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Monday, 30 July 2012

July flowers (Part 2)

The last few dry weeks have been all about shades of purple, lavender, pink and blue and the real emergence of summer butterflies, some of which have been quite late in appearing compared to other years.

In a starring role during this period has been Allium sphaerocephalon, one of the ornamental alliums, with tall thin stalks and very little leaf growth, meaning they can be planted and grown in between other plants very easily. They are much loved by bees and hoverflies of all sizes from large bumble bees to the tiniest of solitary bees, and all sorts of flies and butterflies.

Close up of a Meadow Brown

Male Meadow Brown, with Spirea 'Goldflame' in the background

Lavender is also very popular with both bees and butterflies, but in this shot they've opted for the allium!

A bumble bee and honey bee share the same flower head

Alliums again, mixed in with purple Sedums, another plant which bees love

A different kind of purple on the Pheasant Berry (Leycesteria formosa), which has been flowering for ages now and is forming berries.

Purple berries forming on the flowers of Leycesteria formosa

These are the first flowers on my blue hydrangea, which due to my neutral soil is normally a bluey/purple colour. Strangely though, this year, this is the most purple that there is and the rest of the flowers opening are a true, lovely blue! I haven't added anything to the soil to make this happen. I'll take a decent photo for next month as I haven't got any good ones of the whole plant in all its glory.

Beautiful blue Hydrangea

I have everlasting sweet peas growing up the fence wire of the veg patch and they've been wonderful.

Everlasting Sweet Pea

Back to lavender again. I have various plants of different sizes and colours, but this large one with very long flowering stalks is quite the stunner, and very popular with various different bees, as you can see! It was labelled 'Hidcote' but it's very tall and a pale colour. I was desperate for a blue lavender and finally spotted one. That was also labelled 'Hidcote' and is about a quarter of the size. I despair sometimes at the labelling in garden centres.

Bumble bee and honey bee on Lavender

The star of the show as far as butterflies are concerned though, is Verbena bonariensis. I've already shown butterfly photos on this plant, and it's also visited by various bees, hoverflies and the Hummingbird Hawkmoth.

Meadow Brown on Verbena bonariensis

First Swallowtail of the year and the only one I've seen so far, which is unusual. I have all this dill and fennel in the background here just waiting for their caterpillars to eat!

Swallowtail on Verbena bonariensis

This year my coneflowers have also proven popular with butterflies.

Peacock butterfly on Coneflower (Echinacea)

There is the occasional burst of orange here and there!

Crocosmia 'Lucifer'

Alliums again, but can you see the tiny white spider? (bottom left)

My geraniums/pelargoniums continue to do well, although the green and white leafed varieties have been the last to start flowering.

Pelargonium "Mrs JC Mappin"
Talking of mislabelling, this was bought in Switzerland as "Mistress Mappin",
a name that does not exist.

Final shot showing the same front herb bed, now looking a bit more golden as the bronze fennel is in full flower, and the golden hues of the stipa grass flowers comes through. The bronze fennel is now covered in honey bees - something I hadn't been expecting - and all the lower growing plants have been covered in pollen which has dropped from above!

Again, as this is an uncropped photo, it has come up blurry. Click if you wish to see it sharper.

In the foreground, the Thyme bank just starting to go over.
Then Lavender in front of a golden Stipa tenuissima grass,
bluey purple Perovskia on left, Coneflowers to the right of it,
and far right at the back, Verbena bonariensis.
All just smothered in pollinating insects :-)

Had a good 14mm of rain yesterday so the garden is breathing a sigh of relief again. The stream, which had dried up and just showing a few muddy puddles last Friday, must have started flowing again briefly, as the pond water was up to just beneath the overflow this morning, whereas the day before it was down about 4 inches!

Sunday, 29 July 2012

July flowers (Part 1)

What a month! The first half was cool and wet, and all I wanted was for it to stop raining, warm up a bit and let me hack back those jungle like weeds! Then it stopped raining, we had a week of hot weather, it was too hot to garden and we moaned a lot (well, I did) and now it's cooled down again. A 10C rise or drop in temperature is a bit of a shock to the system. Unfortunately my free draining soil can't cope with these temps and no regular watering/rain so the garden has dried out considerably and I'm out there now having to hosepipe and put the seep hoses on. It's amazing how quickly everything starts to go brown and wilt, but I've been lucky so far this summer that I haven't had to start watering until now. At least we will have saved some money on the water bill! (And in case you think I moan a lot, I'm British, and this is what we do best - moan about the weather. It's rarely just right).

So, back to the beginning of the month and a summary of the best in bloom. The white Astrantias have soldiered on, happy in the shady spots of the garden. It always amazes me how many insects are attracted to them.

A hoverfly (no time for IDs right now!),
a couple of Varied Carpet Beetles and a teeny little bee!

Red Soldier Beetles mating

The Lavatera looked stunning earlier in the month. It's still flowering now but is past its best.

Rarely are any of my flower photos bug free!
Can you see the silhouette of the tiny insect deep inside?

I'm so happy this year that my two hydrangeas have done well. This pink one didn't even flower last year and this year is a mass of blooms.

Pink Hydrangea beginning to colour up

Oh how I moaned about the wind too. It made it so hard to photograph the insects or flower heads, which were swaying in the breeze! (Of course, as soon as it heated up, I wanted that wind back again....)

The foxglove swayed, but the bumble bee (almost) stood still. One day.....

Amidst this sea of pink there were blasts of other colours. Here's my sedum tub round the front of the house. I'm particularly pleased with it this year as I was only given these three plants last summer and now two out of the three have flowered.

Sedum reflexum (yellow flowers) has been a hit with the honey bees.

Happy bee

The pelargoniums, or geraniums as I still call them, have been coming to life. I bought the ivy leafed ones for the tubs, but my overwintered indoors zonal pelaroniums take some getting used to the outside light and sun, and some take longer than others to come back into flower, and regain their full leaf colour.

Bog standard bought Ivy Leafed Geranium

A no-name variety bought last year
from the plant man in the village market.

Self seeded Calendulas started to bloom in the wild patch with poppies,
in front of my bee hotel.

By mid month my front bed which has many herbs as well as some other, more drought resistant plants (even they struggle at times, as this soil here is so shallow and sandy) was starting to come into full summer glory. The blue spires are perovskia against a backdrop of self seeded dill on the left, and my fabulous and new last year, bronze fennel, which gets the thumbs up from me!

Looking blurry because it hasn't been cropped and Blogger can't cope with images over about 1000 pixels wide. Needs clicking on to view!

Front flower and herb bed.

I will end this now and put the rest of the month on another post as I have far too many photos!

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Summer (and a snake!)

*Warning: Grass snake photos further down*

Summer mark IV has arrived. I know that because it's the fourth time it's actually got hot enough to get into shorts this year! It doesn't look like it's going to last so we need to make the most of it. My brother arrived yesterday so the BBQ is out and we're off to the coast tomorrow - back to Port Mer which I featured on this blog recently, just hopefully this time with sun! I'd like to try the other coastal footpath which leads back towards Cancale as we've done the path towards Pointe du Grouin several times now. Plus moules frites of course!!

In the garden the pond level has now dropped below the overflow so no more sounds of running water, and already I see the lawn is stressed in places and I've had to start watering some of the plants and veggies which need more water than others (notably lettuce which I don't want to bolt just yet and my hydrangeas, which droop at the drop of a hat), but for the moment it is worth it and there are so many butterflies about now and it's just a joy to see blue cloudless skies after so much gloomy weather.

Here's a photo of a Peacock butterfly that I took yesterday on a Coneflower, with my Perovskia forming a lovely blurry bluey-purple background. It just shouts 'summer' to me.

Sunday was a beautiful day and we went to a 'Summer Garden Party' thrown by some friends who live not far from here. They'd really gone to town with fun games for everyone to play, a garden treasure hunt and even a proper fairground stall with games. I'm sure my friend won't mind me putting her Youtube link of the photo compilation here so you can see what we Brits/Anglais/Limeys/Poms (whatever you like to call us) who live in France get up to. I took some of the photos (notably the landscape, floral and butterfly ones that appear dotted about between the people shots) but I do appear in one of them here - about halfway through I think. I'm in a yellow teeshirt eating cheesecake, which I'd made. I'm good at both the eating and the making of that.

My OH is the one in the checked shirt who was supervising the air rifle target shooting competition. I'm sorry the video is appearing quite small - I've no idea how to make it bigger and I'm not given an option here in Blogger. (Edit: Duh! You just click on the bottom right squares and it comes up full screen. My photo is at 1 min 49 secs)

So now the pretty summer things have been dispensed with, onto the other reason for this blog post. Please don't scroll down further if you have a problem with seeing pictures of snakes. It's 'only' a grass snake and totally harmless, but I'm well aware that many people can't bear to see them so I think it only fair to give a warning.

My OH went to put the chooks and ducks to bed a few nights ago and discovered a grass snake curled up in the grass next to the duck shed! I rushed outside and took a number of photos. Had to try with flash as well as the light level was rather low by 9pm - but the real colour of the snake is more like the photos without flash.

These snakes are quite common although we haven't seen one for a number of years here. They like water and have been seen swimming in our pond!

Finally, after the poor thing had decided that being a top photo model was really rather boring, it suddenly slunk off through a gap in our cobbled together duck 'n' chook sheds. First into the chicken shed where Snowy started clucking at it (the others were already up on the perch ready to go to sleep), then found another gap and slid through into the duck side. I haven't seen it since so hopefully it found another gap to exit or came out during the following day.

Funnily enough I find this photo more disturbing than any of the others showing its face! And no, I'm not scared of snakes!

Monday, 23 July 2012

The much maligned 'Cabbage White' butterfly

I can just picture it, the veggie gardeners amongst you, throwing up your arms in horror! You know, I would have agreed with you, and even last year when I started taking photos of butterflies, I didn't even bother with the whites. They always seemed rather boring, were everywhere and were the cause of umpteen hours spent caterpillar squidging; time that could have been better spent elsewhere.

But this year I've been taking a few photos of them. At first it was because they were just about the only butterfly around, and then because I realised that up close, they were actually very pretty indeed.

What we know of as 'Cabbage Whites' are actually Large Whites (Pieris brassicae) and Small Whites (Pieris rapae). The Large Whites are the ones whose caterpillars are those hairy green and yellowy ones. The smooth green caterpillars come from the Small White. There's even a Green Veined White (Pieris napi) which I only recently heard about as I realised I'd taken a photo of one (albeit distantly, so not worth sharing). That one is also a brassica lover.

I often use this site for butterfly ID, as it shows all the usual UK (and that means Brittany too) butterflies, both male and female, wings closed and wings open. Even so I find it a bit hard sometimes to tell the difference between Large and Small, male and female, so I'm not going to attempt that here, and it'd probably bore the pants off you anyway ;-)

There are other white butterflies such as the Wood White and the Black Veined White, neither of which I've ever seen, but whose caterpillars feed on various grasses so we brassica growers have nothing to fear.

Then there's the Marbled White, which incidentally isn't classed as a 'white' (Pieridae) at all, but is part of the family of Nymphalidae, which includes the browns! Again, another grassland butterfly whose caterpillars feed on various grasses. I see them occasionally during the summer flitting about in wilder parts of my garden, across the lawned areas and near the pond, but I've never seen one stop and feed from a Verbena in my more cultivated garden area, so this is the first photo I've ever had the chance to get!

Marbled White (Melanargia galathea)

The one thing that does please me (it won't most of you, probably), is that no matter how many of the brassica munching caterpillars we squidge, there is never a shortage of Cabbage White butterflies, so I don't think there's any risk of them becoming rare any time soon!

Oh - and every flower here the butterflies are feeding on is Verbena bonariensis. Want butterflies? Get some seeds and grow this really easy plant! Read more about it here in My Top Garden Plants series.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Cruel nature

A little while ago I found a dead baby hedgehog in the garden. There are hedgehogs living here within the confines of the perimeter fence so presumably there is enough habitat here for them to survive. They are nocturnal but I know they are around by the poo on the lawn! So one dead one is sad but I didn't think that much of it, as these things happen, I guess.

But then a few days later my OH found a young one during the day under a conifer tree, which didn't appear very well. We decided to put out some wet cat food mixed with a bit of water in the hope that would help a bit. In fact my dear OH decided to help the little creature even further, as it was covered in flies, so he put it into a box with some sawdust, the food and a mesh over the top to keep out flies. We then observed it regularly (by this time he - or she - was called Herbie) and refreshed the food. It really didn't seem very active or much interested in eating so after a couple of days we decided to release it into a wild bit of the garden in the evening, as short of feeding it with a syringe we didn't see there was anything more we could do. Unfortunately the poor little thing died overnight. 

Now this is a bit more puzzling having two little hedgehogs die over the course of the last few weeks. It's certainly not been lack of moisture or lack of food as with all the rain this spring and summer so far there must be plenty of food for them in the wilds of the garden. I just hope it's not some disease that got them.

Herbie Hedgehog in his little box

Just prior to release.
A healthy hedgehog would have curled up into a protective ball.

Around the same time I noticed this out of the loo window one morning and rushed to get my camera! We don't see rabbits around this area ever and hares are rare. (I have posted these photos on both facebook and Google+ and the jury is out - it's 50/50 as to whether it is a rabbit or a leveret (young hare)). 

Bunny or Leveret?

To see one inside the garden was both a delight and a worry, from a gardening point of view! After having a sniff around the septic tank area it lolloped off out of view and seemed to disappear into the hedge.

Wonder if the violas taste good?

It does look more hare-y in this photo

So that was it for a few days until my OH went over the road to mow the orchard and discovered it dead and decomposing with its throat ripped out! Poor bunny/hare - on the one hand I am pleased if that means we won't be having a bunny problem in the garden, on the other of course it's a horrible way to go..... One also wonders what actually killed it yet didn't take its body away, which is a bit more surprising. 

Too many puzzles sometimes and nature can be quite cruel.

I don't like to end on a sad note so here's a couple of butterflies I have come across recently which are still managing to live and fly even though something has taken a good chunk out of the wings of one of them (bird maybe?) and the other had lost a fair amount of its wings somehow or other. Always sad seeing a tatty looking butterfly but they do manage to continue to fly and feed like this.

Peacock butterfly with interesting shaped missing chunks of wing,
which presumably happened whilst they were closed

Meadow Brown - it should have a fair bit more wing than this

I do have plenty of photos of intact butterflies which I'll be posting at some point as more and more are appearing in the garden now - and I get less and less gardening done because of it!

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Better damselfly photos!

No sooner do I post two quite inferior shots of damselflies by the pond, but the next day I got lucky and saw several more, which willingly obliged to model for me and so I managed some decent photos. I have to share them here!

In the afternoon I spotted this one by the pond, the same species which I saw in the morning, which I'll come to next. I'm now not daring to go outside without my compact camera with me as there are so many photo opportunites which I'll miss if I don't have a camera to hand.

Blue Tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans)

Now earlier on in the day I thought I'd go stand by the pond for a few minutes in the hope that something metallic blue would flit by and I might have a chance. Only to realise that these two tiny beauties were actually sitting still in some of the vegetation beside the water! They are so tiny and slender they are really easy to miss!

Can you even see them? I'm bending down taking this, thought they'd
fly off so my trick is to take photos whilst creeping closer, bit by bit.

For a very brief while they both stayed then one flew off.

This one posed beautifully for me, not seeming to mind a camera a few inches away from it!

And then the sun shone and reflected off the damselfly and looking at the photos I discovered
that they are hairy! I'd never have known.

So, onwards and upwards. I just hope more come by in different colours (have seen some in different colours in previous years but some years are better than others). Also a dragonfly would be nice - and much easier to try to focus on!

Overall, I'm really chuffed with these :-)