Blog Archives: Beth Chatto Gardens

The Wild Side of Beth Chatto Gardens: the height of Spring

It is the start of that precious time of year when the natural delights come so thick and fast that there is barely time to catch up, so this blog of my latest Meet the Wandering Naturalist event is necessarily short, mostly photos and few words. It was a lovely sunny day and the two walks attracted an amazing 35 interested visitors, who I hope all went away with the sight and sound of our garden wildlife etched on their brains and buzzing in their ears.

There are always superstar plats, and this time for bumblebees and Honeybees it was the Cistus and Allium species that were playing that role…

… whereas for hoverflies, beetles and pretty much everything else it was the various umbellifers and the Euphorbias, especially in the Reservoir Garden.

There were damselflies everywhere, especially but certainly not exclusively, round the ponds.

But really there was wildlife in every corner of the garden, from the Buzzards overhead to the singing Goldcrests, Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs, and everywhere invertebrate life…

There were butterflies and moths, including for one of the groups Green Hairstreaks on the Thyme and several Silver Y moths, the latter newly arrived immigrants …

… spiders, including a lurid Stretch Spider and a feisty crab spider Xysticus lanio

… Common Scorpion-flies

… a myriad of true flies ….

… beetles, including several types of soldier-beetle and a Red-headed Cardinal-beetle…

… and an array of true bugs, with Dock Bugs and Hairy Shield-bugs everywhere ….

… plus the best insect of the day, a single Bronze Shield-bug, a rather scarce bug in Essex and the first time it has been found here. Always surprises to be found!

If anyone wants to join me on a nature walk around the gardens, I will be doing just that (weather permitting!) on June 21, July 19, August 2, August 16 and September 20. Once you have paid to come in, the walk is free! Walks commence at 11AM and 12 noon each day, meeting at the Visitor Information Centre.  For garden entrance tickets and more information, visit our website Beth Chatto’s Plants and Gardens, and do come expecting to want to buy some of the wildlife-attracting plants I will show you, as well as delicious tea and cakes!

Blogs of the previous Meet the Wandering Naturalist event this summer can be found here:

April: The Wild Side of Beth Chatto Gardens: among the April showers… | Chris Gibson Wildlife

The Wild Side of Beth Chatto Gardens: bountiful, and beautiful, insects…

May sweeps in, and the focus for wildlife turns to the ponds and water margins. The first damselflies are out, darting everywhere, mating and making more for next year. Large Red and Azure Damselflies, along with Blue-tailed Damselflies (not photographed) are on the wing now, and the first dragonflies will be very soon.

Sharing the aquatic early stages of damselflies but in a completely different order of insects, Alder-flies have emerged in large numbers in the past week.

Lots of beetles are now out and about, from Lily Beetles to soldier beetles, click beetles and weevils…

… and the variety of butterflies is changing: Orange-tips are fading out while Peacocks are still going strong, and the first Speckled Woods and Holly Blues are now flying.

Flies, including parasite-flies, dance-flies and snail-killers are all over the garden, but especially attracted to Euphorbia …

… while bees are often more specialist, seeking the closed tubular flowers that other insects cannot penetrate. Apart from the Honeybees that go for anything that has either nectar or pollen or both…

Plant bugs have also come out in force with the warm weather – here are Dock Bugs, a Cinnamon Bug and orgies of Hairy Shield-bugs, with the results of their endeavours.

The first, tiny Dark Bush-crickets have appeared: amazing to think that after five skin-sheds they will be serenading warm summer evenings in the hedgerows.

And everywhere there is insect abundance, there are always things ready to exploit nature’s largesse: here, a Xysticus crab-spider and a Nursery-web Spider.

Everything shown above is more-or-less widespread and relatively common. But there are the rarities as well: this week has produced the garden’s second record of the White-clouded Longhorn beetle (the first, two years ago, was only the fourth Essex location in that last hundred years) and the Purple-loosestrife was covered in a leaf- beetle Galerucella calmariensis. When we looked up the Essex distribution map for this creature, we find it at only five previous locations, all of which are along the southern or western boundaries of the county.

And while not as scarce as the above two, it was great to find the Bishop’s-mitre (a plant bug that we see rather infrequently) and I was inordinately excited (as the gardeners will testify!) to spot a couple of Green Hairstreaks nectaring on the Thyme, my first of the summer and also my absolute favourite butterfly.

All this, and there are a few flowers to see as well!!

If anyone wants to join me on a nature walk around the gardens, I will be doing just that (weather permitting!) on May 17, June 21, July 19, August 2, August 16 and September 20. Once you have paid to come in, the walk is free! Walks commence at 11AM and 12 noon each day, meeting at the Visitor Information Centre.  For garden entrance tickets and more information, visit our website Beth Chatto’s Plants and Gardens, and do come expecting to want to buy some of the wildlife-attracting plants I will show you, as well as delicious tea and cakes!

The Wild Side of Beth Chatto Gardens: rushing headlong into Summer!

What a wonderful day to wander round Beth Chatto’s Garden! The sun was shining, I was in shorts for the first time this year, and I could almost forgive and forget the vagaries of our spring so far…

Swallows twittering overhead, Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps in full song, and there were Orange-tips everywhere (my first of the year) and Green-veined Whites newly emerged, joining the overwintered Peacocks, along with my first Hornet of the summer.

Insects were everywhere, the sheer bioabundance testament to the spring weather and tribute to the fact that we welcome (or at least live with) all-comers – pollinators, predators, chompers and parasites: we don’t kill the planet with pesticides in creating a beautiful garden.

A myriad of insects of all sorts, from beetles  …

… to flies: lots of hoverflies,  a couple of St Mark’s Flies, a wetland snail-killer Tetanocera ferruginea and a host of others ...

… to bees and wasps, including abundant evidence of nesting Tawny Mining Bees …

… to true bugs.

It seemed that every plant in the garden was being used in some way or another, for feeding, basking or mating but the greatest attractor of all on this day was the Perennial Candytuft, in the Scree Garden, next to and sheltered by Beth’s house:

 

All of the above are pretty widespread creatures, but as always, time spent looking and searching revealed some specialities that I have not, or only rarely, recorded in the garden before. First is a micromoth, a metallic glistening morsel with wingspan barely a centimetre, called Dyseriocrania subpurpurella. Its larvae live in blotch mines on Oak leaves, and while it is widespread throughout Essex, it is only the second time I have seen it here, possibly because the adult emerges in spring when so often the weather conditions are not conducive to flight.

The Slender Groundhopper is a very small grasshopper relative; groundhoppers are the only members of the grasshopper and bush-cricket group of insects (Orthoptera) that overwinter as adults. Although again widespread across Essex, especially around the muddy edges of ponds, this is the first time I have seen it in our garden.

And then a trio of true bugs, all also new to me as inhabitants of our garden. The Rhombic Leatherbug is a scarce south-eastern species, in Essex more or less restricted to Thames-side and the valley of the River Colne. The ground bug Trapezonotus desertus is found also across Essex, but with only a thin scattering of records: the Essex Field Club map shows only some ten localities. And finally, best of all, the spurge-bug Dicranocephalus medius: a very strongly southern species, this has only one spot on the Essex map (in the deep south) and we have seen it before only in west London.

Of course you cannot overlook the flowers and other plants. The ferns are rearing their reptilian croziers skyward …

… while the flowers span the turn of the seasons, from tulips to paeonies.

The overwhelming impression I had was of joy in the garden. I have never seen so many smiling happy people wandering around, for the first time in many months not having to keep one eye on the weather as they walk. And although the weather forecast is not so good, if anyone wants to join me on a nature walk around the gardens, I will be doing just that (weather permitting) at 11AM and 12 noon this coming Friday, 19 April, meeting at the Visitor Information Centre. Once you have paid to come in, the walk is free! Further ‘Meet the Wandering Naturalist‘ events are also planned for May 17, June 21, July 19, August 2, August 16 and September 20. 

For tickets and more information, visit our website Beth Chatto’s Plants and Gardens

From pollinator paradise to thriving ecosystem: Gardening with Wildlife in Mind

We all know that one secret of successful wildlife gardening is to provide nectar and pollen for all the insects that choose to visit. For lovers of the glorious diversity of garden plants, the good news is that natives and non-natives alike can perform this function for our native bees and other pollinators.

And in the garden context, where the choice of plants is limited only by soil and climate, then the gardener can actually improve upon nature, ensuring that nectar and pollen supplies are maintained year-round. In midwinter for example, the British countryside is simply not tooled up to provide those floral resources (except in the form of Gorse), but that of course is the very time that with climate change/collapse many insects are now remaining active, when in the past they would be in hibernation. Growing plants like Mahonia, Viburnum tinus and Sarcococca makes all the difference, to the insects and to our noses!

With this in mind, I recently contributed a blog to the Beth Chatto website, entitled  a Year-round pollinator plant menu, showcasing the role of gardens and gardeners in keeping out insects alive: https://www.bethchatto.co.uk/discover/our-blog/guides/year-round-pollinator-plant-menu.htm

But no gardener should rest on their Laurus nobilis and think that flowers for pollinators is all that is needed. There are many insects and other invertebrates that are not pollinators: they and the larval or nymphal stages of almost all insects are dependent on eating other things, whether that be leaves and roots or other insects…

Whereas insect pollinators are not always too fussy whether their nectar or pollen food comes from natives or non-natives, the same is not true generally for the leaf-munchers: here it is clear that native plants are generally preferred.  Any good wildlife garden will have a range of native plants in or around it. While virtually all plants have their specialist herbivores, there are a few types that punch above their weight and will hopefully be within insect flight distance of your garden: 

TREES: Oak, Willow     

SHRUBS: Hawthorn, Bramble  

HERBACEOUS PLANTS: Nettle, Dock, Dandelion, Bird’s-foot-trefoil

and a range of native grasses, especially if they are allowed to flower and not scalped to within an inch of their lives every three weeks!

With all the above in mind we are also embarking on a major project of adding a paragraph to the A-Z listing of plants on the Beth Chatto website to highlight their wildlife value, so now you can choose plants that are most beneficial to wildlife.

Look after the day-to day needs of insects, with food for both adults and early stages; water to drink, and sometimes to live in; shelter from inclement weather; and freedom from the bane of pesticides. These insects will then underpin the whole food chain, providing food for birds, and in many cases help to break down dead organic matter, recycling nutrients for the next round of plant growth: the cycle of life. Embrace the facts of predation and parasitism, death and decay, and you can then be happy your garden is truly an ecosystem and helping to save the planet.

The Wild Side of Beth Chatto Gardens: Spring straining at the sinews…

 

A quick spin around the garden this morning. It would have been remiss not to, with the sunshine and the Snowdrops coming towards their peak. It was one of those special days, the ground almost creaking underfoot as if life cannot wait to race out of the starting gates. And that was reflected in everyone we met, staff and visitors alike, all beaming with the privilege of being immersed in a garden of delights.

Of course the Snowdrops are the main event for now, several species, numerous varieties, their identification beyond me but my deficiencies not affecting my enjoyment. [Incidentally, anyone with an urge to know more about this iconic group of spring flowers could do no better than booking onto Steve and Marc’s annual event exploring these beauties Splendid Snowdrops – Beth Chatto’s Plants & Gardens on 24 February.]

But there is already so much more: Winter Aconites, squills, crocuses, irises…all springing up from their underground storage organs, whether bulbs or corms:

And the flowering shrubs, often extravagantly flirting with the nostrils from a distance of several metres, especially the Sarcococca creating a pool of stop-in-your-tracks perfume:

And all this floriferousness and fragrance has a purpose, to attract the few insects on the wing at the moment to pollinate the flowers. And a reciprocal purpose, to feed the insects in the event that cold weather envelops us again. There were queen bees, bumbling around, basking and searching for nest sites; a couple of Honeybees; one elusive micromoth (probably Tortricoides alternella); and several hoverflies of at least two species. This is the beauty of gardens, able to provide for our native wildlife at a time of year when the countryside is simply not up to the job.

 

The Wild Side of Beth Chatto Gardens: New Year, new life!

This week, Beth Chatto Gardens reopened after their midwinter slumber. And what a day to choose! Crystalline blue skies from dawn to dusk…

… although that did of course mean temperatures barely rose above freezing after a penetrating frost the night before. Even in early afternoon, frost bedecked any leaf out of the sun and the ground was still crunchy underfoot.

Last year’s berries are still ripening in places, great food for Redwings and Fieldfares ever-present in the treetops. Who knows, given events elsewhere this winter, could they be joined by Waxwings in the weeks to come?

The tinkling Goldfinches and wheezy Siskins are catered for as well, all manner of seedheads left standing and not ‘tidied’ away: a supply of seeds, a statement of our commitment to the planet, and things of sculptural beauty in their own right.

And not just seedheads, but whole plants left standing, a vital refuge among the winter-burnt foliage and blasted tussocks for ladybirds and other beneficial predators that will soon be out and about keeping our garden in ecological balance.

Too cold for any insect life to be showing, but as and when warmth returns, the flowers are waiting: midwinter blooms such as Mahonia, Lonicera, Sarcococca and Viburnum are the vital sources of sustenance in our gardens for any bee emerging at this time – which of course with climate collapse is increasingly frequent.

Then there are the first of the spring blooms, ready to take the baton as the shrubs start to fade…

… and a whole lot more waiting in the wings for the life-giving warmth to send out their blooms, from hellebores to Euphorbia and Skimmia ‘Kew Green’.

Come and enjoy the unfurling of the year – Beth Chatto Gardens are open Thursday – Saturday until 17 February, thereafter Tuesday – Saturday.  Let us #RewildYourMind!

The Wild Side of Beth Chatto Gardens: 2024 here we come!

What a way to round off another year filled with the pleasure and privilege of working at the Beth Chatto Gardens! Today may have been unremittingly dull and, after three hour-long walks, pretty chilly – but at least the air was still and the drizzle largely held off.

Around fifty Friends of the garden joined for one or other of the exclusive walks and, while there was little actual wildlife to see, that left all the more time to talk about things we do in the garden to encourage its use by wildlife and to try and encourage similar things in their own gardens. Spreading the Word about Rewilding the Mind!

There were of course a few birds around, with Mallards and Moorhens on the lakes, Chaffinches, Goldfinches and Siskins in the trees, and Redwings flying over. But most activity was heard rather than seen: roving bands of tits, including a party of Long-tailed Tits; Robins singing everywhere; the shrill piping of a Kingfisher all added to the winterscape. And in a promise of the spring to come, a lone Mistle Thrush delivering is languid, fluty warble – pure joy dripping from the treetops.

The fires of autumn have been tamed, toned down into subdued earthy pastels, as the garden reclines into its midwinter slumber:

The only real shards of vibrant colour come from the berries of Holly and Stinking Iris…

… although berries come in muted and sombre shades as well, those of Sorbus being especially numerous, probably because the birds simply don’t recognise pale pink as ‘ripe’.

As befits the home of Ecological and Sustainable Gardening other welcome features are the seed-heads and grassy tussocks, welcome to seed-feeding finches and overwintering natural predators like ladybirds and lacewings respectively.

Otherwise, it was a scatter of winter-flowing shrubs like Mahonia, so crucial to our bees and other pollinators in midwinter, especially at these times of climate breakdown when many are barely going into hibernation at all: if everyone could do only one thing in their gardens to increase the resilience of our landscape to climate change, planting winter shrubs would be high up there in the order of priority.

And so the year draws to a close. But already the signs of renewal are appearing, new shoots emerging, a sign that light and life will soon be returning. If you want to see the garden in its muted winter glory, then hurry – the last opening is this coming Saturday. But never fear, by the scheduled reopening on January 18th 2024 we should be seeing the first signs of spring, and our wildlife will be following suit. Do come and enjoy it – better still, become a Friend and come and see it any time the garden is open!

The Wild Side of Beth Chatto Gardens: a perfect autumn day…

In the depths of autumn, there are few places better to be than in somewhere like Beth Chatto Gardens, with the russets and gold of the season set off beautifully against a clear blue sky. Earlier this week, the air was chilled in the shade, but the sun still powerful enough to shed a layer or two and to stir the insect life into action:

Flowers are diminishing, but there are still enough to provide the insects with their basic needs before hibernation (or worse) beckons:

And the blooms seem extra-special when the leaves are also sprinkled with stardust:

As the flowers have faded so fruits and seeds take centre-stage…

… along with the foliage, its beauty magnified by the subtle low winter sunlight picking out textures that are unimaginable in the fierce light of summer.

And of course, especially dramatic when the greens are tinged with autumnal flame…

Beauty at every turn, and hope: the transition of the seasons bring promise of renewal and return next year.

This fleeting season can so easily be swept away by storm or frost, so do visit and enjoy it if you can. The gardens are open every Thursday, Friday and Saturday until the midwinter closure on December 16th Entrance – Beth Chatto’s Plants & Gardens. Rewild your mind!

The Wild Side of Beth Chatto Gardens: late September, but the show goes on…

It was a breezy, autumnal start for the final Wandering Naturalist event of the year, but the sun soon came out and brought the gardens to life with the hum of insects.

As is typical  at this season, it was members of the daisy family that were the major draw for insects seeking nectar and pollen, from Black-eyed Susans and Jerusalem Artichokes to Mexican Coneflowers and (the ones that will go on and on right into the depths of winter), Michaelmas Daisies.

Verbena bonariensis too, its wispy shoots punctuating many of the beds, and a magnet for bees and butterflies in particular, together with a fleeting Hummingbird Hawk-moth (sadly not photographed!):

Other star performers for those who joined me on the walks were plants sending out a second flush of flowers, as for example Eryngium planum in the Reservoir Garden, attracting hoverflies and parasitic flies in abundance

… and on Beth’s House, Buddleia crispa with its second blooming amply demonstrating the benefits that can be achieved from dead-heading after the first flush…

… while sages and calamints just go on and on, today hosting a pristine Painted Lady, while the large-flowered forms wrapped bumblebees in their pollenial embrace.

Otherwise the baton of the summer-flowering relay has been passed on firmly to Ivy, arguably (and I would suggest indisputably) THE most important plant for wildlife there is, from its autumn flowers feeding myriad insects to its February-ripe berries, a lifeline for birds, as well as dense foliage and twisted growth for nesting, shelter and hibernation. Among the many insects using it were Ivy Bees, Batman Hoverflies and some very impressive Hornets, in between bouts of scraping wood fibres off dead trees with which to enlarge their nests.

Of course, as the power of the Sun is waning, insects are just as likely to be found basking, to warm up for their essential activities of feeding and breeding. Any surface facing south will do, from large flat leaves to paths, posts and other structures:

The more active the insect the more it needs to bask, and some of the most obvious baskers are the dragonflies, needing vast amounts of warmth and energy to feed on flying insects:

Aside from the insects, Chiffchaffs were singing as though it were spring, Swallows and Meadow Pipits migrating south overhead, and there was the amazing sight of a Cormorant overhead, using thermals from the Gravel Garden to gain altitude!

There may be fewer insects to see from now on, but they will still be there, at least until the first frosts. But don’t let that stop you visiting the garden: flowers may be fading, and greens bronzing, but there is something to see all the time and in any weather.

That’s all from the Wandering Naturalist for now, but hopefully I will be back next year. Thank you for reading, thank you for joining me on the walks, and thank you for caring about garden insects, the little things that help our world go round.

Blogs of previous events in this series can be found at:

The Wild Side of Beth Chatto Gardens: a butterfly bonanza! | Chris Gibson Wildlife

The Wild Side of Beth Chatto Gardens: the steamy jungles of Essex!! | Chris Gibson Wildlife

The Wild Side of Beth Chatto Gardens: the slide into Autumn… | Chris Gibson Wildlife

The Wild Side of Beth Chatto Gardens: after the rain…….. | Chris Gibson Wildlife

The Wild Side of Beth Chatto Gardens: September sunlight | Chris Gibson Wildlife

Each one is fully illustrated with photos taken on the day; if anyone wants to know the identity of anything depicted, please feel free to contact me through the Contact tab.

Visit the Beth Chatto Gardens and be inspired to Rewild your Mind!

AND JUST ARRANGED, in 2024 I will be running similar events on the following dates:

April 19th

May 17th

June 21st

July 19th

August 2nd

August 16th

September 20th

All weather dependent, and between 1100 and 1300.

The Wild Side of Beth Chatto Gardens: September sunlight

The past two weeks of unprecedented September heatwave since my previous Wandering Naturalist event have continued to prove one thing: we have changed our climate and will continue to do so unless we turn things around very quickly. Climate change (or as we should be thinking, climate collapse) is made up of shorter-term weather effects and the recent heat has certainly brought the season to a close for many plants in the garden. Likewise, the diversity of insect types is declining, although the numbers of Honeybees, bumble-bees and carder-bees in particular is still rising, presumably as their nests continue to grow. Hornets too, but not generally visiting the flowers themselves: they are working their way around the flowers trying to catch insects which they kill with a sting and take back to their nests to feed to their developing grubs.

The daisy family is really taking over as the main provider of nectar and pollen resources to the bees and a whole host of other insects, and will remain so now until the first frosts:

And a major addition in the Reservoir Garden since the last walk has been the opening of Phacelia flowers, now literally buzzing with life! A great species this to improve the wildlife-friendliness of any garden, they will self-seed merrily into any gaps.

Of course bees and the like are not the only creatures we want to encourage. Lots of others make up the garden food-web, as pollinators, predators, parasites, decayers, food for others and generally providing the services needed to turn a garden into an ecosystem. Just a few examples  are ladybirds, flesh-flies, parasite-flies and harvestmen:

Some dragonflies and damselflies also go on well into the autumn, though most of the summer species have now expired. Those we are likely to see for some time yet are Ruddy Darters and Willow Emeralds (both of which we saw mating), with a few Common Darters and Migrant Hawkers that didn’t hang around to be photographed.

And so to the butterflies and moths: during the two hours, good numbers of at least seven butterfly species were seen, taking advantage especially of Buddleia and Verbena.

Notable was a brand-new generation of  Green-veined Whites, along with two species of renowned migrant to our shores, at this stage of the year as likely to be progeny of spring immigrants rather than new arrivals: Painted Lady butterfly and a couple of Hummingbird Hawk-moths, always a delight to watch working their favoured flowers (today, Buddleia):

And all of the above set to a constant twittering background of migrating Swallows overhead, no doubt catching some of our insects to fuel their trans-equatorial flights to come, plus the squeaks of Meadow Pipits and Siskins, birds just arriving here from the far north-east to take up their winter haunts.

So summer may be over but the garden goes on, and will continue to do so until the weather turns much cooler; there are still plenty of flowers still to come and feed our creatures!

If anyone would like to join me in the garden looking at its wildlife, I am planning on repeating this walk (weather permitting) for the last time this year on 29th September, between 1100 and 1300. No need to book, just come to the garden (normal entry price – see our website for details) and ask at the Visitor Information Centre where I will be and when, and come along and find me! Nearer the time, if the weather is looking at all dodgy, please feel to contact me using the Contact tab above to check it is likely to be running.

Blogs of previous events in this series can be found at:

The Wild Side of Beth Chatto Gardens: a butterfly bonanza! | Chris Gibson Wildlife

The Wild Side of Beth Chatto Gardens: the steamy jungles of Essex!! | Chris Gibson Wildlife

The Wild Side of Beth Chatto Gardens: the slide into Autumn… | Chris Gibson Wildlife

The Wild Side of Beth Chatto Gardens: after the rain…….. | Chris Gibson Wildlife

Each one is fully illustrated with photos taken on the day; if anyone wants to know the identity of anything depicted, please feel free to contact me through the Contact tab.

Visit the Beth Chatto Gardens and be inspired to Rewild your Mind!

The Wild Side of Beth Chatto Gardens: after the rain……..

Heavy drizzle preceded the fourth in my series of  ‘Meet the Wandering Naturalist’ sessions in the Gardens, and although it stopped ten minutes before the start, the first walk was still a pretty sodden affair. Not that it prevented several interested visitors joining me strolling around and looking at nature…

… and realising how lucky we were, given the ring of lowering clouds all round!

Flying insects were relatively few and far-between, most sitting around forlornly, only the bumble- and carder-bees, safely wrapped in their fur coats, creating a buzz in the borders, with Nepeta, Hylotelephium, Salvia yangii, Caryopteris and Vitex agnus-castus being especially sought out.

With a hungry nest to provision, Hornets were busy flying around and entering their nest in a hollow Cherry tree, although the nest entrance was tantalisingly out of sight; however the occupants of one of the above-ground-nesting wasp species (perhaps Median Wasp) remained quiescent.

And even if the insects were few, there were always the rampant scentscapes to enjoy, as always after rain, along with the twittering of House Martins and Swallows migrating overhead and the plaintive autumn song of Robins starting to swell, and of course the displays of rain-drops on many a plant, especially the mercurial spattering on Alchemilla:

During the second hour though the weather changed markedly. The sun came out and turned the garden into a sweltering, humid cauldron, with butterflies (seven species) and dragonflies (three species) responding immediately:

Echinacea, Rudbeckia, Eupatorium, Scabiosa and Foeniculum quickly became the focus for foragers, bees and hoverflies especially, but also a whole lot more …

… and of course for predators keen on making a meal of the pollinators …

… as well as other lookers-on:

Summer may be ending but the garden goes on; there are still plenty of flowers still to peak, to brighten up our lives and deliver their sustenance to the natural world:

If anyone would like to join me in the garden looking at its wildlife, I am planning on repeating this walk (weather permitting) on both 15th and 29th September, between 1100 and 1300. No need to book, just come to the garden (normal entry price – see our website for details) and ask at the Visitor Information Centre where I will be and when, and come along and find me! Nearer the time, if the weather is looking at all dodgy, please feel to contact me using the Contact tab above to check it is likely to be running.

While one can never predict what nature will deliver, I imagine it will be the copious nectar and pollen sources of members of the daisy family Asteraceae, together with Hylotelephium ice-plants in the gravel areas and flowering Ivy in the hedges that will be sustaining insect life. Birds could be heading south overhead and maybe the first fungi of autumn will be sprouting. So much to look forward to!

Blogs of previous events in this series can be found at:

The Wild Side of Beth Chatto Gardens: a butterfly bonanza! | Chris Gibson Wildlife

The Wild Side of Beth Chatto Gardens: the steamy jungles of Essex!! | Chris Gibson Wildlife

The Wild Side of Beth Chatto Gardens: the slide into Autumn… | Chris Gibson Wildlife

Each one is fully illustrated with photos taken on the day; if anyone wants to know the identity of anything depicted, please feel free to contact me through the Contact tab.

Visit the Beth Chatto Gardens and be inspired to Rewild your Mind!

The Wild Side of Beth Chatto Gardens: the slide into Autumn…

What a difference a couple of weeks makes! Compared with my previous walk The Wild Side of Beth Chatto Gardens: the steamy jungles of Essex!! | Chris Gibson Wildlife, the third in my series of  ‘Meet the Wandering Naturalist’ sessions in the Gardens coincided with a rather dull, blustery day; that and the advancing season combined to reduce the insect activity substantially. Nevertheless, there was more than enough for all who joined me strolling around and looking at nature.

Butterflies in particular were well down from their superabundance of the past month, with just a few Small Whites, Holly Blues, Gatekeepers and Red Admirals on show.

And the available insect food sources have moved on with the season.  Buddleia, Lavandula and Eryngium are all but over (though where any flowers remain they are still exerting strong attraction) ……

… Bistorta, Nepeta and Origanum are perhaps starting to fade but a major draw nonetheless ….

… and now the daisy family is really beginning to assert itself as a force in the garden. Echinacea in particular is a magnet for bees, hoverflies and many more.

Of course we are lucky to have the space and different ground conditions to grow plants that provide sequential nectar and pollen resources through the year, and at the moment there is a whole host of others sharing the  role:

Honeybees, bumblebees and hoverflies are among the most numerous of insect visitors …

… while parasitic tachinid flies also seem to be especially abundant at the moment. While often overlooked, their role in parasitising lepidopteran and other larvae cannot be overstated. The more the garden supports predators and parasites, the more its insect abundance (what some may call ‘pests’) are kept in check without recourse to poisons. Let’s hear it for our army of tachinids, ladybirds and wasps!

Dragonflies, damselflies and bush-crickets are also part of this predator realm, albeit relatively minor players numerically. This normally camouflaged Speckled Bush-cricket showed up remarkably well on the vivid Lythrum flowers …

… and damselflies included both the typical late-season Willow Emerald and this beautiful lilac-fronted form of Blue-tailed Damselfly, echoing the colours of its chosen perch.

But the bonus from their being fewer insects on show was that there was more time to talk about other wildlife, plants in particular. Coming into late summer, many are in fruit, and none is more distinctive than the unique churro-like seeds of Meadowsweet:

And although it may be a stretch too far to call planted plants ‘wildlife’, certainly anything that has embraced its wild side by spreading itself around the garden deserves that name. In the Gravel Garden, Fox-and-Cubs is doing that in such an artistic way that surely Beth would have approved…

… while in the same area, Sickle-leaved Hare’s-ear weaves its filigree fronds as a golden thread, linking the beds thematically and also through the years: once native to Essex, and only to Essex, when its habitat was threatened by roadworks half century ago it was rescued by a band of botanists – and it is likely that some of the seed came into Beth’s hands, and garden.

If anyone would like to join me in the garden looking at its wildlife, I am planning on repeating this walk (weather permitting) on 1st September, between 1100 and 1300. No need to book, just come to the garden (normal entry price – see our website for details) and ask at the Visitor Information Centre where I will be and when, and come along and find me! Nearer the time, if the weather is looking at all dodgy, please feel to contact me using the Contact tab above to check it is likely to be running.

While one can never predict what nature will deliver, my guess is that with the end of the season firmly in sight, it will be the copious nectar and pollen sources of members of the Asteraceae and also just-now-opening ice-plants of the genus Hylotelephium (perhaps better known as Sedum) that will be sustaining late breeding attempts and provisioning others for hibernation.

Blogs of previous events in this series can be found at:

The Wild Side of Beth Chatto Gardens: a butterfly bonanza! | Chris Gibson Wildlife and

The Wild Side of Beth Chatto Gardens: the steamy jungles of Essex!! | Chris Gibson Wildlife

Visit the Beth Chatto Gardens and be inspired to Rewild your Mind!