Blog Archives: WildWivenhoe

The Beth Chatto Garden through the seasons: May

Late May, and the gardens are burgeoning – flowers are flowering in abundance, insects and other visitors are active everywhere. And this year, the green bits are still green, such a contrast to last year when we were already in the grip of a severe drought. In fact this year overall the rainfall totals have been low, but there have been just enough downpours to keep the garden going. And with temperatures through May being on the low side, the flower colours set against the canvas of greens is simply vibrant. Feast your eyes on these, from plant panoramas ….

…to the finer details, the inner plantscapes:

It’s always a pleasure to see in the Beth Chatto gardens that the ‘gardeners’ curse’ of overtidiness doesn’t feature too much. While some may find long grass and dead flower heads unsightly, others – especially the insects and birds to which the garden is a home – don’t. Nature’s bounteous growth harbours food and provides shelter, all part of the natural ecology of the garden:

All of the insects and other invertebrates we found were exciting, but two bits of behaviour we had never seen before were thrilling to observe.  A pair of Malachius bipustulatus (Two-spotted Malachite Beetles) indulging in courtship behaviour, ‘kissing’ to transmit pair bonding pheromones….

… and it was especially good to see the first emergence of Scorpion-flies of the summer. The males have the eponymous ‘scorpion tail’ although it contains no sting, just a genital capsule, but both sexes have a protruding snout with jaws located at its tip. Widely supposed to be an adaptation to extracting insects from spiders’ webs without alerting the owner, this is certainly not the whole story. For the first time ever, we found one feeding, its beak deep in the body of its hapless prey – a spider!

#WildWivenhoe Botany & Bug Walks: June – the leaves are alive on Lower Lodge

Thank you to all the nature-addicts who joined us on Saturday.  The warm sunshine and gentle breeze made for very pleasant walks (if 400 metres in two hours qualifies as a walk!), and we certainly found lots to look at.  So much so we aren’t going to put many words into this month’s report – but let the pictures speak for themselves. We haven’t even labelled the pictures: please ask if you would like to know what they are…

As we know, as well as being vitally important for our ecosystems, insects vary hugely and are in fact classified into 22 different major groups or ‘orders’, reflecting their respective structures.

Beetles belong to the order  Coleoptera.  Coleos – a shield,  pteron – wing, and have hard wing cases which protect them.  They probably outnumber in species every other order of animal.

Moths belong to the order Lepidoptera   Lepidos – a scale,  pteron – wing.  We discovered several types of moth,  plus a couple of ‘cases’, ie  pupae where a moth has chewed out a section of leaf, to a very precise pattern, (how DO they know this?) as well as a couple of magnificent moth caterpillars. Sadly we were a week or two early for the spotted Burnet moths which will soon be abundant on Lower Lodge.  Butterflies are also Lepidopteran, but relatively few were out and about on Saturday, apart from Common Blues and Speckled Woods.

True bugs’ (as opposed to ‘bugs’ being the general term used for many insects) belong to the order Hemiptera   Hemi – half, pteron – wing.  This is an extremely varied order, and are further classified into suborders.

The three orders listed so far are three of the ‘big five’ insect groups, the others being Diptera (‘two-winged’) – Flies; and Hymenoptera (‘veil-winged’ – bees, wasps and ants). There are however many other smaller orders. Grasshoppers and crickets belong to the order Orthoptera   Orthos – straight,  pteron – wing.  Being early in the season, the bush crickets we found were nymphs, i.e. in their early stages of development.  They pass through a number of ‘instars’,  shedding their skins as they go,  before becoming adult.

Spiders – of course, these aren’t insects (ie they don’t have the requisite 6 legs) but are such interesting critters we could not possibly ignore them!

And of course Chris was also looking out for what was flowering, photographing a few flower heads (including the first Field Scabious, awaiting its complement of Burnet moths) and seed-head structures as he went, together with the remarkable fruiting structures of the Goat’s-beard Rust-fungus.

Happy nature watching.

#WildWivenhoe Botany & Bug Walks: May – Cockaynes Reserve

So, which of these is a weed? Dandelion or Silver Birch?  The answer seems pretty obvious, doesn’t it, but in reality they both may OR may not be thought of as weeds.  It all depends on where you are and what you want from the land on which they are growing.  A weed is just a plant growing in the wrong place.

This was a topic of discussion on our Botany and Bug Walks this month.  Two groups of hardy souls (given the weather which was thrown at us) enjoyed a visit to one of our least-known beauty spots, namely the Cockaynes Reserve.  This reserve comprises two woods, with a patch of bare sandy soil near lakes which are the happy result of intensive sand and gravel extraction some years ago.  The whole site is a wildlife haven.

The sandy open ground is well managed by the Cockaynes Wood Trust specifically for our ultra-important (considering the state that we have all got ourselves into) invertebrates.  Without insect life, humans would disappear within a short time.  So….the Birch which naturally wants to grow in the sandy soil area is removed to allow room for insects to move in, nest and generally do what comes naturally to them.  A prize example of the insects is officially called the Early Colletes bee, though we would like to make a case for it to be known as the Bunny Bee.  The second half of its Latin name ‘cunicularis’  shares the root with that for Rabbits.  And it does share some rabbit-like characteristics, in that it is furry and burrows in sandy soil ( not sure about the fluffy tail though).   And (at least when the weather is warm) many hundreds of these bees can be seen nesting and buzzing along the sand banks.  This is nationally a very important colony for these useful pollinators.

So what about the Dandelion? Well, this old favourite is ‘Welcome at Cockaynes’ as one of the most important late-spring sources of nectar and pollen for insects.  A curious fact…what we think of as the dandelion flower, is in fact many closely packed in together.  Each little orange blade is an individual flower, which is easier to comprehend when it has turned itself into a beautiful clock seed-head… each seed comes from an individual flower.

Many other woodland plants were to be seen and enjoyed.  Of course, the favourite, the Bluebell, as well as Wavy Bittercress, Opposite leaved Golden-saxifrage which just loves living near the brook, and Red Campion (which grows as either an all-male or all-female plant) plus a myriad of others.

Three types of fern are found in  Villa Wood – Broad-Buckler and Male Ferns thriving in the lush conditions beside Sixpenny Brook, plus Bracken on the higher, drier soils. ‘The degree of pinnation’ Chris used to help identify them sound complex, but all it really means is ‘ferniness’….

Given the cold wind and sharp hail showers insects generally were pretty thin on the ground.  But our eagle-eyed groups did discover some nice examples – a Squash Bug sunning itself, bumblebees, flies plus a few moths.

In fact we found the smallest moth in Britain!  Micropterix calthella enjoys spending time in the cups of buttercups. They may only live for a few hours and so have to do what they have to do as a priority.  We caught a couple doing just this…..   Aren’t they handsome, and only 4mm or so long!

Another rather lovely moth enjoying a brief spell of sunshine was the Clouded Border.  It boldly lies out full view of any passing predator, knowing that it is partially protected by its disguise…it does look rather like a bird poo.  It belongs to the Geometrid group of moths, this term meaning ‘earth measurer’ and their caterpillars are the ‘inchworms’.

Having walked up past the lakes now full of water plants and a few birds, we finished our walk at the top, at Cockaynes Wood.  This is a much drier habitat than the lower, Villa Wood. And near it are a few patches of Heather, a very rare plant to grow in Essex.  Near here is a lovely field, which has been just left and apparently un-herbicided for a while, to allow many pretty annual plants to take root.  Many of these may be considered ‘weeds’ in a garden…they grow readily in disturbed soil.  But here, they were just delightful to see, and much better thought of as less-prejudicially as ‘Arable Plants’: Field Pansy, Groundsel, Fumitory, Poppy and Wild Radish.

Pipers at the Gates of Dawn

At the Gates of Dawn we stood and listened
To the piping song which filled our hearts
And souls with joy.

Why do they sing so?

At the Gates of Dawn we filled our lungs
And shouted out to the whole world
To announce the day.

Why do they listen so?

To survive we need to attract a mate,
Defend our space, alert a danger
Of a stranger.

That’s why we sing so.

In this world of greed we have a need
To feed on good things, calm things,

That’s why we listen so.

By Jude, inspired by our recent Dawn Chorus walk.


The Beth Chatto Garden throughout the seasons: April

Three weeks since our last visit. Three weeks which would normally see one of the greatest transformations in a garden, from winter to high spring: not this year though, when unseasonably warm spells in both mid-February and early March lit the flames of spring very early, and the cool northerlies of early April then held its advance at bay.

But the daffodils were largely over, their place being taken by fritillaries and Erythroniums…

…  Epimediums, Archangel and Uvularia.

Time for interesting angles and close-ups…

… and celebration of the spring greens, punctuated and highlighted by splashes of  colour.

From beds and borders, unfurling ferns rearing up like cobras…

… and Alchemilla leaves bedecked with dewdrop pearls, some magnifying the russet tooth tips, others reflecting the sky, before coalescing into the mercurial pools which give rise to the name of the ‘little alchemist’:

As always keeping our eyes open for the animal inhabitants, the more sheltered areas produced an array of basking bugs – Squash Bug and Green, Hairy and Gorse Shieldbugs:


… and beetles, including an almost spotless Harlequin Ladybird, and Rosemary Beetles, here transferring their allegiance to sages:

As befits the season, love was in the air for pairs of Green Shieldbugs and the large, wing-marked crane-fly Tipula vittata:

A few butterflies were on the wing, including our first Green-veined White of the year:

And of course, with insects showing, their predators were out and about, with Zebra Spiders well camouflaged on lichen-covered walls, and a Heliophanus jumping-spider waiting with hi-viz palps raised, ready to leap upon a suitable morsel.

Fifty shades of green…

A Paean to Green, inspired by Cockaynes Wood

Sea green, pea green, spring green, olive green

mint green, lime green, jade green, forest green

Green is the colour of nature, of life itself.

Or rather greens are the colours of nature and life, a whole spectrum of hues revealed in breathtaking splendour when fresh foliage is drenched in the new light of spring:

And not just the leaves. While many spring woodland  flowers scream for attention, others show  the art of the subtle.  Acid green April Acers bursting forth in the canopy, copper-tinged catkins of Oak and Birch draping down:

At the ground, cushions of Golden-Saxifrage, and dangles of Redcurrants:

And Moschatel. Stories of green giving glory to green. How to describe Moschatel?   A musky smell? Not really, at least to my nose. Unique? Certainly, at least until recently treated as the sole species in its family, in the world.

In part that uniqueness is down to the disportment if its five flowers, four (five-petalled) like the faces of a clock tower, one (four-petalled) on the top pointing upwards, as I was told recently ‘so the Spitfire pilots could tell the time’. Hence its alter ego Town-Hall Clock: now that’s a name which does as it says on the tin. But its scientific name Adoxa (Greek for ‘without glory’): a travesty for one of the most delightful, unassuming spring woodland blooms.

Sea green, pea green, spring green, olive green

mint green, lime green, jade green, forest green

      the colours of life … of spring … of now

Vote Green : the colour with a future…