Tag Archives: clematis

Bee bread, benches and a crows nest in the April garden

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There is no escaping it. Wherever you look, there is pulsating growth: trees, plants, birds, insects, all swept up in an orgy of renewal. From my vantage point overlooking the Leechwell Garden, the predominant feeling is green, although there were days in the middle of the month when the sun picked out the white blaze of blossom on nearby trees. Trilling wrens and chiding blackbirds provided the soundtrack, saluting the warmer weather.

It’s a favourite time of year for me, I like the feeling of everything starting afresh and alive. Shakespeare gets it right for me in Sonnet 98
When proud-pied April dress’d in all his trim
Hath put a spirit of youth in every thing,

Others, however, see April as a time of hopes and aspirations that can never be fulfilled. TS Eliot began his poem The Waste Land: “April is the cruellest month” and, in Spring Edna St Vincent Millay wrote “To what purpose, April, do you return again?”

I don’t share their pessimism; I know autumn will come and these new leaves will wither and fall, but I also know that there will be another season of growth next year.

Down in the Garden, there has been much to see. Three new rustic benches have been installed making it even better for people to visit and spend time here. On the pergola, the clematis continue to entertain.

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Clematis Francis Rivis

The tear-like buds of the Francis Rivis that I admired last month have now opened showing delicate mauve outer petals and white inner petals.

 

 

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Clematis Montana

Another clematis, a Montana, has been covered with round pinkish buds resembling small grapes.

 

 

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Golden Marjoram

In the herb garden, a burgeoning patch of golden marjoram comes alight when the sun shines.

 

 

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Sweet Cicely

A clump of sweet cicely shows frothy white flowers above the fern-like, green foliage; the leaves of this plant are edible and have a mild aniseed-like flavour with sugary overtones.

 

 

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Borage

Several spikes of borage seem to have appeared from nowhere as if called to stand to attention. Bees love borage; the plant is sometimes called Bee Bread so they will be eagerly awaiting the full opening of the flowers.

 

 

 

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Wild Garlic

The far side of the Garden has a much wilder feel. A small bank of wild garlic (Ramsons) shows starry flowers beginning to appear above the fleshy leaves. Wild garlic is very abundant in the Devon countryside and the spring-smell of a woodland path lined with the plant is unmistakable. The leaves now find favour with celebrity chefs as a gentle garlic substitute.

 

 

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Hidcote-blue Comfrey

In a hidden corner, I found some beautiful comfrey, another bee favourite. Its buds are a deep red and, once opened, there are clusters of bell-like flowers; that part of the flower nearest the plant is pale blue with the remainder being white. This unusual variety is Hidcote-blue comfrey.

 

 

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Garlic Mustard

Near the comfrey was an upstanding plant with copious green, heart-shaped leaves and small white flowers. This is garlic mustard or Jack-by-the-Hedge; when bruised or chopped, its leaves emit a mild garlic smell.

 

The bees are out and about and I have seen a common carder and a hairy footed flower bee on the white lungwort.

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Common carder bee on white lungwort

 

On April 20th I noticed a bird glide gracefully down between the trees to land on the grass. It was quite large, predominantly dark but with pale patches on its wings and my first reaction was that it was a buzzard. It stalked about the Garden, occasionally stopping to eat and with its long tale and dark plumage it reminded me of the proprietor of a posh French restaurant eyeing up his staff and clientele while keeping his hands clasped firmly behind his back. The more I looked the more I realised this was no buzzard and most likely it was a very large crow with a few pale feathers. The bird kept returning to the Garden and I found this puzzling until one day I saw it land on a nearby tree. On the tree was another crow sitting on a nest made of twigs balanced between two branches. Both birds are occasionally on the nest together; there will be a new crow-family before too long.

This is the fifth of my monthly reflections on the Leechwell Garden in Totnes. To see what I wrote in earlier months, follow the links at the end of this post or put “leechwell” in the search window.

Thanks to Hazel Strange for improving the photos I took on April 19, 26 and 27.

Tightrope walkers and a Geisha Girl in the March garden

“March comes in like a lion, and goes out like a lamb”

Or so the traditional proverb tells us, but that’s not what happened this year, in fact it was almost the reverse. March gambolled in like a young lamb brimming with dry weather and sunshine. As the temperature went up, so people’s spirits rose and you could almost imagine it was spring.

A mid-month sunny Sunday stays in my memory: bright and clear, blue skies, one of the warmest days so far this year and lacking the mistiness of sunny days earlier in the month. From my vantage point overlooking the Leechwell Garden, I saw several families arriving with blankets and picnic lunches, probably bought at the bustling Food Market held that day in the civic square. Children played in the marrow-chilling water and probably frightened the tadpoles. Fathers exposed too much white flesh.

In a quieter corner of the Garden, I noticed a young woman sitting peacefully with her hands turned upwards enjoying the sunshine. I initially thought she was meditating but when she stood up and performed a series of deliberate, sculpted and fluid movements, I decided it was more likely yoga.
The Garden was doing its job by acting as a pleasant and welcoming community space.

Later in the month, March did leave like a lion but it was a bedraggled, shivering and slouching lion: the weather had turned cooler and wetter with some spirited hail storms.

April 6

Despite the recent mixed weather, change still continues and a green haze of new leaves now covers several of the trees in the Garden.

April 5

I was surprised to see new leaves also appearing on one of the installations in the children’s play area – I hadn’t realised it was a living willow sculpture.

April 7

Elsewhere, a young fruit tree, I think it’s a plum, was, for a while, covered with white blossom, as if there had been a sudden blizzard. The snowy white petals on each flower were arranged in five fold symmetry around delicate yellow-tipped stamens. It’s a beautiful tree but I am concerned for its welfare: Garden visitors are giving it a bit of a battering and I wonder if it needs some sort of protection.

April 4

On the pergola, the climbers have cloaked themselves in green leaves but my attention was taken by the striking flower buds of an early clematis (Francis Rivis). The buds stand out against the green-leaved background as if someone had cried massive purple/blue teardrops which have been caught by the lush new matrix of leaves.

 

April 2

Against one of the old walls I found several flowering quince (Chaenomeles Geisha Girl) with their papery, double, salmon-pink flowers and buttercup-yellow stamens. A bumblebee shared my admiration and fed from the flowers.

Early in the month, Susan Taylor, one of the Garden volunteers came to see me with the exciting news that she had spotted a Hairy Footed Flower Bee in the sunshine on some rosemary growing against one of the old walls. The following day, I also saw one on a patch of lungwort in another part of town near the river. I noticed the staccato flight pattern and the loud buzz. Both bees were gingery coloured males who emerge first after the winter. The black females emerge about a fortnight later to mate with the waiting males before setting up a nest.

In the middle of the month, Susan told me about some different insects she had seen in one of the town centre car parks, not far from the Garden. I went to investigate and found a south facing sunny bank covered with flowering dandelions and celandine and sure enough there was also a host of small insects, between half and two thirds the size of honeybees. They were flying around in a purposeful manner, occasionally landing and occasionally feeding from the dandelion flowers. The underlying soil in the bank was fairly crumbly and I thought I could see some holes so I wondered if these were mining bees but I don’t think I can rule out the possibility that they are hoverflies. Here are some photos; any help in identifying these would be most welcome.

April 8

April 9

I did see two of the insects get together and form what I can only describe as a ball. A third came to join in but was seen off. I assume the two were mating and I wonder if they are solitary bees (Collletes), known for forming a mating ball. When these two had finished, one flew off immediately but the other stayed for a while, shaking legs and wings and putting everything in order, as though it was adjusting clothing rumpled in an embrace.

One sad story. Last month I described some trees covered with catkins growing near the edge of the Garden. The day after I posted the story, one of the local residents cut most of these down. The trunks have been left and I suppose they will grow back but it will take time. I can’t really see why they did this but I suspect it’s to do with wanting order. There is now much less for the birds and insects, nature likes a little untidiness.

I don’t want to end on a low note so I shall tell you about the tightrope walkers. These are two young women who come to the Garden to practise their art and they appeared on a recent sunny day. They have a plastic ribbon which they attach between two sturdy trees. The ribbon is about the width of a human foot and is suspended less than a metre above the ground. They hop deftly on to the ribbon, walk along it, they jump hoping to land on the ribbon again, they use only their outstretched arms to provide balance. At one point, they both got on to the ribbon at the same time but at different ends. They then advanced towards the middle before falling off in fits of laughter.

The photos were taken on March 19th 2014