Meadowmat – Wildflower turf

Not long to go now until the Norfolk Show, and this time I’ll be writing all about Meadowmat wildflower turf. Meadowmat have kindly donated some Wildflower turf to the pollinator plot which you’ll be able to find in the brand new horticulture area.
I collected the turf a couple of weeks ago from their site in Feltwell. It was a beautifully sunny day and the journey took me to a part of Norfolk I’m not very familiar with. Meeting their staff members, they knew exactly what I had ordered and kindly loaded the car with the turf – each piece being a 1 meter square – and all the turf folded in half just about fit in the boot of the car.

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The bees are enjoying the meadowmat

The turf was unloaded at home and placed in a secluded semi-shaded area which doesn’t seem to have done it any harm yet. In the long term this would probably affect the diversity of the turf, with it being more suited to an open sunny spot. In general, it has needed very little looking after – just regular watering as we don’t seem to have had one really rainy day since I collected it, just the odd drizzle. How little it has needed looking after really goes to show just how easy it can be to create a wildflower meadow, especially if you wanted to do so quickly and without the risk of sowing seeds and hoping they all germinate.

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The plant composition seems fairly diverse. Plenty of meadow grasses, yorkshire fog, crested dog’s tail and some beautiful fescues too, and most importantly the absence of any bully grasses such as false oat grass, couch grass and perennial rye which can take over in small meadow areas (especially if nutrients increase).

There are also plenty of flowers within the mix. Some have finished flowering already, and the poppies are almost over, but the cornflowers are still in full bloom. There’s also bird’s-foot trefoil (a larval food plant for the blue butterflies), wild carrot, plantains, red and white campions, and plenty more.

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There are many ways to install a wildflower meadow in your garden and using Meadowmat is a great way to get an instant impact. There are different plant mixes available too including a mix for birds and bees, a cottage garden mix and even a mix suitable to a shaded area. Alternatively, if you are low on space, you can get turf designed for green roofs. Whatever your desired end result there’s a turf for you! If you’d like to find out more, do come and say hello at the Norfolk Show and have a look at the meadow yourself. I’ll be around both days to answer any questions you might have.

keep an eye out for the next two blogs coming up; one on British Wild Flower Plants (the perfect place to buy plug plants to add to your meadowmat!) and the Species Recovery Trust.

x Larissa

Easton College Nature Reserve

Yesterday I spent the day doing one of the things that makes me happiest; wandering around looking at and recording plants. This time I was at the Easton and Otley College open day at the Easton Campus, just outside of Norwich. The college boasts a 245 acre farm and within this farmland there is a real gem (which even some of the college tutors haven’t visited) – the Water Meadows, situated along the river Yare. This is where I was, alongside other naturalists, ex-students and tutors Jerry, Anna and Nick.

Arriving at the Water Meadows, Nick gave some of us a tour around the site so we were aware of the boundaries and where we could wander and record. We headed towards the river and then west towards a fallen (non-native) Poplar tree. On the way we looked under the reptile refuge and saw three wonderful grass snakes. Just a little further on, the meadow was abundant with southern marsh orchid Dactylorhiza praetermissa including one monster specimen! There were also a few early marsh orchids Dactylorhiza incarnata too but these were almost over, but I have never seen such a density.

 

 

The Water Meadows run adjacent to the river and seem to be largely comprised of four areas, separated by ditches of open water. Some patches were clearly more diverse than others. The meadows are used for grazing highland cattle by the college and some areas have been enhanced with nitrates for the grazing, although this was a while ago now and the flora does seem to be recovering well.

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The next four hours were spent surveying the plants within the meadows. In total I recorded 79 flowering plant species and I am confident this is nowhere near a complete list, with many more species yet to be found. What I did notice is that for an area which has been largely neglected, and at times, mistreated with nitrate enhancement, the diversity of plants is certainly comparable to any other nature reserve. In fact, the list reminded me of a similar survey carried out on an FSC training course in Slapton Ley – a National Nature Reserve on the South Coast. Notable plant species included masses of common valerian Valeriana officinalis  and meadow rue Thalictrum flavum and of course the plant which probably has the best scientific name ever – brooklime Veronica becabunga. Say it, go on – ‘bec-a-bun-ga’. Beautiful! 


I tried to record other non-plant species that I could as I went around, which included four butterfly species: small white, meadow brown, red admiral and a skipper which skipped away before we could ID it. There were also common carder bees Bombus pascorum and white tailed bumble bees Bombus lucorum, red-headed cardinal beetles Pyrochroa serraticornis and garden chafers Phyllopertha horticola, a rove beetle, likely Bolitobius sp. and numerous hoverflies which flew before I could photograph them. There were also numerous odonata including a few Norfolk Hawkers Aeshna isoceles and masses of banded demoiselles Calopteryx splendens by the river. These are just the invertebrates which I spotted and I am far from being an expert. I am sure the real experts managed to record many more.

One of the downsides of studying ecology based subjects is that the academic year runs from Sept- June with the latter months usually reserved for exams or putting together final projects. However, the key time of the year to learn about plants is during the flowering season – which for an area like the water meadows, the best months will be June- August. (Because of this, I have never seen the meadows looking so wonderful having only ever visited in Winter!).

The water meadows could be utilised far not only around the whole year, but also during the summer. The college could offer short courses in natural history or identification, or use the meadows as a location for school children to discover pond life or invertebrates. Even as a location for Forest Schools. There are so many possibilities and just so much potential.

Though the most important is to firstly recognise what a wonderful resource it is, and quite rightly it deserves the upgraded title of Easton College Nature Reserve.

x Larissa

Put down your phone, take a moment to look.

It’s just a few weeks away from the Royal Norfolk Show and today whilst the children were either at school or nursery I took the opportunity to get away from the office and spend the day outside in the garden, potting up plants ready for the pollinator area at the show.

I moved some strawberries and herbs into some beautiful vintage style crates and began tending to the weeds in front of the house where my vegetables are growing. Just to note, I’m not usually one to call a plant a weed as most ‘weeds’ have a great wildlife value, but these were getting so out of control the potted plants were beginning to be shaded out! – and besides, it was mostly rye grass and creeping buttercup, the latter of which I have plenty of in the wildflower border.

As I was clearing the area around our rather humble tomato plants, casually out of nowhere appeared a ruby-tailed wasp – Chrysis sp. and settled on the wall in front of me. Now this might not sound too exciting, but I’ve been wanting to spot one for years after seeing everyone post their sightings in the Bees, Wasps and Ants Facebook group. And there it was. Scouring all the little holes in the brickwork of our country cottage, looking for mason bees to parasitise. Beautiful (in a somewhat morbid way).

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Ruby-tailed wasp  (approx 10mm)

I managed to catch the wasp hoping to get an ID on the exact species, but they are hard to differentiate unless you look under the microscope and I didn’t want to kill this beauty today so I let it go. But it made me curious – what else was in the garden? The sun was shining and it was definitely a good bug-hunting day, so I started looking. There were so many bees visiting the flowers; mason bees, bumble bees, carder bees and those really tiny black bees. There were hoverflies, beetles, other beautiful wasps, butterflies, damselflies.

I had read a Facebook post earlier in the day about nectar robbers and that with some long tubed flowers such as the comfrey below, the bees (especially Bombus terrestris and Bombus lucorum in the UK) would steal nectar from little holes near the nectary as they don’t have tongues long enough to reach down the corolla. They either create the holes  themselves (primary robber) or use holes already there from previous robbers (secondary robber). Sitting watching the bees in our comfrey patch I noticed this exact behaviour and even managed to catch a bee at it on camera below – you can see it’s proboscis poking into the flower! In the top photo you can clearly see the little holes close to the sepals. This method of taking nectar is called robbing because the insect doesn’t come in contact with any of the flower’s reproductive organs and so doesn’t facilitate pollination. They are simply stealing the good stuff without giving anything back to the plant! Cheeky.
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I’m still learning to identify invertebrates, but I’ve definitely caught the entomology bug (pun intended). I was really enjoying sitting in the sunshine, soaking up some much needed vitamin D whilst trying to get as many photos as possible of the insects so I can get an ID later and add the record to iRecord. I lost myself for a good couple of hours without realising and before I knew it it was time to collect the children.

I wont always admit it but I am quite often stuck to my phone. Either from working or socialising, I do forget sometimes that there is a world away from that bright screen. Today I managed to remind myself that some of the best days are missed with a phone in your hand. I’ll be making more of an effort for technology-free days and turn my eyes towards the flowers,  the insects and the world outside. You should too 😉

Here are some of the photos from today… I’ll add the ID of each insect as and when I have it confirmed.

x Larissa x

 

Pollinators at The Royal Norfolk Show

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This year The Royal Norfolk Show is overhauling its horticulture area. Taking a new approach, the show has tasked Ellen of Ellen Mary Gardening (Do check out her blog, it’s fantastic!) with organising a brand new, revamped and diverse horticulture area that will have something for everyone! The theme for this year is ‘community’ and you can expect to see a wide range of horticultural stands, exhibits and show gardens, and hopefully the weather will be as wonderful as it was last time I was there serving ice-cream!

This year however, I am really excited to be designing and hosting the pollinator area. Situated between the Grow Your Own plot featuring community garden projects and the Norfolk Bee Keepers, the pollinator plot aims to bridge the link between the two and provide inspiration for ways to garden for pollinators – that’s all pollinators, not just bees.

I’m still at the beginning of the design process, but time is certainly ticking away and I have begun growing some plants already…

Because the theme is community, I really want to incorporate this into the plot itself. Therefore if you would like to donate something to the area, be it a plant or plant pot or even an old butler sink then get in touch – you can email me at info@larissacooper.com. All donators will be mentioned on a postcard given out at the show and a ‘Gardening for pollinators’ booklet.

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Keep an eye out for more blog posts or follow me on Instagram @Larissasgarden for more sneak peeks of what to expect.

xx Larissa

Bird’s foot trefoil

I absolutely love this plant, and this blog does a great job at explaining why.

Scotland's Nature

The familiar and unpretentious bird’s-foot-trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) seems to be spread all over the Scottish landscape; it is found on grasslands, meadows, rock ledges, sand dunes, derelict sites and roadside verges. This perennial herb, member of the legume family (Fabaceae, which includes peas, vetches, broad beans and clovers) is valued in many countries as pasture, hay, and silage, although it has become an invasive species in some parts of North America and Australia.

Bird's foot trefoil and daisies Bird’s foot trefoil and daisies

But more importantly for the aspect of ecosystem services, the bird’s-foot-trefoil is a larval food plant for several butterflies and moths and a valuable nectar source for many other insects. And, like some other legumes, the bird’s-foot-trefoil produces highly nutritious pollen.

However, it is not advantageous for the plant to make its pollen available to all that want it; pollen grains, which are full of proteins, amino-acids and vitamins, require…

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Big Garden Birdwatch 2016

I didn’t take part this year – but read Wildlife Kate’s account of the 2016 Big Garden Birdwatch!

www.wildlifekate.co.uk

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I watch the birds in my garden just about every day and, with the cameras I have, I am in the privileged position of being able to watch all my feeders even when I am working at my desk, where they are connected to screens in my office. I can even access them via my phone app, through the icatcher software that I use to monitor and record all the footage. So, when Big Garden Birdwatch comes around, I already could pretty much predict the exact species and numbers I am likely to see!

Yesterday, I spent an hour in my hub, photographing the visitors there. This is set up for photography and the background from these feeders is on the other side of the lane, so is always nicely out of focus, making the birds stand out. I get more of a variety of visitors on the patio feeders…

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Is Nemasys harmful to bumble bees?

Recent study finds consumer biological control lethal to bumble bee Bombus terrestris in laboratory tests

For many years, gardeners and horticulturists have been using biological control products as a means to eradicate garden pests such as weevils, carrot root fly, thrips and slugs. Many gardeners, including myself, have used these products as a more natural pest control over ‘nastier’ chemical alternatives, but a recent study has shown that these seemingly harmless nematodes could pose a threat to the invertebrates gardeners do like to see and actively encourage – such as bees.

Scientists at Liverpool John Moores University, found that entomopathogenic nematodes in two Nemasys products; ‘Grow Your Own’ and ‘Vine Weevil Killer’ were lethal to the bumble bee Bombus terrestris in controlled laboratory experiments. Results showed high mortality in bees exposed to soil containing nematodes from each of the products. These products are both currently widely available and largely unregulated.

Entomopathogenic nematodes are a parasite, causing death in their hosts through an association with bacteria. Juvinile nematodes are infected with bacteria in the soil then seek and enters it’s host, such as a weevil or moth larvae. The bacteria causes septicemia and kills the host, providing a food source for the nematodes before they proliferate, sending more infected parasites out to find their next victim.

This study has highlighted the potential threat that these methods of biological control could have on our wild bee species, especially those such as Bombus terrestris in which the queen often overwinters under the soil. Worryingly, due to the delay between infection and mortality, if the nematodes are able to proliferate in the dead bees, there is a risk the whole colony could become infected.

Further field research is definitely needed into the safety of available biological control products on non-target species, and the effect that such products have on species outside of the laboratory.

The full article can be found here  in the open access journal PeerJ. Thank you to Steve Head from the Wildlife Gardening Forum for sharing this in the latest newsletter.

-Larissa

Header photo taken in the Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Garden.

2016… Off to a botanical start

I returned to work yesterday after a Christmas break with family in Norfolk. After 10 days It’s great to be home  in London and with the new year brings the start of a new season of species recording. Given I finally got around to signing up my daughter and I to become members of the BSBI, I think this year will be a botanical one.

I haven’t really been looking hard, but I noticed cow parsley in flower and spring bulbs leafy and green in Norwich, and back home in London, my viburnum bush is bursting with flowers attracting opportunist bees foraging on the more milder days.

Sitting on the train this January morning, listening to the women next to me moan about the state of their nail varnish and what they had for dinner last night (sushi for one and the other had home made tagine), I’m sat with my chipped teal nails wondering how many flowers I can spot on my commute this month.

Happy Wednesday!

– Larissa

 A fox sneaking past my office window yesterday!

A year of the pond

It’s been about a year since we restored our pond and I’d like to share with you just how well it has developed in such a short time. I expected it to attract wildlife, but I didn’t expect it to happen so quickly or for it to be so easy.

March 2015. The marginal vegetation is low and there is little duckweed on the top

February 2015. The marginal vegetation is low and there is little duckweed on the top

The first real signs of life were a couple of frogs we discovered on the patio in mid March. We were excited and expected to see frogspawn the following morning, however it was a few weeks before the first batch arrived. My daughter had made checking for frogspawn part of her morning routine before school, and on 2nd April she came running in screaming with excitement.

The first batch of spawn arrived 2nd April 2015

The first batch of spawn arrived 2nd April 2015

That same day we found another two frogs paired up on the patio, and the next morning before breakfast we discovered that our pond was teaming with amphibians all fighting to pass on their genes – some more successfully than others. In total I counted 30 individuals, although I am pretty sure there were more; the pond was so busy it was difficult to count them all. When all the activity had died down, the spawn eventually covered a third of the pond edge.

The second pair on the patio 2nd April

The second pair on the patio 2nd April

If you look closely at the back edge you can see many frogs paired up amongst the spawn

If you look closely at the back edge you can see many frogs paired up amongst the spawn

The spawn

The spawn

One problem we did have with this influx of frogs is that the crows which live in the trees at the end of the garden suddenly had easy dinners and unfortunately a few frogs didn’t quite make it. So in an attempt to keep the frogs safe, we built a makeshift scarecrow which seemed to work. One the 1st May we spotted our first tadpoles.

The scarecrow

The scarecrow

Many tadpoles

Many tadpoles

While the tadpoles matured and eventually left the pond, the vegetation which I had planted in August last year was beginning to grow and would eventually provide cover for the emerging froglets, as well as supplying nectar for foraging bees and other insects.

a mix of marginal pond plants including marsh ragwort - Senecio aquaticus and water figwort - scrophularia auriculata

a mix of marginal pond plants including marsh ragwort – Senecio aquaticus and water figwort – scrophularia auriculata

Pendulous sedge - Carex pendula and teasel - Dipsacus fullonum

Pendulous sedge – Carex pendula and teasel – Dipsacus fullonum

I’ve been asked before what plants work well to plant around the edge of ponds, and I always respond with native species such as those below. I think we have such a beautiful range of native wetland species that there is no need for any others – but this is of course my preference, and I am sure there are many other marginal plants out there. One thing to remember though is that some aquatic plants which are introduced can become invasive if they escape into the wild such as parrot’s feather Myriophyllum aquaticum which is now banned in the UK as well as four others. If you do grow non-native aquatic plants, do not dump them into any wild waterways.

Marsh ragwort - senecio aquaticus

Marsh ragwort – senecio aquaticus

Greater bird's foot trefoil - lotus pedunculatus

Greater bird’s foot trefoil – lotus pedunculatus

Ragged robin - Silene flos-cuculi

Ragged robin – Silene flos-cuculi

Soft rush - Juncus effusus (99% sure on the DI of this but didn't get Stace until the flowers were over)

Soft rush – Juncus effusus (99% sure on the ID of this but didn’t get Stace until the flowers were over)

One problem I have had with the pond is the thick blanket of duckweed. A little duckweed is fine, and is probably a good thing, but unfortunately the nutrient levels were increased in our pond after my daughter ‘fed’ the tadpoles about 50 slugs and snails! I noticed that the tadpoles were coming up for air a lot more than they should one day so I began clearing the duckweed using a large holed tennis racket, carefully picking out any creatures such as rat-tailed larvae and water louse. I had to do this every other week or so, as and when the duckweed regrew. I also added in some oxygenating hornwort to help the tadpoles.

A frog poking his head through the thick covering of duckweed

A frog poking his head through the thick covering of duckweed

One day when clearing out the duckweed I made a discovery which made my day. I had caught a newt! A very large, male smooth newt Lissotriton vulgaris. Part of me had hoped he was a great crested newt, but I was still happy to have found another new resident of the pond.

Male smooth newt - Lissotriton vulgaris

Male smooth newt – Lissotriton vulgaris

Having a pond in the garden is great for curious kids. My daughter loves pond dipping with me and we have discovered large dragonfly and damselfly larvae, rotifers, may fly larvae, small diving beetles, water louse, blood worms, pond skaters and most recently, a newt eft which shows that the frogs aren’t the only ones breeding in the pond. It is worth noting that when removing duckweed, to also check for newt eggs too.

Another smooth newt (or possibly the same one) caught on a different occasion

Another smooth newt (or possibly the same one) caught on a different occasion

A newt eft

A newt eft

The pond is also visited by different Odonata – the family to which dragonflies and damselflies belong. Last year just shortly after the pond was restored we saw dragonflies laying their eggs in the water. This year, we have seen a few different species of Odonata including the large red damselflies Pyrrhosoma nymphula and the southern hawker Aeshna cyanea dragonfly.

Large red damselflies copulating

Large red damselflies copulating

Southern hawker

Southern hawker

I am sure that this is just a fraction of the wildlife which has benefitted from our pond. The foxes come and drink from it each night and the bats feast on the emerging midges above the water. The pond provides nourishment, a home, and a place to breed for creatures large and small and I look forward to seeing what the next surprise will be.

If you have a pond in your garden, I’d love to hear what wildlife it has attracted. Comment below or get in touch through twitter or facebook.

Attracting bats to your garden

This weekend (29th – 30th August 2015) is International Bat Weekend and the perfect time to talk about attracting bats to your garden.

Bats are one of the mammals which visit our garden, usually around dusk. In the UK bats account for around a third of all the mammal species and can be found in many different habitats – including gardens. Whilst this may sound like a lot, bat populations are still at risk from a range of problems including habitat loss and building work so encouraging bats into your garden can help.

There are a few different things you can do to encourage bats to visit your garden here are just a few.

Providing food

UK bats eat insects and hunt at night using echolocation so by creating areas in the garden which attract insects, you will be proving food for the bats. You can do this by planting a range of shrubs and nectar rich flowers which support different insects; a good list of which can be found on the Bat Conservation Trust’s website here. Native plants can sometimes support more insects so it is definitely worth incorporating some of these. If you are lucky, you might find some already in your gaden – especially if it is rented and has been slightly neglected over the years as many ‘weeds’ are very beneficial to wildlife!

You can also plant night-scented flowers such as evening primrose Oenothera sp. Night-scented catchfly Silene noctiflora, and Honeysuckle Lonicera periclymenum which will attract night flying insects such as moths.

The poached egg plant is easy to grow, attracts insects and is on BCTs list - but the slugs seem to love it to so beware!

The poached egg plant is easy to grow, attracts insects and is on BCTs list – but the slugs seem to love it to so beware!

Evening primrose in our front garden

Evening primrose in our front garden

Another fantastic way to provide food is to have a wet area in your garden. This could be anything from a large pond, to an upturned washing up bowl dug into the ground. By having a pond you are creating a habitat for the larvae of many flying insects such as midges, beetles and hoverflies, all of which bats will happily eat. Last year after we restored our pond we had bats flying over our garden and feeding on the emerging midges within just two months. Other habitats for insects you could create include insect hotels, compost heaps and log piles.

A recent photo of the pond with the purple loosestife - Lythrum salicaria in flower at the back

A recent photo of the pond with the purple loosestife – Lythrum salicaria in flower at the back

Providing shelter

Putting up a bat box in your garden is a great way to attract bats to roost, but be patient as it can take some time for the bats to find the new box. There are many different designs available, some which can easily be made at home such as my favourite – the Kent bat box. Ideally if you can, put up more than one box as high as possible, all facing different directions, but avoid areas near lights as these can have a detrimental effect on bats.

You could provide a range of styles of bat box too, just remember to use untreated wood if you are making them yourself. Once up, the boxes can not be opened without a licence as all UK bats are protected. To tell if your boxes are occupied look for dropping stains on the box, or wait until dusk as see if any bats emerge!

Unfortunately you won't attract the gorgeous long-eared bat with a bat box as they do not use them.

Unfortunately you won’t attract the gorgeous long-eared bat with a bat box as they do not use them.

One problem bats face are cats. If you have a cat at home (we have three!) you can help the bats out by keeping your feline friends at home indoors an hour or so before and after dusk when the bats are emerging from their roosts and are easy pickings for cats which have spotted them.

Scarlet and Humphrey are kept in every night

Scarlet and Humphrey are kept in every night

If you would like more information on bats, head over to the Bat Conservation Trust’s website or even better, become a member and help support their amazing work!

This weekend why not head to London and join BCT in the Wildlife Garden at the Natural History Museum for their annual Bat Festival and find out more about these magnificent mammals.

Batfest at the Natural History Museum in 2014

Batfest at the Natural History Museum in 2014