Tuesday, July 23, 2013

No knitting, just bugs and flowers (now with added whirligig mites and Rosemary beetle!)

I have seen some beautiful things on my runs and in our garden recently so I thought I'd share them here. Even if you are squeamish about bugs you can still admire the beauty of their markings or their wings and I hope I can encourage you to look at them with different eyes.

6-Spot Burnet Moth

I have never seen so many of these beautiful moths at once.  The weather this year must have suited them perfectly as the air seems to be a whirr of red and black at the moment.  Sadly I didn't spot any caterpillars so my photos start with the cocoon stage.

The cocoon, attached to a grass stem, where the moth develops protected from predators 
Adult moth emerging from its cocoon
They are one of several moths known as 'day-flying' moths which makes them much easier to observe than their night-flying relatives.

Newly emerged moths drying their wings in the sun
You can see their 6 spots clearly here 
When their wings are dry they need to feed and their main source of food is Bird's Foot Trefoil, both 'lesser' and 'greater'.  
Lesser Bird's Foot Trefoil (the redness of the emerging flowers give it the nickname of 'egg and bacon plant')
The seedpods, like the 3 toes of a bird's foot, hence its common name!
Greater Bird's Foot Trefoil
The caterpillars feed on both Trefoil and Vetch which contain traces of cyanide and the toxin carries through into the adult moth.  Their spots are a warning to predators that they taste bad!

On Lavender
On creeping thistle
The beautiful adult

Ladybird or Lady Bug?

Here in the UK we call them ladybirds but elsewhere they are known as ladybugs which actually seems a better name to me.

Yesterday afternoon I was topping up the horses water when I noticed what looked like a battle going on between a ladybird and a larvae.  As I watched I realised that of course it was the adult emerging from the larvae so I nipped off to get the camera.

I never knew that the adult emerged without any spots!  The larvae on the right was just a papery shell.

Ladybird newly emerged from its shell
After 1.5 hours the spots have developed (it was a 6-spot ladybird, one of our natives)
The colour has gone from orange to red
Wings opening, about to fly for the first time
I was delighted that it was a 6-spot ladybird as they are getter rarer each year.  I've written about their assassins briefly before here and here's one from last October:

Harlequin ladybird on Salvia Oct 2012

Flies & a Bumblebee

Now there's a turn-off of a title for many!  But just look at the beauty in these little fellows.  I don't know their names but I just loved their markings and I couldn't resist the beautiful bumblebee laden with pollen:

Dragonfly or Darter?

Hoverfly - a good friend to the gardener as the adults feed on nectar and some of their larvae eat aphids.  There are thousands of species so I won't even attempt to identify them!
Hoverfly number 2 - just look at the beautiful lacy pattern on the wings
Hoverfly number 3 on a pink bramble flower 
I nearly put my hand on top of this beauty as I climbed over a stile as he was sitting atop the post.   He was so well camouflaged.  Beautiful markings.
Bumblebee on Verbascum flower.  Look at all that lovely orange pollen stored on his  hind legs!


Now I know a lot of people have a fear of spiders and I include myself in that category which seems odd as I have a fascination with them.  It's those great big ones I'm not keen on; you know the ones with the massive black bodies and long legs that run at you?

I'm always watchful when I'm in the barn or my potting shed as they like to build massive webs across the doorway or in the rafters.

Having said that, they build magnificent webs so here are a few to show how pretty they are:

In short grass, covered in dew, early in the morning
It looks rather like a parachute!
I was taking a photo of the flowers on this santolina when I noticed the web on the left 
A beautifully constructed bio-dome to keep the babies safe

The dark mass isn't a spider, it's the babies, all snuggled together for safety.  Every so often they spread out and then huddle back together again.  The yellow speck looks like an eye but is just pollen.

The next 2 photos are my favourites.  They often scare people because they think they belong to a Funnel-web spider, a poisonous spider that doesn't live here in the UK (thank goodness!).

They were made by one of our native Labyrinth Spiders who are quite shy and a dull brown so you wouldn't notice them until you spot their web.  Underneath the funnel is a network, or labyrinth, of spider silk protecting their egg sac.

The web is so dense and must have taken ages to weave.

Last of all we have a cluster of baby spiders.  My camera skills are limited and so you can't make out the web in which they are suspended but you can see their legs quite clearly.  They were hiding amongst the clematis by the wall of the house and spread out in the sun then hurried back into their huddle when it went cloudy.

A huddle (how about that for a collective noun?!)of baby spiders

Whirligig Mites & a Rosemary Beetle

Have you ever spotted these little fellows flitting around all over the place on a hot day?  At a quick glance they look like teeny-weeny spiders but on closer examination you'll see that they are actually tiny mites (now that seems like a good example of tautology!).

They are so-called because of the way they whirl around, really quickly, like mini dodgem cars.
Whirligig mites
Whirligig mite close-up

Next we have the Rosemary Beetle who doesn't actually restrict himself to sucking the life out of Rosemary bushes.  Oh no, he also goes for sage and lavender too!

Rosemary Beetle in a Lavender flower
Don't be fooled by his pretty, shiny coat, he'll wreak havoc in your herb garden.
Rosemary beetle close-up

Friday, July 19, 2013

Phew, it's been hot!

I haven't been doing much knitting or sewing this last couple of weeks as I've spent every daylight hour possible outside tending the garden.  My crochet club things are just one month behind now and they look really bright.

The next set of instructions tells me to start joining some of them together but I'm going to wait until I see what the end product is before I do just in case I want to change it slightly.  I notice on Ravelry that several people did that with the previous clubs.


I'm afraid it isn't good news for our lovely little chap.  The malignant fibrosarcomas he's been battling for 5 years have come back with a vengeance.  There are lots of them and they are growing apace.

A sleepy boy
We took him to the vet just to see what they could recommend and we realised, bearing in mind he's only recently had his 3rd operation to get rid of the last lot, that if we put him through another operation then we would be doing it for ourselves rather than for him.  Plus there would be all the associated risks of operating on a geriatric cat (he's 17.5).

He's OK at the moment, just a bit reticent about going outside alone and his hearing isn't too good either.  It's as if he's scared and uncertain, poor little chap.  He's also lost a fair bit of weight in the last few months.  The vet said that Tinker will let us know when he can't cope any more.

So we wait until the time that we have to make that dreadful journey to the vet for the last time.

Running in the heat & asthma/hayfever

Oh boy it's been hot.  Way too hot for this redhead I can tell you.  What with the scorching sun and my hayfever, which has aggravated my asthma, it's a rather trying time for me at the moment!

I had a bit of an altercation climbing over a stile the other day.  There were brambles all around it and growing through the bars and one of them attached itself to my sock as I clambered over and I got pulled into the bramble patch.

My legs looked as if they'd been attacked with a razorblade!


When it's hot like this I always try to get out really early in the morning before the day heats up too much but sometimes it isn't possible and so then I've done my runs on the treadmill to avoid the worst of the pollen.  I've been so wheezy and chesty because of the pollen some days and poor Mike has really been suffering with streaming eyes and a constant headache.

Today was day 89 of my 111 day running streak so I've got less than month to go.  So far I've run 549.04 miles during my streak and my annual mileage so far is 996.54 - I'll soon be over the 1000 miles mark.

I've had some surprising reactions to pollen too.  Having been a keen gardener all my life it has come as a bit of a shock but I suppose it's all probably part of the ageing process as my immune system is weakened.

The other day I was trimming back some alchemilla mollis (aka Ladies Mantle) and my throat closed up completely leaving me gasping for breath.  Yesterday it was grass pollen that caught me unawares.

I've been upping my dosage of my asthma meds in an attempt to alleviate the problems but I'm still getting violent reactions to some pollens and the hayfever meds don't help at all.

C'est la vie and I shall just have to learn to manage it as there's no way I'll be giving up gardening or the outdoor life!


To distract you from the fact that there are no knitting or crochet photos, here are some garden photos instead.

For the past few months I've been taking photos of plants growing in the wild which have relatives growing in my garden so here are 3 examples (there are far too many for me to post all of them!):

Nettles in the wild

Stinging nettles (Urtica dioica)

I seem to have accidentally deleted my photo of a wild deadnettle (Lamium album) in flower so I'll have to just give a link!

Nettles in my garden

Lamium Orvala (aren't the flowers gorgeous!)

Lamium galeobdolom 'Hermann's Pride' (aka yellow archangel) the flowers are a very delicate yellow and it hides in a moist, shady part of the garden.
Lamium maculatum - this one has pinky/purple flowers

Wild Verbascum

The beautiful flowers of Verbascum Nigrum.  This year I grew lots of this plant to attract the mullein moth away from the garden plants (see below), but they actually looked as beautiful as the cultivated varieties!
The striking markings on the caterpillar of the Mullein Moth.
Cultivated verbascums:

Verbascum bombyciferum going a bit loopy.  
The stems are usually completely upright but this one has been performing acrobatics and moves around each day!
Close-up of its flowers
There is a lovely story about the naming of this next variety.  It was named by the late Christopher Lloyd, one of my gardening heroes, who came across an old donkey named 'Lightning' on a rocky path in Turkey, loaded with the stems of this beautiful plant.  This plant is in its second year - last year it was 10ft high but this year it is only about 6ft.

Verbascum 'Christo's Yellow Lightning'

Close-up of its flowers


In the wild:

Our delicate native geranium, Herb Robert or Geranium Robertianum (aka 'crane's bill' - you'll see why later!)
Just a few of the many different varieties in my garden:

Geranium Maderense.  You can see the similarities in the leaves and flowers.
This next photo is of the seedheads of one of the most useful herbaceous geraniums, Geranium Macrorrhyzome 'Ingwersen's Variety'.  It will grow almost anywhere, has pretty pale pink flowers in early Summer, then produces these beautiful seed-heads and in Autumn the leaves turn bright red.  It is gorgeous.

A close-up on the seed-heads of Geranium Macrorrhyzome 'Ingwersen's Varity' showing why the common name is 'crane's bill'
It make's great ground-cover and smothers out any weeds (which can only be a good thing!)

Here's one of the taller varieties, Geranium psilostemon, mingling with other herbacious perennials in my gravel garden

Close-up of a flower

Here's a photo of the entrance to my gravel garden taken a couple of weeks ago.  It's only a couple of years old and is maturing nicely:

Gravel garden 5/7/13
Last year I used the pine cones from our massive tree as a decorative mulch on some pots.

Pine cone mulch

Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time!

Pine tree seedlings
Finally, here are some of the many beautiful seed-heads I've started drying ready for winter:

Alliums and Euphorbia