Thursday, April 28, 2016

Icy spring


We are having a long spell of cold weather, much worse than most springs.  The day before yesterday in snowed on and off during the afternoon, and yesterday we had a hail storm in the early evening that whitened the ground.


The two pictures  above are of the eastern side of Emthree with a red campion plant adorned with melting hail stones.  I don't think this passing storm has done any appreciable damage, except possibly bruising some young leaves.  Below a hailstone and a skin of melting ice on birch.


Thursday, April 14, 2016

Fast fern

Yesterday I measured, with my walking stick, a rising frond of broad buckler fern (Dryopteris dilatata) almost in the centre of Emthree.  Checking again today I found in had grown 5cm (2 inches) in 24 hours illustrating how quickly spring advances in the present warm weather (in the last 2 days it has reached 20 degrees C).  In the picture (right) of the stem of the frond towards the bottom left hand corner shows the dark-centred scales that are characteristic of this species.

There is now an increasing amount to enjoy.  A male brimstone, or maybe the male brimstone, circled flashily around Emthree, a small queen wasp examined the bark of the birch probably looking for nest material and I thought of impending tasks.  I have started hand grazing some of the longer grass and trimming back marauding brambles: one had extended an arc of cane from the bramble hedge almost to the Square Metre and taken root in the penumbra area.  I must tie up the wild roses, clear some of the moss from the stones and designate the area where the young hazels grow to short term rotation coppice.  When they have grown one metre tall I will cut them back close to the base, perhaps one one year and the other another.

There are more insects now: a few fast solitary bees, some glittering carabid beetles often taking briefly to the wing, a dock bug labouring ponderously up the stem of the largest ash, then taking flight to expose its smoky red abdomen as, maybe, a protective device.

In the wilderness area to the south of the medlar tree I found what could be one of its seedlings or suckers.  This will hopefully one day replace the existing tree that is dying of fungal attack.  There is also a plant of what looks like hoary willowherb (Epilobium parviflorum) nearby whose identity I will have to check when it flowers.  It will be a\new record for the area (or slightly beyond it)

Monday, April 11, 2016

A new log

The long log across the centre of Emthree (east/west) has once again returned to the earth and I have replaced it with a new one of oak or, maybe, chestnut found in the nearby wood.  This could have a longer life.  The trees at the top of the picture include the sallow on the left, the birch and the ash at the end of the log and most of the rest of the Square Metre fits into the frame with the western boundary marked by the ash tree.


While positioning it I had an amusing accident.  I sat on the little bench I use to admire my handiwork and it toppled over backwards in slow motion, depositing me in the mass of brambles and nettles that lay behind.  I could not get up too easily from this position as my legs were arched over the now vertical bench seat and I could not get enough purchase on anything to win sufficient leverage, so I lay there for a few moments enjoying the blue sky through a filigree of birch twigs. After a bit I managed to worm sideways, get on to my hands and knees and re-assume the vertical apparently uninjured apart from a few scratches.

Another highlight of the day was the discovery of a hawthorn seedling (see right) close to the centre of the metre square.  It must have been a small plant through 2015 and now seems to be enjoying its second year.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Bees and birch trunks

In sunny weather flies and other insects settle on the white bark of the large birch tree to warm themselves up.


The picture is of a male small sallow mining bee, Andrena praecox, one of the many insects attracted, no doubt, to the pollen of our large male goat willow, Salix caprea, in full bloom nearby..

The trunk of the birch sheds horizontal strips and patches of the thinnest bark and these flutter ceaselessly in the wind while still attached making it harder perhaps for predators to see the dark insects against the ever-shifting patterns of light and shade created by these shifting shreds.

Friday, April 08, 2016

Mustard oak

Enough midday sun to warm the shoulders and a feeling of freshness, almost of joy in the air that can only be experienced in spring.  The birds and animals feel it too.  A great spotted woodpecker was drumming noisily, a hollow ‘ratatatat', a few metres away in Churchland Wood.  A couple of dock bugs, Coreus marginatus, (see left) were skittering about in the meadow area on the south side of Emthree; a bee fly made a sortie across the Square and the oak tree over the hedge has suddenly burst into leaf.  This new growth is a striking mustard yellow colour and only lasts a few days before the green creeps in.  The small Emthree oak has expanding buds, but not as advanced, though the larger tree may well be its parent.


 









I had a further look at the base of the collapsing bramble hedge, a damp, mouldering undercroft characterised by the dingy green webs of common feather-moss, Kindbergia praelonga. Other plants already here included stinging nettle, various ferns and grasses, red campion, cleavers, creeping buttercup, herb-robert and bugle. The friable wet dead wood gives it the quality of a small nightmare creeping along a corridor of thorn-guarded shadows.



One brighter aspect of this sinister grot was a surviving leaf of bramble intricately mined by larvae of the tiny glossy bramble pigmy moth Stigmella splendidissimella.  The mines were empty, but maybe a new generation of moths will soon be emerging.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

The fate of a hedge

The bramble hedge on the south side of Troy Track, the hedge that has been sheltering Emthree from the prevailing wind for many years, looks in a very sorry condition this year.  The majority of the second year floricanes have died after fruiting and many are not being replaced by first year primocanes.  As a result the whole thing is flopping over into the meadow beyond.  I am not sure why this is, but I wonder if many of the plants have simply expired of old-age.


This, of course, has let a larger amount of light into the ground layer beneath the dead and collapsing brambles, though it is well-protected by the thorny, coffee coloured stems.  I will scrutinise this area during the coming year and beyond to see how it responds.  But, as Schopenhauer wrote “we can never arrive at the real nature of things from without. However much we investigate, we can never reach anything but images and names.”

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Tree bees and campions

5th April 2016  First spring trip was on 31st March.  As what I consider to be an omen (for what, I am not sure) as I turned the corner into Emthree, a fine male brimstone butterfly flew up from Troy Track and spiralled upwards and over the hedge – an uplifting splash of lemon yellow.  There were also some as yet unidentified Lasioglossum sweat bees sunning themselves on the white trunk of the birch tree.  Distinctive from their very long antennae.
 
The following day I found a fine queen of the tree bee, Bombus hortorum, nestling, almost burrowing, into the grass also on Troy Track.  It nests in trees and under eaves and has been quite common in the garden in recent years. Having been first recorded in the British Isles in 2001 it has now spread to mid-Scotland.

Today was the warmest of the year, though not exactly boiling.  Some tree buds are expanding rapidly.  Hazel followed by birch, then hornbeam.  Oak and ash are holding back.  The dark shagged fiddle heads on the broad buckler fern are well visible now.  There are many plants of red campion, (first noted in Emthree in 2008) in the absence of rabbits and they are more advanced than the other herbaceous plants.  And, of course, they do flower earlier.  They tend to grow in woods and other shady places so I suspect this faster growth helps them to get into flower by mid-May when there are still plenty of insects about before the before the canopy closes completely.  Is the Square Metre now woodland I wonder.

Apart from the usual snake oil remedies, the red campion has little attraction for the human (but not rabbit) forager.  This is understable as the plant contains the toxin saponin that can have a nasty effect on the digestion.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

A new beginning?

A return, after a long rest, to the Square Metre, perhaps inspired by this from Paul Harrison's book Elements of Pantheism:
  • When we go to unfamiliar places or landscapes, almost everyone does for a time look at things more closely. But we should be able to look at our garden or local park as naively and attentively as if it were a tropical rainforest or a host of penguins on an iceberg.
Also, perhaps, because I have bought a pair of waterproof, fur-lined boots with cherry red, spat-like tops which makes travelling to and fro easier and more comfortable.



Today was a fine and frosty midday visit with the sun striking through bare winter branches. Emthree looks a bit untidy after a year or so of relative neglect but, of course, it is still there and has been following its own dynamic

A particularly noticeable feature was the large number of fine flat bright green sorrel leaves spread on the ground (see photo above). I think this may be to do with the number of cats that have, as mentioned in May 2015, been active in the area and have seen off all the rabbits and other creatures that might relish a sorrel leaf. Whilst I am not happy about cats in gardens and the wider environment (except for their ratting abilities) the coming year will give me an opportunity to evaluate their effect on Emthree which, I suspect, might be substantial.

It was cold, so I did not do much. But I cut back some of the long whips of bramble which had snaked over the higher branches of the medlar, the ash and other trees and were close to finding a rooting place on the ground. The twigs on the medlar are developing a good crop of lichens as their morbidity increases. I identified a piece of Evernia prunastri on the ground and will have a go at the others when I get a chance. The Key to lichens on twigs from the Natural History Museum should be helpful in this context.

Some of the vegetation to the south west of the medlar was cut back during the summer and this has let more light come in underneath the tree. The gladdon and tutsan are doing well here and there is a number of foxgloves.  In the picture below there are not only gladdon berries but herb bennet, tutsan, ivy, broad buckler fern and common smoothcap moss: a promise of things to come.


Friday, May 22, 2015

Blue May




A return to writing about Emthree after a long gap, though I regularly make visits. It is the time of the Chelsea Flower Show and there is an increasing emphasis on wild gardens using native plants and so forth. Yet a dazzling effect has been produced in Emthree almost entirely by selective weeding and pruning. Almost nothing has been planted.

This spring there is a greater quantity of bugle that ever before and their blue purple spikes are not only good to look at but attractive to bees and other invertebrates. The pale blue of forget-me-nots and deep pink of campions contrast nicely with the bugle and there are other flowers dotted about. White-flowered herb-robert, for example, and sweet vernal-grass.

The trees have all survived the winter well and look very lively in their shiny new spring green and I spotted what appears to be a foxglove plant towards the north east corner of the original square metre. This will be a first for this species if I am right.

Since April Sammy, one of our granddaughters has been living here with her two sons and several cats. The cats are very adept at catching small rodents and rabbits and this will, I think, change the ecology of Emthree, possibly quite substantially (like re-introducing wolves into Yellowstone Park).

As I walked back to the house, I heard the shrill screaming of a flock of swifts above then saw the black-sickle shapes swirling about high in the sky. When so much wildlife is threatened, it is good to see things like this. The cuckoo too has been calling locally.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The eleventh anniversary

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It is the eleventh anniversary of what I call 'The Square Metre' project, or 'Emthree' (M3), a small area of garden that I have studied in some detail since 3rd September 2003. I was 65 then and now, as the arithmetic shows, 76. I have changed just as much as M3, but in a different way. I am older and more tired. Bits of me do not work as well as they should, but I manage. M3 is now more of a wood (even an 'ancient wood') than a meadow. There is a silver birch at its heart maybe twelve metres tall and a four metre ash. There are small birches, a sallow, an oak, a hornbeam and a holly. Just outside the square, in what I call the penumbra there are two hazels, some hawthorn, a cotoneaster and other plants sown in droppings from birds perching in the old medlar tree. I have introduced nothing: it all arrives of its own accord. The medlar is on its way out: today it was sporting a fine array of wood-rotting bracket fungi and sulphur tuft toadstools.

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In several places I have identified wild privet (right), again bird sown and there are two species of rose - one I have not identified and the field rose (much attacked by leaf-cutter bees) which, despite its name, is supposedly an ancient woodland indicator. Quick aside: a tawny owl was hooting loudly in the wood down the garden at 1 p.m. English tawny owls are thought to be evolving away from the continental varieties and one of the criteria is daytime calling.

Today I can see few flowers other than singletons on stunted ragwort and bugle. The summer is over. The ground is littered with brown and yellow birch leaves, a hogweed has an umbel of pale green seeds and a red campion holds its empty goblets, once full of seed, to the blue September sky.

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Monday, June 02, 2014

Early fungi and a new bug

About fifteen fruiting bodies of sulphur tuft toadstools,Hypholoma fasciculare have appeared along the log dividing TSM in half. They are very obvious and have come up quickly and rather early in the year. Hopefully I will be able to collect a few as they decay and breed some insects from them.

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I also found a rather beautiful striped oak bug, Rhabdomiris striatellus (= Calocoris quadripunctatus) upside down on a knapweed leaf and quite dead though apparently uninjured (old age perhaps).  Though supposedly quite common, it is the first time I have come across this oak-favouring species, though there are plenty of oaks around the garden and next door.

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I rearranged it a bit before taking the photo above, but it remained dead.

I have recorded the fungus in TSM before, but not the mirid bug.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Thoughts on the future

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I have just finished reading The Ash and the Beech, by Richard Mabey. Mostly the book ranges widely over our human attitudes to woodland over the centuries and our current confliction between 'natural' and 'artificial' (do woods really need to be managed etc.). It made me reflect, of course, on quite what category the Square Metre falls into.

My purpose in constant intervention is, perhaps, to preserve perspective - the short and the longer views, a hole in the Universe. But apart from that what happens, happens: I trim and weed to the minimum necessary to stick to my purpose, but I do not plant or sow anything or introduce fauna.

It is important to me to preserve a sense of ease, of connection to everything else that is there, to let species interact with each other as well as with myself. It is a space to reflect, to meditate, to achieve calm, balance and a sense of proportion in this troubled world. My intercessions are only to achieve and conserve these ends (il fine giustifica i mezzi - falsely attributed to Machiavelli). But there is no end. If I am no longer able to visit, the vegetation will close over and TSM merge back into whatever surroundings the future holds. Like the Hovgaard Ridge microcontinent below the waters of the North Atlantic between Greenland and Spitsbergen, its place in the sun will have gone and it will lie hidden among the many millions of other square metres comprising the surface of the Earth.

And, of course, if the Earth should one day explode into an ever-drifting and dispersing cloud of stardust there will be no co-ordinates to determine where the Square Metre might once have been. There will no longer be any ‘where’.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The picturesque?

I have been reading The Ash and the Beech by Richard Mabey (Vintage Books, London. 2013).

In chapter 3 Mabey explains the importance of John Evelyn in promulgating the idea of planting trees as opposed to natural regeneration. Mabey comments "But as a philosophy, a policy, woodland creation was regarded as faintly eccentric and probably unnecessary. Why waste energy planting trees, when, since the time of the Creation, woods had done it so very successfully themselves?"

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The picture above from the Metre and its immediate surrounds makes this point.  There are 10 trees in the foreground of the picture, though some are difficult to see.  The obvious ones are, from left to right, hornbeam, birch, sallow, birch again and ash.  In addition there are oak, holly, hazel and hawthorn.

All these have appeared of their own accord, unaided by me, though they do, to a certain extent, have to be protected from rabbits.

I am struck too by how much TSM now looks like woodland with its bugle, ferns, lanky grass and, of course, the trees.

There are now several baby common hawthorns (Crataegus monogyna) and they seem to have done particularly well over the last year.

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Mostly the bugle is doing well too, but some plants are not so vigorous and have their leaves mottled with yellowish.  I suspect this is a virus of some sort.

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Sunday, April 27, 2014

Owls, roses, lichens

At about 4.30 in the afternoon a tawny owl called loudly from the tall incense cedar, Calocedrus decurrens, maybe 10 metres from TSM. The call was almost piercing and must have carried far. This owl, and maybe its mate, have been hooting since last autumn and could be nesting in Churchland Wood, but today was the closest I have known one.

The new, strong rose shoot that I spotted a short while ago has been bitten off about 15cm above the ground.  I suspect it is a rabbit and its teeth have gone straight through the stalk but it has not eaten any of the shoot: the upper part was still hanging to the stick I used to try and protect it.

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I noticed that the lower part of the ash tree, where the bark is several years old, has thin grey lichen growing on it.