Thursday, 2 April 2020

Stuck in the garden

We aren't really stuck in the garden but I suppose it has become the main focus of attention recently. Now we are into April more flowers are coming into bloom. Aubretias, cowslips, euphorbias and tulips are now putting on a colourful display but insects are still in woefully small numbers.

Euphorbias and tulips in the foreground, cowslips in the middle ground and
aubretia in the background. Our front garden, 2 April, 2020
One surprise has been the pasque flowers. Their numbers increase every year and now show a surprising range of colours. Salmon pink blooms are probably the most numerous.

There are plenty of these salmon-pink pasque flowers but they are not my
favourites. 2 April, 2020
My favourites are still the purple native forms and it is tempting to introduce a few into local meadows. The snag is that they do like a taste of lime but the local soils are slightly on the acid side.

The sumptuous purple of the native form is hard to beat..
A surprise has been the appearance of a white form. It did appear last year but we thought we had lost it, so its reappearance has been very pleasing. I have never knowingly bought a white pasque flower so it may be a natural sport.

Where this white form came from I'm not sure.

In my opening paragraph I bemoaned the current paucity of insects in the garden. Thymes, lavenders and rosemary should bring them in during the next two or three months but space is limited in our rather small garden. What I won't be doing is follow the advice given in the magazine of our local wildlife trust.

A good case can be made for growing cuckoo flower and holly - but why
Once again we are encouraged to plant nettles in our gardens. Certainly they are excellent for the butterflies indicated (plus numerous bugs, etc).  But why? Nettles grow on waste ground in abundance and if the local authorities can be encouraged to limit their use of sprays there will be plenty of nettles available. I go along with Ken Thompson, who argues that growing them is quite unnecessary.

I have found Ken Thompson's book very persuasive and it would take a lot to make me change my mind. At the time of writing Ken was Senior Lecturer in the Department of Plant and Animal Sciences at the University of Sheffield; he knew what he was talking about.


Thompson, K. (2006) No Nettles Required  Eden Project Books

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

A trio of oddities

I am a sucker for the unusual and shun many garden staples. In recent years I have yielded a little and we have a handful of roses in our garden but I am always on the lookout for the oddity. Sometimes things do not work out and the Ensete ventriculosus (a type of banana) which I attempted to grow about three years ago popped its clogs during its first winter.
Ensete ventriculosus was a failure with us

The Ensete, or Musa ensete to some botanists, IS hardy in  parts of the UK but needs more mollycoddling that I could give it (Note 1).

I have a trio of plants trained against a south-west facing wall and so far - touch wood - they seem happy. Nearest to the house is a Blue Wattle, Acacia dealbata. This Australian plant is not usually trained in this manner so how well it will thrive remains to be seen.

Acacia dealbata seems to be healthy and is putting on lots of growth.
Our garden at Stefen Hill, Daventry. 1 April, 2020
The neat pinnately compound leaves are pleasing in themselves and if we are also rewarded with the little yellow pom-pom flowers that will be a bonus.

We are hoping our Blue Wattle will have the blue foliage which
gives the plant its name

Eucryphia intermedia 'Rostrevor' is also a gamble.  It is a hybrid between Eucryphia glutinosa, from Chile, and the Australian E. lucida (Note 2. When in flower this member of the obscure Cunoniaceae family is a lovely sight, and now that we are into April we should be in the clear of frosts.

The foliage on our Eucryphia is looking very healthy
It looks nothing as yet but its creamy white flowers should be with us next autumn. In fact it flowered for us last autumn but I foolishly failed to save the picture.
Eucryphia 'Rostrevor' should flower for us in the autumn.

Precisely the same happened with the third of our trio, Clerodendron bungei: it also flowered for us last year but again I deleted the picture.
Clerodendron bungei flowered for us last year. Picture via Wikipedia
The plant has rather unpleasantly scented foliage but makes up for it with fragrant flowers.

We are currently living in difficult circumstances but there is much to look forward to: it is a matter of appreciating what we have or showing, to use that mildly irritating word, mildfulness.



1. The banana of our supermarkets is the Cavendish Banana, named after William Cavendish, 6th Duke of Devonshire, and is a highly complex group of superficially similar varieties and currently the subject of much research.

2. The fact that the Cunoniaceae Family occurs in both Chile and Australia may be down to the fact that these two land areas were once linked but were torn apart as a consequence of 'continental drift. However, the family also has outliers in Malaysia and South Africa.

Monday, 30 March 2020


Photinias are at the present looking at their finest if, that is, they are being grown for their brilliant blood-red young foliage. This foliage is best seen in Photinia 'Red Robin' but this is a hybrid between Photinia glabra and P. serratifolia.
The taxonomy of these shrubs is very confused and their relationships are still being tweaked by botanists as further investigations are made into the group's genetics. Photinia was once included within the genus Stranvaesia, itself a confusing name, being a pedantic Latinisation of the name Strangeways, the genus being named after William Fox-Strangeways, 4th Earl of Ilchester. A few decades ago Photinia was controversially separated from Stranvaesia but recent research has confirmed that the move was largely justified.
Photinia 'Red Robin'. Stefen Hill, Daventry. 30 March, 2020

Photinia and Stranvaesia are members of the Rose family, Rosaceae, and produce  clusters of creamy-white flowers vaguely like some hawthorns. Where Photinia is grown as a hedge these flowers rarely appear, being ruthlessly clipped off. Although nowadays Photinia is primarily grown for its young foliage this was not always the case. To quote from that invaluable work, 'Hilliers' Manual of Trees and Shrubs', "The globular, brilliant crimson fruit are carried in conspicuous, pendent (sic) bunches all along the branches".
Perhaps other species of Photinia should be more widely grown. This is
Photinia (Stranvaesia) davidiana. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

There are a number of Photinia species but, other than the ubiquitous 'Red Robin' other members of the genus are rarely encountered outside botanic gardens. 

Note  Writing a blog like this is what happens when you're cooped up!

Friday, 27 March 2020

Another garden miscellany

Restrictions of movement mean that I am paying more attention to the garden and its occupants. The glorious weather continues and so I am able to mooch about in comfort.

The front garden is ablaze with fritillaries, narcissi, aubretias and tulips but the helianthemums are still weeks away from flowering. Nevertheless it was this last-named plant which set me a small puzzle today. Some of the leaves at the shoot-tips were bunched together and clearly something was inside.

This cluster of leaves on a helianthemum demanded investigation.
Our garden, Stefen Hill, Daventry. 26 March, 2020

I was pretty certain it was a micro-moth and I was hoping that it would be one of the uncommon helianthemum specialists. I split open one of the affected shoots and out dropped a caterpillar. So yes, it was a micro-moth but an examination showed that it was a Light Brown Apple Moth, Epiphysas postvittana. Despite its name it is a polyphagous species and therefore likely to be found on a wide range of shrubby plants. Last year it made a mess of our Strawberry Tree.

The species involved proved to be the Light Brown Apple Moth. I placed
 it on a work-surface for closer examination.
The yellow tulips are full of tiny pollen beetles. These are tricky to identify but I am pretty certain that they are Meligethes aeneus.

Oddly enough an even smaller beetle, a weevil,turned out to be more straightforward. It was Ceutorhynchus typhae but, at barely 2 mm long, was beyond the capabilities of my simple camera. I have borrowed a picture from the internet.

Ceutorhynchus typhae

It is widespread and is common, but is easily overlooked. The long 'snout' - the rostrum - is typical of the genus.

Our garden is humming with insects in the summer, with thymes, lavender and scabious attracting a wealth of insects, but currently only the aubretia is being targeted and has attracted a number of Dark-edged Bee Flies, Bombylius major. The 'dark edge' refers to the leading edge if the wings and the photograph below shows that the insect only has two wings compared with the four of a true bee.

Dark-edged bee Fly on bare earth at Byfield today, 27 March, 2020

The pasque flowers, Pulsatilla vulgaris, and tulips, lovely though they are, have no nectar to offer.

Speaking of pasque flowers, the first ones to bloom were the reddish, non-native forms from (probably) the European Alps. The latest ones now open are our native form, still found in the west of Northamptonshire.
The pasque flowers currently blooming are a rich purple in colour.
Our garden in Stefen Hill, Daventry. 26 March, 2020

I would have expected insects to visit these flowers if only for the pollen, but so far I have seen none.


Tuesday, 24 March 2020

A novel situation

New restrictions imposed by the government (not before time) have the effect of greatly limiting options available for recording wildlife. Yes, a visit to interesting locations, under the guise of 'taking exercise', is still possible but restraint is obviously needed. Accordingly many observations will be from our own small garden.

Fortunately we are currently enjoying unseasonably fine weather and insects are increasingly in evidence. Butterflies are on the wing and today peacocks and commas were noted although only tortoiseshells lingered for long enough to be photographed.

Tortoiseshell butterflies are very attracted to our aubretia.
Stefen Hill, Daventry. 24 March, 2020
Our clumps of aubretia are proving a big attraction and I hope to see Dark-edged Bee Flies at the flowers in the next day or two. Spiders, particularly Pardosa species, are dashing around but the Nursery Web Spider, Pisaura mirabilis, seems to adopt a different strategy of waiting motionless on a suitable leaf.

The Nursery Web Spider is easily recognised by its slim build and a distinct
pale stripe on the thorax. Our garden, 24 March, 2020
More tulips have come into flower, with Tulipa humilis, var violacea brightening up the gravel garden. I am hoping they spread and, given a hot dry summer, they should.

More plants of Tulipa humilis are now flowering. 24 March, 2020
I did take a brisk walk today (or as brisk as I could make it). One - to me - interesting thing which caught my eye was the foliage of an Elder, Sambucus nigra, plant in a hedgerow.

An area of mosaic virus was affecting this elder bush.
Badby Road West, Daventry. 24 March, 2020
It had the veining of a typical mosaic virus, and is a fairly well-known affliction of elder. Little can be done other than cutting off and burning the diseased plants. A very similar virus affects honeysuckle and, in view of the fact that elder and honeysuckle are closely related (both being in the Adoxaceae family) this is unsurprising; perhaps the virus is basically the same. Some virus-affected plants are deliberately cultivated, with some tulips being an example.


Monday, 23 March 2020

Garden goodies (Blog No. 1000)

Many flowers grab our attention in spring - hellebores, magnolias, forsythias and cherries come to mind. But it is perhaps bulbs that really make an impact, particularly where gardens are small and space is at a premium. Crocuses were a great disappointment this year but, as they are not strictly bulbous plants, I will move on.

It seems that more and more daffodils are planted every year and in gardens, churchyards parks and village greens they are currently blooming in their millions. I grow relatively few, conscious of the fact that they contribute little to insect life.

I try to ensure that only fragrant narcissi are present in our garden.
Stefen Hill, Daventry. 23 March, 2020

However, there is a lack of logic here, for I grow quite a few tulips although they are hardly besieged by insects either.

Brilliant yellow tulips are available...
I excuse myself on the grounds that a wonderful range of varieties is now readily available and too tempting to resist. are some stunning reds.

Currently the tulip providing the greatest pleasure is Tulipa humilis. It is a dwarf species and our specimens are 10 to 12 centimetres in height.

Tulipa humilis, var violacea is now blooming in our front garden at
Stefen Hill, Daventry. 23 March, 2020
It is found wild across a broad stretch of land from Syria and Lebanon to South-west Russia and Iran and is generally of a pale pink form. Christopher and Basak Gardner (Ref 1) found darker forms in their travels and these deeper reds form the Violacea Group.

I have also planted bulbs of Tulipa bakeri (= Tulipa saxatilis). This species, from Greece and Turkey, flowers rather later and I must be patient as I await their appearance.

The Snake's Head Fritillaries, Fritillaria meleagris, are about to come into bloom. Perhaps it is in this half-opened state that the ophidian form is most apparent but many would disagree with me - it is all in the eye of the beholder.

A couple of years ago I would probably have described this lovely plant as a British native, but recent research into their genetic make-up suggests that the spectacular displays seen at, for example, Iffley Meadows, Oxford, or in meadows near Cricklade are almost certainly plants with a garden origin (Ref 2).


1. Gardner, C. and B. (2014) Flora of the Silk Road   I.B.Taurus

2. Marren, P. (2019) How important is native status? British Wildlife, Vol 30, No 6, 



Sunday, 22 March 2020

The dreaded C word

All of us will be directly affected by 'coronavirus' in many obvious ways Chris is very gregarious and will miss the close contact she has hitherto enjoyed with people in her Craft Group, Coffee Club and via various other social activities. I am far more of a loner and wandering unaccompanied in fields, along hedgerows and beside watercourses is natural to me. My blogging should be little affected.

So I continue toddling about, a wildlife nosey-parker.

The local pocket park seemed an easy place to visit and the weather was fine despite a rather chilly east wind. The conditions were encouraging many insects to take to the wing and I regretted not bringing a sweep net, but I had other things in mind.

Tortoiseshell butterflies were out and about, resting on warm patches
of bare earth. Stefen Hill Pocket Park, 22 March, 2020
Patches of Coltsfoot, Tussilago farfara, were looking bright and cheerful but were in a shady position, and so not attracting insects. 

With a little more sunshine these coltsfoot flowers may have been
receiving insect visitors. Stefen Hill Pocket Park, 22 March, 2020
I knew a spot where Greater Stitchwort, Stellaria holostea, grew. A tiny moth, the Three-colour Groundling, Coryocolum tricolorella, lays its eggs on this plant and this is a good time of the year to find the caterpillars. However, a careful search revealed nothing. The patch is flourishing and gradually spreading. Next year perhaps?

A small but growing patch of Greater Stitchwort grows beside the pond
in Stefen Hill Pocket Park. 22 March, 2020 
Another moth larva I was hoping to find was the Viburnum Midget, Phyllonorycter lantanella, and with this I had more luck. Its larvae feed on several species of viburnum including Laurustinus, Viburnum opulus. Several of the mines created by the larvae were found.
The distinctive mine formed by the larvae of the Viburnum Midget.
Near Stefen Hill Pocket Park, 22 March, 2020

Feeling moderately pleased I set off home, pausing only to photograph the tiny but curious flowers of box bushes.

Box, Buxus sempervirens, bears interesting flowers but they are generally
 overlooked. Garden near to the pocket park, Stefen Hill. 22 March, 2020