Morning Preenings; Night-time Droopings and Dustings; Last Daffodil and Snowdrop Comments, and Seed Successes

Every year the Canada geese fly into the valley sometime during February or March to breed. I guess that the 5 or 6 ponds in the immediate surroundings of the village are a sufficiently good draw. This last week I spotted a new variation to the standard practice of one of the pair of birds always keeping a look out whilst the second bird feeds – quite a good survival strategy in an area with a high fox population. As the mist started to clear on a still, bright morning and I drew back the bedroom curtains I noticed large ripples on our pond. Grabbing the camera I was able to film one of the pair complete a lengthy and comprehensive grooming routine involving head and neck dunking in the water, followed by neck contortions to reach every last feather (that long neck is really handy for this!), tail waggling, all of the above generating ripples on the still water surface whilst the guard bird kept a static silent vigil. Finally, with a last flourish, and lifting its considerable weight out of the water, 5 or 6 complete wing shakes to shed the last remaining water drops. Being camcorder screen captures, the straight images are a bit poor, but I really like the painterly effect of the tweaked image below:

Nearing the end of the morning preening, whilst the mate looks on. 10/04/12

Over the last 10 days, we’ve had a few night time frosts, which are always a bit of a shock to the plants which have been conned by the warm, sunny March weather into thinking that winter has passed. After a particularly clear night, when the temperature had dropped to minus 4 Degrees C, the tulips on the terrace looked particularly sad, yet also visually interesting in their novel freeze induced, limp petalled flopping. I’d feared that this would end their display for the year, but these Tulipa fosteriana cultivars are clearly toughies – firstly reliably returning to bloom after staying in the ground in our wet climate for a number of years (in another part of the garden), and secondly within 24 hours of exposure to this hard frost, having recovered their normal erect and graceful poise.

Tulipa “Flaming Purissima” after a minus 4 degree C frost. You really get to see those yellow petal bases.  7/04/12

Our other Tulipa fosteriana cultivar, T. ‘Sweetheart’ smitten by frost 7/04/12

But all recover within 24 hours 10/04/12

The same plunge in temperatures required precautionary homemade candles to be lit in the greenhouse again overnight to protect seedling tomatoes and salads. I’d done this on a couple of nights and it wasn’t until a few days later that I spotted the spider’s webs. And then the vertical strings of wool and hemp which I’d used for training tomatoes and cucumbers up to towards the roof. They were all clearly outlined perfectly by microscopic soot particles, being highlighted in just the way that dew would normally make them visible in the garden, but here creating a black negative image. Having read a feature on Dolce and Gabbana’s fashion success and their penchant for lace and gothic effects on Saturday, one particular little section of web caught my eye. And interestingly if you look carefully you can spot a normal translucent orb web (and the master weaver) presumably constructed after the candle soot induced etching had taken place, in the background of the photo.

The first soot highlighted spider’s web.

One of the many threads completely festooned along its entire length with sooty silken spider’s threads. I’ve turned the image on its side for clarity.

And my favourite Dolce and Gabbana style design. Is it just my very fertile imagination, or can you see a slinky female pattern form enmeshed? And if you look closely can you spot the un-sooted orb web in the background?

However, what a shock that such a small candle (made of paraffin wax in a 125 gm tomato puree tin) can, whilst burning over just a few hours, produce such a huge amount of fine particulate matter, invisible to my naked eye until perfectly coating these silken structures. Apparently, the soot particle size is tiny, right down there with fungal mould spores, or very small pollen grains, at around 2-5 micrometres diameter. For comparison a human hair is about 50 micrometres wide. The plants seem fine, but I’m guessing that any greenhouse inhabiting insects had a severe bout of respiratory dysfunction, with clogged breathing tubes, until the largely invisible fug had dissipated after I opened the greenhouse door in the morning.

Cause for much thought and research as a wood burning stove fan. Some interesting further information can be found by clicking here.  It seems that burning a candle, particularly a paraffin wax one, and operating even an efficient modern wood burning stove are right up there with cigarette smoking or breathing in diesel engine generated particulate matter as being sure fire ways of wrecking the delicate terminal passages of a human respiratory system, since the soup of toxic compounds released in combustion and the very fine particulate soot largely evades capture and elimination higher up our respiratory tract.

Ah well. Another thing that’s going to get you in the end. It’s interesting to reflect that it was almost exactly a year ago that my breathing suffered in London’s atmosphere and I wrote about particulate pollution issues in a post entitled Queues, Kew and Squills (April 011). Perhaps the local air isn’t always as pristine as we imagined?

Recently unearthed reminders of earlier inhabitants of Gelli – regular findings when planting in the apparent rubbish dump of our lower copse.  Another hobnail boot, a belt and buckle, and a much more recent plastic strap. And a rather fine glass bottle graduated in tablespoons. Perhaps an emptied supply of cough medicine for previous Gelli stalwarts? 8/04/12

Lots more daffodils are now in bloom, several that are new to us and have been grown in dumpy bags this year. Many are  delightful, and we hope that they can be moved into the garden and be just as successful there in future years.

Narcissus ‘Ice Wings’ in bloom now, and a shorter but very pretty variety. 8/04/12

A taller but equally lovely old cultivar. N. ‘Elegance’ 8/04/12

Narcissus ‘Lucifer’ has these attractive blooms, but doesn’t seem as vigorous as the previous 2 cultivars, at least not yet, in our garden 8/04/12

And we’d love someone to tell us what this Narcissus cultivar is. Tall, slim, elegant, fine flowers which last well before fading from strong, to pale yellow. We’ve grown it in our long front bed for years, but have no idea what it’s called or where it came from. 7/04/12

Just this week I received the last of my snowdrop acquisitions for the year from a highly regarded Chelsea Gold Medal winning nursery in Suffolk. They opt to send them out now, as the bulbs are beginning to wind down and approach dormancy, although still in leaf and thus still ‘in the green’, which is fine. But the striking thing about the bulbs and leaves was how small they were, by comparison with the bulbs and foliage seen locally. Perhaps another pointer that we’re really fortunate to be gardening in a part of the UK which in spite of its recent dry spell is still essentially in a position where lack of water is never a real limiting factor as far as plant growth is concerned. One variety in particular, which duplicated a bulb cultivar already sourced nearby was, I guess, a third of the leaf bulk and bulb size of the local specimen. Since the cultivar is called Galanthus ‘Colossus’, it seemed particularly disappointing! The original was more daffodil than snowdrop in dimensions. So perhaps for snowdrops, as I’ve commented before, west is best?

For those interested, I can report that my ‘Trym’ snowdrop leaf cutting ‘died’ a few weeks ago. But fortunately before I’d confined it to the compost heap, Fiona spotted that whereas the previous 2 cuttings had rotted at the leaf base, this one had browned and died back from the leaf tip. So just in case there are a few viable ‘Trym’ cells that have formed a precursor root plate, I’ve plunged the pot in the garden, and await next year’s growing season with interest.

The 3 Snowdrop ‘Trym’ leaf cuttings on 20/02/12. The 2 on the left have rotted at the base – about 4 weeks after collection.

The end of the road for the final snowdrop leaf cutting. 10/03/12, so about 7 weeks after harvesting. Long enough to produce another leaf next year?  I doubt it, but I’ve kept it just in case, since it hasn’t rotted in the same way as the other 2 cuttings.

Now an update on some of my winter seed sowing successes.

Firstly, the assorted tree and shrub seed collected last autumn, and carefully stratified by me in foil wrapped parcels in the family fridge. As you can see below, I’ve now got really good germination from some varieties, very few from others and, as yet, none from quite a few of the remainders. But I shall keep all the pots for at least another 12 months if I can, since germination of many species is erratic and prolonged. In the meantime, once the danger of frosts has passed, I’ve some serious pricking out to do.

A reminder of the filled fridge bottom drawer in November 2011 with foil wrapped seed and compost parcels, undergoing early stratififcation. 15/11/11

Still protected by shade mesh and fleece, this gives an overall impression of germination rates of the tree seed. For once, I’d used decent labelling, though NOT of course, for most of them, having any idea of species details when the seed were collected. 7/04/12

One of my real thrills. Good germination, but what did the label mean? I knew the PF stood for Parc Florale in Paris, but what about the MlsRdlvs? Eventually I twigged that it stood for Malus Red Leaves. I’ve since discovered that this is, I think, Malus tschonoskii, and am repeating below an image of the tree as we saw it, and where we picked up the small fallen crab apples.

The second really pleasing result has come with my saved Meconopsis seed, both M. grandis and M. betonicifolia alba. I’d grown M. grandis from bought and home saved seed before, and on each occasion had followed the seed company’s advice of sowing on the surface and keeping covered with a plastic bag until the seed had germinated. Since I’d used a home based compost of soil and leaf mould, on each previous occasion I had at least 2 crops of weed seedlings to pull out before I spotted the different and distinctive first leaves of the Meconopsis. This year, having forgotten to sow the seeds in the autumn, I waited until we’d had a significant snowfall at the end of January, then scattered the seed thinly onto the top of pots of homemade compost (roughly – soil/leaf mould/coarse builder’s vermiculite 45/45/10), and straight away scooped up snow and packed a 3 inch layer down onto the compost and seed. Since the weather was then cold for a couple of weeks, the seeds would have had a reliable chill. (Originating from the Himalayas, I reckoned this was a fair insult to inflict upon them).

The 2012 Gelli approach to sowing Meconopsis seed.  Seed capsules and seed, sown onto homemade soil/compost surface, a very light covering of builder’s vermiculite and top off with snow! 1/02/12

Left to right, 2 pots of each : Bought Meconopsis grandis Hensol’s Violet seed. Spot the seedling? Next pots of Meconopsis grandis, home saved seed. Next pots of Meconopsis betonicifolia alba. It is vital to protect young Meconopsis seedlings and plants from slug and snail damage, but once established as small plants they cope with the odd slug nibble. 6/04/12

And a close up of the slightly more vigorous M. grandis seedlings. No hand weeding has yet been necessary in this pot. These are all Meconopsis. 7/04/12

The pots were then placed on a gravel bed in the shade on the North side of our latest woven willow protected Dumpy Bags, without any plastic covering. At the same time I sowed a new Meconopsis grandis form ‘Hensols Violet’, sourced from the UK’s largest commercial retail seed company. The germination results are shown above, and are interesting on 2 counts. Firstly my home seed has germinated really well, and in contrast to previous years’ efforts, has all germinated in advance of any weed seedlings. Secondly, the commercially acquired seed which was, as on previous occasions, much smaller and though hermetically sealed, unlike mine, perhaps not as fresh, has to date failed to produce a single seedling. So, another example of why it’s really worthwhile growing your own strains of seed from some of the more unusual plants which we might choose to grow. I perhaps should add that the flowers were also hand pollinated by me, since the alluring large blue (and white) poppy flowers really don’t seem to be appreciated by our Welsh insects.

And a reminder of why we love growing these beautiful flowers. Meconopsis grandis flowers, in May.

And finally:

I finally got round to finishing my Salix and Cornus Clematis support which sits, quite appropriately, beneath Fiona’s earlier Salix sculpture on the old ash stump. Jane, our County N.G.S. organizer, very aptly named it ‘the xylophone’, and so it shall be. Sun on Amelanchier canadensis as a squall blows in from the North West. 10/04/12

Dry sunshine before Easter and a visit from family meant opportunities for an Easter egg hunt. 6/04/12

More eggs in the copse. 6/04/12

I fear that Tulipa ‘Peppermint Stick’ won’t survive long term in our wet conditions, so let’s enjoy it while we can. 10/04/12

At last I can include a half decent long-tailed tit image in my blog, from a screen capture after I was filming the Orange-tip butterfly below. 11/04/12

At last, the first male Orange-tip butterfly emerges on 11/04/12


2 thoughts on “Morning Preenings; Night-time Droopings and Dustings; Last Daffodil and Snowdrop Comments, and Seed Successes

  1. Hi Julian,

    When were the cobweb pics taken? The lighting looks really good.


    • Hello Dave,
      Got you fooled then…. actually they were taken just after midday, but facing the bank and it was really gloomy, so I had to use f2.8 at 1/125sec on ISO200 to get anything at all…. the brightness comes from fiddling with the exposure, back fill light and contrast on the PC ….but it does show the webs up nicely.I’m surprised that the normal web shows up given all this and the shallow depth of field, with such poor light. Thanks for the comment,

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