Wildlife Gardening High Summer

N.B. If your new to David’s monthly column then please be sure to read the ‘setting-the-scene’ opening piece first.

Wildlife Gardening in July

© David Beeson: UK Orchides used as flower border specimens - Keith Wiley's Wildside Garden, Devon.

© David Beeson: UK Orchides used as flower border specimens – Keith Wiley’s Wildside Garden, Devon.

High summer can be a magnificent time in the wildlife garden, but this year (again!) atmospheric and soil water has been enhanced and this can change biological systems quite dramatically. Early year butterflies are virtually non-existent and our Summer Meadow has grown higher than for many previous years, so occluding many of the smaller flowers. On the positive side, however, our mixed flower borders have never looked better.

Glowworms

We have a healthy population of these small, black beetles in the garden, with numbers reaching around thirty on one memorable June night a few years back. The females are wingless and, to attract a mate, produce a green glowing light from their lower abdomen. [Well it would work for me!]

Books inform me that the beetles eat small snails, which abound in our garden for we make no attempt to control mollusc numbers in any way. Literature also suggests that once mated the females cease light production until they are again fertile – but here lies a story ….
A few years back we were delighted that the BBC (Gardeners’ World) decided to film our wildlife garden and to feature glowworms in the sequence. A day was agreed and the prior night I searched the garden for a female beetle to hold in captivity for filming. The lone animal was captured on one, of many, compost heaps and secreted away in a suitable box. The BBC arrives, and as night approaches, the box is opened to reveal not only a female but also a male that must have been captured at the same time! They had been ensconced together for nearly 24 hours but amazingly had both must have had headaches because the female was glowing wonderfully. Once the two beetles had been placed on my hands they duly mated in front of the cameras and a good sequence was ‘in the can’.

Has anyone else had mating glowworms filmed on their hands? This must be a world first!

Find your own glowworms.
Visit an open public area with good grassland and suitable pathways around 10.30 – 11.00 on a fine evening. Unless you have real problems seeing in these conditions, do not use a torch but let your eyes adapt naturally to the dim light. My guess is that you may well l find the little critters glowing away in your area. Report your findings to your local Wildlife Trust.

Spring Meadow

© David Beeson: A miniscule part of Dr. Seale's wildflower meadow in Devon. Call 01364 621365 for an appointment (Widecome-in-the-Moor).

© David Beeson: A miniscule part of Dr. Seale’s wildflower meadow in Devon. Call 01364 621365 for an appointment (Widecome-in-the-Moor).

Once we have reached June this meadow looks a mess. The bulbous buttercups come into seed and the podgy wood pigeons descend to consume the food source, crushing the meadow in the process. So, once some seed has reached the soil, the meadow is cut down to form a fairly conventional lawn.

We cut the level down in at least two stages, so hopefully allowing the small mammals, reptiles and amphibians to escape to the flower borders and uncut, adjacent Summer Meadow / hedges. This year there appeared to be no fatalities in the cutting procedure, with frogs hopping away quite happily.

Some twayblade and pyramidal orchids were still in their flowering, rather than seed, phase and areas have been left uncut to let them complete the seeding.

Despite the cowslips and other early-flowering vegetation being cut to near ground level the area will flower freely next spring, whilst the removal of nutrients will keep grasses diminished in height.

Summer Meadow

© David Beeson: A marsh/spotted orchid cross some 70cm high, with indvidual flowers 2cm high.

© David Beeson: A marsh/spotted orchid cross some 70cm high, with indvidual flowers 2cm high.

This zone has now reached its flowering and biodiversity peak, which continues into September before falling off into its autumnal colours and winter slumbers. Oxeyes always pinnacle first and are very obvious from a distance, but closer inspection reveals a mass of other floral gems. This year there have been more pyramidal orchids, some 100+, in flower than previously years, with large flower spikes of a cross between spotted and marsh orchids punctuating one patch. The area also supports a few southern marsh orchids and one lovely, but lonely bee orchid spike.

We have seeded the meadow extensively with wild orchid seeds. Some have been purchased from Chiltern Seeds, local gardeners have donated others but the bulk has been sent from the Cevennes region of France. The Cevennes, from which comes Roquefort cheese, is a limestone plateau positively covered in a diverse range of orchids. When we were there in mid-May, a couple of years back, we met other orchid aficionados and one couple had many species growing in their back yard and they have supplied masses of orchid seed (monkey, military, lady and lizard) to us. We await any signs of flowers, but are forever hopeful.

Our bee orchid is growing in exactly the location, within the meadow, that I would least predict: a frosty, dark and dampish location in long grass. Clearly the plant is content for the flower spike is especially large.

Happily there is no effort required in the wildlife garden now for quite some time, so sitting back and watching the wildlife is the main aim.

Butterflies remain absent. I have spotted only a couple of (probable) ringlets, a single small white and, in the adjacent wood, a lone white admiral. Disaster. Hopefully July’s butterflies will appear in greater numbers.

Baby bank voles and wood mice are around the garden now and I’ve spotted some chunky (pregnant?) slowworms. Plenty of young tits and other garden birds are visiting the feeders, but often persuade the parents to extract the food rather than feed themselves. We reduce the feeder supplies for a week or more now, in an attempt to encourage the youngsters to seek more natural food supplies.

Kestrel feeding time.

We have a couple of peanut / sunflower seed feeders within half a metre of our sitting room patio window. A diverse range of birds ignore the watching humans … as do wood mice, an occasional rat and long-tailed voles that climb the vegetation and set about munching the free food. The small mammals are near tame, but perhaps lack suitable wariness for it caused the demise of a wood mouse this week. For a male kestrel completed a near suicidal vertical plunge to capture its food. How the predatory bird avoided the overhanging guttering, the plant and feeder obstacles and yet managed to not kill itself crashing into vegetation and ground I have no idea. But survive it did and, after a recovery time on the ground, flew off with its prize in its claw.

Hedgerow.

Wild roses grace the native hedge at this time of the year. Their colour and scent is around for less than a month, but the yellow leaves of a colour-variant of the wild hop supplies colour diversity.

David is an ex-lecturer in Environmental / Biological Sciences.
He has written for most of the UK gardening magazines, including the RHS.
Forest Edge’s garden has been widely covered in magazines and has been featured in a BBC’s Gardeners’ World special.
He also maintains a blog at https://nwhwildlife.org/