Bird Baths and Cats

We have a new Bird Bath.

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Juvenile Blue Tits discovering the new bird bath

10 years ago, our youngest daughter rescued a feral Kitten with a badly gashed stomach. A vets fee and some pleading eyes were involved and we became the owners of a second cat, along with several guinea pigs, hamsters, one eyed rabbits, one eared rabbits, an assortment of chickens and our beloved Bag Puss of cat, Charlie. Our doodle less Labradoodle, Archie came into our lives 2 years later.

LollyPop

LollyPop, Lolly for short, took some taming, being a previously feral cat, he had been used to catching his own dinner – mainly flies and rodents and I am sure some birds too. Lolly drank from the bird bath, then having deterred any thirsty feathered friends, he sat on top of the bird table, basking in the sun, surveying his kingdom below.

Collared Dove

Collared Dove – they came to the UK in the 1950’s

We gave our stone bird bath away, followed shortly after by the bird table and replaced it with a multi armed pole for hanging nuts and seeds from. But we really missed watching birds drink and splash around whilst bathing in the bird bath.  We were ever mindful of Lolly during the day but he was not an indoor cat, if we tried to contain him at night, he made sure sleep wasn’t an option for any of us. Having slept all day himself, he only wanted a night on the tiles.

Pigeon having a thoroughly good wash

Wood Pigeon having a thoroughly good wash

A neighbour once reported that she saw Lolly fillet a pigeon and eat the lot. In the UK we have 5,400,000 breeding pairs of Wood Pigeon. They eat seeds, nuts and berries, cabbages, sprouts, shoots and buds wether asked to or not. They cause irritating damage in my veg garden, but they do clean up fallen bird seeds, which the smaller birds chuck out of the feeders.

Drying off after a thoroughly good wash

Wood Pigeon drying off

A report by The Mammal Society who carried out a study on predation from domestic and feral cats has been widely reported in our press and mainly against cats. However, for this post, I have read it again and was surprised to read that cat owners reported less predation if they owned a bird feeder.

Family of Blue Tits on feeders

Family of Blue Tits on feeders

From the RSPB website, who offer a balanced view – “The most recent figures are from the Mammal Society, which estimates that the UK’s cats catch up to 275 million prey items a year, of which 55 million are birds. This is the number of prey items that were known to have been caught; we don’t know how many more the cats caught, but didn’t bring home, or how many escaped but subsequently died.”

On balance the RSPB say –

“Despite the large numbers of birds killed, there is no scientific evidence that predation by cats in gardens is having any impact on bird populations UK-wide. This may be surprising, but many millions of birds die naturally every year, mainly through starvation, disease, or other forms of predation. There is evidence that cats tend to take weak or sickly birds.”

Chaffinch with chaffinch viral papilloma on foot.

Chaffinch with chaffinch viral papilloma on foot, although not life threatening

The RSPB add “Gardens may provide a breeding habitat for at least 20% of the UK populations of house sparrows, starlings, greenfinches, blackbirds and song thrushes four of which are declining across the UK. For this reason it would be prudent to try to reduce cat predation, as, although it is not causing the declines, some of these species are already under pressure.”

“Cat predation can be a problem where housing is next to scarce habitats such as heathland, and could potentially be most damaging to species with a restricted range (such as cirl buntings) or species dependent on a fragmented habitat (such as Dartford warblers on heathland).”

Succsesful landing

Succsesful landing by Juvenile Blue Tits

Its recommended by some wildlife organisations for cats to wear a bell on their collars to give prey a fair chance of escape. But I have to confess we did not do that, Lolly didn’t wear a collar at all, as I had a fear the collar would catch on a branch and he would end up strangled.

Lottie with Lolly

Collarless Cat

Then this Spring Lolly died and we were all very sad, especially my youngest daughter who had rescued him all those years ago. I bought a new bird bath from the RSPB, made of resin and very cleanable but a bit too deep, they recommend 2 inches of water otherwise small birds may drown, so we put some large stones in the bottom. If any birds poop in the water and thats mainly pigeons, the bath is easy to clean out.

Archie

Archie, who prefers sticks to wildlife

Now we do not have a menagerie of pets any more, just Archie, who is is easy going but does attempt to chase the odd squirrel. We encourage as much wildlife to our garden as we possibly can and I do not think we will have another cat but for the time we had Lolly here, he was much loved and he is missed.

GBFD – September and a gradual change to Autumn Colour

Its been a while since I reported on foliage in my own garden. In fact 11 months! 3 years ago we planted some new trees, 3 Chanticleer Pears, a mystery Rowan, 1 Double white Hawthorn – Crataegus laevigata Plena and 3 new Apple Trees. The Chanticleers were put in to screen a new neighbours floor to roof apex windows, complete with balcony. My family is not given to naked trips around the garden but we do like our privacy. The Chanticleers are beginning to fill out nicely, they are the first to leaf and the last to fall, with a wonderful late Autumn colour. So far though its only our Mystery Rowan which is on the turn.

Mystery Rowan

Mystery Rowan

I had ordered a Kashmir Rowan – Sorbus cashmiriana Hedl which is supposed to have white Berries and very beautiful leaves, as I planted bare root, it was not until Spring that I began to think something was not right, the leaves were plain and in the second Autumn there were lots of small orange/red berries. Clearly not a Kashmir. It did not flower this Spring, so no berries at all this Autumn. But today when its raining, grey and cold, the leaves are shining with colour.

Last Autumn's Berries

Last Autumn’s Berries

Elsewhere, I grow several golden Hops, one is placed to cover a deciduous Corkscrew Hazel – Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’ which has extremely ugly leaves, but in the winter when the catkins are caught by the low sun, I am much more happy with its placing. I cut the stems too for my version of a Christmas Tree.

Golden Hop on Twisted Hazel

Golden Hop – Humulus lupus ‘Aureus’ winding through Corkscrew Hazel

Another plant that really comes into its own in the Autumn is Leucothoe, I am fairly sure this one was originally labelled ‘Royal Ruby’, a non native, originating in the USA, commonly called Switch Ivy and Dog Hobble. I wonder why either common name came about?

Looking through the window on a wet morning

Looking through the window on a wet morning

Lastly, as its too wet to go further afield with my camera today, in the group at the bottom is an unnamed Oxalis, purchased at Hughenden Manor, where they have it underplanted in tubs of Heuchera, I may be unleashing a thug but in the meantime am enjoying its dainty leaves.

Unnamed Oxalis

Unnamed Oxalis

With grateful thanks to Christina, for hosting Garden Bloggers Foliage Day, GBFD. Please take a look at Christina’s adventurous garden changes and other folks contributions too.

Happy GBFD!

Wordless Wednesday – Autumn Sunshine, Heleniums and Long Borders at Cliveden

Helenium

Heleniums at Cliveden

Hot Border at Cliveden

Cliveden Hot Border

Cleome - Cliveden

Cleome – Cliveden

Cliveden Cool Border

Cliveden Cool Border

PS – The mystery Helenium could be one of several plotted on the Cliveden planting plan boards, I’ve attempted to make a match with one from the Helenium database run by Sampsford Shrubs who held the National Helenium collection, the nearest is possibly ‘The Bishop’, but then again…..

Wildlife Wednesday – Summer Pollinators and others

Its been a while since I was able to take part in Wildlife Wednesday. Our rural internet speed dipped to an all time low and then all but vanished for the Summer. Then at the end of August, BT installed their version of super fast broadband – ‘Infinity’, so far, so good and we are back in the 21st century.

Hoverfly and Bumblee Bee on Lavender

Hoverfly and Bumblee Bee on Munstead Lavender

Meanwhile, my workload increased and life generally got in the way. Weather wise, there has been a roller coaster of temperatures and now as we head into September temperatures have dipped into an Autumnal coolness I am not quite ready for. Spiders are weaving webs laced with rain drops and it feels like it will not be long before we see webs outlined with frosty patterns.

Spider luring prey

Will you walk into my parlour said the Spider to the Fly

At the beginning of July, we took a weeks trip to windswept Lundy, an island off the south-west coast of England and came back to a hot dry garden alive with insects. I had been reading Dave Goulson’s book – A Buzz in the Meadow – whilst we were away and returned with a new appreciation for the value of some of the less attractive pollinators namely flies and wasps. I have tried to photograph both but neither are as easy going as Bumbles, Honey and Solitary bees, except the Hoverfly group. Plus peering at Wasps is Hazardous.

Solitary bee on Perennial Sweat Pea

A Solitary bee on Perennial Sweet Pea

Pollinator Awareness Week during the middle of July had me looking even more closely than usual at our visiting insects. I grow white Perennial Sweet Peas, they have no scent I can detect and scramble about in an unruly manner. For the first time this year I noticed how Solitary bees, flip their bodies and push through to the nectar within. The Bee left a red footprint, I wondered had she visited a plant with red pollen before?

Solitary bee pushing through to the nectar

Solitary bee pushing through to the nectar on perennial Sweet Pea

On this years highly scented annual Sweet Peas (I’ve forgotten the cultivar the packet is in a safe place so safe I now can’t find it!) Hoverflies found it easier to push apart the petals. Some species of Hoverfly produce larvae that feed on Aphids and the adults feed mainly on nectar and pollen.

Hoverflies on Sweet Peas

Marmalade Hoverflies (Episyrphus balteatus) on annual Sweet Peas

The Wildlife Trusts report that in the UK we have at least 1500 species of insects designed to pollinate plants, including Bumbles, Solitary and Honey Bees, Hoverflies, Wasps, Butterflies, Moths, Flies and Beetles. They are mostly pretty tricky to identify correctly, there is so much to learn and some are far easier to identify than others! We see most insect pollinators here in the Summer months where I try to provide as wide a variety of flower types with nectar and pollen.  And places to provide some shelter for them in my exposed garden.

Pollen Beetles on Calendula

Pollen Beetles on Calendula

These Pollen beetles fall into the ‘others’ category for my post, In my veg garden they are most happy on the Calendula and as the name suggests they feed on Pollen. The charity Bug Life reports that in the UK we have 27,000 species of insect of which the Pollen beetles account for 36 species. When I cut any flowers to bring indoors, I have learnt to put them in water in dark place overnight, usually the garage, as a Kitchen full of Pollen beetles is not ideal. The RHS reports Pollen Beetles may assist with pollination. Frankly I would rather have more Bees and Hoverflies of which in Europe 38% are in decline and I know for sure they are pollinators.

Hoverfly on Curry Plant

Hoverfly on Curry Plant Helichrysum italicum

The RHS have just released a report “Plants for Bugs”. They set up trials at RHS Wisley to analyse the native versus non-native debate. Is it only natives that will help our beleaguered Pollinators? Of course on our comparatively small island we have fewer natives than over in the USA. The RHS found that a greater range of flowers from across the Northern Hemisphere will help pollinators far more than if we stick to natives alone. My top plant throughout August for pollinators was Verbena bonarensis, originating from South America, on my dry sandy soil it pops up rather obligingly everywhere. I don’t care if its a non native, I love it, so do my insect visitors.

Bumblebee on Verbena bonarensis

Bumblebee on Verbena bonarensis

Verbena bonarensis and Honey Bee

Verbena bonarensis and Honey Bee

Please visit Tina our marvellous Wildlife Wednesday meme host and her wonderful site “My Gardener Says” for more Wildlife Wednesday Posts.

Happy Wildlife Watching!

Butterfly Bucket List – on Sharpenhoe Clappers

Anna who writes the lovely ‘Transmutational Garden‘ blog is hosting a new meme – Butterfly Bucket List, posting on the 4th Sunday of every month and kindly encouraging stragglers to add a link over the following week. Anna’s photographs and Butterflies in Texas are very beautiful. Please take a look and if you can, join in too.

On Sunday we took a different dog walk than usual and drove over to Sharpenhoe Clappers, a couple of villages south from us. The Clappers are now managed by the National Trust, its a small area of wildflower rich chalk grassland and an adjacent Beech wood, in years gone by we would drive there just to kick the leaves up. We had been told the Pyramidal Orchids were good, but we did not bank on a couple of lovely Butterflies and Moths too.

Six-spot Burnet Moth

Five-spot Burnet Moth – we think! Enjoying the Knapweed

The Five-spot Burnet Moth is a tricky moth to identify and can be confused with the Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnet, which has more pointed wings. The Butterfly Conservation folk who identify Moths too, say The Narrow Bordered caterpillars prefers Greater Birdsfoot Trefoil found on wetter ground, but there are two subspecies of the regular Five-Spot, one prefers Greater Birdsfoot Trefoil, one prefers Common Birdsfoot Trefoil found on chalk grassland. We were on chalk. Either way we are fairly sure its a Five-spot Burnet, not sure if a subspecies, unless someone can say otherwise.

Marbled White Butterfly

Marbled White (Melanargia galathea) Butterfly on Knapweed

Far less tricky to identify, quite common and very striking is the White Marbled Butterfly, they are said to show a preference for purple flowers but we saw several enjoying other plants too.

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Marbled White Male Butterfly on Sharpenhoe Clappers

The Marbled White Caterpillars are mostly found on flowery grasslands but can stray into gardens too. The caterpillars prefer grasses as their food plant, particularly Red Fescue – Festuca rubra as well as Yorkshire Fog grass – Holcus lanatus and Tor grass – Brachypodium pinnatum. Adults can sometimes be found roosting half way up a tall grass stem, another good reason to leave the grass long at home.

The reason for our initial visit – the Pyramidal Orchids – they were abundant too!

Pyramidal Orchid Anacamptis pyramidalis

Pyramidal Orchid Anacamptis pyramidalis

Happy Butterfly watching!

The Wildlife Trusts and Fancott Meadows

Last Saturday we made our third visit to Fancott Meadows, a Coronation Meadow which is managed by the BCN Wildlife Trust. This time we went along with our local Wildlife Trust group led by Graham Bellamy. The forecast was rain and I had packed my camera into a waterproof bag, as we arrived in the carpark I realised I had left the bag and camera on the kitchen counter top at home.

Fancott Meadow

Fancott Meadows

That turned out to be a blessing in disguise as the photos I took on my phone were so appalling it meant we had to visit again late Tuesday afternoon, the sun shone and some of the Butterflies we had hoped to see on the grey overcast Saturday morning were now enjoying the sunshine and flitting through the meadows.

Common Blue

Common Blue

Fancott was bought by the Trust in 2007 from a local retiring farmer, horses had been grazing these fields, now Red Poll cattle and Hebridean Sheep are brought on at specific times to graze the meadows, we are told this is a more sympathetic way to manage the meadows both for plants and the wildlife. The old method of cutting the meadows would have removed the invertebrates habitat in one fell swoop.

Cuckoo Spit on Black Knapweed

Cuckoo Spit on Black Knapweed

But for our cool summer, the Black Knapweed would usually be in flower by now. Cuckoo spit is the secretion of Froghopper nymphs, nothing to do with the bird. The nymphs live inside the “spit” until ready to fledge as the Froghopper insect.

Yorkshire Fog

Holas lanatus Yorkshire Fog – the soft and very tactile flowers open and dance in the breeze

There were swathes of Yellow Rattle – Rhinanthus minor which produce tiny seeds that rattle around in the papery brown calyx, hence the common name. Its a hemiparasite, its roots grow into the roots of its neighbours, usually grasses taking their nutrients.

Yellow Rattle

Yellow Rattle

The meadows are divided into two, with wooden gates and traditional hedging forming the boundaries. The second is a flood plain meadow and supports Meadowsweet, Filipendula ulmaria, as its edging towards invasive the Trust are monitoring its spread, if allowed to take over, other plants of interest would be crowded out. In flower and en-masse its quite a sight, right now its a little drab. The plant was used as a flavouring in Mead, hence its common name.

Meadowsweet

Meadowsweet

There were Orchids, Heath, Common and a Frog Orchid, not a looker but a rarity.

Frog Orchid Coeloglossum viride

Frog Orchid Coeloglossum viride

Our native Marsh Thistle distinguished by their cluster heads were the tallest plants towering above the other meadow plants and can reach up to 200cms tall.

Marsh Thistle Cirsuim palustre

Marsh Thistle Cirsuim palustre

Ragged Robin is nectar rich we waited a while for one of the Bees to land, but they seemed to prefer the Marsh Thistle on Tuesday.

Ragged Robin Silene flos-cuculi

Ragged Robin Silene flos-cuculi

As we neared the end of our walk through the meadows we saw a small patch of Corn cleavers they have declined dramatically in the last 60 years, modern agricultural methods have done for it and this little plant is now very rare and classified as critically endangered.

Corn Cleavers Galium tricornutum

Corn Cleavers Galium tricornutum

The Wildlife Trusts are made up of 47 individual Trusts, collectively their mission is dedicated to protect and preserve wildlife and wild places. Lobbying the government to improve weak legislation and encouraging volunteers to be active and engage with our natural world. Our local Flitvale group are a lovely bunch of folk, sharing knowledge and their company, with some wonderful speakers and walk leaders, often for the cost of £1.00.

Great Burnet Sanguisorba officinalis

Great Burnet Sanguisorba officinalis

Last year we were to early to see Great Burnet Sanguisorba officinalis in flower, its a glorious sight. What a tragedy that so many of these wonderful meadows have been lost, once these would have been a common sight and now they are a rarity.

GBBD – June Flowers for Bees and other Pollinators

I rarely post photos of my own garden. I work as a gardener, which means our garden at home takes second fiddle and often has the look of cobbler’s shoes but I do try to grow as many plants that have wildlife value as possible. This is my first time of joining in with Carol at May Dreams Gardens for GBBD, I am a little late, apologies!

Phacelia and Bee

Phacelia tanacetifolia enjoyed by lots of Bees

Phacelia tanacetifolia is on the top of my list for Bees and pollinators alongside Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’. We grow Nepeta both as a hedge and dotted through the garden, plants in full sun attract the most Bees.

Nepeta 'Six Hills Giant'

Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’ with stripey bottomed bee and no pollen balls – ident appreciated!

Phacelia was originally grown here as a green manure, it self seeds wonderfully and now we have lots, a large patch in my veg garden and also dotted throughout the borders. Phacelia also makes a great cut flower. Third top plant for Bees and Pollinators in June are the Geraniums and especially the large patches of Geranium x Magnificum

Collecting Pollen on Johnson's Blue

Collecting Pollen on G x Magnificum, similar stripey bottomed Bee with pollen basket

Early Morning when the Opium Poppies, Papaver somniferous are fully open they are the first to attract awakening Bees, by early evening the petals begin to close up and Bees have long switched to the blue brigade.

Papaver somniferum

Papaver somniferum

On the left of our East facing dining room window we have a large climbing Hydrangea petiolaris, in the winter we watch lots of birds flitting around the bare branches, once the flowers are open Bees are attracted too.

Hydrangea petiolaris with

Hydrangea petiolaris with White tailed bumblebee Bombus lucorum and clearly seen pollen balls.

I grow both wild native Foxgloves Digitalis purpurea and I save the seed and re sow any that spring up as white in another area of my garden. I read Foxgloves attract long tongued bumble bees only, I am not yet sure which bees have long tongues, but hopefully my foxgloves are helping. I shall watch out to see if either colour is preferred. Other plants in flower at home attracting Bees and other pollinators this month are Aquilegias, Borage, Chives, Polemonium – Jacobs Ladder, self sown Nigellas, Alliums and the aphids sticky sap on my Apple trees, I wonder why?

Phacelia and Honey Bee

Phacelia and Honey Bee

We have a wonderful organisation over here called Buglife with an excellent website highlighting the desperate flight of Invertebrates, did you know in the UK , half of our 27 bumblebee species are in decline. Three of these bumblebee species have already gone extinct. Seven bumblebee species have declined by more than 50% in the last 25 years. Two-thirds of our moths and 71% of our butterflies are in long term decline. Across Europe 38% of bee and hoverfly species are in decline; only 12% are increasing. It is estimated that 84% of EU crops (valued at £12.6 billion) and 80% of wildflowers rely on insect pollination.

We shall all go hungry if we do not get on top of this.

 

The Gardens of the Alhambra and Generalife, Granada, Spain – Part two Partal and Generalife

Part two. After leaving The Nasrid Palaces in part one on a timed visit we walked through the Partal gardens, Upper Alhambra gardens and headed towards the Generalife. In the Nasrid period there would of been streets and houses here occupied by wealthy people – high ranking court officials, religious and administrative buildings and several small palaces and gardens.

Partal Gardens

One of the series of gardens within the Alhambra complex near to the Palace of the Partal

After Granada was captured in 1492 the houses fell to ruin, some were destroyed or built over and the occupants were forced to move away to the outlying Albaycin area. In the 1930’s a new style of landscaping began here as a part of the re-discovery of Alhambra.

We walked in any shade we could find through the Partal gardens along the route which passed the Tower of the Princesses, named after Washington Irvin’s tale, towards the area known as the New Generalife gardens.

Tower of the Princesses seen from the new Generalife gardens

Tower of the Princesses seen from the new Generalife gardens

The New Gardens occupy a part of the old Orchards of the medieval almunia (a kind of agricultural settlement in Hispano-Islamic times).

New Gardens

Water Pool in New Gardens

The architect Leopoldo Torres Balbas created these gardens between 1931-32. There were signs for visitors explaining that the health and appearance of the Cypress Trees had been adversely affected by the unsuitable planting and growing conditions. Hence the Cypress walls in the new gardens are also undergoing restoration, which will last several years.

Welcome seating along the central pool

Welcome seating along the central pool with some of the walls of Cypress

The gardens in place, were lush and filled with wild loose planting, Roses and Orange trees, which must provide inspiration to garden designers the world over.

New Garden loose planting

New Garden loose planting

Just before the entrance to the Generalife Palace Gardens there is another more formal area with seating, wonderful Orange trees, more roses and pools of refreshing water, if we had not been so eager to see the Palace gardens we would of lingered longer.

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Garden by the Palace entrance

We walked through the modest public entrance, where a guide electronically notes your ticket number, there is only one visit allowed into the two Palace Gardens. We walked through another courtyard once used as the Stable yard and now lined with Orange trees and through to the Patio of the Irrigation Ditch. A fourfold garden divided by a water rill and backed by high walls.

The Patio of the Irrigation Ditch

The Patio of the Irrigation Ditch with the viewing Pavilion above

The water pool is 48.70 metres long by 12.80 wide. The small trees are Pomegranates, one on each side of the central axis. The 18 arches seen on the left hand side of this photo were added in 1670 when this area was altered to a Christian chamber and two further rooms were added. The restoration in 1926 removed these additional rooms and restored the patio to its original appearance.

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Pomegranate Trees and water spouts in the Patio of the Irrigation

Although, the water spouts were a 19th century addition as were the raising of the beds which were originally 50 cms below the paths. Leading through the decorated arches at the far end we walked on to the Patio of the Cypresses.

Patio of the Cypresses

Patio of the Cypresses

The pool is surrounded by Myrtle Hedges and planted with roses. We read that the old cypresses on the verandas give the patio its name. The most famous is the Cypress of the Sultana in which according to legend, Boabdil’s wife used to meet another man. This led to the death of the people of the man’s tribe, their throats were slit.

Orange Tree in the Patio of the Cypresses

Orange Tree in the Patio of the Cypresses

Stairs lead out of the palace gardens to the higher level where there are more gardens to walk in, to one side is the staircase archaeologists believe to have been in Granada before the Nasrid rulers, we walked back through the avenue of Cypress tress, some are hundreds of years old, we read that some specimens are over 1,000 years old.  We felt privileged to visit.

(I gave details of buying tickets in my first post, its best to book in advance, we were advised that tickets are released 6 weeks before and sell out very quickly, so for a June 1st visit they were released on April 20th. There are lots of options including guided tours on the Alhambra official website and bookings were through ticket master).

Recommended reading ‘The Alhambra’ by Robert Irwin – very readable book explaining the history of the Alhambra.