Not too neat

After a winter and spring of neglect, the back garden was looking decidedly untidy. More to the point, I could not effectively feed fruit bushes or plant new flowers in that tangle. So it had to be made more neat and tidy, like traditional gardening. Days and hours later, there is much more to do. Some plant feeding has taken place, albeit far too late in the season, and I’m looking forward to at least some berries off the fruit bushes, roses and flowers in the patio planter.

Here’s the transformation of some fruit bushes. I’ve left some of the weeds and the rampantly spreading Spanish bluebells.

My dreams are now a tangle of pulled up dandelions, buttercups, clumps of grass, goose grass, baby’s tears, bluebells and much more – now considered weeds, where days before I admired their beauty. And the horror of those forced to flee my predations as their damp hidy-holes are uncovered – the scuttling woodlice, centipedes and millipedes, various beetles and spiders, fast- and slow-moving worms – and the discovered slugs and snails consigned to a gluttonous paradise in the compost heap. And the thought that there will be less food and cover for the newts in the pond, and for any visiting frogs. So there are patches of tangle left in messy confusion, providing sanctuary for these friends.

I realise that I am repeating the age-old conflict between the agriculturalist who tills the land for food and flowers, and wild nature living in its own glorious profusion. Maybe Buddha would agree with my solution – a balanced ‘middle path’ between the neat and tidy ‘productive’ soil and nature’s gloriously diverse tangle.

Now for that flower bed by the pond…

Spring blues

Blue flowers en masse are popular in spring on both sides of the pond – bluebells in England, blue bonnets in Texas – and in many English gardens there is lots of blue muscari, or the similar blue lyriope in Texas.

Featured image: blue bonnet meadow, Houston.

Reflections on Knutsford Heath

The heavy rains of recent week gave the opportunity for unusual photographs on Knutsford Heath. Normally it’s just green grass.

In the background to the right, behind the woman in red, is the Longview Hotel, now closed down. It was in this hotel that the white-suited journalist Martin Bell initially stayed during the election campaign of 1997. Running on an anti-corruption campaign with cross-party (and my) support, Bell displaced the previous sitting MP Neil Hamilton. Hamilton famously confronted Bell on the heath at the time, in what became known as the Battle of Knutsford Heath (see video). It’s difficult to believe that was now 25 years ago.

Also relevant to the theme of this blog, the Longview was where, in 1993, we hosted Lord David Ennals, once UK Secretary of State for Social Services, when he came to give the first of the Knutsford Lecture series of ‘Visions of a New Renaissance’, under his title ‘Practical Non-violence’. The gracious elder statesman gave us insight into the the resolution of then-world conflicts, including those in former Yugoslavia and Georgia. Le plus ça change…

Jay in the garden

Eurasian Jays are said to be shy woodland birds rarely moving far from cover. But in winter there’s a much better chance of seeing them. This one was in the old apple tree in our garden, staying for a while to be surreptitiously photographed through the window.

Prettier than the much more visible crows and magpies, to which they are related.

Squirrel on roof

It’s boxing day. A grey squirrel has appeared on the back neighbour’s roof. It’s sitting on the hip iron and hasn’t moved for half an hour. How did it get there? Maybe jumped from the neighbouring roof?

What on earth is it ‘doing’? Obviously, nothing. Maybe sizing up the jump to the nearby hedge… Eventually, the neighbour makes a noise and it moves, but still hangs around on the roof until it begins to get dark.

The next day, no evidence remains. Squirrel must have survived whatever leap he took to get off…

The pics are taken from ground level with my Panasonic TZ80 super zoom.

Fungi time

There are lots of fungi about around tree stumps and the damp autumn leaves at the moment. Here are just a few taken on our estate verges with my phone.

Identification is never easy. I’ve given my best estimate of the names. I think the featured image is also common inkcap at another stage. Anyone got a better id?

By ring counting the recently felled dead conifer was about 60 years old, maybe killed by the fungus?

Great spotted woodpecker 2

This great spotted woodpecker is a frequent visitor to our garden, attracted by the feeding station and also by the trunk of the old apple tree. I noticed it as it set about searching for insects in the nooks and crannies of the tree. The only way to get a shot was through the window – not the best way but necessary, and editing software did a bit of colour correction.

This is an adult, as it does not have the red head of the juvenile in my earlier post. It’s probably the same bird.

I got the impression he saw me behind the glass, as he appears to be looking directly at me in the featured image. Notice that he’s hanging on backwards!

Elephant Hawkmoth Caterpillar

The girls playing out on the cul de sac on a September evening were huddled together, excited. One of them had found this enormous caterpillar crossing the road – around two inches long. it was the biggest caterpillar any of us had ever seen, even the parents.

What on earth was it? It took some time to identify as the caterpillar of the Elephant Hawkmoth, which received its name courtesy of the characteristics of its caterpillar phase. The fake eyes are said to frighten predators off.

This picture from Wikimedia Commons shows what the adult looks like.

Photo of adult elephant hawkmoth by Gail Hampshire, via Wikimedia Commons

Small tortoiseshell 3

It’s getting towards late summer in England,and the small tortoiseshell butterflies have arrived in our garden, at much the same time as they did last year. One sunny morning, the first after a period of rain, there were an incredible 12 basking on our awning and roof, probably newly hatched. They really are rather pretty butterflies.

On white buddleia.
And incredibly hairy.

The feeding proboscis is particularly evident in the following.

Click to see more detail.

Populations are said to be declining, possibly related to habitat loss, pesticides, global warming…

Emperor dragonfly

This beautiful emperor dragonfly was ceaselessly patrolling the pond at Denzell Gardens, Altrincham. He never stopped for an instant, but hovered from time to time at a particular corner. The only photography option was to shoot him in flight, a challenge for my Panasonic ZX200 superzoom.

According the the British Dragonfly Society, they rarely settle, but there is a stunning photograph on their website. The blue abdomen indicates a male.

These are Britain’s bulkiest dragonflies, common in southern England, but their range is said to be moving northward, probably due to global warming.

Banded Demoiselle

Last week’s hot spell gave me the gift of quite a few minutes spent watching and photographing these magical banded demoiselle damselflies, by the lake outflow stream in Tatton Park. These are larger than the average damselfly, almost of a size more typical of dragonflies.

Click to see closer.

Their colours are startling blues and greens in bright sunlight. According to the British Dragonfly Society, the two genders are distinguished as follows:

  • Male: metallic blue body with broad dark blue-black spots across outer parts of wings.
  • Female: metallic green body with translucent pale green wings. (Wikipedia suggests there may also be a white patch near the tip of the female’s wings).

Most of these are pobably males, or maybe not?

Blue Green Algae

When we first move to Knutsford in 1986 there was no generally recognised problem of blue green algae or cyanobacteria. There was a small sandy beach by the lake in Tatton Park, where people would go to picnic and bathe in the lakewater. Dogs swam in the lake without problem; even daughter’s Westie put his toes in.

Then, in the early nineties, notices began to appear about blooms of blue green algae in the water; dogs should not go in and people should definitely not bathe. They appeared with increasing frequency, and are now a permanent feature. The sandy beach is long gone.

Almost everywhere you go in Britain these algae seem to have got a hold, with a detrimental effect on other wildlife. Last year we witnessed dead Canada geese being removed from Shakerley Mere because of poisoning, suspected to be the very evident blue green algae.

Close up the resulting scum can appear ugly, but can sometimes give almost beautiful effects, as in the following picture.

Ferry Meadows, Peterborough

So what causes these algal blooms and what changed?

Read More »

Small Skipper 3

At first I thought this tiny insect flapping through the garden was some sort of moth. When it tarried a short while on the lavender, it became clear that it was a small skipper butterfly.

The lavender flower gives an idea of size, less than 2cm long. These butterflies mostly appear in UK at the height of summer, mid-June to mid-August.

This photo from a previous post shows the small skipper on thistle flower, with wings extended.

2019

And here’s one on buddleia in typical half-open pose.

2017

Rapeseed sunset

The mass of yellow flowers and pungent aroma are long gone, and the rapeseed is left to ripen in the field by a favourite walk. The plants are not generally regarded as visually attractive at this stage, but the setting sun and cloudscape in the background give a helping hand, resulting in a pleasing image.

Greylags up close

Greylag geese are pretty common in UK. These two have taken up residence on Knutsford’s Moor Pool.

The background of clouds and blue sky was fortuitous. You can see from the patterns on the water that one goose is turning while the other is stationary.
Close up you can see the bird has a ruff, and the beak is coloured not only orange but also pink, as is the eye liner.
From above the feathers are attractively patterned.

Spring companions

The early rape fields have been in flower for some time now, a great splash of yellow with an almost overwhelming aroma. Photographically they are rather boring; but the neat intermediate hedge gives some interest to the featured image, looking over farmed fields towards nearby woodland.

Hawthorn hedges and trees are also in full flower (‘May blossom’), giving the opportunity for the following pleasing juxtaposition.

Fresh oak

It’s Maytime and everything is bursting into life, notably Tatton Park’s oak trees.

The new oak leaves are a beautiful fresh green
As well as new leaves, the twigs are weighed down with catkins. Pollen levels are high.
You can still see plenty of sky and the major branch structure through the thickening canopy and understory.