A couple of stems of chicory escaped when I mowed the meadow area, but I might as well enjoy drawing them while they’re still here. They’re going to go as I need to keep it under control to give some of the other wild flowers, such as bird’s-foot trefoil, red campion and red clover, a chance to thrive.
Perhaps I should start eating it: buds and leaves are edible and the roots have been baked, ground and roasted as a substitute for coffee. I can’t see me giving up my Fairtrade, rain-forest friendly latte.
After a long, dull winter, Sainsbury’s know how to get you as you stroll into the supermarket: I couldn’t resist these bright packs of bee and butterfly meadow mixes. All I’ve got to do now is clear several square metres of ground, plant the bulbs and sow the seed mixes, and wait for the flowers to attract the local pollinators.
There are plants that I would never have selected for our garden, such as gladioli, dahlia and delphinium, so it will be fun to see what works. As the labels suggest, they’ll all be attractive to bees, butterflies, hoverflies and other insects.
We’re pleased with the way the flower bed by the rowan in the front garden has come on since we planted it out in spring last year.
The spiky ornamental grasses, the shrubby purple hebe and the tete-a-tete daffodils have all bulked up but the stars of the show are the primulas. They’ve been no more than a bedraggled rosette of leaves all winter but over the past couple of weeks we’ve seen more and more flowers appearing.
‘Purple Stem’ Sweet Box, Sarcococca hookeriana var. digyna*, is now tasseled with sweetly fragrant blossom on the woodland bank behind the bench by the Druid Bridge below the Cascade at Nostell Priory. Each blossom has just two styles and one central stigma; with a scent like that, who needs petals?
The generic name, Sarcococca, is from the Greek, ‘sarc’ meaning flesh and ‘kokkos’, berry.
The species name honours botanist Joseph Dalton Hooker(1817-1911) who collected this winter-flowering shrub on a plant-hunting expedition in southern China. Hooker was a friend and confidant of Charles Darwin; Benedict Cumberbatch appears as Hooker in Creation, the biographical movie about Darwin. This weekend he appears in the final episode of Sherlock, so perhaps he’ll now be able to get back to playing Victorian botanists, which he does so well.
The newly planted Sweet Box by the bench should spread by suckers to form a thicket a metre in height.
* I guess that it’s possible that this is a garden hybrid, closely related to S. hookeriana.
After a week of wintry and sometimes very windy weather, it’s good to be walking through the parkland under blue skies with low winter sun picking out the textures on the trunks of the old beeches and oaks. It’s also picking out the bark-like layers in the sandstone of the old quarry in the Menagerie garden.
In the walled garden the first snowdrops have appeared and the winter aconites that we first saw opening midweek are continuing to come into flower.
In the shady shelter of the far northeast-facing wall of the garden, Timperley Early(right) is one of the few rhubarb varieties to have started sprouting leaves but Victoria is just ahead of it, with some of the leaves already opening out.
Shepherd’s purse, like other members of the cress family, has four-petalled flowers but it’s easier to identify its heart-shaped seed pods which are the shape of the sporran-like purse worn by medieval shepherds.
This plant has so far survived our autumn weeding of the veg beds, hanging on in there in the last square metre of the L-shaped bed next to our little meadow area, growing alongside spurge, bush vetch, forget-me-not and creeping buttercup and a few rosettes of sow-thistle and foxglove.
2.30 p.m., overcast, 58°F, 14°C: Warps are methodically working the pale yellowish green flowers of the ivy. These must rank as the dowdiest of flowers but the sweetish heady scent has also attracted a few bluebottles which have a more skittish approach to imbibing this autumnal supply of nectar. One sunny morning last week, hoverflies and drone flies were also joining in this end of season feast.
10.25 a.m., cumulo stratus 80%, 59°F, 15°C, back garden.
The perennial cornflower was originally a plant I introduced from my mum’s large, leafy and well-stocked garden. It has settled in well, scattering its seeds along our border. I’m sure that we never planted it at this end, by the corner of the patio next to the bird bath. There’s often a blackbird or sometimes a sparrow sitting on the edge of the patio here and I guess that’s how it found it’s way here, in a bird dropping. It also spreads via creeping rhizome.
As its scientific name, Centaurea montana, suggests, it’s a plant of subalpine meadows and open woodland in Europe, ranging from the Ardennes the Pyrenees and in the east as far as the Balkans.
We’ve had more colour in the border this autumn than we had in the summer. The pot marigold, Calendula, which we planted a year or two ago at this end of the border has spread across the back garden, popping up in the veg beds and in the greenhouse.
As it flies – ‘as the crow flies’, in a straight line – this carrion crow makes a call that I describe as ‘Tchuik! Tuikk! Twik!’ in my sketch: not the harsh, croaking ‘Caw! Caw! Caw! Caw!’ that I associate with crows. The Handbook of British Birds describes this call as ‘a higher-pitched, complaining “keerk, keerk, keerk”.
I hear the regular ‘caw’ half an hour later after a commotion with the local magpies at the edge of the wood, which have been making their chattering rattling calls in the tall ash trees.
The sparrows chirping in the hedge are a more homely soundtrack for my drawing. It’s feels like a treat to be out of doors drawing from nature again.
The Ashfields, between Heath village and the River Calder (OS ref. SE 353 206), were settlement lagoons for the pulverised fuel ash from Wakefield power station which was decommissioned in 1991. In the past thirty or forty years the process of natural succession has transformed them from silty open ground to orchid meadow and then from scrub to woodland.
Two longhorn beetles, Stranglia maculata, rest on umbels of hogweed and in a sheltered clearings there are a few speckled wood butterflies but the most common and persistent insect is the mosquito.
The Half Moon (SE 358 208) between Heath and Kirkthorpe is a cut-off meander of the Calder. A hundred or more whirligig beetles gyrate in a group on the surface close to the bank. Branched bur-reed grows amongst sweet-flag.
Amber snails graze on the sweet-flag. These snails are unable to fully retract into their shells. Their lower tentacles are much reduced.
3 p.m., 70°F, 22°C, 75% white cumulus, slight breeze: Where it grows on a well mown lawn, self-heal can put out tiny flower heads that stay low and escape the blades of the mower. My mother-in-law Betty objected to the self-heal dotted about her lawn. She said the little purple flower heads reminded her of pieces of ground beef sprinkled on a pizza. Amongst the tall grasses of my patch of meadow self-heal is growing to two feet, to the same height as the knapweed growing alongside it.
The same is true of the bird’s-foot trefoil which is scrambling amongst the grasses rather than forming a low cushion of brilliant yellow flower as it might on rabbit-nibbled turf.
A bumble bee with ‘fur’ that resembles a brown bear in moult visits one of the flowers.
Pyramidal, common spotted and a hybrid orchid were in flower on the plateau at Townclose Hills Nature Reserve, also known as Billy Woods.
Despite the breeze we saw ringlet, meadow brown, small tortoiseshell, small skipper and a few marbled white butterflies. Six-spot burnet moths were also active and a hebrew character moth lurked amongst the grasses.
One of the smallest orb-web spiders, Araniella curcurbitina, was making its way across a grassy path. It’s Latin name, curcurbitina, means ‘a little member of the gourd family’; its bright green and yellow striped abdomen looks like a water melon or gourd. It has a scarlet patch on its underside.
We spotted a brown hare in a field in the valley of Kippax Brook to the west of the reserve.
Townclose Hills, Kippax is a Leeds City Council Local Nature Reserve managed by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust.
69°F, 20°C, 10.25 a.m.: At the lower end of the walled garden at Nostell Priory there are two squares of wild flower meadow. Amongst the grasses, buttercups and dog daisies there are small drifts of yellow rattle, Rhinanthus minor, a plant that is semi-parasitic on the roots of grasses.
Despite a superficial resemblance, it isn’t related to yellow archangel, which I photographed in Stoneycliffe Woods at the beginning of the month: yellow archangel is a relative of the dead-nettles, one of the Lamiacea (mint) family, while yellow rattle is a member of the Scrophulariaceae (figwort) family, related to louseworts, cow-wheats, speedwells and foxglove.
A tall shuttlecock tuft of fronds of male fern, Dryopteris filix-mas, grows by the woodland path near the Menagerie. It has pale brown scales on its stems, which helps distinguish it from another tufted fern, the broad-buckler, which has a dark stripe running down the centre of each scale. The broad-buckler doesn’t form such a robust looking shuttlecock of fronds.
The curry plant growing in the stone trough in the courtyard of the stable block at Nostell Priory is just about to come into flower. As its name suggests, it gives off a convincing aroma of curry if you brush against it or rub its leaves. If this is designed to deter insects, it isn’t working in the case of these black aphids that are sap-sucking along its stems.
Surplus sap excreted by the aphids is collected by ants, which have been observed to defend and sometimes to move the aphids, like farmers herding cattle. I spotted just one ant in the macro photographs that I took.
Also sap-sucking, a spittle bug. The nymph of the spittle bug produces a protective covering of ‘cuckoo spit’ by blowing bubbles in the surplus sap that it excretes.