Blog Archives: WildWivenhoe

#WildEssexWalks – Wivenhoe Woods in Winter

The first WildEssex walk of the year, to our lovely Wivenhoe Woods, was in just the perfect weather – sunshine and little wind, but the legacy of the previous wet days and weeks was evident with the squelchy woodland floor (though we avoided the quagmire areas so as not to lose any of our boots!). Our revised route was not quite what we had envisaged, but we still managed to discover some stories about the ecology and history of the place.

First we criss-crossed the King George’s Field, to look at some of the specimen species, relics of when that area was the park of Wivenhoe Hall. The Cedar of Lebanon, such a statuesque tree, was providing shelter for some tinkling Goldcrests which we were able to admire as they flitted in and out. Other woodland birds heard throughout the two hours included vociferous Robins and Dunnocks, Great Tits (teacher, teacher!) as well as Carrion Crows and the ubiquitous Woodpigeons.

We looked at some of the more usual tree species including Elms: those found in this area always only small, as when they achieve a certain size the beetle which spreads the pathogen which causes Dutch Elm disease can move in. The trees die off, but new ones begin to grow from the roots in their place, thus full-size trees never get the chance to grow.  A shame, but something we have got used to in the English countryside now.

Other trees of note on the KGV include Holm Oaks, and we especially noticed their leaves, where evidence of leaf miners was very apparent. The minute caterpillar of a particular tiny moth lives in between the layers of the leaf, each creature creating a squiggle that represents almost the whole life of these tiny creatures  – the adults fly only for a few hours. The chambers so created fill up with ‘frass’ (poo to you and me) – guess it has to go somewhere!

Then on the leaves of Holly, a similar phenomenon, but in this case the blotch mines of a Holly Leaf-miner Fly:

Once in the wood itself we could see among the leaf litter plants beginning to sprout through, including the spring greens of  Cow Parsley; unfurling Wild Arum (a plant with many vernacular names, most referring to male/female ‘parts’,  for example Cuckoo Pint, Lords-and-ladies, Jack-in-the-Pulpit); dangly catkins of Alder; and the new shoots of Honeysuckle, always a harbinger of Spring.

Butchers’ Broom is quite a special plant – not only for how it looks  (the flowers grow out of middle of the leaves) but also for the mystery of how it manages to get pollinated and to spread: it seems to have lost its pollinators and dispersers in the mists of time since it first evolved…

In a damp woodland you would hope to find fungi and we were not disappointed with a couple of types of Jelly Fungus including a wonderful Yellow Brain Fungus.

In a similar way to leaf mines, ‘galls’  show evidence often of insect activity. These are ‘damage limitation’ structures, when a part of a tree (be it leaf, twig, fruit, bud etc) have a small creature (could be a small wasp, fly or mite) lay their eggs in it. The tree creates a unique-looking growth which is how the insects are identified (they are much too small to notice with the naked eye!). Oak trees are particularly good places to look for galls (over 50 types can be found), and we were impressed by these Marble Galls, clearly showing the exit hole of the wasp when fully mature.

As to actual insects, we found none of note, but on the recce yesterday Chris did find this 7-spot Ladybird and a Green Shieldbug in its winter coloration. Presumably this colour-way would be good camouflage against brown leaf-litter but it showed up rather well against a green leaf.  As the season progresses it will change colour to a much brighter green and become much harder to spot!

We wandered down towards the estuary for a bit of bird-watching and were rewarded with Black-tailed Godwits, Oystercatchers and Teals. Some of these birds will be resident and others visiting from much colder climes.

Plants on the salt-marsh included the Cord Grass and that too had a growth on it – the Ergot Fungus. Harmless growing here ( we don’t eat Cord Grass), it can be devastating when it grows unchecked on food crops, causing madness or death.

Another new word for the day was ‘marcescence’, the phenomenon whereby leaves are retained on a tree after they have died and are no longer functional. No known reason for it, but very distinct in a few of the Oaks and Sweet Chestnuts along this part of the Wivenhoe Trail.

Then a final flourish of colour in the Station car park ( thankfully unsprayed as yet, though guess it won’t be long….):  a beautiful Dandelion and a vital source of sustenance for a passing early bee.

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!

#WildEssex New Year Plant Hunt 2024

Each year, the Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland organises a New Year plant hunt, encouraging botanists and other interested folk out of their midwinter slumber to see what plants are flowering. As has become tradition, we contributed to the national picture by arranging a walk around Wivenhoe Waterfront on New Year’s Day. And we would like to thank the keen, sharp-eyed group who helped us spot things! All data collected in this citizen science project have been fed into the national record of what is flowering at this time: for more information see New Year Plant Hunt – Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland (bsbi.org). It is good to be part of a bigger project to aid learning about how British and Irish wildflowers are responding to climate change. 

On our recce a few days ago it soon became apparent that there were more species flowering than last year when December frosts curtailed the show. The ‘usual suspects’ included Gorse, Hazel, White Dead-nettle, Groundsel, Annual Mercury, Shepherd’s-purse and Common Chickweed, with Daisy and Dandelion lighting up many a patch of grass.

Some of the older walls and brickwork had patches of Mexican Fleabane, Trailing Bellflower and Ivy-leaved Toadflax, while other showy plants included Green Alkanet and Herb-Robert, and more surprisingly both Cow Parsley and Wild Carrot.

Along the waterfront itself, in the cracks of the block paving, Four-leaved Allseed is more abundant than it has ever been since its arrival here some five years ago. Careful searching was needed to find evidence of actual flowers  – they are rather subtle even at the best of times! Similarly, Guernsey Fleabane and Pellitory-of-the-wall only got added to our flowering list after close scrutiny.

Finally on the salt-marshes, Common Cord-grass dangled its naughty bits wantonly to the wind, but the best botanical find of the day we couldn’t count: a single non-flowering sprig of Shrubby Sea-blite, a good couple of kilometres further up the estuary than we have ever found before.

All in all, 34 species in flower (for a full list, see here NYD plant hunt 2024) in the wild was a good haul, certainly well above the 23 in 2023 and almost up to our highest-ever count of 35 in 2022, although ‘good’ is a bit of a loaded term – many of these plants should not be flowering now, and are doing so only because of the harm we have inflicted upon our climate…

Naturally, although a botanical trip, we didn’t overlook other wildlife. The song of Robins was a feast for the ears, a party of Long-tailed Tits trilled around a garden, a Red Kite drifted low and slow overhead,  the fruiting bodies of Cord-grass Ergot were erupting from their host-plant, and we were pleased to find several 7-spot Ladybirds and Rosemary Beetles, those mobile jewels, on a Rosemary bush, mostly paired and in the process of making more beetles. All a very hopeful sign for a wildlife-filled 2024!

 

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!

#WildEssexWalks – beside the seaside at the Naze

Our last WildEssex walk of 2023 was a most enjoyable event. Against a backdrop of variable cloudscapes, a few spots of rain and some warm sunshine, our group of enthusiastic ladies were treated to birds, trees, lichens and mosses, fungi, rare plants plus fossils, shells and dramatic cliffs along the beach, in fact all kinds of everything!

Autumn colours abounded – red fruits, lichens giving some of the established trees atop the cliffs an eerie green or yellow glow, and the fresh green patches of moss on concrete hardstandings, a reminder of the chequered 20th century history of the site.

As befits this damp season, fungi were to be found everywhere, including Mosaic Puffballs in the grass, Birch Bracket gently killing and rotting its host Silver Birch tree, plus several species of mini – and most charming – fungi on tree branches.

Gorse of course was in flower, as more surprisingly was Sea Hog’s-fennel, along with a beautiful pink form of Yarrow.

When the sun shone a few invertebrates presented themselves, including this harvestman and Marmalade Hoverfly.

Our afternoon session was down on the beach, enjoying that whatever-age-you-are-it’s-fun activity of beachcombing.  Pyritized wood and fossilised shells were everywhere, the rusty hue of the latter indicative of many their millions of years stuck in the sandy cliff.

Erosion is a continual event along the cliffs, and there had been several recent landslides leaving dramatic profiles against the by-now-blue sky.

Being a Beside the Sea day, we were also on the lookout for birdlife.  One of the magical moments was the discovery of a Kestrel having an early lunch of a smaller feathered friend, using one of the ex-wartime gun batteries as a dining table. He was completely unfazed as we stood by watching and taking photos.

Along the shore were the usual suspects of Brent Geese, Grey Plovers,  Bar-tailed Godwits and various gulls, all going about their daily business of eating and shooing each other out of the way.

We are very fortunate to have this wonderful area on our doorstep –  a veritable time-machine enabling us to witness life over the past fifty million years!

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!

#WildEssexWalks – an autumn stroll along the Colne Estuary

The sun was shining brightly, the skies were blue. But the season had noticeably changed. A spiky northerly wind dropped the temperature by maybe 8 degrees Centigrade in just a couple of days , and we were straight into the depths of autumn. It felt like autumn, and it smelt like autumn especially in Grange wood, the humusy moistness laced with a distinct fungal musk. While all we could see were Birch Bracket, Fly Agaric and Penny Bun, nature’s recycling army is now advancing steadily.

And galls are now more in evidence than at any other time of year:

Down at the estuary, at was the highest of tides, the water barely moving during our two hours, so waders were few and far between, save for a scattering of Redshanks and Black-tailed Godwits, with a sixty-strong knot of Avocets hunkered down on the Fingringhoe mudflats. Looking inland, a few Meadow Pipits dashed around the grazing marsh as the ever-reliable Little Egrets stalked the borrowdyke and ditches.

There were still a few flowers, from Strawberry Clover on the sea wall to Cord-grass wantonly hanging its naughty bits to the wind…

… while the clocks of Sea Aster lit up with every ray of an ever-lowering sun.

But on the saltmarshes, the signals of the season are more in the form of colour changes, from greens to a kaleidoscope of yellows, russets and purples. The different species of Marsh Samphire each show their own characteristic autumn tint…

…while the sole species of Annual Sea-blite turns to every colour on the rainbow spectrum.

And even Shrubby Seablite, for so much of the year a stolid, matt-green presence on the sea walls, is touched with shining salmon highlights:

The fires of autumn are stealing across our landscape, and with early frosts in the forecast, those flames will surely be fanned. The next few weeks are full of promise, so enjoy them while you can! Thanks to all who joined us; our next couple of walks are detailed here.

 

 

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!