Tuesday, 7 June 2011


Good morrow to you! And a happy June and all that.  We're open to the public on Saturday and Sunday and the garden has never looked weedier.  

And yet, and yet . . . I'm growing accustomed to the weedy, shaggy status quo.  And accustomed to the puzzled faces, looking over our front gate at the ridiculous stand of chicory - now more than 2 metres high - which is masking the narrow border behind.  The seeds germinated there and I didn't have the heart to remove the plants so our drive is soon to be lined in a haze of blue flowers.  Unplanned, unwelcome by the PG who thinks they look horrible, and misunderstood by garden visitors whose puzzled expressions fill me with swirling mix of pride and shame.

A male  Common Blue Polyomatus icarus turned up in my meadow this week.  If you supply the right habitat, the wildlife will come to it, I've been told. Here's living proof.

But the big triumph, and one which again, I suspect most of our visitors won't understand, is the mini-meadow.  You can see the edge of it in my previous blog post.  I've been working on it now for nearly 7 years and in all that time, its development has been leisurely.  Introducing meadow flora was difficult at first, because the grass was so lush on the rich soil, but yellow rattle, Rhinanthes, has reduced the vigour of the grasses - too much in some places - and by raking off each September, I've managed to lower the nutritional plane.  We now have more wildflower species, though ox eye daisy predominates, and last summer a spotted orchid turned up.  Lovely!  But we need a lot more diversity.

Now, the big excitement last year was the arrival of common blues in early summer.  And the bigger excitement was that they bred and produced another hatch late last year when we counted several females and enough males to establish further growth.

The underside of the Common Blue - easy to distinguish from a more common garden species, the Holly Blue whose underwings are pale blue with smaller dark markings.  You can see one here.

My big anxiety was yet to come, though.  Unlike agricultural land, the meadow is not only limited in size but is set in a relatively formal, managed garden.  At some stage I have to cut the 'hay' and remove it, after allowing all seed heads to mature and shed.

The problem is that this species over-winters as a (tiny) caterpillar.  When the weather grows cold, the larvae drop down into the lower vegetation where they stay in hibernation until spring.

My worry was whether raking off all the dead grasses and then, of necessity, mowing repeatedly with rotary machine until the sward is short enough to go through winter and then show off  primroses, aconites and other winter tinies, would destroy the caterpillars.  And worse, whether the final fine mower which sucks, would hoover up the caterpillars along with the remains of the severed grass.

But the latest sighting shows that all was well.  The butterfly colony has survived and everyone is happy.  All I need, now, is more birds foot trefoil.  At present, these butterflies are breeding on white clover, but that is not first choice for them as food plant.

Marbled White Melanargia galathea a species of limestone and chalk regions but would it come this far from Rutland where there are colonies on the limestone brash?  I shot this one in France btw.

So what's next?  I want to establish sheep sorrel next, to encourage small copper butterflies.  There are some in the area and we've had them in the garden.  It would be great if they bred.  Our other butterfly residents, ie, breeding in my garden include Speckled Wood, Orange Tip, Ringlet, Meadow Brown, Large Skipper, Gatekeeper and bloody cabbage whites - both small and large.  Visitors include Comma, Red Admiral, Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell, Brimstone.

Plants of especial interest include this white form of Bastard Balm, Melittis melissophyllum lovely in shade, irresistible to bumble bees and not especially easy to establish.  It grows close to the American Epipactis gigantea a striking helleborine with pelals in brown and tan. Possibly a pic soon when it's in flower.

I'm listening to  The second Sri Lanka Test limping towards a draw, England having failed to whack up enough runs to be able to declare with a biggish lead before lunch.

This day in 2006  I watched Springwatch - with Bill Oddie and the nearly new Kate Humble, who I described as 'young and bouncy.'

This week's film was Le Père des mes Enfants (The Father of My Children) Written and directed by Mia Hansen-Løve. The story is based on a parallel event in real life.  The protagonist, at first, is the 'Father' in the title but by the second half of the film, the narrative has shifted and all member of the family become protagonists, from time to time, in their on right.

I thought the idea was pretty good, but the structure and development seemed slipshod and the shooting restless.  By the last 30 minutes, there were rambling threads and plotlets which seemed to be going nowhere.  More work on the screenplay would have turned a modestly OK work of art into an outstanding one.

The problem with so many potentially great French films is that the culture still seems to be polluted by the awful era of Nouvelle Vague.  If gushing cineastes could see New Wave cinema for what it really is - pretentious crap - there might be fewer traces of it around today.  Hands up all those who think Nouvelle Vague cinema was great!  And if you can say why it is, perhaps you'd be able to tell me what the hell Last Year in Marienbad was all about because I'm damned if I know.

Next Week. . . . The idiot economists who think they can price the countryside.   Anyone or any panel of experts who think that pollinating insects, including bees, are only worth £380 million, have to be disastrously misinformed.  Cereals are wind pollinated. OK.  But almost everything else depends on natural pollination by agents other than man.  Go figure.
I haven't seen the White Paper on the value of our ecosystems, yet, but whoever has devised it clearly wants to know the price of everything but understands the value of nothing. 

But for now . . . .Good bye!


  1. Saw a cinnabar moth at Crocus on Saturday. It was the first time I'd seen one, and it looked so exotic, it was difficult to believe it was quite a common British native.

  2. The valuation of the countryside - a while back there was a move to tax views - I don't know what came of it.

    How can anyone not like chicory? The flowers are a wonderful blue, very pretty, not overdone. The white dry stems in winter are quite stunning.


    P.S. I very much like balm too. Did you see



  3. Nigel, how wonderful to take so much care of your garden as habitat. Too often the visual/sensory overwhelms such a priority. I hope you have many new butterfly populations to come!

  4. Funny about the chicory. I visited a garden and the plant everyone was asking about and admiring was the flowering chicory.

    Experimenting with leaving some of the lawn uncut but not sure when if the best time to cut it at the end of the year

  5. If enough of us have shaggy meadows with mown paths and hordes of butterflies flitting, it will become the norm and the hoi polloi will start to imitate.

  6. Victoria - when you see how beautiful cinnabar moths are, it makes you realise that ragwort is not so bad, after all.

    Lucy, PatientG - the PG loves chicory, but thinks it looks wrong where it is, in my drive.

    Gardener in Distance - Aw, shucks! You've made me blush. But seriously, gardens are hugely important potential insect habitats. And don't forget, our mini-meadow is full of wolf spider, soldier beetles, carabids, chafers, lacewings, hover flies and so on and so on.

    PatientG - I used to cut ours in August but Matthew Wilson persuaded me that autumn is better. So now do it in mid-late September.

    Nell Jean - Agreed, but I already consider myself on of the hoi polloi!

  7. Nigel, Yesterday and today have been unbelievably hot and humid. Most unusual for the shore of Lake Michigan. Since it is way to hot to work in the Gardens at Waters East, it is a good time to catch up on your Blog and other Blogs I am following. Your butterfly photos are wonderful. I try hard here at Gardens at Waters East to make the right kind of habitat so lots of butterflies show up. I did a posting on that back in March 2011 if you want to check it out. There are so many plants here that attract the butterflies, I am indeed lucky. Enjoyed your post. Jack

  8. I too have a garden full of weeds this year - I have chickens and a rabbit, so I tell visitors who call, expecting to see manicured perfection, that they are 'crops'.