Friday, 21 June 2019

Steane House

Yesterday evening Chris and I, together with our friends Ann and John Pimm, joined members of the Boddington and District , on a visit to Steane House near Farthinghoe. The weather threatened from time to time and at one point we did have a sprinkling of rain but overall conditions were good. The house is very fine and the structure, together with the gardens, have had a huge amount of money poured into them. I'll refrain from socio-political comment.

I am always on the lookout for rare or unusual plants - a Pocket-handkerchief Tree perhaps or a Buckeye, but with one exception the plantings were safe and predictable. The novelty was a Bladder Nut, a Staphylea species. The Head Gardener said it was from North America and I didn't want to pursue the point but I thought all in the genus were Old World plants. The foliage was pinnate and I concluded that the species was Staphylea pinnata. Not only is the species from central Europe but it is naturalised in parts of Britain, such as south Lincolnshire. So not really an adventurous planting.

Staphylea pinnata in fruit. Steane House Gardens. 19 June, 2019
I was pleased to find a Fritillary in a border. It was Fritillaria imperialis, aka Crown Imperial and although the flowers were over, the curiously ridged fruit were worth a look.

The fruit capsules of Crown Imperials are rather striking.
Steane House Gardens, 19 June, 2019

Alas, the plant was under attack from Lily Beetles, Lilioceris lilii. Fritillaries are of course in the Lily family and, if anything, they attract these beetles more than true lilies.

Lily Beetles were present on the Crown Imperials.
I am always pleased to find caterpillars of the Mullein Moth, Cucullia verbasci, not because it is rare for it is very common, but simply because it is a handsome creature. It obviously feeds on mullein but also on water figwort, which is where I photographed my specimen. It is one of the few larger caterpillars which will feed on Buddleia.

Common, but always eye-catching, the Mullein Moth will feed on several
plants related to Verbascum.  Steane House Gardens. 19 June 2019
Only a few yards from this caterpillar I saw a black insect on the leaf of a yellow flag. It looked like a member of an insect family called the Stratiomyidae, and I was lucky enough to coax it into collecting tube. Once home I checked it under the microscope I found it was Odontomyia tigrina. Stratiomyids are known as soldier flies, and this particular species is the Black Colonel. It is not rare but I can't recall having seen a specimen before. I didn't photograph it. Damn!

There was not a lot else to set the pulse racing. A walnut tree  bore blister-like galls caused by the mite Aceria erinea. This is so common that an ungalled tree would have been more noteworthy!

Few walnut trees are without these galls formed by Aceria erinea. Steane
House Gardens. 19 June, 2019

This was a very worthwhile trip and I would thoroughly recommend a visit. But beware, the gardens are not always open and it pays to check the internet.

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