Curiosity killed the cat, satisfaction … was not so tasty

I can’t remember how I came to have passion flower seeds (Passiflora caerulea) to sow, but inevitably I sowed them and a great many germinated. So then I had to decide what to do with them. I thought that a couple over the archway marking the end of the terrace would be a good idea, another would usefully cover a bit of trellis hiding the bins. Then, in a practise that is all to common in my garden, I put a few aside to languished in pots beside the greenhouse. Let’s not talking about those plants still in pots two years later, but concentrate on the archway pair.

Late last year, after an impressive amount of green leafy growth, I saw my first flower. What a beauty (and relief) that was!

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Archway Passion flower beginning to encroach on the copper beech hedge suurounding the patio

I stand in wonder at the exaggerated features of passion flowers: their filament-like corona in concentric rings of black, white and blue, the jutting stigmas, the daggling rug-like anthers and, dominating everything, a large protuberant ovary, all served on a ring of waxy petals. So exotic for England!

A few more flowers appeared before the frosts carried them off, but there was no sign of any fruit. I kept my fingers-crossed that the vines would get through the winter. In fact, after what turned out to be a mild winter, the plants got off to a flying start. They have been in flower for several months now and each time I go through the archway I stop to watch the bees (and hoverflies) weave through the corona to reach the nectaries. The flowers seem to be extremely popular and are always occupied.

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Pollination seemed a sure thing! Soon the ovaries started to swell.

Now, mid-way through August, the archway is festooned with the ripening fruits: small orange lanterns, hang down attractively:

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So the question is, can people eat the fruits of Passiflora caerulea? (What you normally buy in the supermarket is the fruit of P. edulis. Passiflora edulis hails from South American, requires tropical conditions and is not winter hardy here in the UK).

Well, the answer is yes, but …

(i) Apparently, they are not worth eating, because they are so bland.

(ii) Care should be taken not to eat under-ripe fruits (yellow), because they can cause stomach upsets.

OK, Challenge accepted!

I picked a couple of the ripe, orange fruits. They felt soft, like under-inflated therapy balls. This is what they look like when opened:

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Passiflora caerulea fruit and seeds

In fact, they look pretty tasty, don’t you think?

I picked one up to sniff the red pulp and seeds, but there was no smell. No sharp zingy, fruity scent like the passionfruit I love to cover pavlova with. Next, I tried a taste. The pulp was definitely sweet, there was no discernible flavour.

How disappointing. So it looks as though the fruits will remain as decorations on the vine. Ah well, the archway is looking great!

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Do you grow any passionfruits?

Posted in fruit, The home garden, Whimsy | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Wordless Wednesday – Who’s wearing a ballgown in the garden?

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This is Rhodanthe manglesii aka. the Pink Sunray/Silver Bells/Swan River Everlasting Daisy. It is a native of Western Australia

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I’ve been growing it in a home trial of unfamiliar everlasting flowers this year and it is by far the prettiest of the bunch (IMHO). I just love its 3D conical structure.

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And its layered, translucent, silver bracts. It’s like a fairytale ballgown:

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Look … here’s one I made/googled earlier

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I’ll definitely be growing them again next year and in a larger display.

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My seeds were from Chiltern Seeds

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Wordless Wednesday – In an octopus’s garden in the … sun

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Various seaweeds on a chalk pebble, Lulworth Cove, Dorset

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Sadie enjoying the octopus’s garden too

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The pebbles are from chalk beds that are 97 million years old

Posted in Out and about, Whimsy | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Water Lilies – The illusion of an endless whole

While we were away on holiday last week I discovered an interesting 8 acre water garden, just south of Weymouth. It is called Bennetts Water Gardens and has been developed on the site of the former Putton Brickworks. The quarries closed in the 1950s and the pits turned into natural lakes, filling with ground water which seeps into the pits at depths of ~15m/50′.

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Photo displayed in the small museum of local history on site

In 1957 Norman Bennett developed a pond plant business here, with a special interest in water lilies. Many of his original plants were sourced from the same nursery in France that supplied them to Claude Monet for his Giverny garden.

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Over the years the pits have been landscaped by the Bennett family and in 1990 the gardens were recognised as a Site of Nature and Conservation Interest (SNCI) for their extensive range of flora and fauna, notably large numbers of Great Crested Newts.

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A rather lovely flowering rush – Butomus umbellatus

Today the Water Gardens host a National Collection of Water Lilies (see Plant Heritage), with over 140 different hardy cultivars growing in the lakes, including specific varieties painted by Monet. It can be no surprise then that, to commemorate 100 years since Monet painted ‘Water Lily Pond 1899’, a japanese style bridge was installed at one end of the Lake known as The Cutting.

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Re-creation of the painting ‘ The Water Lily Pond’, 1899

I can’t say that I am especially fond of water lilies, but there is definitely something magical about their relationship with the water, with the light, with the clouds and sky.

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I can understand the obsession that led to a series of ~250 oil paintings by Monet, 17 of them of focussed on the japanese bridge in different weather and lighting conditions.

Monet once said that the aim of his vast Water Lily triptych was to supply “the illusion of an endless whole, of water without horizon or bank.”

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I love the different textures in this shot: Between the pads, flowers and water, the glistening raindrops on the pads and the questing Mare’s tail (Hippuris vulgaris I think).

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The gardens were adorned with gazebos, benches and lanterns, but I found myself framing the photos away from those elements, mostly.

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As we walked around the lakes the sun came out and the water lily flowers gradually opened, transforming the views. A stiff wind fluttered the lily pads, showing their darker, mottled undersides.

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I am afraid that I made zero notes on the varieties of lilies in the collection. I may get more interested in specifics when we start creating a large pond in our garden (planned for either later this year or next – i.e. when we move the pool). Bennetts have a fairly comprehensive online catalogue though.

Here are some of my favourite individual lilies:

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I’ll leave you (and me) with the thought that pond maintenance may be a fully submersive activity!

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And a final willow framed view of that Japanese Monet Bridge.

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Posted in Flowers, Out and about | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Wildlife Wednesday  – Butterfly Blitz

I had only intended to post a single photo today, since we are on holiday, but it is raining hard and is forecast to do so all day. So I thought that reviewing last month’s wildlife would be a more cheerful activity than watching the puddles vibrate from the falling drops. I am new to iPad editing though and am finding it beyond frustrating compared to working on my laptop, so apologies for any odd formatting etc. you find in his post.


July was a good month for butterflies, so I’ll start with this ‘spot’ of a Dark Green Fritillary, which was very pleasing because it was completely new to me. When I first noticed the butterfly on a stand of greater knapweed on Therfield Heath, all that I knew was that it was a fritillary butterfly. Later, at home, I identified it as a Dark Green Fritillary, but I wasn’t certain. So I posted some photos on the ISpot website (an Open University learning resource) to ask for confirmation. Happily a number of agreements came in. This fritillary has a wide spread distribution in the UK, but it has seen big loses in a number of regions. It has been recorded on Therfield Common, feeding on thistles and knapweed.

In fact, I was on the Heath looking for Chalk Hill Blue butterflies. In season they flit across the grassland in their hundreds, but I never seem to time my visits to coincide with this peak. I did see enough to satisfy the walk’s purpose though.

Chalk Hill Blue butterfly on kidney vetch


Chalk Hill Blues are very similar to Common Blues, but they aren’t nearly as intensely blue. Here is a male Chalk Hill Blue with its wings open:


Compared to a Common Blue:

A Common Blue in our garden.


In our garden, the grassy meadow patch has been attracting lots of brown butterflies: Ringlets, meadow browns, gatekeepers and brown argus (prettier than it sounds).

Brown Argus butterfly


I’ve been joining in with the Big Butterfly count (ending this coming weekend). I’ve been able to add a good number of gatekeeper sightings (which were down last year apparently), because they congregrate on some ragwort in the meadow. One of the photographs I took included a different butterfly I’d not seen before. This turned out to be a Small Copper, which is common enough, but is again new to me. It has cute short tails on it hind wings.

Small Copper butterfly

The hot, dry days of July encouraged our resident grass snakes out in the open. Since we don’t see them around very often I typically jump out of my skin when I do see them. It’s not that they move suddenly of course, but more the way you gradually realise that a section of the ground is moving sideways …  quickly. 

The snakes tend to bask near the compost heap, but they can appear anywhere. A couple of weeks back they apparently made it to the alley beside the house where they scared a lady walking her dogs. During the very hottest days you can catch them in our small garden pond, terrorising the frogs.

Grass snake in the pond

And here is a worried frog:

Worried frog watching for the grass snake

We don’t usually see the frogs in the pond, but while the snake was around they were appearing all over the place!

Eventually, it slid into the ferns. 


I garden very carefully around here!

In the last couple of weeks the pennisetum macrourum clumps around the fish pond have become a favoured perch for a bright red Ruddy darter. This is a male, with brilliant scarlet colouring and a very pronounced waist. The female is a much plainer olive  colour. This species likes weedy ditches and, apparently, our pond.

Male Ruddy Darter


A final new visitor to the garden for this month’s post has been making the most of the multiple ant-hills that have been appearing in the lawn during the hot weather. This fledgling greater-spotted woodpecker spent half an hour hopping around the grass, eating ants from the soft, wet soil.

Fledgling greater-spotted woodpecker with mud on its beak

Adult colours are beginning to overwhelm the young bird’s chequered plumage, making a wonderfully attractive woven patterning.

Well it is still chucking it down, but I’ve reached the end of my photos, so I’ll stop here. 

Happy wildlife watching!
To see more wildlife spots from around the globe, please take a look at Tina’s monthly meme.

Posted in Nature, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , | 21 Comments

Wordless Wednesday – The considerable allure of teasel

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Hoverflies can’t resist teasel (Dipsacus fullonum). The hoverflies are easily disturbed, they fly away, hover, but are relentlessly drawn back

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It’s fascinating to watch the bumblebees plunge their tongues into the narrow, deep flowers (e.g. see bumblebee on left here)

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I counted more than ten on this teasel head (they are on the back as well!)

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This strange-looking hoverfly (a female Volucella zonaria I think) is massive. It is a hornet mimic and appears to have an odd yellow beak.

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The Marmalade hoverfly (Episyrphus balteatus) is a regular visitor. They are great pollinators and as a bonus their larvae feed on aphids.

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Buff-tailed bumbebees iterate wholescale between visiting the hollyhocks (explaining the pollen covering here) and teasel

 

 

Posted in Bees, Wildflowers, Wordless | Tagged , , , , , , | 17 Comments

High Fives

It’s a great idea to take stock of what is looking good and giving you enjoyment in the garden every so often. Chloris at The Blooming Garden often does a snapshot round up in her garden and she always has many beautiful and unusual things to share. This month she has restricted her choices to ten and has invited readers to join in with their own top five or ten. So, these are my current top 5 stars:

Gladiola papilio ‘Ruby’

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Gladiolus papilio ‘Ruby’

I couldn’t resist buying the bulbs for this gladiola (I got them from Sarah Raven) after reading a post by The Frustrated Gardener. They are absolutely as gorgeous, lush and berry-like as described. Certainly,  mine are not as ruby red as the SR website photo shows, but are possibly prettier for it. Since I’ve grown them in pots, because I couldn’t decide on a permanent home in time to plant, the flowering spikes are relatively short. Once they’ve finished flowering they will be going in the garden, hopefully to multiply and get stronger year on year. I’ll protect them for the winter with a generous mulch.

Monarda citriodora

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Lemon bee balm, Monarda citriodora

I’ve grown this Monarda this year because it was one of five packets of seeds in the ‘Boozy Gardeners’ Kit’ my son gave my for Christmas. (The cinnamon basil in the kit has also been a big success). It is early days for the plants and I am waiting to see the monarda flowers properly, but so far I am really enjoying the textures and form of the flowering head.

Hibiscus trionum

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Hibiscus trionum …

I grow this annual hibiscus from seed most years, because it is an easy and exotic looking flower. Just look at the theatrics and complexity of the reproductive parts!

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… with its spectacular anther/stigma arrangement

Thalictrum delavayi

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Long term favourite: Thalictrum delavayi

I have a number of Thalictrums around the garden, many grown from seed of the fluffy T. aquilegiifolium kind. However, I love the T. delavayi species even more and those plants are just sending up plumes of delicate dancing butterfly flowers now. There was a massive example of this in the walled garden at Audley End House I remember (but it has been some time since I last visited). I hope that I can eventually grow mine to those dimensions too.

Eucomis comosa ‘Sparkling Burgundy’

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Pineapple lily, Eucomis comosa ‘Sparkling Burgundy’…

Another bulb putting on a glorious display currently is a Eucomis comosa ‘Sparkling Burgundy’. Last year the plants languished rather as they were a late (i.e. end of season sale) purchase. The spikes are so much longer than E. bicolor and that tint of rusty plum in the stalk and pistil makes the green in the flower pop that much more.

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… with its sparklers alight!

At this time of year it really is hard to limit the number of favourites to such a small number. Having browsed Chloris’ top ten choices there are obviously many more to watch out for. So, what would you recommend to others?

Posted in Flowers, The home garden | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments