Green Tinged Fingers?

Since taking over garden duties at “Ratz Manor” my tasks have been pretty much confined to hacking back the briars, in scenes reminiscent of Sleeping Beauty. I have purchased a few cheap plants and thrown them into the ground to take their chances. I was also buoyed by my success with my Alpine trough (although I understand that Alpines are almost impossible to kill).Photo of alpine trough

I was admiring a far more competent gardener’s flowers on Twitter and she very kindly posted me some seeds. I decided to reclaim a flower border that the lawn had encroached onto. The principles of “no dig” gardening appealed to me, so I put newspaper down on the grassy bits, soaked it and covered it with some rough garden compost. I then put down a layer of peat free compost.

Spring arrived and I sowed some of the seeds. We had some late frosts and nothing was growing, so I sowed some more. Of course we then had a heatwave and drought, but I diligently watered them every day. I was perhaps a little over excited when some seedlings started to show themselves. I did a little dance when there was an actual flower bud.

I love the colour of the sulphur cosmos.Photo of orange flower

Cosmos flowers were used to create dye by the inhabitants of America before the Europeans arrived. Indeed they are still being used as a dye now, this website shows you how.Photo of orange flower

The calendula also flowered and in different varieties. These are members of the daisy family and include marigolds. They are often used to decorate Hindu statues.Photo of yellow flower

Calendula petals are edible and can be used in salads and soups. They are also used as a cheap alternative to saffron and used to colour cheese. They can also be used as a fabric dye.Photo of yellow flower

Calendula is considered to have healing properties and was used to treat wounds during the American Civil War and WWI.Photo of yellow flower

Both the cosmos and the calendula have fulfilled their roles in my garden border by looking attractive and being useful to pollinators such as hoverflies.Photo of hoverfly on orange flower

If you wish to see these and other flowers being put to much better effect, see Nadine Mitschunas’ wildlife garden blog here.Photo of hoverfly on yellow flowers

Ashy Mining Bees

The ashy mining bee, Andrena cineraria, is described as being one of the easiest of the solitary bee species to identify. This is how I know one when I see one. black and white bee on white flower

They are black with two ashy grey bands, the males and females are similarly marked, but the females are larger and the males have tufty grey hairs around their face. You can submit a sighting and white bee on white flower

They fly between early April and June. They nest in the ground, sometimes in groups, in lawns and flower beds. They prefer sandy soil and a sunny and white bee on white flower

They feed on a wide variety of blossoms and flowers. In this instance there were four of them feeding on cow parsley. There were also many other bees and hoverflies at the same time, but cow parsley is also a useful food source for butterflies and and white bee on white flower

Cow parsley, Anthriscus sylvestris, is often found in woodland and verges. It is a member of the carrot family with distinctive white umbels. It has the fancier name of Queen Anne’s Lace, the common name suggest that it is an inferior parsley. The leaves can indeed be used in salads. However, cow parsley is easily confused with hemlock which is deadly. It is also known as Mother-Die as superstition had it that if it was brought into the house it would kill your mother. The hollow stems can be used as pea shooters.

Yet another name used is kecks, and it is using this term that Shakespeare mentions them in “Henry V”. The Duke of Burgundy refers to them in rather disparaging terms:

Wanting the scythe, all uncorrected, rank,
Conceives by idleness and nothing teems
But hateful docks, rough thistles, kecksies, burs,
Losing both beauty and utility.

Being idle myself I have failed to scythe these kecksies, but the various bees and hoverflies have benefited and personally I find this inferior parsley to be a very attractive plant; a froth of white dancing among the greenery.white flowers



Ahoy There Red Admiral!

The ivy is starting to flower and combined with some sunshine it lures in the pollinators. This pristine red admiral butterfly (Vanessa Atalanta) sunned itself on the nearby laurel leaves.Photo of red admiral

It tried a variety of poses so that I could get its best side.Photo of red admiralMost of these butterflies migrate to the UK from central Europe in May and June. As the climate has become generally milder some hibernate in the south of England.Photo of red admiral

The butterflies that are emerging now are the brood that have hatched here.Photo of red admiral

The adults feed from a variety of nectar sources, they are also partial to rotting fruit.Photo of red admiralThey lay their eggs on the larval food plant, nettles.Photo of red admiralHaving posed sufficiently, the butterfly then had a tasty snack of ivy nectar.Photo of red admiralThe ivy also attracted a rather tatty comma butterfly, along with some bees and hoverflies.





Sunny Buzzers and Minty Loungers

August was a bit of wash out, but we did have a couple of sunny days which brought out the insects. This golden shimmering hoverfly, Xylota segnis for one.

The yellow rose was the sun lounger of choice for this hoverfly, one of the Eristalis family I believe.

The goldenrod is a regular favourite for the honeybees.

This bumblebee was having to get at the cyclamen upside down.

The bees decided to freshen up on the mint flowers.

The mint moths were inevitably to be found there too.

Also lurking in the mint was this green shield bug nymph.Photo of speckled bush cricket nymph

The speckled wood butterfly decided the ivy was the best place to catch some much needed rays.Photo of speckled wood butterfly

Hawkweed Hoverers

In keeping with our tradition of having more plants blooming on the paths than in the borders, the paving cracks are bursting forth with these cheery yellow hawkweed of cat's ear

Hawkweeds are related to dandelions and are members of the Asteraceae family, genus  hierakion. The name is derived from the Greek word for hawk, hierax, folklore has it that hawks drank the juice of this plant to sharpen their eyesight.  There are many different species of hawkweed and a great deal of variation within them. The only one that I can confidently identify is the orange hawkweed, Pilosella aurantiaca, commonly known as “fox and cubs”. It is a beautiful wildflower that is in the RHS top 400 perfect plants for pollinators.Photo of fox-and-cubs

The delightfully named mouse ear hawkweed was a folk medicine for coughs. The apothecary to James I, John Parkinson, also suggested it as a sedative for horses, ‘Mouseare’ be given to any horse it ‘will cause that he shall not be hurt by the smith that shooeth him.’

On one of the few sunny days that we had this summer I found that the hawkweed was being enjoyed by this little solitary bee. A kind person suggested that it was likely to be of the genus Lasioglossum.Photo of bee on hawkweed

Another hawkweed hoverer was this drone hoverfly, a bee mimic. Photo of hoverfly on hawkweed

As you can see it is doing a fantastic job of collecting and redistributing pollen. Photo of hoverfly on hawkweed

I am not clever enough to tell whether it is Eristalis pertinax or Eristalis tenax. Photo of hoverfly on hawkweed

Tenax has black ankles and pertinax has yellow ankles, so it is all down to the hoverfly’s ankles rather than the bee’s knees.Photo of hoverfly on hawkweedThe goldenrod was another bright yellow flower attracting pollinating insects.


Spring Things

So, spring seemed to burst into life before being hit by an icy blast again. Here are some of the things that came out in the sunshine. I will start with the dark purple tulips that I planted.Photo of purple tulip

Red tulips.Photo of tulips

Mini tulip.Photo of mini tulip

The comma butterfly posed nicely for me, while an orange tip butterfly thwarted my every effort.

The holly blue came out rather overexposed, but I was just grateful that I got a shot of it.Photo of holly blue butterfly

There were hoverflies, I think this is a Marmalade Hoverfly.

I thought that this was a sort of hoverfly, but it seems it is a sawfly.Photo of sawfly

I think this is a type of solitary bee.

Pretty sure this is an Ashy Mining Bee.Photo of ashy mining beeBee enjoying the last of the flowering currant.

I was rather pleased with this shot of a buff tailed bumblebee in flight. Sometimes I get lucky.buff tailed bumblebeeSome ladybirds were getting friendly with each other. Unfortunately, as they are non-native harlequins, they aren’t friendly to anything else.

Weeds? I don’t seen any weeds, just pretty flowers that feed our pollinators.

And finally, here is the lilac bush taken by flash at night. It gives off the most lovely scent day and night.Photo of lilac bush at night

Champagne Ivy Part One

“Champagne Ivy is my name …” sang Miriam Hopkins, arousing the base passions of Fredric Marsh in his definitive portrayal of Mr Hyde (Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde 1931). Ivy seems to have the same effect on bees.Photo of bee on ivy

Ivy only flowers if it is allowed to grow upwards, on a wall or tree for example. By flowering in autumn it provides a vital source of pollen and nectar for bees and other insects as they prepare for winter.Photo of bee landing on ivy

The ivy flowers were buzzing with honey bees, hoverflies, wasps, flies and butterflies in an insect feeding frenzy.

Lying in wait for any hapless flying insects, this spider knew a good place to set up her web.Photo of spider

Also prowling the ivy were these two harlequin ladybirds.

The ivy was definitely the bees knees and the tipple of choice.Photo of bee on ivy

If you have nothing to do for just over a minute you might like to watch my video here.

Busy Buzzers

During the calm sunny bits so far this July, yes there have been a couple, the buzzing things have been busy. I don’t know what this purple flower is, but it seems to have proved useful.Bee on purple flower

The bramble flowers are just coming out, they are always a big hit.Bee on Bramble

Flavour of the month so far though is this privet shrub. It was vibrating with the busy buzz of bees and hoverflies. There was also a tortoiseshell butterfly flitting around, but it seemed to be camera shy.

Ivy Safari

Photo of ivy flowersOld lags of this blog will recall me extolling the virtues of ivy in a previous post, The Ivy is A-buzz. It is around this time of the year that the ivy becomes rather interesting and we can don our pith helmets and go on an ivy safari.

While most plants are hunkering down ready for winter, ivy produces flowers in the autumn. These are very rich in nectar, 49% sugar by some estimates, thereby attracting a range of insects. In order to produce flowers the ivy has to be allowed to climb up a structure such as a tree or other garden structure.

If you are lucky and the weather has been kind, you might find late season butterflies feasting on your ivy flowers; these could include commas, red admirals, speckled woods and holly blues. The latter also lay their eggs in ivy, which is the food source for its caterpillars.

Another insect that I was looking out for, but didn’t find, was the ivy bee, Colletes hederae. This bee was first recorded in the UK in 2001 and is most prevalent in the south of the country. There is more information about the bee and how to record any sightings on the BWARS website here.

So, what did I find? Honey bees and wasps were the most obvious stripy visitors.

I also found some drone hoverflies, Eristalis tenax. Named after their resemblance to drone bees, they are important pollinators in their own right. They do not sting, but the assumption that they do no doubt offers them protection from potential predators. I recommend visiting Ryan Clark’s ecology blog for information and lovely photographs of pollinators, but particularly check out his post on hoverflies here.

As well as providing nectar for insects and winter berries for birds, ivy also provides a good source of cover, or a sunbed, for other critters. For instance, I spotted this spotless harlequin ladybird.

Also wandering through the leaves was this shield bug. Kindly identified, via Twitter, as a gorse shield bug by Sinéad @chonchoille81 something I hadn’t considered as we have no gorse around here. This is its late summer colouring. They will also feed on members of the broom plant family. I have blogged about green shield bugs previously.

So there ends our safari. I hope that you will allow some ivy to grow in a patch of garden or up a wall then you can go on your own safari and let us know what you find. Remember, as with all explorations, “Take nothing but memories, leave nothing but footprints.”

Photo of Chief Si'ahl

Chief Si’ahl – Public domain image via Wikimedia Commons

This quote has been attributed to Chief Si’ahl (Seattle) of the Duwamish tribe in 1854. Although there is some controversy over the translation, it is still a good piece of advice.

Winged Things

After the ridiculously rainy winter, the warm sunny spring brought forth a proliferation of flowering blooms and with them their evolutionary co-conspirators – the of peacock butterfly

First off the blocks we have the peacock butterfly. There were a lot of white butterflies and a couple of tortoiseshells, but only the flash showy peacock posed for a photograph. The “eyes” are thought to deter predators such as mice and it is also able to make a hissing noise by rubbing its wings together. There is a link to a free e-book about British butterflies on my earlier post here.

Of course I can dig up some folklore about butterflies. As they emerge from dead looking pupae it was thought that they were the souls of the dead, or alternatively the soul of a witch. The Russian for butterfly is babochka meaning little soul. It was considered prudent to kill the first butterfly that you saw in spring to avoid it haunting you for the rest of the year. Conversely if a butterfly flies into your home, it is considered to be lucky and all of the doors and windows should be shut to keep it in. If you are wondering why the butterfly fluttered by, it was because it saw the dragonfly drink the flagon dry, presumably the butterfly was seeking a better stocked of honey bee in buttercup

Then we have the hard working honey bee, pollinator of many of our fruits and crops, around 90% of the world’s plants depend upon pollination by bees and similar insects. This little buzzing friend is in serious trouble and consequently so are we. It is widely accepted by scientists after numerous studies that the collapse in bee numbers is due to the use of pesticides. Neonicotinoids in particular are thought to disorientate the bee, preventing it from returning to the hive. Currently a new bio-pesticide made from spider venom is being tested which seems to kill pests but not adversely affect honey of wasp

Our old friend the wasp. What, you don’t like wasps? Then head over to my blog post about wasps here and download the free e-book “Wasps and their Ways” you will never look at wasps the same way again. There is also a natty product called a Waspinator which mimics a wasp nest and deters wasps from setting up home in your home. My blog is not popular enough to have paid adverts, so this is a personal recommendation, so far we have had no wasp nests.

Here is a nice collection of hoverflies, for more information and links to hoverfly ID sites, have a little click here.

I am also very pleased to say that the garden is so full of bumblebees that it sounds like a Lancaster aeroplane is circling around. The cotoneaster flowers seemed to be a big hit with them, so it is a pity that this plant is a problematic invasive species. For more bumblebee fun and links to ID sites you might like to look here.

I shall leave the last word to Hans Christian Anderson’s butterfly:

“Just living is not enough,” said the butterfly, “one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.”


The Ivy is A-Buzz

Ivy is an evergreen climbing plant that will quickly cover walls and trees if left unchecked. Needless to say, in Rambling Ratz’s garden it is left unchecked.

photo of bee

Honey Bee

However, before you leap to judgement about my scruffiness, allow me to explain how useful ivy is. The leaves provide food for caterpillars; the flowers produce nectar for bees, butterflies, hoverflies and other flying insects and the berries sustain the birds through winter. These berries are mildly toxic to humans, but poisonings are rare as they taste so bitter.This is not the same as Poison Ivy found in North America.

hoverfly on ivyHoverflies are true flies that have evolved to mimic wasps and bees to deter predators. They do not sting. There are over two hundred and fifty different types in the UK. This site has a useful gallery of them, I believe the hoverfly in these photos is a type of Epistrophe.

As you may have guessed, there is some folklore involving ivy. Dissolving ivy berries in vinegar and drinking the concoction before imbibing alcohol was supposed to prevent a hangover. The Greeks named the plant, Cissos after the dancing girl who danced herself to death for Dionysus the god of wine and merrymaking. He was so impressed by her twirling that he immortalized her as an ivy of hoverfly on ivy

It is one of the Christmas evergreen decorations along with holly and mistletoe, but you mustn’t cut it before Christmas Eve or there will be disharmony in the household; this could explain many a festive falling out. People are unsure about how lucky ivy actually is, so to be on the safe side it is best to decorate only the outside of your house with it.

photo of hoverfly on ivyAnother fun thing you can do with ivy, as Hallowe’en approaches, is for each family member to write their name on an ivy leaf and leave it overnight in a bowl of water. When the leaves are checked in the morning, if someone’s name has turned into the shape of a coffin, their death is imminent; that’ll be a nice game for the kids! A cheerier thing to do with ivy at Hallowe’en is for a man to pick ten ivy leaves and place nine of them under his pillow so that he will dream of his true love. Finally an ivy wreath placed on the grave of a loved one at Hallowe’en will apparently protect their soul.

As ever Rambling Ratz does not endorse the above folk remedies, drinking to excess or accepting bookings from Greek gods to entertain them.DSCN0146-hoverfly