Going on a road trip by myself has been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember. When I started my PhD, I made the decision I would go on a road trip around England when I handed in my thesis. Well, on Friday 28th August 2020 I successfully completed and handed in my thesis, so you know what comes next!
For two weeks, I’ll be travelling around England and identifying some iconic plant species in each of the places I stop in. In this post, I’ll cover a few of the plants I spotted in West Yorkshire, Greater Manchester and Leicestershire including an early Christmas present, a butterfly friendly beauty and a quietly reliable flower.
Calverley Woods: Spruce
After a wonderful weekend in bustling Liverpool, I started to make my way home. I’d managed to get a job and so had to cut my road trip a little short, so apologies for this being a whistlestop tour of the northern and midland counties. I’m planning on doing some more touring when the lockdowns are lifted again.
But first, I headed a little further north to visit some friends who live near Leeds, West Yorkshire. While I was visiting, we went on a little adventure around Calverley Woods. The woods are, as to be expected, by the village of Calverley. My friends explained to me that a stone carver from Calverley often wanders into the woods to carve little images into the rocks for the local children to find.
On our ramble, we came across these tiny houses of his and sat right outside was an unexpected addition to the woods: a tiny Spruce tree. Spruces (Picea sp.) are evergreen trees, native to temperate and boreal regions, and can grow up to 60m tall. One particular Spruce, the Norway Spruce (Picea abies) is considered the traditional Christmas tree.
But trees aren’t just for Christmas and Norway Spruces have plenty of other uses year-round. This species is also commonly used in paper making, construction and even in creating musical instruments. Norway Spruces are a particular favourite in the construction of Violins. Its soft yet dense structure allows it to be gently curved while maintaining great resonance.
Broadbottom: Oxford Geranium
As I wiggled my way back south, I came across a village in Greater Manchester called Broadbottom. It’s difficult to drive past a place with such a name without stopping to take a look. I saw they had a garden centre that served lunch and so had a little explore and a cheese sandwich.
During my exploration, I came across a textile mill and fabric outlet shop. The mill dates back to the 14th-century and was a water-powered corn mill. I found the most beautiful eucalyptus print fabric in the outlet shop, which I purchased to make my graduation suit (stay tuned) and a fun tote bag that says “Bleatings from Broadbottom” with little sheep on it.
As I wandered back up through the village to my car, I stumbled across a vibrant pink flower in the community garden. Oxford Geraniums (Germanium X oxonianum) are hybrid plants, meaning they originate from the crossing of two species. In this case, the crossing of Geranium endressii and Geranium versicolor.
Like many Geranium species, these flowers provide food for invertebrates, including moths and butterflies, making them a gardening favourite. The common name for Geraniums is also Cranesbill, a name they received for the shape of their fruit. In fact, “Geranium” comes from the Greek “géranos“, meaning crane.
Whatton House: Wallflower
The final stop on my road trip was in Leicester, to visit some friends from undergrad. While there, a few of us headed to Whatton House, Loughborough (pronounced “luff-buh-ruh”) to explore the gardens. Built in 1802 and rebuilt in 1876 after a fire, Whatton House is home to the Crawshaws.
Although the house is private, the gardens are open to the public and are absolutely stunning. In the late 19th century, the first Lord Crawshaw’s wife designed the 15 acre garden to be a mix of woodland and horticulture. The result is really breathtaking. You spend an afternoon trailing through flowerbeds, dells and walled gardens.
One species that seemed particularly popular with the local wildlife was the Wallflowers (Erysimum sp.). The name Wallflower has been adopted as a popular idiom to mean someone with an introverted personality who attends parties but is distant. Its first recorded use was in 1820. The name was probably used because Wallflowers are often planted in walled gardens and sit up against walls.
Wallflowers are one of the earliest examples of garden plants and have been found growing around castles and ruins. They’re known as the perfect perennial because they’re so reliable, flowering from Spring to Autumn. The flowers were often carried at dances and festival, which is how they also had the common name of Handflower.
Road tripping alone has been such an incredible experience and although I had to stop a little earlier than I expected, I still got so much out of it. I learnt a lot about some of the species I walk past everyday, but I also learnt a lot about myself. It was exactly the break I needed after finishing my PhD and I hope to continue travelling and learning for years to come.
Thank you for joining me on this journey! If you missed any of the other stops on my road trip, have a look here. Throughout the rest of the year and early into next year, I’m hoping on finishing off the road trip. To make sure you don’t miss out, follow Fronds with Benefits here, on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.