Saturday, 31 March 2018

Ramblings of a frustrated naturalist

Heaven forfend that I should grumble about the weather, but it is a bit of a bugger. I am reminded of the words of our Lord God, as recorded in the Book of Genesis:


And the Lord spake unto Noah saying, 'Get thy skates on and nip round to Tesco in Ninevah and grab a couple of umbrellas, 'cos its going to be raining cats and dogs. Oh and that reminds me, 'ang on to a couple each of cats and dogs; I'll explain later'.
But Noah, having cash-flow problemsheeded not the Lord and went to Shekel Poundland, and the Lord, seeing this, was troubled. Did he not pay Noah, his servant, a living wage in accordance with government regulations?

As we know, Noah went on to study arkeology. [Ed: That's enough! Stop right there and get back to reality!]


However, rain or not, plants are growing, but more, I suspect, as a consequence of the increasing day length than temperatures. And insects remain scarce as, being sentient creatures, they can respond more immediately to the prevailing conditions. In Byfield earlier today Ground Elder, Aegopodium podagraria, was certainly not being held back by the weather.
Ground Elder in a Byfield garden. 31 March, 2018

Its old country names include Goutweed and (less  commonly) Goutwort, it once being used in the treatment of this ailment. It is a pestilential weed around Byfield and over much of Britain, spreading by seed but, far more often, by rhizomes. Its specific name is derived from the Greek podagra, meaning gout. Incidentally, every year, particularly around lakes and over wet ground generally, I record the hoverfly Neoascia podagrica; what the connection - if any - is between this insect and gout I have no idea. I can only think that perhaps specimens had once been taken from the umbels of Ground Elder.
Other plants refusing to be deterred by the weather include saxifrages, aubretia and tulips. The former was attracting honey bees three days ago but the latter refuses to fully open.
Our tulips are reluctant to fully open. Stefen Hill, Daventry.
31 March, 2018

Through Byfield flows a tributary of the River Cherwell. Today, following heavy rains, which continue to fall, this stream was close to bursting its banks. The colour of the water is a consequence of questionable cultivation techniques and a timely reminder of the enormous - and ultimately unsustainable - damage suffered every year in terms of soil loss.

A worrying sight. Water carrying away soil. Byfield, Northants.
31 March, 2018
I am trying to utilise no-dig techniques on our allotment but, to be fair, I don't think farmers can realistically consider this approach without far more research and advice. But a huge change in agriculture needs to come soon.










Monday, 26 March 2018

Mostly Mosering

With the weather showing its more amiable face I grabbed the chance to visit Matt Moser's land in the expectation that there would finally be a few flies about. Sure enough, on fence posts, tree trunks and the brickwork of Newnham windmill these were lots to be seen. | knew that examination of specimens later would show them to be commonplace species but they were nonetheless welcome.
I entered the woodland below the windmill to check out the daffodils there. Although they were mostly Lent Lilies and therefore native they wouldn't be attracting much in the way of insects.
Lovely to look at perhaps, but these daffodils were attracting no insects.
25 March, 2018


Daffodils have been planted in their millions around our town and villages and I suspect that many people involved in the planting feel that they are doing 'something for wildlife'. There are insects associated with Narcissus species such as the Large Narcissus Fly, Merodon equestris, a handsome bumblebee mimic whose larvae sometimes are a pest of daffodil bulbs. The Lesser Narcissus Fly, a name attached to both Eumerus funeralis and E. strigatus, can also cause damage to garden daffodils but it is still the case that anyone wishing to create a wildlife garden should look elsewhere. Needless to say, my survey of these swathes of flowers, lovely though they were, produced nothing.
My hopes of finding the Gorse Shieldbug also came to nothing. While bending over and scrutinising gorse buds I heard a series of distinct thumps behind me and turned to see three rabbits scampering up the hillside. Most people will be familiar with the way in which rabbits slam their back feet on the ground as a warning.
The gorse was in bloom of course but, along with the gorse and the narcissi other flowers are now appearing. The blooms of Blackthorn, Prunus spinosa, are beginning to adorn hedges. The specific epithet, spinosa, refers to the fierce thorns with which the shrub is armed. They add to its effectiveness as a barrier and at one time were thought to be poisonous. Of course they are not but the spines may leave small quantities of bacteria in a wound, leading to possible infection.
Blackthorn is now in flower. Near western entrance to Foxhill Farm.
25 March, 2018
At one time, prior to the introduction of ceramic piping, blackthorn was used in drainage ditches. A series of ditches were created across an ill-drained field and twiggy blackthorn branches used to fill them. The land was then levelled off with soil and the blackthorn, being slow to decay, would keep the ground open and the drainage functioning for a considerable time.
Celandines, Ficaria verna, have perhaps been in flower for some time on sunny banks but today I saw my first for the year. In Northamptonshire its glossy, brilliantly yellow flowers once earned it the name of 'Golden Guineas'.
Celandines are now adorning sunny banks. 25 March, 2018
Although we are apparently due for one more cold snap spring is now definitely on its way, and the list of invertebrates for Foxhill Farm has climbed to 75.


Sunday, 25 March 2018

Out with the old

As the snow melted I was relieved to see that little damage was apparent. For a couple of days all seemed well but...
It soon became clear that our Cordyline had taken a real battering and was looking in a sorry state. It was by no means dead and, given time, it could once again make a presentable plant. But it was time I couldn't spare. Out it went.

The bitterly cold weather has damaged our Cordyline.
23 March, 2018
I have yet to replace it but have used some of the space suddenly available to put in a neat little cypress, Chamaecyparis obtusa 'nana gracilis aurea'. The name says it all: 'chamae, means low, 'nana' is dwarf and 'aurea' means gold. What more could one wish for in a small garden.
Its place has been partially taken by a Hinoki Cypress.
25 March, 2018
In planting this Japanese conifer I disturbed some nearby plants and from one emerged a caterpillar. It was an Angle Shades, Phlogophora meticulosa, which in its adult (imago) stage is, I feel, one of our loveliest moths, decked out in subtle shades of green and brown. The caterpillar can sometimes be a pest, eating unopened bud of flowers, but I find it hard to be cross with it for long. 
The larva of an Angle Shades moth on thyme in our front garden.
25 March, 2018
Feeling ruthless, I also removed a self-sown Fuchsia on the not unreasonable grounds that it was dead. I also took out a Veronica (Hebe) as it had grown leggy and inappropriately large for our front garden, but I was surprised to find that it had left behind about three seedlings. The parent plant was a hybrid so I'm temped to foster these seedlings to see just what we've got.




 


Friday, 23 March 2018

Pottering around in the Pocket Park

It has now been about three and a half years since Chris and I moved out of Byfield but we still feel closely tied to the community and get involved in a range of activities. Today it was work in the pocket park. Pom Boddington plus five, including Chris and myself, rolled up our sleeves and got stuck in. 
A major job involved clearing Elder, Sambucus nigra. A few insects such as the rather pretty micro-moth Elderberry Pearl, Anania coronata, make use of the leaves and twigs and of course the berries are so enjoyed by birds that in the season their droppings are frequently stained purple. Nevertherless on balance they are of no great importance for wildlife. Some fairly big specimens had to go.
Elder logs piled up by elderly people at the pocket park gates. Byfield.
23 March, 2018
We piled them into a whopping great heap near to the gate, Pom hoping that passers-by will bear them off for wood-burning stoves; personally I'll be happy for the logs to moulder away. Pyromania temporarily seized the group when we followed up the clearance work with a bonfire for the remaining debris.
The weather was kind to us - cool but dry and windless - ideal for heavy work.
Chris demonstrates advanced seed-sowing skills on a suitable bank.
Byfield, 23 March, 2018
Pom had acquired a  mix of wildflower seeds, so we finished the morning with Chris scattering them on to suitable banks. We went home very grubby and reeking of bonfire smoke. Happy days!


Monday, 19 March 2018

Trudging back from Daventry

The so-called 'Beast from the East' departed a week or so ago, only to be replaced by what might be called 'The Mini-beast from the East' - except of course that, for naturalists the term 'mini-beast' has a wholly different connotation. And on my walk back from Daventry earlier today there wasn't a mini-beast to be seen.
My regular walks home from Daventry town centre rarely fail to produce some little oddity or surprise, but so tardy is spring this year that I was hardly optimistic.
A rather interesting specimen of Thujopsis dolobrata stands a short distance from Tesco's august emporium. It is commonly known as the Hiba Cedar (the tree that is, not the supermarket) and from a distance it looks not unlike the Western Red Cedar, Thujopsis plicata (and I admit that in the past I have confused the two species).
Thujopsis dolobrata, the Hiba Cedar. Daventry
town centre. 19 March, 2018
Move in a little and the differences becomes obvious, for the Hiba Cedar throws out branches from near to the ground in a rather odd manner. These low branches often initially turn downwards before sweeping up, giving the tree a very characteristic appearance. It is a native of Japan.
The form of the lower branches make this a very distinctive species.
19 March, 2018
With the cold wind behind me I made pleasant progress homeward, pausing only twice.
I was a little surprised to see an early patch of Danish Scurvy-grass, Cochlearia danica, growing at the base of a wall beside the footpath. This is the species which forms long ribbons of white beside roads, particularly motorways and trunk roads. This coastal plant flourishes where salt has been applied in snow-clearing operations.
In fact I should have known better for a closer look showed that it was Common Whitlow-grass, Erophila verna, now often referred to as Draba verna, a common plant in this situation. This diminutive member of the Cabbage Family is easily recognised by its deeply divided petals, but for the 'serious' botanist things are often not so simple as this plant and its close relatives are now divided into about three subspecies - of which I will say no more.
Common Whitlow-grass, a common plant on old walls, etc.
Daventry. 19 March, 2018
My second pause was before a large shrub which looked vaguely familiar and a closer look confirmed that it was Holly, Ilex aquifolium. My hesitation was caused by the atypical form of the leaves. Instead of the expected spiny leaf margins the whole leaf blade was very simple. The impression was that of a robust privet of some sort.
Holly, but not as we know it Jim. Daventry. 19 March, 2018
Confirmation that it was indeed holly came through the presence of leaf mines caused by Phytomyza ilicis, a very common member of the Agromyzidae, a family of two-winged flies.
But the Holly Leaf Miner recognised it anyway.
So, not an exciting walk but not without some interest either - if you are easily pleased!

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Late snow

I suppose that, looking back to the 1940's and 1950's, the moderate snow we have had in the last twenty-four hours would not have been considered particularly late, but we have been cossetted over recent years and this latest fall has become as a bit of a shock to the system.
Earlier today Chris and I went to Rugby for a spot of shopping and we found that there were patches of surprisingly heavy snow on the A45. Between Braunston and Willoughby there is quite a large rookery and there was much activity around the nests. Rooks are early nesters and this snow could hardly have come at a worse time; about three inches of snow covered the landscape, effectively cutting the birds off from their food supplies of worms, insects and seeds.
We did our shopping at Elliotts Fields, a fairly new retail development to the east of Rugby and having parked up we set off for the joys of Debenhams, Marks and Sparks and so on. The biting east wind had, within seconds, made my face numb and i.m.o. these are the coldest conditions we've experienced this winter. The temperature was around -2 degrees but once again it was the wind chill which really caused the problem. Now I am not a great fan of Fatface and similar retail outlets but I was very glad to plunge into the warmth they offered.
Out garden table currently has a snowy-white cloth. 18 March, 2018
In my last blog I mentioned our Purple Saxifrage in flower. As an arctic-alpine plant this snow will bother it not one whit (whatever a whit is) but it bothers most other species, especially Homo sapiens, a peculiar species of ape apparently of African origins. Come to think of it, a fortnight in South Africa right now wouldn't go amiss.

Friday, 16 March 2018

Stop grumbling!

Just lately I seem to have done little but whinge about the weather but signs of spring are undeniably around and I must be less negative. I recently mentioned Lent Lilies, Narcissus pseudonarcissus and Coltsfoot, Tussilago farfara blooming cheerfully.
Purple Saxifrage is now blooming in an old sink. Stefen Hill, Daventry.
15 March, 2018


Another example is the Purple Saxifrage, Saxifraga oppositifolia, now flowering in a trough in our back garden. It is an arctic-alpine plant, found widely in the high arctic but also in mountains, including Britain, where it is found as far south as the Brecon Beacons. It is not a difficult plant to grow, given a gritty, free-draining compost, and surely ought to be seen more often.
I subscribe to the BBC Gardening magazine and one of the first things I look for when my latest copy arrives is any article on the subject of alpines and other rock garden plants. I am usually disappointed and yet, with many houses now only having the tiniest of gardens, troughs, tubs or similar containers are surely an interesting option. The 'trough' in which the saxifrage is growing is an old Belfast sink upon which I slapped a sand/grit/peat* mix - there are various recipes on line - having first wrapped chicken wire around the receptacle. Every year it gathers a little more moss and lichen on the surface and now looks quite venerable.
Our native Snake's Head Fritillary, Fritillaria meleagris, is now in bloom in the front garden, joining F. michailovskyi. The Snake's Head is found here and there in Northamptonshire but there can be little doubt that in our county they represent surreptitious plantings.
Snake's Head Fritillaries are now blooming in our front garden.
Stefen Hill, Daventry. 16 March, 2018

Perhaps most vernal of all were the lambs now frolicking on Matt Moser's land. I didn't attempt to approach the mothers too closely in case they might be alarmed but they didn't seem too unhappy as I stood ten or fifteen yards away. As for their lambs, busy suckling, they seemed completely unconcerned.


Suddenly there seem to be lambs everywhere! 16 March, 2018

That really has stopped my grumbling! And the total for Foxhill Farm creeps up to 66 species, including the rather handsome crab spider, Ozyptila praticola.




* I actually used a peat-free compost and it has proved perfectly suitable.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Woodcock! (amended)

I threw open the bedroom curtains and bright sunshine streamed in. Wow! This is more like it, I thought. Chris dropped me off at a convenient point and set off for her morning volunteering at the Air Ambulance. I took the Newnham Road and headed across fields for a spot of recording on Matt Moser's land.
The sun quietly disappeared.
A different field perhaps, but as usual I was greeted by inquisitive sheep.
Ever-inquisitive sheep trotted over to check me out.
13 March, 2018


My intention had been to check sun-warmed fences for flies but without the sun that was a non-starter; instead I headed for the nearest patch of woodland. I have stated in a previous blog that, on the steep slopes which constitute Beggars Hill, the woodland could be of considerable age. That does not mean that the woodland has not been managed and the presence of pine and beech certainly shows that alien species have been planted. Other, herbaceous, species have also been introduced.
Many hundreds - perhaps thousands - of daffodils were present in large drifts. I was pleased to observe that whoever had planted them had chosen our native Lent Lily, Narcissus pseudonarcissus. Of course, they are Northamptonshire native and John Clare was familiar with them:


         The Wood Daffodillies (sic) have been found in our rambles when summer began.


                                                                                        Clare's MS. poems


George Claridge Druce reported them from Everdon Wood, only a few miles away as the crow flies so possibly they occur here quite naturally after all. It would be wonderful if that were so, but recent Northamptonshire floras describe it as 'extremely rare'. Perhaps I am indulging in wishful thinking. (See Postscript)
Lent Lilies were present in their hundreds. Below Newnham windmill.
13 March, 2018
Snowdrops were present in abundance. These, of course, are no longer regarded as native to Britain and their alien status was emphasised by the fact that two distinct varieties were present. One form was virtually over but in other clumps like the one photographed the flowers were only just opening.
The flowers of some snowdrops had barely opened.
13 March, 2018

Even more obviously alien were Winter Aconites, Eranthis hyemalis. These seemed perfectly naturalised inasmuch as the carpels were swelling, promising seed later in the season. This member of the Buttercup family hails from southern Europe and is one of those species which needs to produce its flowers and leaves early in the season before the woodland canopy develops, shutting out useful light.
The carpels of Winter Aconites were beginning to swell.
13 March, 2018
I discovered only one Primrose, Primula vulgaris, but a careful search could have revealed more. I suspect it naturally occurs in this woodland although it seemed a little early.
By looking only for flowers and insects I missed a particularly interesting bird. As I left the woodland there was a clattering of wings behind me as a pigeon-sized, brown-streaked bird attempted to break though a stretch of wire mesh fencing. After a frantic three or four seconds it made its escape and as it flew swiftly across my line of vision I was surprised to see that it was a Woodcock, Scolopax rusticola. I should not have been surprised as wet, rather open woodland is the classic habitat for this bird, technically a wader. My surprise simply stemmed from the fact that, having long ago given up birding, I had not seen one for many years. Of course there was no chance of a photograph. 
With my small gathering of invertebrates, mostly spiders, I sloshed my was across waterlogged pasture back to the road, pausing only to take a picture of Coltsfoot, Tussilago farfara, growing in the verge. Now that really is a sign of spring!



Clearly yellow is the fashionable colour this spring. Coltsfoot flower beside
the Newnham road. 13 March, 2018

Postscript

I contacted Matt Moser later and he confirmed that he had planted 150 Narcissus bulbs there about 30 years ago. As I said - wishful thinking!

 
 


                                           


 

Friday, 9 March 2018

Making the best of it

Nine o'clock in the morning and the sun was shining. There were gardening jobs to be done but the temptation to visit Foxhill Farm was too great. I aimed for the area around Newnham Windmill, now almost a default destination for me. The road up to the windmill is winding and quite narrow but has been rendered narrower still by the drifts of encroaching snow on what is, for Northamptonshire, fairly high ground.
Snow was still lying at the roadside near Newnham windmill.
9 March, 2018
The flock of sheep which normally trots over to greet me as I scaled the fence was absent. They have doubtless been taken to the lambing sheds below. But there was a greeting of a kind as a chaffinch burst into song from a nearby tree. Ravens were croaking overhead and a green woodpecker cackled its insane laugh as it flitted from tree to tree. An anomalous cormorant flew over heading south vaguely in the direction of Fawsley Hall and its lakes. But for all this activity the countryside appeared otherwise lifeless.  Just at this time a huge blanket of cloud chose to move in and that was the last of the sunshine for the morning. Suddenly everything seemed chilly and damp - as indeed it was.


My first target was a Scots Pine and without optimism I swept my net through its needle-like foliage. A ladybird with unmarked elytra (wing cases) was taken but the distinct markings on the pronotum showed it to be a Larch Ladybird, Aphidecta obliterata - not a new record for the site. The same sweep also netted a picture-winged fly, Tephritis vespertina. This is a common insect associated with Cat's Ear, Hypochaeris radicata, an abundant yellow-flowered plant everywhere. But it was new for the site. 
A larch ladybird was beaten from Scots Pine. 9 March, 2018
I began my usual zig-zag descent of the slope below the windmill. Old records shown that these slopes were once called Beggars Bank; for all I know they still are. The underlying rock at this point probably consists of a Jurassic stratum known as the Marlstone Rock Formation but I cannot confirm that as local geological maps aren't detailed enough to show this amount of information. Furthermore as the last ice age period, the Wolstonian, receded it left behind a landscape covered in glacial material, effectively masking most of the underlying rock. Over much of Northamptonshire this took the form of boulder clay, often sticky and impervious, but Foxhill Farm and much of western Northants has been spared this and the glacial deposits are more tractable and even somewhat sandy. Although the Marlstone Rock Formation is limy - and therefore alkaline -  the glacial deposits are on the acid side. However, I digress...
As I approached the bottom of Beggars Bank I turned and looked back. About six little patches of woodland similar to the one shown cling to the slope; collectively they will give me an enormous amount to work on.

Looking east up Beggars Bank, near Newnham.
9 March, 2018
With another centipede, a fly and a trio of beetles in my haul the total for the site limps up to 59 species. I got home just before rain came.

Tony White: diaea@yahoo.co.uk



 

 


Thursday, 8 March 2018

Fritillaries help to fight frustration

March, according to the old proverb, comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. Well, we've seen the lion bit, now for a bit more of the lamb...please! To be honest, although many spring flowers make their appearance in March we don't expect balmy weather, but the occasional warm, sunny day would be nice.
Speaking of spring flowers, my Fritillaria meleagris flowers haven't put in an appearance yet but I am pleased that their congener, F. michailovskyi, is currently looking very attractive.
Fritillaria michailovskyi is currently flowering well in our front garden.
Stefen Hill, Daventry. 8 March, 2018
I tried growing it when we lived in Byfield  but it didn't do well. It sulked and pined for its home in the mountains of northern Turkey. Fritillaries are among my favourite flowers and I ought to grow more and several rock garden species are not difficult provided they are given a really sunny spot with well-drained soil. There are around 130 species found from Britain (Fritillaria meleagris) across to Japan, plus some interesting North American species. In their lovely book The Flora of the Silk Road, (Ref 1) Christopher and Basak Gardner list 31 species they found as they followed this ancient trail. This is one of my most treasured books.
All fritillaries are open to attack by the lily beetle, Lilioceris lilii but this pest, being bright brick-red, is easy to spot and, as I dislike sprays, I simply pick off any seen.

The flowers have a more open bell than many fritillaries.
My 'Michael's Fritillaries' should continue to thrive IF they get a good summer baking, but they do not end their season gracefully: I find that the stems straggle in an untidy manner. So be it.

Reference

Gardner, C and Gardner, B. (2014) The Flora of the Silk Road  I.B.Tauris, London


Tony White. diaea@yahoo.co.uk





 

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Getting back on track

😺😺😺The thaw is well under way and as the snow disappears plants, sometimes rather bedraggled, reappear.
One of the first to take advantage of winter relinquishing its grip has been the Spring Starflower, Tristagma uniflorum.

Tristagma uniflorum in our front garden, Stefen Hill, Daventry.
5 March, 2018
Many gardeners and nurseries still refer to it as Iphaeon uniflorum. It is, to be honest, a bit of a nuisance in our front garden and I have dug out and discarded several clumps. This native of Argentina has a grass-like appearance and apparently does rather well when naturalised in lawns, but even out of flower its presence would quickly become noticed as it gives off a distinct smell of onions when walked upon. In fact it belongs to the Allioideae subfamily of the Amaryllis Family, a subfamily which does indeed include onions. The flowers bear six petal-like tepals of a pale pinkish blue and, if the onion smell can be avoided, are pleasantly scented.

The flower bears six tepals but here only five are obvious, one being
folded under.
The early irises and crocuses have finished flowering and over the next few weeks will be re-building their bulbs and corms respectively before disappearing for a few months.
Meanwhile my Gaultheria mucronata, sometimes referred to as Pernettya mucronata, remains smothered in pink berries. It surely isn't that the fruit is unpalatable, for this native of Chile is often planted to provide bird food, but despite the hunger almost certainly suffered in the cold spell, the local blackbirds were not inclined to feed on them. The cold weather brought a reed bunting, a couple of fieldfares and a goldcrest into our garden but even in the summer we fail to coax birds into our garden.
Honestly, there's no pleasing some people!

Our Gaultheria mucronata still bears its berries. 6 March, 2018
A pity about the Gaultheria as there will be no fruit next year. I only have the female plant and, like holly, a male will need to be near by for pollination.





 




Sunday, 4 March 2018

Cactus calamity!

The thaw is gathering pace and some patches are already clear of snow but there has been what Jimmy Durante called a capostrophe!
One of our two cacti, apparently so healthy yesterday, is clearly on its way out.



On the face of it, a healthy pair of cacti.
Now, now! No rude, ribald or otherwise unseemly comments please. Let us bow our heads in sad remembrance of a fine member element of that coterie of plants which formed our front garden. I strongly suspect that the next few days will show that its partner has also deceased.
Twenty four hours later and the awful truth is revealed.
4 March, 2018



It will join its ancestors in the land beyond, doubtless arriving with the words:
 
Melita, Domi Adsum*

Rough translation: Honey, I'm home!

* An amusing yet oddly touching epitaph to which my attention was recently drawn. I had to find some way of squeezing it into a blog! Other possibilities were: Vale, Lacerte (See Ya later Alligator!) and Me Transmitte Sursum, Caledoni (Beam Me Up, Scotty) but I'm not one to plagiarise - much.


Saturday, 3 March 2018

Walking off the Christmas calories






At this time of the year a long country walk may be very pleasant but, if the aim is to see interesting flowers and fruit, an urban walk can be more rewarding - and less muddy!

Today, the weather being dry and mild, I set off walking from home, further familiarising myself with those parts of the local area which I rarely visit. My target was an area called Grovelandsa, together with the land immediately beyond.

Barely a hundred yards from home a clump of Pot Marigolds, Calendula officinalis, had braved the winter weather (such as it was) to put on a bright display. Easy to grow, flowering for months on end and attractive to insects, what's not to like? They really ought to feature in our own garden.

Pot Marigolds in Christchurch Drive, Daventry. 28 December, 2018
An old fence had been attacked by Coral Spot, Necria cinnibarina. This is so common that it rarely gets a mention but it is rather important in being one of the first species to begin the job of decaying old wood, thus returning its nutrients to the soil.

Common and largely ignored. Coral Spot.
Daventry, 28 December, 2018
An old stump was displaying a rather different fungus which I believe to be Velvet Shank, Flammulina velutipes

Velvet Shank? Near Grovelands, Daventry.
28 December, 2018

At this point, with three days to go, I am making a New Year's Resolution: I must not allow myself to be sidetracked by fungi.


A couple of minutes later I found myself at the aforementioned Grovelands. It is a residential area of neatly maintained gardens which are, for the most part rather dull. But I live in hope.


A hedgerow of a berberis species was displaying flowers. From a distance their rich egg-yolk coloured flowers and the neat holly-like leaves suggested Berberis darwinii, a suspicion confirmed by a closer examination.


This lovely shrub hails from the southern parts of Chile and Argentina, and was awarded the Royal Horticultural Society's A.G.M. back in 1930.



Although several species of Berberis live in South America its generic name is a Latinised form of the Arabic name for these shrubs. (Note that although it was named after Charles Darwin, his name, being the specific epithet, is not given a capital D.)


It is in this area that I have found Spurge Laurel, Daphne laureola, on previous walks. I was hoping that any specimens might just be in flower given that this has been a very mild winter. I had no luck but I did find this lovely Eucalyptus gunnii, its bark peeling away in strips to show the beautiful bark below.



Eucalyptus gunnii - or one of its hybrids. Staverton Road, Daventry.
28 December, 2018
Although I have stated that this specimen is E. gunnii I have to put in a caveat: eucalypts (as they are known) have a strong tendency to hybridise so we cannot be 100% sure what we are looking at.


Western Polypody in a lime tree, Staverton Road, Daventry.
28 December, 2018
The trees proved to be worth more than a cursory examination, for on the mossy trunk of a nearby lime tree a specimen of Western Polypody was growing as an epiphyte. This fern, Polypodium interjectum, is the most likely of our three polypody species to be found in an urban habitat. The plant was growing at a height which made a photograph difficult but I've done my best.




On waste ground a little further on Hedgerow Crane's-bill, Geranium pyrenaicum was present. Is it native to the U.K. (and does it matter)? It has been around in Britain for 350 years and in Northants since at least 1874  so it is well established, but I only ever find it on waste or disturbed ground.
Hedgerow Crane's-bill, The Severn, Daventry.
28 January, 2018




It is a pretty thing so may well have been introduced as an ornamental plant but we will probably never know.


Apart from that, about the only thing in flower was a Wrinkled Viburnum, Viburnum rhytidophyllum. Its flowers were nothing to write home about but any flowers at this time of the year are to be welcomed.

With the flowers not at their best, Viburnum rhytidophyllum was in a
municipal border in The Grange area of Daventry. 28 December, 2018
More interesting than the off-white blossom is the foliage. An alternative name for this shrub is the Leatherleaf Viburnum, and the rugose, semi-glossy leaves of this Chinese introduction are certainly distinctive. Its specific name comes from the Greek, rhytis meaning a wrinkle, thus rhytidophyllum means 'wrinkled leaf'.

I regard the leaves of this shrub as rather handsome.
So, although nothing spectacular was noted I returned from my three-mile walk feeling fresher than when I had started out, with a few cobwebs blown away.






A chink of light

We again awoke to freezing conditions, but a subtle change was under way. The first hint of (relatively) warmer conditions was fog shrouding the landscape abetted by the wind or, I should say, lack of it. Snow still blanketed the ground but, very slowly, the temperature began to creep up. A sudden rise would have been welcomed by wildlife, exposing food sources; it would have had potentially serious consequences for humans as flooding would have become a real danger. In fact the rise was only in the region of two or three degrees, just enough to take us above freezing point, for a slow thaw to begin and for each icicle to bear a dew drop on its nose.
The conflict between fieldfares and blackbirds was resumed and seems set to continue until former can return to open countryside.
The bitingly strong easterly winds have created snow drifts in many places but here in the relatively sheltered back garden our various pots have been given saucy white hats some six inches high.
Our pots each wear a snowy hat. 3 March, 2018
Beneath this bizarre, almost Rastafarian headgear tulips are snug and, tempting though it is to knock away the snow I'll leave things for nature to take its course.
The alpines in their troughs are perfectly safe in the back garden but the cacti in the front, sitting incongruously in snow, may be a write-off. I cling to the hope that, as they have a rather woolly coating, they hail from a mountain region in, perhaps, Bolivia or Argentina. Although I have tried to give them well-drained conditions it may be the wet soil that finally does for them.
Doomed? These cacti face an uncertain future in our front garden.
Stefen Hill, Daventry. 3 March, 2018

Friday, 2 March 2018

Plans on hold

Oh dear! I had such grand plans for March: there would be mild days when insects would be on the wing, perhaps visiting blackthorn blossom; there would be sowings of broad beans, lettuce and peas to be made on the allotment; garden flowers such as aubretia (yes, I know - it should be Aubrieta) would be receiving visits from bees and butterflies...but all is now on hold, postponed until the soil has warmed up.
We have had Fieldfares, Turdus pilaris, in the garden, vigorously driving off, temporarily, the resident blackbirds. My books suggest that the two species are about the same in size but the fieldfares certainly seem bulkier and are more pugnacious. The blackbirds seem to accept a subordinate position. I have put out more food for them but they are reluctant to enter our rather small garden. They feel vulnerable but eventually hunger will overcome their fear.
A buzzard drifts overhead. I suspect that a major part of their food is in the form of road kills but with so little traffic about there will be slim pickings. Small birds are very vulnerable in these conditions and many will perish; buzzards, together with the red kites increasingly being seen in this area, may have to make do with these pathetic corpses - if foxes don't beat them to it.
Having had my grumble, we seem in truth to have got off rather lightly - so far. In the strong winds there has been a little drifting here and there but nothing troublesome although I hear that there have been six foot high drifts in parts of Northamptonshire. Cars creep cautiously along nearby Christchurch Drive although our road, Trinity Close, is tackled only by foolhardy or desperate drivers. Some have two or three attempts before succeeding. With Northamptonshire County Council more or less bust I suspect only the most vital routes will see a gritter.
There were mini-drifts beside our garage. Stefen Hill, Daventry.
2 March, 2018
By providing low-growing perennials with a blanket the snow may have been beneficial but yesterday was officially the first day of spring so its not much of a consolation. A few spectacular photographs would also have been rather nice but I was too wimpish to wrap up and go traipsing over fields on the off chance.
Rock garden plants wait under their blanket of snow in our front garden.
2 March, 2018
Chris and I just batten down the hatches, watch the falling snow and sit it out.