Often, we are all too quick to get rid of so called weeds; thistles, nettles, ragworth and so on. They are quickly pulled up or worse still, eliminated with weedkillers. But all these “weeds” are valuable for many forms of wildlife. At the moment thistles in our garden are proving very popular with bees and butterflies alike.
Peacock on thistle flower
Bumblebee on thistle flower
Carder bee on thistle
Later, thistle seed will be eaten by birds such as goldfinches. You may have noticed my photograph of tortoiseshell caterpillars eating nettles on a post a couple of weeks ago. And most of our ragworth plants have a couple of cinnabar caterpillars chomping away at the leaves (and flowers!).
Cinnabar caterpillars on ragworth
Our blueberries are ripening and we seem to have a pretty good crop this year. Though it is one of those fruits that you probably could never have enough off.
Part of our vegetable plot has peaty soil so it seemed the ideal place to grow them. However, some of the plants weren’t thriving and my husband decided it was because the ground was getting too water-logged particularly in the winter. Last spring, he dug a trench around some of the plants and raised them up onto a bank, so that their roots were above the water-table. The plants are doing better and hopefully will reward us with more fruit next year. Each winter, we also mulch the plants with pine-needles. We are lucky to have a conifer plantation just beside the house so we have no shortage of them!
We have honeybees visiting the garden the last couple of days. They seem to like our poppies, though the flowers seems to confuse them a bit and they hover on the outside for a bit, before diving in!
Honeybee and poppy
Our native honeybee is Apis mellifera. There may no longer be any truly, wild honeybees left in Ireland. Those we see are either from domestic hives or feral populations of once domestic stock. Bees need all they help they can get. Check out my wild pollinator section for some ideas (https://murtaghsmeadow.wordpress.com/wildlife-gardening/wild-pollinators/).
Honeybee feeding on poppy
This year, I have been trying to increase the amount of flowers in the garden, but vegetables and fruit trees provide important food sources too. At the moment the most popular plants in my garden, apart from the poppy for the honeybee, are runner beans, nasturtiums and comfrey for the bumblebees. For more information on Irish bees check out (http://pollinators.biodiversityireland.ie).
Today, my daughter and I picked some wild raspberries. They were very small but so tasty and there were definitely not enough of them!
Our main raspberry crop is an autumn raspberry which is nearly always prolific, but personally I find the summer raspberries (even the cultivated ones) have more flavour. Last year, we had the first of our tayberries and the only way I can describe them is an explosion of taste in your mouth! This year they are doing well, better than the loganberries which are not as sweet. As the weather is damp and humid the berries we have growing up on supports are doing better than those trailing on the ground.
We spent a couple of days in County Louth last week surveying hedgerows. It was great to get out doing some real fieldwork again. County Louth is very different from Mayo were we live. Being in the east of the country, they have drier weather conditions to start with and this is reflected in the amount of cereals that are grown. The hedgerows we surveyed were pretty much all in good condition which was great to see and of course we got to see some nice wildlife as well.
Tortoiseshell butterfly on bramble
Red tailed bumblebee (Bombus lapidarius), male feeding on willowherb
One of the things we noticed from the twenty or so hedges we have surveyed so far is that there was a lot of dog rose present. This is great to see, though the flowers were gone and the rose-hips not yet reddening. However, there was some lovely flowering honeysuckle.
Honeysuckle in hedgerow
Another great find was a spindle tree. In the autumn, these trees have the most bizare looking red fruit. The wood from the spindle tree is exceptional hard and as it’s name suggests was used to make spindles for wool spinning.
In my opinion, the more species in a hedgerow the better. Climbers such as brambles, honeysuckle and dog rose, add more colour and interest but also provide important food (pollen and nectar) for all kinds of insects, and later on food in the form of fruits, for birds and mammals (including us humans).
We’re harvesting our broad beans and enjoying plenty of courgettes too. The runner beans are flowering and first beans setting. My daughter has been busy fishing-out all the fresh raw carrots from the lunch-time salad bowl but I don’t complain. It’s one of life’s little pleasures watching your kids eat with relish food that you have grown yourself.
A month ago (8th June), I was worried about the early appearance of blight on our potatoes. Today, many of the plants are over a metre high and most are flowering and looking healthy with no sign of the disease. So I am pretty happy. Though it pays to be vigilant as those damp and muggy conditions are back again so it’s ideal weather for the blight pathogen to return.
Potatoes in flower
The onions are looking good too, and so far there is no sign of the onion virus that has effected them over the last few years. Even the autumn sown onions have done well and we’ve been using them for over a month now. The garlic on the other hand are pretty small despite having been put in in November.
Today, I heard Mary Reynolds (Garden designer and Chelsea Flower show gold medal winner) interviewed on the radio. Here is a lady after my own heart. She talked about growing your own vegetables, forest gardens and bees. Check out her interview on (http://marymary.ie/). It’s great to hear these topics being covered on one of our national radio stations.
Two lovely finds in the garden this week. The first was a scatter of peacock caterpillars in a bunch of nettles in the newest area of the garden where the swales were dug last spring. At a rough guess there are probably over 250 hundred of them. Nettles are the Peacock caterpillars most common food-plant. So it is always a good idea to leave a patch of nettles in your garden.
Caterpillar of the Peacock butterfly
The other find was a flower I haven’t seen for years. It’s Scarlet pimpernel. It’s a low growing plant with a tiny (10-15mm across) but beautiful flower. It’s in the same area of the garden as the caterpillars where the soil was recently disturbed so it’s probably benefiting from the lack of competition from grasses and other vegetation. I’ll try and collect some seed in the autumn and scatter it in other parts of the garden.
We have just returned from a few days in Wales. Of all our days enjoying the scenery, beaches and castles, by far the most inspirational day was a visit to the National Botanic Gardens of Wales. It’s been a couple of years since our last visit here and in that time the gardens have matured and they looked amazing in the July sunshine. My favourite part was the double walled gardens. This part of the garden is divided into four quadrants. Quadrant 1 to 3 tell the story of the evolution of plants while quadrant four is a modern take of a kitchen garden which reflects the walled garden’s original function as a place to grow fruit and vegetables. In the early 1800’s, the garden served Middleton Hall and provided enough fruit and vegetables to supply a household of 30. The work was done by 12 full time gardeners!
Botanic Gardens Wales – walled garden
The vegetables and companion plants of pot marigolds, nasturtiums, borage and other herbs looked healthy and vibrant and were not out of place amongst all the beautiful plants and flowers. We came away feeling not only inspired to do more in our own garden but also feeling we must try harder!
Botanic gardens – Flower border