15 June 2010

cat snacks

The garden provides good habitat for breeding birds, both for those that actually nest here and for those that visit to forage.  The tall trees give height for a quick get-away, dense shrubs give cover for nesting and a wide range of herbaceous plants support the wide range of insects hungry chicks need.  This year wren, blackbird, blue and great tits have all nested in the garden and now fledged chicks are making their first forays out and about.  They leave the nest as soon as they can, the whole brood is vulnerable to predation while in the nest, many predators watch foraging parents to discover the whereabouts of the nest, so splitting up and moving about lessens the chance all will be lost.  The individuals are still vulnerable and yet to learn it is a hard world out there. 
Wrens are shy birds and nest low down in dense cover.  This year they have used a log stack, dense ivy on a wall and a 'twiggy bundle' to build in - twiggy bundles are simply bunches of spiny prunings tied with twine to form a hollow ball, these get tucked into dense shrubs and wall climbers in quiet corners to make predator proof nesting sites.  Young wrens are out and about now, concealed in the bushes and calling with high pitched breathy 'wheesps'.  They and the parents forage eagerly for any small insects and get excited when I give a hand by turning the top layer in the compost bins.  They can be in such a rush that they forget I am a danger until a parent frantically reminds them, with sharp calls to 'run!'  
Blackbirds usually raise a number of broods each year in the garden, building nests from twigs, grass, string and mud in concealed places.  Sometimes they make odd choices where to build - last year they built a nest neatly on top of a paint tin in the tool shed - this year they have been thoroughly conventional using a dense bush of ivy to conceal them.  The young have recently fledged and are out and about, so trusting they will happily wait in the garden office for feeding time.  They follow their parents round the garden calling loudly to be fed - and seemingly to be eaten - the local cats must be drooling at the mouth!  
Blue tits feed their young on thousands of small insects and will collect vast quantities of aphids in the foraging frenzy.  This makes them vulnerable to the effects of pesticides and many young birds are poisoned while still in the nest, so we use no pesticides - aphids are soon controlled by everything that eats them - and everything does.   The parents keep their energy levels up with occasional visits to the feeders for a sunflower seed or two and now the Red Hot Pokers are in flower will drink sugary nectar for a quick energy boost.

10 June 2010

the eyes have it

I think ox-eye daisy are irresistible.  I am not alone in this.  The flowers are constantly busy with any number of small things going about their busy business.  A quick walk round the garden reveals why they are right at the top of my must-have-for-wildlife plant list.   

A mining bee,

and a greenbottle make the most of the open faced flowers.

Harlequin ladybirds, in 'mostly black'

and 'traditional' forms, hunt for aphids on the heads.

Tiny white-faced bees feed from the flowers - males also patrol and unceremoniously mate feeding females, the violation doesn't interrupt their meal. 

When downtrodden or flattened by bags, snails will get to work to graze the open florets.

Ox-eye daisy, Leucanthemum vulgare, a common wildflower, will grow anywhere with good drainage and some sun, are reasonably drought tolerant - they grow here unwatered on broken brick filled gabions - and they flower for a long season.  If they have any faults in a garden it is that they will grow far too lushly on rich soil and collapse messily.  They are better in spartan conditions.  They are short lived and easily succumb to bossy neighbours but they will move around a garden by seeding into any suitable places and here have designs on conquering the paths where there is little competition.  Of course left here the flowers would be crushed underfoot so in early autumn I rip up the plants, tear them to pieces and poke the bits into any spare corners.  They will all take and be flowering by the following summer. Well done them! 

9 June 2010

a quick brick trick

has once again been the solution for new seating in the garden.  Last autumn a miscalculation with the paving brick order left us with an enormous stack of bricks unused outside the office and I've been wracking my brains on how to make the best use of these.  The Sunday workers are dab hands at knocking up gabion benches filled with random broken rubble but with whole bricks aplenty I thought we could try something  rather more sophisticated to provide seating to encircle the new south-end lawn.  
I mislay tape measures regularly so usually resort to sticks, my feet or similar to measure up.  The new bench was measured to be exactly one long piece of string in length.  Pauline and Michael, used to my methods and length of string in hand, cut the required pieces - two long sides, two end panels and lots of dividers - from a new roll of steel mesh, making do with a rather dilapidated pair of bolt cutters.  Laid out around the curve of the lawn, side by side and upright, the sides, the end panels and dividers were simply connected with steel spirals  'twizzled' into place.  
This made a long, curved, bottomless, topless box with sections along the whole length.  Lightweight and flexible, it is easy to adjust the position before firmly pressing the bottom edge, 'toothed' with the cut edges of the steel mesh, firmly into the soil beneath.  Full, it will be immovable.  
To make the body of the bench the sections are filled with a double layer of bricks stood on end and jammed in very tightly so there is little room for movement.  It was filled in no time.  To finish off the   cut ends of the spirals will be ground down smooth and it will be complete.  A big brick bench finished in a day - a bit bumpy on the behind maybe but it does look rather elegant.  
I sit and drink tea in a plastic chair by the office so will not be troubled by the bumpiness myself.  Let me know if you are.

8 June 2010

the quick and the dead

Again I find myself delighted by the Dragon Arum, Dracunculus vulgaris, and its comedy stinkiness.  Every year without fail the flowers, whopping great funnels of rich velvety purple, fill the garden with a far reaching stench of death, perturbing visitors and making me smile.  The flowers fragrant mimicry is proven effective as the blooms dance with flies drawn excitedly to the promise of a corpse-based feast.  They will be disappointed.  
The flowers only stink to heaven on the first day of opening and this is key to their successful cross pollination.  Inside the flower the female parts are receptive to pollen only as it opens and smells ripest.  As flies enter the bloom they deposit pollen carried on their hairy bodies, fertilising the flower, but they are unable to climb the waxy, slippery walls of the flower to get out.  Trapping the flies overnight until it is no longer receptive to pollen, the flower releases its own, the scent fades and the flower starts to wither - in the morning the hungry flies with a fresh coat of pollen flies are released.  Of course being gluttonous simpletons they rush to the next freshly opened flower only to spend another night trapped by deceit.  Ha!  

Here the flies get busy on a newly opened bloom.