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!

In a Vase on Monday: Attention Seekers

Even when Cathy at Rambling in the Garden is rambling away from home, her meme continues and  Cathy herself has posted a Vase on Monday… So no excuses, go and pick some flowers and join in!

Today I started with my Rhododendron, which always looks as if it will be pink when in bud, but then pales to ivory with a beige centre. The Pulsatilla seedheads also have a hint of beige and pink, so by adding the red and white tulips I wanted to highlight these delicate shades.

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After placing everything in the vase I noticed each flower seemed to be vying for attention, leaning towards the front!

My parrot/fringed tulips are one of my weaknesses; I just love their shameless flamboyance…

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Destiny (formerly Estella Rijnveld)

… their downright cheekiness…

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Red Parrot or Fringed Tulip?

… and their feathery loveliness.

Don’t you love them too? 😉

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Although we have had showers the past week, the tree pollen is covering everything at the moment – I can even see it clinging to the Pulsatilla below…

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A bonus vase this week: some wild mustard appeared in my garden this spring, and although I love the flowers I do not want it to go to seed. So I cut most of it down and added a little Kerria japonica to jazz it up…

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And while taking some photos I discovered this little fella…

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Maybe not an attention seeker, but cute nonetheless!

What is seeking your attention in your garden right now?

A Hedgehog Cake

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Before you start wondering, no hedgehogs were harmed!

For my birthday I always make myself a special cake, and since hedgehogs have been on my mind a lot recently it seemed only logical to finally try out my hemisphere cake pan this time round…

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Cute! It was a lot simpler than I had thought – and it tasted pretty good too!

Hedgehog Birthday Cake

For the cake:

  • one 15cm/6 inch hemisphere tin and one 20cm/8 inch sandwich cake tin, greased and floured
  • 225g (2 sticks)  softened butter
  • 225g (1 cup) sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 215g (1 3/4 cups) SR flour
  • 1 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 2-3 tbsps milk

Preheat oven to 190°C/375°F. Cream the butter and sugar together with a mixer until pale and fluffy. Whisk in the eggs, one at a time. Gently fold in the sieved flour, baking powder, cocoa powder and salt. Add the milk if necessary to achieve a “dropping consistency”, i.e. the mixture drops slowly off a spoon. Divide between the two cake tins and bake until firm to touch: the sandwich tin will take about 20-25 minutes and the hemisphere tin will take longer, between 35 and 45 minutes. Leave to cool completely on a rack.

For the buttercream/decoration:

  • 125g softened butter
  • 125g icing sugar
  • 75g milk chocolate, melted
  • 2 chocolate drops for the eyes
  • 1 glace cherry for the nose
  • jam for the filling (I used strawberry)

Beat together the butter and sugar. Reserve enough to cover the nose of the hedgehog. Dip the glace cherry in your melted chocolate and put to one side. Now beat the remaining melted chocolate into the rest of the buttercream. (Make sure the chocolate is cooled but not cold when you mix it in).

Forming the cake: Place the hemisphere on top of the sponge base layer, but at the back edge and not in the centre. Cut the base around the edge of the hemisphere at the sides but leave some at the front to form the nose… I think it will be clear what I mean when you have it in front of you. Put some jam between the base and the hemisphere to stick it together. Spread some white buttercream you reserved over the front and form a nose shape, building it up a little. Use a knife dipped in warm water to help smooth it. Then coat the hemisphere with the chocolate buttercream and use a flat knife to create the “spike” effect. Add the eyes and nose. Voila!

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This moist sponge cake stays lovely and fresh for several days – just store in an airtight container. It serves a crowd too!

Enjoy!

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🙂

 

 

A Butterfly Diary (September)

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Keeping a Butterfly Diary this year has essentially been an enjoyable pastime; the waiting and watching, running for my camera, clambering through the rockery in unsuitable footwear, or thumbing through my butterfly guide while lying in the grass on a warm summer’s day…

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But it has also been very educational. I knew very little beforehand, and was unable to name many of the visitors to my garden. And reading up on certain butterflies meant I learned about their foodplants, migratory habits, number of broods in a year, overwintering etc etc. Overall it has been a lovely activity, and I hope to repeat it next year. This will probably be the last butterfly post this season, with numbers already dwindling as the nights get colder and days shorter. We often get very foggy or misty days in autumn too, which prevent the sun from warming up the garden enough for most butterflies.

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So let’s celebrate these last visitors and in planning our future plant or bulb purchases, spare a thought for the butterflies’ favourite flowers!

Early September was warm but damp, humid in fact. The only butterflies I saw were the cabbage whites, red admirals that have been around most of the summer, and still the Hummingbird Hawk-moths (Macroglossum stellatarum, Taubenschwänzchen). These creatures are fascinating to watch! Here is one I observed in the middle of September. They are pretty fast – longer stops would mean their wing muscles would cool down too much…

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They return to the same plants at the same times every day – especially on warm and sunny days.

For more pictures take a look here, and for tips on attracting them to your garden look here.

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A single Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus, Hauhechel-Bläuling) turned up in the middle of the rockery mid-month, also on the Centranthus ruber. Can you spot it?

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I can’t stress enough just how valuable this plant is in my garden. Not only does it flower all summer, it attracts so many butterflies and insects too! You may have noticed that many of the  butterflies I have shown over the past few months have been on the Centranthus.

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So, for a change, a different plant is the background here for the European Peacocks (Aglais io/Inachis io, Tagpfauenauge), which always turn up reliably to relish on the Sedums and Michaelmas Daisies (see the photo I posted yesterday).

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Those colours are exquisite – I wonder if they have any idea just how beautiful they are! These markings are actually supposed to make predators afraid of them… see this lovely video here for an example.

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They are our most long-lived butterflies too, surviving for up to a year if a mild overwintering place is found.

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Then we had a Wall Brown (Lasiommata megera, Mauerfuchs) visit the Sedum too. The Wall Browns like to bask in the sun with their wings open, especially on rocks or (surprise!) walls. They are typical for stony or rocky hillsides like those around us, with various grasses as their foodplant.

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I also saw the first Comma since spring (Polygonia c-album/Nymphalis c-album, C-Falter). I don’t know why I didn’t see any in the summer…

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It has a very intricate outline and such rich colouring on the upper wings, but the underside of the wings resembles dead leaves – perfect camouflage.

Can you see the comma mark on the closed lower wing in the photo below?

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The Comma hibernates, and can usually be seen flying from April to November.

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Sometimes the German names are prettier than the English, sometimes the reverse: in this case the English name wins hands down: the Queen of Spain Fritillary  (Issoria lathonia, Kleine Perlmutterfalter)!

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This was one of the rare occasions I have actually seen butterflies on my Verbena bonariensis, despite what a butterfly magnet everyone says it is. The silvery edges to this fritillary’s wings may have contributed to it being given such a regal name.

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One of its larval foodplants is the wild field pansy. They fly in three or even four generations in Central Europe, overwintering here in the caterpillar form, but they may also be one of the btterflies (like the Red Admiral or the Hummingbird Hawk-moths) that migrate from warmer climates over the Alps in the spring. Amazing to think of such tiny creatures soaring to heights over 2500 metres in order to cross the mountains…

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That was it for September. If I see any different ones in October I will be sure to post about them.

In the meantime I have been looking back at my photos for the year and trying to decided which butterfly I love best: probably the Peacock – simply because it is familiar, colourful, and a reliable visitor in autumn – my favourite time of year.

I’d love you to tell me what your favourite butterfly is, and whether you have seen it this summer?

Some nice links:

Family Gatherings

I mentioned the other day that we have had some distractions in the garden… All summer a large  – very large – hedgehog had been sighted at night around the garden. Then last week we saw three babies! Then we counted six, no seven. Wait, there’s another one, and … NINE!

How many can you spot on the photo above?

How many can you spot on the photo above?

They have been looking for food together, even during the daytime after lunch,  while Mum (and Dad?) have an afternoon nap?… Above they are gathered next to their home (under a large piece of stone near a pile of twigs).

Then at night they are out and about again. They are clearly hungry.

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We are putting down some nibbles for them, as they need to put weight on rapidly before it gets cold and they go into hibernation. I have read in several places that a minimum weight of 500 grammes is necessary before they start hibernating.

Looks like this one is enjoying a solitary snack while the others are away foraging….

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Now I know why we have seen so few slugs and snails recently! 😉

In the flower bed

In the flower bed

They are so sweet, and my man of many talents got this photo the other day too …

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One of our dogs has been a little worried at the invasion, but I think she is getting used to them!

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Have you had any guests in your garden recently?