Mangerton Commonage

Nature Notebook

ANNE’S SECRET GARDEN
– abundant bog asphodel & heath spotted orchid … surrounded by 
waves of bogcotton … against a backdrop of a green Mangerton Mountain

Waves and waves of fluffy, cottonwool-like bogcotton blowing in the breeze.  Dozens of mountain orchids.  Hundreds, thousands of the erect, stark, orange-coloured bog asphodel.  All to be seen in profusion in Anne’s Secret Garden against a backdrop of green mountain.

The wonders of nature these past days on the Mangerton Commonage – east and south of the L3016 Mangerton Road – as well as the woodlands looking down from Gallan Eile, reflect nature at its most vigorous richest.

When Mangerton mountain turns green the season has passed from the fullness of Spring to the richness of Summer.  It was well into June before this happened. For three precious months the mountains show their fresh growth.

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The bogcotton (or common cottongrass; in Irish ceannbhan/white head) first started to show its white tufts about a month ago and then seemed to die back, as if it was going to have a particularly brief appearance this year.  But in the past weeks is showing its richest blossom in years.  “The rain gave it a great boost,” Kathleen said on Sunday evening.

At one time the bog cotton was used widely in this country for stuffing pillows and mattresses, which was freshly picked each year. The fluffy heads were once used for making candle wicks and were gathered by Scottish children for use as wound-dressings during World War 1.

In Gaelic Scotland it was a symbol of purity and beauty and the complexion of maidens was often said to be ‘as white as the cotton grass’ in Scots poetry.  In Ireland bog cotton was said to be cursed by St. Patrick.

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The bog asphodel is all over the Mangerton commonage at the moment.  Thousands of short orange spikes shine out like little beacons. It was occasinally used as a substitute for saffron and as a yellow hair dye.

The second part of its botanical name ossifragum comes from two latin words meaning ‘bone breaking’.  It was believed that grazing the plant made the bones of sheep brittle.  This has been shown to be untrue.  It is probable that the bone weakenss is caused by the absence of mineral salts in the soil where the plant grows.

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The heath spotted orchid of mountain and rough commonage is at least a month later coming into bloom than its lowland cousin.  Over the past two weeks they have blossomed in great profusion and are particularly rich in ‘Anne’s Secret Garden’ which I named for a neighbour who first told me about it.  The ‘garden’ is less than a hundred meters east of the L3016 just after the road leaves the Scots Pine woods a few hundred meters short of the foot of Mangerton.

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Looking down from Gallan Eile the woodlands are now showing the vitality of full growth and are at the pinnacle of summer lushness.  A blackbird is vigorously washing in the bird bath before he goes into hiding to moult in private.

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Frank Lewis

Gallan Eile borders on the Mangerton commonage

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