Monday, 9 June 2014

Mid-June: pottering around the garden

I am a good potterer and my technique is much admired for its energy-saving nature. All gardeners should do this regularly; an old friend of mine once swore that it kept her emotionally stable. 

Leaves on my primulas (primroses and cowslips) are mined by the larvae of Chromatomyia primulae. This agromyzid fly is very common and, certainly around Byfield, most Primula leaves are mined. They may be mildly disfiguring but seem to do no harm.

Far more disfiguring are the discoloured spots caused by the fungus, Diplocarpon rosae.  My much-loved specimen of Rosa gallica 'Versicolor', aka 'Rosa Mundi' has been quite badly affected this year although only certain parts of the plant are really suffering. Its beautiful white, claret-striped petals should not be affected. 

Chris,working nearby, drew my attention to a largish moth fluttering across the lawn. It was a Large Yellow Underwing, Noctua pronuba. It obligingly flicked its forewings a couple of times to reveal the amber underwings. I ought to have killed it, as it a garden pest; anyone lifting a withered lettuce from the ground to find that its roots have been eaten away will not need to be told. The fat caterpillars, which live underground, are generally described as cutworms.

I was just pruning an errant branch from an Abelia grandiflora shrub when I spotted a Cockchafer, Melolontha melolontha clinging to an adjacent twig. These large insects, a type of scarab beetle, are often called June Bugs (or May Bugs in some areas), so the discovery should not have been a surprise.

These beetles tend to fly at dusk so, at mid-afternoon, it was not very lively and was easily coaxed on to my hand. Its size and colour, together with its remarkable antennae, make it quite unmistakable. Like cutworm moths, the grubs live underground and may do considerable damage to bulbs and corms. Badgers, digging up lawns, are looking for these and similar tasty morsels. I suppose I should have destroyed it. I didn't.

Less sympathy was shown for a Lily Beetle, Lilioceras lilii. It received short shrift but its corpse will be consumed by ants or some other scavenging creature.

A slight fold on the leaf of a Witch Hazel was all that was needed for a female Cucumber Spider, Araniella cucurbitina. These tiny creatures, only about 4 mm long, are very common but easily overlooked. Their prey probably consists of aphids and other tiny insects. The bright red tip to the abdomen allowed me to spot this specimen.

A bee was busy on the irises, Iris sibirica. It appeared to be Bombus hypnorum - but bees are are a self-imposed no-go area for me; spiders, bugs, beetles and two-winged flies are quite sufficient. I left it to continue its good work. It is a rapidly spreading species, much in the news lately, and has arrived in Britain so recently that it doesn't appear to have acquired a common name.

Hawthorn is plagued with attacks by many creatures, with those in my garden as badly affected as those in the open countryside. Here can be seen the pock-marks of a mite, Eriophyes crataegi; they are unsightly but seem to do little harm.

It has been many years since I did any serious studying of snails but I think I can still recognise Cepaea hortensis. It is slightly smaller than Cepaea nemoralis and usually has a white "lip" (the rim around the opening in the shell) but both snails are very variable, so a bit of care is needed. Both species are very common and do a little damage, but they fall short of being a real problem. Here it is on a willow in my garden.

I admit to having selected plants to attract insects but most gardens hold a surprising range of creepy-crawlies - if you can avoid the municipal planting so common in public parks. In some cases the insects or other organisms are dull in appearance and easily ignored in favour of more colourful creatures. But of course all of them have ecological importance and should be valued.

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