In a Vase on Monday – Stormy Seas

I’ve been prowling around the garden checking for consequences of our being away and for the most part things have done perfectly well without us (kind neighbours watered the greenhouse). The exceptions are the things that I planted in the ground a few days before leaving, thinking that they would do best there, but the continuing lack of rain has left a few scrivelled beyond redemption. Fortunately, the pots of beautiful caramelised-orange tulips: Brown Sugar, Cairo and Ballerina are looking wonderful. Too good to cut in fact, so today’s vase contains odd purples and pinks from around the place: Formosa, Black Parrot, Queen of the Night and Negrita.


I am a big fan of Black Parrot tulips, although they take a while to reveal themselves in all their dark feathered glory (they stay largely green on the outside until they completely open).


Tulip ‘Black Parrot’ on a foam of cow parsley

Each year I promise to throw away our pots of Tulip Formosa because sometimes that pink is quite horrid, but this year they seem more muted and I like them against the Persicaria ‘Red Dragon’ leaves and ‘Queen of the Night’. (I’ll probably forget again in any case).


Tulipa ‘Formosa’

In my head I had the idea of the dark tulips floating on a turbulent sea of cow parsley, centaurea, forget-me-not and erysimum, but in reality I’ve managed to bunch everything again! Ah well, think tossed in the waves.


There’s also some spirea ‘Bridal Wreath’ in the arrangement to add a bit more sea foam, plus I couldn’t resist picking the first aquilegia to show colour. It adds a touch of dusty pink, dancing overhead as it catches the breeze.


So here is my stormy seas vase on our pebble patio:


I am joining in with Cathy’s ever expanding IAVOM meme. There are plenty of lovely vases to browse there today so do click through. It seems that there is a strong purple/blue theme running through the offerings!


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Wordless Wednesday – Perfect

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A landscape of chthonic power

So what would you do with a couple of tons of unwanted soil, dirt and rubble from a variety of gardening projects? Well, at home we created a small hill in the corner of the garden, which was initially used as a hill fort (when the kids were young), but now has become a favourite spot to sit soaking up the last rays of the sun under the sheltering embrace of a walnut tree. However, at Wimpole Hall they decided to use their spoil to add a bit of atmosphere to the new meandering path through the Pleasure Grounds.


The Explorer Walk leads through a recent, but extensive, oak stumpery

This ‘Explorer Walk’ winds its way from the garden entrance down to the farm, through a constantly evolving collection of items of interest; a large (but broken) stone crest, a willow tunnel, a group of giant carpenter bee stacks, a wonderful stumpery, a bird feeding station and an incipient tree cathedral.


Giant carpenter bee stacks in the foreground, stumpery in the background

The spoil was loaded on to a tractor, lugged over to a dull spot amongst the laurels and used to make a high bank, set at an angle to the walk. Then those lucky gardeners got to play with some wonderful old oak deadwood, collected from the Estate woodlands, to create a new feature, but with an echo of the main Stumpery (below).


Part of the main stumpery

They have integrated the bank topography with the deadwood to evoke a ‘landscape resonant with chthonic* power’ (to quote gardener Chris Evans).


New oak deadwood project in progress

In this new vision the stumps emerge from a moss-strewn earth bank, climbing the slope, so that the tallest trunks are silhouetted against the skyline as you look southwards from the path.


I give a thumbs up to this new project … Not bad for a load of old dirt and dead trees!

*chthonic meaning – “in, under, or beneath the earth”. The translation of meaning discusses deities or spirits of the underworld, especially in Greek religion.


Posted in Trees, Wimpole Hall | Tagged , , , , , | 13 Comments

Wordless Wednesday – Little rays of sunshine


Ribes odoratum with its delicious smell of cloves


Tulipa tarda keeps performing


In the pond: Marsh marigold (Caltha palustris) light up the marginals


Dandelion (Taraxacum officinalis) – in the lawn, down the alleys, on the roundabouts and occasionally in the border


Cowslip (Primula veris) – in the meadow


Tulipa sylvestris – our wild tulip (at Wimpole)


Celandine (Ficaria verna)


Acacia pravissima (Ovens wattle at Cambridge Botanics)

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Standing beneath the crab apple tree

Our John Downie crab apple tree on the driveway is in full bloom and it is a sight to behold. The wonderful sunny weather over the last few days has opened most of its pink flower buds. Seen against the blue skies it is definitely having its moment of glory.


The tree is also covered in bees. Standing underneath its branches, which I’ve found myself doing repeatedly, is like being inside a hive (or so I’d imagine). The buzzing sound is incredible. There are small movements everywhere: bees, hoverflies and bumblebees flying constantly from blossom to blossom. It’s hard to know where to focus, but wherever you look there is sure to be an insect in the field of view within seconds. It’s addictive.

I tried to upload a video to show you what it is like, however I don’t have the right wordpress ‘plan’ apparently, so here are some static shots instead. You don’t get the noise, but hopefully you will get the general impression.

Tomorrow temperatures are set to drop by at least ten degrees and the sun will disappear for a while.

Meanwhile, I hope that you’ve been able to enjoy some sunshine and buzzing too!


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Wildlife Wednesday – Riding the thermals

A lot is happening in the skies this month. The rooks behind our house are established in their nests now and are hanging out in the tree tops, calling loudly across the countryside at seemingly all hours. These shouts are typically to be heard against a background noise of tap, tap, tapping woodpeckers. There are alot of damaged trees after the winter storms and it sounds like they are being requisitioned and renovated to make nurseries.


Rook on the lookout

Occasionally the rook calls becomes frantic and if you look up to check what is happening, it is likely that an aerial battle is going on between the rooks and a bird of prey.  We see kestrels and falcons about, but most often we see a pair of buzzards riding the thermals over the garden or circling in a leisurely spiral above the field behind us. Since the rookery is also just behind our house, we have witnessed a fair few mobbing attempts to drive the buzzards away.


Buzzard mobbing

The picture above is of a buzzard being hounded by five rooks and was taken on a phone, so apologies for the lack of resolution. The buzzard is the bird at the bottom right.

This slightly clearer shot (below) is from a different day and was taken with on a canon compact. The confrontation involved only the two birds seen.


Another thing that has been noticeable over the last month is the large number of yellowhammers, Emberiza citrinella, about. Mostly the birds flit between bushes in the hedgerows, normally skipping ahead of us as we walk along, but in the warm sunshine they like to perch at the top of the trees to trill. The call is so clear and loud that they are easy to spot, even before taking account of their bright yellow plumage. Sadly, the female bird is much duller than the male, but still has distinct yellow tones in the sun.


I found that taking pictures of the males in direct sunlight was nigh on impossible without burning out their chests!


The marking are easier to make out in overcast conditions or, as here, in the shadow of the brambles and shrubs.


While I am highlighting sunny yellow birds seen this month, I am very happy to have finally taken clear picture of a goldcrest (even if it was in someone else’s garden):


The warm weather in March triggered the emergence of hibernating butterflies. One of the first to appear was the Brimstone butterfly. Brimstones have ornately shaped, butter yellow wings which make them ease to spot as they flutter across the garden. At this time of year, they take short pit stops to sip at nectar from flowers like honesty and primroses. Fortunately, we have tons of  the latter.


Brimstone butterfly sampling the primroses. Not bad camouflage either!

Other butterflies have been spotted on recent sunny days too, including commas, tortoiseshell and peacocks, but not in nearly the same quantity.


Comma butterfly on a sunny slope

It has been nice to hear and see bees about the garden again. There have been some massive bumblebees on the wing too.  I’ve spotted mostly buff-tailed bumblebees, but in the last few days red-tailed bumblebees have arrived on the scene too. I sat in the meadow for a while just enjoying watching them. Overhead there were quite a few bee-flies around. I love their hovering shape in the air and their long rigid proboscis, ready to eat at all times.


Bee fly on the wing


A furry bee fly on celandine

While watching the activity on the primroses I spotted a new type of bee (to me at any rate)


I fetched my copy of  ‘Insects’ by Michael Chinery and sat down to identify this furry creature. The most striking thing about it was incredible length of the hairs on the middle legs, almost like the fringe on a cowboy jacket. The second picture, below, shows them more clearly.


So I think that this is a hairy-footed flower bee, Anthrophora plumipes. It is a fairly common bee in the UK apparently and is widespread. It is particularly fond of pulmonaria flowers, but it seems to like primroses too.



Then,  while I was sitting under a plum tree, this honey bee landed on me and proceeded to groom itself, including its tongue as you can see here!

I am ending the post with a picture of  ‘Mouse, the Destroyer’. I’ve lost a lot ot tulips this year to something that leaves short narrow burrows. We’ve seen this mouse in the same vicinity several times, so I am inclined to blame him. On this occasion he seemed slightly lethargic, but he eventally crawled back under his achillea patch.


Mouse the Destoyer

I am linking up with Tina at mygardenersays for her monthly meme encouraging us to look at the wildlife on our doorsteps. Why not take a peek?

Posted in Bees, birds, Nature, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , | 23 Comments

A Hillside of Perfect Purple Pasque Flowers


Last year I discovered that I live very close to one of the largest colonies of pasque flowers in the country. Of course I hasten along to investigate and enjoy the delightful spectacle and this year I have kept a vague eye on the Therfield Heath website for news of their blooming. A couple of weeks ago I noticed that the first flowers had been spotted, so I took the opportunity to visit the site again at the weekend while the sun was shining and the flowers fully open.


A purple haze of pasque flowers on Therfield Heath, 2017

And the show is fantastic! Miles better than last year. The hillside is positively thick with the flowers. Indeed, they are so numerous that there seem to be an ever deepening purple haze ahead of you as you follow the track round the contour of the hill.


Last year this view was much more sparse

I met a couple who have been coming to see the pasque flowers here for 50 years and they say that they have never seen a better show.


The perfect satiny purple petals of Pulsatilla vulgaris


The south facing side of the hill

Many people were visiting the site in spite of the appearance of these carefully timed photos. For instance, I met a U3A (University of the Third Age) group comparing notes as I was leaving and there is some damage caused by the wear and tear of footsteps on the hillside, but most people were at least following the narrow trails.


The purple haze is evident as you look west along the curve of the hill

Everyone was taking photos of course and there was some impressive kit being lugged around. But it is a prickily affair taking close-ups at ground level due to the number of dried, stiff carlina thistles still around.


Happily, there was a satisfying buzz of pollinating activity from bees, bumblebees and other insects. So hopefully there will be a good crop of seeds.


Red-tailed bumblebee visiting a pasque flower on Therfield Heath, 2017

Set against this, the prevalent Heath snail, Helicella itala was very much in evidence and causes some small amount of damage.


Heath snail, Helicella itala, enjoying some purple petals

And on a positive note, the fencing put up a couple of years ago to prevent rabbit damage, seems to be working very well.


Note: Pasque flowers are now rare in the UK due to changes in land use and the loss of grazed chalk or limestone grassland. They are classified as a Priority Species in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan and as Vulnerable in Britain on the Red Data List.

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