Monday, 9 August 2010

Dr. Doolittle eat yer heart out!

Pea aphids extracting sap from the stem and leaves of garden peas
Image credit: Shipher Wu (photograph) and Gee-way Lin (aphid provision), National Taiwan University

So, Sally, what did you do yesterday?

OK, I admit it. Yep, it was me sitting cross-legged on my garden path, with a lapful of pulled-up old pea plants, talking to little green aphids and little green caterpillars…

After another sleepy day on Saturday, when, ‘I’ll just have a quick snooze’ turned into a two-hour sleep (meaning also that I was unable to make the lovely evening meal that I’d been planning, and we had to have pasta instead - harrumph), I managed to stay fairly compos mentis for all of yesterday, and spent a delightful few hours pottering in the garden, completing some long-overdue tasks and enjoying the warming sunshine.

In addition to the above-mentioned pea-pulling and bug-conversing, after scrutinising for signs of animal life, I finally disposed of my very holey cabbage stumps, fed the tomatoes, pepper and carrots, sowed some more peas and beetroot, composted a load of plants that had definitely seen better days, and a thorough poke around.

We have the tiniest of gardens, and one which includes shared access for both sets of neighbours. Earlier this year, I decided to cut down the over-grown brambles at the back of the garden, and in doing so, discovered that there was quite a substantial bit of land under all the thorn vegetation - well, by our standards anyway, we’re only talking about 2 square metres! But this was all it took to spark a new-found obsession with gardening and growing things, and our little garden is now my pride and joy, especially since I extended onto the flat roof above our kitchen/bathroom, which is now a fully-functioning vegetable plot.

I’m very pleased to say that despite its size, the majority of flowering plants within the garden’s bounds are native/naturalised species, mainly specimens that have either come along with no deliberate human intervention, living happily alongside some plants that were planted deliberately, having been bought from responsible UK growers of British plants.

This year’s residents include the following:

• Bramble Rubus sp.
• Charlock Sinapsis arvensis
• Common Figwort Scrophularia nodosa
• Common Nettle Urtica dioica
• Cowslip Primula veris
• Common Toadflax Linaria vulgaris
• Enchanter’s Nightshade Circaea lutetiana
• Forget-me-not Myosotis sp.
• Groundsel Senecio vulgaris
• Hairy Bittercress Cardamine hirsuta
• Herb Robert Geranium robertianum
• Hoary Willowherb Epilobium parviflorum
• Honeysuckle Lonicera periclymenum
• Ivy Hedera helix
• Ivy-leaved Toadflax Cymbalaria muralis
• Lobelia Lobelia erinus
• Monkshood Aconitum napellus
• Prickly Sow-thistle Sonchus asper
• Primrose Primula vulgaris
• Ragwort Senecio jacobaea
• Shepherd’s Purse Capsella bursa-pastoris
• Smooth Sow-thistle Sonchus oleraceus
• Teasel Dipsacus fullonum
• Valerian Valeriana officinalis
• Wild Strawberry Fragaria vesca
• Wood Avens (Herb Bennett) Geum urbanum
• Woodruff Galium odoratum
• Yellow Iris Iris pseudacorus

I like to think that it is this abundance and variety of plants combined with my refusal to use any artificial chemicals that encourages the lovely creepy crawlies and other creatures to make use our garden, from the wasps (Vespa vulgaris) that appear to have taken up residence in one of the compost bins (alongside the seemingly ever-increasing population of fruitflies (Drosophila melanogaster)) to the noisy Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) that stomps around my rooftop vegetable plot as though sporting a pair of hob-nailed boots. Mind you, look closely enough in any garden, big or small, and you’ll most probably find something small and wiggly!

Yesterday’s fellow beings included a Cabbage Moth (Mamestra brassicae) caterpillar (the previously unidentified caterpillar found munching on my cabbages - funny that), lots of earthworms, slugs large and small, a single red velvet mite (Tombidium sp.), several buzzing hoverflies and bees, a tiny picture-winged fly and numerous spiders. The pea-pulling project was particularly productive, revealing a most handsome harvestman, several Small White (Pieris rapae) caterpillars (the little green ones), a couple of black thrips, a smattering of woodlice and aphid upon aphid upon aphid (Acyrthosiphum pisum)- some tiny, some big and juicy-looking, and man, did they manage to get themselves into some nooks and crannies, many of which were about my person, as I discovered later in the day… Where possible, all disturbed creatures were provided with a new home in a quiet corner of the garden.

Meanwhile, upstairs in the Small Person’s new bedroom-to-be, my Other Half could be heard talking to a wren (Troglodytes troglodytes) that had made its way indoors via the tiniest of gaps in the window. See, it’s not just me who talks to the wildlife!

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