Tag Archives: ecology

Holiday, Wildlife, The Garden and Photography

I’m getting my final packing for my holiday done today. Once the camper is packed and my bed in the back made up, I’ll be able to do the last bit of watering, feeding and harvesting of vegetables to take with me. Thereafter, I’ll be on the road. But I’ll be looking out for inspiration, ideas for my plot. I’ll be spotting wildlife (I hope) with my camera, my binoculars and my scope. With any luck, I’ll be able to keep you informed along the way. If I can’t get an internet connection, I’ll catch up with you when I get home. The camera battery is fully charged and I can’t wait to get out there and take some great shots. I’m after wildlife, flowers, insects etc. I’m learning as I go and every shot of a creature helps me identify them, and in some instances add to general knowledge by including them in the various surveys being done by researchers. You could, too.

Home And Studio For The Next Couple Of Weeks.

Home And Studio For The Next Couple Of Weeks.

 

I’ve found some very interesting areas to survey, and we can all take part. Children would love to join in. Springwatch made the point that all you have to do is show a child a bug and they are instantly interested and fascinated by it. They want to know more. Why not help them learn by looking up the bug? Then add it to a survey, and further conservation efforts, becoming part of the solution. Here’s a list of links you can check out for yourself.

Buglife are looking for a rare beetle, an Oak aphid and more. Their site also offers links to other key wildlife surveys. Suffolk Wildlife Trust need you to record with them hedgehog sitings, anywhere in the UK. Hedgehogs are in big trouble. You’ll also find on this site information about how to help them. Their numbers have dropped considerably, but they’re a great garden friend, so this is one creature we should all be trying to help. Also, The Guardian have published a useful list of links to various surveys and ways to get involved with conservation and wildlife. It was published last year but the links are still relevant. Natures Spot is loaded with information, including great identification photos for insects, tree, birds mammals and anything else you want to find out more about. I have a photo of a fly I’m still trying to ID. It settled on ragwort, as many insects do. It’s a nectar rich plant! Do you know what the fly is? The photo’s at the end of this blog.

Hedgehog

hedgehog

One of the friends I’m going to see is working hard on his new plot of land to create as close to sustainable living for himself as possible. I’m dying to see what he’s up to. He’s on the edge of Dartmoor and has very different circumstances and problems to deal with, including rabbits and deer. I’ll let you know what solutions he’s finding.

Magpie Moth

Magpie Moth

I’ll spend a lot of this holiday taking photos. My interests happily co-exist. Gardening, wildlife, photography all come together for me now. After a lifetime of following them as separate activities, I now combine them all. The photography gives me a way to pass on my experience via my blogs, a chance to identify species that won’t hang around while I get the books out, or a plant I want to ID when I get home, without picking it. It’s also part of my income via iStock, where most of my photos are flower or insect photographs, many of them macro. I love to peer into the tiny world I can’t see with the naked eye. There is beauty in macro form! It’s amazing what can be seen through a macro lens or magnifying glass. That hedgerow or leaf can reveal some amazing detail. Bees dusted in pollen, tiny beetles you didn’t know were there. Stamens on flowers show their shape and form. It’s a whole other world from the one we live in most of the time. The gardening itself provides the material to photo, the space for wildlife to come to, so more things to photo and food for the table!

Unidentified Fly Visitor On Ragwort Flower. Can you help with an ID?

Unidentified Fly Visitor On Ragwort Flower. Can you help with an ID?

 

 

Butterflies, Bees, Birds And The Big Butterfly Count 2014

 

Peacock Butterfly

Peacock Butterfly

Today has been exceptional. Walking back up the garden having sown more radish and beetroot, I disturbed the butterflies feeding. They swarmed in front of my eyes. Such a delightful sight! Most of them were peacocks, but I have spotted today small coppers, a common blue, red admirals and large and small cabbage whites.

Peacock Butterflies dance

Peacock Butterflies dance

That’s just the butterflies. I noticed a couple of years ago when visiting Geoff Hamilton’s garden at Barnsdale Gardens that the marjoram had more bees on it than anything else. As this herb is one I make a lot of use of, I resolved to ensure at least one big clump adorned one of my borders. I have one marjoram and one oregano clump right nest to each other. This has paid huge dividends. Not only do I have plenty for my antifungal, antibacterial tea, but I have many, many bees of many types. Now, I’m no bee expert, but I saw working honey bees, buff tailed bumble bees, leaf cutter bees, white tailed bumble bees and lots of others. Hoverflies dodged their way around them, all feeding and buzzing to my delight. The maxim I keep repeating, ‘build it (or grow it) and they will come’ actually does pay off.

Bee On Marjoram - One Of Hundreds Today

Bee On Marjoram – One Of Hundreds Today

There’s a big event happening. I’ll be getting involved myself. This is a cause that really matters. One third of our food needs pollination by insects, mostly bees. Peaches, runner beans, apples, pears, you name it, bees do the job for us. The Big Butterfly Count 1014 takes place from 19th July (so it’s happening folks) until Sunday, 10th August. Right now, you can help conservation by giving the scientists the information they need. Here’s the link to get you started. 

Bee On Dahlia

Bee On Dahlia

And you can plant marjoram, simple single flowers like these dahlias, Buddleja davidii to help our insect population. Our gardens are hugely important. They cover so much of our land that we can save these insects from their demise if we try. Sorry to rant, but they need our help and it’s such a simple, easy thing to do. Grow simple flowers! Grow herbs. Will you?

Oh, I’ve had to come back and edit this post. My memory is tragically bad. I mentioned birds, didn’t I, in my title? That was to remind you. They need water. If you don’t have a pond, please put out a dish of water or a bird bath. They need to drink and bathe. Many have visited my bird bath today. They’re lovely to watch, so don’t miss out.

Finally! The Butterflies Arrive to Feast Among the Bees

I’ve had the odd meadow brown, the odd cabbage white (not quite so welcome) and a couple of small tortoishells, and have scanned the borders every day to see what would come to feed. In my last post I shared my frustration at planting so many nectar flowers this year, using the maxim ‘build it and they will come’, but they didn’t. However, today, TWO peackock butterflies inside five minutes turned up on my flowers. Hooray! Numbers this year must be way down, though, for me not to have at least the buddleia covered in the different species we normally see.

verbena bonariensis

verbena bonariensis

The bees, however, are intriguing. I’ve seen new (to me) species of bees I can’t identify, and have a leaf cutter bee nesting in a trough on the patio. Even honey bees are in evidence. The bergamot, calendulas, cosmos and sedums and of course verbena bonariensis seem to be bring them in. We also have plenty of hoverflies and other insects, so hopefully the butterflies that are around will feed and breed, raising numbers for next year. Moths also seem to be coming in, judging by what I can see when sat out in the dark with only background lighting from the conservatory. Something’s working then.

I can also now list frogs, toads, lots of birds species and a visiting hedgehog, so slug numbers are way down on previous years, and I actually get to eat my lettuce! Just wait until I get my pond in there. Damselflies, dragonflies and newts may join us. One of my friends has grass snakes. I wish! There is a woodpile and compost bins at the end of the garden, so you never know.

Watch this space!

Early Summer Border

Early Summer Border

What a spring it’s been. Warmer than normal, and a high contrast to last year, when snow laid on the ground here until May. The garden has progressed greatly. We had an old ‘rockery’ neglected for the last ten years at least, and bound together by our native fern. It was a nightmare that took dedication and a lot of muscle to remove, but I now have about one and a half tons of gypsum rock to sell. That might pay for the path I want to lay down the 120’ length of the garden. Vegetable growing is now well underway. I have runner and French beans installed on their wigwams, new potatoes flowering in their rows and komatsuna, ruby chard beetroot, turnip and other veg coming along nicely. It’s so much better to nip outside and pick what we need than to get out the vehicle, go to the shops, buy stuff in plastic bags covered in whatever they decided it’s OK to wash them in and then have to pay for it, drag it home and unwrap it, dispose of the packaging, prepare and eat it. We bought some pork chops a while ago from a supermarket.

I have, due to an auto-immune health problem, a lot of sensitivity to foods and chemicals. Plain old pork chops, I thought. A safe meal. I got ill after eating one. The symptoms felt like a reaction to gluten, normally found in grains such as wheat. We checked the packaging. THEY PUT GLUTEN IN PORK! The chops were adulterated with wheat, but still put in plain packaging so you think you’re just buying meat. Now I take glasses and a magnifying glass shopping and have to check EVERYTHING. So the more I can grow at home the better, though I can’t raise my own pigs! So, carry on planting. The food production will continue at this venue! But so will developing the rest of the garden, and my flower collection has increased hugely. I’ve sown seeds, bought young plants and propagated them, taken cuttings from friend’s gardens and treated myself to the odd little gem. Then there are the self sown foxgloves, poached egg plants and columbines, which are just lovely at the moment. The rockery disaster is now a newly planted border and is beginning to look just fine. As for the house, decorating has slowed to a halt since the weather picked up. There are only so many hours in a day! But the conservatory looks good now, and is dripping with more plants. It served well in spring to start the tender stuff, and saved heating the greenhouse. Four varieties of tomato now grace the greenhouse border, and I’m trying aubergines for the first time. So far they look good. Fuchsias and geraniums abound! I bought some very cheaply last year from a charity event, and kept them over winter. Cuttings took readily and are now lined up in rows in the greenhouse.

The front garden has had a makeover, new gravel and looks smart but a bit flat as it’s newly planted. Chimney pots are to be filled with fuchsias and trailing plants. Containers will contain more. Colour will light up the front to welcome us home. We live on a busy main road, though you wouldn’t know it when in the back garden. It’s also quite shaded for much of the day, so my shot of colour will lift it, and passers – by can enjoy my bargain plants.

I hope to continue this blog, but please forgive my absence if I periodically disappear. My health is precarious and can prevent me from having a clear enough head to write. But I want to share my experiences, and pass on knowledge if I can , so I’ll try to keep posting. Here’s an idea for you. Re-cycling combined with desperation after last year’s Glut of cabbage white butterflies and demise of my crops, an old bed base was strip0ped and recovered-with butterfly netting. Now wood pigeons and cabbage whites can only LOOK at my well protected vegetables.

Plant Protection re-cycled stlye

Plant Protection re-cycled stlye

I’m off now to sow more salads and some biennials for next year. Keep you posted.

What A Beauty!

Magpie Moth

Magpie Moth

I posted a couple of days ago my astonishment at finding lots of moths visiting my flowers at dusk, and assumed that until I could set up a trap  I wouldn’t get  a chance to photograph them and show you how gorgeous some of them are. Well I was wrong. Throwing the ball for Daisy this afternoon, I spotted this flitting into the grass. A Magpie moth. How stunning! Apparently, according to my book, they do sometime fly during the day, and here’s the proof. Moths can be beautiful, just like their daytime counterparts that we call butterflies.

Have you spotted any in your garden? What could you do to invite them in?

Top Ten Butterfly Plants in My garden

Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly feeding on Allium Drumstick

Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly feeding on Allium Drumstick

As butterflies and moths are in serious trouble due to wet summers and massive declines in natural habitat due to intensive farming and the loss of meadows, This year conservationists are appealing to us all to help. So, here are my favourite top ten butterfly plants, based on observation of the insect life in my garden.

  1. The best nectar plant anyone can grow is buddleia. They are now available in dwarf form for the patio, so you don’t need a large garden or space to grow one. If you have room, grow several together, giving the butterflies a better chance of seeing them and lots more food.
  2. Verbena bonariensis. A gorgeous, delicate annual that is easily grown and can be left to self seed through your borders
  3. Nettles. Yep, nettles. If you live near waste ground and there are plenty of nettles around, you probably don’t need to have a nettle patch, but it is the food plant for many species of butterfly larvae, so worth having.
  4. Hawthorn, which is the home and food plant for many moths. It gives them somewhere, too to pupate in peace. My hedge comprises mainly of hawthorn. I see and am trying to identify lots of beautiful moths.
  5. Marjoram and oregano. I went out this morning to find these have just come into flower, and are smothered in small white butterflies eagerly feeding.
  6. Allium. Our Small tortoiseshell is feeding on drumstick, but all the alliums I have seem to attract plenty of butterflies when they’re around. Bees adore them, too. They happily move from flower to flower gorging themselves. As they are easy bulbs to grow and suffer no pest problems that I’ve encountered you too could have some. They will increase their own numbers in time and take up little space as they can be planted among other plants, covering their bare legs.
  7. Sedums. These are great plants that need little attention as they are drought tolerant. Just give them full sun and good drainage. Many are perfect for pots and alpine troughs. You can even grow them in a window box. The butterflies won’t mind!
  8. Cosmos. Easy annuals, bright and colourful, grow from seed or get young plug plants, often sold cheaply on your local market.
  9. Vetches. Native wild flowers that grow on verges and in hedgerows. Seed of many are now available through seed companies and young plants from specialist nurseries. They are food plants for larvae and adults.
  10. Scabious. These pretty nectar rich flowers seem to be a magnet for any butterflies around, and they spend ages on each flower head, dipping into a rich meal.Small White Butterfly Feeding On MarjoramSmall White Butterfly Feeding On Marjoram

There is a lot more we can do. The BBC are running the Summer of Wildlife, where you can help increase the knowledge of scientists so they can further understand the needs of our precious butterflies. Their page How to Help Wildlife can start you off with all the information you need to join the growing crowd of people giving vital information to the scientists, plus TONS more information on how to help our declining wildlife in general. Their page Worrying Declines will tell you much more.

What can you do to help? What have you planted or plan to grow? I’d love to hear from you.

Plant It And They Will Come

Mullein Moth Caterpillars

Mullein Moth Caterpillars

Last year, when I went to a specialist herb centre in the Cotswolds, I bought a mullein plant. The plant was new to me, but I understood it would be great for bees to feed on, so home it came. The rosette of woolly leaves grew steadily, despite all last year’s rain, then withstood the icy winter. Up it came this spring and produced flower spikes. When I looked closely, I found caterpillars were gorging on it. I decided to share the plant with them and left them there. I discovered these pretty creatures were larvae of the mullein moth, which looks like a twig, and is no-where near as pretty as the juvenile form, but I don’t care. Diversity and keeping balance is what I’m about. I thought I was sacrificing the flower, but no. What a gorgeous display, and the bees can have their share now, too. mullein