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Summer Sights

1st of September 2014

My young trees seem to be doing well, so far. A few are peeping out of the tops of their protective tubes and I can see leaves inside all the others. It has been interesting to see what else has come up. There is a lot of lovely yellow toad flax and an awful lot of sow thistles. Some of these were so tall they were swamping the trees, so I had a few early morning sessions with a brush slasher.

I left most of the nettles as they were loaded with caterpillars. There were quite a few small tortoiseshell ones, hiding under silky webs until they grow big enough to disperse, but dozens of shiny black peacock butterfly caterpillars. I don’t think I have ever seen so many in one place. I had not realised that they lay so many eggs, up to 500 in a batch, or that they are quite so fussy about the nettles. Apparently, they only lay on nettles that catch the sun at midday, when most of the egg laying occurs. These caterpillars soon become chrysalises and then hatch in late July or early August although, of course, many get eaten up before that.

These butterflies will then feed themselves up for their winter hibernation in a hollow tree or the dark corner of a shed. They will not lay eggs until next spring. It has been lovely to see so many on the wing in the garden; my buddleias have been covered in them but they also like bramble flowers and sedums.

In the garden my verbascum leaves are always turned into lace doillies by mullein moth caterpillars but out among the new trees their big downy leaves are perfect. Their tall yellow flower spikes were used as flares in times gone by, giving them the folk name of High Taper. Another name for them is Aaron’s Rod but most often they are known as Great Mullein.

The trees and all our gardens could do with a good soaking after so many long hot days; by the time you read this, things may have changed. British weather is many things, but never boring!
Wendy Bathurst

 
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