Blossom

Wow it's been a strange winter – very wet, though I'm glad to say I live on high ground, but remarkably warm overall. I only remember a few mild frosts and the temperature has been in the mid teens for the last couple of weeks. My garden seems to be well ahead of the game compared to last year and I have some things that have just kept on flowering through the winter. I expect a harsh frost to descend in April and kill everything.

But apart from that, here are some things I've noticed recently:

  • The blossom is out on many trees and is beautiful. I presume it's banks of hawthorn along many motorways that have been making them a pleasure to drive along.
  • Massive queen bumble bees have been bumbling for a few weeks now, looking for nest sites.
  • Butterflies are on the wing – I think I've mostly seen Commas but they didn't stop long enough to be sure.

SnowdropsAconites

Apart from all the rain it's seemed a very warm winter, at least here in middle England. The snowdrops are not pushing up through snow, but into sunny 10c+ days. These examples are at Anglesey Abbey – worth visiting at this time of year for the winter gardens alone. The rest's great too.

NotcuttsWheelbarrow

We welcome this guest post by Mr McGregor who has been working in the garden industry for over 27 years. He is a gardening enthusiast who also loves to grow his own fruit and veg, and regularly shares his opinions and advice on many gardening blogs.

Wildlife plays a vital role in the garden; bees help to pollinate plants while some insects can help to discourage predators that can damage flowers from entering your garden. You may automatically think that bugs are pests and are be something you should control, but in reality these insects are imperative to your garden’s ecosystem. 

You may or may not be aware but your garden walls and home can provide a safe haven for wildlife, offering shelter, food and a range of climates that enable them to thrive. It’s just as important to take care of your home’s exterior as it is the interior. In every nook and cranny you can find an array of wildlife nesting and making themselves at home.

Walls are fantastic places for wall mason wasps, snails and harvestmen along with many other invertebrates. Cracks can serve as a refuge over the winter months and flat surfaces can provide a feeding ground for such creatures. Butterflies can also benefit from garden walls. During the spring, wall surfaces can offer a basking ground for small peacock, tortoiseshell and comma butterflies; and during the winter can provide a home for white butterfly chrysalises. Walls are extremely popular with birds, not only for the amount of food these premises harbour, but if you’re growing climbers they can also provide a nesting site.

To keep attracting butterflies to your garden I would recommend you grow such plants such as the following, though you'll find many others at your local garden centre:

  • Buddleja
  • Echinacea purpurea
  • Cheiranthus wall flower
  • Erysimum wall flower

What is more unusual is finding species of lizards. Old and rundown walls in more rural areas can surprisingly be inhabited by common small lizards that are on the hunt for food.

If you are planning to undergo any repairs it’s extremely important to be wary of any wildlife you could potentially disturb. Check every nook and cranny, crack and crevice to see if bats have decided to reside there, or if birds such as great tits and redstarts have nested there. Also be cautious of the season you decide to repair the wall; please keep in mind the nesting season and work around it.

Nest boxes and feeding tables can also help to attract birds into the garden. A nest box can be extremely useful if you want to carry out repair work to your wall as it provides an alternative home for offspring.

The walls of our garden and home can be a wonderful place for wildlife to relish in, and there are many simple ways to encourage further wildlife into your garden. I hope this article has encouraged you to consider and conserve the magnitude of wildlife your simple garden wall can harbour.

Butterfly attracting plants, nesting boxes and bird tables can all be found at most popular garden centres.

Disclaimer: this post provided courtesy of Notcutts, for which no money (or anything else) has changed hands.

GardenSpiderDark

Howard sent this picture, wondering whether it was a walnut orb weaver, or a melanic garden spider. My dictionary describes melanic as "unusual darkening of body tissues caused by excessive production of melanin, esp. as a form of color variation in animals" in case the word is new to you.

I'm sure he's right that it's a melanic garden spider (araneus diadematus) thanks to the classic cross of white blobs on its back. It's also a great close up photo.

Time to come out of hibernation! Here is a random assortment of things:

  • Did you know that Harvestmen (Opiliones) cluster together in a dense mass? Neither did I, but there are some great videos out there. People tend to name them incorrectly as spiders mind you. Note that Americans call them Daddy Long Legs, but we use that name for Crane Flies mostly.
  • If you missed WinterWatch on the BCC over the last week, it's all available online, incluing "Live: Winterwatch at the Big Garden Birdwatch" throughout this weekend.
  • I wish someone would invent a bird feeder that's impervious to terrible weather. I find that mine get wet inside courtesy of the rain driving in sideways pretty much every day. Then the contents stick together and go mouldy, requiring a full clean out only a couple of days after filling them. Does anyone know of such a feeder?

WinterBerries

These should keep the birds going for a while, along with the orange ones on the pyracantha. The blackbirds always seem to start at the top and gradually strip the plant towards the ground, presumably because it's safer higher up.

IchneumonWasp (1)

This strikingly beautiful wasp appeared as I worked in the garden, perhaps disturbed by my activity. I'm confident it is Pimpla rufipes, common in the autumn and fairly widespread. It doesn't have the enormously long ovipositor (pointy bit at the end of a female, for laying eggs) that some ichneumon wasps do. See my previous ichneumon post for a cracking example of that.

FlyAgaricToadstool

A classic example of the "fly agaric" (properly Amanita muscaria) looking lovely on a golf course. It's poisonous and psychoactive, so don't even think about eating it.

CaveBugUnknown
Paul sends in this shot of a mystery beastie, photographed in a small cave in the north east of England. He describes it as follows. "At first glance it looks like a cricket but lacks the hind legs etc. Its antennae bend backwards and it has two long appendages from the rear."

I can't figure out what it is, having searched the interwebs long and hard. Some sort of bristletail, or a larva of some sort? What's most annoying is that I swear I've seen such a thing before, but I can't bring it to mind. I bet there's someone out there who knows exactly what it is at a glance. Please tell us!

SnailSlugEggs

Thanks to Glyn, who sent in this picture of mystery eggs found in his garden, in a wet, cool spot under a concrete slab. They are in fact snail or slug eggs – I have no idea if it's possible to tell the difference easily. Presumably fairly big ones though.