Sunday, 20 March 2016

Repairing Winter's ravages

Several plants have succumbed to winter frosts so I've grubbed them out and will take the opportunity to make a few alterations. A rose has been given the heave-ho; it was planted last spring and turned out to be unscented and very thorny. Not the sort of rose I would choose, so was it mis-labelled I wonder? I have replaced it with the ferny-leaved Rosa 'Canary Bird'. I have also planted a specimen of 'Variegata di Bologna', rather a spectacular rose which I may also train as a climber.
Tristagma uniflorum in our garden at Stefen Hill,
Daventry. 24 March, 2016

We are plagued in our front garden by Tristagma uniflorum. I certainly didn't introduce it and it must have been a component of the weedy turf which covered this area when we moved in some eighteen months ago. A combination of grubbing out with a trowel and the judicious application of a weedkiller has removed most of it but I suspect it hasn't been completely eradicated. A distinct onion smell to the bruised leaves shows its relationship to Alliums.

Common Stork's Bill? If so it is certainly a robust
specimen. Stefen Hill, Daventry. 28 March, 2016

I have been puzzled by a species of Erodium which has cropped up in a tub. A careful examination has led me to identify it as Common Stork's Bill, Erodium cicutarium. This is normally found as a rather small plant in dry soil at road sides or in turf but here it is very robust, perhaps because it has found a home in rich compost. It is certainly atypical.

Erodium species nearly always have leaves with some
form of pinnate structure. Stefen Hill. 28 March, 2016 

Erodiums are very closely related to geraniums and indeed often grow in similar areas as the Dove's Foot Cranesbill, Geranium molle. But Erodium species have pinnately compound leaves, here seen sprawling across a paving slab and looking rather fern-like.

Geraniums (and I refer to true Geraniums and not Pelargoniums) have palmate leaves (think Horse Chestnut leaves) but the flowers are very similar.

My Lewisia hybrid has survived! Stefen Hill, Daventry.
29 March, 2016

My Lewisia has come through unscathed. In my copy of Anna Griffith's book, 'Collins Guide to Alpines' I read: 'They show a great tendency to hybridise...' and '...are usually overwintered under glass'. I have the 1985 edition but things have clearly changed. We know our winters are now milder and over the last three decades hardier strains may have been selected. I can now risk growing more.

(I am now getting to grips with my new computer and, after making the air blue on a number of occasions, I can - hopefully - resume regular blogging.)

Monday, 14 March 2016

Mid-March Mudfest

Trees were still mostly bare. Kentle Wood, near Daventry.
13 March, 2016
Lovely sunshine lured me out to Kentle Wood. The footpaths were treacherous, with extensive patches of mud; beneath the trees some areas were flooded, reminding us of the high clay content of the soil.

Trees were mostly bare with only the occasional hazel showing fresh green foliage. A little imagination was needed to foresee the glorious blossom that the rows of cherry trees would be displaying a few weeks hence.

A bird's nest, looking pathetically vulnerable, occupied a low hawthorn bush. Yet I must have passed that spot dozens of times last year without it catching my attention!

Eudasyphora cyanicolor tucks in to blackthorn nectar.
Kentle Wood, 13 March, 2016

The only blossom to be seen was borne on
blackthorn, Prunus spinosa, twigs and, although it was rather chilly, there was enough sunshine to tempt flies from their winter hideaways and seek out the nectar. But by and large there were not many insects to be seen.


For the record, the insects recorded were:

Eudasyphora cyanicolor    7 specimens of this very common 'greenbottle' fly.
Sepsis fulgens    A very small fly associated with dung.
Aleochara bipustulata    A tiny beetle (2.5 mm); one of the family known as 'staphs'.                                        New record for Kentle Wood
Bembidion guttula   Another very small beetle; ubiquitous. One of the Carabidae.

Not a big 'haul', nor was I expecting much. But it was a sign of things to come and I returned home well satisfied.

Postscript (The Aleochara brings the total number of invertebrates I've recorded from Kentle Wood to 316 species.)

Friday, 11 March 2016

Badby Woods

Badby Woods is in private hands, being owned by the Fawsley Estate, but there is no problem with public access and a number of footpaths criss-cross the area. I make no claim to be an expert but the area seems to be well managed. It is best described as semi-natural, as there are some non-native conifers present and other trees of doubtful status such as sycamores. (Although sycamores, Acer pseudoplatanus, are generally regarded as an introduction there can be no certainty about this.)

The soil is slightly acidic, being derived from Northampton Sands with clay here and there; all the rocks are of Jurassic age. Conditions are ideal for Bluebells, Hyacinthoides non-scripta, and when they are in flower the woods receive large numbers of visitors. In many parts of Northamptonshire our native bluebell has hybridised with the Spanish Bluebell, Hyacinthoides hispanica, but from my observations this has not happened at Badby Woods - yet.

Anyway, on 11 March, after a foul spell of weather that had left Byfield and Charwelton at least partly cut off by flooding, I finally managed to visit the woods for a good look around.

Storms, both this and in previous winters, had brought down a number of trees and these were in various stages of decay, the timber being very spongy in places. Already mosses and lichens had colonised this microhabitat and in fact, apart from bluebells, few vascular plants were evident at ground level.


Lichens included the common and widespread Cladonia coniocraea, its blue-grey appearance with longish podetia (but no obvious discs) quite distinctive.

My sweep net was needed to back the photograph of  this
 moss, Mnium hornum. Badby Woods, 11 March, 2016

Not being a bryologist I struggled to find species I recognised but the common Swan's Neck Thread Moss, Mnium hornum, was distinctive enough. This is found in almost every 10x10 km square in Britain.

Jelly Ear Fungus on dead wood. Badby Woods,
Northants. 11 March, 2016

Dead wood had also been colonised by a common fungus, Auricularia auricula-judae. Once known as Jew's Ear (which is, of course, a literal translation of the Latin name) the more politically correct Jelly Ear Fungus is now the generally used name. It normally colonises elder but I must confess I failed to check the timber in this case.


 I was intrigued to note a situation where two branches had  - presumably - rubbed together until they had fused to produce an odd sort of interlinking structure. This is not uncommon but this was a nice example.



So, nothing out of the ordinary today, but it was lovely to be out enjoying the spring sunshine. And finally, having begun to master the unbelievable intricacies of my new computer, I am able to get blogging again, albeit with strange and unaccountable gaps.

Friday, 4 March 2016


Brilliant sun streamed in through the front windows, tempting me out.  I decided to venture only as far as Stefen Leys Pocket Park and clearly I wouldn't need gloves, not on such a bright, sunny day. Big mistake! Within minutes my hands were blue as a biting north wind searched out every tiny chink in my less than adequate clothing.


There were a few flowers to be seen but none was attracting insects. There were a few flies about but all were to be found on sheltered gate posts or similar structures. Insects are, of course poikilothermic and must wait for the sun to raise their body temperature to a point where muscles will work efficiently.





Chaenomeles japonica, aka Japanese Quince.
Stefen Hill, Daventry. 4 March, 2015

Those insects had more sense than I, perhaps sensing that a little later in the day snow would begin to fall. Humans may be 'warm-blooded' but I wasn't feeling it! True, the snow was only a flurry but these Japanese Quince flowers will wait in vain for a visitor; spring is still only nascent.