Saturday, 24 August 2013

Late summer stars ...

thornless blackberries ripening

A few mornings this week have hinted at the coming of autumn in their coolness ... dampness ... mistiness; blackberries and elderberries are ripening; even the trees are feeling it with occasional leaves turning to shades of yellow and red. In the walled garden at least, we're trying to hang on to summer a little bit longer with all sorts of bright flowering herbaceous plants providing a colourful feast for human eyes, and nectar and pollen for a whole host of insects too.
Japanese anemones
The misleadingly named Japanese anemones (actually native to China) are one of the few herbaceous perennials that can keep their flowers coming right through till late autumn. Currently flowering in our herbaceous border they can be seen offering up their pale pink petals and ring of bright yellow stamens in a delicate display that belies their rather invasive tendencies.
Inula hookeri
Another star of our herbaceous border is the vivid yellow inula whose flowers seem to beautifully imitate the sun and are a magnet to bees.
Papaver comutatum
Neighbours to the inula are these tiny ladybird poppies who make up for their lack of stature with luminous crimson petals that each have a black spot at the base. If you look carefully, hoverflies can often be seen feeding in the soft bowls of their flowers.
Echinacea purpurea
Another particular haunt of bees and hoverflies is that wildflower native to North America, the purple coneflower. The three hoverflies caught feeding above are also known as Marmalade Flies (Episyrphus balteatus) and can often be seen in our gardens in July and August when they migrate over from continental Europe. They have a distinctive double black band on their abdomens.
Phacelia tanacetifolia
The 2 large beds of phacelia (see this post for more information) are also proving a huge hit with human and insect visitors alike.
Salvia viridis

It is outside the walled garden, at the top of the shrubbery walk, where the most asked about plant this week resides, and it is the humble annual clary sage. A member of the same family as the culinary herb, this sage has attractive large bracts in shades of pink, purple and white. It's a lovely annual for path and border edges providing colour right through to the end of September.
Sunflower "Little Leo"
Autumn may be snapping at the heels of summer, but here in the walled garden at Gibside there's still plenty of life and colour to be found, so why not come and see these stars of late summer for yourselves!

Monday, 19 August 2013

West Wood LWS survey Blog 3: A season’s passing (14 August 2013)

A short visit was made a few weeks ago to search for lesser skullcap, devil’s bit scabious and hairy brome. Two out of three wasn’t bad for half a day’s work - though admittedly we had some help. From time to time we come across a fellow naturalist wandering through the Gibside grounds – binoculars and notebook at the ready. The few words we have in passing often give a clue to his considerable knowledge and understanding of our local wildlife, and to his thoroughness of approach. He’s also good at spotting things that we have just walked by and failed to see. On this occasion, it was hairy brome – a grass that stands five feet tall – and the tiny green pin-cushion of an emerging devil’s bit scabious flower. He was pretty much convinced that we wouldn’t find lesser skullcap in West Wood.

Devil's Bit Scabious

Of course, we haven’t given up on finding lesser skullcap; it could still appear over the coming few weeks – but not today. And, though convinced earlier in the year that we had found the remnants of wood barley from the previous season, our search of the panhandle woods was also unsuccessful.

Small White Butterfly

Speckled Wood Butterfly
There were some worthwhile finds though. Immature robins and meadow pipits provide evidence of the presence of breeding birds, and purple loosestrife on a woodland trackside a lovely surprise.

Purple Loosestrife
Measured by the timing of school holidays, this is the height of summer. Indeed, there is still much colour and new growth on tracksides, field edges and stream banks, and ferns – mainly bracken, male fern and common buckler – densely cover the woodland floor. But there are many signs of change: yellowing leaves of the remains of wood anemone, a solitary flower on an extensive patch of yellow pimpernel, and short-lived heads of burdock turning to seed marking a season’s passing.

Hover Fly Approaching Common Hemp Nettle Flower
Steve Wootten & Phil Coyne