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 The home garden, Flowers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Wordless Wednesday – Fragrant wild strawberries

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Essence of summer: The tiny, deliciously sweet fruits of Fragaria vesca are worth searching out or growing. Their flavour is transformative in jams, juices and purees.

Posted in Food, fruit, Wordless | Tagged , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Wordless Wednesday – Resistance is futile

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Impulse buy – Digiplexis ‘Illumination Flame’: A new intergeneric cross between common foxglove and Isoplexis canariensis

Posted in Plants, Wordless | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

In a Vase on Monday – Spiked

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Today saw the start of the lengthy Box hedge-trimming operation in the Walled Garden at Wimpole and I was warned that, unless I wanted truncated and squared off border plants, I had to do something about the overhanging flowers in my borders. So I’ve temporarily propped back the exuberant desirables like stipa tenuissima, pennisetum villosa and agapantus, but pruned back the gaura, ammi, sage and salvia nemerosa. Looking down at the bunched stems of gaura in my hand I couldn’t bear to compost them, so I decided to bring some home to form the basis of a Monday vase. That means that I’m joining in with Cathy’s (at Rambling in the Garden) ever expanding ‘In a Vase on Monday’ meme using logical hedge trimmings (mostly)!

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Ammi major and Salvia nemerosa saved from the indignity of an electric hedge trim

It’s not all rescued trimmings though. I’ve added further purple spikes to the salvia prunings using buddleia and teucrium hircanicum from the garden at home.

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Purple spike of teucrium hircanicum

I’ve also had to tidy a lovely grass, pennisetum thunbergii, at our front door (so that the postie can get through to the letterbox) and those stems have added some punch to the arrangement.  I think that the pennisetum’s dusky pink tones exaggerate the carmine in the gaura and the tiny red eye in the buddleia flowers.

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I’ve picked some Penstemon ‘Garnet’ to echo the red in the gaura too. Meanwhile, the ammi major provides a nice central cloud from which all the spikes emerge.

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Don’t forget to click across to Cathy’s post to see what everyone else has gathered for their vases today.

Posted in Flowers | Tagged , , , , , , | 16 Comments

Wildlife Wednesday: A Slow Flow

My daily dog walk takes us along a stretch of our local river (the Rhee) that Sadie loves to swim in, especially on the way back, when she is hot and panting.

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She’s not the only one to enjoy its cool waters, because at this time of year it attracts all manner of creatures, including otters, voles, kingfishers, badgers and humans. The main focus for the local kids is the weir and its monitoring station of course. Apparently, the Environment Agency monitors the flow here and sends people out at regular intervals to clear the banks and scrub the weir clean, so that their remote readings are accurate.

The Rhee, is a tributary of the Cam, but as it runs passed our village the flow is a leisurely and somewhat weedy affair and this suits a number of its residents perfectly, particularly the damselflies. This year the mayflies were a pretty spectacular sight, gyrating in clouds in the air near the river.

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Mayflies have a short lifespan once they emerge from the water, with an unusual double shedding.

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Adult mayfly in its colourful (2nd) imago form

They don’t feed at all as adults, but once mating and egg-laying are achieved they quickly end up as food for the fish etc. … unless they become prey even before that, because there are larger damselflies and dragonflies patrolling the river looking for snacks.

Banded damselflies are beautiful, lustrous insects and are always numerous in summer by the Rhee. The river’s slow flow and muddy bottom are an ideal match for their lifecycle requirements.

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Banded damselflies are very flighty and hard to catch on camera unless are they are occupied. Luckily, I found some eating mayflies, so I have some pictures to show. The males are easily identified by the large black spots on each wing and are metallic cyan in colour.

Female banded damselflies don’t have the distinctive spots on their wings and are more of an olive green.

Another river resident that seems to be well settled here and is finally increasing in numbers is the water vole. The water vole population has undergone one of the fastest and most serious recent declines of any British mammal, so this local abundance is fantastic news. A few years ago there were American mink around and until they were all trapped and removed, there was not much chance for the water voles. Now we have our own ‘Ratty’ (and family) from Wind in the Willows, hurray!

They are shy creatures and for ages all that I experienced of them were loud plops as they hurled themselves into the water to make a quick, dramatic exit. Finally, I saw one swimming, so I made a composite image and if you peer carefully you will see a vole at various stages of his escape.

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With Sadie around I didn’t expect to ever see one in repose on the bank, but eventually she was pre-occupied and I happened to be looking at the burrows in the bank, when I finally noticed a water vole sitting eating grass, just above a hole. So here it is:

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Again, going against the trend, we are fortunate to having breeding Terns in the vicinity. I’ve been told that these are actually Arctic Terns, which makes them pretty unusual, because these summer visitors normally head straight for the northern isles, Orkney or Shetland. I’ve been watching a video by the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) which helps punters distinguish between common and arctic terns. Although I’ve seen the pair around a lot (see below), I’ve never seen them close enough to tell which they are.

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A Tern composite image – for ID purposes

My pictures don’t really help either, but from what little I can make out the birds do seem to have the dark edge all the way along the wing which would support the Artic tern theory. I need someone with a proper camera to take a look at them.

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The last riverside residents that I will mention in this post are the Barn owls. There is an owl box, mounted on a telegraph-pole, about 20yards away from the weir and for the third year running there is a nesting pair using it. The owls are so busy lugging small mammals back to their babies currently, that I see one of them most mornings. I’ve made a composite photo for them too, because I am always only just spotting them in time to whip my camera out:

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Barn owl composite

But then I got lucky. One of the owls dropped down near me for a mouse (or something – hopefully not a water vole!!!):

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Barn owl with prey spotted

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On a collision course with its prey

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And back to the nest with the ‘mouse’

So I hope you’ve enjoyed walking by the river with me (including my ‘try, try again’ composites).

I am linking up for Wildlife Wednesday with Tina of mygardenersays. Tina hosts a monthly (first Wednesday) meme that takes a look at the wildlife in our backyards. Why don’t you take a look at the beautiful butterflies and insects she has visiting her garden this month.

Posted in Nature, Out and about, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , , | 22 Comments

Out, for The Count

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Honey bees on a passion flower

Last month, just at the very end, I discovered that Friends of the Earth were in the middle of running a citizen science project called the ‘Great British Bee Count‘. It is an initiative to raise public (and subsequently government) awareness of the role of pollinators and their recent decline. Count participants could download a simple, free phone app that allowed numbers of bees and bumblebees to be recorded, together with a location.

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Buff-tailed bumblebees (I think: The thorax band is very faint, but there is a buff ring at the start of the white tail) on echinacea

Recorded sighting will apparently be verified (? not sure exactly what this means, although submissions included phone photos) and will feed into a new official national insect monitoring scheme.

Simple geocoded bee IDs give valuable information about the on-going spread of some key species and the optional timed counts should pinpoint important plants to these pollinators.

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Leaf-cutter bee on field geranium

So I downloaded the app, studied the identification information (as well as you can in theory) and headed to the garden to count some bees. Interestingly, rather than getting you to input precise species for some bumblebees, you were asked to classify them into grouped types, e.g. banded white-tailed species (buff-tailed, white-tailed, garden and heath bumblebees), red-tailed black species (red-tailed, red-tailed cuckoo, red-shanked carder bumblebees), then distinct species for Early, Tree and Brown Carder bumblebees, together with honey bees and various solitary and mining bees.

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Red-tailed bumblebee on salisfy

Almost in real time the sightings were added to an online map and, for whatever reason, that made the whole thing seem real and more satisfying.

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Pollen covered Buff-tailed bumblebee on hollyhock

I do find the identification of the banded white-tailed bumblebees a tricky task, with there being three different classes (male,worker and queen) for each species and then variations in band colour and density within that. So I was happy that I was allowed to be a bit vague by choosing a group, rather than species, in their tick-box criteria.

Sadly, the active input part of that project is now over (last entries were on 30th June) and I am guessing that the verification stage is now under way.

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Common Carder bumblebee on teasel

Well, that was fun, but what’s a citizen scientist to do now?

Happily, the annual BIG Butterfly Count run by Butterfly Conservation re-starts on 14th July and runs until early August, so there is not too long to wait for my next counting fix. Plus I feel much more confident in IDing butterflies.

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Will you be counting too?

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

Wordless Wednesday – PYO Raspberries

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Sadie helping herself to our raspberries

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She currently nips out to the vegetable patch, whenever I turn my back, to grab some raspberries, strawberries …

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or gooseberries

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Later in the season, she will be after the greengages, plums, damsons and apples!

PYO == Pick Your Own

Posted in fruit, Whimsy | Tagged , , , , , , | 16 Comments