Thursday, 9 October 2014

Going, going...

Our new garden is rather small, typical in fact of millions of suburban gardens throughout Britain. Being so limited, every space must be used to the full and every plant must earn its keep.

Going... We inherited a row of Leyland's Cypress: a dozen trees about 8-10 feet tall. They had to go.

And they've gone, with just a few stumps to serve as a memory. We've stuck a few bedding plants in the newly-available space as a temporary measure but the longer-term plan is in an embryonic state. (No, that isn't true; there's no obvious plan yet.)


 A cypress of some sort stood in the front garden, its proportions making it quite out of place and occupying ground that can be put to much better use.


As I dismembered the tree I kept an eye open for mini-beasts. Lots of spiders tumbled out including Garden Cross Spider (Araneus diadematus) and the equally common Amaurobius similis. Slightly more surprising was a female Steatoda bipunctata, not because it is rare - it is very common - but because of the habitat. It usually occurs around window ledges, under eaves, etc. If the name Steatoda seems vaguely familiar it is probably because its relative, Steatoda nobilis, has been much in the news recently. Known as the False Widow it does have a rather nasty bite; Steatoda bipunctata is harmless - unless you happen to be an insect. 

Also falling from the tree was a Field Damsel Bug, Nabis ferus. Again the habitat was a surprise as this bug is generally (and commonly) found in grasslands. Clearly, as is so often the case, this insect hasn't read the books. A very common - and very drab - moth also fluttered out and settled on the refuse bin. It was a Dark Arches, Apamea monoglypha. Not an insect to cause the pulse-rate to accelerate. Overall the tree, despite being big (8 visits to the recycling depot with a heavily laden car) was remarkably clear of insects, confirming that cypresses have no place in any wildlife garden.

Beside this cypress is a sombrely handsome specimen of Sambucus nigra 'Black Lace'. Being such a striking plant, now commonly seen, I hope to transplant it.

Liriomyza amoena mining Sambucus nigra, 'Black Lace'.
Garden in Daventry, 4 October, 2014
Its leaves showed that some kind of insect had been at work. It was an agromyzid fly, Liriomyza amoena. It is frequent on Common Elder and it is clearly happy to mine the leaves of this dark form. (I'm working really hard to make this shapeless blodge sound even vaguely interesting!)

On a slightly different subject...

Protoclythia  modesta.  Garden in Daventry
27 September, 2014. 
I'm a bit of a list-maker and I'm keeping a running total of the mini-beasts that turn up in the garden. It stands as a paltry forty species so far but among that there has been a real surprise. A fly was in our conservatory on 27 September. A cursory look suggested that it was a species of Sciapus. This is one of the dolichopodid flies - inevitably dubbed 'dollies' by dipterists. All Sciapus species have a characteristic pattern of wing-veins but I was way off beam; as soon as I got the fly under the microscope I saw that the rear legs had thickened and flattened tarsi, showing that it was a member of the Platypezidae. I rarely encounter these flies but Peter Chandler's book on the family is available on line so I was able to identify it as Protoclythia modesta. Now I accept that this is of little general interest but the maggots feed on fungi so it begs a question: in view of the fact that these insects are not particularly strong fliers, where had this specimen come from? 

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