Wordless Wednesday – A Smooth Newt

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Last week, deep in the grime at the bottom of our small pond, we spotted this male Smooth or Common Newt (Lissotriton vulgaris). Result!

Posted in The home garden, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

In a Vase on Monday – Spring’s russet tones!

I hope that this finds you coping with isolation, with plenty to keep yourselves active and happy. We’ve certainly been lucky with the weather in East Anglia since the real clamp down on movement occurred and it’s made #StayAtHome and being in the garden a pleasure. As a result, most of our vegetable beds are ready to sow, sow, sow in a ‘Dig for victory’ sort of way now!

And of course I’ve actually had time to go and pick some flowers for a vase this morning, so that I can join Cathy and all the other Floral Masters for the In-a-Vase-On-Monday meme. Spring is quite definitely here and daffodils are an obvious choice. Some got battered by yesterday’s northeasterly winds making them my starting point.

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Sadly, I am unable to name them all, but the whites are Thalia and Elka (smaller) I think, the pheasant eye examples are Actaea,

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Narcissus ‘Actaea’

the multi-headed, yellow-flecked doubles are Bridal Crown (scented) and the pale yellow one on the r.h.s., with the blushed apricot corona, is Widgeon.

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Narcissus ‘Widgeon’

I’ve added a couple of stalks of Leucojum aestivum (Snowflakes), plus few twigs of fresh Acer foliage to pick up the orange accents and I’ve chosen a dusky cerise primula to extend the range  of reds.

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Strangely, the arrangement has ended up feeling almost autumnal, so I’ve displayed the vase on a decorative copper leaf, strewn with some of last year dried leaves (saved for a project that hasn’t happened yet, but might get of the ground now!).

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Interesting that many young leaves have such strong red tones don’t you think? I was told (on a plant chemistry course at CUBG) that this might be a defense mechanism to avoid being eaten, because they look senescent.

I’ll finish with an amusing comment from our Wimpole-gardeners-keeping-social-contact WhatsApp group …

X: ‘I’m still keeping my hand in with the grass’

Don’t forget to visit Cathy’s blog … and stay safe!

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Hairy-Footed Flower Bees

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This is a photo of a bee having a good guzzle from a red deadnettle.  The bee looks particularly furry and indeed it is, but what is most impressive is the length of the hairs  … on its legs. Especially its knees.

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It is in fact called the Hairy-footed Flower Bee (Anthophora plumipes) and yes, the feet are covered in long hairs too. However, it is the knee hair that wins it for me. These amazing hairs appear on the middle legs of the males.

Here is another view of a male hairy-footed flower bee against the paler background of a primrose, which shows up the hairs quite well:

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This species is an important pollinator for early spring flowers blooming now, particularly lungworts (Pulmonaria species), but also primrose, comfrey and dead-nettles. In our garden they also can be seen visiting flowering currant and forget-me-not.

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The male bees emerge first, from late February to March, followed by the females a couple of weeks later. Female hairy-footed flower bees are very different to the males, being largely black except for orange/red hairs on their hind legs. I have no photos of the females since they seem particularly flighty, dodging and moving very quickly. Far too quickly for me at any rate! So here is a link to compare the two sexes.

As a species they are very good at hovering and the males tend to patrol flower patches in search of females, chasing others (insects) away from their territory. This happens frequently over a patch of deadnettles growing in one of our unweeded vegetable beds (I am specifically leaving two beds uncleared, for as long as possible, for these bees).

You may have noticed that the males have cream markings over their faces (e.g. in the previous photo). This distinguishes them from other bumblebees. I tried to take a photo to show this, but sadly it is not of brilliant quality:

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Hopefully, you see what I mean though.

This one as it is a bit clearer perhaps, even though it is not directly face on:

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This week has seen a surge in numbers of these bees in our garden, although it might possibly be because I am now in our home garden all the time! In any case, if you are stuck at home now, as most of us are, it is worth keeping an eye out for these cute bees.

Happy bee spotting!

Posted in Bees, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Foraged blossom, stone fruit syrup and sticky date cake

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Our greengage blossom is just opening for the vernal equinox.

I love this time of year, when the hedgerows around about become billowing white clouds of stone fruit blossom: Damsons, gages, bullace, wild plums and sloes. It is very transient, but beautiful.

A while ago I wrote a post sharing my discovery that plum blossom has a surprising strong scent (you probably already knew that, but I’d missed it before) and that plum blossom has long been used to make a wonderful steam-distilled hydrosol. This sweet, light floral essence has many uses from facial spritzer, laundry/room freshener to aromatherapy and skin inflammation/irritation soother.

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The damson trees growing in the hedgerow are already shedding their petals

So, amid the current advice to both stay at home and get outside to enjoy fresh air and nature, it seemed like a perfect chance to do a spot of early hedgerow foraging and then revisit the possibilities of plum (or mixed stone fruit) blossom products*.

My intention was to have a go making some Wild Plum Blossom Syrup, so that at close quarters I could capture and enjoy that delicate almond scent from the stone fruit blossom.

I found a simple recipe for it by Katherine Taylor here, but I’ll describe the steps I took as well (in case it disappears).

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Gathered blossom ready to add to the syrup

Since this was an exploratory test, I prepared only a small amount of syrup using a ratio of 100g sugar to 100ml of water. I just boiled a kettle and poured the water into a Pyrex measuring jug, added the sugar and stirred the mixture until the sugar had completely dissolved.

I left jug on the side while I went out to the garden to collect a good handful of blossom. (See how easily the recipe scales up for each handful of flowers.) It is a good idea to then leave the blossom in a bowl for a short while to allow bugs, e.g. pollen beetles, to walk out of the flowers.

In her foraging travels Katherine uses a thermos flask filled with a warm syrup as her receptacle for the clean (ie bug-free) blossom. This is sealed and left for 24hrs. I used a thermos for this stage too. Next day I strained the syrup into a swing-top preserve bottle (bit of spillage unfortunately – note to self: use a funnel next time!).

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Essence of Spring: Wonderfully aromatic sweet plum blossom syrup

The syrup smells so very enticing and it put me in mind of sticky Persian syrup cakes. So it was a nature progression to go on to make a cake to be drizzled with my lovely blossom syrup.

I used this sticky date cake recipe as a guide and then, while it was hot, I skewered the top and poured plum syrup generously all over it.

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The syrup is brilliant when used as a drizzle over cakes, like this sticky date cake

It’s really more of a pudding and is excellent warm, but I cut it up like a tray bake and stored the remainder in the fridge overnight. A day later and it tastes even better and is easier to handle.

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And tomorrow I believe I will be scaling the syrup recipe up to make more!

#StayAtHome #StopTheSpread

*P.S Other things you can make with plum blossom are:

Plum Blossom Ice Cream  and  Plum Blossom Cordial

Posted in Food, Foraging, Recipes | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Wordless Wednesday – Daffodils: A visual antidote

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View of the Gothic Folly from the edge of the Parterre at Wimpole Estate, Cambridgeshire

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View of the north side of the Hall from the Patterre

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Wimpole Hall is owned by the National Trust. In a statement about the coronavirus (COVID-19) on Tuesday 17 March 2020 the National Trust said that …

Although Wimpole Hall, Farm, restaurant, visitor welcome, shops are now closed until further notice, the gardens and parkland remain open for people to enjoy, while observing social distancing measures.

*** UPDATE ***

Sadly, as of Sunday 22nd March Wimpole (and all other NT houses, parks and gardens) is completely closed to visitors.

Hope you enjoy the photos!

Posted in Out and about, Spring, Uncategorized, Wimpole Hall, Wordless | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Six on Saturday – Running just to keep still

14/03/2020

With various things being cancelled over the last week I’ve managed to escape to the garden a bit more than usual, which has been brilliant. And Lord knows, it needs the attention, but somehow I’ve struggled to get things done. The square-metre pond suddenly developed a leak again and I’ve had to spend time transferring rain-butt water to it, via a watering can, to keep the fish happy while I find the problem. Various batteries turned out to be flat, which delayed lawn cutting and hedge-trimming. However, as a result of the leylandii tidy-up process, we’ve decided to bite the bullet and get someone in to remove the ugly things completely. (We didn’t plant them and neither of us like them, but they have screened our very close neighbours’ house and external pipework very well.) Re-working the area can include further pond changes, so it is all good. I anticipated plenty of plant purchasing opportunities!!!

There is so much stuff going on in the garden it has been straightforward to find things for #SixonSaturday, the weekly gardening show-and-tell, ably hosted by Jonathon on The Propagator’s blog. So here we go …

1) Loropetalum 

My Mum asked me what I bought with my Christmas money, so I felt obliged to go look for something specific to report back. I had mentally flagged this plant at Kew (in the Temperate house) years ago, so when I spotted this one (Loropetalum chinense ‘Black Pearl’) at our local garden centre I did not resist. It goes perfectly in the patio border.

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I am in love with Loropetalum jasminoides ‘Black Pearl’

2) Lace edge primula

I love the old-fashioned look of gold-lace primulas and find myself buying one most years. Then they seem to disappear and never return. Well, I’ve finally found a spot that seems to suit them. They’ve come back and doubled in size, so I’ve bought two more. This one is very nearly black.

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Nearly black, très chic

3) Echium pininana

Two years ago I grew a tree echium (to celebrate our time lived in the Canaries) and when I found lots of little babies growing all over the same area last year I mostly left them alone. Well, they’ve survived the winter and storms (fingers-crossed I don’t jinx things) and I now have a small echium forest at the end of the driveway. Yesterday when I checked on them I noticed that they have started to put on new growth and produce side shoots.  It looks like they may well be flowering soon.

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Echium is looks like it is forming flowers already

4) The pear blossom is imminent

Everything is getting away so quickly now. Damson is in flower now. Take time to sniff it if you can (you’ll thank me, honest!). The pear blossom is swelling:

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Pear tree is budding up nicely

… And then it will be apple time. My favourite.

5) Daffodil variations

These were a mistake. I don’t know what they are (and I can’t say I care, except to avoid them again). They came in one of those free mixed packs of bulbs you get when you spend over a certain amount. I planted the mixture in patches in the meadow area and every year when they bloom I find myself cutting them to get rid of them, but then I can’t bear to throw them away. In fact, they look best in a vase, providing the froth to other more serious things.

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Daft daffodils. Top heavy and over-bred?

6) Seed sowing

Seed sowing is in full swing and all our windowsills and greenhouse shelves are already full. Where will the pricked out stuff go? How are you doing with it?

Also, if I check the pots one more time today I will officially call myself sad  😉

This pot is my first time growing Pandorea jasminoides. I saw it growing in our holiday villa in France last summer. Its pale pink flowers are really lovely (like a huge thunbergia). Happily the seeds germinated very quickly. Fingers-crossed that they get to flowering stage in England.

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Pandorea jaminoides

So that is my lot. What spring/autumn wonders are you enjoying?

Posted in Six on Saturday, The home garden | Tagged , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Wordless Wednesday – The Art of Weightlessness

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Bulrushes (Typha latifolia, syn. Reedmace) in the process of dispersion

 

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All that down bursting out of their velvet cigars cases to form soft halos,

 

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 To catch the wind … and be gone

 

Posted in Wildflowers, Wordless | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments