Watering cans, wild flowers and swifts – looking back at the Garden in July

At this time of year, only a small corner of the Leechwell Garden is visible from our kitchen window; the rest is obscured by the thick green wall erected by the trees. I can still see the three silver birches, also two of the benches and the lower part of the water course, popular with young children who like to paddle, especially during the hot weather we experienced this July.

July 14 5
red valerian in seed

There had been storms about and we did hear distant rumbles of thunder on more than one occasion but in Totnes this month there was little or no rain for more than three weeks. With the sultry temperatures everything began to look rather parched. Many of the flowers on the red valerian lining the paths near the Garden turned to seed; this felt earlier than previous years. The plants acquired a downy covering of numerous seeds equipped with small parachutes to aid windborne dispersal; no wonder it grows everywhere. I was also surprised to see ripe blackberries – in my mind blackberries are a feature of autumn.

July 14 6
blackberries

The swifts were an almost constant feature this month, shrieking over the Leechwell Garden morning and evening. Typically there were ten or so probing the air above the Garden looking for insects. On the 21st, the swift spectacular stepped up a notch and we counted more than 40 that evening. I had noticed flying ants in our garden so I wondered if the extra food had attracted the birds.

swifts over Totnes
swifts over the Garden

What is it about the swifts that captures our attention? We have to look, we have to try to count. They speed past our house, they manoeuvre, change course quickly and regroup like miniature spitfires in an old Battle of Britain film. But suddenly, on the 28th we noticed their absence. They had gone, making their way back to Africa for the winter. We miss them.

Down in the Leechwell Garden, one problem this July has been the lack of easily accessible water. There was no actual shortage; water flows freely through the garden but it has to be carried some distance as there are no taps. This was the first prolonged dry spell for some years and I sensed that plant growth was being affected. The Garden volunteers came up with the clever idea of providing watering cans for visitors so that, as they looked around, they could also water the plants. Some of the watering cans are child-sized so watering can become a game.

July 14 4
The pergola with clematis Perle d’Azur and lavender. The notice urges visitors to help with watering.

On the pergola, purple seemed to be the colour of the month. The later flowering clematis showed well and the path was lined with burgeoning banks of lavender.

July 14 1
wild flower bank

At the far end of the pergola there is a long wild flower bank. This has been carefully planted and showed a fine mixture of native plants in July – I saw proud yellow-flowered stems of mullein, floppy flowers of evening primrose, peering ox eye daisies, wild marjoram, musk mallow, knapweed, and, towering above them all, spindly purple-flowered verbena bonariensis (native to South America).

July 14 9
marjoram

It’s very good to see the wild flower bank as it’s one way to provide extra habitat for pollinators. I saw plenty of insects there in the morning but later they seemed to desert this part of the Garden for the attractions of other flowers. One of the competitors was a large patch of golden marjoram covered with white flowers; on sunny afternoons this positively pulsated with honeybees and hoverflies. The beautiful borage also continued to flower well and its starry blooms were well used by bumble bees.

July 14 3
borage
July 14 7
borage with bumblebee

 

I want to finish with more pictures of bees and flowers.

 

July 14 8
scabious with honeybee
July 14 2
I found this marigold with a bee turning in circles rubbing its abdomen around the flower centre. I think this might have been a leaf-cutter bee. I hope so.

The picture of the swifts was taken by Hazel Strange.

13 thoughts on “Watering cans, wild flowers and swifts – looking back at the Garden in July”

  1. Agreed, swifts are a wonderful thing to have passing over the garden. There is a colony nesting not far from us in the middle of Northampton and this year they have been particularly numerous.

    That is indeed a leaf-cutter bee (Megachile sp.) – the broad head and fringe of pollen-collecting hairs around and beneath the abdomen are characteristic.

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  2. I don’t think we get swifts around us but I love the house martins and swallows. Perhaps it is because they are with us for such a short time they are so appealing. It is a great idea to offer watering cans. I’m sure I could not resist them, I hate seeing plants in gardens and garden centres looking dried-up. I have never grown Marjoram but your photograph has tempted me to try some for the bees. I’ve never used it in food. Amelia

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  3. I have always associated swifts (and house martins and swallows) with summer so perhaps that is part of the appeal. I also like the way swallows seem to gossip to one another but the shrieking of the swifts, to me, implies pleasure, abandon …….
    The watering cans have been very popular but we have now had quite a bit of rain so they are less necessary.
    I think I have used marjoram on one occasion in food but I use its close cousin, oregano, very often. Philip

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  4. I’ve hardly seen any swifts this year, Philip – other than in Germany. I do love them and miss our old house where they nested beneath the eaves. I would spend happy minutes watching them swoop between the houses. They are terrible show-offs, I think. Your watering can idea is inspired. Cheeky but inspired. Dave

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