Sunday, 15 July 2018

Gardens galore

 


Chris and I are just back from a three-day trip with the Boddington and District Garden Society. The bulk of the organising was done by 'Pom' Boddington and she can feel proud of the way everything went.
We were to be based at the George Hotel in Colchester but took in a couple of gardens on the way.


Day 1




Our first call was to the very interesting 'Kathy Brown's Garden' at Stevington, not far from Bedford. We were offered a tour but several people, Chris and I included, wandered off, feeling that the our guide, 'Mr Kathy Brown', was a little - let's be kind here - loquacious. Not being, it seems, a gardener, he said very little about some of the very interesting plants to be seen. For example, he and his wife (they claimed to do virtually all the gardening themselves) had planted some thirty to forty specimens of Dawn Redwood, Metasequoia glyptostroboides, yet barely a mention was made of this species, thought to have been long extinct and known only from fossils, remarkably discovered in China growing near to the Yangtze in 1944. It is beautiful, fast-growing and is, unusually for a conifer, deciduous.

Dawn Redwoods had been liberally planted in Kathy Brown's Garden.
13 July, 2018
On the subject of conifers, perhaps the most memorable plant was a lovely weeping cedar which I believe to be (nothing I found was labelled) a weeping Atlas Cedar, Cedrus atlantica. The usual weeping form is 'pendula glauca' but this specimen had little glaucous about it. It would look rather nice in our own garden and, for a mere £600...
This weeping cedar was much admired by the group.
As is sometimes the case, the most notable plant seen on this visit was noted shortly after leaving the garden. As we strolled back to the bus we passed a stunning Indian Bean Tree, Catalpa bignonoides, (the 'Indian' referred to being the native North American). It is quite common of course, but I cannot recall seeing, in flower, a finer specimen.
The spectacular flowers of an Indian Bean Tree in Stevington, Beds.
13 July, 2018

It was then on to Saffron Walden where we visited Bridge End Garden. It was a little disappointing but I will not be over-critical as it has only recently been restored after years of neglect, largely relying on charitable work and funding. At its best it is probably stunning but is currently desperately parched after weeks without significant rain.
Chris and I strolled into the lovely little town of Saffron Walden in search of a coffee as we were also parched. Again the most interesting plant, for me, was not in the 'target' garden. In a small enclosure at the front of the town's imposing church was a fine specimen of the Honey Locust, Gleditsia triacanthos. Its flowers were over but the large, flat, twisted pods remained. In truth the flowers are not impressive but the pods are a notable feature.
The curious pods of the Honey Locust Tree. Saffron Walden, Essex
12 July, 2018
We were running short of time and some of the party confessed to feeling weary so we gave Langthorn's Plantery, near Great Dunmow, a miss and made for Colchester.


Day 2


Beth Chatto, who died this May, created a wonderful garden near to the village of Elmstead Market, in Essex. Chris and I had been there some six years ago but it had been a day of heavy rain. Even so, it had been a memorable visit and so we were keen to go there again. Conditions could hardly have been more different and even some of the specially selected plants in her famous gravel garden were showing signs of stress.
Rue, Ruta graveolens, was coping well and I was pleased to see it - don't ask me why.
Ruta stinkyolens graveolens in Beth Chatto's gravel garden.
13 July, 2018
The specific epithet, graveolens, simply means 'strongly scented', but the smell is not really evident unless the leaves are brushed or rubbed and then you realise that 'strongly scented' is barely an adequate term: 'foul' is the word which springs to mind. The plant is related to oranges and other citrus fruits and gives the family its name, Rutaceae.
Arums do not often find a place in the garden, being curious rather than beautiful, so I was pleased to find the rarely-seen Arisarum tortuosum , with its remarkably twisted spadix, trying to hide beneath some shrubs.
I don't think I'd bother growing it but it is a talking point. The Whipcord
Cobra Lily in Beth Chatto's garden. 13 July, 2018
It is sometime given the rather absurd name of Whipcord Cobra Lily and hails from alpine pastures in the Himalayas. As I say, curious rather than beautiful.
Speaking of curious plants, Podophyllum versipelle, in the strange form of  known as 'Spotty Dotty' was also occupying a shady border. With luck it will produce its equally strange flowers. If you have a problem spot involving dry shade, it could be worth a try.
Podophyllum versipelle 'Spotty Dotty' is another plant liable to promote
conversation. Beth Chatto's Garden. 13 July, 2018
One of the loveliest of our native plants is the Flowering Rush, Butomus umbellatus, and I am surprised it is not grown more often. Apparently there is a huge clump in some flooded gravel pits near Wellingborough but I have only ever found it growing beside the Oxford Canal between Cropredy and Banbury, i.e. in Oxfordshire.

Flowering Rush, beautiful but needing to be curbed.
Beth Chatto's Garden, 13 July, 2018
Here beside a large lake in Beth Chatto's garden it looked superb. It can become invasive, perhaps explaining why it is not more widely planted. I kept finding new delights and would doubtless have found more, but it was time to move on.
The R.H.S. Gardens at Hyde Hall occupy a huge spread near Chelmsford, opened 25 years ago yet far from finished. It was a blisteringly hot afternoon so Chris and I limited ourselves to only a little of the 360 acres. Like all the other gardens it was suffering from the heat and drought so many of the plants were not at their best although a Cork Oak, Quercus suber, seemed perfectly happy.

This cork oak was probably feeling at home in the baking heat.
Hyde Hall, 13 July, 2018
As Chris and I approached this tree a lovely White Admiral, Limenitis camilla, flitted around and eventually settled on a patch of bare earth. In pristine condition this butterfly has black and white wings; this specimen was clearly a few days old and the black had faded to brown, but it was still a striking insect.
Beautiful but beginning to show wear and tear, a White Admiral rests
on bare soil at Hyde Hall. 13 July, 2018
The females lay their eggs on honeysuckle and it is an enigmatic species, having spread steadily across southern Britain from the 1920's but has more recently begun to decline, for reasons not yet understood.

Day 3

Time to set off for home but there was time to fit in one more visit, the Gibberd Garden near Harlow. Our coach could not get to the entrance so we had a half-mile walk along a lane, very dusty due to extensive building going on nearby.
The Gibberd Garden has problems. A great deal of money needs to be spent on it - money which simply isn't there. It also has problems with three rather nasty weeds. The Giant Hogweed, Heracleum mantegazzianum, has been almost eradicated via herbicides but I spotted a few specimens still surviving in a secluded spot. It is notorious for the blistering that can result from contact with the bristly stems. Our own native Hogweed, H. sphondylium can have a similar though less severe effect on people with sensitive skin (and yet it is edible when fried almost to the point of caramelisation).
Japanese Knotweed, Fallopia japonica, is also present and to remove this will be far more of a problem.
The third 'problem' involves Himalayan Balsam, Impatiens balsamifera. In fact this beautiful annual need not cause difficulties if it is securely confined to a limited area, but once it escapes into watercourses its explosive seed capsules cause it to spread far and wide, growing vigorously and choking native species. It was present in our garden in Byfield some years ago but we were able to rid ourselves of it within a couple of seasons.
It is much visited by bees and the lovely flowers, with their rather cloying smell, create a beautiful sight in the right setting.
Policeman's Helmet, Indian Balsam, Impatiens glandulifera has a
variety of names. Gibberd Gardens, 14 July, 2018
Despite these problems the gardens held two plants which I found exceptionally attractive. The first had me scratching my head: I vaguely recalled having seen it before but what the heck was it? The penny eventually dropped and I remembered it was Grevillea juniperina, a shrub from New South Wales which I thought would be too tender for this area. It is sometimes called the Prickly Spider-flower. Lovely for a greenhouse but very risky outside, although, with climate warming...
Theoretically tender, Grevillea juniperina seemed happy enough.
Gibberd Gardens, 14 July, 2018
The second was a majestic tree with lovely cones. I make no claim to be an expert so when I say it is the Bhutan Pine, Pinus wallichiana, don't quote me! Despite its name it is by no means confined to Bhutan but may be found from Pakistan to China - and Essex!

A dead ringer for the Bhutan Pine. Gibberd Gardens, near Harlow.
14 July, 2018

I suspect that when we climbed back on our coach for the journey home we were content to go. Personally, although I am not very extrovert, I had got to know several garden club members to whom I had barely spoken before and counted myself lucky to be a member of such a pleasant group. Tresco Gardens, anyone?



















Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Daventry wildlife

I have often commented [Ed: too often!] on the wildlife to be seen in Daventry town centre. Indeed, probably most town centres support an abundance of mini-beasts. Not exactly the Serengeti of course although rumour has it that a beaver has occasionally been glimpsed of an evening.
The keys of an ash tree near Tavern Lane were bearing grotesque growths like brown cauliflowers.

Aceria fraxinivora. These growths become more obvious in the autumn,
when the leaves have fallen. Daventry town centre. 10 July, 2018
They were the work of a mite, Aceria fraxinivora. It is widespread but, it seems, rather under-recorded.


Sweet Potato, Morning Glory and bindweeds all belong to the same family, the Convolvulaceae, and it was interesting to find that the Sweet Potato Leaf Miner, Bedellia somnuletella, had attacked some Hedge Bindweed, Calystegia sepium, beside a town centre car park.
The Sweet Potato Leaf Miner will attack various species of bindweed.
Daventry town centre. 10 July, 2018
Unsurprisingly the Bedellidae, to which this moth belongs, is overwhelmingly a tropical family and this species is its only British representative.

Another moth had been at work on beech, Fagus sylvatica, leaves. The larva of the Small Beech Pigmy, Stigmella tityrella, produces this curious zig-zag mine, which is normally restricted between two leaf veins.

The Small Beech Pigmy is small and lives on beech leaves!
Daventry. 10 July, 2018
The leaf margin, particularly on the right, bears a slightly rolled appearance, the work of a mite, Acalitus stenaspis.

 
The Holly Blue butterfly, Celastrinus argiolus, is so named because its caterpillars feed on the developing flower buds of holly, although it will also make use of ivy, bramble, spindle and so on. It is frequent in gardens.


The Holly Blue is by no means dependent on holly. Daventry town centre.
10 July, 2018
Here a specimen is resting on a bramble leaf, again in the town centre.

And all this on a ten-minute stroll!



Monday, 9 July 2018

Oaks - with an erratum

Part 1  Oaks around Byfield 


Several species of oak, Quercus species, occur in Britain including the evergreen Ilex or Holm Oak, Quercus ilex, to be seen in Byfield Pocket Park, and the Turkey Oak, Q. cerris, standing outside Byfield's village hall.

The Holm Oak or Ilex is evergreen. Byfield Pocket Park.
9 July, 2018
Some specimens of Red Oak, Q. rubra, a species from eastern North America, stand adjacent to Byfield's tennis courts.
The leaves of the Red Oak are very distinctive. Byfield playing fields.
9 July, 2018
I have seen the Red Oak with large, mature acorns at, for example, Stanford Hall, but in Byfield the acorns apparently fail to develop. (See erratum)
9 July, and the acorns of the Red Oak are still very small.
Turkey Oaks are very common and will hybridise with our Quercus robur. Though similar to our native oaks the timber is generally regarded as inferior. The leaf margins have up to ten lobes each side and these tend to come to a point.
The leaves of Turkey Oak are very distinctive.
Byfield Pocket Park. 9 July, 2018
The acorn cups bear long scales, pointing downwards and are instantly recognisable. At the time of writing those photographed in Byfield were some weeks short of maturity.
Turkey Oak. The seeds are held in a very distinctive cup.
Byfield. 9 July, 2018

These three are all to some extent naturalised here and there but we have only two species indisputably native to Britain.










Sessile Oak, Q. petraea, is not generally common in Northamptonshire, being a species of acid, well-drained soils and is the oak most often encountered in the north of Britain. It is frequent however on the mildly acidic soils of west Northamptonshire, particularly in woodlands around Preston Capes and I have also found it occurring around Newnham.


The commonest oak of the English lowlands is the Pedunculate Oak, Q. robur. Woodlands such as Salcey Forest, Yardley Chase and Rockingham Forest tend to be dominated by this species. The leaves have the wavy edge typical of our native oaks but usually have an extra pair of auricles (lobes) at the leaf base.
The leaves of Quercus robur in Byfield Pocket Park. 9 July, 2018
                                              
Part 2  Oaks in the landscape


Why do I bring up this topic of oaks? I am embarrassed to admit that, forty years ago, I was teaching that, prior to the introduction of farming, Britain's landscape was largely covered by 'closed canopy' forest, with oaks being the dominant trees. It was the received wisdom at the time, following the ideas of Sir Arthur Tansley, and up and down Britain thousands of teachers were probably spreading much the same message. But I - we - were almost certainly mistaken - on two counts. There is evidence to suggest that Small-leaved Lime, Tilia cordata, '...was once the commonest tree throughout lowland England' (Mabey, 1996) so I was wrong there. Furthermore, although there may have been extensive areas of closed canopy forest it would probably not have been oak-dominated. Oak seedlings need reasonably good light to flourish and the gloom of dense forest would not have suited them; seedlings would have perished or the acorns even have failed to germinate.


So, what would Britain's landscape have been like after the last ice had retreated at the end of the most recent - Devensian - glaciation and before humans began the inexorable program of change on a gigantic scale? This is the arguably the hottest topic currently exercising the minds of British naturalists and ecologists, and not just in Britain but across Europe and beyond. 


Evidence is accumulating to suggest that there would have been significant areas of an open nature, with the space created or at least maintained, by large herbivores - a megafauna. Some of the players, such as roe deer and red deer are still with us, but by and large the species involved have disappeared from the U.K. The gigantic aurochs, Bos primigenius, became extinct worldwide and the wild boar, Sus scrofa, was wiped out in Britain long ago, together with the omnivorous Brown Bear, Ursus arctos. On the continent the elk is greatly reduced in range and the Wisent, Bison bonasus, only survived thanks to a breeding program based on a handful of zoo animals. Attempts to recreate the aurochs by back-breeding from primitive cattle strains have only had partial success in the form of Heck cattle. The elk, Alces alces, and bison do not appear to have re-colonised Britain when the last glaciation came to an end.


Projects aimed at re-creating this landscape are being attempted in several places with perhaps the best known, and arguably the most successful so far, being at Knepp, in West Sussex, where 3,500 acres are being turned over to 'rewilding'. (Tree, 2018) Obviously with some animals extinct or unavailable it has been necessary to use 'proxy' animals, with English Longhorns standing in for aurochs (see below) and the extinct European wild horse, the Tarpan, being replaced by the Polish Konik. Lynx, wolves, wolverines? Not yet - but given time for the public and local farmers to come to terms with the idea, who knows?


One thing is certain: over the last decade teachers and lecturers will have been furiously revising their notes! With the wisdom of hindsight some objections to the 'closed canopy' idea are now glaringly obvious. Consider: was Stonehenge really constructed in the middle of a forest? The land there must have been largely open and yet at the time of its early phases the land would not have been cleared for farming. Some of the structures located in the immediate area date from around 8000 BC, i.e.in Mesolithic times, thus predating farming. No: we are looking at land clearance by wild grazing and browsing animals, paralleled nowadays on the African savannah, and these large herbivores on the Salisbury Plain may be what originally attracted humans to the area.


Erratum


I have now concluded that Byfield's 'Red Oaks' are Pin Oaks, Quercus palustris.


References


Mabey, Richard (1996) Flora Britannica  Chatto and Windus


Tree, Isabella, (2018) Wilding. The return of nature to an English farm  Picador











Friday, 6 July 2018

Island Interlude

Morning All. Just back from a very pleasant few days on the Isle of Wight with our old friends Ann and John. Conditions were very dry and blisteringly hot but, of course, no different from those in our home town, Daventry. As usual I was on the lookout for wildlife.
Cliff-top walks were made enjoyable by brisk, cooling breezes but there was rather less in the way of wildlife that might have been hoped for. Around Compton Bay there were flowers a-plenty but many of the earlier species had long gone, the scorching weather conditions perhaps driving them out of the scene earlier than usual. Sea Club-rush, Scirpus maritimus (= Bolboschoenus maritimus) was present near Compton Bay; not a spectacular plant but a species I have not seen for many years, despite it being common around our coasts.
Sea Club-rush occurred in damp areas at the foot of cliffs.
3 July, 2018 
Marbled Whites, Melanargia galathea, were flitting around the cliff-tops, where their caterpillars will feed on grasses such as fescues and Yorkshire Fog. These butterflies, despite their name, are more closely related to the 'browns' such as the Meadow Brown than 'whites' such as the "cabbage whites". They only occasionally settled, and then only briefly; in the brisk breeze I was fortunate to get a photograph at all.
Marbled Whites were frequent on the grassy cliff-tops around Compton Bay.
3 July, 2018
I also managed a picture of the colourful caterpillar of the Yellow-tail Moth, Euproctis similis, outside the public lavatories at Compton Bay. It feeds on plants such as oak, willows and hawthorn, so what it was doing there was a mystery; their frass* is normally freely distributed rather than left at a public convenience.
Caterpillar of the Yellow-tail Moth. Compton Bay. 3 July, 2018
By and large there were few butterflies or moths on the wing although the diurnal Six-spot Burnet, Zygaena filipendulae was common, particularly on Ragwort, Jacobaea vulgaris. It is one of those species, known as aposematic, which is recognised by its colours as being toxic to would-be predators, its body in this case being loaded with cyanide.
Six-spot Burnets were happy to flaunt their bright colours before birds.
Compton Bay, Isle of Wight. 3 July, 2018


For moths I should perhaps have ventured out towards nightfall and as for butterflies, I saw very few, although Meadow Browns, Maniola jurtina, were ubiquitous even in town parks.

Anything vaguely resembling a meadow attracted Meadow Browns.
Mornington Woods, Cowes. 4 July, 2018

 
Indeed, it was in the towns, in this case Cowes, that much of the interest was to be found. A pair of trees with remarkably bluish foliage was passed en route to Freshwater and later in the day I walked back for another look. Closer examination showed that the species was the Cootamundra Wattle, Acacia baileyana.
A pair of Acacia baileyana formed an eye-catching sight.
Cowes, Isle of Wight. 4 July, 2018
This tree, from New South Wales, has a form referred to as 'purpurea' and this is doubtless was what I was looking at. It is only marginally hardy and would surely not survive in Northants. Like many acacias such as 'Mimosa', Acacia dealbata, it has bright yellow inflorescences and this wattle in late winter would surely have been a wonderful sight. Again, like other wattles, A. baileyana has neat pinnate foliage with, in this case, a silver-grey appearance.
Known as the Cootamundra Wattle, it has neat, pinnate foliage with, in this
case, a blue-grey appearance.
There was much of interest in a nearby wooded area, known as Mornington Woods, with Butcher's Broom, Tutsan and so on being present. These might not receive a comment elsewhere, but they are very rare in Northants and probably only occur as garden escapes.

Mornington Wood: an odd sort of village green.
4 July, 2018

Tutsan, Hypericum androsaemum, has stems which are rather aromatic when bruised. The nature of the aroma has led to the plant sometimes being called Stinking Tutsan. 

Tutsan was flowering beautifully. Mornington Woods, Cowes.
4 July, 2018
When in fruit it is much used by flower arrangers, the fleshy berries being as attractive as the flowers. Fortunately many varieties seem to lack much in the way of an aroma.
It is valued as much for its berries as its flowers.
Enough! I could ramble on about bush crickets, beetles and curious fungi noted but this blog is in danger of becoming yet more tedious AND I have a considerable back-log of insects to examine from before our holiday. Suffice it to say that our short break on the island was very welcome and I returned to Northamptonshire refreshed and with pleasant memories.

* Frass: the droppings of insect larvae

Tony White. E-mail: diaea@yahoo.co.uk



 














Thursday, 28 June 2018

Of Haymaking and other matters

The grass, the yellow rattle and the pignut are tall and I suspect that the meadows will soon be mown for hay-making. 'One man went to mow, went to mow a meadow' is an odd sort of tautology, for the word 'meadow' comes from the Old English moedwe, and this is in turn related to the word mawan - to mow. Besides the three plants mentioned, Matt's meadows contain sorrel, hairy wood-rush, three types of thistle (Marsh, Spear and Creeping), meadow buttercups, hogweed, betony, common bird's-foot trefoil, red and white clover, ragged robin and orchids - and no doubt many more that I've overlooked. Meadow buttercups are poisonous and usually avoided by stock, but once dried they are harmless and safe in hay*. The same is presumably true of sorrel, Rumex acetosa with their distinctive leaves. The name Rumex is Latin, being a spear-shaped javelin used by the Romans; acetosa is derived from the old name for vinegar, thus we have the sharp-tasting spear-shaped leaf.


Traditional meadows would once have been far richer in species but are now as rare as hens' teeth and need to be cherished. Surely this rich blend of herbs must make the resultant hay more nutritious than that made simply from rye grass. All flesh is grass we are told (Isaiah XL, vi) but this is not to be taken literally. Better perhaps: 'All flesh is a rich blend of monocotyledons and dicotyledons, of herbs and shrubs with, perhaps, the occasional pteridophyte.' On second thoughts perhaps not; it doesn't have quite the same ring. And how sad that the modern garden lawn, often consisting of one grass species and marinated in chemicals, cannot be given the freedom to blaze with like a mini-meadow, with the colours of clovers, speedwells, buttercups, self-heal and golden dandelions. Oh, I forgot: they are weeds.



Ringlet butterflies are regular visitors to thistles.  Here on Creeping Thistle,
Foxhill Farm. 28 June, 2018
Regarding the thistles, I'll be keeping a close eye on them for the next few weeks as they should receive hordes of insects. The Creeping Thistle, Cirsium arvense, is a noxious weed and its attractiveness to insects does little to appease farmers plagued by this plant. Spear Thistle, Cirsium vulgare, is less of a problem but is nevertheless unwelcome to farmers. Their starfish rosettes are armed with vicious thorns and I have known them to penetrated thin-soled shoes. It is not yet in flower but will only require another week or so for its rather handsome capitula to open.
Spear thistles should be displaying their purple flowers in a week or so.
Foxhill Farm. 28 June, 2018

The three species I have mentioned so far are in the genus Cirsium but there may be Welted Thistles, Carduus acanthoides awaiting discovery. Whatever the genus they will eventually produce masses of seeds, provender for birds such as the Goldfinch. The Latin name for the Goldfinch is Carduelis carduelis, the name being derived from these Carduus thistles. Musk Thistle, Carduus nutans, I have seen growing in an abandoned railway cutting near to Woodford Halse, but not around Badby. However, George Baker (1781-1851) reported the species from Daventry so it may yet occur.


Hogweed, Heracleum sphondylium,  will be mown to become part of the crop but there will have been time for beetles to congregate on their flowers. Already hordes of a common species of red soldier beetle, Rhagonycha fulva, are gathering on the creamy umbels.

The black tips to the wing cases help to identify Rhagonycha fulva.
Foxhill Farm. 28 June, 2018
They all appear to mature at the same time, maximising their chances of finding a mate. I actually saw two fall to the ground, still in copula.

For some unfathomable reason Rhagonycha fulva is popularly known as
the Hogweed Bonking Beetle. Foxhill Farm. 28 June, 2018

As I say, all this frolicking should be over by the time haymaking gets under way. July seems to be a propitious time:

                                        Cut thistles in May
                                        They grow in a day
                                        Cut them in June
                                        That is too soon;
                                        Cut them in July
                                        Then they will die.

The trouble is, as far as Creeping Thistles are concerned - they don't!
           




 

 




* It is said that mediaeval beggars would squeeze buttercup sap on to their skin to induce blistering and so arouse the sympathy of passers-by.

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Bits and bobs around Byfield

A report today confirmed what many of us have long suspected: an article in Proceedings of the Royal Society B showed clear evidence that bumblebees are finding urban situations more favourable than the open countryside, with a greater range of pollen and nectar sources available. This came to mind as I strolled through the village of Byfield earlier today. Sure enough, foxgloves, scabious, marigolds and a range of other garden plants were claiming the attention of bees.
To an old stone wall in Church Street clung mats of English Stonecrop, Sedum anglicum. Not exciting in itself for this is a widespread and common species, given a suitable habitat.
English stonecrop on a wall in Church Street, Byfield.
27 June, 2018
But, holding a cupped hand beneath, I gave the plant a sharp tap and out tumbled a specimen of the Varied Carpet Beetle, Anthrenus verbasci. This is well-known as a pest of domestic carpets but here it was in its natural habitat, probably in search of pollen. After mating it may seek out birds' nests in which to lay its eggs. I photographed this tiny (2 mm long) insect but the results were poor and you'll just have to take my word for its presence.
I pushed on to the churchyard where the leaves of Lesser Burdock, Arctium minus, were patterned with the mines of the agromyzid fly, Chromatomyia syngenesiae.
The mazy leaf mines created by the larvae of an agromyzid fly.
Byfield village churchyard. 27 June, 2018
A little further on and the umbels of Hogweed, Heracleum sphondylium, were being visited by an interesting bee-mimic, Cheilosia illustrata. This is a species of hoverfly (and therefore only has two wings instead of four) with, unusually for the genus, dark patches on its wings. It is particularly associated with hogweed flowers and I only occasionally find it elsewhere. By now, to be honest, I had entered the village pocket park, not exactly an urban habitat. There were bumble bees about but the nectar sources of the village gardens had now largely dried up with hogweed and brambles helping to compensate.

No, not a bee but a hoverfly, Cheilosia illustrata, on Hogweed.
Byfield Pocket Park. 27 June, 2018

The most obvious target for insects was the hogweed and fifty years ago enormous numbers of flies, bees and beetles would have been there with some, particularly the beetles, using the flowers as a dual purpose nectar source cum trysting ground. (Fancy a visit to the hogweed darlin'? Nudge nudge, wink wink!)
A Speckled Wood enjoys the warm sunshine as it basks on a bramble leaf.
Byfield Pocket Park, 27 June, 2018
My own garden has attracted some butterflies, admittedly only commonplace species such as Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock. Here in the pocket park I saw only Speckled Wood, Pararge aegeria, although, to be fair, I was only there for a few minutes. The villagers have worked hard, and continue to work hard, on this refuge and it is far richer in species than the surrounding fields where, perhaps significantly, the farmer cultivates the land as closely as possible to the margins, leaving nothing for potential pollinators of his rapeseed crops. We can't expect all land to match the astounding Knebb Farm*, but landowners should regard themselves as stewards, in the privileged position of now being able to reverse decades of destruction. Thank God for those who are joining in the fightback for our wildlife.



* This astonishing farm has been the subject of many wildlife articles and has received much television coverage. Isabella Tree's book, Wilding: the return of Nature to a British Farm makes fascinating reading.




Monday, 25 June 2018

Killingly hot!

On a swelteringly (OE sweltan: to die) hot day I made another trip to Foxhill Farm but fortunately avoided death.
All the land is now thoroughly dry but I made my way to an area of pasture which would normally be damp to see how plants were coping. Ragged Robin, Lychnis flos-cuculi, is very much a plant of moist meadows and was reaching the end of its season anyway, but a few flowers have survived. The name could be associated with the traditional play of Robin and Marion, played for some reason at Pentecost. The actor representing Robin would always wear ragged clothes, perhaps seeing Robin as a scruffy but warm-hearted rogue. Sometimes a white-flowered form will occur and a Mr Stonehouse told of: Wild William with an elegant whitish flower, by a ditch in the long lane between Daventry and Dovebridge. (Quoted by William How in his Phytologia Britannica of 1650.)  I have so far been unable to trace 'Dovebridge'.


                                   
Ragged Robin at Foxhill Farm, Badby. 25 June, 2018
With the Ragged Robin grew the biennial Marsh Thistle, Cirsium palustre. It is a tall, slender plant with distinctive, very spiny stems and typically purple flowers (Star-pointed Thistle with its ruddy flowers, as John Clare put it) but this species too is occasionally found with white flowers.
Marsh Thistle tends to be a tall, slender plant. Foxhill Farm, Badby.
25 June, 2018
Whatever the flower colour they are, like all thistles, very popular with insects and today Meadow Brown butterflies, Maniola jurtina, were busy taking nectar. These were overwhelmingly the commonest butterfly today with just a few Ringlets and Skippers to provide variety. 
Meadow Brown on Marsh Thistle. Foxhill Farm, Badby.
25 June, 2018
In a recent blog I discussed the matter of plant rusts and another example caught my attention today. It was Rose Rust, Phragmidium tuberculatum and was surrounding a leaf axil. Commonly it attacks the ripening hips and is sorely vexing for some gardeners.

Rose Rust on a hedgerow plant at Foxhill Farm, Badby.
25 June, 2018
The total number if invertebrates I have recorded for Foxhill Farm currently stands at 261 but a number of specimens still require identification. I suppose this figure is roughly where I would expect to be at this time of the year.

Tony White: diaea@yahoo.co.uk