The sparkling drops of melted frost on the seed head of Stipa gigantea (golden oats) above caught my attention one morning. I had gone outside knowing that any frost had already melted and expecting it too be too late to find any interesting photographs. When I saw this, however, I realised that I was wrong. There was still plenty to see and photograph.
Both of these photographs are of the Stipa gigantea. I was tempted to keep the more sparkly top one as a possible Christmas ‘nature’s decoration’ photo, but decided to hope for more frost before the end of next December. The need to find something to post right now was stronger!
The garden keeps me going even in the winter. It gives me new things to look at and to explore with my camera. It stops me from getting bored and helps me to look forward to the future. Sometimes it even brings a bit of sparkle into my life. Hope your life is a bit sparkly too!
As a slight change from my frosty photos, I thought I’d post a few pictures of the after-effects of these chilly nights.
After the frost melts, there is a great clarity and brilliance to the water drops that are left behind. While they are still very cold and not entirely melted, they can cling to plants for longer than raindrops would. If you look at them closely, you can see little bubbles trapped inside them.
The plant in the top photograph is Euphorbia mellifera. I’m intrigued by the way the tiniest of droplets gather in a line along the very edges of some of the leaves. This plant is placed where it gets the earliest sunshine, so any frost on it disappears quickly. The melted drops, however, stay, and add a brilliant sparkle to the vibrant green and red leaves.
There’s not much left of the fennel seedhead above. The seeds fell off it ages ago, and now the rest looks quite skeletal. I can imagine that big drop on the right being clutched in bony fingers. It has become something alien-looking, especially with the trail of tiny drops clinging to a stray grass stem that is entangled with it.
There’s even less left of the plant below. I think it’s the remains of the flowering stem of some catnip. Now though, the melted frost has become like little round beads that have managed to attach themselves to the plant – as if they’re some sort of weird plant/glass hybrid.
The frost on the rose leaves below is still partly frozen and is even more textured with icy ripples and crinkles and lots of bubbles. There’s quite a difference between the irregular shapes of the colder, still icy drops and the more spherical drops that have completely thawed.
The morning I took these photographs I had missed any chance of frost. But I enjoyed having a close look at these drops of melted frost. They add texture and an interesting highlight to the winter garden as they gleam in the morning sun.
It’s New Year’s Eve as I’m typing this, and it has been a strangely warm day for the time of year. Not a trace of wintry weather. The frost that I photographed here happened a few days before Christmas, so is long gone.
I was lucky to get that one frosty morning so that I could take a few sparkly photos for my Christmas and New Year posts. It’s amazing how frost can make the most ordinary of things look special. (Top photo is the remains of an aster, bottom is a young fennel plant that has flopped over in the cold.)
2021 has been a year of enjoying small, simple things here. The garden has been an ever-increasing source of happiness and has given me a sense of purpose when life has been rather constricted. I hope that 2022 is a year that will bring us back to being able to live our lives safely and healthily.
For 2022, I wish you all a year of joy, health and peace. May it be a year that brings you delight in life. Happy New Year!
As this is the last post here before Boxing Day, I reckoned it was time to post some natural ‘Christmas decorations’ created by the frost. These are from a couple of years ago – there hasn’t been enough frost for photography yet this year. (But there probably will be in January, as it’s usually colder then.)
I’m relieved that we haven’t had much frost yet because I have lots of plants sitting around in pots. They’re waiting for me to use them in a border renewal, but work has gone more slowly than I expected. The plants will probably be OK, because they’re in quite big pots and are mostly very hardy. Even so, I always feel a bit guilty about the possibility that they may freeze and worry about them making it ’til next spring.
The border I’m re-planting is an area that has partly been taken over by Japanese anemones. It stretches to the side of the new pond. (The pond is still a big black hole at the moment – I’m hoping that it will fill up with rain or snow over the winter.) It feels good to be able to keep going with this while the weather isn’t too cold.
Until it does get really wintry, I’ll keep pottering about in the garden. For Christmas though, I’ll take refuge in the warmth indoors. I’ll probably spend most of the time curled up on the sofa with hubby and the two cats, lots of good books, plenty of tasty food and (very likely) a generous amount of wine. (Maybe even something decent on the TV.) Whatever you’re doing this Christmas, I hope that it’s a good one, and that it brings you much happiness. I wish you and your families and friends good health and good cheer. 🙂
We had some good autumn reds in the garden this year – or maybe I should say orange for the photo above. It’s the fieriest that our leaves have managed in a long time. I should think the more intense colours developed because it’s been colder than most autumns, though not nearly as cold as we were used to in Scotland.
Our little crab apple tree (Malus ‘Royal Beauty’) has the brightest leaves in our autumn garden. Both photographs here are of this same tree, so you can see that they vary between orange and deep red. They have really been spectacular this year.
To photograph the leaves, I chose to shoot towards the sun. (I was lucky enough to catch the last bit of late sun before it left the back garden.) Doing this allows the strong light to shine through the leaves. As a result, they become ablaze with glowing colour that contrasts with the dark shadows cast by other leaves.
I love nature’s ability to imitate stained glass, if only for a short time. It makes the garden much more exciting to photograph at this time of year!
I have been waiting for this pink hollyhock to finish flowering and for its seeds to ripen. At last it has, and I’ve cut down the old stems and taken them away to a sunny, sheltered spot where I’m hoping it will seed itself around. (I need to clear the hollyhock’s space so that it can become part of a new bog garden.)
The plant was the offspring of a series of hollyhocks that have self-sown in the area for the last few years. Originally I had planted a few seedlings bought at a community plant sale. I can’t now remember what colour the flowers were. Possibly yellow, because I do remember some very pretty double yellow flowers and it seems likely that they would eventually revert to producing plants with single flowers.
This year there was only the one plant. That’s probably a result of all the disturbance of having the fence renewed last year. But this single plant was much bigger than any of the previous hollyhocks. When I cut the stems, I measured the longest and found that it had reached a height of 10 feet. (Hollyhocks do grow tall, but are more likely to be 6 to 8 ft.) It was lucky that it hasn’t been windy enough to blow the stems over!
There’s a lot of discussion about whether hollyhocks are biennial or perennial. (They don’t flower until their second year.) The RHS says that they are short-lived perennials, so I’m happy to go with that. But I haven’t tried to move the hollyhock to a new position because they have deep tap roots and don’t like to be disturbed.
If there’s time next year, I may grow some new plants from seed. I’d love to have a range of colours, including pale yellow, the really dark purples, and strong pinks like the flower above. This one sadly wasn’t in my garden, but was photographed outside a pretty cottage a few years ago. (I’ve seen a wonderful range of colours outside some of the pretty medieval cottages in the villages around here…the tall flowers and quaint cottages seem to go so well together!)
Whatever colours I might fancy in hollyhocks, the bees seemed happy with this year’s pink. This plant has attracted many bees, so that would be a good reason for keeping some of the same shade – and a good reason for growing varieties with single flowers rather than the doubles. If I manage to grow hollyhocks in a number of different colours, I must take note of which they prefer – could be an interesting little project!
In the last few years, I’ve become fascinated by the bees and other insects that visit my garden. Sometimes I like to just sit and watch as they go about their business among the flowers. It feels very relaxing and deeply peaceful.
There are several different species of bee that use the garden. Honeybees come here frequently. There’s usually a good number of buff-tailed bumblebees too, and just occasionally, a red-tailed bumblebee. And there’s the bumblebee pictured above – the common carder bee (Bombus pascuorum).
I’d noticed these bees back in spring, visiting the white deadnettle and other early flowers. They moved about too much for me to get a really good look at them, or a clear photograph that showed their markings. Recently, I saw a couple of them enjoying the freshly-opened flowers of a sedum on a sunny afternoon. It made a good opportunity to photograph them.
Having photographs of the bees made it easier to identify them by comparing them to images on websites about bees. Even then, it can be very hard to be sure about identification, because many bees look very similar.
To make it easier to see the differences between the commonest bees in my garden, I’ve posted a couple of comparison photos. Above is the honeybee. (The western or European honeybee, Apis mellifera.)
You can see that the honeybee’s colouration is quite like that of the common carder bee. But the carder is much hairier and a stronger ginger colour. (The common carder is also a bit bigger than the honeybee.)
If you look at the tails of the two bees, you’ll notice that the tail of the common carder has hairy stripes in black and white. While the honeybee also has a stripey look to its tail, they are quite different. Here the black areas of the tail look smooth and slightly shiny, with just very short and sparse pale-coloured hairs.
The other comparison (above) is the very common buff-tailed bumblebee. (Which can be distinguished from the white-tailed bumblebee by that very narrow orangey stripe at the top of its tail.) It looks quite different from the common carder bee, having a mostly black thorax with an orangey-yellow stripe just below the head, and another on the abdomen, just below the waist. (Mostly hidden here by the wings.)
One of my reasons for wanting to know which bees use my garden is so that I can try to make sure I have a range of flowers to suit them.
The common carder bees have been busy at the caryopteris flowers, even though the shrub has almost finished flowering for the year. Like a lot of other bees, they’re keen on the flowers of sedums at the moment, as well as the last of the catnip flowers. (When there’s not a cat sleeping in it!)
Now I must go and read up on what other flowers they like and what sorts of habitats suit them. I’m hoping for lots more of them next year!
Recently I wrote that there had been few butterflies in the garden this summer. And I had seen no Peacock butterflies. Happily, some have now appeared, as you can see from the top picture (where it shares the buddleia flower with a Red Admiral.)
There aren’t as many butterflies as in last year’s really warm summer, but it’s great to see some. A little bit of sunshine and the scent of the buddleias has brought them into the garden to feast and sun themselves – conveniently for the ‘Big Butterfly Count’, which finishes this weekend.
The appearance of this Small Tortoiseshell butterfly was well-timed for my second go at the butterfly count. It’s the only one I’ve seen so far this year. In fact, I’ve only seen it a few times in the garden. I was delighted that I had my camera ready, and even happier that it didn’t fly away. (Most of the pictures here have been cropped from much bigger images because I couldn’t get close without disturbing the butterfly.)
Below is a butterfly that I’ve not noticed in the garden before. It’s a Gatekeeper and there were two of them, often in the same area. (The dark, band-like markings on the forewings of this one show that it’s a male.) These are common in hedgerows, grassland and around the edges of wooded areas, so they may have come from the woodlands across the road from us. There are plenty of trees and shrubs in the gardens around here and wilder areas with long grass too, so there could soon be more of them.
After I had photographed the Gatekeeper, I thought to myself that it would be good if I could find a Comma to photograph too. They are common butterflies and sure enough, a couple of them turned up. In fact the first one surprised me by landing on the grass at my feet and then deciding to perch on my leg for a while. So I got a rather dodgy photograph of that one and then managed to get a better photograph of the Comma below.
The butterfly that we see most often here is the Red Admiral. There’s usually several of these around on a sunny day and they’re pretty reliable when it comes to being around for the Big Butterfly Count. Afterwards they entertained me by chasing each other around the garden. It was amazing to see them spinning wildly through the air in the last of the evening sunshine.
While I was taking part in the butterfly count, I noticed that many of the butterflies came to feed on the buddleia plant that you see in the photographs here. This was good, because I hadn’t seen many on it before and I wondered if they preferred the paler purple varieties. This one is ‘Royal Red’. Here it looks more of a reddish purple but the colour changes a lot with the light and sometimes it’s a really lovely deep colour with more red in it. I’m glad to see that it does attract butterflies. I have several cuttings of it that are growing well, so I’ll plant them out in a sunny and sheltered area. Maybe they’ll bring in more butterflies for next year’s count.
There was a surprise while doing my first butterfly count for this year – a big hedgehog snoozing in the undergrowth! I haven’t seen one in this garden for a few years, so it’s good to know that they are around. It was worth having to restart that count just for the glimpse of him or her. (And don’t tell my cats, but I left out a bit of their food, which it ate pretty quickly.)
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!
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.
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!
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!