Aromatic Autumn

Cutting back perennials and shrubs in autumn is always a dilemma here, as for many of you I’m sure…. Should I wait until a frost catches me unawares and many plants simply collapse? Should I leave it all standing for the damp autumn valley mists to turn it all to a gooey slimey mess? Or should I cut back everything before it is really over, and forfeit a few blooms? After all, the debris all remains in the garden either chopped up as mulch or on our large compost heap.

I usually opt for the latter option as it is quicker and easier as well as more pleasant to work when it is dry and when I have time, rather than wait until the weather turns really awful and the late afternoon daylight has vanished. So over the last week or so I have started trimming and snipping. There was brief interlude one day when I disturbed an exposed hedgehog nest – what was he thinking – half buried in the open rockery, albeit well wrapped up in a net of long grasses and leaves? We removed him carefully (luckily he seemed to be fast asleep already) and found a sheltered spot in the compost heap with some fresh hay. Then I returned to work and found myself taking pleasure in all the autumn scents around me.

The earthy sage-like scent of the now ghostly-white Perovskia is probably the most pungent, coupled with the sharp cat-like smell of Herb Robert. Snip, snip…

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The Lysimachia is still emitting its bitter odour, but the Achillea’s distinctive scent has all but gone. Then there is the faded lavender, mmmmm, breathe in those deep herby undertones!  Snip, snip….

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I brush past the Balkan Geranium G. macrorrhizum, which has retained its strong but not unpleasant spicy fragrance – you either love it or hate it I think. And then I move across the rockery, disturbing something fruity – now what can that be? Ah yes, mint! The mintiness has faded, but the sweet ripe fruitiness is still fresh and enticing. I must pull some up anyway and can then use it in the kitchen. And I think to myself  ‘there are still some scents that do not indicate decay’. Snip, snip, snip…

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I look up – a floral fragrance hangs in the air – almost impossible to detect, but could it be the roses? Snip, snip…

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Then the smell of woodsmoke wafts across the garden reminding me it will soon be Halloween and Guy Fawke’s Night.  I spread some compost onto an area with a few new plants and catch a whiff of that musty earthy smell – rich soil that was not so long ago green stems and vegetable matter.

Finally I mow the small lawn near the house – it barely smells of anything, no longer producing that  rush of pleasure I feel at the scent of it in April or May.

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All these smells will soon be gone completely, so I am so very glad I opted for doing the autumn trimming before the frost and damp take over. Snip, snip, snip…

Do you try and get the chores done before it freezes? What’s your favourite scent of autumn?

Tree Following: June 2015

I am following a tree this year – a Field Maple to be precise – along with Lucy at Loose and Leafy, and many others around the world. This month my tree is looking lush and leafy. 🙂

However, on closer examination there are very few seeds that have remained on the tree, most dropping at or just after flowering stage… and a lot of aphids earlier this month have made an ugly mess of many leaves too… Maybe it became susceptible due to stress caused by our very dry April?

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But wait, what’s this? A strange orange and black bug…

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And another one… chomping away!

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I have identified them as the larva and pupa stages of the Asian Ladybird Harmonia axyridis, also known as the Harlequin Ladybird, the most invasive ladybird on earth!

It has the potential to threaten our native ones, eating both their food sources and their larvae. So I will be on the lookout for the adult now, to see if I can differentiate between it and our native ones. Not that I can do anything about it, but I’ll keep you posted anyway. A good website to help with identification of ladybirds, at least in western Europe, is the Ladybird Survey site, which has information on the Harlequin too. Here is a link to some Wikimedia photos of the adult Harlequin Ladybird.

Have you seen this ladybird? Do you see other ladybirds too, or did you in the past?

 Thanks go to Lucy for hosting this meme… I probably would not have learned that we have this ladybird in our garden if I hadn’t been watching my tree so closely!

What is Phenology?

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Pussy Willow, March 2015

Everyone knows the saying about March – “In like a lion, out like a lamb”. And then there’s the other saying which is very common here: “Christmas in clover, Easter in snow”…

These are some of the ancient proverbs passed down through generations, sometimes over hundreds of years, that show us the link between seasons and climate. They may have shifted slightly over the centuries, or have moved due to changes in our calendar (or indeed climate), and some may no longer ring true, but they can be as precise as any long-term weather forecast.

But what is Phenology?

“Phenology is the study of the times of recurring natural phenomena, especially in relation to climate.”

(Source: naturescalendar.org.uk)

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“Oak before ash, we shall have a splash

Ash before oak, we shall have a soak”

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Phenology is much more than a few proverbs or rhyming weather predictions; observing nature in the form of weather patterns or plant and animal behaviour provides surprisingly accurate information on when to sow, plant, transplant or even prune. According to phenological observations the flowering of the Forsythia for example is an indication that the ground has warmed up enough to plant peas.

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Another example of this is that potatoes can go in the ground as soon as the first dandelions have opened.

ScillaThe first pollen, the first flight of bees and butterflies, the emergence of leaves on the trees, or the first appearance of migratory birds can vary by weeks each year, and can thus give a far more precise insight into the conditions prevailing than the normal calendar. For vegetable growers the phenological calendar provides helpful insights – such as not to sow your beans until the lilac is in full bloom – but it is of interest to me for estimating when annuals can be sown or planted out, when the spring tidy-up is due, or if bulbs can still be planted in autumn.

Every gardener can benefit from closely observing nature and interpreting its signals – not only for better results, but simply for pleasure too. Watching out for butterflies and bees or the first snowdrop are things many of us do already.

A bit of history

In 8th century Japan the emperor’s experts in Kyoto began recording the beginning of the cherry blossom season; the flowering of the cherry was considered an important symbol of the reawakening, fragility and transience of all life and is today still celebrated with extravagant ceremonies and festivals.

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Shukkei-en Garden, Hiroshima, 1993

 

 

However, it was not until  the 18th century that a European began to take down similar records; Robert Marsham, a wealthy landowner from Norfolk, began to catalogue consistently first flowering dates (such as snowdrops), insect activity,  seasonal weather and temperature changes, tree foliation, crop growth, and the first sightings of butterflies and migrating birds. (His family continued this tradition until the mid 20th century.) In the meantime Carl von Linné, the Swedish botanist, had started a network in Sweden with 18 stations and a German institute in Mannheim began an international project. By the late 19th century Germany was  keeping consistent records with a researcher called Hermann Hoffmann calling for Europe-wide data to be brought together in one databank.

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The world wars in the first half of the 20th century ensured that phenology did not lose importance, since feeding the nation had become a matter of survival and any phenological guidelines considered helpful for growing crops were given priority. This trend continued after the war, when food was still scarce and agriculture was trying to catch up. But with the onset of new production methods and chemicals in agriculture the records were gradually phased out in the 1960s and were only revived in the 1990s when talk of global climate change emerged: Canada, the UK and the USA were some of the first states to revive their phenological observation networks at this time.

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Today phenological observations are not only of interest to agriculture however… the tourist industry is keen to be able to predict, for example, the famous cherry and apple blossom season in Hamburg, and hayfever sufferers can benefit from knowing when certain pollen is likely to be in the air.

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In Bavaria over 250 volunteers (1,200 nationwide) collect data for the German Meteorological Service (Deutscher Wetterdienst), which recognizes not just four seasons, but TEN, beginning with the production of the hazel flowers and ending with the dropping of the larch needles. I will post about each of these ten phenological seasons tomorrow, so I hope you’ll stop by to take a look.

Do you use old proverbs to help you in the garden?

Interesting links:

The USA National Phenology Network

ATTRA National Sustainable Agriculture Informaton Service (USA)

Nature’s Calendar (UK – Woodland Trust)

Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (UK)

 

In a Vase on Monday: Dawn Chorus

At 4.30 this morning one of our resident blackbirds started singing outside the bedroom window. Whether he was doing it out of pure joy, or had a really important message to broadcast, I don’t know. He is always the first to start and when the whole woodlands above our house wake up it is deafening outside! At this time of year I can enjoy it, roll over and go back to sleep. When the weather warms up and the window is open it is, however, another story… Anyway, the cheery blackbird inspired my vase title today… even if the contents have little to do with dawn except perhaps the “dawning” of spring.

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Yes, Monday rolls round again and this week my vase for Cathy’s In a Vase on Monday meme, where we are invited to find materials from our gardens to bring indoors, is full of spring sunshine (on a cloudy day) and promise… the Forsythia and Flowering Currant have not quite opened. The daffodils and hellebores are in full bloom now, and the hazel catkins are finally pollen free and safe to bring indoors again. I also added a bit of ivy, some red Euphorbia and some golden Euonymus.

“Morning has broken, like the first morning

Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird”

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The soft toy blackbird is a bit cheeky don’t you think – he was borrowed from our little dog and is one of the many toys she doesn’t play with! She is fascinated by the blackbirds in the garden, and they tease her, hopping across the lawn just a couple of metres away. But she knows she mustn’t touch…

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It looks like something has nibbled at that daffodil, but I do like the tiny tinges of orange on the trumpet.

Do you ever get woken by the dawn chorus?

Take a look at Cathy’s vase today at Rambling in the Garden, as well as all the others that have linked in from around the world with lovely contributions.

Thanks for hosting, Cathy!

 

Germany’s “Flower of the Year” 2015

Photo Courtesy of Loki Schmidt Foundation - Flower of the year for 2015

Photo Courtesy of Loki Schmidt Foundation – Flower of the Year for 2015

Every year an endangered wild flower is chosen by the Loki Schmidt Foundation in Germany, with the aim of raising awareness to it and its habitat.

Some of my favourites have been chosen over the years; Hepatica nobilis in 2013, Cichorium intybus in 2009, Cardamine pratensis in 2006, Caltha palustris in 1999 and Pulsatilla vulgaris in 1996 – to name just a few.

This year the chosen flower is a close relative to one I have growing in my rockery, and is not only one of my favourites – the insects, bees and butterflies love it too.

Succisa pratensis

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Picture from Wikimedia Commons

The above photo from Wikimedia Commons is the Succisa pratensis, but all the following photos are of its close cousin Succisa inflexa, a cultivated version that is extremely happy in my well-drained soil despite supposedly being a moorland, heathland and riverbank plant. The pale blue to violet flowers of this perennial herb appear from July onwards and can still be seen in the south of Germany growing wild. But the in the north this plant has become very rare due to loss of habitat: drainage of damp meadowland for agricultural or building purposes along with the over-fertilisation of fields have led to its decline.

My Succisa inflexa ‘Frosted Pearls’ is very pale, almost white with an icy violet tinge…

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The common name, Devil’s-bit, actually refers to the roots that die off at the end and look as if they have been bitten off. Succisus is in fact latin for “bitten off below”. In the same family as Scabious, folklore claimed that the devil bit off the Succisa roots in his anger at them being used (apparently succesfully) for treating skin disorders.

I must admit I haven’t inspected the roots of mine, but will definitely take a look this year as they are spreading rapidly, just like Scabious, and some will have to be uprooted.

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Succisa flowers are an excellent source of nectar for bees and butterflies, and the plant is also a food source for some caterpillars…

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This is a Summer Map (Araschnia levana) butterfly, photographed in 2012…

Succisella and Butterfly

You can read more on the English Wikipedia page about the Flower of the Year Campaign here.

Seeds can be ordered here: jelitto.com

or here: beehappyplants.co.uk

And I also posted about this plant way back in August 2012, here.

Is there a wildflower in your region that is threatened? Which one would you choose as a “Flower of the Year” in your country to raise public awareness to it?