Monday, 31 August 2015

Alternative companion planting

Silver Anniversary Rose with a scattering of Confetti (Mix)

Confetti for this wedding related rose wasn’t a planned companion planting.
It was only in reviewing photos I realised this fun, accidental spin.

Virginian Stock ‘Confetti Mix’ seeds sown direct in border back on May 23rd.

Confetti mix was intended as summer filler in area of limited planting depth.

Traditional companion planting is much more practical. Growing French marigolds near tomatoes is the first planting that comes to my mind here. I have childhood memories of my Mum doing this (the strong smelling Marigolds were believed to be good at repelling greenfly and blackfly). Ha-ha... the Marigolds certainly repelled myself and my siblings from touching the growing fruits that's for sure!

Companion planting is all about creating plant communities which have mutual benefits to each other. It can be an organic way to protect your crops from pests or it could help improve pollination of fruit and vegetable crops. Although there is limited scientific research surrounding companion gardening, many gardeners find it extremely beneficial to their plant’s performance. In this article we’ve put together the best known partnerships in flowers, herbs and vegetables to help you improve the health of your garden plants without needing to resort to pesticides.
Companion Planting Guide, Thompson & Morgan

Combining your plants in the right way can be good for their health and growth, as well as from an aesthetic point of view. This guide explains which species can work together and what the key benefits are.
Companion planting, Gardening guides, BBC

Planting combinations for pollinators can be seriously rewarding for the gardener too. This year our small front garden, main border above, has been an absolute joy to see grow and become a-buzz with bees, butterflies and other insects. This area was given a raised path edge earlier this year and has become everything I hoped it would be and more.

Last year’s plant residents enjoying this sunny spot (Buddleja ‘Buzz Ivory’, Drumstick Alliums, Sedum, Foxglove 'Milk Chocolate' & Acanthus) have been joined this year by new edging strips of Lavender & Thyme, a white Echinacea (Coneflower), Verbena bonariensis 'Lollipop' and Aubrietia cascading over the rocky wall edges.

August just had to bow out with a few more images to look back on. The next sunny evening we get, I’ll take a seat out here and sit with my cameras… that will be my reward for the hard work in removing a tired but well-loved, well-behaved bamboo that has given up a prime sunny space for plants to attract pollinators.

Lucky iPhone capture of small tortoiseshell butterfly :-)

This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in August 2015.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Look out for Painted Lady butterflies in 2015

What a surprise to see you yesterday – just as I was leaving the garden.
(runs for video camera) 52sec compilation with background music, try HD quality.

Yay… early evening and we meet in the garden again (runs for still camera).
It’s been 6 yrs, last sighting in 2009 during mass migration year here in UK.

“The painted lady migration is one of the real wonders of the natural world.

Travelling up to 1km in the sky and at speeds of up to 30mph, these small, fragile-seeming creatures migrate hundreds of miles to reach our shores each year, even though none of the individual butterflies has ever made the trip before.”

You look so small on the sunny rock, but with a wingspan of 6cm you are one of the largest butterflies here in the UK (shame your friend was camera shy).

Buddleja ‘Buzz Ivory’ has arrived in the garden since your last visit, a tasty evening drink (all Buddleja’s are a great food source for bees and butterflies).

Your circus act of hanging upside down looked like a practical solution in breezy conditions (loving the eyespots and marbling of your hindwings, so pretty).

Ta-da… you beautifully demonstrate that a real butterfly is a much better wall decoration than ornamental ones. Thank-you for decorating my garden
last night (wishing for more sunny evenings to see you again).

Catching sightings of butterflies for surveys like the Migrant Watch by Butterfly Conservation can be tricky as you need the right conditions for them to be out flying (best chance in sunny days without wind). Catching sightings in your garden is also based in you being in it to see them too. By providing food plants for butterflies you help them survive and have a better chance to enjoy their beauty in your garden.

So could 2015 be a good year for the Painted Lady butterfly? Will we see it visit in good numbers here in the UK? Well, seeing two in my Scottish garden yesterday might suggest so. If I had read a few news items, then I would have known to be on the lookout for it (British butterfly bonanza could see 'painted lady summer and Fluttering back to Britain, millions of painted ladies: Distinctive orange and black marked butterflies expected to arrive from North Africa within weeks).

Perhaps other garden blogger’s have posted on this (sorry missed it) but I thought I’d give the thumbs up on looking out for the Painted Lady butterfly this year just in case you hadn’t heard and would like to see it. I also wanted to share my excitement at seeing it again by sharing images from my garden :-)

This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in August 2015.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Welcome back, americana...

(Honeysuckle) Lonicera x americana

How pretty you look now - just how did I forget about you?

Flowering in morning sunshine - you'll grow up to overlook the pond :-)

Admired at Gardening Scotland a good few years ago, this impulse buy didn’t really have a proper place back in the garden. How familiar does that sound? Gail force winds knocked down its first home (a small, flimsy arch) and it was given temporary accommodation next to a free pole on a pathway garden structure.

The sulking climber was pruned after moving in an effort to encourage new growth but then it was promptly forgotten about. Again, how familiar does that sound in a garden full of other plants seeking the gardener’s attention?

Winds and persistent rain haven’t made for easy garden photo captures this summer but last Friday (with GBBD in mind) I got out with my camera in the early morning sunshine and what a surprise I was to find! Americana was flowering, looking healthy and attracting pollinators! Hoverflies were feeding and I suspect bees have been here too.

Welcome back, americana – you are clearly telling me you have found your own permanent home in my garden and I am very happy to have you stay :-) Although I love it when plants thrive on not being fussed over, I will try to keep a gardener's promise to look after and admire you - for a few years anyway ;-)

This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in August 2015.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Haze of yellow Ragwort on sand dunes

When choosing a family day out on a sunny day here in the UK, if it's within driving distance, many will choose the beach. Wildlife moments can be found by rock pooling but sand dunes are also a great place for wildlife discoveries - taking gardenwatch on tour again :-)

Just as in our gardens, once you start looking more closely there’s so much to see and you wonder how you have missed it all before. Ragwort was the big surprise for me.

Mid-August 2015, gardenwatch location: Along the grassy dunes of Kilshanny Beach, Tenstmuir Forest just north of St Andrews. Subject camera was looking for: Dragonflies and the caterpillars of the Cinnabar Moth. Success: No to Dragonflies, water strip sightings seen previously were overgrown. Yes to caterpillars, although only odd ones spotted in area of the dunes searched.

Bees were the success story of this location - they were everywhere feeding on a huge haze of waist height, yellow Ragwort flowers! This was a very bright, sunny day and the sight was quite mesmerising. On a dull, wet day it would have been quite different.

The small copper butterfly has always been too quick for my camera on previous visits at this location. However on this day, it too was out enjoying the sunshine and feeding on the ragwort. I was delighted to get a proper look at this pretty little butterfly with its wings open as it is usually almost invisible with its wings folded resting on the sand.

Yay… the return walk back to the car saw a yellow and black striped cinnabar moth caterpillar playing hide and seek with me! Clearly it had few friends as the plant was looking very healthy. Yep… you’ve guessed it… ragwort is a food plant for cinnabar moth caterpillars. Since seeing great numbers feeding on this plant last July (stripping it almost bare) I always find myself taking a closer look.

A Small tortoiseshell butterfly was spotted feeding on ragwort last year when I had my video camera out trying to capture the caterpillars moving about en masse. I’ve a great clip that looks like the butterfly deliberately knocked away a caterpillar that had spent ages getting to the top. I must take a search for that and upload it :-)

The shot of this trip has to be the absolutely stunning Peacock butterfly below which looks like I have photoshopped it on to a background of ragwort! It too was feeding on the ragwort and I had never seen this on previous visits. It’s brilliant to get surprise sightings when on tour ;-)

As much as I love seeing ragwort along the sand dunes of our family favourite beach, I cringe a little when I see great swathes of it in roadside fields as a drive around countryside roads.

Joining all its wild, weed friends Ragwort (Senecio spp.) is seen growing happily in uncultivated ground like roadsides, railway embankments as well as grassy sand dunes. It isn’t seen as a problem in gardens but the story is a quite different one for farmers of cattle (horse owners too) as it is poisonous to these animals and a serious issue as it readily pops up in grazing fields.

As a gardener, when adding wild flowers to my garden plantings, I try to consider what is reasonable to grow in a small rural garden and pick locations within my garden that don’t go near boundaries so my plants don’t seed in my neighbour’s gardens. If ragwort ever found its way (over my hedge) into my garden I would be diligent in removing it and wouldn't encourage wildlife gardeners to grow it.

Wildflower, Bird's-foot-trefoil growing pond side in garden, mid-June.

Ragwort gets much discussion here in the UK but as with all wildlife, when a food plant is eradicated completely it does have a serious impact on the survival of a species and that's not acceptable either. Farmers and horse owners need support in finding a solution - good luck to them. To a degree, it's possible habitat loss on both sides.

Oh dear, this was supposed to be a light, sunny post on a rainy Friday night! Returning to sunny thoughts with blooming gardens full of food plants for bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects - tomorrow is Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day! Yep, it’s that time of the month when Carol at May Dreams Gardens invites fellow bloggers to post on what’s flowering on the 15th. Happy GBBD to all taking part :-)

Wishing everyone a great weekend for gardening, wildlife watching and getting out and about! Do remember though… if you go down to the beach this weekend... you’re sure of a big surprise for every ragwort that you might see… there’s sure to be… much wildlife having a picnic ;-)

This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in August 2015.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Pond dipping video camera films again!

There was a deep inhale of breath as the tripod toppled and the video camera entered the water in the garden pond! A quick arm’s reach to catch a tripod leg stopped the whole camera going fully under water. Okay, so I have been secretly wishing for an underwater camera to see all that's living in my garden pond but this just wasn’t going to work.

Today's simulation of the near garden and pond watching disaster.
A huge thank-you to my very capable assistant for not repeating the incident.

After a seriously brief, stunned moment looking at my wet video camera, I quickly removed it from the tripod head and shook it frantically in the same downwards motion in an attempt to get any water out of it. I stood shaking the camera over my pond until no water came out and walked indoors confessing to my careless mistake in not stabilising the feet of the tripod in the gravel path edging my wildlife pond.

My garden visiting companion daughter suggested putting my camera in a box of rice as we did for her sister’s mobile phone after a water dipping event of the bathroom kind. I seriously doubted it would work and feared this year’s pond action filming was over before I had even started to share it here on my blog.

Camera sat on rice in closed box to draw out moisture seen on lens.

As per this blog title, incredibly, my video camera survived its water adventure and did work again to film another day - just five days later!

Short 31 sec video showing close-up and fast movement of water
with salmon leaping. Note background music, try HD quality.

It was a surprise to see Salmon leaping up at Ossian's Cave, The Hermitage, Perthshire on July 29th. I didn’t expect to see them there at this time of year. I carefully held my camera tripod filming the salmon whilst holding an umbrella overhead to keep water spray off the newly working (dry) video camera again. Ha-ha… my companion daughter pointed out that if the camera fell in this water there was no retrieving it… she would be correct there ;-)

When the video camera fell in to my pond, disappointment was a serious understatement. Recent video captures of mating large red damselflies laying eggs under plant leaves in my wildlife pond were sitting waiting to be edited. Many interesting clips with pond skaters and other pond wildlife sat in folders with plans to start a whole series on the wildlife that a pond can attract. Yay... I can still do that :-)

This is an evening posting with just under 30 minutes to go until the predicted best time to see this year's Perseid Meteor shower here in the UK. It could be a bit cloudy over our garden but we’re off outside to see if any meteors are to be seen. Enjoy the skies if you go out, and do remember there are special cameras that work underwater for garden ponds so take extra care with yours :-)

This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in August 2015.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Holidays – taking gardenwatch on tour

When choosing a UK holiday, we tend to pick countryside locations. Since writing this gardenwatch blog, I’ve found myself looking out many a holiday cottage window at the birds flying around. I began wishing I had packed some bird food with me although, realistically, would they find it if I did? So, a few years ago, the holiday bird feeding experiments and gardenwatching began in earnest.

This year, easily packed in the car boot was the unpacked, impulse buy of bird feeder pole*** that was found in this summer’s potting shed clear-out/reorg. A basic peanut feeder was filled, bagged and tucked to the side of the suitcases.

May 2015, Holiday location: Outside the village of Risplith on the edge of the Yorkshire dales in the North of England. Experiment success: Yes, two Blue tits within 10 mins of putting feeder up!

The two Blue tits above (probable nesting pair in May) were rewarded by helping me choose the location of this first successful feeding experiment. Opening the floor length curtain behind the front door on the first morning revealed Blue tits bouncing through a shrub looking for food. This shrub cover worked well to site a bird feeder nearby and it never moved for the duration of our holiday.

Blue tits, Blue tit juvs, Great Tits and House Sparrows were seen when we were in the cottage but other birds may have visited. Jackdaws were seen jumping along the higher boundary wall like they were considering how they could negotiate it - I wonder if they did.

The peanut feeder pole can be seen to the left of the door, it was pushed in the ground away from roots of plants and outside weed suppressing fabric membrane. I was conscious of being respectful to the cottage owner and would never have taken a mixed seed feeder or fat balls as food spillage to the ground had the potential of germinating and leaving weeds.

Gardenwatching from inside was easy too with the door having windows. The door was also at the bottom of the stairs so everyone walked by it going to rooms on either side. Initially my tripod was positioned here. At times I found myself sitting in the quiet room on the right where I swapped over the chair and footstool so I could sit with video camera while reading there. I was hoping to see a Nuthatch (not seen up my way) but no joy there.

There was a steady flow of traffic on the road outside the front of the house. Over the road, dairy cows casually grazed in complete contrast to the starlings running around the ground and the swallows swooping across the fields. We had glimpses of sunny weather on this week but it was one of strong gales and heavy rain.

Round the back of this holiday property, we overlooked a farmer’s field and rolling countryside. This was where the most bird species could be seen but with extensive weed suppressing membrane on garden borders I wasn't able to consider my holiday bird feeder here. Birds seen included the usual ‘home’ suspects of Blackbirds, Robin, Blue tits, Wren, Goldfinches, Collared Doves, Starling, House Sparrows, and Jackdaw. Flying over the fields were gulls, swallows and bats.

Perhaps, it may seem sad packing bird feeders for a holiday but I love the challenge of attracting birds and other wildlife to a given space. I surely can’t be the only one can I? Please tell me someone else reading this has considered it... no? I’ll just quietly head out to the garden with my coffee and watch my pond then ;-)

Wishing you good weekend with fair weather to enjoy your garden :-) I'm hoping to count butterflies for the current survey that ends tomorrow, the 9th August.

***I completely agree with the comments in the reviews of this product suggesting the plastic adapter connecting the bird feeder to the pole should be available to be bought separately. If even slightly overtightened it can break or the threads get damaged. Having very disappointingly split one many years ago, I was in two minds to try this again but I’m so glad I did as it made a great holiday feeder. Spares of fixings like this would be very welcome for all bird feeder products.

This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in August 2015.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Wordless Wednesday: Look to the night sky

This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in August 2015.