Wordless Wednesday – The last apples and the fieldfare

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This lone fieldfare (Turdus pilaris) makes the most of the last crab apples on our John Downie (Feb 2021). He appeared just after the ‘Beast from the East’ II. Some years large numbers descend on the crop, but this year we’ve seen only the one.

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 He’s obviously a member of the Thrush family with that lovely speckled chest, but side on, we also get a glimpse of his mixed colours: slate grey head, brown back and blackish tail.

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Six on Saturday – A spring in my step

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So the greenhouse windows opened automatically this week for the first time this year (that I’ve noticed) and Steve cut the grass for the first time in roughly four months! In fact, my title was almost ‘The first cut is the deepest’, but of course, the first cut was actually pretty high, because the grass was exceptionally long and wet. Anyway, there’s a spring in my step, both because the daffodils and primroses are flowering and also because there’s an awful lot of moss in the lawn after the wet winter, which makes it excessively spongy.

Let’s cut to today’s Six then:

1 Hellebore Harvington ‘Double Cream Speckled’

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There are a lot of hellebores in flower to choose from now, but Harvington ‘Double Cream Speckled’ is a frilly classic and I hope that it is busy being crossed with the dark maroon and pink single plain ones to either side.

2 Iris reticulata ‘Clairette’

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Iris reticulata ‘Clairette’ (with Narcissus bulbocodium)

I love early dwarf irises and I. reticulata ‘Clairette’ is a lively, blue beauty and works nicely in this trough with the ‘Arctic Bells’ hoop petticoat narcissus.

3 Purple crocuses with bees: honey and bumble …

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Ruby Giant in the meadow patch, busy with honey bees and buff tailed bumblebees

My favourite spring sight: Open crocus goblets filled with busy bees. These were planted in the meadow patch in the autumn and I am hoping that they will like it there and spread madly.

4 Cornus mas

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Cornus mas, grown from a seed/pip

This might not look very special, but I am very happy that the pip I sowed some 5/6 years ago has finally grown big enough to flower. I obviously won’t be making our favourite jam from it’s fruits this summer, but it is start.

5 Salix gracilis  var. melanostachys

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Salix gracilistyla melanostachys, complete with talons

This will be a dramatic plant once it gets a little bigger. Last year it was a twig with only two catkins, this year there are some tens of black talons. I can’t complain however, since I only got it in the ground in the autumn. It’s got nice red bark too!

6 Azalea ‘Orange’

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Azalea ‘Orange’ – a rather cheerful freebie with bulb orders from J. Parkers

My frantic end-of-sale bulb orders to J. Parker in November were rewarded with a couple of tiny, free azalea plants. They were just labelled ‘Orange’. Well, they are delivering the orange now, even though they are at most 10cm high.

That’s the end of my Six. Make sure to pop over Mr Propagator’s blog to catch up with all sorts of gardening stuff and horticultural showstoppers from around the globe. Remember: ‘Six things, in the garden, on a Saturday.’ Why not join in?

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Wordless Wednesday – “Mandrake, or Mandragora, is a powerful restorative.” … “Excellent. Ten points to Gryffindor.” *

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Mandragora autumnalis in flower at Cambridge Botanical Gardens, 24/02/2021

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The mandrake was moved a couple of years ago to its new location, with the Solanaceae family, in the Systematic Beds (click through to see the move and root here)

* From Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (by J K Rowling)

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Ron repotting a Mandrake in their Herbology class (from the film of HP and The Chamber of Secrets)

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Mill Road Cemetery: A resting place, a wildlife refuge and community fulcrum

Lockdown has seen me taking local walks in places that I would have never thought to explore (or even walk to) previously. This week, an appointment in town left me with time to kill in Cambridge itself and, as I was studying the map, I realised that there was a large green space that I knew nothing about, just north of Mill Road (my favourite shopping street). It turned out to be a cemetery, but as I read the website and found its connection to the Botanical Gardens I decided it was time to visit.

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Mill Road Cemetery, Cambridge

Mill Road Cemetery lies pretty much in the middle of Cambridge. It has a slightly wild, abandoned appearance, but this is deliberate. The looseness of maintenance has created a special refuge for wildlife in, what is otherwise, a densely populated urban area. Having started life as a college cricket pitch surrounded by fields, the ~10-acre plot was purchased to cope with an increasing demand for burial grounds in Cambridge, as the town expanded dramatically during the Industrial Revolution. However, since the cemetery was closed to new burials (~1949), it has evolved to into a tranquil, but active community hub, a listed (Grade II) memorial site and wildlife haven.

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The layout uses short paths from a central chapel space to connect with an outer meandering perimeter path.

The cemetery was designed by Andrew Murray (first Curator of the new Botanic Gardens) in 1847 and there are certainly aspects in common with the Botanics’ layout. Pockets of mature trees, which were indicated on his plans, still persist, including plantings of pine, yew, beech, ash, sycamore and holly. (See Tree Trail)

SemSemi-pleached lime avenue leading to Mill Road Cemetery entrance

The Lime Avenue leading to the Lodge and entrance.

An avenue of lime trees (planted in 1874) leads to the Lodge and main entrance. Arrival therefore has a suitably somber and decorous feel about it. You are hushed and humbled even before you see all the grave stones and monuments. As shown in the photo, the trees are cut back in a semi-pleached form each year.

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Outline of the demolished chapel is marked in stone.

Sadly, the gothic chapel (built by George Gilbert Scott in 1858), that was the central focus for burials in the cemetery, was deemed unsafe in 1954 after fire damage took its toll on its structure. It was demolished and is now marked in outline only.

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This central space is a popular place to sit.

Nevertheless, with all paths converging on this area, it is a popular place to sit and read or chat.

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Wildness is encouraged, but managed and is balanced with careful maintenance of the graves.

Away from the formal paths a certain wildness is encouraged, although balanced with a respectful maintenance for the graves. The aim is to keep the current proportions of scrub, bramble, trees and grassland. Over 40 different bird species and 23 of the UK’s butterflies have been recorded on the site, including some quite unusual species, such as the White-letter Hairstreak butterfly. The area has therefore been classified as a City Wildlife Site and this in turn places a legal duty on the council to conserve its biodiversity.

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A series of bird stone sculptures, by Gordon Young, have been placed throughout the grounds.

The cemetery is a remarkably peaceful oasis in contrast to its busy urban surroundings. Bird song (particularly black birds while I was there) noticeably counters the background hum of traffic. In fact, its prominent bird population has been celebrated with a series of ‘Song Bird’ stone sculptures created by Gordon Young and spaced between the graves. This, along with other ‘trails’, encourages deeper exploration of the grounds and furthers community involvement.

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Mill Road Cemetery has become a place of quiet beauty, memories and history.

Mill Road Cemetery has become a wonderful place of quiet beauty, memories, history and life. It is definitely worth a visit.

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Wordless Wednesday – Like giant flowers!

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Some of the antennas of the AMI Large Array at the Mullard Radio Astronomy Observatory, Cambridge, behaving like giant sunflowers … tracking galaxies across the sky!

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#WildWednesday – The long and the short of it

This year’s winner, at least in my own counting for the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch (end of January), was the Long-tailed tit, Aegithalos caudatus. They also happen to be my favourite of our regular visiting birds.

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A volery of long-tailed tits on their favourite of our feeders … the one containing fat pellets

Long-tailed tits are a doddle to recognise. Even though they are covered with largely black and white feathers, the impression is of powder-puff pink bodies. Their tails are distinctive, being so long, and dominate their appearance, particularly in flight, when they seem to swirl around like large magic wands. The tails are longer than their bodies (~8cm cf. to a total length of ~14cm), and appear to hinge very flexibly. This feature helps them squeeze into the smallest of spaces, including into the narrow space between feeder and ‘squirrel-proof’ outer cage (as shown above).

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They are sociable, noisy and excitable birds. You don’t often see just one long-tailed tit, as they tend to move around in flocks of between 8-20 birds, sometimes more. Unusually, they also practise ‘cooperative breeding’, i.e. apparently altruistic care by non-breeders, normally within family groups. And, if that wasn’t cute enough, they are also known to huddle together in winter to keep warm (e.g. see this video).

Long-tailed tit, Aegithalos caudatus

Long-tailed tit, Aegithalos caudatus, waiting for the signal to storm the fat pellets.

They build delightfully tidy nests, constructed from moss, then knitted together with cobwebs and lichen and lined with hundreds of soft feathers (~1,500). The whole thing may comprise upwards of 6000 pieces!

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Long-tailed tit feather-lined moss nest (source Wikipedia commons)

Although they suffer a high predation rate as a species,  records since the start of the Garden Birdwatch have shown an increase in their numbers. Hurray!

This winter they have loved the fat pellets we’ve put out, whilst completely ignoring the fat balls. (Must be a more attractive kind of fat used in them. It is certainly softer.) They are enjoying sunflower seeds too, but there is more competition at those feeders. 🙂

I am linking with Piglet in Portugal who hosts#WildWednesday, highlighting both flora and fauna.

 

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In a Vase on Monday – Woven

Well, today the garden has been a no-go area, what with all the snow, sleet and ice. And let’s not forget the bitter arctic wind! In fact I discovered last night that there is something about the design of our new(ish) windows that makes them resonate in high winds from particular directions. I felt like I was trying to sleep inside a church organ. Tissues shoved in the ears didn’t work, so I moved around the house until I found a quiet(er) place on the opposite side and settled down for the night!

In spite of the rather raw weather, I’ve been outside to search for things to put in a vase for Cathy’s Monday Vase meme. Our garden flowers were looking pretty sad though. So I mostly collected twigs, some with catkins. The contorted hazel in the front garden looks at its best at this time of year. I’ve used twigs in vases before, so I decided that I would try something different this week. Something that I noticed on a Pinterest craft board once … a woven piece, where the weft ‘threads’ were actually ‘found’ bits and pieces from nature.

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So I made a rustic frame from four lengths of lashed together twisty hazel twigs. Warp threads were created using some green hemp twine. Then I wove twigs (with coloured bark or interesting texture) and seed heads (grasses and sedum) into the structure.

Finally, I used some dried flowers to create spots of interest.

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Weft Ingredients :

Dog wood (red and green)
Rosemary
Abelia grandiflora
North Sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium)
Sedum 'Autumn Joy'
Clary Sage (a blue selection)
Gomphrena globosa
Helichrysum bracteatum
Iris foetidissima (a seed pod)
Corylus avellana contorta (a few extra bits)

The final piece looked like this:

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I need to work on keeping the warp threads in place on the frame (the contorted hazel was rather too flexible, which made it hard to put any tension on the twine), but otherwise it was a fun experiment. I’ll have to try it again sometime.

Don’t forget to click through to Cathy’s post for links to other vase contributions!

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Wordless Wednesday – Byron’s Pool, Cambridge: A Literary Walk

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Byron’s Pool is a nook in the river Cam where the poet, Lord Byron, was apparently fond of swimming.

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Byron attended Trinity College, Cambridge from 1805 -1807. He was not enamoured of the place “… this place is the Devil, or at least his principal residence. They call it the University, but any other Appellation would have suited it much better, for Study is the last pursuit of the Society …” he wrote to a friend, after only one month in residence.

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Sadly Byron’s Pool is the site of a rather ugly weir now. Roger Deacon, environmentalist and committed wild swimmer, described it as a ruined swimming hole … “the nymphs have departed and left no addresses.”

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The pool exists at the site on a long gone mill. Behind the sluice, on the left, you can see the field of willow, grown as a crop, that I mentioned here.

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The place is now a Local Nature Reserve (LNR, 2005) and is gradually being restored, with removal of non-native trees and the creation of a chain of wildlife-friendly small pools. It looks quite haunting and beautiful even in winter, with plenty of colour coming from ivy-covered trees whose new growth flash shades of red, yellow and orange in the sun. It is once again reminiscent of the river loved by Rupert Brooke. Brooke immortalised the Lord Byron connection in his poem The Old Vicarage, Grantchester (1912) … “Still in the dawnlit waters cool His ghostly Lordship swims his pool, And tries the strokes, essays the tricks, Long learnt on Hellespont, or Styx.”

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#Wild Wednesday: I spy … a Stonechat

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On one of my daily walks this week I noticed an unusual bird in a row of ash trees planted alongside the road. It was hopping from tree to tree, always just ahead of me, rather like a robin would do, but robin it was not.

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Stonechat, Saxicola rubicola

I thought I recognised it, from long ago holiday treks across moorland, as a stonechat, Saxicola rubicola. I have confirmed that ID since I got home to run a search for it.

The Wildlife Trust describes it as a dumpy bird, slightly smaller than a robin, with a big head and a short tail. I’d be suing for slander if I were a stonechat! It is much prettier than that makes it sound.

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I didn’t get close to it for some time, in spite of some creeping. It kept one tree ahead, but it was clearly more preoccupied with looking for food in the long grass.

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They do like a bit of invertebrate apparently, as well as seeds and fruit.

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They are residents of heathland, but disperse more widely during the winter, which might explain it being on the edge of Cambridge.

I can’t be certain if this is male or female, since I am not very familiar with the bird and in some shots it looks very black and rusty chested, but in others much browner and paler. Maybe someone out there can say?

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After following the stonechat around for five minutes, we both doubled back to the original trees and I managed a couple of closer, zoomed pictures.

I’ll keep my eye out for him in future for sure. Meanwhile I am linking this post to Piglet in Portugal who is starting a #WildWednesday, getting people to share their love and photos of ‘wild’ fauna and flora. Do join in if you can!

 

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In a vase on Monday – Snowdrops, of course!

We missed the worst of the snow yesterday, none fell during the day, but there was a little last evening. In the dark. Where’s the fun in that?

How lucky then that today should arrive with brilliantly clear blue skies and temperatures well below freezing? The snow has persisted, making postcard-worthy scenes of the surrounding countryside.

So this week’s vase contribution has practically dictated itself: Snowdrops in a drop of snow.

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Too easy? Well, happily this little blue glass vase was one of a set of three, so I have two more simple posies to share:

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A purple vase, to which I’ve added some contorted hazel, with a single white hellebore and, an amber vase, which holds some (admittedly weather-beaten, usually white) roses. That rose (un-named – it started as a till-pick-up, minature rose) has been flowering since last May. I will prune it imminently.

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Interestingly, putting the vases in the snow demonstrates that this isn’t just about white-on-white, but the comparison shows up the colours and textures in both the flowers and snow.

And since it was sunny and the vases are glass, the’ back’ view shows up the brilliant vase colours too …

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I am joining Cathy@ramblinginthegarden for her weekly pick-me-up ‘In a vase on Monday’ meme. Click through to see her arrangement today (including photos of considerably more snow) and check the comments for links leading to many more beautiful bouquets.

Stay warm and safe!

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