Creatures of the Night

Warm summer evenings are good for more than just sitting around the barbecue with a glass of prosecco – they are great for catching moths.

We set our moth trap at least once a week, sometimes twice, and the moths it catches vary hugely through the year, as many moths have a very short flying season of only a few weeks.

 

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It is basically a very bright light over a funnel, which leads to a roomy box full of egg cartons. The moths are attracted to the light, fall down the funnel, and end up in the box, where they can hide in one of the many egg boxes. In the morning, I open the trap and identify all the moths, and then release them by placing them carefully into a suitable hiding place around the garden.

Moths are really beautiful, and very varied. Even the brown ones often have very complex markings, and many of them are prettier than our native butterflies. Take this beauty – a Garden Tiger. Its wingspan is the length of my finger. I was really happy to find it in the trap yesterday!

 

Garden Tiger 2

 

Summer is the time for yellow underwing moths, which have , as you would imagine, a yellow hind wing which hides under the forewing when they are at rest, but can be seen when they fly. The most common species is the Large Yellow Underwing, but this week I caught a Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing, which has very attractive subtle markings. It is about the size of a monkey nut.

 

Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing

 

The next one is called a Pebble Prominent because of the round, pebble-like marking on the end of the wing. It also sits with his wings folded vertically against his body, rather than horizontally.

 

Pebble Prominent

 

The Scalloped Oak makes a very wide triangle when resting, and while subtle in colour, is very distinctive. Its wingspan is about the length of a little finger

 

Scalloped Oak

 

The green moths are particular favourites of mine – this July High-flyer is a little worn, but still colourful. Not as large as the others above, it would sit on a 10p piece.

 

July Highflyer

 

Some of the names are very descriptive and helpful, and some less so. This one is a Triple-spotted Clay, but I tend to see only the two pale spots.

 

Triple-spotted Clay

 

The buff-tip is well-named and very distinctive, with its buff patch on the wing and a buff face. It is well camouflaged as from a distance it looks like a broken twig.

 

Buff Tip

 

This one is a Dark Arches, named for the zig-zag pattern at the base of the wing. It is quite big – maybe half a thumb.

 

Grey Arches

 

These are just some of the 60 moths I caught yesterday, so it is a fascinating hobby. All the records are sent off to the county recorder, to add to our knowledge of moths in Devon.

I leave you with a small moth, the size of a fingernail, but one of my favourites in the summer – the Rosy Footman.

 

Rosy Footman

Butterfly Hunting

June is a great time to see butterflies, and Exmoor is home to some quite rare species. Saturday was my husband’s birthday, and was a lovely warm day, so we set off for a day in the Exmoor valleys to find butterflies.

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First stop was the Heddon Valley, which is one of the few places in the country where you find the rare High Brown fritillaries, along with Small Pearl-bordered and Dark Green Fritillaries. We climbed up a very steep hill, luckily in dappled shade, before emerging on a path along the top of the south-facing, bracken-covered hillside.

 

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We soon saw the small, fluttering Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries, but they just wouldn’t pose for photos. We needed to find some flowers where they might pause for nectar. This clump of thistles proved to be just the spot, and we soon saw several more Small Pearls, and some of the larger, slightly less fluttery fritillaries. The question was, were they the nationally rare High Brown, or the less rare Dark Green? Both should have been present on that slope, but every one we looked at appeared to be High Brown.

 

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The difference is very small…to do with the tiny dot on the row of dots on the forewing…..

Happy that we had at least seen two species, plus Small Heath, Small Tortoiseshell, and Red Admiral, we headed back down into the valley for lunch at the Hunter’s Inn, a favourite of ours.

After lunch we had a wander around Lynton, stocking up on cold drinks, and then drove up onto Countisbury, to a site where I have seen Green Hairstreaks before.

 

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Barely ten minutes walk from the car park, and there they were, in exactly the same patch of sheltered gorse, on yet another sunny south-facing slope. Beautiful!

To finish our day in the Exmoor Valleys, we parked in Lynmouth and strolled slowly up the East Lyn river, enjoying the shade and the sound of the many cascades and waterfalls. There were plenty of birds to see, including this heron intent on catching dinner.

 

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We saw a young dipper, and quite a few young grey wagtails, all learning to catch their own food, as well as a very smart pied flycatcher, catching flies over the river.

Our destination was the National Trust cafe at Watersmeet, where a local company specialising in locally caught seafood and foraged ingredients were running a pop-up restaurant.

 

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The setting was superb, at the confluence of two rivers, with wooded hills all around, and only five tables on the patio. With candles and fairy lights to add atmosphere as the sun went down behind the hills, it was a magical evening, with the most delicious food.

 

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We even had a tame chaffinch to talk to!

 

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Island of Flowers

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Lundy is currently covered in flowers! There are sheets of bluebells on the East slopes, where the bracken grows up to cover them later in the year. And the Western cliffs are a carpet of thrift. I have never seen such large hummocks, in such a wide range of shades of candy pink. It was gorgeous!

We were staying for a few days with the committee of the Lundy Field Society, in Millcombe House, which is a lovely elegant rental property nestling in the valley above the Landing Bay.

 

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As well as the thrift and bluebells, I found a few other interesting flowers, including the little blue Sheepsbit Scabious:

 

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Yellow Pimpernel, which is very similar to the more common Scarlet Pimpernel, but yellow, as you would expect…

 

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And Henbane, an interesting and extremely toxic plant!

 

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As well as finding flowers, I managed to wander around most of the island, and with the weather being excellent, it all looked stunning!

 

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We went over on the Oldenburg, as do most visitors in the summer, but not all….

 

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Lundy is always beautiful, and always worth a visit, in my opinion, but if you are partial to a pink flower or two, May is definitely the month!

 

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What’s new in the garden?

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Yesterday I decided to finally remove the rotten logs that once formed an edging between the woodland path and the woodland lawn (Every part of the garden is having to acquire a name, or else you spend a lot of time saying ‘that bit down the bottom on the left near the rhodies…). They meant I couldn’t mow to the edge of the lawn, and were a right state. But once I had taken them away, the edge was a mess of troughs and long grass. So I thought I would just trim the edge of the lawn to tidy it up. Then I thought I had better lay the hosepipe along the edge to make sure I got it smooth. Once the hose was laid out, it made it clear that the path wasn’t really in the right place, so before I knew it I had committed to shifting one end over about 18” to line up with the potager, and realigning the rest to give a nice curve. It was a lot of turf to strip, with plenty of stones as well. But I am very happy with the result, and now need to tackle the other half of the path.

 

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My main focus in the garden this spring has been clearing some parts of the main flowerbed and actually planting some new plants. Unfortunately nothing looks worse in a photo than an expanse of stony soil dotted with a few tiny plants, so you will have to take my word for it until they have grown a bit. But I can show you some of the treasures that I have planted, such as the lovely Heuchera above, and the Tiarella below.

 

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The acers that I planted last year are looking good down in the acer glade, and we have had a lovely display of bluebells around them this year.

 

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There is also a red acer in the main border, which looked particularly fine this year next to a gold leaved Euonymus and three clumps of blue Camassia.

 

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One of my big rhododendrons didn’t flower last year, but this year has been smothered with huge fragrant hand-sized blooms, with pink buds opening white. They are a delight, and I must try and find out the name.

 

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I went plant-shopping on Saturday and bought a few more things to plant, which is very exciting.

Himalayan poppies

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A red broom

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and Halimiocistus wintonensis. More digging!!

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Plants in cages

The problem with sharing your garden with a host of wildlife is that quite a lot of it is intent on eating all my plants!

 

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Rabbits seem to like to have a nibble at anything new, and if they like it, they will eat the lot. But plants that have been sampled one year (and survived) seem to be less likely to be nibbled the next. Maybe it is the rich lush tasty foliage that the plants grow while in the nursery greenhouses that they like, and the tougher, garden-grown leaves are less appealing.

The solution therefore seem to be to protect anything remotely juicy for at least its first season. I have a couple of old hanging baskets that are ideal for this.

 

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These Tanacetum ‘Robinson’s Red’ should give a display of big daisies in the summer, but only if the rabbits leave them alone. If they get nibbled more, then I will upgrade the protection to the next stage…

 

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This Rhododendron ‘Blue Tit’ is not supposed to be attractive to rabbits or deer, but the last little rhododendron that I planted in this spot was eaten to the ground! So I am taking no chances with this one, and it has a cage of chicken wire, with a few wires criss-crossing the top to deter deer. It shouldn’t outgrow this cage for a couple of years, by which time it should be less tasty.

For bigger shrubs, I am having to build bigger cages.

 

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I treated myself to a lovely Magnolia ‘Susan’, and do not want it eaten, as it wasn’t cheap. So it has a 5 ft cage of deer netting to protect it for a few years. The netting needs to be at least 5 foot, and preferably 6ft, as the deer we have are not just little muntjac, or medium sized roe deer. No, we get the big ones, the red deer.

 

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They have not been seen in the garden quite as often this year as last year, and I think our increasing activity levels in the garden puts them off. But after 4 days away last week, we returned to find three sitting in the middle of the lawn.

The ultimate solution, which we are using to keep them off the veggies and fruit, is a Big Fence…

 

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They aren’t going to get into there! We haven’t managed to get all of the potager dug yet this year, but as we get a section cleared of the grass and roots and stones, we sow seeds. And we now have radishes, beets, mangetout, spinach and leeks all sprouting. It is very exciting!

 

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Trees are yet another problem. We have standard tree guards around some small native trees and shrubs, but as soon as they poke their heads above the guards, then they run the risk of being eaten.

 

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This little rowan had nice tall shoots before the deers’ visit last week, and now it has been eaten down to the guard. So we need a better solution, which might be to make cages like the shrub cages. It does make planting trees very costly.

My next challenge is to find a solution to slugs. We don’t use pellets, and hand-picking takes too long. I have tried some barrier methods with varying success, but currently I am just avoiding buying certain plants, such as hostas (obviously), delphiniums, lupins, and aubrieta.

Gardening here is a bit of a battle!

 

An unusual egg hunt

With the family staying for Easter, we set off along the coast path from Mortehoe to Rockham Beach.

 

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This is a secluded beach on the north coast of North Devon, reached by a decent walk and a huge set of steps, so it is usually pretty quiet.

 

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We explored the rockpools and found some eggs – not Easter eggs, unfortunately, but fish eggcases, which is much more interesting (if a lot less tasty!).

 

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This long one with the tendrils attached to the four corners (and some seaweed as well) is a Nursehound eggcase – a spotty dogfish.

 

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Whereas this squarer one with the long horns is some sort of Ray, I believe. Apparently the size helps with the identification, and we didn’t measure it, so I am not sure what species it is. It was good to see them though – proof that these fish are alive and breeding in local waters. There are remains of a very rusted old wreck on the beach – must look it up and see what ship it was.

 

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After the long climb back up the steps, we continued round the coast path towards Bull Point, enjoying the strong scent of coconut coming from the gorse flowers.

 

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Coast paths are rarely level, especially in Devon, so there were plenty more steps…

 

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Once past the point we turned inland up a gentle valley, with grassy fields dotted with primroses.

 

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Birds such as wrens, chiffchaffs and a garden warbler were singing in the trees.

 

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At the end of a valley full of spring flowers, with celandines and bluebells carpeting the floor, the path wound up back to the roads above, and we returned to Mortehoe.

 

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Come on a day trip to Lundy

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There is great excitement in our house as it is the start of the Lundy day-trip season. In the winter, the island is served by helicopters, and day-trips are not allowed. But from now until the end of October, the Oldenburg, Lundy’s own ship, sails three times a week, giving lots of opportunities for a fabulous day out.

Based in Bideford, she often sails from Ilfracombe, where she can sail whatever the tide, but leaving at 10am and returning by 6pm gives you only 3 1/2 hours on the island. When she sails from Bideford, she has to sail on the high tide to clear the sand bar at the end of the Taw / Torridge Estuary, so you often get a much longer day trip.

Saturday was forecast pretty fair, with a ‘slight’ sea, and the sailing schedule promised a whopping 7 hours on the island, so we left at 7.30am for the short drive to Bideford, arriving in plenty of time for the recommended 8am check in time.

9am

With about 150 passengers on board, some day-trippers like ourselves, and some staying for a few days in one of the 23 properties, we set sail on time, and in a bit of drizzle. That soon cleared and we had a lovely 2 hour crossing, watching out for seabirds such as guillemots, razorbills, shearwaters, gannets, and kittiwakes. No dolphins this time, but they are sometimes seen.

11am

Down the gangway and onto the jetty, and finally we were back on Lundy for the first time since September. Shedding layers of warm clothing that keep one comfortable on the boat, we slowly climbed up the steep beach road, pausing often to take in the wonderful views down the island.

Most people head straight for the village, but we prefer to get walking, so we took the gateway that leads along the lower east side path.

 

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Winding its way along the gentle slope of the east side, this path is often sheltered from the prevailing winds, and can be a good place to find migrant birds sheltering, as well as the sika deer.  There are few trees on the island, and all are on this gentler coast. Even here they are sculpted by the wind.

 

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We followed the path as it clings to the slope, passing through copses of trees and shrubs that nestle in the sheltered valleys. Pausing frequently to watch the chiffchaffs and willow warblers feeding, we didn’t rush, just enjoying the beautiful day. We found a herd of 29 deer, including a couple of young stags, and some of last years youngsters.

12noon

The path brought us out onto the terraces, which are the remains of old granite workings. Quarries dot the side of the island, and a railway ran along the flat terrace to transport the rock. We found a comfortable flat rock, and stopped for a picnic lunch.

 

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1pm

Continuing up the terraces, we found a male black redstart hopping around in the bushes in one of the quarries. An occasional spring visitor, it was a nice highlight of the birding.

 

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1.30pm

At the end of the terraces you can curve back up onto the top of the island, but we chose to continue down the east side. We only saw one other couple all the time we were on the east side, so it shows how peaceful it can be compared to some of the more popular spots on the island.

 

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This coast is also an excellent place to see the grey seals that live and breed on Lundy, and we counted 24 during the day.

 

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2.15pm

The path leads to Gannets Combe, a deep valley that separated the southern body of the island from the more rugged North End. We didn’t have time to carry on to the North, so we headed inland.

 

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2.30pm

The island is about 3 miles long but a maximum of 1/2 mile wide, so it doesn’t take long to cross the flat top to the other side. The west is much steeper and rockier than the east, and often much windier as well. We found a spot with a view, and stopped for a drink and a snack.

 

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Walking south now down the broad grassy paths on top of the west side , we passed an old mill stone, a reminder that people have lived on Lundy for a very long time, and there are many archaeological finds for those interested in history.

 

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There is always plenty to see on Lundy, and we found flocks of the wild soay sheep, a few of the feral goats, and these two Lundy ponies.

 

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3pm

We made it to Jenny’s cove, the most famous seabird colony on the west side, and sat down to watch the guillemots flying onto and off the breeding ledges. There were plenty of razorbills in rafts on the water, and we were lucky enough to see a few puffins too. It is still early in the year for puffins, and they will arrive in increasing numbers over the next few weeks.

 

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4pm

Continuing back down the west side of the island, we passed through the jumbled rocks of the ‘earthquake’, and could soon see the tower of the Old Light, which marks the start of the southern end of the island.

 

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The southern end is a working farm, and the sheep have just started lambing.

 

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The Old Light was built on the top of the island to keep shipping away from Lundy’s treacherous rocks, but when it was finished they realised that it was so often fog bound as to be useless. Two new lighthouses were built lower down on the northern and southern tips, and the Old Light was retired. Now it forms two pleasant holiday cottages in the main building, and everyone is welcome to climb the tower and relax in the pair of deckchairs inside the lantern.

 

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We headed back through the fields towards the village, where we had some much-needed refreshment in the Marisco Tavern.

 

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5.40pm

Sadly it was time to head back down the valley to the jetty to rejoin the Oldenburg at 6pm for the return journey. The weather was absolutely glorious for 1st April, and we were able to cover a large part of the coastline during the day, so we had thoroughly enjoyed our day.

 

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6.30pm

with everyone safely aboard we set sail for the return crossing to Bideford. As we sailed, the sun sank behind us, streaking the sky with pinks and oranges.

 

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8.30pm

Back on the quayside at Bideford after an uneventful but chilly journey, we headed to the fish and chip shop for the traditional post-crossing dinner, before heading home. It was a perfect Lundy day out.

Super Spring Sunshine

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What a stunningly beautiful weekend it has been, with blue skies all day long, and some real warmth in the sun. The fritillaries have really started to open this week, and there are plenty more buds to come.

The early daffodils, mainly large yellow or white and yellow trumpets, plus the tiny Tete a Tete, are now over, and we have a much wider mix of varieties, including a lovely pink trumpeted one.

 

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I mowed for the first time this year, so the lawns are looking lovely and neat after the shagginess of early spring.

 

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Most of the Spring pruning is now done, and I am able to start going over some of the flower beds and renovating the planting. I do love this time of year…

 

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Sunset at the beach

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We have had to endure some very Devon weather the last week or so. Fog, rain, wind, mist, and hail, often in the same day. This afternoon the skies finally cleared, so we headed for the beach to watch the sun set.

 

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Woolacombe beach is backed by high sand dunes which are fun to walk or run down, but much less fun to climb back up!

 

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There were a few other folk on the beach, but with miles of beach to share, they weren’t very noticeable!

 

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The patterns on the damp sand vary hugely every time I go down. Today they were fine, flat, angular wrinkles, but sometimes there are deep, curved ridges.

 

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What a peaceful place for a late afternoon stroll.

 

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One of the reasons that Woolacombe is not busier is that much of the length of the beach is protected from development by this high ridge, with just a dead end road along it providing access and parking.

 

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The sun started to descend right over the low outline of Lundy.

 

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A cloud bank on the horizon hid the moment that the sun finally set, but it was still a glorious sight.

 

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As we left the beach, there were only a couple of folk still enjoying the solitude.

 

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Hellebores and other Spring beauties

The last month has been less than perfect, as I have had a nasty bout of ‘flu, and haven’t been well enough to get out in the garden much. Once the worst was over, I went visiting friends and family around the country for a week, while I got my strength back. I managed to visit a fair few garden centres and nurseries while away, so returned with a boot full of delicious plants. This unusual striped hellebore was one of my finds – it is bred by Hilliers as part of their Spring Promise range, and is called ‘Lily’.

 

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I had a quick look at the other hellebores they were selling, not expecting to find anything else, but then I found yet another stunner – this time a double purple so dark it looks black, but with a softer purple showing around the edges.

 

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This is ‘Double Ellen Purple’, a superb addition to my little hellebore grove along the woodland path.

The garden is awash with Spring bulbs, all doing their best to stand up against the Spring storms. The crocuses struggle, but some have survived.

 

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My current favourite among the daffodils is this mid-sized one with swept back petals, and a rich orange trumpet. it really stands out amongst all the yellow and white varieties.

 

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This little corner bed at the end of our drive was just full of weeds, so in the winter I planted a little conifer which was swathed with fairy lights for Christmas, and added a few clumps of mini daffs that needed moving from elsewhere. Now I just need to add a little something else in front of the conifer for summer colour.

 

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We have had to add an extra layer of wire mesh around the base of our potager, as we found that the rabbits were chewing holes in our plastic deer fencing, even there is nothing inside yet for them to eat!

 

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That should stop them. The first plants have now gone in – summer and autumn-fruiting raspberries. They don’t look much at the moment, but should grow away well, helped by lots of homemade compost. I am really looking forward the the first crop.

 

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Now I need some mild, dry weather so that I can get out there and get gardening, but as it is currently raining I shall have to make do with admiring my bowl of hellebores.

 

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