29 June 2012

Word Map

This is one of those Wordle graphics which looks at the words in a piece of text - in this case the last three posts - and then makes the most used words the biggest etc.

Obviously 'presentation' is the most popular because this week has been a PowerPoint week, but I'm gratified that 'think', 'health' and 'gardening' are also up there.

Go to the Wordle site and have a go yourself with something you've written.

All About The Lily Beetle

The following presentation is my belated contribution to National Insect Week.

This is a biennial event run by the Royal Entomological Society with the aim of making the public aware of the insects around them, which you would think was an unnecessary endeavour since everyone notices flies and ants at this time of year, but I think I understand where they are coming from. Since starting this blog the insects in the garden have provided useful and interesting copy, from the Naomi Campbell of wasps, and the overburdened hoverfly, to lumbering Billy Witches. Insects are generally scary, icky things - apart from ladybirds, but even they in their Harlequin guise are evil incarnate – but they are fascinating in their diversity and complexity.

Let me make it clear I don’t want them anywhere near me but I do have some sympathy towards them as a class of animal. The health of the natural world rests on them, and as I’ve said before I am concerned about the apparent decline in insect numbers.

But meanwhile my beautiful orange lilies are being decimated by the larvae of lily beetles. I’ve done some research on the buggers, and put it all together in this PowerPoint presentation. Hopefully it will be useful for those of you who may be similarly afflicted. It’s a pretty straight run through of information, think ‘school homework’ standard, so don’t go through it if you’re not interested. However, I enjoyed making it. If there is any other aspect of gardening - plant or animal - let me know and I’ll knock up another.

The information for this report came from the RHS.

The Lily Beetle

27 June 2012

What Would Grayson See?

Here is the much anticipated review of Chorlton Open Gardens.

To keep the technological juices flowing I've created it as a PowerPoint presentation, and then saved it as a PDF.  It was fun to make but I'm not sure it's enhanced the reading experience. Perhaps you could all come round and I'd give a proper presentation with wine and nibbles. Mind you, some say this whole blog is best experienced with a large glass of wine to hand.

Again, give me a shout if this doesn't work.

What Would Grayson See

25 June 2012

Update On Green Manure

forage rye green manure

Making 'music' with a blade of forage rye.

(I think this blog is becoming increasingly about mental health issues rather than gardening)

22 June 2012

Fire and Water

Lilies viewed through a rain covered window

Midsummer 2012

Buzzed By Billy Witches

Scene 90 from ‘The Amateur Gardener’ (AG):

Setting: bright sunny day. AG sitting on bench drinking coffee. Hears loud buzzing noise, similar to old biplane, then plopping noise as insect (as yet unidentified) crash lands into nearby grass. AG smiles indulgently believing the sound comes from a bumbling ladybird.

AG finishes coffee and goes to readjust washing on line. Notices a large round beetle on a towel.
garden chafer

Delighted with potential new subject to blog about AG rushes to get camera and starts taking photographs.

After a few attempts AG steps back to view images on camera. Notices another beetle on grass. Intrigued. Happens to glance over other items of drying clothing. Notices many other beetles.

AG: “Aaaarrgghhh!!”

It’s a truism that one insect is interesting, but a swarm of them is plain scary.

To be strictly accurate this beetle isn’t a Billy Witch (a Suffolk nickname for a cockchafer (snigger)). It’s probably a garden chafer. And not surprisingly it’s bad news. Apparently the grubs eat grass roots, and the adult eats leaves. They are a symptom of ‘poorly maintained lawns’ according to the RHS.

AG nods apologetically.

garden chafer on washing

20 June 2012

Pauper's Wood

paupers wood

If your fairy godmother gifted you a lump of spare cash with the proviso it was spent on plants what would you buy?

Would you tart up your garden, or would you buy a plot of land? When I first started earning a proper wage I set up a savings account with the intention of one day in the far distant future buying some land. The romantic notion was tempered with a little realism in that I was only expecting to own a scrappy bit of field, but the sense of freedom and opportunity it represented was immense. Of course, Life drained the savings dry. It might have been used as the deposit for our first house, or perhaps it paid for the wedding. Now Garden 65 is the only ground I own, and am ever likely to.

Last Sunday, during Didsbury Open Gardens, I visited a piece of land that another woman has managed to buy for herself. Incredibly, on a corner next to a busy traffic artery in and out of Manchester, there is a tiny 2 acre woodland; a magical world of mature trees and tangled undergrowth.

It was once the burial ground attached to a Victorian Workhouse; hence its name ‘Pauper’s Wood’. A few years ago when the surrounding land was being developed a mother of young children, Mary Machlachlan, bought the wood. It is now used as a ‘forest school’ were primary age school children can spend the day exploring nature at their own pace.

“At Wood School we see curiosity as the foundation of learning. We aim to inspire curiosity with stories and activities that explore the woodland and extend out into the world beyond.”

In my post on the Didsbury Open Gardens day I made fun of the money spent on garden designers to produce perfect gardens. It was meant as a light-hearted dig. To be frank if I had a few thousand burning a hole in my pocket there is a strong possibility I too would bring in an expert designer. As I’ve demonstrated in this blog, I don’t have a clue about gardening. However, when walking (or running, or splashing, or swinging) through Pauper’s Wood it’s worth considering what can be achieved when money is combined with imagination and vision.

carving of a frog

Pauper's Wood
The Wood School

19 June 2012

A Ladybird Waves Contemptuously

A ladybird waves contemptuously at the incompetent camerawoman, who turns her ineptitude into a short comic film after raiding the CDs in her car to find a suitably cheery and copyright free tune.

Music is a Mozart Clarinet Concerto

18 June 2012

Like Bees Round An Echinops

bees echinops

Yesterday the back streets of Didsbury were filled with swarms of people in search of a good garden. All you had to do was look down a street and where you saw a congregation near a front gate you knew there would be an Open Garden.

If you followed them in you entered a secret world of newly laid lawns, box hedging, and RHS recommended plants. Like bees round an echinops we drank up the ambrosial beauty of an English garden under the unpredictable sky of an English summer. Where else in the North West can you admire someone’s ability to hire a garden designer while being served tea and cake by pretty privately-educated girls?

Do you detect the slight tang of bitterness in my words? Hand on heart I enjoyed the event; it’s a privilege to experience genuine beauty, and I would like to thank the owners for letting us intrude on their private space. However it was created, through years of nurturing or tons of money, a garden has an air of vulnerability; it is after all the realisation of a personal dream.

I ended the day with two impressions:

  1. The current worry about bees is misplaced. They are doing fine; the gardens were full of them. Domestic gardeners and their designers have evidently got the message to plant more bee friendly plants
  2. Didsbury is a world unto itself.

Update: I've heard in one of the gardens the planting alone cost £35,000!

15 June 2012

Short Story: Merula


Here is another awkward attempt at writing fiction. Apologies.

It was inspired by an incident I witnessed while sitting in the garden in the beginning of May. Time has moved on and the conditions described in the story have changed, but I think we can still remember them.

(Please note: I'm afraid our old friend Witchy doesn't feature, and readers of a sensitive nature may need a hanky to hand.)

Again, let me know if you have a problem with reading Scribd.


Image from Wiki Commons

13 June 2012

Knitting In The Park

knitting green cardigan

This week is World Wide Knit in Public Week.
WWKiP for short.

The aim is to combat solitary knitting by encouraging people to find a group to knit with. Instead I've used the event to literally knit in public, ie. outside. After yesterday's post I thought it would be a way of introducing you to my nearest 'greenspace', Fog Lane Park.

So here I am with a nascent cardigan in the 'sensory garden'.

The plan was to boldly sit at a picnic table in the open, but knitting by yourself in public is not normal, is it? So I rattled off a couple of rows in a hidden corner.

To be honest I’m quite new to knitting – it will be a miracle if a cardigan does actually materialise – which meant completing two rows took a long time. The thing with doing something like knitting or sewing is that a calming rhythm sets up and eventually the mind relaxes. Once the self-consciousness had worn off I became aware of my surroundings.

dog walker in Fog Lane ParkIt was about midday with a grey sky overhead and rain threatening. Local children had gone back to school, so the only people using the park (apart from us pioneering craft workers) were dog walkers. Most were women with friends, but there was the odd teen reluctantly trailing the family dog around, and of course, the ubiquitous shaven-haired chap with his Staffy. At the weekend the park is much busier with children in the play area and men playing football, but I would guess the main use the park is put to is dog walking.

It makes the simple act of knitting under a tree appear quite subversive. What is a public park for? It would seem a park is for any form of determined movement, be it exercising the dog, clambering over play equipment or taking part in a sport. Admittedly it’s also for drug dealing, but we’ll pass that over for a moment. How many people use their local park for doing nothing but enjoying the fresh air? I wonder if more people were to think of their park as literally a public space where they could relax as they saw fit, then parks could be reclaimed from criminals and petty vandals. What’s wrong with taking a flask of tea and a book and sitting on a bench for half an hour? You could even watch a film on your Ipad.

I’m talking here about a change of perception, but one thing that will never change is the weather: it wasn’t just embarrassment that stopped me knitting another row – it was the rain.

Fog Lane Park
A Path Mown into Grass

12 June 2012

The 'Angst' of Urban Parks

See below for reason for not-so-gratuitous picture of a wet Darcy

Although I may occasionally stamp my foot at not being one of the lucky people who live on the urban/rural edge I am fortunate to live in the best bit of Manchester which has a good provision of parks and natural areas.

Fog Lane Park is within sneezing distance. I go there to fly kites and throw Frisbees, and where I periodically revive attempts at jogging. Twenty minutes walk away is a Fletcher Moss Gardens, the botanical garden where the RSPB was founded no less, and running at the foot of this is the Mersey and a local nature reserve. Once I even saw a stoaty/weasely creature there.

For a resident of Britain’s second city I live within easy access to a variety of green spaces.

In 2010 the government through Natural England, its advisor on the environment, published a set of standards that might be applied to the provision of green spaces for the general populace. Called ‘Nature Nearby’ it is meant to be read by ‘greenspace professionals’ and local authorities. Unfortunately at 98 pages long and only available in PDF it does require a lot of squinting and quite a few cups of tea to get through, but I found it interesting. It is only a set of recommendations, so it’s not going to stop natural areas being concreted over, but I think the idea that someone on high realises the benefits of accessible greenery is reassuring.

Bizarrely, the acronym they have devised for these standards is ANGSt: ‘Accessible Natural Greenspace Standard’. A case of irony overload? Based on previous research on how far people are prepared to travel to the natural environment these are the recommendations:

"ANGSt recommends that everyone, wherever they live, should have an accessible natural greenspace:

  • of at least 2 hectares in size, no more than 300 metres (5 minutes walk) from home;
  • at least one accessible 20 hectare site within two kilometres of home;
  • one accessible 100 hectare site within five kilometres of home; and
  • one accessible 500 hectare site within ten kilometres of home; plus
  • a minimum of one hectare of statutory Local Nature Reserves per thousand population."

Given I feel there is a reasonable amount of nature in my local area let’s see ANGSt applied to my bit of South Manchester.

1. Fog Lane Park covers nearly 19 hectares. The first two criteria are then met.

2. Now things get a little tricky. The nearest 100 hectare park (Wythenshawe) is 5.3km away. It doesn’t take long to drive there, but would involve two bus journeys if I didn’t have a car. Because the children have grown up I haven’t been there for a while, but it does have a big play area, a horticulture centre, city farm, and a statue of Oliver Cromwell.

3. ‘500 hectares of ‘greenspace’ within 10 kilometres’ can’t be met. A National Trust property, Lyme Park, (where Darcy dived into the lake), covers 550 hectares but is 17 km away, and Tatton Park of 400 hectares is even further. It is true that if ever we do have a ‘day out’ that involves a stroll and a cake then we go to these places, but they aren’t spontaneous outings.

4. There are a lot of LNRs around here, and a part of Fletcher Moss is my nearest. However, the ‘one LNR per thousand population’ does seem ambitious. Didsbury has a population of around 14 thousand. I’m not sure how big the tiny woodland that is the LNR is but doubt its 14 hectares.

Overall then I would say South Manchester more or less meets the government’s ideas of accessible green spaces. But it’s nice here. I wonder if people in North Manchester have enough parks of a decent standard. And what of London?

Of course it depends on how to define ‘greenspace’. A topic, you will be pleased to know, of a future post!

10 June 2012

The Cat And I Count Birds

Today was the last day to take part in the RSPB's 'Make Your Nature Count' survey. The idea is to spend an hour in your garden counting the number of birds that visit. Always up for an excuse to sit around for an hour I took a cup of coffee and my son's homemade chocolates and went to sit on the bench in the warm sunshine.

Pen poised over my bird identification sheet I waited patiently. Then who should come slinking into the garden? Yep, our old friend ‘That Cat’. Result: likelihood of any birds landing on the ground = zero. So while I consumed caffeine and sugar and ‘That Cat’ cavorted about with a wicked smile on her lips all sorts of birds twittered and sang very loudly in other people’s gardens.

After an hour the final count came to two swifts overhead (you are allowed to count them because they are unlikely to land), two magpies (who strictly speaking landed on my roof, but that’s near enough I thought), and a couple of tiny little blue tits. The last two danced about the Amelanchier for only a short while. I worry about them. They must be fledglings that haven’t learnt to be wary of humans and are unaware of the existence of cats. I hope they survive until next year. Poor innocents.

Uploading the feeble results was an easy process. The RSPB also wanted to know about mammals that occasionally visit your garden. Badgers ... hedgehogs ... muntjac deer? Err, no. Grey squirrels? Oh, OK then.

One of the questions on the form was quite telling I thought. They want to know how near my garden is to farmland. Of course, this must impact on the animals that visit your garden. It would be the source of all those badgers. As you see in the above results page the greatest distance I could enter was 5km, when I estimate the reality is about 10km, assuming you class a field as farmland. I understand the scientific reason for this question, but does it also reveal the attitude of conservation groups to urban gardens? I get the feeling the people most likely to do surveys like this are people with an abundance of birds in big gardens on the edge of towns. But the majority of Britain’s population is urban, with a large area of land being covered with domestic gardens just like mine (and populated by naughty cats). As I’ve said in previous posts I don’t think the wildlife of towns and cities is taken seriously enough. Which is important because, let’s face it, that is where the wildlife of the future is going to live.

ichneumon wasp on lily

On the positive side of my hour’s sojourn I did notice the garden has a hell of a lot of flying insects in it. So there is an ecosystem there, it’s just that it’s an insect one. One of the discoveries was this little flying creature. There are quite a few buzzing around a pot of lilies. I think (and please put me right if I’m wrong) that these are ichneumon wasps, not flies. Apparently they parasitize other insects and are sometimes used as a biological control. If that is the case I’m not sure what is hiding in the lilies that they are executing their homicidal egg laying on. It might be the lily beetles.

And here to prove pessimism does sometimes turn out to be realism is the predicted occupant of the bee house.  A house spider.

house spider on web

9 June 2012

Rainy Day Natter

what's on my windowsill

It's such a cold and rainy day let's make a cup of tea, take a slice of cake, and have a natter.

I'm not sure why I started this blog in the first place; probably as an attempt to ward off boredom, but since its inception I find myself doing proper garden-y things (makes me think I should start a new on one the topic of ‘shiny swishy hair’, or ‘renovating an old Georgian farmhouse’).  It must be years since I sowed some seeds. It’s the sort of thing you do with the children during the long days of the six week holiday. But 3 months into Garden 65 and there is green manure sprouting outside and flower seeds erupting on the windowsill. At this rate I’ll be exhibiting in Chelsea next year. Maybe not.

I’ve also got a bee house (with no bee occupants, but there is still hope) and a mini herb garden via my friend Sally. It’s all abundance here, I tell you.

The desperate search for topics to blog about has also led me to look closer at the little things in the garden. I’m still fascinated with daisies.  Who would have thought such innocent looking flowers would produce seeds? It's quite shocking.

The insects of the garden are a new interest too. The common species like woodlice, spiders and ants have always been around but now I’m on my knees looking closely I’m discovering another world. I don’t think I’ve seen this little guy before. He’s a Varied Carpet Beetle. Unfortunately his larvae, commonly called a woolly bear, eat carpets and your favourite jumper, but we’ll let him live because he’s cute.

The identification of discoveries is fun. It usually involves intense googling and guesswork, but a couple of times I’ve used I Spot and have had amazingly quick results. A few days ago I snapped this tiny moth lying flat against the outside of the above window. He was difficult to identify because he was so indistinct, so today at 7 minutes past 3 I threw him to the lions of I Spot and within 8 minutes Douglas from Shrewsbury declared him a Green Pug. Which must be right because when I was Photoshopping my Green Pug he was going green but I thought that was the fault of my Photoshopping skills. I’m impressed.

Unfortunately Fate likes a good laugh. Now I've joined the ranks of garden bloggers one of the mainstays of the garden has caught a disease. An Amelanchier has started dropping its leaves which have suspicious black spots on them. Hopefully it’s just a bad year and whatever is causing it will not survive the winter. Us gardeners ... we have to be stoical.

So, I think that’s all the natter I’ve got for today. Who’s doing the washing up?

7 June 2012

Birds Sing a Different Song In The City

urban sparrow
Urban birds sing short, fast and high pitched songs. Their rural cousins sing mellower traditional tunes.

How strange that scientific research seems to be corroborating stereotypical differences between town and country. Throughout history a distinction has been made between the quick and cheeky urbanite and the slow conventional country bumpkin.

I am reminded of Timmy Willie.

In the Tale of Johnny Town-mouse Beatrix Potter has country mouse Timmy Willie, born in a garden (I doubt she was thinking of my kind of garden), being accidentally taken to the city were house mouse, Johnny lives. Timmy is overwhelmed by the noise of carts, people running about, and ‘boys whistling in the streets’. Where he lived there was ‘no noise except the birds and bees, and the lambs in the meadows’. Johnny and his family are depicted as squeaking, tumbling, laughing, racketing about, and being bold. In contrast when Potter draws Timmy he is nearly always sitting quietly. His greatest pleasure is sitting in his burrow watching birds, and sniffing the smell of violets and spring grass.

It appears the differences between their behaviours can be explained as a response to their environment.

And such seems the case when the songs of birds in cities and nearby forests are analysed. Many research projects are finding those in noisier locations sing with a higher minimum frequency and use fewer common song patterns. One report calls them ‘hurried’ songs. The reasonable explanation for this distinction is that in trying to defend their territories and attract mates male birds have to sing higher and louder to overcome the hum of man-made noise. Lower frequency notes are drowned out and the message of ‘here I am’ is not heard.

Lower sounds also travel further. It is suggested that because an urban environment is more open than natural woodland birds can see each other easier, which reduces the need to sing long, lower songs. I doubt the naturalists are implying urban birds are over-populated and so close to each other they are becoming more visually orientated. I think it is a matter of having smaller territories: gardens and parks instead of woods and fields.

As we know, different songs mean different cultures. It has been found that Great Tits respond less to songs that are different from their own. Also this cultural difference is apparent within a distance of even a mile. A problem then arises that birds of the same species but from different local environments may not be able to communicate.

When fully fledged male Great Tits move away from their home area up to a distance of 2 miles, but if they sing a slightly different song pattern and pitch from resident birds could that mean they will have trouble attracting females and establishing territories?

What implication does this have on the species as a whole? There is a possibility that the distinction between urban and rural populations becomes so extreme evolutionary forces will create different species, or phenotypes (observable characteristics, shaped by inheritance and environment) at least.

Research has already shown birds that have a natural low frequency voice but do not possess the ability to adapt are being found less frequently in noisy areas such as towns and along motorways.
A thought I have on this is, if the constant low hum of people and cars is driving out birds species that cannot adapt, what does it say of pied wagtails who thrive in the most unnatural and loud environment of car parks?

A report by Aberwystwyth University asks “are nature reserves in noisy areas ecological cages rather than source populations from which residents are able to disperse?”

Johnny Town-mouse paid a visit to Timmy Willy but was unnerved by unfamiliar sounds and the overall quiet. He left for home in the very next hamper.

Beatrix Potter Johnny Town Mouse

Sparrow image from Telegraph

5 June 2012

How Insects Can Fly In Rain

Do you think that was summer? The rain seems to have come back, and it’s colder. The garden is struggling on but the few seedlings and young plants I’ve brought in seem reluctant to grow. They are like people waiting at a bus stop in the rain. As soon as the bus – sunshine – comes they will be off, but until then they’re shuffling their feet and playing with their I Phones.

It’s noticeable that when the sun does appear the garden is suddenly full of insects again. I wonder where they go and how they survive when the conditions are bad. Do they hide away in dark crevasses or under leaves and spend the time muttering to themselves about British weather? Being cold blooded the air temperature must have something to do with it, in that they simply can’t move until it warms up again. And the rain itself must be a factor. It must be impossible to fly while it’s raining when each rain drop is the same size as you. Just imagine walking around while trying to dodge huge six foot wide blobs of water. It would be like a scene from The Prisoner. And water is heavy stuff; those blobs could knock you out if they fell on you.

There is no wonder insects don’t venture out when it’s raining ... or is there?

Some American scientists have been looking at how mosquitoes survive the impact of raindrops which are up to fifty times heavier than they are. Slowing down the collision using high speed filming techniques reveals not a violent struggle but an elegant dance. As both mosquito and raindrop fall through the air they join together and continue to fall some distance before the hairs on the insect’s body repels the water and they separate to continue on their own paths. One of the researchers, a Dr Hu (say his name out loud – it’s funny) compared what happens to the principle of non-resistance which many Eastern philosophies advocate.

"There is a philosophy that if you don't resist the force of your opponent, you won't feel it," he explained.

"That's why they don't feel the force; they simply join the drop, become one item and travel together."

I like this conclusion from the report abstract:

Our findings demonstrate that small fliers are robust to in-flight perturbations.

So here’s the life lesson we can learn from mosquitoes:

To avoid perturbations go with the flow.

Main article from BBC Nature

3 June 2012

Devil's Milk

I’m an idiot. It’s official. Let me explain...

I’ve spent hours at the computer today researching chickweed. Because up until a moment ago that is what I thought this plant was. Culpepper called it 'a fine, soft, pleasing herb, under the dominion of the Moon’. A nice description, but there’s not much information there to hang a blog post on. Perhaps like the dandelion I could eat some and explain my culinary experience to you. Apparently it has a mild taste like rocket.

So I went to my backdoor, pinched off a few leaves and ate them. They tasted fine; a strong peppery taste. I continued at the computer looking for recipes. The pepper taste continued on my tongue, like chilli. Then I grew suspicious. There were some nice recipes for salads and rice meals but no one was mentioning the burning sensation – or the white sap.

I Googled ‘chickweed sap’, and made a horrible discovery. That plant that for years I thought was chickweed, isn’t. It’s Euphorbia Peplus. Commonly called Petty Spurge, or Devils Milk. Ha! You’re telling me. And what is even funnier it’s toxic; to such a degree that it’s a well known cancer cure.

Now I could end this post with advice on not eating plants you are uncertain of, but for one I’m sure you wouldn’t, and secondly I didn’t either – I thought I knew what it was.

So, if you don’t hear from me again, dear readers, you know why. It’s been a blast. Send donations to an eco-charity of your choice.

2 June 2012

What is 'Wildlife'?

Reed Bunting
Reed Bunting

Today I completed a form that asked if I thought there was any wildlife in my area. “It depends” is the response I wanted to make, but only had the options to agree or not. Is there a formal definition of ‘wildlife’?

The form filling came at the end of a fantastically enjoyable walk around a local ‘wildlife’ (ha!) area organised by the Manchester Local Record Centre. They have some National Lottery Fund money to improve the recording of wildlife (!) in the area.

It seems that with any grant of money these days some of it must be used for community engagement. I’m sure the Record Centre would like to spend the money on a new computer or to employ another professional ecologist, but fortunately for me – being part of the community – I got to spend a morning with someone who knows about local wildlife.

It’s questionable, I think, whether my new knowledge has any practical use to the experts or the wildlife, but I’m glad for the opportunity to learn. Perhaps the form should have had a tick box asking ‘Did you enjoy yourself?’, because as far as this member of the community is concerned that was the greater gain: an opportunity to indulge a geekish delight in naming things. My teenage children would have been embarrassed to be with me. There’s nothing more mortifying than a mum with a pair of binoculars round her neck and a notebook asking about buntings, fescues and national biodiversity plans. Heaven.

And as for the wildlife, yes I did see a reed bunting, an area of unimproved grassland, some damselflies, orchids, and rare adder’s-tongue fern. All of which I wouldn’t see in my garden or local park. Well, maybe the damselfly if lucky. So that question, ‘did I think there was any wildlife in my area’, made be hesitate. As you know I have blackbirds, daisies, cutworms, the occasional butterfly, frogs ... but do these comprise the ‘wildlife’ a precariously underfunded county-wide recording scheme would be interested in?

The term wildlife means different things to different people. I wonder if to many ecologists it may simply mean animals and plants on a government generated list that need to be uploaded to a database. And I know people who invest a great deal of spiritual meaning into the word. The leader of the walk, Dave Bishop of The Friends of Chorlton Meadows, said wildlife is anything living that is not human. A pragmatic answer I have sympathy with. The birds and insects and plants that exist in my immediate landscape are, to me, ‘life’, with no need for the noun ‘wild’.

Surely the issue of wildlife loss is not a matter of the loss of the untamed, unpredictable, unusual elements of the environment, but, simply the diminution of life.

Oh dear, too heavy? Shall do a short funny post next?

Image from The Wildlife Trusts

1 June 2012

Botanical Look At Daisies

While grubbing about in the grass to take the meditative film of daisies I noticed some of them were past their best – a state I can sympathise with. The white petals were falling off and the yellow middle bit was turning red and changing shape. What’s going on? The biologists and horticulturalists amongst us might know (ssh now, don’t spoil the fun), but for the rest of us here’s my stab at an explanation.

Firstly that pretty round daisy flower is not a single flower but a collection of many. They are called composite flowers because they are made of a compound inflorescence of hundreds of tiny florets. The little yellow ones, called disc florets, don’t have any petals (but they do have corollas which are the yellow bits we see), but the florets on the outside, ray florets, do – the long white ones. Still with me? Maybe this will help:

Here’s a couple of images of the aged daisies on my lawn. It looks like something is happening to the disc florets.

daisy disc florets

If we borrow a picture from an obscure American university the structure of the disc florets becomes clearer.

So if I understand it right (and I don’t), then my style, anthers and corolla are decaying and the ovary has now turned into a seed. Which then disperses.

OK the scientists amongst us can now pipe up ...
  • Why has the upper portion of each disc floret turned red?
  • Why does the central area (the receptacle) dome upwards?
Admittedly these aren't the most pressing questions of the age, but when you're nose to floret you just can't help wondering.