Sunday, 20 December 2009

2009 at Frog End - a summary

I've been looking back at the species lists I wrote for Frog End a year ago and as I'd expected 2009 wasn't a particularly great year for wildlife in the garden - not compared with 2008 at least. We had quite a warm winter followed by a very warm spring - I remember getting sun-burn in April. From May onwards (unfortunately coinciding with when my family came to visit) we had several weeks of rain followed by a really dry end of summer / early autumn (I was out watering the garden every day in September). The wet summer was quite poor for insects and we saw two fewer species of butterfly and dragonfly than in 2008. Although we saw a couple of baby slow worms and one adult the female didn't sit and sun bathe on the fence every day as she did last year (probably because there wasn't any sun to be found).

The good news is that the pond plants have become established and the ponds themselves have had many more species this year including water beetles and mayfly larvae. Our first dragonflies and damselflies emerged and the frogs spawned for the first time. My father also spotted our first hedgehog.

A squirrel drinking at the pond

Grasshopper on the house wall

We had our second thick frost last Thursday and despite rain overnight last night the frost is still thick on the ground. Both ponds have frozen over and we now have some rather ugly blue ice cream tubs sitting on the ponds leaving an air gap in the ice. The cold weather appears to have doubled the number of birds feeding in the garden and I've seen chaffinches and dunnocks for the first time at Frog End this week. We've also had a few goldfinches - a species we hadn't seen since the early summer. Most of the birds are not yet brave enough to come close to the house (there being little cover established at this end) so I have no good photographs, but all that should change in the New Year when I shall be attempting digiscoping for the first time.

I said that MOST of the birds are not yet brave enough to come close to the house. Yesterday morning a pigeon sitting on the roof presumably slipped due to the frost and fell down the chimney. Luckily Ian removed the old fireplace in the study earlier in the year and we've yet to block it up again so it was relatively easy to remove the pigeon. Of course it had to sit in my seedtrays on the windowsill before we got it out the window so now there is soil all over the christmas presents, but I'm sure my family won't mind much.

Common darter exuviae

The highlights of the year for me include our first dragonflies emerging, watching a squirrel hug a flower and dipping the ponds. Looking forward to 2010 with anticipation...

Friday, 18 December 2009

The front garden

Looking back through this blog I've noticed that it may look as if Frog End only has a back garden. In fact we have quite a large front garden. Not large compared with a house out of the city, but it is the largest front garden on our street and probably the largest I've seen in Exeter for a terraced house this size.

The reasons that I rarely blog about the front are twofold. Firstly the front has comparatively little wildlife, 95% of the houses on our street having drives or paved over front gardens. Birds can be seen passing overhead, but I can't recall seeing any actually in the front garden. Similarly I've not seen any reptiles or amphibians in the front. Insects are more frequent visitors and in the summer the front has more grasshoppers than the back garden (though I've no idea why). Secondly I have to admit that our front garden has never really been presentable enough to photograph - at least not since we started playing with it.

When we arrived the front garden was much like the back - very lumpy grass on a slope containing the odd tree stump and a single border round the edge filled with gravel and a couple of shrubs. Since then we have toyed with a number of ideas. At first I had my way and convinced Ian that it should all be flower borders (with no lawn at all). Next we decided that we had better have a drive in the hope that it would increase the value of the house and stop next door from parking in front of our house all the time. The drive seemed like a good idea as we had tonnes of gravel from the back garden to get rid of. We brought over half of that through to the front before deciding that we didn't really like it and the builder pointing out that without a solid base it would just sink with the car on top. Next we considered having someone in to put in a paved driveway, but looking at the prices and considering that we probably wouldn't bother driving the car on to the front we quickly rejected that idea. Now we are back to the original plan of flower borders and I have to say that I am relieved.

Over the last couple of years I have planted a third of the garden (the part that would not have been driveway) and began making a native hedge on the right hand side. Yesterday we finished the native hedge, added a beech hedge along the wall next to the pavement and some other native trees next to the wall on the left. Ian is currently in the middle of changing our water supply from lead to plastic piping. He has now finished digging a two-foot deep trench for the pipe from the street to the house and is starting to dig under the paving next to the house to the house wall. As soon as the new pipe is in I will have my fun, remake the path to the front gate and plant the rest of the garden.

August 2007 - just after we moved in to Frog End

April 2008

June 2008 - the real low point when the front was filled with all the junk we unearthed in the back garden before the skip arrived

9th December 2009 - Ian clearing away the gravel to prepare for the trench

18th December 2009

The new beech hedge:

Despite the big trench I still think our messy front garden looks nicer than next doors tidier, but rather blue, back garden:

Thursday, 17 December 2009


Our hedging and other assorted trees arrived today - a bit later than planned, but well in time for Christmas. We bought 15 beech trees for a hedge along the front wall, the following native species to put in the mixed hedges to the left and right of the front garden

Buckthorn, Alder
Dogwood, Common
Rose, Sweet Briar
Rose, Field
Rose, Dog
Rowan/Mountain Ash
Maple, Field

some non-native dogwoods to put in the borders, a crab apple to replace the hydrangea by the front door (Exeter city council obviously thought planting a hydrangea in every council house garden was a good idea, but personally I don't like them), a couple of currant bushes and I couldn't resist buying a Korean Fir and a walnut to go in pots until we have a bigger garden. By the time we'd got everything into the ground and watered it had been dark for an hour so I shall have to take some photos tomorrow.

Having watched "The age of stupid" the other night we're quite pleased to be planting and not digging things up for a change.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Our first 'proper' frost

We may not have had any snow so far this winter, but we did have our first 'proper' frost today. We've had a few small frosts before, but they've always melted prior to Ian leaving for work at around 8am. This stuck until 11am.

Of course we were bound to start having frosts now that we have a load of hedging that will need to be put in the ground next week.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Down at the bottom of the garden...

One of the (admittedly several) reasons we fell in love with the house was the field and row of trees at the bottom of the gardens on our section of the road (our road being an L-shape most of the residents are unlucky enough to back on to other houses).

The trees block the view of the houses on the other side of the field (except in winter), provide us with squirrels, birds, insects and lots of little tree seedlings. Mostly these are norway maples and we have a lovely little collection in pots at the moment.

Unfortunately they seem to do better when they haven't been moved, like this one growing in the gravel next to the house wall. Unfortunately it's going to have to be dug up before the builder arrives in a couple of weeks to put in french doors and I don't like our chances of extracting its roots.

We're very lucky in that some of the trees directly backing onto our garden are elms. Although there is actually an Exeter elm my father ruled that out when trying to identify them and they remain unidentified. Three of the trees at the bottom are dead. I assume that they are elms, but confess have never tried to identify them. Unfortunately one keeled over in the wind and landed on our back fence a few days ago.

Luckily the tree is not too heavy and didn't bring down the fence that Ian and my father put up last year.

Technically the removal of the tree is a job for the council, but our council are a little 'chain-saw-happy' and I fear that they would remove a lot more than just this tree if we called them in. The slow worm family also live around the roots of the tree so we'll have to be very careful when dealing with it.

Friday, 18 September 2009

The unknown plant/shrub

I found this plant/shrub in my wildflower border last year. It grew rather large (as you can see from the first photo) so I moved it to the border next to the back fence. My attempts to identify it have failed, but it now has some rather distinctive flowers.

Coincidentally my father who lives about 250 miles away also has the same unknown plant in his garden (also flowering for the first time this year).

Does anyone have any idea what it is please?

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Fruit and nuts

Although we do have a few trees actually in the ground in our garden the majority are currently living in pots. I, or other members of my family, have grown most of them from seed and they currently range from a one inch tall norway spruce to a two foot tall horse chestnut. There will, however, come a time when all these trees need a new home. Hopefully we shall own some land by then. Fingers crossed.

Most of the trees are native species, but I do have a number of others, the majority of which are fruit or nut trees.

These pear and apricot trees were grown from seed.

I do hope that they produce edible fruit, but the majority of fruit trees being grafted these days they probably won't taste anything like the fruit that they came from.

This damson was bought from a garden center (I haven't seen damsons in the shops for years and therefore couldn't grow one from seed). It produced a single fruit for the first time this year:

Ian's grandad gave us this grape:

Pretty much all the white mulberry seeds I bought from Nicky's Nursery germinated, but my black mulberries from the New Forest Otter and Owl Center have yet to germinate:

This is an almond I grew from a nut in one of those big multipacks of nuts that they sell in supermarkets at Christmas.

I also tried growing walnuts at the same time, but although they germinated they went mouldy before the seedling made it to the surface. Will have to try again this Christmas.

These varieties of walnut are more exotic and therefore bought as seedlings:

White walnut or butternut.


I particularly like that the heartnut is supposed to readily split into two halves.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Migrant hawker

The pair of migrant hawkers returned for several hours today. This is the male:

As you can see he was not at all bothered by my presence:

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

In the garden

Today Ian spotted two hawker dragonflies hawking over the garden and I was lucky enough to catch this female migrant hawker when it settled on a fence post:

Inspired by the dragonflies I decided to have a good root around the garden to see what wildlife I could find. The nettles at the bottom of the garden have been well and truly munched by these caterpillars of the comma butterfly

one of which had already formed a chrysalis:

We've kept a pile of logs and broken fence panel slats near the pond for nearly a year now in the hope that reptiles and amphibians would hide underneath. Until now we've only been rewarded with slugs, but today we were pleased to find an adult slow worm - the first we've seen this year:

Monday, 17 August 2009

Found it!

It turns out that I spoke too soon regarding the large moth and that it had in fact remained inside the house (though I can't imagine where). It showed up in the bathroom this morning and was very relieved to be let out after being photographed.

To the naked eye and with the flash off it looked a very dull brown - similar to a ringlet butterfly, but the flash revealed quite a distinctive pattern. It's the largest moth I've seen here in Devon and with wings spread was the size of a peacock butterfly. All suggestions as to the species are most welcome.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Inside and out

This week we've had a huge variety of insects in the garden including several Jersey tiger moths:

We've also had some insects in the house including a huge moth last night. Unfortunately our tabby cat William chased it and it flew under the cooker in panic. It did come out later on, but I was unable to photograph it before putting it outside.

This grasshopper hopped into the kitchen on Tuesday (it hopped back on to the house wall when I came in for the camera)

and this ichneumon fly spent much of the week on the dining room ceiling before coming down to the window and being helped outside

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Planting combinations

I've spent many hours looking through gardening books and on the internet trying to find the best plants to group together, but as yet I've rarely managed to get it right in practice. Either a key plant dies or never flowers (as was the case with all my delphiniums and echinaceas that I had such high hopes for) or decides to flower a whole two months earlier than it says in the books (we did have a particularly warm spring) or flowers late because it is only the first year of growth.

Consequently most of my perennials have moved at least twice in an attempt to group things sensibly.

This month there is one little area of the garden that I am particularly pleased with and have no plans to change. It consists of a patch of only three plants: Persicaria amplexicaulis 'firetail', the beautiful Calamagrostis acutiflora 'overdam' grass and Monarda (commonly known as the herb Bergamot) 'Cambridge scarlet'.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

A guide to mulberry growing

Having seen a beautiful black mulberry tree at the New Forest Otter, Owl and Wildlife Park yesterday I'm determined to grow one. I've bought some mulberry seeds in the past, but they failed to germinate. This time I've picked up a large number of fallen mulberries and am reading up on the matter before I plant the seeds.

This is the key information that I've gleaned so far...

  • Black mulberry seeds are best planted as soon as they've been removed from the berry.

  • All of the fruit should be cleaned from the seeds to prevent moulds forming.

  • Seeds should be planted below 1mm of compost in a warm propogator and kept moist.

  • Seedlings have very fragile roots so shouldn't be handled too much.

  • Whilst the tree can survive outside, small seedlings should be brought inside or under glass during winter.

  • Mulberry trees drop their leaves at the first sign of frost, spending much of their time in a dormant state. Sometimes the dormant seedlings don't 'wake up', andt if a tree is still dormant by summer then it's unlikely to come out of dormancy. There is a solution... chopping off the top of the seedling and any existing leaves sends it into shock which encourages it to put out new leaves.

  • After a year or two the mulberry can be transplanted to their proposed location.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Helophilus pendulus

One of the most regular insect visitors to our pond is the hoverfly Helophilus pendulus. Today I found a pair mating. Upon closer examination it turned out to be three of them. Not something I've seen before, but as Ian put it I obviously need to get out more!

It looks like the pair underneath are mating and the male(?) above is waiting his turn. Given that he's grabbing her by the eyeballs I'm surprised that she hasn't driven him away.

Thursday, 9 July 2009


We have a little friend on the kitchen window at the moment. Like so many others last year this large white caterpillar decided to climb up the house wall and window to form a chrysalis on the upper sill of the window. This one fell a couple of times and eventually gave up, instead forming a chrysalis right in the middle of the window.

June 20th:

July 3rd:

Fingers crossed that we'll be lucky enough to catch it emerging in a month or so.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Pond Dip - July 2009

Having seen Jeremy's blog yesterday I was determined to get some more photographs of the dragonfly larvae in the pond.

This is a common darter:

I found two in the pond this morning.

It looks like all the broad-bodied chasers have emerged because I couldn't find any larvae today. The photo below was taken in June:

I wonder why they are so muddy compared with the darters. When they emerge from the pond they aren't muddy - maybe it's a method of avoiding predators?

I photographed this larva in August 2008. I suspect it's either an emperor dragonfly or a southern hawker.