July, our seventh and warmest month was named after the famous Roman general, Julius Caesar.
For lovers of the big outdoors, July is a favoured month, associated with summer holidays, long days, bright summer clothes and luxuriant plant life.
July can also claim to be a time for fragrant flowers. And at Lydiard Park, visitors are likely to experience the scent of honeysuckle walking in the woodland in the evening. Walking around our lakes will provide the delicious aroma provided by the creamy white blooms of meadowsweet, which flower this time of year.
Also lingering near our hedgerows may provide a chance to sample the perfume of the pink blooms of wild rose or ‘dog rose’. Also known as briar, dog rose is scientifically labelled as Rosa canina. The simple beauty of the five petals, with every shade from pure white to deep pink, has the advantage that its petals do not wilt and curl as the complex cultivated rose blooms do. The wild rose has long been associated with everlasting love in folklore and literature. And with the arrival of the colder darker months, the wild rose will provide in the place of every bloom of summer a vivid scarlet ‘hip’, or seed case. These liven up our hedgerows in winter, and during WWII provided vitamin C in the form of rose hip syrup. Other uses include a source of ‘itchy powder’ for school boys to dispense down other children’s necks! Wildlife, such as birds and mice use the hips as a food source.
Also at Lydiard Park, on the side of the paths on the western edge of the estate, visitors may spot the Burnet rose (Rosa pimpinellifolia) with its creamy yellow blooms which are at their best in July. The hips of the Burnet rose provide round globes coloured a dark purple in hedgerows later in the year.
Two other plants that are to be seen in July, often at the water’s edge are the teasel and burdock, both with a prickly character. The teasel is noticeable for its architecture, with the big round seed heads that are a favourite for flower arranging when dried. It is also used traditionally to raise the nap on cloth, which utilises the spine like bracts to ‘tease’ the cloth. You are bound to come across one in the Park, if so, make a point of looking at the cup like formation where the leaves merge with the stem. These often hold rainwater with added dead insects. There are suggestions that teasel may be a carnivorous plant because of this feature.
Burdock is another tall plant (up to 2 metres) that also has clinging seed heads (burrs) which utilise animals to distribute their seeds. But in practice it is often wool garments and dogs coats that fulfil this function at the Park! Interestingly the burdock taproot is edible, mainly in Japan and China, but has many herbal applications in the west. And lastly burdock provided the inspiration for the invention of Velcro. Seek one out and admire the attractive form, purple flowers and large leaves up to 2 feet long.
Image: Peacock Butterfly, CC courtesy of Tony Hisgett on Flickr.
July sees insect life at its peak. Butterflies are at their best on sunny days, which allow for nectar production, which is the sole source of food for butterflies. There is a good chance that a visit on a sunny July day will give the chance to spot; red admirals, painted ladies, tortoiseshells, large and small whites and peacocks. The peacock butterfly, with its ‘bird eye’ on its wings, shows the pleasing side of stinging nettles, as the adults lay olive green eggs on the underside of nettle leaves. These hatch into black caterpillars, which look quite scary with spines and white dots on the black body. This caterpillar turns into an unusual chrysalis which possesses metallic markings.
Sunny days also provide a good chance to spot the iridescent colours displayed by dragonflies and damselflies near our lakes at Lydiard. It is worth taking time to observe dragonflies hunting insects over and around the lakes. With incredible skill they predate other small insects, and can achieve flight speeds of 50mph! There are some 30 species in the U.K. Although as a dragonfly nymph they can live and feed under water for about 2 to 3 years, their winged adult form lives from 7 months to little more than a month. So there is no need to seek tropical climes to see such brightly coloured insects, when they can be seen at Lydiard Park this month.
Image: Azure Damselfly (Coenagrion puella) male juvenile, CC courtesy of CharlesJSharp on Wikimedia Commons.
Another insect delight in July is the crickets and grasshoppers chorus in the undergrowth. This is a personal favourite of mine, taking me back to all the past camping holidays over the years.
The next Lydiard Park Warden event is pond dipping on Friday 18th August, running from 11am to midday and from 1pm to 2pm. This will allow our younger visitors (ideal for 5s and over) to use nets and identification charts to learn first hand about the mini–beasts that live beneath the surface of the lake. This is a bookable event (01793 465270) and costs £3 per child.
So there is plenty to see and do at Lydiard Park in the month of July, and ponder the thought that, “being close to nature enhances our lives”.