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

 

Royal Norfolk Show – Walnut Tree Garden Nursery

Over the next four weeks I’ll be posting about the Pollinator area at the Royal Norfolk Show 2018, which I am honoured to be creating (see my previous post for more information). This includes a series of featured posts about some of the very generous local businesses which have donated to the area.

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The first in this series is Walnut Tree Garden Nursery. When I visited earlier in the year after Jim had offered to donate some plants, I initially wondered if the sat nav was taking me down the right road. A small country road winds it’s way to the nursery and if you make this journey don’t worry, you are going the right way.

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The first thing I noticed was the sound of birds. This is obviously an area which is well cared for, loved by wildlife and miles away from your concreted commercial garden centres. I really liked it and began dreaming of owning my own place like this one day.

I had a little wander before Jim met me and showed me around the polytunnels as we chose a selection of pollinator friendly plants. I was in awe of Jim’s knowledge of each plant; the taxonomy, etymology and the origins along with the various benefits to wildlife. My expertise is in native British plants so it was interesting to see some different varieties of some genera I was familiar with, and some which were totally new!

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I cam away with a wonderful selection of plants which I have been growing up in the garden at home ready for you to enjoy at the show. To find out what they are you’ll have to make sure you visit!

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I can’t recommend Walnut Tree Garden Nursery enough and look forward to going back. Even if you don’t live locally, it is well worth the visit to add some truly wonderful and specialist plants to you garden which you are unlikely to find anywhere else. Take a look at their website to see a little of what’s on offer – and if you’re not local, you can order online!

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Come back soon for the next blog post on Meadowmat!

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

Back after a little break

It’s been nearly two years since I last posted. A lot has happened since then and we are in a new home with new, smaller garden. Instead of being in suburban London, we’re living in rural Norfolk in the Breckland area. We are still lucky enough to be adjacent to a woodland, however the two woodlands couldn’t be more different from each other; the previous woodland was a large ancient woodland whilst the current woodland was recently planted (c. 1950) and is just a couple of acres surrounded by crop fields. There is a meadow adjacent to the property which looks like we may have use of later in the year, and if this comes to fruition, then we plan to acquire some sheep for wool production and grazing! Watch this space.

With this move there is a noticeable change in the wildlife which we are seeing in and near our garden here compared to London, although we have only been here since Autumn last year so we don’t have the best two seasons to go by. There are lots of birds of prey here, including a buzzard which seems to always be around somewhere and a pair of kestrels, not to mention the rooks which live in the woodland and flock each morning and evening in such a wonderfully haunting way.  I have noticed an absence of early pollinators this year however,  which I hope this is much more to do with a change in location northwards and the recent cold snap, and of course some of the species I would see previously aren’t as common here either.

As well as moving, I’ve also signed up to the National Plant Monitoring Scheme (NPMS). The general idea is to record plants in three 5x5m quadrats and two linear plots within a 1km specified area, and do this twice a year for as many years as possible to record any plant and habitat changes. You don’t need to be a botanical expert and you are given lots of resources to help you with recording. My 1km plot is north-east of Norwich in the Broadland area, but is still relatively rural with approx 85% of the plot being agricultural fields. I made the initial visit last summer to identify possible plot locations and will be returning again in late spring to being the first year of recording. I have applied for a second, local plot which consists of a large proportion of woodland. I’ll update with the progress of recording here on this blog. If you’d like to get your own 1km square head over to the website here and sign up.

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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!

Harvesting Nettle Seeds

A fabulous blog on harvesting nettle seeds which are a natural pick-me-up and on the to do list for this time of year.

Whispering Earth

Nettle Seed

I passed a lovely afternoon recently in harvesting my first nettle seeds of the year. They are so abundant right now and so helpful during these busy periods that it was a real pleasure to get out gathering them.

There are a couple of great articles on the internet describing how to harvest nettle seeds along with their uses which I highly recommend reading, notably those by Henriette here and here and Kiva Rose here and here. Though many people know how beneficial nettle leaf can be, until the recent revival of interest in nettle seeds it was a little used remedy in modern herbal medicine. Even now it seems to be much more popular amongst traditional herbalists and herbwives rather than medical herbalists, not that the distinction is always so clear.

The benefits of nettle seeds have some overlap with those of the leaf, both being…

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