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Garden Wildlife – Green Orb-Weaver Spider (Araniella cucurbitina?)

IMG_1469After inspecting the peas today, I found a luminous green, plump little spider sitting on me. I put it onto the nearby sage herb, where i though it would be camouflaged, as it was a similar fresh green with a silver-blue glow. After some coaxing, it eventually decided to leave my hand and I went inside to get a camera. As it had been moving pretty quickly, i thought it would have disappeared by the time i got back, but it was still sitting on the underside of the leaf.

I took some pictures, and then watched as it began spinning a very fine web – fantastic! It was about half a centimetre long with orangey yellow legs and a flattened pea shaped fluorescent green body.

The spider is probably a female Araniella cucurbitina – a common native species found throughout the UK. It may also be A. opistographa – they are identical without a microscope. Found between April-October, and despite such bright colouring, they are rarely seen as they camouflage so well in the low bushes and hedgerows they favour. They eat flies and small insects. They are identifiable by the red patch above the spinnarets (see photo above) and weave tiny messy webs.

Identification images- eakringbirds – interesting natural history resource about Nottinghamshire invertebrates.

Species recording details at British Spiders

Macro images Eurospiders


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Paeonies – Part 3


The slightly later flowering peonies have now followed on from those in previous posts Paeonies – Part 1 & Paeonies – Part 2.

Felix Crousse is an old French hybrid from 1881, a lovely specimen with sumptuous large double cerise flowers. It is difficult to get a photograph of it as the colour contrasts so brightly with the green foliage, but it is a beautiful thing. It is delicately fragrant with neat compact foliage. The petals silver with age and sadly these also suffered from the extreme weather over the last few days.

Primavera is a lovely paeony, similar to Top Brass or Bowl of Beauty in its form, but less showy with compact blooms and subtle colouring – a pale pink cup and creamy yellow inside. It has a delicate floral scent – very pretty. As the blooms open, it produces a further pink flourish of petals from the centre.

Dr Alexander Fleming is a magnificent paeony, the last to open this year. Huge painterly buds striated pink, cerise & green, open up into massive perfectly formed flowers. They are a beautiful waterlily pink, their gently folded petals opening out in an upward slant. The scent is beautiful – of old-fashioned roses, sweet & floral. These flowers are huge, twice as big as Sarah Bernhardt for example, but elegant in their form, with a looser petal formation and wonderful strong colour. There are fewer blooms, too, giving space, structure and a sense of elegance to the plant.

Overall, this year’s display has been our best yet, showing how quickly paeonies can become established and productive plants. Providing the rhizomes are not planted too deeply, and given adequate care when planted – a deep hole, with drainage and organic matter mixed beneath the plant, and a sprinkling of mycorrhizal fungi – the plant should thrive. A couple of our plants didn’t flower, one was divided last year, so will probably take a year to recover, and the other, after investigation looks like the crown is too deep – probably where the mulches have been washed down the slope and collected between the stems. Some of the flowers are so large and heavy that they need staking, and proper solid supports left in place for them to grow up through are the easiest option we have tried, they are usually covered by foliage and fade from view fairly quickly.

With a selection of varieties, the flowering season can be staggered to provide prolonged interest, from early March when the enchanting Molly the Witch flowers (Paeonia mlokosewitschii), to April/May for the beautiful tree peonies, and then the lactiflora cultivars and intersectionals through June and July – our last to flower still has buds to open now in mid July. Paeonies are largely disease resistant – no unsightly blotches, or need for spraying. Insects do not cause damage to them – ants love the sap on the buds, but are harmless, and bees and pollinators adore them. The foliage is attractive all season and if cut back at the end of the year, should avoid fungal problems. They tolerate most soils, and even flower well in difficult clay. They are long-lived, a worthwhile investment as they often survive for 50-100 years with little care needed. Most of all they are romantic plants – like roses simultaneously delicate and show-stopping – with exciting, generous, fragrant flowers that draw you into the garden.

RHS advice

Monty Don article

Paeony Society UK

Do you love paeonies? Which is your favourite?


Paeonies – Part 2


Paeonies in the herbaceous border

Since writing the previous post, the first of the paeony flowers have gone through a process of opening fully and fading through different colours. This post shows how they look compared to when they first opened which you can see in Paeonies – Part 1. The rest of the plants have begun to flower too, these will be featured in Part 3. The final one opened its first bud a week ago, and together the various plants have made a wonderful display over June, and continue into July. Despite wind, rain and extreme heat, they have done well, and there was only one snapped stem casualty. The first varieties to bloom have been deadheaded to make room for their smaller buds to open, offering sweet mini flowers which reveal more of their inner colours than the massive first blooms.

Shirley Temple – the first to flower almost a month ago, has just about finished working through its multitude of buds, the flowers have faded from blush pink to a paler, whiter hue, and the last buds are small white cups with yellow centres and cerise-red seedpod tips peeping from the middle. These seedpods are very attractive and worth leaving on for colour, providing the plant is strong. It has a classic spicy, citrusy paeony note.

Top Brass has been astonishing – its leading flower growing so large and unbelievable that it looked as if it would detach itself and float away like some magical flying saucer! In the end we deadheaded it to make room for the two smaller buds to open, which were still flamboyant, but smaller and not as puffed up. The fragrance is much earthier, with a clove/cinnamon spiced tinge.

Lady Alexander Duff has continued to be a stunning plant, the first large upright flowers puffing out and fading to pale pink in the centre, giving a sensational two-tone effect, and even these appear generous rather than showy. Subsequent flowers reveal pretty yellow anthers amongst the inner petals, and the buds that remain are wonderfully pink and large. This peony is really good in a mixed border, as it has good structure and strength and its flowers open at different times, giving a nice contrast between the buds, freshly opened flowers, and fading blooms. The red stems and red-edged leaves are attractive, and the flowers have a classic heirloom citrus paeony scent.

Sarah Bernhardt took longer than expected to open – a nice attribute, considering its delightful pink and cerise striped buds. As they open, the outer petals begin to flick up away from the bud, eventually releasing the fresh inner petals in a halo of pale pink. These start off upright, and fill out from the centre, forming a double rose like formation, with a nice compact shape. The flower heads don’t grow as large as some of the other varieties, and have a lovely rose fragrance, so a nice choice for interest in a herbaceous border, or smaller space. Unfortunately a combination of heatwave, lightning storm, torrential rain and pollen beetle swarm has meant a slightly dishevelled finish; crisped browned petals dotted black with bugs! Whether it was the weather conditions – heat and heavy rainfall at the time of opening – the position – or just the habit of this variety, these flowers seemed to open in quick succession – perhaps an example of the impression a lot of people have that paeonies put on a good show, but don’t last long. Certainly some of the other varieties have lasted much longer in bloom, however this was by far the longest and loveliest in bud…

The next peonies to open will be in the upcoming post – Paeonies – Part 3 … coming soon!

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Garden Wildlife – Rusty Tussock Moth Caterpillar …

This amazing furry caterpillar fell onto my hand while i was gardening yesterday – luckily i had gloves on and could transfer it to a nearby geranium. It was black bodied with four amazing paint-brush like furry protrusions along its back – giving a strange dinosaur spike/mohican hairstyle effect. It waved long hairy brown feelers front, back and sides. Out of its red spots were spikey hairs, and the rest of its body was covered in fine hairs. (click on one of the pics to get a closer look). It took a while to figure out front and back, but it appeared to have red eyes and when it moved (presumably forward) it was pretty quick.

Having looked it up it appears to be a moth larvae, that of Orgyia antiqua, or the Vapourer moth. Commonly known as the Rusty Tussock moth, it feeds on deciduous trees and shrubs. Slightly disappointing then, that it swiftly made its way on to the nearby molly-the-witch paeony!!

The male moths are orangey brown with white eye spots and, unusually for a moth, fly during the day. The females are pale grey/brown with no proper wings and cannot fly, spending their short lives near their cocoons where they lay eggs which overwinter. You can see them between July to September.

wikipedia  info

Any moth enthusiasts out there that could confirm the species please leave a comment 🙂 thank you!


Paeonies Part 1

IMG_0874Paeony season is upon us, this nicest time of year when huge buds begin to open and offer magnificent ever-changing blooms. Like roses, paeonies have the ability to fit into a cottage garden seamlessly despite their startlingly large and showy blooms. They have the same old-fashioned charm, a hint of the orientalism and plant hunting expeditions that have shaped our gardens in Britain today. There is nothing more exciting than to wait for those buds to unfurl into endless delicate petals, the flowers seem to grow bigger each day. The real beauty of peonies lies in their colouring, they are subtle, pastel, calming colours, or deep stained cerises, very rose like in that respect and also highly scented. However their main advantage over roses (aside from the lack of thorns) are their beautiful glossy leaves, sometimes edged with red, which provide form and interest to the border throughout the year.

In May our tree paeonies (lutea ludlowii) made their best display yet, their delicate, sculptural, fresh green leaves having emerged from their alienesque trunks. The lovely papery outer-petals form a cup around the deeper rich yellow inner petals and stamens, giving a buttercup golden effect that glows in sunlight. These are brilliant large shrubs to grow for screening within a border, as they die back to sticks in the winter allowing easy gardening at the beginning of the year. They are quick to grow up early in the season and provide bushy but airy coverage.

By mid-June in the garden, the herbaceous (lactiflora) paeonies are starting to flower, most are looking healthy and a couple have over 60 buds – pretty impressive considering they were only planted 3 years ago. We were lucky to get so many of what are usually expensive specimens – they were small, neglected plants when we found them at the back of a nursery that had changed hands, and the new owners weren’t sure whether they were correctly labelled, so we couldn’t resist giving them a shot. We planted them carefully in deep holes with added grit and compost, leaving their crowns at soil level and sprinkling mycorrhizal fungi around the roots. We add some compost in a loose circle around the base in spring and water as the buds are forming if is exceptionally dry.

First to begin flowering this year was Shirley Temple – with pale pink, large headed flowers, which fade to cream as they puff open and reveal tiny flecks of cerise inside.

Top Brass is a slightly taller plant with bigger leaves and extraordinarily massive flowers which start out like water lillies, with pink outer petals and a yellow buttercup middle. This mid-section grows taller as the outer petals fold down and fade to white as a final flourish of fresh pink petals erupt from the inside – making an gigantic tri-colour bloom! This one flower has taken a week to fully open, it will be interesting to see how the smaller buds differ.

Lady Alexander Duff – this most pretty of paeonies, has slightly darker pale pink blooms, more subtle and less showy. The stunning just-open stage lasts longer, and opens to a classic rose cup shape. Its outer petals remain darker with paler petals inside, and yellow stamens can be seen on the smaller buds as they open. Its stems are red and its upper leaves are delicately edged in red too – a perfect paeony!

Sarah Bernhardt will probably be next with her gorgeous raspberry ripple buds waiting to burst, another strong plant with dark green, deep veined foliage and around 60 buds… spectacular! More to follow this week 🙂 – see Paeonies – Part 2

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Fritillary Fever

Snakeshead fritillaries (fritillaria meleagris) are lovely wildflowers, with sweet nodding heads which are either a fantastic chequered purple, or warm white. They have the ability to catch the light like glowing lanterns, and appear unassumingly from the ground with no more fuss than a blade of grass. They ideally love water meadows, and are now considered vulnerable on the red data list as we have lost over 95% of our wet meadows which have been drained and cleared for agriculture. A couple of sites remain around the country – see list here which are definitely on our wish list to see. We visited the Batsford Arboretum a few years ago where they had naturalised into the lawns, and decided to try to them in our garden. Despite being described as difficult to grow, we have found them a joy – we bought a small pot of flowering plants from Rasells Nursery and divided them up into different areas – a few in the lawn, some in the border, and a couple in a barrel. Our soil is rich but not damp, the tallest and strongest are those in the barrel, mixed with other bulbs, alliums and geraniums. Most excitingly we have for two years now, had a triple headed specimen  (see pics below) – apparently there are mutations that can occasionally result in two flowers per stem, and very rarely three! We have noticed another triple headed plant this year, and some double headed ones next to the first plant, so we will try to collect seed this year to see whether that will produce similar results (although it could take up to 8 years before it flowers to find out)!

info – www.floodplainmeadows.org.uk

north meadow reserve

Iffley meadows

wildlife trust reserves

other places to see wild fritillaries


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Spring Blossom

Well, blossom season is drawing to its end now, as we come into spring proper… It has been a wonderful year full of gorgeous colour, the frosts have been kind and there has been some lovely weather to enjoy the displays. Our favourites this year have been the stunning old white cherry at the end of the garden with its arching boughs and generous blossom which falls like confetti in the wind, the tight pink buds of the crabapples, the perfect apple blossom of James Grieve – big cerise buds against the green leaves, with flowers that fade to paler and paler pink as they open, to reveal their fluffy yellow anthers, and the achingly beautiful abundance of flowers on the malus floribundas. We planted a bird cherry last year (prunus padus) – which are native to the UK and can look magnificent as large specimens, and even in its first year it looked interesting with its elongated arching flower spikes.  Although blossom on individual trees is transient and sometimes fleeting, the season for blossom is a long one and it is definitely worth planting different varieties to brighten those early spring days. Some of the blossoms are wonderfully fragrant, and they are attractive to many pollinating insects which should consequently reward you with fruit in autumn. Blossom is always something we look forward to after Winter, and you can’t beat the excitement of watching your own trees spring to life.