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autumn autumn colours colours flowering bulbs garden design garden photography gardening gardens hardy perennials light light quality Shrewsbury Shropshire shrubs

My Garden Journal – September

So, here we are back taking a look into my Garden Journal 2017 at the entries I made during September. Within the first double page spread I looked at a few hot coloured perennials and shared a favourite quotation from designer, Dan Pearson.

I started off by writing, “September is a favourite month of mine in our garden because it is the time when our grasses peak and hot colours of late perennials get blazing and burning against pale clear blue skies”.

   

Dan Pearson, probably the world’s leading garden designer, wrote in his book “Natural Selection, a Year in the Garden”, “The light is never more beautiful than it is now, sliding into the garden at an ever-increasing angle to tease out the detail………. Rosy-faced apples weigh down branches and lazy wasps have the remains of the plum harvest. Sunflowers will never be taller, berries are hanging heavy on the once-blooming roses, and the butterflies which have had a hard time of it this summer, are making the most of the asters and the last heat of the sun.”

As long as the weather remains mild and calm then our predatory insects and pollinators remain busy taking advantage of every possibility  as they sense the onset of autumn.

Over the page I continued by considering two very special small-flowered plants. I wrote,

“September sees two small-flowered plants with very unusual flower structures. Both are striking little plants and neither are fully hardy for us.” I was referring to “Commelina dianthifolia” and “Lotus maculatus “Gold”.

“Commelina dianthifolia is commonly known as “The Bird Bill Dayflower”. The electric blue flowers are enhanced byits bright green stamens. Although our Commelina flowers for months during the summer, each flower lasts only a few hours.”

  

“Lotus maculatus “Gold” displays flowers looking like gold and red lobster claws. Its foliage is of delicate blue”needles” and hangs beautifully over the edge of the terra-cotta pot it shares with an orange Osteospermum and a striking grass, newly renamed Anemanthele lessioniana. The Lotus is commonly known as “Pico de Paloma” or “Parrot’s Beak”. Although a tender perennial we have to treat it as an annual and sow it every year.”

   

Over the next page I began to show how we are re-building a garden, not by choice but out of necessity.

“We planned to revamp the Freda Garden this Autumn and change it more into a shady area featuring colourful Hydrangeas. However as we suddenly had to fit a new oil storage tank we decided to put it up in this bed. So we got to work clearing plants more urgently than we had expected.” 

“Any plants to be replaced in the same border were potted up while others were moved elsewhere.”

  

“Within a week the border was cleared of its plants except for a Cornus mas at one end and a Ribes odoratum at the other, and the oil storage tank in place. Quick work!

 

“The next task was to plan our renewed bed, decide the sort of plants to use and work out a system of screening the new oil tank. We decided that as the border was mostly shaded or semi-shaded we would plant flowering shrubs such as Hydrangea and Viburnum with shade-loving herbaceous underplanting.”

As we move to the next double page, I will begin to share the plants we discovered as we searched for suitable candidates

“We have room for a couple of trees at the back of the border – so far we have got one very special tree ready to plant. Heptacodium miconiodes is an elegant tree with peeling bark, fragrant white flowers that are attractive to useful wildlife and attractively curled leaves. It will be such a wonderful addition to our tree collection.

To grace the ground beneath our new tree we have a collection of Pulmonarias chosen for their early flowering and finely coloured and marked leaves. We will also plant an Anemone, grasses and ferns with a selection of Viburnum and Hydrangea. Now we need to prepare the soil for fresh planting and plant the plants.”

   

Three Hydrangeas, pink, white and blue.

  

Viburnum nudum, Anemonopsis macrophylla and Panicum  virgatum “Squaw”.

  

Next I shall look at some wildlife visitors who share our Plealey garden, and get out my watercolours, brushes and fine felt pens.

“I will try to paint two wildlife visitors to our September garden, one a moth and the other a cricket, very different creatures but both beautiful to look at and observe as they move around the garden borders. One is resident, the Oak Bush Cricket and the other an occasional visitor, the Hummingbird Hawk Moth.”

“The Hawk Moth is attracted to our Centranthus ruber plants which we grow in several borders, but our cricket will be attracted to our apple trees.”

On the opposite page I record the visit of a beautiful dragonfly to our garden. Over the summer months on any sunny warm day there is a good chance of us spotting a dragonfly or damselfly hatching from our wildlife pond or resting almost anywhere in the garden. This particular dragonfly had alighted on a shrub close to the house itself and was enjoying a spot of sunbathing, absorbing the rays. “Mother Nature is so god at giving us gardeners some wonderful surprises. We discovered this beautiful creature on a shrub far from any water. It is a female Southern Hawker. The markings and colours are like no other. It is hard to imagine why it sports these patterns. She will return to our pond to lay her eggs in the rotting logs that edge it.”

   

We can now turn over to another double page spread where dew highlights some natural creativity and three small flowered Clematis flower brightly.

As September moved on we began to notice dew on the grass and plants in the borders several mornings each week. One special effect this has is the way it highlights the handiwork of our garden spiders. It is good to see so many webs as we like to have spiders working as predators in the garden for us. On one particular morning the dew was so heavy that it was weighing down the webs heavily.

   

“We have three very delicate Clematis flowering in our Avocet patch this month, all with small  flowers but very different from each other. They share the same colour purple on their petals with white-yellow centres.”

“Clematis Little Bas”

 

“Clematis aromatica”

  

“Clematis Arabella”

 

Another Clematis features overleaf, this time a yellow flowered one matched with some pencil crayon sketches of some seed heads.

“Staying with Clematis I will now look at a very delicate and unusual yellow-flowered cultivar, Clematis serratifolia “Golden Harvest”. The centre of each flower contrasts strongly with the golden petals. The central area features deep yellow, a touch of orange but mostly a deep purple-maroon colour. “Golden Harvest” is often sold as a Golden Wedding Anniversary gift. That surely would be a gift to give years of pleasure to any gardeners.”

Now we move on to look at a couple of my coloured pencil sketches of seed heads found in our September garden. “Two more seed heads discovered in our borders, with slender stems and bell-shaped seed capsules coloured biscuit and rust.”

I moved on next to look at two of our larger plant collections which feature strongly in our September garden. “Two of our largest plant collections we grow at Avocet are Crocosmias and Persicarias, both of which look at their best in late summer moving into autumn. 

Crocosmias appear in every shade of yellow, orange and red and thus add cheer to our patch.”

“Crocosmias feature in virtually every one of our borders.”

         

“Varieties of Persicaria amplexicaulis also feature on most of our borders fitting in with most styles of planting, being equally at home in Prairie planting, gravel garden, herbaceous borders and wherever they grow they enhance their border partners.”

          

These two collections of hardy herbaceous perennials brings the month of September to an end. The next visit to my garden journal will be in October

Categories
bird watching birds garden photography garden ponds garden pools garden wildlife gardening gardens hardy perennials meadows poppies

My Garden Journal – July

I can’t believe we are in the second half of the year but as this is the post about my garden journal in July then we most certainly are!

I began my July journal entry with a reference to the weather, the obsession of the British especially gardeners. “The month of July burst in with a heatwave. Some plants objected by wilting but flower colours were enriched in the sunlight. Lilies and Clematis joined the colour pallette provided by June’s Roses and Geraniums.”

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Our Oriental Lilies were the best we have ever had this July and we have been growing them for many years. We grow them in big pots so that we can simply drop them in where and when they are needed to add splashes of dramatic colour. Enjoy my little gallery of Lily photos. Just click on the first photo and then use the arrows.

I then wrote about our July pond dipping adventure, “A pond dip early in the month showed young newts still present in abundance alongside nymphs of Dragons and Damsels. This little creature (painting below) caught my eye. At just over a centimetre in length the Water Lice, or Isopoda, is the wet equivalent of the more common Wood Lice. They cannot swim but simply scramble around devouring detritus and decaying plant material. They are common prey of the larvae of Damsels and Dragons.”

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I moved on then from pondlife to birdlife and looked at two of the most beautiful birds that visit our garden. “We have been visited by two of our most colourful birds over the last few weeks, Bullfinches and Redstarts.” The Redstart made a fleeting visit on our last open day at our garden when it was full of visitors, which seemed a bit brazen for a normally shy woodland bird.

 

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Agapanthus featured next in my July garden journal as our collection in our Beth Chatto garden were budding up nicely promising a beautiful display before too long. We have been building up our collection of favourite Agapanthus for a few years now and it is now coming along well. “Our collection of Agapanthus in our Beth Chatto Garden is slowly getting more colourful as flower buds burst. Surely these are the slowest of buds to become flowers!”

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To see some of our Agapanthus up close, some still in tight buds some opening up, please enjoy the little Agapanthus gallery below. As usual click on the first picture and use the arrows to move through. Next month promises to be a month of Agapanthus flowers rather then buds. Can’t wait!

My next double page is about the weather and our min-meadows.

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My journal continues, “This year the heat of the early part of July was not set to continue for us in Shropshire. Dark grey masses of clouds took over from clear blue skies.”

Mighty Mini-Meadow is the title of the next page of my journal which features photos of the little but very floriferous meadow we sowed in early May in vegetable bags. The seeds germinated so well that we have been treated to a mass of blooms reminiscent of a summer meadow from the days before intensive agriculture changed our countryside into huge barren fields of monoculture. It sits beneath my collection of antique garden tools. These native wildlflowers attract insects as if drawn in by distant memories, bees, hoverflies and butterflies.

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What an honour Mother Nature bestowed on us this month! This is how the next page of my journal begins. It is all about a special time in our garden, a moment we will never forget.

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“Early one morning we noticed that a Dragon Fly larva had crawled from our pond, across the decking and up the door of our summerhouse. The green colour of the door must have fooled it into thinking it was tall rushes. Once in place the back of the larva opened up and a Dragonfly very slowly emerged. At first it was wingless but as warmth increased they popped out looking as if they were made of plastic. The creature shivered itself into life and the sun helped pump life and rigidity into its wings. An hour later we watched an adult Dragonfly off.”

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I illustrated this amazing spectacle with a simple i-pad drawing and a photo of the head of the Dragonfly gripping the empty shell of its former self.

 

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So with this amazing experience my journal closed up for July and will soon re-open for August.

 

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birds fruit and veg garden photography garden ponds garden pools garden wildlife gardens National Trust natural pest control NGS ornamental trees and shrubs Shrewsbury shrubs spring gardening The National Gardening Scheme" water in the garden wildlife Yellow Book Gardens

My Garden Journal – April

Back to my garden journal where we can see what was interesting me in our garden at Avocet during the month of April. My journal for April begins “As March gave way to April the weather responded with the sun making regular appearances and for the first time this year daytime temperatures made double figures. The garden celebrates!”

It celebrated with bright colours of spring flowers such as Celendines, Pulmonarias and early chartreuse flower s and bracts of Euphorbias.

My quote from Jenny Joseph’s book “Led by the Nose – A Garden of Smells” speaks of the delicate scents of the garden and in the countryside that are so important in spring.

The flowers that had come out in the sheltered places on banks and in woods – violets and primroses kept fresh by the rain at the beginning of the month – had been too shy and careful to part with much of their scent. Now they opened to the sun, and woods and walks began to have a lighter sweeter air. The air began to be a mingling of fragrances.”

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As the water in the wildlife pond warmed up we thought we would have our first dip with our net to see what wildlife was in evidence beneath the surface. In the journal I wrote “What fun as we reverted to childhood!”We were surprised by just how many different creatures had already stirred into life. I chose to paint the nymphs of Dragonflies and Dameslflies and a Backswimmer. The Damselfly Nymph will hatch out into an Azure Damsel and the two Dragonfly Nymphs into a Hawker Dragonfly and a Darter Dragonfly. They were quite a challenge to paint in their subtle earthy hues.

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Continuing on the watery theme on the next page of my garden journal I wrote “Jude gets excited each time she catches a newt when she is on her regular pond maintenance forays. The first this year appeared in early April. Such excitement at Avocet!”  We were so pleased to find so many newts out and about and so active this early in the year. As well as enjoying seeing them using our pond we are even more pleased to know that they are helping us with out pest control out in the borders. They spend much of their time out of water and are partial to slugs. Welcome visitors indeed!

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Now these little critters were even more of a challenge to paint than the other pond creatures! Anyway here are the results.

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On my next page I wrote, “During Easter Weekend, usually associated with cold and rain, the sky turned the deepest, clearest blue. Temperatures suddenly doubled and the garden buzzed and hummed with the arrival of bees and hoverflies. The most popular of all plants is the flowering currant, Ribes sanguineum.” 

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April is the busiest month of the year in the greenhouse. We raise vegetable plants for our allotment plot and annual plants for our garden, but a lot of space is taken up with Jude growing hardy perennials to sell on our open days.

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Towards the middle of the month the ponds were getting livelier with Water Boatmen, Pond Skaters and Water Beetles in evidence whenever the sun shone on the water. We set up our live moth trap for the first time this year to see what was about when darkness fell on the garden. Moths have such wonderful names, mostly given to them by English country clerics with far too much time on their hands. We found Small Brindled Beauties, Muslin Moths, Common Quakers and Early Greys.

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I next wrote “Goldfinches are searching the uppermost branches of our trees for the best nest site. We have at least one pair nest every year”. I then got out my watercolour paints and pens and attempted a painting of a Goldfinch.

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My final page in my journal entries for April featured two colourful beetles which we found in our garden in that month. “A tiny and very welcome visitor, a 14-Spot Ladybird came to our garden on our first Open Day of the year. A tiny but very unwelcome visitor to our garden also appeared on our first Open Day, a Lily Beetle. We welcome the 14-Spot as he eats aphids but we hate the Lily Beetle as it devours our lily leaves.”

 

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Categories
autumn gardens wildlife

Mating Dragonflies

It is always a delight to see dragonflies or damselflies. We have them in our garden and often see them laying eggs on stems under the water’s surface and later see them emerge back up the stems where they wait in the sunshine for their wings to dry out in readiness for a short life on the wing. When cleaning out some of the debris from the bottom of the pond to stop it getting too thick, we often come across the larvae of dragonflies. These larvae are ferocious hunters with dragon like heads.

When walking through a garden in Herefordshire recently we came across a mating pair on the leaf of a tree just at eye level. It gave me a rare opportunity to photograph them. I hope you enjoy my efforts. Unfortunately I did not have my close up lens with me or I could have experimented more.

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Categories
bird watching birds National Trust photography Shropshire wildlife

A Wild Mountain Pool

Wildmoor Pool sits alone up on the top of the Long Mynd amongst open moorland. We live on the northern edge of the South Shropshire Hills and we need to drive only a short distance to the Long Mynd at the southern edge of the South Shropshire Hills. On a very hot and humid day we decided to take our books, a flask of coffee and some fruit and seek out the cooler air atop the Long Mynd. We had never been to the Wildmoor Pool before and we were stunned by its beauty and isolation as it came into sight. A triangle of clear water tinged brown by peat.

It is described in my book on the Long Mynd as a place to sit and wait for the wildlife to arrive. This proved to be so true. On our arrival we spotted lots of different Damsel Flies and Dragonflies in a myriad of sparkling colours, but little else, no birds to be seen or heard in the sky, on the bushes or amongst the bracken and heathers.  These dragonflies have such evocative names – Black Darters, Common Hawkers, Golden-ringed Dragonfly.

So we sat, got comfortable, poured coffees and got out our books to enjoy in the peace up on the long mountain. The silence and still warm air created an atmosphere of calm and peacefulness – and above all contentment. This silence was only occasionally interrupted by tiny splashes of water as fingerling Brown Trout plucked flies from the mirrored surface and sent ripples out in concentric rings moving slowly outwards towards the edge of the pool. Deep throated croaks from frogs emerged from deep within the reeds. The surface dwellers barely make a sound or a ripple, the Water Measurers, Pondskaters fail to break the surface. Water Beetles and Water Boatmen pierce through the surface to collect bubbles of oxygen.

Reflections decorated the pool’s surface. When the Brownies’ ripples reached them they shimmered but otherwise they were still as the mountain air.

The slopes of the mountain here were decorated with bracken and heather and little else, so the tiny simple blooms of the Tomentil shone like golden stars in a clear sky. Yellow glows in so much green. Close to the pool edge the bracken is joined by tough sedges such as Bottle Sedge, rushes such as Common Spike Rush, with Yellow Flag and Mountain Thistles punctuating them with colour. Further from the bank Bogbeans and Bog Pondweed flourish.

Water plants often take a pool over trying to cover it and dominate, but here the National Trust manage the amount of growth and keep a good percentage of water clear. This allows us to appreciate the large white flowers of the Waterlilies pushing through the surface amongst their flat circular plate-like leaves. As far as we know we have only two native waterlilies, one little yellow one and a larger white one but this one was the palest shade of pink, which confused us.

The clear air up here encourages lichens and mosses to grow on any suitable surface. Around the pool and roadside they colonise fenceposts of concrete and wood.

After sitting quietly for a while and enjoying a coffee we became aware of a deep rumbling a little like distant farm machinery at work or a distant hovering helicopter, and after a while we realised this incongruous sound was under the road where it skirted the pool. After a little exploration we discovered that the sound was that of the water overflowing from the pool through a pipe passing under the road. The water drains from the peaty slopes and seeps into the pool. The road acts as a dam and on the far side the overflow bursts from a pipe rumbling and roaring into a tiny stream which disappears into the valley. From the pool side the water disappears beneath a grated hole before rumbling and bubbling its way underground.

After a while we began to hear bird calls and to see the occasional one in the sky passing over our heads or perching atop the tallest fronds of bracken. The smaller birds prove mostly to be Meadow Pipits. But two scarcer species the Stonechats and Whinchats share the same silhouette so are difficult to differentiate when perched on tall strands of bracken. But when they move and their colours and markings become clearer we can see that the Whinchats have definite eye-stripes and the Stonechats black heads. The chest of the Stonechat is more colourful being more pure orange than the buff-orange breast plumage of the Whinchat. This area suits them well as they like steep hillsides covered in bracken with a good understory and enjoy being near water.

Big birds are less frequent, probably the commonest being the large black Ravens which pass high over us nearly always in pairs and cronking deeply. Although we love seeing the dragonflies and their cousins the damsel flies and the small songbirds we are equally enthralled with the sight of their predators. While watching a male Kestrel hovering above the hillside vegetation and admiring his russet and grey tones, I was distracted by the site of a rapidly flying tiny bird of prey, the Hobby. I followed him as he flew to the damp area above the Wild Pool where dense clumps of reed and rush are interspersed with small pools of water. Here he hunts the dragonflies and damselflies. What a flying display!They look like a cross between a Swift and a Peregrine Falcon.

Even smaller is the Merlin, Britain’s smallest bird of prey which we watched as it hunted for the Meadow Pipits just feet above the bracken. They are now rearing their second batch of youngsters so are hunting here and when successful flying off to the nearest trees and small woods lower down the mountain.

As the afternoon wore on the heat increased alongside the humidity and the slopes became quiet. We returned to sitting and admiring the very special pool.