Thursday, 31 July 2014


In common with many other back gardens in the UK, ours is under attack.  Not from any human-based intervention does this attack come, but from Dame Nature herself.  There are two main thrusts of attack in our garden at the moment.  The least of these comes from a small bug which we saw evidence of, earlier in the year.   A few weeks ago, everything seemed to be covered in Cuckoo Spit as Froghopper nymphs free with the sap of our garden plants.  These nymphs have now transformed into the adult form of the Common Froghopper (Philaenus spumarius), several of which are to be found living in our grape vines.
By far the most troubling creature however, has to be the caterpillars of the Small White Butterfly (Pieris rapae).  Having tried and failed to get a few Brussels Sprouts to grow against the overwhelming odds of snails, slugs and insects, we eventually managed to nurture three plants to rude health and just as things have started to look good for these three remaining plants, these little b****ers turn up and have their impertinent way with them.
Not wanting to destroy them (numbers of butterflies are dwindling dramatically), this pair of little 'darlings' were taken away and deposited in the wider countryside a long way away from our garden as I went back to searching for more attackers.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Summer Flowers

Fortunately, the temperature has dropped a little, making our walk this morning, far more comfortable. But, the sun is still shining, so we set out for Shipley Hill, to take in the views.  The wild flower meadows are being mown all around the area right now and the fresh, sweet scent of the resulting hay is quite heady at times.  The field edges are still standing and blooming despite the recent heat and among the more noticeable of the summer plants are the Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris).
Mugwort has a long association with the medical fraternity, having been used as stimulant, antidepressant, antiseptic, antibacterial, antispasmodic, appetiser, diuretic, purgative and treatment for what used to be described as 'women's complaints'.
As if all that were not enough, Mugwort is a particular favourite with many of our butterfly and moth species. And it has to be said, it is a favourite of mine too.
The second of today's flowers, belongs to the Yarrow (Achillea millefolium). Another useful plant for medicinal purposes, it too has been used as a stimulant, but also as a help to gardeners as a composting agent.  Its effectiveness as a liquid feed for garden plants is said to be matched in the hair salon as it has been used as a hair tonic for those follically challenged.
It too, is a great favourite with a host of insect species and a welcome sight in the hedgerows of high summer.

Friday, 25 July 2014


Another hot day today, so we set out to find some shade through the woodland around Mapperley Reservoir and Mapperley Wood.  Around the reservoir, the footpaths were deliciously shady and the trees were full of birds and squirrels which also seemed to be looking for some relief from the sunshine.
Some of the trees at the far end of the wood, are tall and stately.  One Pine tree in particular stretches itself skywards trying to beat its neighbours to the top of the canopy.  From this angle, you get some idea of the imposing quality of the tree.
Looking up through the canopy is always rewarding especially when you appreciate the shelter it's all giving you, from the sunshine above.
Emerging from the woodland to return home along Slack Lane, the heat was even more noticeable.  Along the lane, the Creeping Thistle plants are still flowering, but they are beginning to set seed too.  Their pink, pin-cushion flower heads are turning into soft, feathery powder-puffs of seeds.
Home to cool off under the shower and to get rid of the sun cream, so necessary in this weather.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014


Another warm and beautiful day for a walk.  In fact, the rather stiff breeze this morning, made it all the more comfortable, even with the sun shining brightly once more.  Having left home and made a fuss of some of our favourite dogs who were being walked past the house, we decided on what we call 'The Farm Walk', taking in Head House Farm and the old West Hallam Colliery pit lines.
Where the local Wildlife Trust cleared hundreds of trees earlier this year and erected barbed-wire fencing (we wonder what for, as the fence stands alone and open at both ends), wild flowers have taken over. Among the most common are Evening Primroses which are blooming all over the place.  Here too, we find the stately form of Weld (Reseda luteola).  Commonly used in days of yore as a bright yellow dye, it was often mixed with Woad (a blue dye) to make green hues, particularly the well-known Lincoln Green made famous in the Robin Hood stories.  A few Poppies are still flowering along these paths too.
Making for home, we came across a small patch of Wild Carrot (Daucus carota), an attractive plant and easily identified when in bloom, by the single red flower which sits in the centre of the dome-shaped inflorescence of otherwise white flowers.  Most odd, but most attractive too.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014


A few 'great' things have caught my eye recently.  Firstly and by far the most satisfying to see, was the family of Great Crested Grebes which have made the Manor Floods their home.  In the last couple of years, a pair of Grebes have set up a territory on the lake, have built a nest and hatched young, only to lose their babies a short time after.  This year, things are looking a bit more optimistic as the parents are busy feeding three, humbug-headed youngsters.  They are also keeping their progeny as far away from us humans as possible - a good thing overall, but not when you are trying to take a decent photo.  In this picture, only two of the three youngsters are visible alongside their parents.
The second 'great' thing came from this morning's walk around Shipley Park and it is the Great Willowherb (Epilobium hirsutum).  These tall, hairy and very attractive plants are very common around this area and at this time of year, their bright pink flowers are quite beautiful.
The white, four-lobed stigma sticking out from the centre of the pink flowers makes the flowers even more distinctive.
The last 'great' thing is the Great Burdock (Arctium lappa).  A member of the 'Daisy' family, it has a slight resemblance to thistles, especially when you take a close look at the flower heads.  These are covered with tiny hooks or 'burrs' which snag almost anything which come close enough, even grabbing the tiny ridges of your finger prints when you touch them.
Used as a vegetable in many parts of the world, all parts of the plant are utilised, from the unopened flowers which are supposed to be like artichokes, to the roots, which are filled with dietary fibre, calcium potassium and amino acids, not to mention a wide range of vitamins from B1 to K.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Fluffy Clouds

After a weekend of lively weather, thunder, lightning, downpours and everything else, it was time to get out and about again this morning.  The skies were blue, the birds were singing and all was right with the world... Well, until the inconsiderate cyclists started whizzing past, dinging their bells and making a damned nuisance of themselves.
These views across Shipley Park, taken a few days ago, from the look-out post erected by the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, showed a wonderful sky with fluffy clouds and a deep blue above.
Looking away from the skies for a moment, the grassy verges are showing signs of a reddish flush in places, as they usually do at this time of year.  The colour is appearing, all thanks to the Red Bartsia (Odontites verna) plants which have a reddish tinge to the whole plant as well as pink flowers.  Partly parasitic, it gains some of its nutrients from the very grasses among which it grows.  Common throughout the UK where the soils are rather poor, such as roadsides, waste land, railway cuttings, etc.  The plant has a rather sticky feel to it, but is quite attractive nonetheless.

Friday, 18 July 2014


The Legume family - commonly known as Peas and Beans - is a large and varied family and one with which we humans, are well acquainted.  In the wild, we have a vast number of 'pea' plants to brighten the countryside.  Among the more common are the Melilots.  In the UK, we have three common members, White, Ribbed and these, Tall Melilot (Melilotus altissima).
Originating in mainland Europe, this is not a UK native, but was introduced (as many of the pea family have been), as a fodder crop.  Seen here, growing amongst the Meadowsweet, it makes quite a show.
Back home and we have a good display of wild, Broad-leaved Everlasting Sweet Peas (Lathyrus latifolius) which we found a few years ago, growing by the side of Slack Lane in Shipley Park.  Collecting the seeds, I grew them on and we now have a spectacular - and free - display.
They're doing so well, they are in danger of strangling the grape vines with which they are growing, but the Bees and Butterflies love them and with hundreds of blooms like this, so do we!

Thursday, 17 July 2014


On another hot and humid day, it was nice to include a bit of waterside in our walk this morning.  The lakes of Straw's Bridge provided the watery backdrop to some of today's pictures, starting with the wonderful display of Ox-eye Daisies which grow on the banks of 'Swan Lake'.
Ox-eye Daisies (Leucanthemum vulgare) is common all over the UK and most other temperate parts of the world, but despite our familiarity with it, it remains a joy to see, particularly in such large numbers.
Another waterside plant giving good value at the moment, is the Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria). Again, rather common in the UK, it is another plant which seems to flower its heart out.
Like the Ox-eye Daisy, Purple Loosestrife is very popular with a wide variety of insect species, especially the Bees and Butterflies.  They make a nice show when seen against the watery background here at Osborne's Pond.
Lastly, another common and much maligned plant.  This one was growing by the side of Mapperley Reservoir a few days ago.  Smooth Sow-thistle (Sonchus oleraceus) is more often seen as a nuisance in the garden and is dealt with in the usual way.  But it too, is a great favourite with bees and all sorts of flies, so perhaps we shouldn't be so quick to consign it to the compost heap.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014


We were getting hot and bothered after our walk around Mapperley Reservoir this morning.  Setting out, it was a nice day and a light breeze kept things cool enough, but it soon turned hot and sticky as we sat to have a rest and a flask of coffee.  The reservoir itself was looking peaceful and in places, covered with water lilies.
Getting down to the water's edge, you get a different view of things and it wasn't long before a Coot came looking to see if we had food.
On such a warm day, even the Coots were too hot to be bothered to bicker amongst themselves, preferring to take things easy.
Close by, the wavy edges of the Sweet Flag (Acorus calamus) waved slightly in the breeze.  All rather peaceful and just the thing for a warm summer day.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014


A few more pictures this morning, from our recent walks around Mapperley Reservoir. Among the young birds which are seemingly everywhere at the moment, Coots are particularly numerous. On the reservoir, they have quickly learned that humans standing on the waterside, could mean a free meal.
Capturing their image against a bright background and the reflected sunlight on the water's surface, makes for some rather nice effects.
In the woodland around the reservoir, a small, insignificant plant is flowering.  Easily overlooked, it has as intriguing name of Enchanter's Nightshade (Circaea lutetiana) and it has a spike of tiny, white flowers, held above the green leaves of the woodland floor.  The genus name derives from the Greek Goddess Circe, the Goddess of Magic.  The second part of the scientific name, comes from the town in Roman Gaul, known as Lutetia, which later developed into the city we now know as Paris.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Local Flora

The weather is remaining warm and sunny in these parts so far, without the promised heavy showers so the ground is becoming very dry and hard as a rock.  The local wild flowers are looking fantastic still despite the dry conditions, so here are a few from our recent walks, starting with a beautiful flower from our walk this morning.  Perforate St John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum) is a common sight around here.
Its name 'perforate' refers to the minute, translucent dots on the leaves which are just visible to the naked eye if you hold them up to the light.  These dots give the impression of tiny perforations although they are not actually 'holes' in the leaves.  It is the bright, yellow flowers however, which attract the attention of the passer-by, as well as a myriad of insect life.
Another yellow flower in full bloom right now, is the Ladies Bedstraw (Galium verum).  A remarkably soft plant to the touch with feathery foliage and tiny flowers forming frothy whorls of flowers, it too is common in the UK.  The name 'Bedstraw' comes from the fact that it was once gathered to stuff mattresses not simply for its softness, but also for its flea-killing properties - the flowers smells of Coumarin, something any self-respecting flea will jump a mile to avoid.  This patch of Ladies Bedstraw was found growing beside a fence near Straw's Bridge a few days ago.
Changing colour, but not location, we found some tall spikes of a pinkish-purple flower growing around another lake of the Straw's Bridge complex of waterways.  This plant turned out to be Marsh Woundwort (Stachys palustris).  I have been familiar with the more common Hedge Woundwort which grows in profusion around these parts, but this 'Marsh' variety is a much bigger and more stately plant.  The labiate flowers are a great favourite with bumble bees.
One of the more common flowers to be opening its blooms at this time of year, is the Rosebay Willowherb (Chamerion angustifolium), sometimes called Fireweed because of its ability to pop up and colonise areas which have recently been cleared by fire.  It is this ability which enables it to grow in the most unlikely of places.  Here, it is sprouting out of the cracks in the tarmac of the old American Adventure car parks.
Despite it being one of our most common wild flowers, it has to be one of the most attractive too.

Friday, 11 July 2014


Starting out on our walk this morning, we immediately came across a nasty-looking Spider in the hedgerow opposite our house.
It turned out to be a particularly striking example of a Nursery Web Spider (Pisaura mirabilis).  According to the British Arachnological Society (yes, there really is such a thing), "The distinctive silken tents of this spider can be found in great profusion on grassy banks and road verges." The female spider builds her tent to release her spiderlings in having carried her egg sac around with her until the youngsters hatch.  Hence, the name 'Nursery Web' Spider.
Still a nasty-looking critter though!

Thursday, 10 July 2014


Walking through Pewit Carr yesterday, we came across the usual patch of Water Mint, growing in a particularly smelly and boggy area which we often describe a the 'primaeval swamp'.  Our notice was caught by several small beetles among the mint and surrounding plants and closer inspection revealed them to be Mint Leaf Beetles (Chrysolina menthastri).
So shiny, they look like they have been buffed up to a high gloss and if you look closely, my own image is visible on their elytra - or wing cases - as I took their picture.  As the name suggests, these handsome little beetles feed mainly on mint leaves and can be found commonly, during the summer months, across the southern half of Great Britain wherever there are areas of boggy land, ditches, etc. and a good supply of mint of course.  Eating all that mint, it must have the freshest breath of any beetle species!
Another common sight in boggy ground is the Toad Rush (Juncus bufonius).
This too was growing in the meadows of Pewit Carr, but its diminutive stature makes it easy to overlook as you tramp through the taller grasses which surround it.  Nevertheless, it rewards closer inspection as it is an attractive, robust and tough little plant.