Wildflower Wednesday

Daisy (Bellis perennis)

Daisy (Bellis perennis)

The Daisy Bellis perennis is usually dismissed as a lawn weed, but here it is one of the earliest and most important of the machair¹ wildflowers. It is one of the few food sources on the machair for the early emerging Bumblebees. For the technically minded it is one of the indicative plants (along with Meadow Buttercup, Ranunculis acris) of dry machair.
The daisies have just started to flower and in a week or so the machair will turn white as they burst into bloom. In my garden it dominates the grass, where it is welcome, and is a persistent thug everywhere else.

For more Wildflower Wednesday posts please visit Gail’s blog

¹ For a description please refer to UK Biodiversity Action Plan; Priority Habitat Descriptions: Machair


Dancing Planets

Pleiades Elihu Vedder

The Pleiades - Elihu Vedde

On nights when the depth of the silence echoes the murmur of the waves and there is the cool caress of a zephyr the planets dance. The silver crescent of the waxing moon is crowned with the diadem of Venus whilst Jupiter’s pale light reflects her mystery. The Pleiades glitter like a swarm of fireflies tangled in a silver braid¹ and as the celestial music of the spheres electrifies the soul of the poet the muse is liberated.

¹Alfred Lord Tennyson

Botany with a twist

Wild Angelica

Wild Angelica. Sowerby, English Botany.

Not all botanists are gardeners but are all gardeners botanists? If you ask a gardener whether they’re a botanist most will probably tell you they know a little about plants and then name most of the plants in the garden using a Latin or a Greek tag. True you don’t need any formal botanical training to be a good gardener, but most people with an interest in plants just absorb the knowledge as they go along.
I must admit that I was taught botany before I became a gardener. I started my own herbarium collection at the age of five in an innocent age when little girls collected wild flowers, pressed them and put them in a scrapbook. It is perhaps a testament to my later formal teaching that I can still put most flowers in the correct family.  However, I still come a little unstuck at times when the plant has no flower, although I can recommend The Vegetative Key to the British Flora by Poland and Clement. So when Himself presented me with a very brittle, dry, old flower stem and asked me what it was, I just raised an eyebrow. My best guess an umbellifera and probably Hogweed Heracleum sphondylium.
Two days later I was informed that the aforesaid plant was Wild Angelica, Angelica sylvestris. Now this came as a surprise as I didn’t know it grew on our croft, but there are obviously a few plants in a boggy bit on the far side of the headland – not an area I visit very often in the summer as this is where the snipe and redshank breed – well that’s my excuse. The jaw dropping element was that he’d managed to identify the plant from a dried up old flower stem – had I missed some key characteristic?  What I had missed where some small black dots on the stem (apothecia – fruiting bodies). Himself had identified these as Heterosphaeria patella a cup fungus which only grows on Wild Angelica.

Heterosphaeria patella

Heterosphaeria patella

Often a clue to identifying fungi is knowing the host plant species and then looking at which fungi have been recorded as an associate. It seems more unusual to identify the plant on the basis of the fungus.

Gardening Dilemmas 2

The Time and Space Conundrum

Lettuce seedlings

How mant varieties of lettuce?

I am sure that it is possible to devise a mathematical formula to resolve my problem,  however just thinking about it makes me want to lie down in a darkened room. So this post is about juggling and not mathematics.
At 57°N the growing season is very short and relatively cool, on average we get very few days when the temperature exceeds 20°C. However, during the summer months we have very long days, so our peak growing season is between May and August or sometimes just June or July. So I have to juggle light levels, germination time, growth rate, temperature and space so that I can work out what to sow when, and how many plants, and modules I can accommodate. I also have to hope that the weather in April and May will be good or at least without too many force 8 gales (40-46 mph).
Ideally most of my vegetable plants, those which are not sown in situ, need to be ready for planting in May. I usually gamble that the weather in April will be good and plant some of the hardier vegetables early, but to be on the safe side I have the rolls of fleece on hand (and fencing posts to hold it down) and some replacement plants just incase the weather defeats me.  In general I find that raising vegetables plants in modules gives me a head start, but it can be a risky strategy and therefore I have to grow lots of plants in succession as part of my insurance plan.
I have not yet mastered the art of growing tomatoes, it is either the aphids, lack of pollinators or sunshine or trace elements that results in gallons of green tomato chutney.  So I keep experimenting and this year I’m staring my tomato, aubergine and sweet pepper plants early to maximise the growing period. However my heated propagator is small, so as soon as the seeds germinate they have to come into the house and sit on the window sill until it is warm enough in the polytunnel at night to move them back. This is not too much of a problem at the seedling stage, but gets more interesting as the pots and plants get bigger.
Somehow I also have to fit in the flowering plants, plant apartheid I’m afraid, priority has to be given to the edibles! However they’re a pushy lot and tend to jostle the herbs for space. I’ve learnt the hard way, that if the plants are not big enough for putting out by the end June, it’s better to grow them in containers, overwinter and plant the following spring. A tough protocol when you’ve empty borders to fill and a tendency to be impatient.

Seed sowing

Now what next?

Working all this out is like multi-dimensional chess involving various high risk strategies which results in a chaotic movement of seed trays, plants, seed packets, labels, lists, rolls of fleece, bags of compost and pencils.  If I am honest I know that if I bought fewer packets of seed, grew one variety of lettuce and not a dozen or more, was less ambitious, grew fewer plants, was more organised and spent less time day dreaming; the weather would still leave me juggling time and space!
If I ever solve this gardening dilemma, I think it would be time to hang up the trowel and shut the garden gate forever.

A wee tim’rous beastie in the wild wood

Mar Lodge, BraemarA vacation sounds exotic and exciting but a wee jaunt to the mainland is a more apt description of our annual excursion to the Highlands. I must have a very good reason to leave my island retreat and prefer to travel no further south than the Cairngorms. This involves a 2 hour ferry trip and 5 hours driving, but it gives me time to acclimatize to traffic and people. So have I become a wee Hebridean timid beastie? Most definitely! It takes more than sprinkle of fairy dust and a flick of a wand to turn me into an urban sophisticate.  However, after a couple of days I can just about cross the road without having an anxiety attack.
A masterclass on corticiod fungi (crust like fungi which grow on dead wood) was enough to entice Himself to the mainland but for me the main attraction had to be four days in the Caledonian pine forests of Mar Lodge Estate on the Deeside.
As I live in a virtually treeless landscape the opportunity to walk in ancient forests or any woodland is irresistible. In the winter the bare bones of these gnarled, weather sculpted trees reveal the economic simplicity of form and function. This Highland landscape is a visual essay on the interaction of time, geology, climate and nature, and beyond the artifice of any landscape architect.
As a gardener I am both inspired and educated just by looking at these ancient hills and river valleys. My response is not just intellectual, it is also sensual and at times almost spiritual. Even in winter the colour palette is rich: the magenta of the birch twigs contrasting with the deep green of the mosses and sienna of the dried bracken, highlighted by the differing hues of grey in the bark and lichens. Underfoot the wet mosses squelch, the branches creak in the wind and over head a buzzard mews.
These are places for solitude and contemplation, their magic is fugitive. It is easy to understand why trees have a powerful presence in mythology and folklore. These are places to be cherished.Snowdrops