Sunday, 29 March 2015

Evenley Wood

Evenley Wood is a lovely woodland garden just outside Evenley and a couple of miles from Brackley, in the south west of Northamptonshire. I haven't been there for many years so when Chris and I heard that there was to be a Rare Plant Fair there we decided to go for it. We told our old friends Sue and Derrick about it and they were happy to join us.

After a reasonable meal at the Red Lion in Evenley (Derrick is a vegetarian and, as is often the case, he didn't come out of it too well) we made our way to the gardens. The wind was picking up, bringing with it some rain. In fact by the time we got out of our cars the wind was strong enough to take the breath away.

We spent a few minutes perusing the plant stalls and, in my case, purchasing a few, and then down came the rain. We dashed for shelter and waited for the worst to pass over before venturing forth.

This early in the year my expectations were on the low side but there were surprises in store.

Narcissus cyclamineus brightened the edge of a ride.
Evenley Wood Gardens, Northants.  29 March, 2015

Beside the woodland rides were clumps of Narcissus cyclamineus, unmistakable with their reflexed 'petals'. It is native to the north-west of Spain and Portugal but was happy here in dappled shade. It is one of the parents of the very popular Narcissus 'Tete-a-tete.

Galanthus plicatus: nothing to get excited about.

A little further on on were clumps of Galanthus plicatus. I cannot work up a great deal of enthusiasm for snowdrops and these were a little past their best anyway. Nevertheless this species from the Crimea and adjacent areas was pretty enough.

A river of Scilla siberica runs through Evenley
Wood.  29 March, 2015

A lovely ribbon of blue ran, river-like, through the woodland. It had been created by planting many thousand of bulbs of the Siberian Squill, Scilla siberica, and the effect was quite dramatic. These will take advantage of the sunlight filtering through the leafless trees and, by the time the canopy has closed, the bulbs of the squills will have fattened for the next year.

Cyclamen coum. The now-invalid name of Cyclamen orbiculatum
 would be more appropriate. Evenley Wood. 29 March, 2015

Cyclamens had been used to great effect. The species chosen was Cyclamen coum. It has previously been known as Cyclamen orbiculatum and, if 'orbiculatum' refers to the rounded leaves, it seems more appropriate. But however appropriate it may be, that name seems to be regarded as invalid. The flowers are very fragrant but sadly, in the very windy conditions, we were unable to detect the scent.

Drifts of Cyclamen coum made a lovely sight. Evenley Wood Gardens. 29 March, 2015

Expectations may have been low but there were still surprises.

As with snowdrops, hellebores are not among my favourite flowers but I had to admit that there were some most attractive specimens to be seen. Am I beginning to change my mind about these lovely members of the buttercup family? Of course, they couldn't be accommodated in our very limited garden.

These hellebores are all hybrids, some with quite complex parentage. Helleborus niger, H. orientalis and more recently even H. thibetanus can be involved.
The yellow blotch-mine of Phytomyza ilicis scars this Holly
leaf. Evenley Wood Gardens.  29 March, 2015

Some interesting hollies were being grown. This very narrow-leaved specimen may look odd but is just a variety of our common holly, Ilex aquifolium. Not surprisingly, given its narrow leaves, it is called Ilex aquifolium 'Angustifolium' but, odd or not, the leaves still bear the yellow mines of the fly Phytomyza ilicis.

The rather neat leaves of Ilex 'Lydia Morris'
Evenley Wood Gardens. 29 March, 2015
Sporting only a few prickles to each leaf is Ilex 'Lydia Morris'. It is a cross between two Chinese species, Ilex cornuta and Ilex pernyi; I could find no trace of an attack by the Phytomyza - and it was still bearing a few berries.

Other hollies merited attention but wet, muddy condition discouraged us from lingering.

Cornus officinalis was new to me. It is very similar to the Cornelian Cherry, Cornus mas, the yet-leafless branches being wreathed  in pale gold flowers. 

The pale yellow flowers of Cornus officinalis brighten a glade.
Evenley Wood Gardens. 29 march, 2015

The fruits of the true Cornelian Cherry are edible and, I am told, delicious. Whether C. officinalis, known as the Japenese Cornelian Cherry, are also edible, I don't know.

I could go on but will restrain myself to the 
mention of one other plant. Zanthoxylem piperitum, known as the Japanese Pepper, is not often seen and I was sorry that, so early in the year, it was not displaying its curious pinnate leaves or, indeed, its flowers. Very obvious however were the vicious spines on the trunk and branches.

The branches of Zanthoxylem piperatum are armed with
vicious thorns. Evenley Wood Gardens. 29 March, 2015
Anyone stumbling against this tree would clearly receive severe lacerations. 

The Latin name is pleasingly simple to translate: zantho (or often xantho) means yellow and xylem means wood. Piper is the name of the true pepper trees and again comes from the Latin piper, meaning pepper. Would that all names were so easy to unpick.

By now our footwear was thoroughly muddy and we decided to call it a day. Chris so enjoyed the visit that she is keen to go again. I wouldn't argue against that.

Tony White.  E-mail:

Friday, 27 March 2015

Creating a sink garden

Here in Daventry our garden is far smaller than the one we had in Byfield, so now I'm thinking small scale.

Our friends Lynda and Damien have passed on to us an old glazed sink. My intention is to hide the glazing by coating it with hypertufa, a blend of coarse sand, cement and peat-free compost in the ratio of 3:1:1; this gives a stone-like appearance and texture, hopefully making the sink look authentic. Lots of alternative mixtures for hypertufa are suggested on line, but yer pays yer money...

The job I wasn't relishing was chipping the glaze. This is done to give the hypertufa a better bond with the sink surface, but what do I find? Damien has already gone over the sink with some sort of chisel. Job done. (I owe him a pint!) But I may also apply a coating of black bitumastic sealant to the surface.

Ugly and unwanted. 27 November, 2014

The sink is already very heavy; once the hypertufa has been applied it will be even heavier (what an advantage to know a bit of physics!) so I'll manhandle it into its final resting place before starting.

I decided to wait until the chance of a hard frost had receded. I could have started in mid-winter, applying the hypertufa and then and draping the sink with sacking but decided to exercise a little prudence.

So it was early March before I decided it was safe to go ahead. I was anticipating a slow, laborious job but the hypertufa clung better if I slapped it on firmly and I got the sink covered in about half an hour.

Nearly there. 14 March, 2015

It looked a bit rough and lumpy but that was really the finish I was looking for. Obviously there was no point in treating the inside.

The soil had to be free-draining - most alpines hate wet conditions - and I used equal parts of coarse sand, John Innes No 2 and multipurpose compost. Chunks of York flagstone were used to provide crevices. It looks rather like some sort of limestone but in fact contains little or no calcium carbonate, making it conveniently neutral.

All planted up! 27 March, 2015
On 26 March, having received a box of plants I was able to get them in.  I only put in six plants as it was important to allow room for them to grow. Now it is just a question of keeping an eye on the watering - and waiting.

Saxifraga x irvingii 'Jenkinsii'  27 March, 2015

Elsewhere some of my alpines are now in flower. This is Saxifraga x irvingii  'Jenkinsii' and considering that I only planted it a few weeks ago I am pleased at how it has settled in. The Saxifrages ('rock breakers') include some lovely little plants and I can see me growing lots of them.

Saxifrage'Peach Melba'. 27 March, 2015

The rather similar Saxifraga 'Peach Melba' (both this and 'Jenkinsii' are members of the Porphyrion group) has also settled in well and the cushions should get larger each year.

I am encouraged by progress so far and in two or three months there could be lots of colour. Who needs half an acre!

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Woodford Halse: St Mary's Church

Chris was in Woodford Halse yesterday for a tonsorial operation. As it was likely to take about an hour and a half I took a stroll - not for the first time - around the churchyard of the St Mary the Virgin. 

It is a large area, neat and tidy in places but very neglected elsewhere.

Some of the graves were so overgrown that only a protruding piece of masonry revealed their whereabouts.

The Yellow Meadow-ant had played its part too with large mounds covering graves here and there. In these mounds root aphids will be farmed. For most of the year they will provide the ants with honeydew but during the winter many of the aphids will be eaten.

There are some fine trees in the churchyard including some lovely examples of Lawson's Cypress, Chamaecyparis lawsoniana (not to be confused with the notorious Leyland Cypress). Currently the male cones are a beautiful wine-red colour, giving the whole tree a striking appearance.

Cones on a cedar. St Mary's churchyard, Woodford Halse,
Northants. 26 March, 2015

A rather fine cedar tree stands to the rear of the church. From the form of the needles I believe it to be Atlantic Cedar, Cedrus atlantica. The cones are streaked with white dribbles of resin.

A yellow coating to a cone on this cedar is probably algal growth.
St Mary's churchyard. 26 March, 2015

The cones are rather persistent and in one case the cone had been there for so long that it had developed an odd yellowish patina of (presumably) algae. Here it can be seen that the leaves are grey-white, showing it to be the popular cultivar 'Glauca'.

I had no intention of delving into the tussocky grass but even so there were insects to be seen, including an attractive ladybird, so glossy that the edges if the wing cases appear blurred.

It was a 10-spot ladybird, Adalia decempunctata, but not with the typical patterning; it was the less common form  
decempustulata, a variation I had not seen before. It is one of the smaller of the British ladybirds, being only 4 mm long.

Sitticus pubescens blending in against a lichen-scabbed
gravestone. Woodford Halse. 26 March, 2015

Also difficult to photograph clearly - for obvious reasons - was this well-camouflaged spider. It is Sitticus pubescens, one of the jumping spiders. It is commoner around buildings than in the open countryside, and will occasionally find its way into our houses. Again it was tiny - barely 3 mm long, and had it not moved I would probably not have spotted it.

This early in the year there was little else of note but I had just left the churchyard when I saw a plant of Nipplewort, Lapsana communis, growing at the base of a wall.

The fungal rust, Puccinia lapsanae. has attacked this
Nipplewort. Woodford Halse, 26 March, 2015

The species is very common but this example had grossly distorted and discolored leaves, the result of an attack by a rust, Puccinia lapsanae.
 It is widespread, but I had not seen it for many years.

So, only an hour's break but imo time well spent. And Chris's hair looked very nice too.

Tony White. E-mail:

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Kentle Wood.progress

With conditions still chilly I began investigating grass tussocks. The reason was simple: the micro-climate deep in a tussock is remarkably stable with conditions in the winter frost-free and moist whereas in the summer it is cool and humid. Small creatures can survive there all the year round.
Tandonia budapestensis at Kentle Wood,
Daventry. 23 March, 2015

But the first creature I recorded was beneath a log beside a tussock and it was hardly exciting - unless you are a conchologist. A Budapest Slug, Tandonia budapestensis, can be recognised by a yellow stripe down its back.

For certain identification - and I know you will be keen to do this - turn the animal over and examine its sole. (No vicar, sole not soul!)

The pale sole has a broad, dark grey stripe down its middle. The species is very common and can be a pest in gardens but is regularly encountered in the countryside.
The so-called Fast Woodlouse, Philoscia muscorum.
\Kentle Wood, Daventry. 23 March, 2015

On to the main objective. Having loosened part of a tussock I shook it over a white cloth and out came several specimens of the Fast Woodlouse, Philoscia muscorum. It is a smart creature, easily recognised by the dark stripe down the back - plus the fact that it moves very quickly, making photography tricky.

Soon other creatures were tumbling on to the sheet, with beetles being of particular interest.

Demetrias atricapillus. Kentle Wood, Daventry.
23 March, 2015

By far the most common was the ground beetle Demetrias atricapillus. At one time there were seven of them on my sheet. Despite being so abundant it appears to have no common name.
Oulema sp.  Kentle Wood, Daventry 23 March, 2015

And this smart insect is one of the leaf beetles. It is either Oulema rufocyanea or Oulema melanopus; experts find their separation tricky and here I am a tyro. On the balance of probabilities it is the former but ideally I will find a male and dissect the genitalia; today I found only females.

A number of tiny spiders await identification together with a couple of weevils. The spiders should be straightforward, the weevils less so.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Surveying Kentle Wood

I have now received the go-ahead to do a survey of Kentle Wood. I'll concentrate on the flora (which won't take long!) and arthropods - woodlice, centipedes, millipedes, spiders and insects. I am fond of birds and have done a lot of bird watching over the years but I'm hoping that there will be local bird watchers keeping an eye on them.

A typical grass tussock at Kentle Wood, Daventry
17 March, 2015
I am starting with spiders. Although they are not very obvious at this time of the year tussocks of grass - of which there are many at the woodland edge - should yield 'money spiders'. These are members of the Linyphiidae family. Most of them are very tiny so, although I found them very tricky at first, that is what makes them an interesting challenge.

Grass tussocks are not only home to spiders but springtails, beetles and many other creatures. As the trees form a canopy these grassy habitats will slowly disappear, hopefully to be replaced by woodland perennials; these would have to be planted by working parties.

Common Fumitory at the entrance to Kentle Wood,
Daventry. 17 March, 2015

A pretty specimen of Common Fumitory, Fumaria officinalis, was growing at the entrance, leaning against a gate post. When en masse the greyish, deeply divided leaves have a fanciful resemblance to smoke, hence the common name. The old French name was fume-terre or 'earth smoke'. Not a lot of people know that.

It has to be said that my first visit was not very productive. Two spider species, some millipedes and a beetle are not much of a reward for a lot of bending and cold, wet hands. The consequence is a very short blog.

But it's a start.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

A Fawsley to Daventry walk

Despite a foggy start the day looked promising. Chris was going to Byfield so I got her to drop me off on the A361, about half a mile west of Fawsley. The fog was already dispersing, allowing the sun to break through as I struck out along a minor road. Minor it may have been but a surprising number of vehicles kept me on my toes. This, plus a drab landscape, made the first few hundred yards less than pleasant.

Norman St John Stevas, who on his ennoblement became Baron St John of Fawsley, died in 2012 so I was unlikely to meet him. Today, Budget Day, he would have been stuck in front of the telly anyway.

Dog's Mercury is one of our earliest native plants to
come into bloom. Fawsley,  18 March, 2015
Beside the road plants of Dog's Mercury, Mercurialis perennis, were pushing up through dead twigs. This curious member of the Spurge Family, Euphorbiaceae, would come high in a vote for 'Britain's dullest plant' but it is of some interest. It is regarded as an indicator of ancient woodland and here we must suspect that this location was once well wooded. It attracts few insects but a couple of not-very-exciting fungi sometimes attack it. 
Evernia prunastri clings to a tree trunk near Fawsley Hall
18 March, 2015

A tree trunk with flourishing tufts of the lichen, Evernia prunastri, did little to raise the level of excitement but I was shortly to leave the road and take to the fields.

The Fawsley Estate boasts some largish lakes and, as I was leaving the road, Horse Pond came into view. Like all the lakes here it has been formed by damming a stream, a tributary of the River Nene. A Great Spotted Woodpecker in an alder sidled out of view around the trunk as I approached.

Trees are not easily killed. This ash tree has lost its crown and the dead side branches are sprouting fungi, but new growth is flourishing on the other side of the trunk and there is plenty of life there yet.

Apart from ash and alder there were some fine oak trees. Devoid yet of leaves the typically angular branches stood out clearly against the now blue sky.

Not all were in the peak of condition.

Some were dying...

...and some were dead. I was pleased to see that these giants were being left to slowly decay. They will support a whole new suite of organisms over the next few years...

Oak sapling with sheep-proof surrounds.
Fawsley Estate, 18 march, 2015

...and the landowners were ensuring that a new generation of oaks would be there in the next century and beyond. 

A flock of fieldfares took to the wing at my approach, chak-chakking with alarm.

Beech, Fagus sylvatica, had been planted.
Between Fawsley and Badby, 18 March, 2015

Beeches had also been planted but, unlike oak, ash and alder, these are not native to Northamptonshire. Nevertheless they are welcome because imo they are among the most handsome of trees. The elephant-grey bark is a good way of recognising a beech and the slender tapering buds are a clincher.

These were not all in the best of health either, with fungi eating away at the base of the trunk on more than one specimen.

Ganoderma pfeifferi (probably) at the base of a beech trunk.
Between Fawsley and Badby, Northants. 18 March, 2015

A closer look suggests that this fungus is Ganoderma pfeifferi. It is particularly associated with beech in parkland - exactly the situation in which I found it. But I should state that I never submit fungus records to the Wildlife Trust; I am not an expert.

Another couple of hundred yards and I found myself entering Badby Woods and simultaneously joining the Knightley Way. 

The Knightley family (sometimes spelled Knightly) came from Staffordshire and settled at Fawsley in the early 15th Century, becoming one of the county's most distinguished families.

I worked my way through the woods, with thousands of green spikes of bluebell pushing through the soil, to come out into green fields beyond.

By now my legs were feeling a bit heavy so I was glad to see the tower of Badby church through the trees. But there was quite a way still to go...

Dog's Mercury was present at the edge of the village but here it was a little more advanced, with the stamens clearly showing.

As I passed the churchyard I was surprised to see that Dickie Bird was interred there; I didn't know he was dead! However a closer look revealed that our National Treasure had not departed Lord's cricket ground to be at hand for other Lord's works; the dates didn't match. He is 82 next month and still very much with us.

Then it was a long slog up from Badby to Daventry. It is only about fifty metres of ascent but all I can say is that on the unforgiving tarmac it felt more. 

Coltsfoot, Tussilago farfara, was flowering in profusion
at the edge of Daventry. 18 March, 2015

Right at the edge of the town, as I crossed the A45, I was greeted by a bright 'golden throng' of Coltsfoot, Tussilago farfara. It is a plant that tends to favour heavy clay soil but that didn't seem to be the case here. It doesn't take a botanist to recognise that it is in the same family, the Asteraceae, as dandelions.

The bee, Bombus terrestris, was working the
flowers. 18 March, 2015

A bee was tucking in to the nectar. I am not an expert on bees either but there is little doubt that it is Bombus terrestris. It is very common but it pleased me greatly to see it, and I completed the last few hundred yards of the four and a half miles heavy footed but light hearted.

And if you have stuck with this blog to the very end - well done!

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Kentle Wood 3

I have written to the Woodland Trust asking for authorisation to do an invertebrate survey of Kentle Wood. I am still waiting for a response so today, on my third visit, the only specimens I took were taken with a camera.

As I have mentioned before, Kentle Wood is new to the landscape, having only been planted about fifteen years ago. Its flora and fauna are therefore inevitably limited, nay impoverished, and I wasn't expecting to see anything sensational. Nor did I.

The ground flora of Kentle Wood is
very limited.  12 March, 2015

The young trees have grown rapidly and the lower branches, robbed of light, have died off leaving the ground littered with these dead branches. The trees stand in regimented rows and, although the lines will become blurred over time, the original planting scheme will always be clear. The ground flora is very limited

Dead branches are in themselves a valuable habitat. Over the decades numerous fungi will make their presence known but already some are very obvious.

Probably Sarcoscypha austriaca. Kentle Wood, Daventry.
12 March, 2015
People who visit woodland with any regularity soon become familiar with the Scarlet Elf Cup, Sarcoscypha austriaca. But unfortunately Ruby Elf Cup, Sarcoscypha coccinea is so similar that microscopic examination of the spores is required for a certain identification. Quite unscientifically I am going for S. austriaca on the grounds that it is the commoner of the two species. I'll bring a specimen home from my next visit.

Turkey-tail, Trametes versicolor on dead wood.
Kentle Wood, Daventry. 12 March, 2015

The less problematical Turkey-tail fungus, Trametes versicolor was also present. So common is it that I only include a picture on the grounds that it is rather photogenic. It was occupying the same habitat of fallen branches as the Scarlet Elf Cup.

Xylaria longipes. Kentle Wood, Daventry.
12 March, 2015

Finally we have the charmingly named Dead Moll's Fingers, Xylaria longipes. Common but easily overlooked this was also on dead wood. Xylaria polymorpha is similar.

In the course of lifting dead wood I recorded all four of the common, larger woodlice:

Philoscia muscorum. Not very common in gardens but abundant in the open countryside, this is a glossy, fast-moving creature with a distinct stripe down its back.

Armadillidium vulgare. Well-known to every inquisitive child, it is the only common woodlouse able to roll up and make a more or less perfect sphere.

Porcellio scaber. Matt grey or pinkish it is very common under pieces of wood and often wanders into our houses.

Oniscus ocellus. Larger, flatter and fairly shiny, this is also common under wood. It has a greyish edge to its carapace.

So, with no permit I was limited in what I could record and, although I set out in bright sunshine the weather deteriorated to become dull and cool, so there were few insects about either.

No matter, the year is yet young.

Tony's e-mail: