October 28th and maybe the last flowers of the summer

This weekend saw the first forecast frosts of the winter months and so we took the opportunity to pick a selection of the remaining summer flowers to arrange and enjoy in the house.

Included in the top arrangement are a selection of apricot and burgundy dahlias, white Chincherinchee ((Ornithogalum thyrsoides), achillea and the delightfully transparent seed heads of honesty.

In the vase arrangement below are pink, white and apricot dahlias, the deep red rose ‘Ingrid Bergman’ and the fragrant rose ‘Boscabel’, purple Verbena bonariensis, Chincherinchee and blue grey eucalyptus foliage.


The final table centre piece for this evening’s Sunday dinner with family contains rose ‘Ingrid Berman’, white and pink waterlily type dahlias, honesty seed heads, the blue of Ageratum ‘Blue Horizon’, pink Schizostylis, blue-grey eucalyptus and Cotoneaster foliage.


The clocks may have changed and the nights are drawing in but we will still be able to enjoy the colour and fragrance of summer for a few days yet!


Mid-October in the flower garden

Autumn is very much with us.  We have been busy harvesting the excess apples in the orchard and having fun making cider to last us most of the year, cutting and chopping the quinces and making quince crumble tarts for the freezer and the neighbours have been busy sawing and chopping wood for the winter fires.

Despite the trees turning we have not yet had a real frost here in Warwickshire and there is still plenty of colour in the garden.  In fact some things that have struggled with the heat and lack of water during the summer have burst into flower.  The roses have a new flush of fresh flowers and many of the perennials are showing a second flush of bloom.

Here are six things for this week that have particularly caught my eye:

One:  Begonia ‘Angelique’

As soon as we get any sign of frost I am sure that these tuberous begonias will curl up and die back but as we come to the end of the season I think they are worth celebrating.  Planted out in large patio tubs in the spring they often seem slow to get going but by early August they are in full bloom.  These have been blooming consistently ever since and are very low maintenance – they even dead head themselves.  I always try and lift the tubers and keep them alive if possible.  Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I fail but I will certainly look to keep this variety going and plant them again next year.


Two:  Cobaea scandens (cup-and-saucer vine)

Cobaea is not something we have grown before but we wanted something to quickly cover the new rose trellis in this first year whilst the new climbing roses get established.   It is certainly one of the fastest growing annuals that I have seen.  It has interesting but not spectacular bell shaped flowers and certainly did the job of covering the new bare trellis.

One added benefit at this time of year is that it produces these charming fairy lights hanging from a curvy, kinked stem once the flowers have dropped.  You almost feel that you should collect them, dry them and spray them silver for winter decorations.


Three:  Hardy Fushia

One of the shrubs that come into their own at this time of year are the hardy fushias.  They are so easy to grow and also to propagate.  Many of ours have been grown from cuttings that we have been given by friends or relatives.

The first of these is a very delicate white/pink fushia with tiny ballerina flowers.  We have moved it around the garden because it did not thrive initially.  It is now in the part of the garden we describe as the woodland walk and is in part shade and on a woodland edge.  It seems to love it here and produces masses of these tiny white flowers that shine out in the darker semi-shade.


Another hardy fushia taken from a cutting a couple of years ago and grown on in a terracotta pot, was planted out last autumn.  It is now establishing well with a couple of Eupatorium plants (also taken from cuttings from a garden in Cornwall – thank you Auntie Wendy!).


Four:  Autumn Crocus

I think of spring as the time for crocus around the garden but I am always pleasantly surprised to see the autumn crocus emerge (although we must have planted them at some point).  Planted at the foot of some of our mature trees they avoid the mower and emerge as the leaves fall.


Five:  Roses

The warmer, moister weather in September and early October has really brought on the repeat flowering roses.  Many of these are now flowering profusely.   Two that are looking particularly good are the apricot variety ‘Simply the Best’ and pink/orange ‘Fragrant Delight’.  As the name describes ‘Fragrant Delight’ has a wonderful and powerful perfume that hangs in the evening air at this time of year.

Rose ‘Simply the Best’
P1020155 Fragrant delight
Rose ‘Fragrant Delight’

Six: Astrantia (Granny’s pincushion)

Perhaps rather surprisingly the rose/lilac tinted Astrantia is flowering again.  This is something we often use in our flower arrangements earlier in the season.  It has strong stems and holds very well if conditioned correctly.



The Six on Saturday meme is hosted by The Propagator. Click on the link to see what other plant lovers are chatting about.



Late summer butterflies in the garden

As the year progresses we see a notable change in the butterflies that visit the garden.  Early in the year I posted a selection of pictures from July but whilst the ‘whites’ continue to flutter around the flowers there are a number of others that I have captured with the camera during September.   Here are my ‘Six on Saturday’ for this week

One:  Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae)

Normally the Small Tortoiseshell is very common in the garden always gracing the buddleja.  This year however we have seen very few and only in the last few weeks have we seen a couple enjoying the pink Phuopsis stylosa blooming for a second time this year.

The Small Tortoiseshell can spend the winter hibernating as an adult.²  Hibernating with their jagged wings closed shut they are well camouflaged looking just like a dead leaf.

The caterpillars feed on nettle (Urtica dioica).

P1020163 Small Tortoiseshell

Two:  Painted Lady (Cynthia cardui)

The painted lady is a migrant species to the British Isles coming from North Africa and southern europe each year. It is reported to have a worldwide distribution existing almost everywhere accept South America. ¹  In his charming book, “The Butterfly Isles”, Patrick Barkham reported seeing swarming of these migrating butterflies in 2009. ²

The caterpillar feeds on thistles (Cardus), burdock (Arctium) and other plants. ¹

P1020127 Painted Lady

Three:  Small White (possible – rather than Large White!) (Pieris rapae

The ‘whites’ have to be included here simply because they enjoy the garden throughout the summer and are still present into the late summer.  Although clearly a bit of a pest in the vegetable garden I do love to watch them on a still summer day working their way around the flower beds.

I am certainly not an expert at distinguishing between the various white butterflies but there is a very helpful guide on the Butterfly Conservation website  ³.  The caterpillars feed on Brassica species along with the wonderfully fragrant mignonette (Reseda) and nasturtium (Tropaeolum). ¹  This adult is soaking up the late evening sunshine on the hornbeam hedge.


Four:  Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)

As with the Small Tortoiseshell this is usually a common butterfly in the garden but this year we have seen very few.  Possibly the long cold winter took its toll on the overwintering butterflies and hopefully they will get a chance to recover their numbers this year.

The Red Admiral’s are interesting to watch when you sit out with a glass of wine on a summer evening.  If you sit in their perching spot they will continually pester you until you move.

According to David Carter ¹ the Red Admiral is a migrant species with the first butterflies arriving in Britain during the spring but does not normally survive the winter.  However Patrick Barkham ² indicates that the Red Admiral is one species that is already a beneficiary of climate change as it can now increasingly survive the winter in southern England where it once perished.

The caterpillar feeds on nettles (Urtica).


Five:  Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria)

I have written a longer piece on these but they have increased in number over the last few weeks and have emerged from the woodland edge into the rest of the garden.  They seem to particularly like sunning themselves on the large leaves of the grape vines.

The caterpillars feed on various grasses such as couch grass (Agropyron repens) and cock’s foot (Dactylis glomerata). ¹


Six:  Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas)

This is such a small but beautifully formed butterfly.  It seems to particularly like the bed with the late summer asters and perennial rudbeckias.

The Small Copper is a species of meadows, hedgerows, roadsides and downlands and enjoys a similar habitat to the Meadow Brown, Hedge Brown (Gatekeeper), Orange-Tip and various blues.  The Small Copper caterpillar feeds on various species of dock and sorrel (Rumex) and also knotgrass (Polygonum). ¹

P1020072 Small Copper

For the record we have also seen a smallish blue butterfly around the garden but I have not yet had a chance to capture it on camera and identify it precisely.

The Six on Saturday meme is hosted by The Propagator. Click on the link to see what other plant lovers are chatting about.

Further reading

¹ “Butterflies and Moths of Britain and Europe” by David Carter (ISBN:  0 330 26642 X)

² “The Butterfly Isles” by Patrick Barkham (ISBN 978-1-84708-127-8)

³ https://butterfly-conservation.org/news-and-blog/how-to-identify-white-butterflies



Autumn and winter residents – our feathered friends

Our garden here at Waverley is home for a wide range of birds, many of whom stay with us throughout the winter weather.  Some, like the fieldfares and redwings, are migratory and visit to feast on the berries.

Over the last few months we have been trying to catch as many of these on camera as we can. Not an easy task as some of them move so very quickly and many are very shy creatures.

Here is a selection of the residents for 2017/18.

Blue Tit (Parus caeruleus)

Blue Tit

Food: Small insects, larvae and other invertebrates plus seeds, fruit and buds

Wood pigeon (Columba palumbus)

Wood Pigeon

Food: Seeds, grain, fruits, vegetables, berries and some insects and worms

Ketrel (Falco tinnunculus)

Sparrow Hawk

Food: Small mammals and birds, worms and insects

Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos)

Song Thrush

Food:  Worms, snails and fruit

Blackbird (Turdus merula)


Food: Worms, insects, berries and seeds

Fieldfare (Turdus pilaris)

Fieldfare 4

Food: Berries, fruits, worms and insects

Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs)


Food:  Insects and seeds

Great Tit (Parus major)

Great Tit

Food: Mainly insects, spider and small invertebrates but also fond of nuts

Coal Tit (Periparus ater)

Coal Tit

Food:  Insects, seeds and nuts

Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis)

Goldfinch 1

Food: Some insects but mainly weed seeds

Greenfinch (Carduelis chloris)


Food: Seeds and insects

Nuthatch (Sitta europaea)


Food: Insects, seeds, nuts and other fruits

Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major)

Food:  Mainly insects and larvae but will also rob nests for young birds.  Will visit feeders for nuts in winter.

Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus)

Food:  Mainly insects and spiders but also seeds.

Robin (Erithacus rubecula)

Food: Mainly insects and spiders plus some fruit, seeds and berries

Redwing (Turdus iliacus)

Food: Berries, fruits, insects and worms

Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula)

Food: Seeds, berries and fruit

Dunnock (Prunella modularis)

Food:  Insects and small invertebrates with seeds in winter

In addition there are some I have not managed to catch on camera yet. These include wrens, collared doves, sparrow hawks, magpies, buzzards, jackdaws, jays, carrion crows, sparrows and more.

By trying to provide garden habitats that offer seeds and attract insects our aim is to encourage as many of these beautiful birds as possible. They all add interest to the garden and keep us occupied with the binoculars for hours!


All photographs and videos are the property and copyright of Dr Stephen Lucey, 2018

How plants use day length to decide when to flower (Photoperiodism)

Photoperiodism is the response of an organism to the length of day or night. In many plants it is the mechanism by which plants determine the seasonal time of year and whether they should initiate flowering.

The process is controlled by the protein phytochrome which exists in two forms, phytochrome red and phytochrome far red. In sunlight phytochrome red is converted to its active form phytochrome far red. At night phytochrome far red converts back to phytochrome red. On long summer days more phytochrome red will be converted to phtochrome far red than on shorter days.

Plants use this mechanism to control the initiation of flowering. However different plants respond differently and you may have heard garden presenters talk of long and short day plants.

In long day plants flower initiation will begin only after the plant has experienced a critical number of daylight hours.

In short day plants (or more correctly long night species) flowering is initiated when the uninterrupted hours of darkness reaches a critical length.

There are also day neutral species that do not require a specific day length to initiate flowering and where maturity of the plant is more important.

In nature long day plants will typically flower in the summer months whilst short day plants will flower in the spring or autumn.

Within long day species and short day species there are also two groups. The obligate (qualitative) plants must experience a critical day length (or night length) before they will flower whilst in the facultative (quantitative) group plants will flower under any day length but flower earlier with the appropriate photoperiod.

Just to add another layer of complexity there are also two additional groups; long-short-day plants (LSDP) and short-long-day plants (SLDP). LSDPs will flower after a series of long days followed by short days. SLDPs flower after a series of short days followed by long days. Asters are an example of a long-short day plant. Long days promote shoot elongation and short days initiate flowering.

Critical day length

There is no single threshold for the critical day length that will initiate flowering. Armitage and Lushman provide individual details of these for many common cut flowers and highlight that in some cases the critical day length will vary between varieties of the same species.

Warner (2006) helpfully sets out the following ‘rule of thumb’ that might be useful “The “critical” day lengths vary by crop but, generally, short-day plants will flower when the day is less than 11 hours (night length >13 hours), and long-day plants will flower when the day is longer than 14 to 16 hours (night length < 8 to 10 hours).”

Photosynthetic lighting versus Photoperiodic lighting

If using artificial lights it is important to recognise that there is a distinction between photosynthetic lighting (which increases the intensity of the light available for photosynthesis and growth) and photoperiodic lighting (day length control). It is purely the latter which is the subject of this article. By choosing the correct day length you can boost growth by offering the plant higher intensity lights (photosynthetic lighting) without triggering the flowering.

Why do plants need this mechanism?

The response to day length provides plants with a mechanism by which they can recognise the time of year, not by temperature which can be very variable, but by day light hours.

It allows all the individuals of a particular species to coordinate their flowering and come in to flower at the same time. Cross pollination and therefore fertilisation will be much more successful if all the flowers of a species are out at the same time rather than randomly distributed throughout the year.

The ability to time flowering may also allow the plant to align its flowering with the life cycle of a particular pollinating insect.

What does this mean for the cut flower grower?

Many commercial growers will use this feature of plant growth to force plants to flower at unnatural times of year by artificially adjusting the day length. This is particularly useful if you are growing plants for a particular show or event when you need the flowers to be at their prime during a particular week. Similarly growers of bedding plants will adjust day length so that the plants are in flower early to coincide with the peak spring selling period. Plants in flower walk off the shelves much faster than those that are solely in leaf.

In early spring we often use fluorescent lights to bring on our seedlings indoors before it is warm enough to put them out in the unheated greenhouses and polytunnels. We want to get our plants to a decent size much earlier in the season so that they are large robust plants that will flower in the garden throughout the summer. It is important to understand the critical day length for the species that you are growing so that you don’t leave the lights on too long or too little and inadvertently trigger flowering too early. Some plants are inhibited from flowering by receiving too many daylight hours.

The large commercial growers who grow a huge volume of a single flower type can control their environment and photoperiod very precisely to the needs of that particular crop. For the many small cut flower growers across the UK the challenge of creating the correct day length regime across multiple varieties can be more challenging.

The distinction between photosynthetic lighting and photoperiodic lighting is important here. To enhance growth increase the intensity of your lights not the length of time you leave the lights on.

Some examples

I will refer you to Armitage and Lushman for the detailed requirements for each cut flower. However to illustrate the photoperiodic response I will quote a number of examples from their very comprehensive reference book:

Anemone coronaria – “it appears that short days accelerate flowering and long days result in early termination of flowering and hastening of dormancy”

Antirrhinum – “essentially a quantitative long day plant meaning that it is capable of flowering under short days but flowers much earlier and at a lower leaf number in long days”

Cosmos bipinnatus – “a quantitative short day plant … although plants flower more rapidly under short days than under long days, they eventually flower under all photoperiods … the optimum photoperiod for flowering is less than 14 hours … under long days flower buds appear sporadically”

Ranunculus – “the highest percentage of tubers flower when placed under short day treatments (12 hours or less. Although long day treatments (>12 hours) accelerate flowering and flower quality, yields may not be as high”

In conclusion

The whole area of flower initiation is complex and fascinating and it is not possible to do it justice in such a short article.  Although I have focused on day length here in some other species plant maturity or temperature may be more important.  Botany as a subject has captivated me for years and continues to do so.

Further reading

“Specialty cut flowers” by Armitage and Lushman (ISBN 0-88192-579-9)

Photoperiod and bedding plants, Center for Agriculture, Food and The Environment, UMass Amherst


Supplemental Lighting on Bedding Plants –Making it Work for You by Ryan M.Warner
Michigan State University


Schizostylis coccinea (Kaffir Lily)

These striking late season perennials add a wonderful splash of vibrant colour to the autumn garden.  In many respects they don’t fit the normal colour palette of burgundy, mauve and yellow so common in autumn flowering plants.  Instead the bright, almost iridescent, reds and pinks create a strong contrast when set against plants like New-England Asters in the flower border.

According to Anna Pavord in “The Bulb” these South African rhizomatous plants naturally grow in stream banks and damp meadows.  In the garden here at Waverley we have had very mixed success in getting them established.  Once established however they grow away strongly and even self seed freely.

Our most successful clumps grow in partial shade in a most challenging spot on the edge of the paved patio where there is little competition from other plants (perhaps slightly reminiscent of a stream edge as the soil beneath the patio remains damp throughout the year).

We have had less success in some of our flower beds where there is more competition from other plants and the soil is very damp all winter due to the heavy clay beneath the top soil.  Most writers seem to indicate that these plants prefer moist but well drained soil in full sun.  Once established the clumps need very little attention and come back strongly year after year starting in September and flowering through to the end of November (and beyond if you are lucky).

The bright scarlet and hot pink flowers with their neat cup shaped blooms make very good cut flowers and contrast particularly well with mauve and lilac. Even in late November the plants are still throwing up new fresh flower buds.

We have two main varieties growing in the garden currently (names unknown I’m afraid) but in Ludlow market earlier this year we came across ‘Pink Princess’ and just could not resist it (it happens I know!).  This is a delicate blush pink and we really hope that it settles in quickly as it will be a wonderful addition to the new flower garden.

In placing Schizostylis in the garden it is worth remembering that it does tumble forward so make sure it is not planted right on the edge of a flower border or it will get damaged by all the wheel barrows, mowers and feet brushing past it all the time on the path.

Hardy rhizomatous perennial

Origin:  South Africa

Latin name:  Schizostylis coccinea (also called Hesperantha coccinea).  The latin word Schizostylis reflects the cut or divided style in the flower and coccinea highlights the rich scarlet colour.

Family: Iridaceae (Iris family)

Hardiness:  H4 on the RHS hardiness scale (Hardy through most of the UK (-10 to -5))

Height:  45 – 60cm

Flowering period:  September to November

Cut flowers:  Yes

Conditioning:  Standard conditioning in cool clear water for at least 2 hours.


“Bulb” by Anna Pavord (ISBN 978-1-84533-415-4)

“The Cutting Garden” by Sarah Raven (ISBN 978-0-7112-3465-9)

Garden Ecology: The importance of Fungi in the flower garden

Possible Mycena sp. (exact species not yet identified). Cap c.12mm, c.70mm tall, stem c.1mm. Found in grass. Cap not slimy. Whitish spores.

We may not notice the presence of fungi in the garden for most of the year but in the autumn the reproductive part, the mushroom, begins to appear around the garden.  There is such huge variety of forms and species that beginning to understand them more can be both challenging and fascinating.

A brief introduction

A fungus is made up of long strands or filaments called hyphae which form into cobweb type nets called mycelium.  Unlike plants, fungi do not have chlorophyll and so cannot build up there own carbon compounds through photosynthesis.  Like animals they take their sustenance from others, either dead or living plants or animals.  Some fungi are particularly valuable to the gardener as part of the annual cycle,  decomposing dead plant matter and returning nutrients to the soils.

Three groups of fungi that gardeners and flower growers should be aware of are:

Decomposers that break down and convert dead organic matter so that the plants can access it to make new fresh growth.

Mycorrhizal fungi that grow on or within plant roots and help enable plants to gain greater access to plant nutrients.  These are commonly sold in garden centres these days particularly for use at planting time with shrubs and trees.

Pathogens that either reduce plant vigour or cause death.  Typically you will notice these if your seedlings or young plants ‘damp-off’ but there are also many other disorders that are fungal in nature (as opposed to bacterial, viral or nutritional).

We will return to mycorrhizal fungi and pathogenic fungi in future blogs but for now we will concentrate on the very visible fungi in the garden, the autumn mushrooms.   The mushrooms that you see are the fruiting bodies that produce and release microscopic reproductive spores.  As far as I can see the words mushroom and toadstool seem to be interchangeable.

Identification of mushrooms

I must admit that I am very much a novice at identifying mushrooms but it is a challenge that I want to start to get to grips with.

If you find a specimen that you want to identify then taking a picture on your phone (though useful) is really not sufficient.  You will need to note some or all of the following:

  • the size, shape, colour and texture of the cap;
  • the length and width and colour of the stem and whether it has a ring;
  • flesh colour and smell;
  • whether the mushroom has gills, tubes or teeth;
  • the attachment of the gills if they are present and their colour;
  • the colour of the spores; and
  • where you found them and whether they grew on grass, wood, leaf litter, dung etc.

If like me you struggle to tell the difference between all the many mushroom genera (and even more species within those genera) there are some places where you can get help:

Reference books – there are many of these but one that I have found very useful is “Mushrooms and other fungi of Great Britain and Europe” by Roger Phillips (ISBN 0-330-26441-9)

Facebook groups – these are always great fun and the Facebook Group “Mushroom Spotters UK” is very active at this time of year and is very informative

Identification phone Apps – I have been trying out the “Mushroom Identify – Automatic picture recognition” App on my Android phone.  Great fun but I am not entirely sure how good it is yet.  Basically you take one or more pictures of the specimen and let the phone have a go at identification.  It typically gives you 4 or 5 suggestions and provides very effective links to further information and pictures.  It certainly gets you started but you need to refer to other references as well.

Online identification keys – again there are a number of these on the web and one we have found interesting is the Mycokeys online Morphing Mushroom Identifier (MMI).  There is also a wealth of information and a pictorial guide on fungi on the First Nature website.

Photographic reference library – there is a very comprehensive set of photographs at http://mushroomobserver.org/image/list_images

In reality I find that I use all of these techniques on a single sample to try and hone down the list of ‘possibles’.  Bit by bit the same suggestions appear and you begin to get more confident in your choice.

Two examples of recent finds (November 2017) in our flower garden are shown in the pictures below (possible Clitocybe nebularis) and at the start of this blog (possible Mycena sp.).  It’s a fascinating subject and the diversity of what you will find when you begin to look closely is amazing.  Have a go!


Possible Clouded Agaric (Clitocybe nebularis) – the cap is about 100mm across and the whole mushroom is about 120mm high. The stem is around 15mm at the base and is wider at the base than the top. The top of the cap is leathery and not slimy. The spores are white/light grey. It was growing on leaf litter under an oak tree.

Just a final warning:  Do not eat any mushrooms you don’t know.  You could die.