Little Visitors

After the bees got all the attention last week, I thought I’d pay some to a few of our other garden visitors. I find a lot more wildlife in the garden here than in our previous garden, so there’s often something new or unfamiliar.

The metallic-looking little beetle in the top photo is a first for me. I’d never seen one before but I have read about them. This is a rosemary beetle (Chrysolina americana) and actually an unwelcome intruder because it feeds on various aromatic plants. (These include rosemary, lavender, sage and thyme, all of which grow in our garden.) Luckily I’ve only seen the one so far, so I hope it hasn’t brought its friends! Apparently the damage they do may not harm the plants much, and the beetles themselves can just be picked off the plants.

I never use chemicals in the garden and prefer to hope that predators will naturally get rid of pests. In the case of rosemary beetles, their larva are eaten by birds, frogs and other beetles. So it’s good to have plenty of hungry carnivorous beasties around!

Greenfly tend to suddenly appear in large numbers every summer but luckily the ladybirds do too. A few weeks ago I found the weird-looking larvae of ladybirds in amongst a swarm of greenfly – I hope they had good appetites! There are lots of ladybirds around this year so I think they must have had a an easy winter. (I tend to see them grouped in curled up leaves that have fallen in autumn. Our garden is never too tidy, so there are plenty of places for them to hibernate.)

Another visitor that comes here in large numbers is the hoverfly. (Pictured above.) There are always a lot of these tiny pollinators around the garden – many more than there are bees. I like to watch these little brightly-coloured flies as they zoom around amongst the flower heads. And I find they will often be very obliging and sit still for long enough for me to focus on them when I’m out with my camera. Wish the bees would do that too!

The visitors that we’re missing this year are butterflies. There have been a few Red Admirals and some Large Whites but not much else. Last year there were often Peacock butterflies (below) sunning themselves on our brick path – sometimes as many as a dozen along the length of it. This year I have seen none so far. The low numbers are probably due to all the cold and rain we’ve had this year, so perhaps things will improve as the weather does. The ‘Big Butterfly Count’ survey is being held in the UK at the moment. Let’s hope that the results of that are a bit more encouraging!

Bees’ Needs Week 2021

The summer feels like it’s going by too quickly. (As always!) Already the flowers that I associate with late summer are starting to make an appearance. I’ve noticed the first pale pink flowers to open on my patch of Japanese anemones, and the echinacea plants (above) are now beginning to display their brightly-coloured daisies.

There are lots of flowers in the garden at the moment so there are also plenty of bees and hoverflies around. That’s very appropriate because this week has been the annual ‘Bees’ Needs Week’ in the UK. This is a campaign to encourage us to grow suitable plants for bees and pollinators and to allow areas in our gardens to be wild enough to create a habitat for them.

Bee on Cephelaria gigantea (giant scabious)

Interest in helping bees (and wildlife in general) has grown greatly in recent years, with many gardeners delighted to provide spaces for nature. Now local councils and other bodies are taking a more sympathetic stance too. They have been allowing areas of grass to remain uncut for longer and even encouraging wild patches and mini meadows in previously manicured areas.

It’s good to see the bees back again here after a couple of weeks that have been unusually wet and much cooler than normal. Certain flowers are particularly successful at attracting bees. Here it’s the various members of the scabious family that seem to always have bees and hoverflies around them.

The pale yellow flowers of the giant scabious (Cephalaria gigantea, above) are a recent addition to the garden and have proved very popular. Their impressive height makes it a little difficult for me to photograph the bees on them though! (They can get up to 8 ft. tall, but mine have still some way to go.) Scabiosa atropurpurea (below, right) is up to about 3 ft. tall, so much easier to photograph!

L: Honeybee on geranium, R: Bumblebee on scabious flower

The blue geranium pictured on the left (‘Mrs. Kendall Clark’) has finished flowering but geranium ‘Rozanne’ is ready to take over its role. However, although the bees enjoy it, there weren’t any on its flowers when I took my photographs.

I think the bees weren’t interested in the flowers of Rozanne because the lavender beside it was in full flower and more alluring. I watched lots of these buff-tailed bumblebees (below) buzzing from flower to flower, clearly intent on making the most of the nectar in the tiny flowers before they all go over. (Bumblebees have longer tongues than honeybees, which makes it easier and quicker for them to access the nectar in lavender than it is for honeybees. This means they tend to move around the flowers quite fast – so harder work for the photographer!)

Given how much the bees enjoy the lavender, I’ll plant more of it for next summer. (Angustifolia varieties are reckoned to be particularly good.) I’m very happy to be able to provide something for the bees here. It seems only fair when I enjoy going on a ‘bee-hunt’ with my camera – and of course, we need our bees!

You can read about Bees’ Needs Week and learn what you can do to help bees at these sites: https://www.bumblebeeconservation.org/bees-needs/ and https://deframedia.blog.gov.uk/2021/07/12/buzzing-for-bees-needs-week-2021/

Bumblebee on lavender

Something Sweet: Scabiosa columbaria ‘Flutter Rose Pink’

As you can imagine, I haven’t bought many plants during the pandemic. Recently we have ventured out to a few of our favourite nurseries and we have treated ourselves to one or two new plants.

This pretty scabious is one of the plants that appealed to me most. It’s an undeniably feminine looking flower, with all those frilly petals in a sweet shade of pink. I’m sure it will add something special to a border that has lots of smaller, simpler flowers.

Reading about it tells me that I can expect flowers for a long time over the year – right through from spring into autumn. (I’d noticed this long flowering period from the other plants from the scabious family already in the garden.)

‘Flutter Rose Pink’ should be happy here because it likes sun and good drainage. (It’s said to be drought-tolerant, which makes it very suitable for our East-Anglian climate.) The other scabious relatives in the garden include a smaller Scabiosa columbaria in a pale blue, the tall yellow Cephalaria gigantea, Knautia macedonica in reds and pinks and a very dark red Scabiosa atropurpurea. All of them do well here and generously seed themselves around the garden. I’m hoping the new scabious will do the same!

My new plant is a treat for me but will be one for the pollinators here too. I’ve found that the various scabious are extremely popular with bees, hoverflies and butterflies. Because they keep flowering until late in the year, they are a reliable food source for these insects. ( That’s especially true of the knautia, which can produce flowers right up to the start of winter. It’s great for frosted-flower photos and feeds the latest of bees.)

Now I just have to decide where to plant my new scabious…

Pink scabious flower
Scabiosa columbaria ‘Flutter Rose Pink’

Colour Change: Nigella

Since my post about colour-changing spring peas, I’ve been looking out for more flowers that change colour. There’s been one practically right in front of me but I hadn’t noticed it until now.

Nigella damascena (probably ‘Miss Jekyll’) has been seeding itself around our garden for a few years. It becomes covered in lots of soft blue flowers and some that are white with blue veins. I’d always liked the pale-coloured buds best as a subject to photograph because of the extra detail of the delicate blue veins on the bluish-white petals.

Nigella damascena bud about to open.
This light-coloured bud of a nigella flower is just about to open.

Despite photographing them fairly frequently, I hadn’t realised that these pale flowers were the immature colouration. I had thought that they were a variation and that the flowers just came in a mix of blues on each plant. However, I’ve just read online comments by other gardeners who say the lighter coloured flowers gradually darken to give the beautiful sky-blue of the mature flower.

I don’t know why I didn’t notice this before. Even now I’m wondering if it is really true. I’ve just been out in the garden to look at the plants and all the buds I could see were light-coloured. There were no darker blue buds. So it seems that all the flowers do indeed start off as a white slightly flushed with a pale blue and with the blue and green veins as shown above.

Most of the mature flowers were blue but I could see one or two that were still pale. Maybe they will darken to the same blue as the rest if given time. Or will they? It will be difficult to tell because the seed pods develop quickly, so the whole plant is always changing. Perhaps some flowers simply don’t mature as fully as others before their petals drop. Trying to find the answer will give me a very good reason to look at these pretty flowers more often!

Blue Nigella damascena flower
This nigella flower has matured to a lovely blue.