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Oral Reminiscences - Nancy Wheeler


Nancy Wheeler
Nancy Wheeler
Mrs Nancy Wheeler moved to Helmdon from Wiltshire in 1954. She was always interested in nature and wild flowers and learnt about them at school, one year winning the competition for finding the most wild flowers. Her interest continued after leaving school and she says she frequently found herself left behind on walks with friends or relatives because she had become engrossed in identifying a wild flower, while the others wandered on. Her knowledge is now extensive.

She used to make (and mostly gave away) many types of wine from nature's harvest, enjoying experimenting. Those she has made are parsnip, marigold, elderflower, crab apple, hawthorn flower, gooseberry, rhubarb, lemon, clover ("lovely"), rose petal, parsley ("like champagne"), ginger, potato, wheat and also sloe vodka - better than sloe gin as it does not give you a headache.

Bee Orchid (Ophrys opifera)
Bee Orchid
(Ophrys opifera)
Dog Rose (Rosa canina)
Dog Rose
(Rosa canina)


Mrs Wheeler's close acquaintance with the wild plants of the old Great Central Line bank began when she and Miss Nichols started taking Miss Nichols's dog for walks there. They did not always find the same ones every year and different sorts grew according to the soil. Near Peter's Bridge the ground is marshy, but at the other end, near the old station, it is better drained. From memory, plants she found are:

Birdsfoot trefoil, hop trefoil, foxgloves, yellow rattle, hay rattle, toadflax, dog violets, pink, white and blue, shepherd's purse, horseshoe vetch, kidney vetch, bitter vetch, figwort, stitchwort, milkwort, woody and deadly nightshade, St John's wort, herb bane, bugloss, buttercup, cowslip, dandelion, moon daisies, quaking grass, strawberries, heather, greater knapweed, yarrow, chicory, dog rose, gelder rose, crab apple, ragged robin, coltsfoot, creeping jenny, scabious, borage, woad hawthorn (bread and cheese), cranesbill, scarlet pimpernel, yellow pimpernel, tansy, fool's parsley, mayweed, willow-herb, old man's beard, cuckoo flower, wild carrot, charlock, briony, hedge garlic (Jack-by-the-hedge), horehound, feverfew, cinquefoil, ox-tongue, poppy, yellow Welsh poppy, wild mustard, clover (lots of four-leaved ones), silverweed, honeysuckle, teasels, birdseye, many sorts of thistle, catsear, lamb's lettuce (edible), centaury, goatsbeard (Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon) self-heal several sorts of speedwell wood-sorrel, plantain, agrimony, dewberry, wild mint in the boggy parts, blackberry, stinging nettle, red nettle, white dead-nettle, herb robert (pink), herb bennet (yellow), nipplewort, rosebay, willow-herb, comfrey.

Most notably, she found many orchids, including bee orchid, green-winged orchid, and the early purple orchids which came first, beyond Peter's Bridge.

Mrs Wheeler has not been walking on the line bank for quite a while. It would be an interesting exercise to check which of these flowers are still growing there.

As told to Judy Cairns.

Taken from Aspects of Helmdon No 3 (1999)

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