Being out in the countryside with my dogs gives me time to think. I’ve learnt the pleasure of solitude without being lonely, and that’s a good feeling for me.

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This is my countryside diary which appears each Saturday in the Dundee Courier newspaper.

Hedgerow harvest

October 12th, 2013

HIPS n’ HAWS – two essential ingredients of our north-east autumn.

The hedgerow harvest follows the agricultural harvest and if you are into foraging this can be a busy time. There’s been an abundance of rosehips and hawthorn berries wherever I go walking with the dogs. I’ve noticed that years of plenty are often followed by a lean year, as if nature needs a season to recover.

Rosehips are packed with vitamin C and health and can be made into syrup, a jelly, an infusion like tea and lots more. The Doyenne tried her hand at rosehip and apple jelly which, unusually for her, wasn’t a resounding success. She reckoned the result didn’t justify the effort so it’s off the menu I should think.

The hawthorn tree features probably more than any other in tree lore and folk beliefs – from May blossom to Christ’s crown of thorns. Its berries are also supposed to be beneficial but we’ve never been tempted to try any of the recipes.

Once the hard weather comes the two fruits will provide welcome feeding for migrant redwings and fieldfares and our resident blackbirds and thrushes.

There’s lots more in the woodland harvest. After Wednesday’s high winds the ground beneath the neighbourhood oak trees was littered with acorns. Along with beechmast they are favourites of the woodpigeons.

There’s been a grand crop of snowberries – pheasants feast on the large white berries of this common hedgerow shrub. A couple of sweet chestnut trees have been dropping their spiny cases with edible nuts inside. On the domestic side I pass gardens with apple trees groaning with fruit.

The yew is another highly symbolic tree. It produces a small plum-red berry with a hole in the bottom, inside which you can see its black pip which is poisonous. The flesh, on the other hand, is supposed to be edible. Quite illogically, I’m sure, I am wary of eating edible flesh which has a poisonous pip in the middle of it – so that’s off the menu too.

For the past couple of months the rowans have provided bright splashes of colour along the roadsides, but the berries are starting to wither. Across the road from the house there’s a small copse of low bushy trees with scarlet berries. I opened a couple of them which had two black seeds inside which would indicate they are whitebeams, although they are not one of our native trees.

Keep a lookout in sheltered spots for flashes of colour from the last of the hedgerow flowers. As part of our church harvest festival decorations I was surprised to see honeysuckle still in full bloom, cut from a Montrose garden.

Out with the dogs I’ve found purple cranesbill and red campion, and in a field at the foot of Glenesk hardy yellow buttercups.

Along the banks of the River Lunan and the North Esk there’s an unwelcome invasive weed. Himalayan Balsam was a Victorian introduction to gardens for its attractive pink flowers, but it is an aggressive coloniser that smothers the native vegetation. It’s another of the introduced Bad Guy plants like Japanese Knotweed and Giant Hogweed that are extraordinarily difficult to eradicate once it has established itself.

The plant forms seed pods at this time of year and if you cup the plant heads between your hands the heat explodes the pods scattering the seeds which, being an annual, assures the plant’s growth for the next year.

There’s even a harvest to be found on the road – road-kill they call it. I’ve no problem with picking up a freshly killed pheasant off the roadside. If they have only had a blow to the head from a passing vehicle and the flesh is unmarked, I cut off the breasts and legs and freeze them until there’s enough to make a big game pie.

A silly playground game used to be to put the rosehips’ hairy seeds down the backs of your school chums’ shirts where they acted as a sort of itching powder.

Wasted effort in my experience. Far better to visit The Trick Shop in New Wynd in Montrose – sadly long closed – and buy proper itching powder which we were told was finely ground camel hair.

Now, that was itchy!

Written on Saturday, October 12th, 2013 at 10:24 am for Weekly.