Six on Saturday – January blooms

In spite of the rather uninspiring grey (but mild) weather after Christmas we have been out and about in the garden cutting back and pruning ready for spring.  We have just about finished the winter pruning of the orchard, made much easier this year by the purchase of a new Niwaki tripod ladder.  Just the clearing up and shredding of the resulting pile of prunings is left to be completed.

Winter is not devoid of flowers and many of the shrubs in bloom at this time of year give off a strong fragrance to attract the few pollinating insects that are out and about.  In January you get the chance to stop and appreciate the few plants that are braving the weather.  Many are exquisite and well worth a closer look.

Here are my six for this week.


Sarcococca confusa

This small evergreen shrub, a native of western china, is producing a lovely honey scent that hangs in the air around the patio by the kitchen.

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Daphne

Again in full bloom at the moment, this slow growing shrub was originally a rooted sucker that we obtained from a relative in Cornwall.  It is now establishing well and flowers profusely every year giving a wonderful fragrance in the winter months.  Many of the plants we have collected together over the years remind us of friends and family, holidays and special garden visits.  A subject of a blog in its own right perhaps.

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Snowdrops

We really associate snowdrops with February in our garden but the first few that emerge are a real pleasure and herald the beginning of the new year.  They are such charming, perfectly formed flowers.  See last year’s more in-depth blog on snowdrops for more background and their associated folk-lore.

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Winter flowering cherry

A number of the trees around the garden mark certain events.  This particular tree was planted in memory of our very first German Shepherd Dog, Lenka.  It is a lovely reminder of her each spring.

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Helleborus orientalis

Just budding up and starting to emerge throughout the garden are our hellebores.  We love them and they seem to love it here in the garden.  We are quite happy to see them seeding new plants all over the garden and never quite know what hybrids and colours are likely to result.  (See last years blog for more background)

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Viburnum x bodnantense

Another highly reliably plant that flowers consistently year after year in the winter months and produces a lovely scent.  Yet another hardwood cutting from someone’s garden over 20 years ago (Carol and I can’t recall quite where it came from but thank you anyway if it was you!).  This now substantial shrub (nearly 8 feet in height) is situated just near the path and we enjoy its fragrance whenever we walk out into the garden at this time of year.

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

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Six things for a vase on Saturday

Despite the rather dank and grey days here at the end of November, Carol has still managed to bring together flowers and foliage from the garden to brighten up the house.

In this arrangement we have six for Saturday; two varieties of autumn flowering chrysanthemums (purchased from Sarah Raven but varieties now unknown), the rose ‘Simply the Best’ which is still throwing out new blooms despite the cold, the Viburnum bodnantense which just started to flower and will flower in the garden throughout the coldest days of the winter, the yellow autumn foliage of the Hornbeam and finally the deep purple leaves of Cotinus coggygria.

Although very pretty and a wonderful winter scent in the garden, we must admit that the fragrance of Viburnum bodnantense has proved rather over powering inside the house and is perhaps best left in the garden!

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Viburnum bodnantense
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Rose ‘Simply the Best’

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

Shades of Autumn

Today has been one of those rather frustrating days in the garden.  One minute the sun is shining and you get all enthusiastic about planting a few more of those tulips you couldn’t resist only to find that as soon as you get out there the heavens open.

In those moments when the shine is shining however the autumn colours really sing.  Across the countryside here in Warwickshire the leaves seem to have remained on the trees this year and the colours are really lovely.

Here is a selection of the autumn colours we are enjoying in the garden at the moment.


One:  The walk up the ‘old’ rose garden contrasts the changing red shades of the purple leaved Cotinus coggygria, Prunus and Viburnum with the yellow of the hornbeam hedge and the distant yellow of the silver birch.

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Two:  This green leaved Smoke Bush at the top of the cutting garden provides a sumptuous autumn display of colour.

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Three:  In the woodland walk these small field maple trees provide a golden glow in the sunshine.

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Four:  Another purple leaved Cotinus this time in the patio bed contrasting with the still green Wisteria and grey leaved Santolina chamaecyparissus.

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Five:  Although a seriously spiky plant when cutting the grass this Berberis thunbergii f. atropurpurea offers excellent purple foliage all year and is well worth its place in the shrub bed.   At this time of year the foliage develop a range of orange hues.

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Six:  It is of course not just about the leaves at this time of year.  Many of the cotoneaster bushes, sorbus, roses and blackthorn are full of berries and hips. This tall Pyracantha is in its prime at the moment and providing a feast for the birds.

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

Six birds in a bush on Saturday

The Pyracantha bush just behind the house is in its full glory, covered in bright scarlet berries and looking wonderful in the autumn sunshine.   At this time of year it attracts a wide range of birds, some come to feast on the berries each day, others like to simply sit and soak up the morning sunshine on a cold morning whilst for others it is a safe place to rest on route from A to B.

This week I have tried to capture some of the visitors to this one bush on camera.   Here are six:


One:  Redwing – an autumn and winter visitor to the garden enjoying a meal after flying in from Scandinavia

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Redwing audio:

 

Audio credit: Patrik Aberg , Xeno-canto


Two:  Pied wagtail – although not an uncommon bird we don’t often get these in the garden so I was delighted to be able to catch this one on camera.

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Pied wagtail audio:

 

Audio credit: Tomas Belka , Xeno-canto


Three:  Blackbird – a very common bird in many gardens but lovely to have them nesting here and singing their hearts out all the same.

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Blackbird audio:

 

Audio credit: Niels Krabbe , Xeno-canto


Four:  A family of sparrows just sitting and enjoying the sun and chatting amongst themselves (now a very much rarer sight than they used to be)

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House sparrow audio:

 

Audio credit: Jarek Matusiak , Xeno-canto


Five:  Greenfinch – the numbers of greenfinchs have declined in recent years partly because of Trichomonosis, the name given to a disease caused by the protozoan parasite Trichomonas gallinae. It is nice to have them as an increasingly regular visitor to the garden now.

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Greenfinch audio:

 

Audio credit: Sander Bot , Xeno-canto


Six:  Bullfinch – this stunning male bullfinch has been a regular visitor this week and has been joined towards the end of the week by two female bullfinches as well.

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Bullfinch audio:

 

Audio credit: Niels Krabbe , Xeno-canto

To complete the record I have also seen Goldfinches, Blue Tits, Great Tits and Robins on this Pyracantha during the week but have not managed to capture them on camera.


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

Beyond the autumn equinox

As we move beyond the autumn equinox the hours of darkness now exceed the day light hours.  However, there still seems to be plenty of sunshine on offer and it has been very pleasant this week outside in the fresh air.  We still haven’t had our first frost of the winter and there is a remarkable amount of colour around the garden.

Here are my six for this weekend.


One:  Saxifraga fortunei

Earlier in the year we wrote about the patio at the back of the house to demonstrate the wide range of foliage and textures that make this area such an attractive shady location.  The fleshy leaves of Saxifraga fortunei with their dark green top surface and reddish bronze under surface look good all year.  However, it is only in September and October that they start to flower producing a haze of tiny white flowers which shine out as the evenings close in.

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This week we were fortunate to be able to attend the RHS lecture by Bob Brown of Cotswold Garden Flowers at Pershore College.  As always at these events there is a nice selection of things to spend your money on and we could not resist this pink flowered Saxifraga fortunei ‘Sibyll Trelawney JP’.  It sits beautifully along side the white ones and I am sure will give us a lot of pleasure for years to come.

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Two:  Nerine

A couple of years ago we bought a number of Nerine bulbs which we originally grew on in pots to look after them and then planted out into a hot sunny, well drained border at the front of the house.  Although they have produced leaves each year they seem to have taken a very long time to settle in.  This year for the first time they have flowered but are not yet the spectacular display I have been hoping for.  Perhaps they are now beginning to take off!

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Three: Rudbeckia

Every year without fail the annual and perennial Rudbeckia perform for us.  This year is no exception and they will carry on flowering until the first frosts.  Because they are such successful garden plants they perhaps do not get celebrated as much as they should and so here they are.  This variety is ‘Autumn Forest’.

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Four:  Rosemary

One of our more unlikely flowering plants for this week is the prostrate Rosemary.  Although growing to less than 12 inches in height it is currently in full bloom amongst the gravel herb borders at the side of the house.

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Five:  Schizostylis (Kaffir Lily)

Performing at their best at this time of year are the various Schizostylis clumps that we have around the garden.  Ranging from delicate pink to full on scarlet they provide a welcome shot of new colour at this time of year.

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A new purchase of the variety ‘Princess Pink’ (below) has survived its first year and is showing real promise.

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Six:  Michaelmas daisies

Last but not least this week are the Michaelmas daisies.  Ranging from tall 5 feet plants to small neat clumps these plants really do bring the garden to life at this time of year (and the butterflies love them).

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More information at Michaelmas daisies in the autumn sunshine


 

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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!).

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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.

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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.

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Rose ‘Simply the Best’
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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.

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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).

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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

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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.

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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).

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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

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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

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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