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Saturday, 8 June 2013


Biggest surprise of all.... where did that strange blue thing, which is usually accompanied by a big yellow ball in the sky, come from? It's been around quite a lot this last week.... :-)

Honeysuckle looking extra stunning against the blue sky

Of course, it then became 'too hot' as we are so unused to it, and then we had to have thunderstorms because the heat had built up so much (haha). But I'm not complaining. It's been a great week outside getting lots done in the garden, and I'm feeling fine again after a really nasty cold which lasted two weeks, until I ended up going to the doctor for a load of drugs which got rid of it!

So, surprises. First of all, a couple of those 'where did that plant come from?' surprises. Both just amazing that they self seeded in just the right place. This first one I noticed back in the late winter and thought it was an Ox-eye Daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare), but now that it is flowering I'm not so sure, as it seems quite a thick lush plant instead of the individually flowered spindly wild ones. Or maybe the richer soil and fertiliser in the bed has caused it to become quite a large bushy plant? Whatever, it's fabulous and in just the perfect spot in my front sunny bed.

A 'weed' becomes a beautiful plant in just the right place

Ox-eye Daisy?

As for the other one, I still can't believe I never noticed it until a few days ago. I was looking out of the living room window and thought, eh? What's that tall purple flower behind the Euphorbia? On closer inspection it turns out to be a Salsify (Tragopogon porrifolius) flower! Now some years back I grew Salsify, which is a root veg, but we didn't like it very much so I left some in place to flower the next year. They were pretty, and have very attractive seed heads, but alas, they are just like Dandelions in that respect, so for several years I've been weeding Salsify out from all over the veg patch. But this is the first time I've found one in a flower bed, and how I never noticed until now, I have no idea! I do weed sometimes, honestly!

It's about 3 foot tall now!

Salsify. Looks a lot better than it tastes.

Another surprise that started as disappointment was wondering why one of my Bronze Fennels was looking so stunted compared to the others, and on closer inspection finding it was riddled with aphids. Coming back to it about a week later, I then found it was full of little grubs as well. My heart sank as I thought it was yet another thing munching the Fennel, and I tried googling for larvae of moths that might eat this plant. Eventually my poor cold-ridden brain started to work and it was a little while later that the penny dropped - perhaps these larvae were good guys, perhaps they were actually eating the aphids, not the plant! A bit more googling and yes, hooray - these are the larvae of Syrphid hoverflies and they are as good to have in the garden as native ladybirds and their larvae for hoovering up aphids! In no time the vast majority of aphids had been munched, and whilst the hoverfly larvae have disappeared now to pupate and there are still a few aphids, the plant is looking a lot healthier and is growing again.

Bronze Fennel being munched by greenfly/aphids

Hoverfly larvae getting rid of the pesky aphids

Whilst on the subject of ladybirds and identification, I posted a photo of some ladybirds mating on facebook, without having thought much about them, other than it was a fun snap. It was thanks to a nice lady called Blu who asked why they were so pale looking, that I googled to see if I could find out more about them. For once I got an immediate ID - this is the Bryony Ladybird (Henosepilachna argus), which lives on a plant called White Bryony (Bryonia alba). I didn't know that plant until I googled it too, and imagine my surprise to find it was probably one of my most hated weeds in the garden, after bindweed! It's a fast growing vine which can grow about 6" a day and in summer I find it swamping my veg patch fence, coming up through the hedges and conifer trees, and I have to rip out metres of the darn stuff. 

However, it's interesting to note that this ladybird is not native to our northern climes, but have been spreading northwards over recent decades. Also, they don't eat aphids but neither do they harm our native ladybirds, like the invasive Asian/Harlequin ladybirds do. They just eat this plant, and possibly other plants of the Curcurbit family. So if I find them on my cucumbers and squash.... well they'd better watch out. But forewarned is forearmed and I guess I'll have to leave some of this hated vine in place for them now to keep them away! 

Bryony Ladybird and White Bryony

One more thing about identification. I've had problems trying to ID some of the wildflowers I saw in Spain so imagine my surprise to find one plant, that I saw absolutely everywhere there, in the botanical section of my favourite park, the Parc Thabor in Rennes! I love that place as it has just as many labelled 'weeds' and wild plants as cultivated plants, so is brilliant for ID!!

Hoorah, I have an ID!

In pond news I thought the moorhen/s had disappeared yet again, so was pleased to see one start regularly appearing up by the duck shed to help itself to duck food. This must be one that was originally raised here, back again. I don't know that we'll get nesting moorhens again whilst we have four ducks as they seem to put them off, but just to see them makes me happy.

Moorhen taken through the kitchen window

Damselflies have started appearing and I was happy to see this red one several times already, as last year didn't seem a very good year for either Damsels or Dragonflies. I don't recall seeing any red ones at all, so another nice surprise.

Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula)

A little somebody who I surprised was this Blue Tit (Parus caeruleus), who has a nest under the roof tiles right near my potting shed/boiler room. I was hoping to get a photo but he/she was somewhat put out by my presence lurking in the doorway, so I had to retreat further in as it wouldn't go into the nest to feed the babies. I just managed to get a capture of it going in before it was out again in a matter of seconds, to search for some more little green caterpillars for the babies. I think they'll be fledging soon as there's quite a racket coming from this nest and they sound quite grown up already.

Blue Tit with caterpillars to feed to its young

Squeezing into the nest under the tiles

I hadn't had a good look around my orchard since coming back from holiday. Whilst I can see that as far as peaches and plums go, the harvest will be iffy, I was very pleased to see lots of pears forming on all three trees, and amazed by just how absolutely loaded all the apple trees are with fruit forming! Looks like it'll be a bumper year for apples.

Apples forming on one of the trees

A final surprise. Guess who got her first ever bee sting? A tiny bumble bee somehow got up my jeans and stung me on my knee, twice! After a lot of hopping about and squealing, when I eventually managed to get out of my jeans, a poor little bee fell onto the floor. It did come back to life after a while, probably a bit shocked and battered, so I put it into a flower bed to crawl off to safety. Well, for someone who encourages bees of all sorts into the garden, it had to happen at some point! :-)

(I know this is a long post, but whilst I'm doing my holiday blog posts there's tons going on in the garden!)


  1. It's lovely to see what's being going on in your garden Mandy.
    I can't believe that is your first bee sting.
    A red damselfly flew on to my book on Friday morning, I only know now you've posted a photo of one. I was sat by our little pond in our garden in Greenford at the time and I wondered what that reddish looking dragonfly was.


    1. Thanks Philippa! I would rather have had bee stings than the wasp stings that I've had plenty of because I have a much worse reaction to them.
      Glad I have helped re. the damselfly! Generally they are quite a lot smaller and they hold their wings differently when they rest - dragonfly wings are always held wide open, but damselfly wings are usually folded down over the body. Now you know! and I'm pleased you have interesting pond life there in Greater London.

  2. Loved this critter post and all your wonderful photos! Especially enjoyed reading about the hover fly larvae. How cool! I smiled at your Salsify comment as I'm thrilled when any plant comes up (even dandelions) so I never pull anything :-) Of course we get a few plants to your dozens so there isn't anything I can think of that would be a nuisance. Even bindweed! We don't have it in this area but we do have a beautiful climbing milkweed that most people don't like because it grows quickly and covers everything. However, it has beautiful flowers and attracts butterflies!

    1. Thanks very much Marianne! I do of course have to weed in amongst all my more cultivated plants, but most of these 'weeds' are growing naturally in the wilder parts of my garden anyway so no problems there! Bindweed does have pretty flowers and I don't mind that either, in its place i.e. away from my precious plants. That climbing Milkweed looks beautiful!

  3. I have lived in parts of the states where soil was rich and rain was plentiful so I do know the joy of your kind of garden! I also remember I did have to "regulate" growth of some plants :-)

    1. Ooops nearly missed this comment! Yes I guess it is very different gardening where you are now, but I also think that there would be less mollycoddling of plants to do, as they HAVE to survive dry conditions and extreme heat, otherwise really not worth trying to grow. Our climate is so mixed you never know what you are going to get, so they've got to adapt to cold, hot, wet and very dry at times!