Category Archives: Notes from a Wildlife Garden

Spurn Spawn!

By Ruth D’Alessandro, The Wildlife Gardener “We’ve got loads of frogspawn. Would you like some for your pond?” is the question most asked of the Wildlife Gardener at this time of year.

Tons of spawn

And when my answer is a firm “No thank you”, the response is usually “Why not? I’ve got far too much.” In the spring, the Wildlife Pond resembles a bowl of tapioca. The water boils with copulating amphibians and soon it is just a jellified mass. Surely far too much spawn? Why not take it out? Continue reading

Bluebells on wheels: axles of evil?

By Ruth D’Alessandro, The Wildlife Gardener The Wildlife Gardener is concerned that the National Trust could do a bit more to help solve the obesity crisis. The Spring issue of National Trust ‘Near You’ magazine for Kent Sussex and Surrey advertises the following activity at Hatchlands Park:

Bluebells on wheels

What’s wrong with that funny old-fashioned thing, a walk?

Raising the ba: Wildlife and the Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead

By Ruth D’Alessandro, The Wildlife Gardener The Wildlife Gardener is partial to a bit of papyrology. Egypt old and new has been a substantial part of my life and I can never tire of looking at tomb paintings and hieroglyphics. So we were particularly thrilled when Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead: Journey through the Afterlife exhibition opened at The British Museum.

Triumphant ba

On a grey January day, heads fuzzy with the malaise of an overlong festive season and desperate for some culture, we headed for Bloomsbury with our wise and wonderful friend Sara, to the fabulous womb-like exhibition space that has been created within the British Museum’s historic Reading Room. So what has The Book of the Dead got to do with wildlife? Apart from mummifying cats and depicting their gods with jackal and falcon heads, were the Egyptians great observers of fauna and flora? The answer is yes: exquisite observers, and often with a liberal pinch of humour too. Observations of nature are scattered liberally throughout the papyri: nature lovingly depicted and recorded. Continue reading

Hen today, gone tomorrow

By Ruth D’Alessandro, The Wildlife Gardener It was bound to happen sometime. We’ve just lost one of the Wildlife Garden hens. Bizarrely, it was Mademoiselle Pompidelle, the’big blousy orange Diana Dors of a bird’, top of the pecking order and permanent grump, who went first.

Pompey

It was a normal Monday morning: I had fed the Junior Wildlife Gardeners and gone down to the henhouse to let the ladies out and treat them to some tinned sweetcorn. It’s cold and snowy and they’ve hardly seen a blade of grass all week. Three hens tumbled down the ladder and fell upon the sweetcorn frenziedly. Three hens means that one is in the nest box, laying. I’ve often peeked into the nest box to see a wonderful warm fresh egg drop from a fluffy bottom. And today there was a hen in the box, but a curiously flat one, curled on her side, and stone cold. Continue reading

100 – The Wildlife Garden Centenary issue

By Ruth D’Alessandro, The Wildlife Gardener The Wildlife Gardener can’t quite believe it ” here I am penning the 100th’Note From A Wildlife Garden’. It’s almost four years since we moved into Moth Mansion with attached Wildlife Garden and The Ranger asked me, “How about writing an occasional article for The Ranger’s Blog?” I agreed and then panicked, wondering what on earth I could write about with any sort of regularity. But I needn’t have worried. Wildlife in all its faunal and floral forms just kept on coming and coming and so did the articles. For four years. And rather than having to chase me for contributions, The Ranger had to find some way of managing the backlog clunking into his inbox. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading 100 articles. I’ve enjoyed writing them. So what have been the highlights? Universally, the thrill of discovering something unusual and unexpected: my favourite article has to be Blue Fazed Shrew celebrating the pygmy shrew that somehow shut itself in my fridge for 24 hours.

Shrew

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Designer Homes? Wildlife says no

By Ruth D’Alessandro, The Wildlife Gardener The Wildlife Gardener is not keen on gimmicks. Purchases should have longevity, no frills, be fit for purpose and do what they say on the tin before the moth-filled WG purse is pulled out. In the case of wildlife products, my first consideration is: can the animal make it for itself better and cheaper? Secondly: can the item be home-made, ideally from recycled materials? Thirdly, if I have to pay money for it, it had better be darned good. So I was interested when The Ranger recently sent me a report from Which? Gardening stating’Animal friendly gardeners may be wasting money on ineffective garden products designed to attract provide homes for wildlife’. Which? Gardening conducted a year-long trial of six wildlife homes in ten gardens, mostly in and around Sheffield, with a wildlife expert inspecting them regularly until August 2010.

Lacewing hotel

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Halma’ mushrooms ” a deadly game?

By Ruth D’Alessandro, The Wildlife Gardener The Wildlife Gardeners have been out mushroom foraging again. But this time we also solved a potentially deadly mystery. You’ll remember the’funny little grey Halma-piece shaped mushrooms’ in’Cep this way…‘ ?

Halma fungi

These were so bizarre that I sent a picture of them to the wonderful John Wright, resident mycologist at River Cottage and author of Mushrooms: River Cottage Handbook No.1. I saw John give a talk about wild mushrooms at the Taste of London Expo a few years ago, and he has patiently replied to my fungal emails ever since. Continue reading

Cep this way…

By Ruth D’Alessandro, The Wildlife Gardener The Wildlife Gardeners have had enough of cutting mixed hedgerows. We want to get out. It’s September, it has been raining, it’s warm, it must be time for mushrooms! We headed to woodlands on the Surrey/Kent border where we had surreptitiously followed a wicker-basket-and-knife-bearing German couple last year. And we were not disappointed. The first fungi were entertaining rather than edible. Just what are these funny little grey Halma-piece shaped mushrooms?

Halma fungi

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Fly, dragonfly, fly

By Ruth D’Alessandro, The Wildlife Gardener Yikes! The Wildlife Gardener nearly trod on a large nymph on the side of the pond today. Carefully noting where it was so I wouldn’t crush it under my waders, I carried on with my late summer task of removing the choking blanket weed that seems to fill the pond overnight if left unchecked. At this time of year the pond has fewer inhabitants, the departed leaving ghostly remains of their time in the nursery:

Exuvia

This is an exuvia. It is the dry leftover casing (exoskeleton) of a dragonfly nymph when the dragonfly has emerged and flown away. There were lots of them in the pond. I finished my slubbing, and my thoughts turned to lunch. Before I clambered out of the pond, I had a brief look around to see where the large nymph I had so nearly flattened had gone. I expected it to have plopped back into the pond. Then I noticed a strange green and black creature on a buddleia stem by the pond… Continue reading

A touch of the Vapourers

By Ruth D’Alessandro, The Wildlife Gardener The Wildlife Gardener agreed to water a friend’s roses while she went to Glastonbury. Little did I know that, a fortnight later, my neighbourliness would result in a covetable prize for nature anoraks like myself: a real-time peek into the life cycle of a moth: the Vapourer moth (Orgyia antiqua) to be more specific. I vaguely remembered my countryman Dad telling me that Vapourer moths were particularly interesting: they have feathery antennae and the females send out powerful sex pheromones that have males from miles around flocking to be her gentlemen callers. Caroline’s roses were covered in these groovy psychedelic Vapourer caterpillars that would not have looked out of place in the mosh pit at Glastonbury:

Orgyia antiqua larva

It has been years since I’ve kept caterpillars in a jar and hatched moths. I figured Caroline wouldn’t miss a few punk rose-destroyers, and it would be educational for the Junior Wildlife Gardeners to do some captive breeding. So, I put five itchy-looking caterpillars in a big glass vase with damp compost and rose branches from the Wildlife Garden, some perforated clingfilm on top and placed them on the kitchen windowsill where I could watch them as I washed up. Continue reading