4 May 2015
The road to Allt-y-bela
The road to Allt-y-bela, once a bustling highway is now a haven of calm. As you leave the main road behind the lane closes in around you as it winds gently through the rural landscape. Once the main route between Usk and Chepstow the road has become colonized by wild flowers as birds nest and voles busy themselves amongst the undergrowth. In recent weeks the lane has begun to break into bloom making the journey to Allt-y-bela all the more enchanting. The boundary between the lane and the garden has become blurred and although the species gently change as the ground becomes more open in the garden, the flowers in the lane seem to act as beacons on your journey, encouraging you on towards the house.
The lane is quite steeply sided in parts, much like a Cornish lane, and the plants cling to almost vertical surfaces. In its flatter sections it is more damp and dominated by meadowsweet and buttercup. The lane forms the boundary in part to a brook which runs cool beneath the shade of the trees at the field edge; here beneath the trees the wood anemones, which have given us such a brilliant show this year, continue to bloom. On the more open parts of the road the heat of recent weeks has seen them decline and become more ragged.
The dry heat of the sheltered banks has brought the bluebells out early, the upper common is going to be covered in bluebells but they are not quite out yet. The bluebells in the lane are clinging to the drier areas and have been joined by greater stitchwort which weaves its narrow glaucus stems amongst the ragged grass. Dog's mercury is here too, having already flowered it is busy setting seed now in heavy pods which pull the slender flower spikes hard down.
Elsewhere vetch is starting to appear, I love the pea like flowers and the twining tendrils, which snake through the other plants in search for purchase before pushing skyward to flower. Its small blue grey flags glow blue purple in the strong sunlight. Keeping a lower profile are the bright pink striped blooms of herb Robert, its red fleshy stems spiderlike, and there are also wild strawberries here too.
Just occasionally now the red campion is starting to flower, its cerise pink feeling almost out of place amongst its more restrained counterparts. I love its exuberance; it gives you a taste of the bright buoyant colour that is to come later.
Bugle is standing tall amongst the growing grass where the lane opens up slightly, it will soon be lost amongst the grass and so is making the most of this early opportunity to shine. It's by no means the only member of the mint family making an appearance on the lane; there are yellow archangel, whose flowers are almost like those of the orchids, starting to appear all over the garden. We also have catmint flowering, wild violets, celandine and the first cow parsley flowers are beginning to open.
The lane really is a treasure trove of wild delights at this time of year reflected and complimented by the garden. It's a great time of year to take a stroll and look out for wild plants in and near your own garden, they are not only beautiful but will also give you a surprising amount of information about what will or won't thrive in the garden itself.
Words: Steve Lannin
Photos: Britt Willoughby Dyer