Harwell has many wild flowers beautifying the fields, banks and hedgerows, giving great pleasure to a wanderer in this Downland village. In years gone by, Harwell was noted for wild orchids, which grew especially in Ham Mead, showing their gorgeous colour among many other present-day flowers such as kingcups, buttercups, cuckoopints, cowslips, headache flowers, morning stars, bluebells, violets and columbines.
In the spring there were catkins, gently letting their pollen blow in the breeze, and the hedgerows were covered in cow-parsley, primroses, hogweed, bindweed, forget-me-nots, coltsfoot, ragwort, gipsy-wort and red nettles. During the summer, wild herbs such as thyme, garlic and many others grew amongst blue speedwell, tomthumbs, moon daisies, yarrow, welted thistle and hogweed; the Ham fields were very swampy in places, but many a snake and lizard darted, searching the earth for food, while tadpoles and newts swam here and there in the streams trying to escape the children and their jam-jars.
On a warm day the scent of the honeysuckle filled the air while bees buzzed and darted from cornflower to campion, willow-herb, knapweed and many other plants. As one walked by the cornfields, the red poppy glowed amongst golden ears of corn, and many a petite pansy, calamine and vetch bloomed. During the autumn, large brown bullrushes were very popular with children, who often fell into the stream or nearby watercress bed, trying to reach them. Crab apples and blackberries were gathered for preserving at home, to help out the family income, or to sell at the local market stalls. Cowslips, elder, stinging nettles and dandelions were picked not only for winemaking, but also for medicinal purposes, as they were said to hold great healing properties. As the time drew near to Christmas and Harvest Festival, hips and haws, old man’s beard, dried grasses, holly, ivy and mistletoe were gathered for decorating the church or the home. Among the trees that grew for the most part were of course the famous cherry, apple, pear, plum, damson, greengage, elm, oak, ash, willow, chestnut, lime, maple, sycamore, spruce (larch), birch, elder, beech and yew.
Susan Turner says
My grandmother, Elsie Kate Turner, spoke of gathering the watercress from the stream near the church. She also spoke about the little metal fence she would pass through as she walked into the churchyard. The children were seated in the choir. She left Harwell at the age of 26 and immigrated to Michigan, USA. I’m her granddaughter and we are now living on the land where they settled back in the early 1900’s.