Archive for February, 2014

February 26, 2014

I’ve got tadpoles!

26 February 2014

It’s still February and we’ve got tadpoles!

Just-hatched tadpoles

Just-hatched tadpoles

The spawn was from next door’s pond, as we’ve not had any for three years, and it’s in aquatic pots to keep the newts away, but we’re going to have to get the tadpoles out quickly or they’ll be eating each other. I’m fascinated to be able to see in the photo how little they look like tadpoles at this stage: they’re too flat, except for one or two where you can see the bulge of the head. The stuff they are resting on looks like stones here, but it’s actually the circular blobs of jelly from which they emerged, which are bigger than they were when the tadpoles were still inside them.

We had a day of sunshine today, so the spring flowers were out too, plus several bees.

Bee on purple crocus

Bee on crocus

I’m guessing this is a honey bee on the crocus. There were at least three buff-tailed bumble-bees around, too, but I didn’t get a shot of any of them.

Pulmonaria Blue Ensign

Pulmonaria ‘Blue Ensign’

The plant above is a good early nectar plant to have in the garden for bees: lungwort (pulmonaria). This is one called ‘Blue Ensign’ and it’s a really good blue. The wild version is also very pretty: it’s got spotted leaves and the flowers fade from blue to pink (or is it the other way round?) and both colours are visible at once.

Having some plants for early nectar in your garden is very important for the early bees and butterflies which get tempted out by warm weather, so do make sure you’ve got some. As well as crocus and lungwort, you can try primroses, hellebores, and mahonia (all of which are in flower in my garden at the moment). Mahonia is a small bush, but the flowers are very highly scented and a real treat when there’s not much else. You can also – if you dare – try dandelion and lesser celandine, but they both spread uncontrollably, so don’t blame me if you end up with more than you want!

February 16, 2014

More Signs of Spring

16 February 2014

One of the most potent signs of Spring must be the birds starting to sing. I heard the first song thrush of the year yesterday, and today could hear two robins singing, one on either side of me. We’ve also got a male blackbird – the same one who was around last year, I’m fairly sure – regularly sitting in the ivy on the garage wall, quietly singing away to himself. He isn’t very bothered by we human beings, so you can stand there and watch his throat move as he warbles gently away. I whistled back at him yesterday (one verse of “On Top of Old Smokey”) and I’m sure he started to get louder, so maybe he began to think I was competition!

We’ve had a couple of pheasants in the garden.

Brown Pheasant

Brown Pheasant

This handsome male (above) turned up in January, but only made a couple of visits. The black male below has been here twice in February so far – though it seems unfair to call him black when he’s really such stunning shags of blue: you can really see the relationship to the peacock in this photo.

Black pheasant

Black Pheasant

We actually had some sunshine today, so I got out into the garden for about three hours. Did a bit of greenhouse work; I’ve now got three lots of annual flowers sown: antirrhinum, verbena and scabious. Also did a bit of tidying of one of the borders: at least, at this time of year, the weeds don’t re-grow very quickly, so you can see what you’ve done for a while. We’ve got more rain forecast, so I don’t know when I’ll get out there again.

I hope your weather is being kind to you, wherever you are.

February 7, 2014

Photos to remind us of summer and sunshine

6 February 2014

Like most people in the UK, I suspect, I am very fed up with the weather – rain, cloud, wind, cloud, rain, wind. So I’m going to dig into my photographic archive and come up with a few cheer-us-up pics, which I hope work for you.

Young starling being fed by a parent, with three other starlings busy feeding themselves

Young starling being fed by a parent, with three other starlings busy feeding themselves. May 2013.

Close-up of flower of Iris sibirica 'Ewen'

Close-up of Iris Sibirica ‘Ewen’

Carpet of bluebells under trees

Bluebells near Woodsford. May 2013.

Common Blue on yello rudbeckia flower

Common Blue on rudbeckia flower. August 2013.

Small Tortoiseshell on bright pink sweet william flower

Small Tortoiseshell on sweet william flower

Keep smiling – summer will return eventually!

February 1, 2014

The Newts are Back!

31 January 2014

I’m delighted to say that we’ve seen two newts in the pond! This blog is proving useful, in that I could check back to my post about the arrival of the newts last year, which was 8 Feb; this year it was 26 January, possibly due to the winter being more mild – though whether this reflects the true arrival of the newts, or that we are outside more to spot them, I wouldn’t like to say; we aren’t out there very much at the moment, as it’s so wet.

Yellow Flag Iris flower

Yellow Flag Iris

I’m glad they haven’t been put off by the amount of growth we’ve taken out of the pond this year. From the beginning of the pond, in 2001, I didn’t contain everything in pots, as I felt it was more wildlife friendly to let plants spread naturally, to provide cover. I also made the mistake of putting in some fairly rampant plants: yellow flag iris and marsh marigold, plus bogbean, which have definitely enjoyed the habitat, and which, with other smaller plants, have formed an amazingly impenetrable mass of roots. I’m developing a theory that the marsh marigold is the inspiration to John Wyndham for his book “The day of the triffids! The thick growth is good, to an extent, but they don’t know when to stop (or when I want them to stop, to be more precise) and the pond was in danger of reverting to dry land. So we’ve been in the pond in our wellies and waders hacking stuff out.

It’s a very difficult task: the pond has a butyl liner, so we have to be very careful to avoid puncturing it, but we need to use saws and knives to cut through the roots. I look over the growth we remove very carefully, to try and ensure we don’t eject any wildlife, and saw several back-swimmers and a beetle, but no dragonfly larvae, so I’d imagine they are buried deep in the mud. Anything I missed was in danger of making a snack for the blackbird who came to help us, and flung the stuff we’d ejected from the pond all over the place, including back into the pond.

New pond

New pond

I’ve certainly learnt lessons which I shall apply to our new pond. We decided to widen the patio a bit, to do away with an area we couldn’t make good use of, but that area included a small pre-formed pond, which was there when we moved in. It wasn’t very good for wildlife, as it was too shady and had sides which were too steep, but I wanted to replace it, so we planned a small half-hexagon raised pond as part of the patio. The builders – local friends – suggested it would look better if it extended into the garden, and it actually became an octagon. We’ve further plans to sink a big plastic tray we’ve got below the surface to the side of it, so I can have a boggy area, which I’ve always wanted.

Pale pink Kaffir Lily

Kaffir Lily

I’ve a few plants waiting to go in when we do it – arum lilies (Zantedeschia) and Kaffir lilies (the latin name for which was Schizostylis, but I think they are now Hesperantha, which is at least a bit more pronounceable) for starters, but I may have to visit a few nurseries to find some suitable primulas and other things – isn’t life hard!