… and straight into September…

And September does what it nearly always seems to do – the schools go back, the holidaymakers go home and September says “Ha! Here’s another burst of summer. Just for you”.

I’ve said thank you and made the most of it. A few (slightly clammy, it must be said) nights in the tent in the garden. Lots of sitting in the sunshine, watching the tomatoes finally ripen. Watching the swallows gather themselves readying to leave. (They left last week – on the 15th September.) But the neighbouring flock , is there a collective noun for swallows? left a couple of days later, and I counted seven stragglers sitting on the wires today…

Dahlias and Asters and Rudbeckia dominating the garden alongside the ridiculously laden apple trees.

The first few flushes of various mushrooms – a novelty still, welcome before they become common place.

Still a few butterflies gracing the garden and neighbouring fields: Red Admirals, all the confetti-like Cabbage Whites, Peacocks, Commas, Wall Browns and the occasional Clouded Yellow… I rubbed my eyes in disbelief at a pristine White Admiral which is usually only seen in high summer, in one generation – apart from exceptional years when there may be a partial second emergence… I wasn’t quick enough to get a photo of it, but plenty of other pictures here:

View from my tent. Early morning…

Some of the many Dahlias and the Rudbeckia goldsturm.

A good mix of Saffron Milk caps, Millers, Charcoal Burner and a scattering of Amethyst Deceivers.

Shelling bean ‘Cocos de Prague’ – a good harvest. Enough to dry and eat over the coming months and enough to sow next year.

A beautifully fresh Red Admiral, nectaring on a pink Aster.

What happened to August?

Or more to the point, why no post? Here are some of the best bits before I’m posting again asking the same question about September:

The North Coast between Plouescat and Goulven. Lots of dunes and fine, shimmering white sand. Not that much visited previously. But will become a new favourite I think.

The first of the plum harvest. Damsons and ‘Victoria’.

Morning Glory (Ipomea) ‘Milky Way’ and ‘Grandpa Ott’. From seed this spring. One pot of these is clambering into the overhanging oak branches. No leaves left in the vines, but still a new flower every morning.

Sooty Copper. The purple iridescence is quite marked when the sun catches the wings…

Common Blue. Actually not that common here. This is the one of the very few. I’ve seen this year – on Sea Holly – at Plouescat

Just outside the garden…

A few photos of round and about… The fields and meadows have been beautiful this year; such a variety of grasses and flowers, and such lushness. And all on my doorstep.

‘My’ field, obviously no such thing, but it’s the field my garden was carved out of, and flanks it on one side. The first picture is after it was cut for silage earlier…

And the re-growth now. And the amazing flowers! When this was originally sown for permanent pasture it was with ryegrass. It took two or three years to not look patchy, and to be honest never looked that great… but the past two years have seen a transformation. So many wildflowers. I said last year that I should be systematically trying to record what’s growing here, but of course I haven’t (yet?)

Water meadow nearby after having been cut for hay. The darker green zig zag is the rush growing back more vigorously than the grass where the various streams flow/drain down to the valley bottom.

Track in the Landes de Kerlouet. Heather, gorse, bracken and ‘le Miroir’ butterfly.

Walking through the pines at St. Maudez.

I’m very lucky.

Part Three: the Butterflies…

I’ve been holding off on this butterfly post waiting, waiting and some more waiting for the first appearance of the Purple Emperor (Apatura iris). New camera with super zoom at the ready. But, sadly the colony has disappeared this year … or despite all my hours spent scouring the oak trees with my binoculars I just haven’t been there at the right time. So, no Purple Emperor photos. If the colony has died out there are many possible reasons, but the most likely may be weather related. As I understand it the week or so of heavy rain and colder temperatures in June just as the butterfly was about to emerge meant that it stalled, and was predated on as a result. And night time temperatures were chillier and windier than the Purple Emperor likes…

However, that’s not to say that there haven’t been butterflies! And amongst them two new species for me here.

First of these is the Heath Fritillary (Melitaea athalia).

It’s one of the rarest UK butterflies and although widespread in Europe its habitat preference – Heathland – is becoming increasingly scarce. However, as luck would have it, there’s a bit of an abundance of Heathland here! But this one had found its way into my garden.

The next is also a new to me species. This one again likes Heathland and isn’t found in the UK. In French it’s called ‘Le Miroir’ because of the markings on its underwings. In English it’s called the Large Chequered Skipper (Heteropterus morpheus). I photographed it up on the Landes de St Maudez, and then the following day on the Landes de Kerlouet. Again, it’s habitat preferences make it relatively uncommon in France – Brittany being one of the few places with damp, acid heathland, is one of its strongholds.

This Common Blue is a bit of a misnomer – not being that common at all here at least not in my garden where the ‘blue’ that’s around almost all year is the Holly Blue. It’s not by any means rare but I’m not confident identifying them and got help from the butterfly forum I use a lot. There were five or six of them bombing around in the sunshine, but this one sat still long enough for me to photograph it.

The first butterfly pictrue I posted this year was of a tatty Large Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis polychloros) that was in my porch. This beautiful, pristine one spent a couple of days mainly on the Verbena bonariensis in the garden. I’ve spotted several this year.

A Purple Hairstreak (Favonius quercus). Like the Purple Emperor this one spends most of its time up in the canopy of oak trees where it is hard to photograph. But if the weather is good it comes down in the morning onto bramble flowers, and in the evening – always at around 6 or 7pm – I can watch the little colony in the garden whirling and boxing each other in the late sunshine; looking like a handful of 5p coins chucked up in the sky! The ‘purple’ refers to the iridescent upper-wing which you don’t often see as it usually perches with its wings closed.

of course these are just a few highlights. There will, I hope, be more…

Part two… edibles

The first asparagus. Not the chunkiest, but the supply was good. There have been vole depredations, so some crowns have been badly, or totally, eaten. But there was still a decent crop, and enough crowns in good enough condition to grow on for next year.

Didn’t grow these myself. Field beans, féverolles, thieved perhaps would be accurate, seeing as I’ve been filching them from a nearby field … little mini broad beans. Very tasty. The basket was a birthday present from Anne-lise, a basket maker friend.

The almost last artichokes prepared for cooking. I love having them, but have to say that I am less excited by eating them these days. The plants themselves, I still love. Beautiful, dramatic foliage and when the artichokes flower… well the bees just adore them. Any that are left now in the garden are for the pleasure of seeing bumble bees laying cushioned on the flower heads, drunk on the nectar.

What’s been happening in the garden – part one

Since I last wrote May turned into one of the sunniest, hottest and driest since records began. Frost seems a distant memory.

And here I am at the end of June wondering how to condense all of the wonder, beauty and opulence of the garden into a few sentences and a handful of photos… almost impossible, but here goes:

Verbascum chaixii at their peak at the moment. I’ve had to harden my heart and dig out some of these, else they would take over the garden. Asparagus fern mist behind them.

Geranium maderense flowering exuberantly. I first got this as a tiny seedling from someone st the plant exchange. I cosseted it; protected it from the frost, (the maderense part of its name tells you it’s originally from Madeira), worried about losing it… I needn’t have done. The original has gone, but it has self-seeded with abandon and has turned into a bit of a beautiful thug. It doesn’t transplant well except as a small seedling. I have left most of them where they are.

Looking back towards the house. Evening sun. The white foxglove on the right has been amazing. Kept now for seed as it was so vigorous and healthy. I’ve been uncharacteristically ruthless with the Foxgloves – previously they’ve lurched and stumbled and sprawled and I’ve said nothing… this year I’ve grabbed my secateurs at the first hint of collapse and cut them back to the base.

Alderman’ and ‘Blauschock’ peas climbing to the top of the frame. Verbena bonariensis in the foreground, yellow Verbascum behind…

Garden table with Fuchsia, House leeks, and Morning Glory.

looking down into the garden…

Mainly Greens

Last year there was hardly an oak leaf that wasn’t tattered and almost skeletonised by caterpillars. This year the opposite is the case. Almost every leaf is pristine and perfect.

These reminded me of jigsaw puzzle pieces… A puzzle of oak leaves with the puzzle pieces cut into oak leaf shapes…

The light through the filmy transparency of newly unfolding beech leaves. You can eat the leaves when they’re this young in salads. You can also put them in alcohol and make a liqueur called Beech Leaf Noyau: fill a jar with young beech leaves, cover with vodka or clear alcohol for fruit preserving (some people use gin but I think the taste of the gin too dominant), leave (pardon the pun) for at least a month before straining and re-bottling. Add some sugar depending on how sweet a liqueur you like…

A slightly grainy photo of what looks to me like a ‘happy’ Green Hairstreak! Its face looks smiley!

Blackbird’s egg I’m pretty sure. Unconnected, but yesterday morning there was an irritated or upset blackbird in the barn. Making its incessant warning/distress sound. When I got there to see what was going on, a beautiful and huge Barn Owl – who had obviously been the problem, flew straight past me. I don’t know whether it was more bothered by the blackbirds harrying it, or by my turning up and demanding what was going on? I’m wondering whether if the owl roosting in the barn is the reason for the swallows abandoning a previously reliable nest?

A first generation Map butterfly. Glimpsed as I walked in the field next to the house. Not green at all – but the grass is…

And now the butterflies…

This has been, (so far), one of the loveliest April’s I can remember. I know memories are short, deceptive and often just plain wrong. But I know 2003 and 2012 both had amazing April’s.

2003 I spent most of in either Pembrokeshire or Devon and Cornwall – which, to be honest would transform the shittiest April into something special.
2012, it was mainly Begard, Brittany.

Anyway… this one has been (so far], almost perfect. And the butterflies have played no small part. So I give you:

A Large Tortoiseshell no less!

Taken on the 17th of March, the first day back after the winter. In the porch, wanting to get out… I snapped it because it was the first butterfly of the season. Not because I knew it was a Large Tortoiseshell, and yet… there was something about it that gave me pause…

I only revisited the photo in light of an ongoing much discussed influx of Large Tortoiseshells to the UK. And, yes it is/was. My butterfly season got off with a huge bang, and I almost didn’t notice.

Male Orange Tip. There’s a lot of their preferred plant, Cardamine pratensis here, but not normally on my doorstep! However, the plant is somehow there and the butterfly found it…

Speckled Wood. I have a soft spot for but them, but as they’re so common here it sometimes means I just dismiss them by saying ‘Oh it’s just a Speckly…’ That’s not fair. They’re a reliable, beautiful, feisty, but not aggressive, little butterfly with real character.

Green-Veined White. No one says this is their favourite butterfly. But they don’t try to kill it obsessively like they do the Small and Large Whites. Probably because you need to really look to see the difference…

Green Hairstreak.
This is special for me. Not super uncommon. But it’s not something you would see outside its preferred habitat. Here it’s gorse and broom, and damp-ish valleys. Plenty of those here.

My first encounter with this butterfly was in North Devon/North Cornwall… the deep valleys/fissures walking the Coast Path. In April and May. Sunny, warm but then a downpour. A damp-aired environment…

To have them in the garden here’s a joy. Tiny, aggressive, combative things, but strangely relaxed and ready for a photo opportunity when the time is right!

Purple haze…. and I can Sing a Rainbow…

The purple haze is provided by the Early Spotted Orchids growing in the far side of the field next to the garden. It’s a bit of the field that, since we arrived was never cultivated. It was cut to keep down the weeds and the Willow which pops up at the first opportunity. It’s damp there… as well as the Willow there’s Ragged Robin and Ladies’ Smock. And where there’s Ladies’ Smock (Cardamine pratensis) there are Orange Tip butterflies. More about them in my next post.

But here is the song:

Red – Sparaxis – a rogue corm that somehow didn’t get eaten by voles. I didn’t notice it until it flowered.

And Yellow… I’m not sure what this plant is. I think the variety is ‘Little Leo’ but other than that… a blank.

And pink… well this is a seedling of Candelabra Primula now two years old. And a real stunner. I’m still waiting to see what others from the batch turn out like. If they’re halfway as good as this one I’ll be happy. (And green…)

Orange… Calendula. Self sown pot marigolds. Never enough of them in the garden. My fault as they’re very easy!

And Purple…. Iris ‘Franz Hals’. I know their flowering season hardly justifies a place in the garden; two days and they’re finished! But for the two days that they’re there… perfection.

And Blue. Much more reliable. Perennial Cornflower. Centaurea. Actually looking rather purple. I should scrabble and find some Forget me nots…

Green is missing, only it’s not, as it is the Limey fizz uniting all these other colours at the moment. It’s everywhere. Even the most mundane weed in its spring green freshness is appealing right now.

I can definitely sing a rainbow too…