Potting Bench

Our greenhouse has a bit of a question-mark hanging over it because we’re keen to keep getting away in the springtime, which is just at the time when we should be getting things going in there.

Long Hot Summer

Last year while we were away, an earlier than expected scorching spell of weather withered the young tomato plants and they never really recovered, so it was a lot of work and watering for a few handfuls of not so brilliant tomatoes.

This spring we were away so much that we didn’t put any plants in at all but we were glad of that later when it turned out to be a record-breaking hot, dry summer. They would have struggled to survive in the searing temperatures that can build up in the greenhouse.

The drip irrigation system that I rigged up a few years ago for when we go away has never been as successful as hand-watering would have been.

Shuffling Sheds

Most mornings this summer it was too hot to enjoy sitting out on our southeast-facing patio, so hot that on occasion, when I sat down to put my gardening shoes on, I’d lay down my gloves on edge of patio because the paving slabs were uncomfortably hot to sit on.

We realise that we need a shady corner where we can sit out, so our plan is to dismantle the greenhouse, move the shed down there then construct a simple shelter in its place that we can use in either sun or rain.

The Modern Greenhouse

The Modern GreenhouseWhen bought our house thirty-five years ago, we were offered the greenhouse as well (at a price of course!), so it’s going to be a wrench to let it go.

What I can’t bring myself to part with just yet is my dad’s book on The Modern Greenhouse, as I’d like to browse through it to get a bit of insight of what his ambitions were during my school and student days when he got so into growing under glass in his cedar-framed greenhouse that he had a second, leant-to, greenhouse built against the high Victorian brick wall adjacent to it.

How up-to-date the book was in 1970, I’m not sure as my dad’s copy is the fourteenth edition of a book first published in 1938 and revised only once, in 1955.

My drawing of the potting bench (top) was made on my iPad in Adobe Draw, tracing from a photograph. I’d already reduced the photograph to pure black and white but I realised that I shouldn’t be too literal as I traced it, or it wouldn’t look like a pen and brush ink drawing, so I tried to be fairly free.

Bats in the Lime Trees

lime fruit and leaf
Fruit and leaf of Common Lime

Lime trees, particularly a variety of the Common LimeTilia X europaea, with a columnar shape, were a favourites with the Victorians and were planted in the grounds of a now-vanished villa, here in the Dearne Valley between Barnsley and Rotherham. The century-old trees were given preservation orders when new houses were built in the old walled garden.

Unfortunately, even with preservation orders, trees do eventually start to die back and one of trees here needed major surgery to keep it alive.

The nursery colony of pipistrelle bats which were resident in its cavities each year during the summer months moved to snug new quarters the following summer, in the apex of the house next door.

On Saturday evening, around 9 p.m., we watched them emerging and lost count of home many there were. I’d say well over a hundred. There would be a pause and then several would shoot out one after the other.

Some of them headed straight for the tree that had been their nursery roost, others hawked about overhead, appearing and disappearing at lightning speed in the gathering gloom above us.

 

sandstone boulder

We’re on coal measures here. This sandstone boulder serves as a garden feature at the foot of a still-thriving lime.

Cucumber Spider

yellow spider

This female Common Cucumber SpiderAraniella curcurbitina, scuttled away as I gathered up the ivy that I’d cut back from behind the herb bed. I’d spread an old shower curtain on the ground to catch the trimmings, hence the background; the weave of the cloth gives a clue to the scale: the spider is just half a centimetre long, excluding legs.

The cucumber spider is common on trees, woods and hedgerows, where it spins a small orb web. It has a conspicuous red spot on its underside, just below the spinnerets. The male has boxing-glove style pedipalps (the small front pair of legs).

yellow spider

Britain’s Spiders, A Field Guide

Identifying it gave me a chance to use my new field guide, Britain’s Spiders, by Lawrence Bee, Geoff Oxford and Helen Smith (2017).

As I already have two spider field guides on my shelf, Collins Field Guide Spiders of Britain & Northern Europe, by Michael J. Roberts (1995), and The Country Life Guide to Spiders of Britain and Northern Europe by Dick Jones (1983), did I really need another?

Dick Jones had support from Kodak and Pentax when he photographed 350 species of spiders and harvestmen for the Country Life Guide (top right), but his Kodachromes can’t quite match the clarity of the digital photographs in the latest guide, which also has the advantage of up-to-date distribution maps, even so, the Country Life Guide is useful to have for a second opinion when you’re checking out a species.

Collins Field Guide

pedipalp
Male palpal organ of the Cucumber Spider, Araniella curcurbitina, drawn by Michael J Roberts. Copyright Michael J Roberts, 1995.

If you were getting serious about identifying spiders, you’ll need a copy of Michael J Roberts’ guide, because, in addition to 288 colour paintings, he includes 1,500 line drawings of the spiders’ reproductive organs, which would be essential if you were trying, for example, to distinguish between the Common Cucumber Spider, Araniella curcurbitina (which is most likely to be the one that I found), and it’s near identical relative, the Cucumber Spider, A. opisthographa.

“The distinguishing features of the male palpal organs are best seen from below,” says Roberts, “and this is difficult with a field microscope, unless the specimen is particularly obliging.”

He explains how to construct a homemade ‘spi-pot’ to harmlessly examine a spider in the field. But don’t feel inadequate if you can’t tell one species of cucumber spider from another because it seems that even the spiders themselves occasionally get it wrong:

“Very rarely, specimens may appear rather intermediate, possibly due to hybridisation.”

Link

Britain’s Spiders, A Field Guide

Collins Field Guide Spiders of Britain & Northern Europe

Dr Geoff Oxford, Eco Talk, The Amazing World of Spiders, YouTube

Hedge Trimming

I’m cutting back the elder bush which has shot up this summer in the hedge beyond the herb bed. It’s so tall that even I needed the stepladder to reach it.

Experimenting with the ‘Art’ filter of my Olympus E-M10II camera, I thought that the trellis, ladder and ivy looked rather Victorian, so I used the camera’s built-in pinhole camera art filter.

History palette
History palette

In Photoshop, I used various filters to give the feel of a deguerrotype: Lens Flare and Dust & Scratches, followed by Sepia Toning from the Actions Palette.

There was no lens flare in my original, but I thought a light shining brightly through the herbage at the top of a ladder would be a suitably biblical reference for a Victorian photograph.

Admittedly, Fox Talbot wouldn’t have had access to a Black & Decker 3-in-1 aluminium ladder. Continue reading “Hedge Trimming”

Patio Patrol

In close-up, this paved area at the end of Barbara’s brother’s South Ossett garden is a miniature landscape; a sun-baked plateau dissected by a network of canyons. Brown ants patrol the edges of a dense forest of mosses.

Moss is still green in the crevices but on the surface of the concrete paving slabs, it’s dried up. White whiskers give the clump a little protection from the direct glare of the sun.

Spore capsules of the mosses are like pepper-pots on wiry stalks. One (left) has split open, leaving the teeth around the rim splayed out, like the petals of a miniature daisy.

Spots, Stains and Splatters: Crustose Lichens

There are a few spots of a dirty yellow crustose lichen on the concrete. It’s dotted with orange sporangia, each with a narrow yellow rim.

This black crustose lichen looks like little more than a tar stain on the concrete but my macro photograph reveals a surface cracked like dried mud.

A white lichen looks like splatters of paint. In close-up almost every individual scale in the colony is dotted with a small depression, perhaps the lichen’s spore-producing body.

I’m guessing that the single orange sporangium is a different species of lichen – probably the yellowish species – that has become engulfed by the white one.

Bluebottles and Bumblebees

When I drew these a month ago on 11 June the temperature was climbing to 34°C, 92°F, in this sunny corner, so insects were active. A half-size version of a bluebottle touched down while a small marmalade-coloured bumblebee visited the white clover at the edge of the lawn.

I was soon adopted as an extension of the habitat by a small brown spider which climbed over me.

Peony Seedpods

With our peonies, I much prefer drawing the seedpods to the frilly magenta pink flowers. Peonies are related to buttercups and the other place where I’ve seen pods shaped like a court jester’s cockscomb hat is on the kingcups by the pond.

Unlike the kingcups, the pods on the peony have a furry covering. As they ripen they turn from light green to a light ginger brown. They’ve yet to open but some of the pods on the kingcups have already split to disperse the seeds.

An Unlikely Warble

4 p.m., 1°C, 34°F: A grey afternoon; a blackbird’s scolding alarm call. One hundred wood pigeons disperse from the wood – or, more probably, from the field behind the wood – flying over quietly as I draw our compost bins.

There’s an unlikely warble, which soon gets extemporised; only a song thrush would improvise such a varied and eccentric song.

Twenty or thirty winter gnats are dancing in a loose column, five or six feet above my bedraggled square of meadow.

There’s a thin song from a robin and repeated nasal chirrs from a blue tit. As sunset approaches every bird seems tetchy and alarmed, then there’s a strident insistent call that sounds exactly like a house alarm. Hang on, it is some kind of alarm which my neighbour is testing out.

The First Day of Spring

Hellebore: Noodler’s Ink won’t dry when it’s so cool.

Today is the first day of spring, at least meteorologically speaking, but, with a cool breeze this afternoon, the temperature here in the back garden is a wintry 45°F, 7°C.

As a change from Apple Pencil and iPad in the comfort of my studio, I decide to spend an hour drawing in the garden.

The Noodler’s Ink in my Lamy fountain pen won’t dry when it’s so cool, so I move on to a UniPin fine line fibre tip.

Blackbird Singing in the Dead of Night

Perhaps encouraged by the supermoon – which was 10% brighter than the average full moon – a blackbird was singing at 2.30 this morning.

Long-tailed tits feed on the fat-balls a couple of yards away from me as I draw the hellebore.

wood pigeon flies overhead, spots me and veers away.

blue tit eyes me suspiciously from the feeding pole.

 

Snowdrops

The fibre tip isn’t fluid enough for me to work as quickly as I’d like on sketch of a log pile by the holly hedge, so I try my Lamy Safari fountain pen. Lamy ink isn’t waterproof, so it runs into my watercolour but I try to make the most of the effect.

Snowdrops do well around the pond and under the hedge at the end of our garden.

Petty Spurge

Petty spurgeEuphorbia peplus, is a common weed  of gardens and waste ground but its tiny green flowers look quite exotic in close up. Those horned glands give it a hint of the extra-terrestial.

The winged capsules are the female parts of the flower. There are three here, the central one much larger than those at top and bottom of the picture. Each capsule has a tuft of stigmas (five on the lower one).

Appropriately, the male flowers are the ones that are sporting the stag’s horns (which are glands). Again, there are three in the photograph and I think that on the tips of the stamens of the top one there’s a hint of yellow pollen.

The the small beak-like fleshy ‘leaves’ that can be seen clasping the top and bottom flowers are a structure that is special to euphorbias called the cyathophyll. I think that must be a botanical term for ‘cup-like leaf’ because phyll means leaf and cyathos is derived from a Greek word meaning ‘A cup or ladle used for drawing wine from a bowl’.

The larger ‘leaves’ clasping each flower are bracts, which look very similar to the leaves in this species. Each umbel of flowers has three rays (primary branches).

The petty spurge is not thought to be a native to the British Isles but is believed to be long-established here, since before 1600.

Blackbirds at Dawn

Anglers Country Park, this morning. Photo credit: Barbara (my trusty Tough TG4 let me down temporarily this morning, so here’s the equally good iPhone version of what I was going to photograph).

There’s a fiery sunrise but, unlike yesterday, there’s no frost and the pond isn’t iced over. As they often do at this time of year, blackbirds have gathered on the lawn first thing and I’m pleased to see that one song thrush has joined them as thrushes – song or mistle – haven’t been a regulars in the garden this autumn.

Anglers Country Park

We take a stroll around the lake at Anglers Country Park, south-east of Wakefield this morning. About seventy-five pochards are resting in the quiet corner of the lake near the Main Hide, while a smaller flock of wigeon, perhaps 20 or 30 of them, are at the less-sheltered far end of the lake.

It’s a while since we saw a treecreeper, so we’re pleased to see one meticulously making its way up a trunk of one of the conifers in nearby Haw Park plantations. There seems to be a reasonable number of wrens about, so hopefully they won’t be caught out any prolonged severe winter weather.

The star bird of the morning though, is back at the car park, coming down to the bird feeders: tree sparrows, perhaps a dozen of them. The tree sparrow population has plummeted in recent years, so it’s good to see them again.

Link

Room on the Broom trail at Anglers Country Park, an ingenious way of breaking up the two mile circuit of the lake for younger children (but wouldn’t it be better to get them really interested in ducks instead?).