The other day I noticed the tips of the apple tree boughs were encrusted with greenfly. I was going to treat them to a soap and water spray, but then forgot. The next time I looked the ants and ladybirds had moved in on the job and the greenfly invasion was much diminished. This ladybird is obviously having some R and R in the nearby zinnias. Always good for a smile – ladybirds.
When I tell you that this crab spider is sitting on a zinnia bud and the zinnia bud is less than an inch across, then you can see, that in real life, this spider is very very small. Even in the next shot it’s still twice its actual size.
It’s fascinating to think that the hunting instinct is embodied in such a tiny entity. These spiders (Misumena vatia) do not spin webs to catch their prey. They sneak about in plants, sometimes seemingly taking on the shades of particular flowers as camouflage. And then they pounce!
I think the spider in this next shot is being a trifle ambitious. Can you spot it, lurking on the Doronicum? Also an ID for the bee-like fly would be welcome – Ark, Pete, Brian…
And now here’s a view of the garden, where all of life and death goes on – and under our very noses.
In my last post I muttered about the shortcomings of close-up shots because you lose the wider setting which may have much more to tell you. But I took this one because it made me smile: the contrast of the green longhorn beetle on liatris spicata; the liatris against the green grass, and the congruent shade and form of beetle and the blades of grass. Not a scheme I would wish to replicate in my own home, I hasten to add.
Liatris, with its tall purple spires, is now an English herbaceous border staple, and another magnet for insect life. But its true home is on the North American prairies where it has the names of Prairie Gay Feather and Dense Blazing Star.
The first photo was taken at the allotment where my neighbour is growing insect attracting plants, but I have also grown it in my garden for the first time this year – seen in the second photo along with all the rapeseed dust from the previous night’s harvesting. (There are disadvantages to country living, and the combine harvester’s dust and chaff cloud that buried our house and garden was one of them).
Now I know where liatris comes from, I have a sudden yen to set it free to colonise the fields of Wenlock Edge. I see it growing up tall as tall nodding its plumed heads over hillsides of wild oats – and no more compacted earth, chemical sprays and harvesting dust. Still, I know too that this is exactly the sort of impulse that has led to major biological disasters across the world, not least the devastating spread of the very lovely water hyacinth, which also grows in alluring purple spires, choking the waterways of the African continent and beyond, making poor people even poorer; killing livelihoods.
It was most probably a colonial gardener in the former Belgian Congo who was responsible that piece of horticultural mayhem; the plant escaped from a beautifully contrived water garden and up the riverine systems of Central Africa and into Lake Victoria, far away from its native South American quarters where there are local natural forces (weevils) to keep it in check. It has infested North America too, where there is big business in selling big water hyacinth harvesting machines.
So I will contain my expansionist inclinations, and enjoy the liatris where it is. It is actually a medicinal plant, well known to North America’s first nations, the Cherokee in particular, and used to treat many conditions.
And now for some more striking flower-insect colour-scheming – a green shield bug on my dusty Russian rudbeckia, grown from seed last year – another floral (hopefully benign) displacement.
When you suddenly spot one, it’s as if the summer sky has dropped a small fluttering piece of itself. It takes a second or two to register what you have seen, and by then it has gone. For Polyommatus icarus, the Common Blue butterfly is not only small – around one inch across – it is also skittish. I did not attempt a closer shot for fear of spooking it. And then I thought that I didn’t really want a close-up; they have their limitations. Better, I thought, to share the Common Blue much as a I saw it (soft focus and all) on the flowers of creeping thistle beside field path.
You can find out more about the lovely quartet of bloggers who host this photo challenge HERE. Like me, you’re probably already following one or more of them.
I said in an earlier post that plant life was galloping away to flower and set seed all before being fried. Now with the end of July approaching, we have definitely reached the fried stage. I took the header view of Townsend Meadow as I was coming home from the evening’s allotment watering. I thought it captured the day’s residual heat in a ‘baked-to-a-turn’ kind of way, a muted version if you like of Vincent Van Gogh’s Wheatfield with crows, a work that always seems to exude its own hotness. It’s a shame the local rooks did not put in an appearance to complete the scene, but sensibly they seem to be keeping a low profile – no doubt roasting quietly in their treetop roosts on the Sytch where the brook no longer flows.
Rain keeps appearing on the weather forecast, and then disappearing. Today’s promised thunderstorms have blown away. I think we’ve only had one significant watering in two months, and the heatwave looks like continuing.
Up at the allotment the harvest has been hit and miss – much bolting of lettuce and wilting of peas; puny potatoes, though wonderfully free of slug spit. The sweet corn continues to flourish and is starting to form cobs, and there have been loads of raspberries. The courgettes keep coming, and even the squashes are producing. In the polytunnel the Black Russian tomatoes are fat and delicious, and the peppers and aubergines beginning to fruit. All of which means much hauling of watering cans every evening.
Here then, are more scenes of simmering Wenlock in and around Townsend Meadow.
Please visit Su to see her changing season in New Zealand
This plant is a Spear thistle Cirsium vulgare also known as the Bull or Common thistle, and the most likely candidate for the role of ‘National Flower of Scotland’, although this particular one is growing in Much Wenlock beside the allotment hedge. I’m not sure why the Scots particularly took thistles to heart (a prickly enterprise if ever there was one), though there are possibly clues (not always decipherable) in Hugh MacDiarmid’s 1926 epic stream of consciousness in which one features. It is called A Drunk Man Looks At A Thistle, and at 2,685 lines long, and written in Border Scots dialect, is a challenging read, though the version at the link above does provide a glossary here and there. Go there if you wish to discover some stunning Scots vocabulary.
Here are two tiny, rather more accessible excerpts, the first describing the thistle seen in the moonlight; the second likening it to the chief drone on a set of bagpipes:
The thistle canna vanish quite.
Inside a’ licht its shape maun glint,
A spirit wi’ a skeleton in’t.
Plant, what are you than? your leafs
Mind me o the pipes lod drone
– And aa your purply tops
Are the pirly-wirly notes
That gang staggerin ower them as they groan
And then this is what happens next, in my version of reality that is:
…a ‘pirly-wirly’ explosion of would-be thistles. Those floating seed heads get everywhere, making it yet another highly successful pest of farm fields and gardens. In its favour, the flowers are much loved by moths, butterflies and bees (as well as being most striking to look at) and birds, especially goldfinches, like to feed on the seeds.
6 am and I’m up and dressed and heading over the field to the allotment. No sign of the sun this morning, but there are plenty of yellow flowers standing in for it, including the ragwort with departing red-tailed bee (a female, I think). And it’s only when I reach my plot that I remember that early mornings are the time to catch the courgette (zucchini) flowers looking their best. I discover a real cracker by the polytunnel. Not only is it making all its own sunshine, but it is also hosting some very busy ants. I can only think they are grazing the pollen.
Inside the polytunnel, the French marigolds are in full flower too. I planted them out among the pepper and aubergine plants to deter white fly. It seems to work. And they are cheery too, but difficult to photograph as they seem to reflect the light and end up looking remarkably surreal; as if they might be made of marzipan.
There’s nothing surreal about the cucumber flowers though. The plants are churning out fruits at a rate of knots. I pruned off excess stems and now think I may start restricting their water intake. There are only so many cucumbers one can eat – even mini ones.
The allotments are a lovely place to be in the early morning. I got lots of jobs done: feeding beetroot and leeks, tying up wayward tomatoes, sowing Florence fennel, Paris market carrots and Boltardy beetroot, harvesting cylindrical and golden beets, leeks and Russian kale, and a single huge globe artichoke, which may be past its best, but we’ll give it go this evening. If it’s too tough to eat, the garlic butter will do on something else. What a trial that will be!
In the raised beds the sweet corn is tasselling, the French beans and raspberries are cropping furiously, the borlotti beans are making pods, the Crown Prince squash are blooming, and soon there may be a couple of crunchy Greyhound cabbages to pick.
All in all, it was a very yellow kind of morning, brimming with bright prospects, though it is a shame about the lack of larks. I dashed home at 9.30 for cup of tea, only to think that I might have left the allotment tap running. So it was back up the field, through the towering wild oats, and past the browning rapeseed crop. I hadn’t left the tap on, but I had forgotten to collect the Russian kale, so it was worth making the second trip. Then home again to make raspberry jam.
Today’s take-away special is definitely the oregano nectar smoothie. The Cabbage White butterflies and the honey bees have been gorging themselves, and while I am not too thrilled about feeding up the Cabbage Whites – given the mayhem they can create among my cabbages and broccoli – I have to admit they did look very lovely flitting around in the guerrilla garden. In fact I think I shall rename our unofficial planting behind the back fence ‘the biodiversity plot’ because, even as I write this, there is an awful lot of it going on there.
Noteworthy action includes crowds of longhorn beetles busy replicating in the spearmint flowers and on some ragwort that has recently arrived uninvited; skipper butterflies on the lesser knapweed, ringlet butterflies on the phlox and oregano; also passing tortoiseshells, peacocks and commas, and some rather small hoverflies.
Most of the bumble bees, however, are inside the garden still scoffing on the drumstick alliums. Now for a gallery of some of today’s lunch-time clientele:
I’ve written quite a lot about bees on this blog, and in particular the threat of neonicotinoid pesticides to which, researchers suggest, bees become addicted (see Bee-ing Bee-Minded), so I am hugely pleased to find so many bees feeding on my untainted raspberry flowers. Nothing like the sound of happy, busy bees and the sight of all those raspberries in the making. Thank you bees.
copyright 2018 Tish Farrell
First: the bad press. Lately I have been finding myself increasingly infuriated by the partial reporting and drip-drip narratives that the UK and US mass media have been turning out on matters of international importance. War mongering is the name of the game, and you will find it now in the broadcasts of once respectable and respected organs of communication. When governments and the press start scape-goating on the scale we are now seeing, we need to ask in whose interests they are actually acting; as in: who benefits?
But there is only so much fury one can take, so I’m turning my attention to crab apple blossom. And also to initiatives by people who are intent on making our human jungles into life-enhancing environments rather than wiping life off the face of the planet. On BBC’s Gardener’s World last week there was a feature on Milan’s Bosco Verticale – the arboreal tour de force (in all senses) by architect Stefano Boeri. You can find out all the ins and outs of the enterprise at Bosco Verticale.
One of the primary aims, apart from the provision of green high-density housing, was to reduce pollution levels in Milan. But of course – introduce vegetation and there are all manner of benefits – increase in biodiversity, and the creation of beautiful living spaces in places where you least expect to find them. Trees in the air – how wonderful is that. And in case you’re wondering why the crab apple intro, then crab apple trees are included in the planting of the Bosco Verticale.
The tree in my photos is Evereste , one of the several small varieties that grow to no more than 3 metres. We had to move it a couple of years ago, and were worried it might not survive. But here it is, boldly flowering by our rear garden fence. I love the many shades the flowers pass through – from cerise buds to white full blooms. I also recently learned you can buy crab apple varieties that are suitable for hedging. Can you imagine – a blossom and apple hedge – as wonderful as forests in the sky.
But back to Gardener’s World. Bosco Verticale features at around 16 minutes and again at around 48 minutes: