Saturday, March 11, 2006

Gorse in bloom, as usual

click photo to enlarge
"When gorse is out of bloom, kissing's out of season"
Old country saying

The Common Gorse (Ulex europaeus) is, as its name suggests, common! But only in areas of acidic soil, uplands, or by the sea. On the Lancashire coast and hills it's an everyday sight, but the area of Britain where I have seen most gorse bushes is the Mull of Galloway in Southern Scotland. There, in spring, the hillsides are ablaze with its deep yellow flowers, and the air carries its distinct smell of coconut. In fact, though spring is the period when gorse is most in flower, this plant is almost unique in flowering during every single month of the year (hence the saying quoted above). Even during the iciest, snowiest January, if you look carefully, you'll find its flowers injecting a note of gaiety into the drab, dark days.

When I was a child I always called it by its country name of furze, and I've heard others use the name whin bush. In fact, gorse is a member of the pea family, and if you look carefully in August you'll see the seed pods which will convince you of that fact. Today gorse is rarely used for any practical purpose, but this wasn't always so. In the past the most popular use was for firewood, particularly for bread baking and in lime kilns. But it was also used as a fertiliser, as animal food, in soap making, for hedging, as a perfume, for dye, as a tea-substitute, in herbal remedies, and as a damp-proof course under haystacks!

On the March day that I took this photograph the sun and the clear blue sky said spring was just around the corner, but the bitingly cold wind and the frozen puddles of winter's last blast said otherwise. However, these banks of flowering gorse bushes by the River Wyre near Knott End, Lancashire, where I sat with my wife to eat a banana, were the cheering note that promised warmth would come. To capture this image I screwed an achromatic close-up lens on to my 28-90mm zoom. The virtue of such a device over a dedicated macro lens is that you can always carry it, and so can catch the small details that might otherwise elude your camera.
photographs & text (c) T. Boughen