The Garden Diary 2007

May (Part 1)

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2 May - I'm making a slow start into May, with still some catching up to do for my last entry of April - I'll get that sorted out later.

Well, last month turned out to be the warmest April on record, by a long way. The Met Office hasn't posted its summary of the month as yet, but it must also have been one of the driest Aprils, in this bit of the country at least. This month has started in the same way, with our weather governed by a high pressure system over the country, but I see mentioned the possibility of a wet spell next week (fingers crossed!).

One feature of the present weather is a stiff breeze from the North-east which helps keeps the temperatures from rising too much, but which does help to dry things out here. Evaporation rates are such that I have had to top up the big pond almost every other day over the last week.

The Harlequin ladybirds keep coming. None so far today (up to lunchtime) but I caught three yesterday.

Last night I finally got the chance to watch a Harlequin larva emerging from an egg.

Harlequin Ladybirds eggs develop

This first set of images shows three eggs (from the same clutch) at different stages of development.

They seem to remain a bright orange-yellow colour until just a few hours before they are ready to hatch. The, they start to darken and banding appears towards the end normally attached to a leaf (middle egg).

Finally, the darkening accelerates and the 'skin' of the egg suddenly becomes wrinkled as it starts to split (left egg)

Harlequin Ladybird larva emerges from egg


This sequence shows some of the images I took over several hours as one larva struggled through the process of emergence.

The initial stages were over quite quickly, but once the legs were free everything seemed to slow down as the larva's exoskeleton hardened at it became darker.

That last image could equally have been taken at least an hour later, and finally I headed for bed, leaving to camera to take more photographs at intervals over the next couple of hours.

Harlequin Ladybird  - newly emerged larvaeI needn't have done that, because this morning the larva was still attached to its egg case, seemingly unable to free the end of its tail (had one of its spikes got caught?).

Overnight the darkening process had obviously continued, and by the time I first looked at it at 7.19am it appeared to be more or less free.

However, nearly two hours later it was still there, and as the final images shows, it was being 'visited' by another larva that had started its emergence later, but had become mobile sooner - trust me to choose to watch the wrong one!



A bit of interesting news about my mystery ladybird from 16 April.

Michael Majerus, the country's top authority on ladybirds, has identified it, not as a Harlequin, but an unusual form of the 2-Spot Ladybird Adalia bipunctata, and the colour form is known as 'simulatrix' or 'Spotty'!

I knew there was something unusual about it, but I would never have considered it as a 2-spot.


Thanks to Michael, and to Peter Brown of the Biological Records Centre for putting my query to him.

Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula)Back in the garden, yesterday brought my first decent view of a damselfly this year when this one landed almost right next to me.

I think it is probably a Large Red Damselfy (Pyrrhosoma nymphula).



Late this afternoon I found this Rose Chafer (Cetonia aurata) on the Stinging nettles next to the Ivy tree. Even though it was in heavy shade, the beetle's iridescence was obvious, with a mixture of bronze and green, depending on the angle from which is was viewed.

I don't remember seeing one of these here before.


This side view shows not only that it is very hairy underneath, but that there are even hairs growing from its shiny wing covers.

It is still in the same place tonight.


Unidentified caterpillar on nettle


The nettle's leaves have obviously been providing food for something, and on the next stalk to the chafer I found this caterpillar at rest, and presumably pretending to be a leaf stalk.

I'll need to check after dark to see if it has started feeding.


Green insect eggs on Iris leafHaving just taken that last photograph, I was walking back to the house when I could help but notice these eggs on an Iris leaf (growing in the big pond). I check the Irises every day to see what may be on them - the eggs were definitely not there yesterday, and I didn't notice them this morning.

They are quite big, measuring about 1mm across, and based on the egg at the bottom-left of the group, at least 1.3mm long. It must have been a fairly large insect that was responsible for these. I wonder if it could have been a shield bug. I have seen similar eggs before, although they were on grass next to the pond.


6 May -  Sorry for the gap in my entries. I'm trying to juggle a variety of jobs at the moment between periods of tiredness, and I'm afraid the diary has had to take a bit of a back seat.

First of all, we are still waiting for rain, but that wait could well come to an end tonight, and more, heavy rain is forecast for during the week. The breeze, coming from between NW and NE has been keeping the daytime temperatures down. Yesterday it reached just 14C, and while it felt warm in the sunshine, the moment you went into the shade it felt quite chilly. Today things changed, with the wind swinging round to the west - southwest, helping the temperature back up to 19C.

The garden on 6 May




The garden is getting to look quite lush now as the Red Campions, and the best show yet of the Ragged Robins provide areas of pink amongst the green foliage.


The first buttercup of the year



We seem have gone through a lull in the sequence of new flowerings, but today I spotted the first Buttercup of the year, although only as it started closing for the night!




At the moment we are waiting for the Elder and the Rowan to flower, the latter should give a good display, judging by the large number of inflorescences that I see on it, a great improvement on the one that appeared last year!

Oak leaves with folded lobes



I noticed that on my small Oak tree (in a pot) on a number of leaves that the some of the lobes are folded over, downwards.


Larva found under folded lobe of Oak leaf



Lifting up the folds reveals that each one hides a very small, white larva. I'll need to look at these again when they have grown a bit.


pendulous egg case under leaf of Prunus luctitanica




Hanging from a leaf on another potted plant there is this structure that I can't help think resembles an expensive, designer light fitting.




I assume that it is an egg case, and it is fascinating how the case itself is smooth in texture, but is surrounded by what looks like a loose tangle of coloured silk which then continues up to form the supporting strand.


pendulous egg case under leaf of Prunus luctitanica - close-up of attachment to leaf


At the top of the strand, the silk fibres are attached to the leaf in quite an organised way.

I do not know what produced this structure, so I will be watching it over the days to come to see what emerges.



The Rose Chafer that I found and photographed on the 2nd, remained on the same nettle stem until today, when it disappeared during the early afternoon. I wonder if its 'rest period' coincided with the lower temperatures over that period.

Hoverfly (Rhingia campestris)Today I spotted a hoverfly which, although common, is not one I have previously seen in the garden.

It is a Rhingia campestris, and is easily recognised thanks to its unusual, prominent snout, and the black line down the side of its orange abdomen.

This one turned up on our kitchen window.


A green weevil similar to Phyllobius ponaceusDuring the afternoon I was  re-potting some fuchsia cuttings that I did last year (and have just lost half of them because I forgot to water them!),when this little weevil landed on one. It stayed just long enough for me to get my hands washed and take a couple of pictures before it flew off again.

It is similar to Phyllobius ponaceus, although my insect guide says that there are a large number of similar species. The green colour is due to  a covering of scales which the insect tends to lose as it gets older, and so sometimes appears black.


Silverfish (Lepisma saccharina)Finally (although I have taken some other pictures that I haven't had time to process) one of those primitive insects of the house rather than the garden, a Bristletail (so-called because of the hairs on their tails) - in this case a Silverfish (Lepisma saccharina). It belongs to the only order of insects that apparently never had wings during their evolutionary history.

Silverfish (Lepisma saccharina) - close-up



A closer look shows up the silver-grey, and very slippery scales that cover its body.






7 May - No garden pictures today (and I still need to add a whole lot of big images), because I was rather pre-occupied by the confusing happenings around the Starling boxes. However, it is important to note the first 'proper' rain here for a long time. The morning started off dull and slightly damp (but not too wet to take may camera outside to photograph the Starlings).

Then, in the early afternoon, as the cloud started to break up we had a very heavy downpour which didn't last very long, but was enough to ensure that the big pond was filled right up. However, there are still dry areas under the cover of plants like the Ivy and the large Bamboo, so we need much more rain to get thinks back to near normal.


10 May - The 8th saw the temperature get up to 19C on a very blustery but dry day. Yesterday was wet, not heavy rain but the sort that gave the ground a chance to soak it up )- good for the garden), and today after a dry start we are having more of the same, with a high of 15C. The water butts are full and the ponds are topped up.

I'm afraid that the Starlings' activities have been stealing my attention over the last few days. As soon as sunshine returns, and the chicks have fledged on (or just after) the weekend I will be heading out into the garden again. At least I've caught up with adding the large versions of the images taken for the most recent entries - no I haven't! I've just realised that I have still to add those for the last entry in April.


11 May - Some bright periods, but it has been damp for much of the day, that annoying dampness which is just enough to make you thing twice about taking a camera out into the garden.

The first grasshopper nymph of the year

One dry spell allowed me to do just that for a few minutes at least, and it was worth it when I spotted the first grasshopper nymph of the year on the leaf of a water mint plant.

Grasshoppers have only started appearing in the garden over the last few years so it is encouraging to see that they must have bred here. Hopefully I should be able to find more examples.


I haven't seen any signs of Bush Crickets as yet this year. I usually start to see their nymphs on the geranium leaves under the Birch tree around the middle of May, so I need to start looking more carefully.

Female hunting spider with egg case


At the end of March I commented on the number of hunting spiders to be found on the vegetation next to the sunny side of the big pond, including males displaying to prospective partners.

Today I could see numerous females carrying egg cases under their abdomens, so courtship was obviously successful for some of those spiders!


Talking of egg cases, the 'light fitting' egg case from the 6th was still intact this afternoon, as are the eggs on the Iris leaf.

Ladybird pre-pupal stages, and pupaeAdult native ladybirds are few and far between at the moment, but their larvae seem to turn up everywhere, and the early, first generation larvae have started to pupate during the last few days.

Thank goodness that there is no sign so far of Harlequin larvae (nor have there been any more adults since the 2nd).



Bee-fly (Bombylius major) - 1


And an insect from a couple of days ago. I had settled myself down on the patch by the side of the big pond in the hope of getting a photograph of one of the carder bees that nest here.

That mission was unsuccessful, but as I waited this bee-fly (Bombylius major)  landed right next to me.



Bee-fly (Bombylius major) - 2, oblique view


This second photograph shows more clearly its long proboscis which, while looking threatening, is absolutely harmless, being used to feed on flowers that are low-growing.

This is an insect that has started to appear in the garden more frequently in recent years.


On the plant front, since the first buttercup opened it has been joined by more of them. In the meantime, the Ramsons have now gone to seed but the Three-cornered Leeks are still going strong although some of them have been flattened by night-time visitors - hedgehogs. There was a pair engaged in their noisy courtship right next to the veranda a couple of nights ago. I chose not to disturb them so there are no photographs of the pair. Beyond the big pond the foliage of the Lesser Celandines has collapsed completely now, but while most of the Bluebells have gone to seed, there are a few still in flower.

Most of the colour in the garden (other than green!) is now being provided by the Red Campions, Ragged Robins and the Forget-Me-Nots. There are a few daisies, but not enough yet to draw your attention to them. Last week, on a visit to a garden centre we found some native plants on sale and bought a variety to try out.

Between the path and the caravan shelter I have planted some Red Clover, Bird's-foot-trefoil, Clustered Bellflower, and Small Scabious - I know the last two prefer Chalky, lime-rich soils, but I shall keep my fingers crossed for them.

In damp soil around the big pond I have planted Greater Stitchwort, Purple Loosestrife and in a drier, sunny spot, Agrimony (prefers chalk).

On the slope up to the West Wing I have added a second native Foxglove and a Common Sorrel.

Finally I've planted a Greater Knapweed in the area in front of the workshop shed. I've also scattered a third instalment of wild flower seeds in this area ( the first two instalments were scattered in April), on the West Wing slope, and around the base of the Ivy tree. There will be one more batch of seed scattered in a week or so's time.

Rowan - flower budsAs for the trees and shrubs, the Hawthorn is in full flower now, although the top looks quite bare, because of essential pruning.

The Rowan, on the other hand, is just on the verge of flowering. The buds on its dozens of inflorescences look as though they are almost ready to burst.

I think that there are already open flowers on a neighbour's much more mature Rowan.


The Elder and the Cotoneaster are also likely to flower soon, with the large number of flowers on the latter providing the bees with a plentiful food source.


Click on images to see larger versions

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