Monday, 9 November 2015

November jobs

I haven't been able to do a lot in the garden in the last few weeks which is why there have been a lack of posts. This has largely been due to the weather or other commitments, but this weekend despite the rain I had to get out there, if not for the sake of the garden but for my own sanity, now the clocks have changed the short days are not good for me.

My first job was one I had been looking forward to all year, using the leaf mould I started making a year ago. The 2 large builders sacks I filled last autumn had broken down to the amount in the picture. The resulting material was a lovely black friable material and the was plenty to mulch the main flowerbed. 

Hopefully this will become incorporated into the soil be worms and help to improve it's structure from the heavy clay it is now. I have already started next years batch and am even taking leaves from next doors garden to boost my yield.

I actually spent most of the weekend on another project, preparing the area I am planning to use as an Apiary next year. I needed to screen of the area for a couple of reasons. Firstly to prevent the dogs from getting to the bees, for obvious reasons, the other is that by putting a screen around the hives if forces the bees to fly up and over the hedge into the meadow behind the garden (at least that's the theory). I used a brushwood screen as it's a solid barrier and it blends in well in the garden. The next job will be to sow the area with wild flower seeds and the get the hives.

The other thing I have been doing over the last few weeks is working on anew blog, Nature lovers,really?
I decided that I needed a space away from this blog where I could express my views on conservation, environmental issues and the like, I realised that not all the people who read this blog would agree with my views so I thought it best to separate them. Anyway please have a look and if you like what you see please follow me if not just read this one. 


Thursday, 1 October 2015

Autumnal Tints

Despite the lovely late summer weather we have been having I have done very little in the garden. Not because I am getting lazy, but because we have been decorating the outside of the house. Of course the garden carries on and things like my grapes are ripening nicely.

I did fire up the brush cutter at he weekend to start clearing the aera at the end of the garden where I plan to site the bee hives next year. I need to get the area clear as I plan to erect a fence around it to keep the dogs away from the bees.

On the subject of bees, yesterday I went down to the alpine house to plant up some crocus bulbs I had ordered. The noise in there was amazing from the buzzing of the bees on the ivy hedge next to it.

I went down to the garden centre yesterday to buy some small  terracotta pots for the crocus bulbs, guess what they didn't have any! How can a garden centre not have any flowerpots, I would have been ok if I had wanted a terracotta pumpkin, Christmas decorations or a large model Elephant, but no flowerpots.

The fields and hedgerows around the village are looking really lovely in their autumnal tints. The other morning I saw 3 Buzzards circling low over one of the fields I am not sure if it was an adult and 2 juveniles or 3 adults as I was driving and couldn't stop to look at them. The swallows and swifts have gone now and the Fieldfares and Redwings will be arriving soon, I love this time of year with all the changes that are going on. In the garden it is the time of year when I can make the most radical changes and plan for the next year.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Odds and Ends

A bit of a bitty post today as not a lot has been happening in the garden.

I ran my Moth trap over the weekend and among the Moths I captured was this very pretty Light Emerald Campaea margaritata. I was hoping to capture some Hawk Moths but sadly none came to the trap.

With nothing much to do except cut the grass and generally tidy up I retreated into the Alpine house to do some more microscope drawing. I like to work in there as the light is good and very even due to the shading on the glass.

 The first one is the tip of an anther (male organ) from a fushia, the whole thing is only 2mm in size. The second is the flower from a stem of Twitch grass Elymus repens whic is about 5mm in length. I find it a really good way to relax and the more I do the better I will get. At the moment all the drawings are done on A5 paper but I intend to scale up as I improve.

Finally some good news from the USA. A court in San Francisco has banned the use of a Neonicotinoid insecticide sulfoxaflor, unfortunately it is still licensed in the EU but hopefully this new ban may force the EU to reconsider. You can read the whole story here:

Tuesday, 8 September 2015


There hasn't been a lot going on in the garden in the last couple of weeks so I have continued on my project to record the flora and fauna.

Whilst I was up in our loft the other day and found my stereo microscope. I haven't used it since the end of my college days some 20 yrs back (I was a mature student in case you think I am lying about may age). I used to love microscope drawing so I thought why not get it down and have a go.

These are my first attempts and are Seeds and Seed pods

Hopefully I will get better with practise, but I am quite pleased with these.

I bet these days they just take a photograph, but wheres the fun it that?

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Phenology, Ecology and Biodiversity

The last couple of weeks have been a fairly quiet time in the garden, either the weather has been against us or we have been working in the house or entertaining friends.

Being confined indoors by the weather has allowed me to start on a project that I have been planning for a long time, recording the flora and fauna that we have in the garden. Since we moved here I have kept a list of birds that I have seen but now I am expanding this to cover everything else.

Initially I am recording everything I can identify on an excel spreadsheet linked to a photograph and notes as to things were in relationship to plants etc. This will give me an overview of the ecology and biodiversity of the garden as I will see the relationships between organisms. I have got various bits of equipment for collecting and identifying insects etc and obviously everything collected will be unharmed and released as soon as possible where it was collected.

I am also going back through my photographic archive and adding species from that to my database. One of the great advantages of this is that digital photos are time stamped so I know precisely when they were taken.

Then starting on new years day I will start recording the date at which I first see each species I have listed to form an ongoing record of the phenology (phenology is the recording of date, climate etc as opposed to phrenology which is a psuedoscience measuring lumps an bumps on peoples heads!) of the garden. Hopefully over the years I will be able to see trends appearing.

The other thing I want to start doing (again) is drawing specimens from the garden. When I did my degree we had to draw specimens and I really enjoyed it, it was very disciplined unlike the art I produce now so I need to get back into practice.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Neonicotinoids and wildlife

Dead Bumblebee

As anyone who reads this blog will know I am passionate about our wildlife, I always have been and always will be. I enjoy watching, studying, reading and writing about it and occasionally campaigning for it and this is one of those occasions.

Firstly I should declare another interest, as of next year I intend to keep bees in the garden so this subject could directly affect them, but it is the overall effect on the environment that worries me most.

Neonicotinoids are a group of insecticides that are used as seed costing on Rape, Maize and other crops to combat insects such as flea beetles. The work systematically being taken up by the plant and infiltrating the tissues including nectar and pollen, anything eating any part of the plant will be poisoned. They are extremely toxic in tiny doses, it has been calculated that a tablespoon full added to an Olympic swimming pool is concentrated enough to kill a bee.  They work on the nervous system and in bees it appears to disrupt their ability to navigate back to the hive, a lost bee will die.

Another issue is that the seed coating rubs off whilst being sown forming a dust that blows into the surrounding field margins or further, killing the insect and invertebrates living there. It has also been shown to persist in the soil for 2 years where they kill invertebrates such as earthworms and other beneficial creatures.

So why am I writing about this now? Well under from this pressure from France and some other EU countries a 2 year ban on their use from Dec 2013 was introduced, the UK voted against the ban. In July the UK government decided cut short the ban and to allow their use here in the East of England from the December ( see The government has ignored much of the research that has been presented to them an lifted the ban under pressure from the big Agrochemical companies and from the National Union of Farmers.

The really ironic thing is that this year according to ADAS the crop yield for rape is actually up (See .This could actually be because there are more bees and other insects around due to the ban

So what can we do as Wildlife friendly gardeners? Well loby your MP's, sign petitions join organisations like The Bumblebee Conservation trust or Buglife. Oh and don't use them in your garden...

Yes, if you go to the Garden centre to buy something to get rid of the greenfly you could be buying Neonic's.

Here is a list of some you might find.

UK Home and garden products that contain neonicotinoid pesticides
Product Name
Active Ingredient
Baby Bio House Plant Insecticide
Bayer CropScience Ltd
Multirose Bug Killer
Bayer CropScience Ltd
Provado Ultimate Bug Killer 2
Bayer CropScience Ltd
Methiocarb and Thiacloprid
Provado Ultimate Bug Killer Concentrate 2
Bayer CropScience Ltd
Provado Ultimate Bug Killer Ready to Use
Bayer CropScience Ltd
Provado Vine Weevil Killer 2
Bayer CropScience Ltd
Bugclear Ultra
The Scotts Company (UK) Limited
BugClear Ultra
The Scotts Company (UK) Limited
BugClear Ultra for Pots
The Scotts Company (UK) Limited
BugClear Ultra for Pots Ready to Use
The Scotts Company (UK) Limited
BugClear Ultra Gun!
The Scotts Company (UK) Limited
Bugclear Ultra Vine Weevil Killer
The Scotts Company (UK) Limited
Bugclear Ultra Vine Weevil Killer
The Scotts Company (UK) Limited
RoseClear for Bugs
The Scotts Company (UK) Limited
Roseclear Ultra
The Scotts Company (UK) Limited
Roseclear Ultra GUN!
The Scotts Company (UK) Limited
There are also some composts that contain anti Vine weevil compounds (Neonic's) please don't buy them as you will be poisoning every insect that visits your plants.

When I was at college studying ecology the story that was used as the example of a man made ecological disaster was the story of DDT, the wonder insecticide developed to combat the Malaria carrying Mosquito. It was so effective it became the insecticide of choice around the world.  Unfortunately it's widespread use permeated the worlds ecosystems killing fish, birds including the Peregrine Falcon in the UK where it caused Egg failure by thinning the shells. eventually it's use was banned after mass protests. I really fear that Neonic's could actually be worse, they are acting on the bottom of the food chain as well as on the insects that pollinate all our fruit and many other crops including rape. If we keep polluting our land with these poisons I am sure that in the very near future we could be in real trouble with ecosystems collapsing.

Monday, 3 August 2015

Garden Moths

 I was at the Botanical gardens in Cambridge the other day when I saw these caterpillars crawling across this leaf. When you see caterpillars you immediately think of Butterflies, but in Britain the majority are in fact moths.

I recognised them as the caterpillars of the 5 Spot Burnet moth Zygaena trifolii  I photographed this pair mating a few years ago. They are fairly common and one of the most distinctive of our moths and like Butterflies are day flying.

Many garden plants are moth pollinated, some such as honeysuckle are specialised for moths producing their nectar at night.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Summer Bling

Well the early flowers are over, now come the in your face summer colour, Dahlias. Dahlias are coming back into fashion, for a while they they were regarded as very old fashioned but common sense has won through and they are back.

Well to be honest they have never been out in our garden, I love them.

I think some people think they are a lot of work but they aren't. I just plant the rhizomes out each year after the last frosts and then leave them in the ground until the first frosts kill off the foliage. I then dig them up and store them in the Alpine house overwinter.

I have no idea of the varieties ( I am sure I did at some time!) but that doesn't matter the just look glorious.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Bee friendly

With my wildflower area in full bloom I have been monitoring the insects that have been visiting and feeding on the nectar. The aim of the wildflower area was to attract more wildlife into the garden by providing native insect friendly plants. One of the problems with modern gardens is the use of non native and hybrid plants. Many of the F1 hybrid bedding plants that we use actually produce no nectar to attract and feed insects, this combined with modern farming techniques of vast areas of monoculture has seriously damaged our insect population.

One of the most important groups are the Bumblebees which actually pollinate far more species of plants than the honeybee. Different species specialise in certain types of plants, the Bee in the photograph above has a long tongue in order to reach to the nectaries at the base of the long corolla of this Foxglove. The Garden Bumblebee below specalises in open flowers like the thistle.

Garden or Ruderal Bumblebee (I think?)

Small Tortiseshell

Bees are not the only pollinators of course, Butterflies, Moths,Flys, Hoverflies, and beetles as in the photo below all play their parts. In fact anything that visits flowerheads will transfer pollen between plants.

I would urge anyone who can to plant insect friendly plants in their gardens. Wildflower seeds are available through the RSPB or the Bumblebee conservation Trust as well as garden centres.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015


The Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf said that "A plant is only worth growing if it looks good when it is dead" and I agree with him. Many of the plants that I grow have this characteristic as their seedheads are as beautiful as, or in some cases more than the  flowers that formed them.

Leaving the seedheads on the flowers has other benefits beside the aesthetic. Many seedheads attract wildlife, in the autumn my teasels are visited by flocks of Goldfinches.

The other advantages are plants such as poppies and foxgloves will self sow producing plants for next year. Although I do collect and keep seed I am a firm believer that nature knows best, if a plant sets seed and then releases it that to me is when that seed should be sown not the following spring. A lot of seed germinates better if allowed to stratify in the cold soil over winter.

The final benefit is you don't need to spend  hours deadheading, just one big clear up in the spring.

Monday, 6 July 2015

Up front gardening

Over the time I have been writing this blog I have barely ever mentioned the front garden. There are several reasons for this, it's small, it's North facing, it has an ugly wall and someone at some point filled it up with pebbles. This weekend I decided to have a go at improving things.

I do have the rose I bought at Hampton court about 5 years ago, a jasmine and a honeysuckle working their way up the house but I need to improve things at ground level.

The first thing I wanted to do was hide the wall. I decided that a row of lavender bushes along the outside would do the trick so of I went to the garden centre knowing this wasn't going to be cheap, wrong, I found that they had reduced a load of plants from £10 each to £3 each so I bought 12.

I planted them along the front of the wall the soil there is quite dry and sandy perfect for lavender and at this time of year it gets the sun in the late afternoon.
I also planted up some hanging baskets with this lovely Fuchsia Carmel blue.
Finally I would like to introduce a new member to the family, Mia (nearest the camera), she is a 9yr old Dogue De Bordeaux that we have rescued. So we now have 3 dogs which means what lawn we do have will probably disappear completely this winter (but I don't care!).

Wednesday, 1 July 2015


 In his wonderful book 'The Ivington Diaries' Monty Don describes how he feels that growing roses is a man thing as it appeals to the 'measuring thing that men slip into' and it also brings out mens feminine side.
 I agree with him, I am coming to the conclusion that you can never have too many roses, and this year they have been magnificent.
 I actually avoided them for a while, too many painful memories of weeding amongst the standards and shrub roses in my parents garden.

 Anyway I thought I would post a few pictures of this years blooms

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Night Scents

 Last night at about 10:30pm I took the dogs out to the garden before locking up. It was a still, warm evening and I was hit by a series of scents as I walked down to the lawn with them
 The first strong scent was from this curry plant, very distinct and spicey
 The strongest scent was from the honeysuckle, not surprising as it flowers at night to attract moths to pollinate it. I love honeysuckle so encourage it in the garden, however in the past it has given me quite bad hayfever but I seem more tolerant of it these days.
Close to the seating area the sweetpeas I have growing up the legs of the gazebo fill the air with their overpowering sweet smell. They are a fantastic plant for scent and one of the few that I cut to bring indoors, the more flowers yo cut the more blooms they produce

All these scents are floating on a background musk from the roses which are all around the garden.

I recently tried night walking which is basically walking in the countryside without light. I got the idea after reading a book by Robert Macfarlane. I walked a circular route around our village which I know really well and it was an amazing experience. Your eyes adjust to the darkness quite quickly, but your senses of hearing and smell really come into their own. You hear every rustle and movement and detect lots of smells that you would push to the back of your consciousness if you were using your eyes. It was a really thought provoking experience which I will do again soon.