September is here.  Autumn is the new season and brings its own sights and sounds.  I always find September sad because summer has gone but in January I will look back on September with envy for the length of its days and its warmth.

Ripening is happening everywhere.

The red berries of Hawthorn (May - Crataegus monogyna) in the hedge are striking.  It occurs to me that the hawthorn shrub doesdn't mean much to townies.  In the countryside, though, hawthorn as a major component of stockproof hedges has had enormous importance.  No other tree or shrub has the same characteristics that allow it to be 'laid' as a thorny hedge.  It also very easy to establish a hawthorn hedge from small plants ('quicks').  The striking berries in autumn follow the strking flowers in spring, in May, a month or so after the flowering of the other thorn - blackthorn.  Hawthorn is said to be a good medicine for heart problems. In harsh winter weather the berries will be quickly stripped from the bushes by birds such as redwings, starlings and fieldfares.

Another berry in the hedge is that of the Spindle (Euonymous europaea).  Spindle is a very inconspicuous shrub in a summer hedge but its berries are very obvious and, unlike hawthorn berries they are toxic.

Spindle gets its name because its uniformly round cross-section twigs were used as spindles.  Spindle is supposed to favour chalky soils but seems surprisingly common on the slightly acid soils of central Devon.

The ripening fruit that everybody knows is the blackberry, which sems to be very productive this year.

This is perhaps the most commonly foraged wild food in the country.  There are various legends stressing the importance of picking blackberries early (before various dates in September and October) because the 'devil' spits (or worse) on them.  This seems to recognise the fact that flies get at the berries and make them disgusting to eat.

 That most important of trees - the oak - is also fruiting and it looks like a reasonable year for acorns hereabouts.

 Probably not many people know that England has 2 native species of oak, the English Oak (Q. robur) and the Sessile Oak (Q petraea) that are difficult to tell apart.  The English Oak bears its acorns on stalks whereas the Sessile Oak does not.   Sessile Oak prefers hilly country whereas the English Oak favours the southeast.,  The 2 species also hybridise.

It's a relatively quiet time of year for our native birds.  The young have fledged, adult birds take the opportunity to moult and the territorial songs of spring and summer gives way to a very watery, thin chirping that lasts till about February.   An ever-present in my garden is the Robin.

 Like many other birds, Robins are less conspicuous during the mouilt but they still keep up their habit of always being around when there might be some chicken feed or worms available.  They seem to have a special relationship to human beings and will often come into my kitchen and eat from the dog bowl.  They are supposed to be aggressively territiorial but my garden seems to support an awful lot of them.

Autumn is a time of decay as well as of fruting and fungi are becoming more obvious in the woods.


Many weird and wonderful fruting bodies appear and disappear overnight.  Fungi have the obvious role of helping to decompose dead material and release nutrients for more life but they have a less understood role in supporting the life processes of plant life on which we all depend by their actions in and around plant roots.  It seems that their medicinal potential is hardly understood at all.

Meanwhile for farmers the weather recently has been very frustrating.  The main cereal harvest is being brought in by fits and starts as days of torrential rain alternate with blazing sunshine.   Thoughts of a late hay crop have passed with haylage or silage being made instead.