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Saturday, 30 March 2013

Saturday snaps


It wasn't warm but it looked and felt wonderful!


Aaaarrggh that wasn't forecast!

Happy Easter, everyone!!! 

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Little treasures in the woodland

Whilst the fauna and flora seem to know it is spring, the weather doesn't! Temperatures aren't much different from what we've had all winter, which was mild for January but rather chilly for the end of March. We are pitifully grateful for even an hour of hazy sunshine and there's not even much of that about. However it's been mostly dry so we've been cracking on with garden jobs.

In between or during work in the garden I've been out and about with my camera recording the tiny life in the garden and in particular, my little woodland area. You'd be forgiven for thinking it was still mid-winter at first glance, but actually there are plenty of signs there with trees budding up, wild flowers, leaf buds unfurling and small insects about. You just need to look more closely.

One plant that is quite apparent in amongst the sparse grass in the shady pathways and mown glades in our woodland is Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria), which I am always really glad to see. There is something so wonderful and cheery about the colour yellow in early spring, which always looks sunny even when it isn't!

Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria)

There is even some blossom on a sparse and spindly shrub which I think is a Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa). I'm unsure because it doesn't seem to have any real thorns like a Blackthorn should, so it is possible that it's a Damson as it looks very much the same. However as it is very shady where it grows it doesn't bear fruit so it's hard to tell.

Blackthorn or Damson?

I don't care, it's pretty in flower!

It's not quite Dandelion season yet when many of the fields around here will turn a glorious golden colour. Who can moan about these beautiful flowers? (OK, I do, when they decide to self seed right in the middle of an ornamental plant and I can't dig it out!) But wild, they are just lovely and like all wild flowers, provide pollen for the hungry, early emerging insects.

Dandelion opening up

I found another miniscule flower when I was down on my hands and knees bug hunting. The flower is similar to another wildflower/garden weed I call Speedwell (a so far unidentified Veronica), but it is much tinier. I believe this is the Ivy Leafed Speedwell (Veronica hederifolia).

Every flower is pretty, no matter how tiny,
and will be used by tiny insects to feed upon

There are insects out and about. Even on the dull days I've been seeing and hearing bumble bees - I expect they are queens looking for a nesting site as they are flying around all over the place and not necessarily looking for food. I found this little shield bug in the woodland too which is one I haven't encountered before.

Pied Shieldbug (Tritomegas bicolor)

There are always tiny flies if you look hard enough. They don't always want to pose for me though!

Unknown tiny fly

Whilst my fly friend which I see just about everywhere in the garden, the Common Yellow Dung Fly, is always around striking a pose for the camera.

Common Yellow Dung Fly (Scathophaga stercoraria), female

I came across this tiny spider which I would never have noticed if I hadn't had a macro lens and been on my hands and knees searching for tiny life. My gardening knee pads come in handy for this job.

Tiny spider. From underneath it looks like it has short stubby legs,
but that's because of the position it is in on its web.

On the underneath of the leaves of the plant 'Lords and Ladies' (Arum maculatum) I found many of these tiny Leafhoppers. You can tell it's a Leafhopper and not a Froghopper by the pair of spiny legs.


However the creature I was most pleased to find was a Springtail (Collembola)! Not just the flat looking one (bottom right) which I see around my compost bins, but the round plump looking one which is rather cute. These tiny creatures (approx 1mm) are usually found around leaf litter and decaying material, hence are common in and around compost bins. It was not surprising then amongst the leaf litter on the woodland floor to find many of them, although here I found them on the leaves of the Lords and Ladies plants.

Globular Springtail (Dicyrtomina ornata) and unknown Springtail

Something less tiny but rather fun was this beetle. Originally I came across it (or one of them) inside the duck shed crawling about so I picked it up and tried to photograph it on my hand, but it would not stand still for one moment. The next day I found it miles away (in beetle terms) in my woodland area and the following day my OH found it in another part of the garden. Now whether there were three of them or this little guy was going walkabout, I don't know. I don't even know what it is but it was cute!

Unknown Beetle exploring my wrist

This bramble leaf shows a wonderful path of a leaf miner. I know leaf mining insect larvae are not great in the garden in abundance but the patterns that they make on leaves is rather interesting to see.

Leaf miner damage on a bramble leaf

Finally, I think this is an emerging leaf of the wild cherry that we call 'Merisier' here in France. I say 'I think' because sometimes I take a photo of something then can't remember what it was exactly! I liked it because the leaf has some interesting pink bulbous things, rather like droplets, on the edge of the leaf. I have no idea what this is but you see the sort of thing you start to notice and ask yourself when you start to see the world very close up :-)

Wild Cherry leaf emerging from the bud

Saturday, 23 March 2013


Not content with chasing chickens, she's now after the ducks.

I saw her stalking them, grabbed my camera and got lucky with this shot as she suddenly ran at them full pelt and you can see what happened. At least she didn't dive into the lake after them, little horror!

Happy Saturday!

Thursday, 21 March 2013

My top garden plants - Hydrangeas

In the early days of this blog I wrote a series about my Top Garden Plants - my favourite plants that have both visual interest, plus at least one other use, whether culinary i.e. herbs, or are of benefit to wildlife in some way (which also is the case of the herbs I featured). Most of these plants are really easy care plants too.

So I have ummed and ahhed as to whether Hydrangeas fit the bill, as they are neither really easy plants nor edible! However, having looked back through all my photos, I feel that the incredibly long season of interest - up to nine months - plus the fact that I found quite a few interesting bugs on them, and spiders especially seemed to like spinning webs on them, that they could join this series. 

When we first moved to Brittany I saw Hydrangeas everywhere in all shades of blue, purple and pink so went straight out and bought a blue one, only to find that it bloomed purple on my neutral soil. I had originally though the soil here would be acid so was surprised after doing a test to find it pH7. I was also given a pink Hydrangea, but pink ones stay pink no matter what soil type you have, whereas the blue ones need acid soil to bloom blue, unless you amend the soil with something like sequestered iron. In alkaline soil a blue Hydrangea will have pink blooms.

I also originally mistakenly planted them in the coldest part of the garden so they never grew very well and didn't have many flowers, so some years back we dug them up and replanted them up against the house wall in a north west facing position, which is quite shady until mid afternoon in high summer. Even so,  some years they have suffered from late frost and my pink Hydrangea didn't have a single flower in 2011!

Last year however, they both grew enormously and had more flowers than I've ever seen on them. The blue one, after a couple of initial purple flowers, turned a beautiful blue colour which I can only put down to the Hydrangea fertiliser that I had bought, which must have had extra minerals or some kind of colouring agent in it.

Some of these photos I have already shared here and there on this blog, but am posting them again as some are my favourite photos and I'd like to put them all together. 

The pink one is a Mophead variety (Hydrangea macrophylla), and the blue one is a Lacecap variety (Hydrangea macrophylla normalis).

The very first flowers on the pink Hydrangea in June,
with blue Campanula poscharskyana in the background

A little hoverfly flies over an unopened flower head

Late June. The blue one is on the left and has grown to a reasonable size;
the pink one far right is smaller as it is in a slightly less sheltered position.
I forgot to prune that rose last year which explains all the flowers so high up!

July and the first flowers opened up looking quite purply, although
the buds were blue. This is a little Froghopper sitting on the petal.

The fresh blooms on the pink variety open with an attractive white colour
at the heart of the flower, then gradually become darker pink

Early August and the blue variety suddenly turned a beautiful blue!

I captured a spiderling on the edge of a petal doing an octopus impersonation!

And here it had obviously watched Monty Python's 'Ministry of Silly Walks'

At the same time the pink variety was looking glorious,
and still had flowers yet to open, extending the season even more

By late September the blue variety's flowers were fading to
a pretty pinky/blue/grey colour.
I have actually captured many spiders and webs on the Hydrangeas.

Mid October and the pink variety was fading but still beautiful.
This Cricket seemed to take on the exact same pinky beige hues.... or was it a reflection?

My favourite photo.
Here are dewdrops caught in a spider's web reflecting the fading pink petals all around

Early November and the pink Hydrangea had a mix of skeletonised
petals yet some still looking quite fresh and pink.
Here's a raindrop reflecting some blue sky and sunshine.

Throughout the winter the skeletonised petals of the flowers have looked sad and soggy, but as soon as we had some dry weather, they perked up and still look very attractive. I leave them on the plants as long as possible as they help to protect the emerging fresh leaves from late frost.

Early March - how much more pretty can you get?
Yes, I really love my Hydrangeas.

P.S. I've noticed in the last 8 or so postings an enormous amount of Google +1s on my posts (as many as 20 or 30 on some posts) which previously I hadn't had more than a sprinkling of in over a year of posting on this blog. I have no idea why or how this is suddenly happening, but I'd like to thank you all very much, even though I have no idea who 99% of you are. :-)

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Hallie meets the chickens

A few days before the snow I let the chickens out to roam free in the garden as their runs are practically just bare earth and at least they get to eat some grass out in the garden. Then Hallie came outside and met them face to face and decided they were something possibly pounceable upon. I worried a bit about her and Freddy the cockerel, as he has spurs on his legs, but Freddy is so laid back he's practically horizontal, so no worries!


If looks could kill

Do these bums look worried?

Waiting for the stragglers to arrive

"If I can't see you, you can't see me"


"Quick girls, leg it, whilst she's looking in the other direction"

"I'll have you, unsuspecting cockerel"

"Bring it on, cat!"

"You're surrounded, cat"

"Cockadoodle-doo (run girls!)"


"That wasn't much fun, let's go and dig up mum's flower beds instead"

So that was their first face to face encounter and then the chickens had far more fun helping me to garden. I hadn't noticed a sneaky person was taking photos of me taking photos of them.

As for my snowbear, it's a teeny blob now and will be gone before the day is over. What with snow and now persistent rain again, not a lot is happening on the gardening front and the spring that sprung forth ever so briefly has slunk off and we're back to winter again.