Six on a Saturday – Cosmocracy!

Well, we’ve had a few dribs and drabs of rain recently and it seems to be cheering the plants up no end. The beans are romping up their canes (and not just the runners!), courgettes are swelling in nice quantities and the sunflowers are shooting for the skies. So there are plenty of things to choose between for joining with The Propagator for Six on Saturday and to see even more selections just click through to his post and comments.

First up and going for world domination at the moment in our vegetable plot are the achochas …

1) Achochas

We’ve got Giant Bolivian Achochas busting out all over. I’ve had to take the shears to them a couple of times already to keep them in bounds. They are flowering madly, but not  setting fruit yet. Last year we had a very poor showing with few stuffable examples, so I started them a little earlier this year. The vines are certainly more vigorous, but whether that is due to the bed used, the weather or the sowing date, I’m not sure. On a different wigwam the ‘Fat Baby’ achochas are growing more modestly. Time will tell …


Giant Bolivian Achocha has world domination tendencies

2) Luminescent Red Daylilies

These have been bulking up for a couple of years and they are putting on a stunning show now. Those flowers really glow in the sunshine. The original clump was passed to me with no name unfortunately, but if I had to guess I would say these were Stafford Red.


A beautiful red daylily, possibly Hemerocallis ‘Stafford Red’

3) African Daisies

Osteospermum ‘Purple Sun’ was an impulse buy. You know how it is. I am enjoying that purple ring in the centre so much. It makes all the difference.


Osteospermum ‘Purple Sun’

4) More sunshine with Golden Marguerites

This is Anthemis ‘E.C. Buxton’ and I must admit that they’ve got a bit of a habit of flopping, but they make such a cheerful, if brief, show. I also grow Anthemis tinctoria ‘Kelway Gold’, which has smaller flowers and is a great, long season performer, but I would probably never bother taking a photo of them on their own!


Golden Marguerite, Anthemis tinctoria ‘E.C. Buxton’

5) Rose ‘Helen Robinson’

This was one of the roses that we planted a couple of months ago in the new rose bed . It is beyond doubt a pretty colour and shape, but the bush is already suffering from mildew. So I am reserving judgement on the plant for the time being.


Rosa ‘Helen Robinson’

6) Agastache ‘Kudos Gold’

I’ve been planting salvias and hyssops alongside the new roses. Agastache ‘Kudos Gold’ has to be my favourite so far and it is usually covered in hoverflies whose flight patterns seems to make to whole thing sparkle.


Giant Hyssop, Agastache ‘Kudos Gold’

That’s my Six, now back to some pruning!

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Wordless Wednesday – Some like it Hot!


Marmalade hoverfly (Episyrphus balteatus) on Jerusalem Cross flower (Lychnis x arkwrightii)

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Wordless Wednesday – Hillside lavender fields in Hitchin


Abuzz with bees


The farm’s hillside setting creates splendid views


Sadly, I did see quite a lot of Rosemary beetles (Chrysolina americana) destroying foliage and flowers


Lavender has been grown as a crop in Hitchin since the 16th century. The main crops at the farm are L. angustifolia and L. intermedia, predominantly in shades of purple but also in whites and pinks


Couldn’t resist I am afraid!


The smell was wonderful, but can be a overwhelming at times in hot sunshine


We encountered a meditation class whilst wandering. What a brilliant idea!


Our visit (29/06/2019) was at the beginning of the lavender season. There are also areas set aside for poppies (lovely), cornfield flowers (beginning to fade) and sunflowers (to come)


My haul (the entrance fee includes a paper bag and use of a pair of scissors so that you can collect your own), plus several pots of L. Stoechas ‘Anouk’.


The lavender season runs from mid June to August, peaking in mid July and with some varieties still in flower in September.

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In a Vase on Monday – Ents and a Forest Wedding

My son was married on Saturday and happily they managed their outside, fairy-tale wedding in sunshine, followed by a delicious meal inside. It was a lovely day, the bride looked gorgeous and everyone seemed chilled and happy.


David’s idea for the formal sit-down meal was that the table centres should look like trees, to give the impression of a forest and continue the outdoor theme.

I mentioned in a previous post that I had cavalierly suggested that ordinary glass vases could be papier-mâchéd to look like old tree stumps, covered with ivy and filled with vegetation. Unsurprising then that I found myself volunteered for the job. So over the last couple of months I’ve been gradually filling the lounge with my craft efforts. (It’s why I have been somewhat absent from WP). Naturally, some trunks look more realistic than others. I’ve had problems soften the shape of the roots without spending hours on them, but I found that adding ivy once they were painted helped the overall effect considerably. So here were all seven, before my son requested a further two vases to cater for a different guest table arrangement!


To fill the vases I planned on cutting some branches from our largest birch, some lime (luckily in flower and therefore adding scent) and to use some bare red dogwood and contorted hazel twigs that had been saved from spring prunings.

So way back when, to guarantee colour and longevity, I decided to make paper (crepe) flowers to wire into the arrangement. I looked up YouTube videos for fuchsias (you can find out how to do practically anything from YouTube instructions!), since these are a favourite flower of the bride and suit the colour scheme. They ended up decorating the dark trunks in fact.


I decided that larkspur would be a great fresh ingredient for the arrangements, because their flower spikes are long (the vases were quite tall in the end), plus they last so well without wilting or losing their petals. Furthermore, their pastel tones work well with everything else. Then, to add volume, I collected and dried wild oats and finally on Friday I cut some bolting parsnip, which has sent up wonderful, strong lime-green umbellifers.

Here’s another vase. You can just make out the lime flowers wafting their perfume about:


Since the arrangements were for the evening reception as well, I added some lights. And for the children attending (and because the bride keeps pet rats), I hung glass baubles, filled with toy mice snuggled in moss, on to the bare branches.


Here’s a shot of another filled vase/stump in the centre of a table. Strangely, although they are all filled with the same materials, they all looked completely different!


And below is a photo of most of the tables decorated with their vases, ready for cockery and glasses to be laid out.


Next morning we came down to a cleared hall, chairs on the tables and a long array of table centres, lights still twinkling on the side table:


So these are my vases for today. I’ve called them Ents (Tolkien, Lord of the Rings reference) in the title because my son loved those books and films, plus these trees have moved around a lot (Cambridge to Hampshire and back). I am cheekily re-using them to join Cathy for her In a Vase on Monday meme.


There are (thankfully) fewer trunks now that we are home, since several have been requested by guests, but these five decorate our patio for the time being.

To enjoy other crazy flower ideas and splendid arrangements do try clicking through to Cathy’s ‘Grease’ themed post and look at the comments. Meanwhile …

“I didn’t think it would end this way” – Pippin, LOTR


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Wildlife Wednesday – Sith Lords and other Cloaked Beauties


Sith lord with light sabre … OK it’s really a Cinnabar moth (Tyria jacobaeae) on a grass stalk

There’s been plenty of drama in the meadows this year from the Cinnabar moths (Tyria jacobaeae). Cinnabars are a day flying moth and tend to disturb easily. This results in startling flashes of red as their hindwings are revealed when they flit about. There seem to be more than usual I’d say.


The Cinnabar moth’s food of choice is ragwort (Senecio jacobaea), which is widespread around here and is just coming into flower now. Soon the plants will be covered in those very noticeable, squirming black and yellow caterpillars. Apart from their bright colouring, the toxic, bitter alkaloids in the ragwort help make the larvae unpalatable and reduces the risk of consumption by predators. So you might wonder why we aren’t awash with sith cinnabar moths and the answer is simply that not many make it through to pupation because they often run out of food before maturity (and they are not averse to cannibalism).

I’ve been toiling away over the last few weeks making what seems like endless, but in reality is only nine, table centres for my son’s wedding this weekend. He’s keen on a woodland theme and somehow I’ve found myself up to my elbows in papier-mâché, turning glass vases into tree stumps. These subsequently have been ‘colonised’ by ivy and moss and so it was not a surprise yesterday to find a green leaf lying around on the carpet … except that when I went to pick it up I discovered that it was alive and was in fact a Large Emerald moth (Geometra papilionaria).


Large Emerald moth  (the camera colours are dreadful though)

Doesn’t it look doe-eyed,  colt-legged and super cute? The colours in the photo against our mossy green carpet are awful though. A better idea of how green the moth really is, is given in this second picture (below). This was taken in brighter light when I returned the moth to the garden.


The Large Emerald is indeed a large moth, with a wingspan of about 50mm. Its favourite food source is birch and since we have several in the garden, it is not too surprising a ‘spot’.

Skipper butterflies are just starting to appear in the garden and, continuing with the Star Wars theme, I love the way they rotate their forewings away from the hindwings so that they look like X-winged fighters. I am not totally sure which kind of Skipper this is, but the chequered pattern on its wings (admittedly not visible in this photo) points to its ID as a Large Skipper. In our garden they are most often seen supping on linaria, verbena and red valerian (Centranthus ruber).


But my favourite visitor to the red valerian, is the Hummingbird Hawk moth (Macroglossum stellatarum), which I eventually managed a fairly clear shot of last week.


This migrant is a sporadic garden visitor, but the best chance to see it is at this time of year, while the red valerian is in full flower.

This butterfly is a Marbled White (Melanargia galathea) and is the last one I will share in this post. I’ve spent most of June on the look out for these butterflies on our dog walks, but the species seems to have emerged, either in smaller numbers than usual or just later than last year.


I’ll end with a couple of bird shots. Our patio area is currently the preferred training grounds for some young robins and wrens. It’s noisy sitting out under the wisteria-covered pergola currently, because there’s a lot of high-pitched chirping and alarm calling overhead. Here is one of the juvenile robins on the ground:


Already he has that sturdy, chesty posture, but his youth has gifted him with spots/speckled feathers rather than a red breast (it will come).

On the other hand, I’ve only detected the baby wrens as silhouettes moving about the virburnum bush, but I did manage a shot of a hard-working parent, beak full of goodies, checking me out worriedly, before moving on to feed the kids:


This is my contribution to Tina’s monthly Wildlife Wednesday meme. I recommend clicking over to her blog to see a completely different set of birds and creatures (she’s Texas based). Perhaps you’ve got some wildlife to share?

Happy Spotting!

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Wordless Wednesday – Mapping the distribution of Spittlebugs!


At this time of year a walk through the meadows around Cambridge can be a messy affair, because there is so much frothy spit coating the wild flowers. Hawkweed and knapweed seem to be particularly prone to infestations.


The ‘spittle’ is a protective cover produced by small sap sucking bugs called spittlebugs or froghoppers. Unfortunately these insects are one of the most common vectors for the devastating plant disease Xylella fastidiosa (currently causing huge problems in the olive groves of southern Italy).


The UK is clear of the disease for now, but in an attempt to understand the ecology and distribution of these xylem-feeding bugs, volunteers (i.e. interested individuals) are being asked to report sightings now.


Click through to a BBC summary of the project here or to find out more about spittlebugs/froghoppers and report sightings through the BRIGIT project click here.

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Six on Saturday – Tangential to a Summer Solstice

If only we could keep going with these lovely long days. But it is already midsummer and by the time we reach my birthday in August I know that the nights will most definitely be drawing in, even though the weather tends to be balmy then. So it is time to pirouette on the cusp for Six on Saturday. Visit Jon the Propagator’s blog to catch up with other Sixes from gardeners round the globe.

1) My first is a David Austin rose called ‘Wildeve’ that we planted a month ago in a new dedicated rose bed. The name sound suitably Midsummer’s Dreamy, but it turns out to be a reference to a character in Thomas Hardy’s The Return of the Native. It was bought as a pink, fragrant, repeater, but as you can see it has strong apricot vibes.


Rosa ‘Wildeve’

2) Well, those oca that I was complaining about not so long ago are doing a lot of growing now and are looking pretty darned healthy for such a miserable start in life. In fact, the suppliers did pick up on my critical review of the tubers and have sent a voucher by way of an apology. The plants turn out to be interestingly fleshy, plus I love that their leaves are so covered in downy hairs.


Oca in the vegetable patch

3) This week saw the first of the migrating Painted Lady butterflies. They’ve been making pit stops on our showy giant scabious, Cephalaria gigantea. Cephalaria is a real bumblebee magnet too, so it always attracts comments.


4) The Penstemon are starting to make a statement in the borders and I think that ‘Sour Grapes’ is my favourite, although ‘Husker Red’ and ‘Raven’ are in contention. This is another bee pleaser, so you can never have too many.


Penstemon ‘Sour Grapes’

5) Here’s an odd customer … There’s a lot of Broomrape (Orobanche minor) in the meadows out the back this year, so I guess the fits-and-starts weather has suited it. Broomrape makes no chlorophyll, hence its rather washed appearance. It is parasitic on other plants, particularly clover. Happily the clover is doing rather well too.


Broomrape (Orobanche minor)

6) OK … yet another photo of a poppy from me, but I really like the shadow puppet effect going on here, so you’ll have to forgive me. These poppies are in front of a copper beech hedge and look dramatic the whole time the sun shines on them.


The translucence of Papaver somniferum

You can never have too many poppies, can you?

Well, I am off to a forest (Thetford) for a concert now. I wonder whether I will meet any fairies?

Have a good weekend and enjoy browsing those Sixes!

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