Tag Archives: nature

Wet, Wet Wet And Lichen

Lichen Macro

Lichen Macro

3rd January

Rain, rain and more rain today. Overcast skies and no chance of outdoor photography or gardening. So I got the macro extension rings out, some lighting and a bit of lichen on a twig that fell off the crab apple.

Birds are flitting all over the feeders, but there is no chance of capturing them today. Light levels are too low and my camera would get soaked.

But I do have the seed and plant catalogues that arrived yesterday to drool over. I have enough seeds already to fill the whole town, but can’t help myself from wanting to try one or two new varieties of vegetables, so sooner or later I’ll probably get a few more packets. I have friends locally who no doubt will do swops and we’ll all end up with more food and flowers.

The macro shots have given me ‘food’ for thought, which I will write about in my ChrisCaff photography blog. The title already swirls around in my brain. So What Do You want To Focus On?

Join me there.

 

Elusive Birds, Flowers In Winter

White Hellebore in Flower 2nd January

White Hellebore in Flower 2nd January

This morning was quite a treat. While there was still sleep in my eyes, pouring the first coffee, I was treated to the sight of goldfinches happily feeding. Then, as I stood watching though the kitchen window, a flock of long tailed tits descended. I haven’t seen them for a long time. So I set up my brand new radio remote for my camera and attempted to get some shots to show you, but the light levels are far too low to capture anything but a blur. I went back out to retrieve my camera and while I stood there, right in front of the feeders, a long tail came down, fearless, fed in front of me and sang. Just a foot away from me. I could see his delicate, tiny legs, the downy feathers of his body and his eyes met mine. Such a delight, and a huge antidote to the chaos of the world we’re forced to live in. These are the moments worth living for. My poor dog Daisy was forced to wait to be allowed in the garden until the birds left for a while.

It’s too wet to do much on the garden, but making room in the conservatory will enable the sowing of early cauliflowers and salad, which after the excesses of Christmas  stodge, I’m craving.

Wandering around, I found there are still things flowering. So here are a couple of them. I’ll try again to get some photos of the birds, once light levels increase and there’s no danger of my precious camera getting wet. I hope to capture lots of wildlife, once they wake up after their winter sleep.

For now, enjoy your garden.

bergenia

Bergenia in Flower 2nd January

Feeding The Bees From Spring Until Fall

Doronicum. Bee magnet from the start!

Doronicum. Bee magnet from the start!

Exciting new plants!

I’ve now got some help with my garden, and the greenhouse is filling up with seedlings. It’s been cleared of all debris, dead plants and empty pots, the benching moved around for my summer tomato growing and still has room for more trays. So, as my borders will be expanding with the extra help coming, I want to incorporate even more pollen rich, bee friendly plants that also please me. I’ve decided to indulge myself in perennials, but I’m not going to spend a fortune. I’ve ordered packets of seeds, so I will have to wait a while longer for flowers, but ultimately will have many more of them for the bees and moths and butterflies to feast on.

I already grow some of the best, such as Hebes that have practically flowered all winter and are still doing so. And I have bought some flowering plants as I’ve seen them. No sooner had I brought home a doronicum (see Photo)  than a bumble bee landed on it to feed. The same is true of the heather. We’re lucky enough to have slightly acid soil, so heathers love it. I plan for more!

Mecanopsis Horridla. Much more beautiful than it's name would suggest.

Mecanopsis Horridula. Much more beautiful than it’s name would suggest.

I placed my perennial seed order yesterday. Some are quite rare or scarce. I haven’t seen them in the garden centre. And I want something different, unusual, so chose ones unfamiliar to me, that sound exciting, but that are also good bee plants. Here’s my list. I can’t wait for them to arrive!

Liatris Aspera, a gorgeous pink open flower the bees will love. Thalictrum Aqueligifolium Album, white fluffy pollen laden heads, angelica gigas, which has red flower heads and stands 5 feet tall. It’s stunning, will feed the bees, then the birds if we don’t harvest the seeds for ourselves. Viola Odorata is rather more diminutive, has a gorgeous scent, sweet flowers for those bees and a lovely colour. Then there’s Meconopsis Horridula. I must admit, I’ve always wanted to grow the Himalayan poppies and never had the right soil. I do have that here, but the name of this one struck me as my partner writes horror fiction. And of course bees love poppies! This next one is a biennial, but of course once I have it I can allow it to seed or take seed to keep it going every year. I hadn’t heard of it before, but as an umbelifer will doubtless make a good bee plant. Seseli Gummiferum (common name Moon Carrot) is listed by the Gardeners World’s website as a superb garden plant that likes good drainage. Here is the advantage of latin names. I put Moon Carrot into Google. It told me that this was a rare British native growing only in a couple of places. But wait. That’s Sesesli Libanotis! It looks the same, but growing conditions would be very different, as Gummiferum is from Spain/Portugal and needs sun and great drainage. Always check the Latin names if you want to be accurate with growing conditions, height and spread of plants.

Verbasum Chaxii. Stunning!

Verbasum Chaxii. Stunning!

I’m sure most gardeners will have grown Centaurea, the blue cornflower. I’ve found the orentalis form, which is a stunning yellow, to add to my collection. Campanula Latifolia, standing about 4ft tall, white with lovely conical flowers should be a hit with the bees  and hoverflies as well as brightening a semi shaded border. Geranium Pastel clouds seeds sound really good. Apparently you can’t buy plants here in Britain, so the only way to grow these is from seed. I love geraniums, and I know the insects do, too. These geraniums should self sow and are very delicate and pretty, so I hope they do! I had to have another penstemon, too, after the one I have giving so much last year. It flowered its heart out, and was being constantly visited by bees. So I’ve ordered Penstemon Lyallii, a lovely pink form. I’ve saved the best until last. Verbasum Chaixii is absolutely stunning, has open flowers that will shine like beacons to any passing bee or human!

Once I add all these beautiful wonder of nature, my bee offerings will be much more substantial. Seed sowing will allow me more plants than I could afford to buy in one go and I’m adding to a collection aimed for wildlife as well as myself.

If you want to feed the bees and welcome wildlife, grow flowers that are open in the centre and have lots of nectar or or pollen. For example, if you grow dahlias, which you can from seed. Mine have just come through, choose something like Coltness hybrids, which give bees easy access to the pollen. Single rather that double or cactus type flower heads are best. Check seed sites and catalogues when ordering. Many now indicate which they recommend for bees or butterflies or both. And have as many different choices for them as possible. Scientists state that like us, bees need a varied diet so that they get a good balance of nutrients, and we all know what happens if we don’t balance our diets in a healthy way.

There’s an archived post listing early spring  flowers to feed the bees if you want more information.

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.

Great Crested Newts Welcome Here

Great Crested Newt. Once Common, Now Endangered.

Great Crested Newt. Once Common, Now Endangered.

Well, I was chatting to my neighbour. Comparing gardens, I told him of my plans to install a wildlife pond this autumn. Guess what? When he had a wildlife style pond he had great crested newts! So they are in the area. This may well be the best case of ‘build it and they will come’ I’ll have had so far. I certainly will build it. Of course the advantages of ponds are well known. Not only will I have a chance to help an endangered species, but all the other wildlife a pond will inevitably attract is going to increase the biodiversity of my garden and many others.

As a child brought up in the north of England, before the days of Elf and safety, I played in the mill ponds that serviced the cotton industry. The mills, ponds and industry have gone, and so have the great crested newts that were then common and we played with. The ponds were steep-sided concrete affairs, but the newts didn’t seem to mind. Now they rely on us to make homes for them and leave them be to reproduce and hopefully recover their numbers. This is just as well. Our local council have approved planning permission for houses to be built on green fields behind us, and the farmer who owned them is quite happy to take the money and run.

So anything I can do to make homes for the creatures that will be displaced can only help. We have a hedgehog house, a bat box, five nest boxes (and will install more) a log pile, long grass, wild flowers and a huge nectar bar in the form of my borders. They will get bigger as I continue to expand them and shrink the amount of lawn. I say lawn, it’s more like rough grass, and not my top priority. I’ve planted lots of climbers around the fencing, where native hedgerow isn’t. In the hedgerow, I’ve added more honeysuckle, and pushed in native flowering plants, hoping they’ll cope and get on with it. So far I’ve had success with one or two vetches, and leave bits of nettle, but don’t really need to. There’s lots of it around where we live, so I don’t have to get stung every time I’m tending the garden.

I love this lifestyle. Food on the table and wildlife in the garden.It’s quite easy, this environmentally friendly gardening, once you know how. Much more relaxed than the old stiff, prune it to death style of gardening that saw every blade of grass regimentally organised and every flower standing to attention, bare soil in between. Give me abundance and flowers, insects and animals very time.

How about you?

 

 

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!