Swallowtail Fest

This slightly damaged, but still impressive beauty was enjoying the warmth in the new polytunnel.

This Spring has been the best ever for Swallowtail sightings in the garden. The increase in the numbers of egg laying females and the significant amount of new fennel planting may be coincidental but I don’t think so. There are also more males arriving to feed – especially this year on the Hesperis matronalis alba which is flowering everywhere.

The settled sunny and warm weather has helped enormously.

Four instars of Swallowtail caterpillar. As luck would have it, these are not on fennel but are on one the solitary carrot plant from last year that I was saving to collect seed!


After the Voles it was the Sawfly infestation. Then it was the Killer Frost, and now Blight…

All enthusiasm for this blog evaporated under the weight of the onslaught from various natural phenomena.

What started as a near perfect season faltered as, despite my best efforts; the endless checking of the weather forecast and the nightly round of pulling plastic, netting, fleece or straw over the growing list of susceptible plants and unfurling leaves proved pointless against two nights of at least -4 degrees. That, coupled with the lack of water (and sun and wind burn), has frazzled the leaves of Hydrangeasand potatoes, reduced the new Acers to a collection of leafless twigs and caused total defoliation and fruit drop for the figs. Plums and gages have tiny blackened fruitlets that fall when you touch them…My efforts against the Gooseberry sawfly caterpillars were pointless as the frost got the fruit anyway! The voles just keep on munching those bulbs – they’re  underground so don’t notice the cold.

So, not a good start. There has finally been some useful quantity of rain, but with it has come four consecutive days of warnings from Blightwatch. The poorly potatoes are in no state to cope with that! I’d already planned a preventative spray with Bordeaux mixture for the first week of June after last year’s problems. But spraying in the middle of May? Still, I’ve done it and I can at least comfort myself with the knowledge that I did it after warning number one so could’ve done no more.

But it’s not all woe. There are some real successes to look at (or to remember) and the butterflies have had a fantastic start compared to last year when the cold weather meant that they were late to emerge and had little to sustain them when they did.  I have seen healthy numbers of all the usual Spring species – especially the Orange Tips which had suffered here last year.  There are lots of Painted Ladies already and the Swallowtails are more abundant in the garden than ever before – both visiting and egg-laying.

You say voles. I say mulots – in fact I just say Aarrghhh!

This is a hyacinth that’s had its bulb eaten by a vole. You only notice when it’s too late.

This is the hole left after the vole ate the roots of the chard plant and it collapsed and wilted.

These are Dutch Iris bulbs which had been getting ready to flower until the vole ate them. All 37, one after the other.This is is a parsnip that has been eaten from the inside out by a vole.I am feeling a lot of hatred towards voles at the moment.

Gooseberry Sawfly and other horrors…

This is a beautifully healthy gooseberry bushThis is evidence of Gooseberry Sawfly caterpillars emerging.

If you turn the leaf over you can see the eggs and the very hungry caterpillars.

And they can reduce the bush to no more than sticks in a couple of days.I’ve been squishing them for a week now….Literally, 3 times a day I don a rubber glove and go up and down my row of Gooseberry bushes: I am a caterpillar killing machine. Ironic that at the same time I am checking the eggs laid by the Swallowtail butterfly on my fennel plants to help them evade predators!

Country Living

The grey water from the kitchen sink and the washing machine normally leaves the house via these pipes and a soak away to end up amongst the gooseberries and other soft fruits. This is an arrangement that has pleased them all (and me) up until recently, when the water started spreading over the basement floor instead of going ‘away….’

After convincing myself that roots from uninvited  shrubs – yes, I mean you Chaenomeles japonica! were interfering with the drains – I dug down to see. It wasn’t the roots.  And it wasn’t pretty and didn’t smell that great either….10 years of accumulated sink and washing machine gunk clogging the pipes.

All cleared out now and running clear again. Until the next time….

Musings on Spring

I am feeling that the season is ‘early’ this year. I mean that, for some reason, the soil seems warm enough to plant/sow into now.  Looking back at my sowing journals for the past four years I’ve done nothing until the end of March/beginning of April…  but this year feels different.

I am going to go with my intuition and will direct sow some peas and radish and rocket and maybe some spinach. And I’ll get some trays filled with seed compost and put in the tomatoes and tomatillos.

This could all be a huge mistake!

It feels like Spring today…

Narcissus ‘Jetfire’:

Narcissus ‘Tete a Tete’ and unknown Snowdrop variety:

Crocus ‘Pickwick’:

Daphne odora aureomarginata: The Breton drizzle and low cloud that has been dampening both my spirits and the garden, finally stopped. The storms and high winds of the other day are almost forgotten and Spring flowers take centre stage. And today has been a beautiful  day.  Lots done in the garden. All fine in my world!