‘The Trundle’ is a locally famous hill 3 miles north of Chichester just outside the Goodwood racecourse. It is the site of an iron age hill fort of which only the circular earthworks remain. As well as the bracing climb and wonderful views of the Sussex countryside that are afforded from the top, the Trundle offers the plansman or botanist a real treat, for it is clothed in a herb-rich turf over a thin calcareous soil where the low fertility and lack of agricultural improvement produces one of those magical spots scattered along the South Downs which are home to many interesting plants.
I set off before dawn at about 4:30am. It was bitingly cold and there was hoar-frost on all the foliage. The sky was clear and fresh. Not a soul about.
I arrived at the top just in time to witness the sunrise away to the east beyond Goodwood, across the rolling Downs.
Walking around the circular earthworks, one of the first species to catch my attention were the Early purple orchids.
On the lower slopes, cowslips had formed extensive colonies. Although none of the plants were individually impressive the loose carpet of them spreading out in all directions was striking. The effect of shallow poor soil and occasional grazing keeps them short (10-15 cm), with just a few flowers per plant, whereas back in the rich loam of my woodland garden the same species becomes a stout clump twice as high with hundreds of flowers per plant.
The ribwort plantain is one of those ‘weedy’ flowers that deserves closer inspection which will undoubtably lead to admiration, fondness… then love. To me the inflorescence is a thing of beauty – a fine white skirt of ‘petals’ around the dense dark central head. I’ve never found a place for it in my garden, but here on the Trundle it is graceful, refined and completely at home.
I had to include this close up image. There are few other flowers that come close to its striking form.
So what’s with the dandelion? Well, firstly, is it a Dandelion? I’m not sure. The leaves and colouration are different to the Dandelions in my garden, or for that matter, anywhere else I can remember. But it’s not a Hawkbit, Hawkweed, Cats ear or Hawk’s-beard as far as I can tell.
Here is a clump of the Dandelions still iced with frost. They have distinct yellow and pink colouration in various parts, and even the unopened seed heads look strange. I suspect that it is a local genetic variation of the common Dandelion, or, alternatively it may be simply the effect of the chalk soil on a quite ordinary dandelion.
On the way back down I passed one of my favourite trees: a Whitebeam. This specimen has a wonderful rounded geometric form. Its branches are dark and the leaves contrastingly bright green backed with silver down, ribbed and clear. It somehow stands the strong cold winds that whip around this hill, whilst growing so healthily and symmetrically. The tight clusters of flower buds will open in a few days time.