms of Devil’s-bit scabious overtly lack.
Gathering round the rocky outcrops, crowds of Harebell hold aloft their papery blue flowers on such thin wiry stems that the bells seems to float in the air.
Aside from their necatary allure, wildflowers are essentially larders for numerous moth and butterfly caterpillars, miraculously surviving and even thriving on such depredations. The six-spot Burnet moth larvae exist almost exclusively on Bird’s Foor trefoil whilst the ubiquitous Nettle (Urtica Dioica) is the choice food plant for the Nymphalidae young of Tortoiseshell, Peacock and Red Admiral.
As the late summer advances torn wings signify the end of days for most of the insect visitors here although there is no let up in the feeding frenzy, with Scabious and Knapweed competing for popularity in the pollination stakes.“Sport that wrinkled Care derives,
And Laughter holding both his sides.
Come, and trip it as you go
On the light fantastic toe” 1
The sheer magnitude of native flowers in this alkaline, sunny setting is enough to make the heart sing and the feet dance and so I’m joining Gail’ at ‘Clay and Limestone’ to share the joy of another Wildflower Wednesday.