Looking at the Countryside – visit to Northcourt, Shorwell – Wednesday 18 April

26 members were greeted by John Harrison, the owner on a glorious clear warm Spring day.

John gave an introductory talk, pointing out that Northcourt was very biodiverse due to the presence of Chalk and Greensand downland and the presence of shelter and water. He referred to the plantings of lime, ash chestnut, mostly dating from the late 18th century and one ancient yew of about 400 years of age. He also gave a very brief summary of the history of the 17th century house and garden.

He listed of particular interest an increase in red squirrel, raven and buzzard presence but a decline in the rook and adder population.

He showed us colonies of Cyanobacteria Nostoc on the paths, pointing out the peculiar properties of this very ancient organism of being both nitrogen fixing, and having chlorophyll. Also of particular note on the tour he showed us flowers of the parasitic Toothwort ( Lathrea squamaria) on the garden. He also pointed out Tetrapanax Papyrifera from Taiwan used to make rice paper, Petasites japonicum giganteum ( giant butterbur used as cancer cure ) , by the stream and now banned from sale Lysichitum Americanum ( skunk cabbage used in America to ward off Racoons and squirrels ) . He also showed red squirrel damage on a Norwegian Spruce.

He pointed out during the tour the diversity of plants naturalising in the old walls together with the Mediterranean wall lizards, which derived from the Ventnor colony about 30 years ago.

Members were given refreshments and the option of a one mile circular walk on the Downs circulating Northcourt farm.

John pointed out the features of the registered Park and Garden and showed how isolated the Shorwell woodland was for Red squirrels to have established themselves in the past 10 years in he village.

We re-entered the garden and completed our tour of the gardens past many camellias and magnolias in full bloom, all planted by John in the last 35 years since they have been in occupation. The woodland full of garlic ( ransoms) , the banks of primroses, and the beds lined with forget-me-not were noted.

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