Summer, so many things that I have never seen

Summer, so many things that I have never seen

IMG_4926

(1 Marbled White)

And so one of my resolutions for the Summer was to slow down. Get outside whenever I could weather permitting, and not to rush, but instead to stop and look closely, and photograph. Then to learn something I didn’t know last year. Trying to identify, names of birds, butterflies, flowers, insects and more. To learn my landscape as it changes through the year. I’ve made a good start, but this is the sort of journey, cultivating my curiosity, that takes a lifetime, and is never finished.

So if I come across a snail on the chalk path leading up the hill, I should resist the temptation to tread on it (my garden ones are never spared!) and instead wonder about whether there are many varieties of snails, and whether the snail shell always curls the same way. What do the snails eat on the thin chalky grassland? In my garden they managed to climb several layers of copper tape, slide across sharp gravel and chew their way through every stem of zinnia every time… The stem of the struggling remaining one, has been repaired several times with sellotape. Which seems to work, and the poor flower is battling on valiantly. Not that I’m bitter.. well not that bitter..

IMG_4725

Anyway I still don’t know the answers about snails (I’ll get there, but they are not exactly top of my list) but I have enjoyed my way so far. Be patient, as my travels so far may take a while to tell, and if the weather is good, I won’t be typing, but outside instead.

According to the Sussex branch of the Butterfly Conservation society there are 52 species of butterfly found in sussex, 43 entirely native to Sussex. So I wonder if it’s possible to spot (and photograph all of them?) It seems worth a try. Second I want to be identify the flowers and plants that thrive within walking distance of my house. I already belonged to a couple of facebook groups for birdwatchers, and recently joined one for wild flowers. I haven’t yet dared post any photos (although it is mostly friendly enough) but I have learned just how many flowers there are , and just how difficult it is to identify them, especially from just one photo! I have a lot to learn!

You have to start somewhere, so I’ll start with my first butterfly of the year, the marbled white. The first ones I saw were up Seaford Head on 3rd July, in the long grass near the golf course, and they are normally pretty common there. This year I was also very pleased to find one in my garden on the verbena bonariensis, which I’m encouraging to run rampant anywhere it pleases.

IMG_5078

“The Marbled White is a distinctive and attractive black and white butterfly, unlikely to be mistaken for any other species. In July it flies in areas of unimproved grassland and can occur in large numbers on southern downland. It shows a marked preference for purple flowers such as Wild Marjoram, Field Scabious, thistles, and knapweeds. Adults may be found roosting halfway down tall grass stems. 

Found in unimproved flowery grassland with tall sward but may stray into gardens. The strongest populations are found on chalk or limestone grasslands but other habitats such as; woodland rides and clearings, coastal grassland, road verges and railway embankments are also used.

Caterpillar Foodplants- Red Fescue (Festuca rubra) is thought to be essential in the diet of larvae but Sheep’s-fescue (F. ovina), Yorkshire-fog (Holcus lanatus), and Tor-grass (Brachypodium pinnatum) are also eaten. It is thought that several other grasses may be used, but the full range is not known.

There’s a lot of knapweed up on Seaford Head, and you don’t have to peer at many heads before you spot some wildlife. Bees, soldier beetles and butterflies are all fighting over it! In fact I think knapweed will be on my list of things I really want in my garden next year!

IMG_4947

 

IMG_4921

But of course nothing is that easy.. Knapweed – well is it greater knapweed, lesser knapweed, common knapweed, cultivated knapweed? Well according to the couple of books I have, I’m going to plump for greater knapweed. But I’m always happy to be corrected, as it’s in the process of being wrong, that we learn something. I have a terrible memory too, so the harder the journey is to answer the question, the more likely I am to remember this time next year when I’m out with my camera again, and checking what’s new.

“I sit beside the fire and think
Of all that I have seen
Of meadow flowers and butterflies
In summers that have been

Of yellow leaves and gossamer
In autumns that there were
With morning mist and silver sun
And wind upon my hair

I sit beside the fire and think
Of how the world will be
When winter comes without a spring
That I shall ever see

For still there are so many things
That I have never seen
In every wood in every spring
There is a different green
J.R.R. Tolkien

 

 

Wild about Spring

Wild about Spring

IMG_5945

I dream’d that as I wander’d by the way

Bare Winter suddenly was changed to Spring

And gentle odours led my steps astray

      Shelley

And so the suddenly green shoots were pushing up so fast you could almost hear their lush unfurling and the pots exploded in a lush blaze of colour Snowdrops, narcissus and crocus popping up in pots and in the beds. Far more than I thought I’d put in! Spring was here.

IMG_3816

IMG_3839

When I walk to work from the station, I choose the peaceful path up the side of the campus, alongside established trees. All Winter the ground has been a crackling brown carpet of leaves under bare branches. As the days warmed up little leaves appeared taking advantage of the bare canopy. I’m not great on identifying wild flowers, but I’m trying to learn! Am very smitten with a book I found in a bargain bookshop in Lewes, Wild Flowers, by Sarah Raven!

The first leaves to appear were like miniature cyclamen. And pretty soon their flowers appeared, another Springtime yellow, a mass of lesser celandine. It was a real delight watching the brown dead carpet become a mass of colour as the weeks passed by.

IMG_3887

I was rather less delighted when I realised that my new beds were also becoming a sea of celandines too. A “freebie” that came with my free top soil! After researching them I realised that these were pretty difficult to eradicate; digging them out was likely to leave tubers that resprouted! After removing them only where they appeared to be most encroaching on precious plants, I took a philosophical view to love and leave them for now.

There is a flower, the Lesser Celandine

That shrinks like many more from cold and rain

And the first moment that the sun may shine

Bright as the sun himself, tis out again!

W Wordsworth

On a March walk at Cuckmere I was delighted to spot these little violets which I’m almost certain are sweet violet rather than the more common later dog violets. A shy and sweet delight.

IMG_3856

At the campus perimeter the celandines were soon finished. The next leaves to shoot up were more delicate fronds, I was guessing cranesbill but suddenly they grew, at least a foot a week! Triumphant Cow Parsley, some of it already chest high.

IMG_6213

Nettles and dandelions are next and down the slope a few bluebells already opening those fragrant blue petals.

However much I  carefully nurture my garden , it reminds me Mother Nature is pretty good at blossoming forth without any help!

IMG_5941

Enjoy it while it lasts

Winter gloom and the darkling thrush

 

IMG_5413

So where has the time gone? One minute the Winter is dragging on and the next we are galloping towards Summer. So what has happened in my coastal garden so far this year?

Well this Winter wasn’t so bad. Not too much wind and rain, no real storms taking all the fences away (though there is still time!)  A couple of frosty spells, but nothing too severe. The Winter pansies I grew from seed last year hunkered down stubbornly refusing to bloom until Spring arrived. The rosemary bush seems to have doubled in size and most shrubs seem to have survived well except possibly the ceanothus I was given in October. It really needed more shelter from the wind than I could give it.

The potatoes I grew in a pot for Christmas dinner got forgotten in December. When I did find time to check them, I found a little bucketful of perfect tiny new potatoes. They were soon cooked and covered in home made aioli. Mm garlic!

IMG_5682

The wagtails and wood pigeons made themselves at home. The starlings grew their coats of many colours, and came crashing into the garden at regular intervals for food and a bath (even on the coldest days where I had to break the ice with a hammer and boiling water)

IMG_3665

Since December I’ve been working at home two days a week, and it’s been lovely getting a view out onto my garden, especially in the depths of Winter when otherwise I wouldn’t see it from one weekend to the next. I even got a glimpse of the black redstart venturing in, and posing cockily on the bird feeder station, and the fence.

A number of the plants in pots were dying/suffering, and after emptying a couple I found that most were infested with vine weevil. Quite a few of the little blighters were moved  to the bird table (a tasty snack much appreciated by the starlings) and I’ve had to empty the worst pots, and have drenched the rest with a nematode, and top dressed with gravel. From now on, no plant comes in the garden without a root inspection! It does explain why some pots like the trellis planter did badly last year regardless of which plants were in it, and where I put it. You live and learn. I was most worried about the crab apple tree in a pot, but it seems to have made it.

Inside my heated propagator and sunny windowsills were filled with little trays of seeds and I’m dreaming of Summer.

The song thrush had been and gone, clearing the bushes of berries through the dusky afternoons, and moving on again.  

IMG_3606

The Darkling Thrush

I leant upon a coppice gate

When Frost was spectre-grey,

And Winter’s dregs made desolate

The weakening eye of day.

The tangled bine-stems scored the sky

Like strings of broken lyres,

And all mankind that haunted nigh

Had sought their household fires.

               

At once a voice arose among

The bleak twigs overhead

In a full-hearted evensong

Of joy illimited;  

By Thomas Hardy

 Just when it seems that Winter will never end, come the first buds appear. Behold the joy of Spring.

IMG_3785

IMG_3790

 

 

 

 

W for Waves, winds and Winter wrens

WP_20150329_015

W is for Wind, Waves and Winter. Wind is the main challenge for my garden along with salty air and occasional sea water run off! Even the most hardy plants can shrivel and hunker down under such conditions (For example I finally gave up on a spiky Pyracanthus!). The only consolation is that it is mostly in the Winter that the worst of the winds reign, and you can sometimes get away with the annuals and perennials during the Summer. Last year I was lucky as there were few real Autumn storms and some of the flowers just kept going! However a sudden storm or windy week in the Summer can bring havoc. The worst casualties are G’s big pots of bamboo, which we keep round the hot tub. They just turn into a browned off stalks by December. Luckily once Summer comes they do grow new shoots again, and I just cut off all the dead ones. I’m not sure what is the best plan, perhaps to wrap fleece round them come the Autumn.

Making the best of it, some of the grasses look wonderful with the wind rushing through them, reflecting the wild beauty of the grassland in the nature reserve.

IMG_5182

Plenty of Wildlife beginning with W too. I did my RSPB Garden birdwatch recently and was glad to be able to include a Wren, which was happily hopping about, probably searching for spiders in the hedge, and a beautiful pied Wagtail which has become a regular visitor.

IMG_3662

What they lack in size, wrens make up for with their loud song! Someone certainly thought it was Spring this morning at dawn, there was some fantastic singing going on in the dawn chorus!

IMG_3383

Wrens apparently often huddle together in nest boxes – with a record 61 once found in a single nest box! I’ve only ever seen one a time, but pretty regularly. Apparently the males make several potential nests and the female gets to choose which one she wants. Will have to keep an eye out for signs of nest making. I have some brass wren ornaments on the top of the trellis panel, which are tiny, but still bigger than the real ones!

Also have had cute little Wood mice in the compost bin (looking rather sleepy and startled when I open the lid).

Last but not least, Weeds. Well not too many hopefully in my garden, though it is rather difficult sometimes to tell if anything sprouting in my new bed is a) seeds I enthusiastically planted in Autumn, b) weeds inherited with my Eastbourne clay top soil c) seeds scattered by the frenzy of birds at the bird table and under it. I guess that’s a good excuse to just wait and see what turns up!

Anyway let’s hope we will be waving goodbye to Winter very soon!

Autumn ends, winter comes,
And everybody’s gone.
Days grow short, and pull apart,
And now the nights are long.
We winter wrens have made amends,
With the silence and the cold.
So, just leave us to our own device.
We winter wrens are fine.

So, just leave us to our own device
We winter wrens are fine
‘Cause there’s no mistake of the call we make
When there’s no one else around

‘Cause there’s no mistake of the call we make
When there’s no one else around

Lyrics, Winter Wrens by Dolorean

 

V for Vigour, Verbena and Vinca minor

One of my favourite plants is Verbena Bonariensis. I first fell for it, when I saw in G’s parents’ front garden which was a tidy shingle sunny bed, with these towering purple blooms right at the front, fabulous. They self seed everywhere so Pat found a few escapees and gave them to me but they failed to thrive (some being accidentally beheaded by G when he decided to strim the grass (and anything near it.. doh)

I then grew some from seed, and carefully nurtured them, potting them on as they grew. When I planted out and left them around 3-4 inches high, by the next day, there they were gone. Slugs and snails my main suspects! Anyway I persevered and last year managed to get a plant to survive and I see it is already sending up new shoots, so I’m happy.  Maybe the self seeded ones are a bit less tasty, and more defensive. They are never going to have enough space or sun to do as well as Pat’s garden (which won a prize in an Eastbourne in bloom competition), but there will be enough to keep a few bees happy.

IMG_3224

They are rather on the tall and leggy side, and when I spotted  a dwarf one for sale in the garden centre, I couldn’t resist. I kept it in a nice white pot, and it kept itself tidy (if rather spiky) and bloomed for ages. Nice to look at, but I don’t think I saw a single bee or butterfly on it. Which is rather a shame. It’s still alive I think, though probably could have done with a mulch before this cold spell started, but we will see if it makes it.

IMG_2598

Another V is Vinca minor. The periwinkle is a lovely ground cover plant, and I have a couple on the shady side, that are reliable without overtaking the garden.

WP_20150411_015

V is also for Variegation. I don’t think you can get enough variegation in your leaves! They can really add texture and depth to a patch of green or a dark corner!

IMG_0465

And ending with a Villain, the dreaded Vine weevil. You buy a plant, and care for it and then weep as it wilts and dies. Often the cause is an infestation of vine weevils in the pot. I lost a few purchases this year, and must remember to try and check the roots for these little villains, before I settle the plants in! Apparently this is a good time to check the roots of any ailing plants in pots, so must try that when they thaw out!

 

U for Underplanting and umbellifers

 

Um, well can U think of any plants beginning with U? I can’t find any in my garden!

This year however I will need to think about my Underplanting, in the new raised bed by the hedge and under the new crab apple tree. Suggestions for a rather shady but fertile spot welcome, especially something tall that can hide the rather unsightly netting covering the hedge.

Some more Umbellifers perhaps, although these prefer the sun! Surely the most lovely of these plants (rather popular with Chelsea garden designers), is the ubiquitous cow parsley. Probably not a good one for my little patch, but up on the downs, here between Lullington Heath and the Cuckmere valley, it is just glorious, clouds of soaring white flowers all along the South Downs way.

IMG_4442

Other umbellifers include the wonderful fennel, sweet cicily and angelica

IMG_9862

Up the Umbellifers!

Tumbling toms and thunbergia

IMG_2027

T is for tomatoes. I may not have a greenhouse or a lot of space, but I do still like to squeeze in some Tomato plants. Tumbling Tom is a favourite so I grew that one and a new one maskotka. Hard to choose between them really, both did really well in some bargain big £1 tubs from Ikea, in a corner that doesn’t get a huge amount of sun, but is more sheltered from the wind than most of the sunny side. Plenty of cherry tomatoes, and enough  green ones left for four jars of chutney.

IMG_2599

Walk a few yards up the hill behind our houses and you’ll soon spot some Thrift (often known as sea pinks) growing on the slopes and edge of the cliffs. It feels most at home there and in my garden where it is most welcome

IMG_3355

In the Spring of course a succession of bulbs start to cheer up the pots. The tulip bulbs probably need replacing, they weren’t as great this year, they really don’t keep all that well.

WP_20150415_011

We usually head out to some National Trust or other gardens in the Spring to get the best displays!

IMG_1654

 

A new plant for me this year is this fantastic Thunbergia (superstar orange). It grows from seed to a substantial climber in one season. What gorgeous orange flowers they are. It did quite well in my garden, but not as well as the one I gave my mum. She’s not really a gardener (My Dad always used to do the garden) but following directions, she kept it in her conservatory, then planted it in her front garden against a warm wall, and it positively blossomed, far longer than mine did! Quite stunning

 

IMG_2626

IMG_3594-001

Another stunning T is a visitor to the garden in January, a Thrush. I only ever see them in January for a short period, while they (or possibly just the one!) clear the berries from the shrubs at the bottom of the alley way. A lovely way to cheer up my cold and frosty January!