In early August 2006 the small reddish moss above appeared just in front of the sallow log.
Eventually I got round to sending some to Howard Matcham,our Sussex bryophyte recorder, and he confirmed my suspicion that it was Bryum rubens. This species has small tubers on the roots, hence the English name.
I had hoped to get fruits to make identification easier, but there was some very heavy summer rain which apparently destroyed the whole colony as none has reappeared. Beaten to a pulp by rain drops and grit from the compost.
Thursday, December 28, 2006
Sunday, December 17, 2006
If I take the dead leaves that have blown in away, Wbx looks quite neat in these midwinter days.
The white clover has retreated to a smaller winter version with leaves only about half the size of the summer burgeoning. This gives a chance for the two geraniums to grow.
The sunlit rush plant is, I am sure soft-rush (Juncus effusus), while over to the left by the plastic there is an alexanders seedling (Smyrnium olusatrum). Surprisingly the leaves persist on the small grey sallow plants.
Posted by Patrick Roper at 11:14 pm
Saturday, November 04, 2006
Today is the first anniversary of the project and the pictures above show how the window box was in November 2005 compared with how it is now. On my visit I noticed on the shady side of the sallow log two small resupinate fungi, a greyish white one and a pink one. These are the first fungi recorded. I also caught a short-palped cranefly, Erioptera griseipennis, resting on the bark.
Many of the naturally occurring Wbx plants of the last twelve months have clearly sown themselves from parents growing in the garden and the early appearance of species like buddleia, Leycesteria, alexanders, grey sallow, birch and tutsan demonstrates how easily these establish themselves in ‘waste ground’.
Some plants would have tended to take over if I had not controlled them. The white clover would have spread over the whole soil surface, for example, and I have had to remove the stinging nettle and several buddleias and grey sallows.
The groundsel, Senecio vulgaris, was an interesting plant. It appeared early on and grew, flowered and seeded well. Several new plants then developed from the seeds but, after attack by aphids and probably flea beetles, they went into a decline and now appear to be extinct in Wbx. A few seedlings of other species vanished before they had had a chance to get beyond the cotyledon stage and some slightly larger plants I could not identify died young.
During the very hot weather in summer the first birch seedling looked as though it was going to die, but it recovered and still carries some leaves. Elsewhere other birch seedlings have appeared.
The following species have been confirmed as occurring (nothing, of course, has been deliberately introduced):
A birch, Betula sp.
Butterfly-bush, Buddleja davidii
A crane’s-bill, Geranium sp.
Herb-robert, Geranium robertianum
Greater plantain, Plantago major
Procumbent pearlwort, Sagina procumbens
Grey willow, Salix cinerea
Groundsel, Senecio vulgaris
Stinging nettle, Urtica dioica
Tent spider, Pisaura mirabilis
A woodlouse, Porcellionides cingendus
A woodlouse, Trichoniscus pusillus
A reticulated slug, Deroceras reticulatum
A springtail, Entomobrya nivalis
A bark louse, Ectopsocus briggsi
A leaf hopper, Empoasca vitis
An aphid (on groundsel)
A flea beetle, Longitarsus flavicornis
Shining sweep moth, Psyche casta
Mosquitoes (larvae in small pool)
A moth fly, Psychoda sp.
A winter gnat, Trichocera sp.
A short-palped cranefly, probably Limonia chorea
A short-palped cranefly, Erioptera griseipennis
A non-biting midge, Bryophaenocladius xanthogyne
A non-biting midge, Gymnometriocnemus brumalis
A dance fly, Rhamphomyia longipes
A dolichopodid fly, Dolichopus griseipennis
A dolichopodid fly, Chrysotus sp.
A dolichopodid fly, Medetera truncorum
Marmalade fly, Episyrphus balteatus
A greenbottle, Eudasyphora cyanella
A flesh fly, Sarcophaga sp.
Chalcid wasps, Chalcididae (several)
European Robin, Erithacus rubecula
Common Blackbird, Turdus merula
These are those that are awaiting confirmation of identity:
A grass (one plant only)
An exotic maple, Acer sp.
A rush, Juncus sp.
A willow herb, Epilobium sp.
Alexanders, Smyrnium olusatrum
Dandelions, Taraxacum sp.
Deptford pink, Dianthus armeria
Himalayan honeysuckle, Leycesteria formosa
Tutsan, Hypericum androsaemum
Several vascular plants not even determinable to family level.
Wall screw-moss, Tortula muralis
Five or six other mosses
I estimate that I have seen around 60 species over this first year and there will, of course, be plenty of unseens: the creatures that settle for a while by day or night, the fauna and flora in the soil or the pond, the microscopic organisms.
Posted by Patrick Roper at 2:07 pm
Friday, October 13, 2006
Nearly a year after its creation, the windowbox as two different sides. To the north (top photo) there are many plant species. These include the clover lawn with two kinds of cranesbill, a greater plantain, a rush with, just to its right, what I think is a small Himalayan honeysuckle. There are several sallows and, in the bottom left hand corner a tiny birch, the one that nearly died in the summer, then recovered. The different mosses grow better on this half of the window box too.
The southern half (lower picture) has very few plants and large bare areas. The Japanese maple seems alive and well but has lost its leaves for winter as has the small wild service in its bonsai pot. A dandelion to the left grows well and what I think is a petty spurge seems okay in the centre. There is also the only grass plant so far to have colonised hard against the sallow log. Groundsel which started well and spread well, now seems to have disappeared altogether.
Why there should be a difference between the two halves I cannot explain and it will be interesting to see if it is a long term problem.
Monday, October 02, 2006
I found an anthomyiid fly, Hylemya nigrimana, wandering rather sluggishly on the southern rim of the windowbox today. A closer look revealed a gaping cavity in the side of the abdomen from which all the contents seemed to have gone, leaving an empty shell.
This appeared as though a parasitoid might have emerged from within or maybe some creature had pierced the body with a bloodsucking mouthpart. Whatever, gruesome enough to intrigue the grandchildren.
Posted by Patrick Roper at 10:34 pm
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
A reddish grey spider appeared on the western rim of Wbx this afternoon and posed long enough for me to get a snapshot even though light levels were very low and the sallow log in my way. It was a small specimen of Pisaura mirabilis, sometimes known asthe'nursery web spider' from the way the female guards the egg sack.
Posted by Patrick Roper at 10:47 pm
Saturday, September 09, 2006
There is one plant of greater plantain in Wbx but, although the soil is good, it does not grow nearly as well as others of this species do on trampled gateways, lawns and so on.
The main reason seems to be is that it has been infested with aphids ever since it was very small and these have considerably distorted the leaves. There are three aphid species that live on P. major and I have not yet worked out which one this is. Despite this problem, it has managed to produce a flowering spike and will set seed.
Posted by Patrick Roper at 10:30 pm
Thursday, August 31, 2006
Today I found a pale,flaccid, freshly emerged short-palped cranefly, probably Limonia chorea, resting on the soil surface to harden its wings and exoskeleton generally before taking wing. Within minutes it had flown.
Nearby, between two leaves of a rush plant, a minute spider had spun a delicate orb web. (View the picture at full size for the detail)
Posted by Patrick Roper at 11:33 pm
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
The recent heavy rain has done some damage to Wbx. It splashes grit up into the plants and even seems to have killed, or buried, some of the smaller, more delicate patches of moss.
There is also an increasing difference between the two halves. Plants in the southern section often grow poorly and there are fewer of them, while most things burgeon in the northern half and there are far more species. I cannot think of any reason.
I have had to start thinning out some of the plants in order that one thing or another does not become dominant. I have put one of the buddleias in a pot and am minded to start a special collection of these thinnings as a Wbx accessory – a garden from a windowbox.
Two cranesbills have appeared in the centre of the clover lawn. One is herb robert, Geranium sanguineum; the other may be dovesfoot cranesbill, G. molle, but I will have to let it grow a bit before I can be certain. The first true leaf of this latter is pictured above.
Posted by Patrick Roper at 8:58 pm
Sunday, August 20, 2006
Once again I have had to coppice the clover back to its half moon shape against the eastern edge of Wbx. The recent rains have made this plant grow remarkably vigorously.
What I thought was a nettle (see above) undoubtedly is as it stung me when I was coppicing the clover. Sadly it will have to go as Wbx cannot sustain a nettle bed.
Mosses are burgeoning: a particularly attractive mini-feature is the colony of wall screw-moss, Tortula muralis, in a crevice on the sandstone rock (see also above).
Several non-descript seedlings with greyish, oval leaves are, I have decided, Buddleja davidii, the butterfly bush. This Chinese plant did not really catch on in the horticultural world until just over a century ago, but has now spread all over the country to brownfield sites and even ancient woodlands. Butterflies do like it, but perhaps there are far fewer flowers in the countryside so that plants like this in gardens and waste places are increasingly welcome.
What I thought was a grass looks increasingly like a rush, Juncus sp., but one small blade of what I think is a true grass has appeared south of the sallow log.
The small birch in the north east corner of Wbx was struggling for a while – heat stroke I suspect – and I thought it was going to die, but it seems to have recovered slightly and may make it to winter.
Posted by Patrick Roper at 9:47 pm
Saturday, August 12, 2006
Perhaps 50% of the seedling groundsels are not growing well, or at all, and their young leaves have turned purplish and yellow like bruises.
I pulled one up today as I thought these plantlets could be suffering some sort of fungal attack and discovered that aphids were living under the leaves. As well as weakening the plants by sucking out the sap, they may well have introduced some virus.
Several plants have not beeen affected and are growing away quickly. Maybe if this cycle continues a new, aphid-resistant strain of 'windowbox groundsel' will evolve.
Posted by Patrick Roper at 12:01 am
Saturday, August 05, 2006
1 August 2006. My need to stop the white clover smothering everything has resulted in a half-moon shaped clover lawn carefully topiarised with a pair of scissors.
There is a rapidly developing community of plants right across M3 and the groundsel has seeded itself copiously. I look on these as ‘nurses’ for other species on the basis that plants seem to grow better when they are together.
There are now several patches of moss and several species seem to be involved, but it will be some time before I feel able to sort them out.
I have removed all the epicormic shoots from the sallow log, fine though they were, as it will otherwise quickly turn into a tree and probably break out of the window box altogether.
Posted by Patrick Roper at 11:08 pm
22 July 2006. Much has been happening in the last few weeks. The first flowering plant, the groundsel, has shed all its seed and died, but has scattered babies everywhere on the windowbox. I will leave them for the time being as I tend to believe, à la Goethe, that plants work as ecosystems rather than as individuals.
The white clover has recovered from its fierce pruning and is spreading out again, and the sprouts from the sallow log are now longer than the log itself.
There are still many small plants I cannot identify: a seedling with purplish leaves, maybe a sow thistle (see photo); a tiny, dark green trailing plant which grows very slowly to the east of the sallow log. There is also one pearlwort, Sagina procumbens, a birch – Betula and a stinging nettle, Urtica dioica (see photo). However, vegetation cover is sparse, maybe 10%, and growth of many species painfully slow.
The pearlwort is difficult to photograph, but when I did I noticed it was home to some very tiny orange aphids (see photo)
Posted by Patrick Roper at 10:32 pm
Monday, July 10, 2006
Today I coppiced the white clover, Trifolium repens, with my two-year old granddaughter as an assistant. The plant has been getting more and more rampant and was likely soon to cover the whole of Wbx and smother some of the smaller (and still very slow growing) seedlings. Several of these have only achieved a few millimetres across in many months of growth. I think I might now have eight or ten species overall, but in some cases it looks as though it could be years before I find out even though they are growing in pretty good conditions.
Anyway, I cut the whole clover plant back almost to the roots round the original seedling. I have no doubt the plant will quickly regrow again and I am making the harvested foliage into hay which I may put back on Wbx in due course.
In the last few days this clover has been producing flowers, which clinches its identity (see photo), but I am unrepentant about my trimming as I want to create as much variety and structure as I can in this small space.
Posted by Patrick Roper at 6:45 pm
Sunday, July 02, 2006
On a hot afternoon (30°C) a reticulated slug, Deroceras reticulatum, emerged from under the clover leaves into the bright sunshine and made its way across the soil to Orion Rock. It flowed along this upside down, then disappeared beneath. This is clearly the animal (often described as a common garden pest) that has been browsing on the clover.
Another feature of Wbx at the moment is the tiny, green, iridescent flies of the Dolichopodid genus Chrysotus. These often rest on the top of leaves in the sunshine as they search for prey.
Posted by Patrick Roper at 9:52 pm
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
Now that summer proper is here more insects turn up in Wbx. This morning I noticed the green bottle Eudasyphora cyanella and a male of the small dancefly, Rhamphomyia longipes, which settled on a leaf from the burgeoning sallow log. As can be seen, these are predatory flies and it is in the subgenus Aclonempis mainly by virtue of its long proboscis.
The small aphid under the leaf in the top photo looks at some risk, but the fly paid no attention to it.
The species is fairly common in the British Isles and there are several records from East Sussex.
Posted by Patrick Roper at 12:04 am
Sunday, June 18, 2006
This morning there were two beak-sized holes between the sallow log and the western edge of Wbx.
One was larger than the other and both were of a conical shape that indicated they were likely to have been made by some large bird - a jackdaw or magpie maybe. It was not clear what they might have been looking for and it will be interesting to see how long they remain identifiable as holes, though I don't suppose there will be rare plants growing in them as in the grykes in limestone pavement.
Slugs or snails now appear to be getting up onto Wbx and they have started to eat the clover. Yesterday's bud has gone, so they obvioulsy made a bee-line (or slug line) for that.
Posted by Patrick Roper at 11:11 pm
Friday, June 16, 2006
After some five months of growth from seed, the plant which I think is white clover, Trifolium repens, has, since Sunday, produced a bud. It looks like a green pine cone lying on the ground and will need to turn upright before the flowerlets start opening.
To one side some of the leaves have been eaten, I suspect by a slug or snail and this is the first time this has happened.
This clover has grown so well it is now covering a substantial area of Wbx and beginning to swamp some of the smaller plants. Some management will soon be necessary.
Posted by Patrick Roper at 11:20 pm
Sunday, June 11, 2006
The plant that grows more rapidly and vigorously than anything else is what I think is white clover, Trifolium repens. It appeared in February and is now expanding rapidly though, unlike the groundsel, it shows no sign of flowering.
It is hot and dry every day at present, so I water the windowbox regularly with rain water. I often reflect how unlike any ‘wild’ microclimate conditions in the box are. In winter the soil freezes right through and it dries out rapidly in hot weather then gets a tropical downpour from a watering can in the evening. Nevertheless, it seems to support a range of quite common plants that grow fairly normally.
Posted by Patrick Roper at 10:10 pm
Several of the groundsel flowers have now produced seeds and I managed to photograph this one before the they all blew away in the soft summer wind.
I still cannot work out why the groundsel and the clover grew so quickly earlier in the year when it was cold, often frosty, when the numerous seedlings that have germinated since the warmer weather started are so slow in progressing during the current 'good growing weather' - they look healthy enough, just slow.
Posted by Patrick Roper at 12:39 am
Thursday, June 08, 2006
The sallow log, though planted in the windowbox upside down has produced three fat shoots, all on the north side of the log. They thrust out from the bark at an angle of 45 degrees like the arm of a green man carrying a green grenade. "Don’t mess with me, the embodiment of nature" they seem to say.
I counted the number of volunteer seedlings today – there are nearly 40 and of many different species, but they grow very slowly. I also noted a Sarcophaga flesh fly on the rim of Wbx and a rove beetle making its way towards the sandstone rock.
Posted by Patrick Roper at 11:46 pm
Thursday, June 01, 2006
There are now many seedlings scattered right across Wbx and they appear to be of many different species. They are mostly very slow to grow, unlike the Trifolium and the groundsel that came up in January and early February. The groundsel has already flowered and set seed and the trefoil (white clover, I think) is starting to spread by runners.
There is also the little Japanese maple tree which, with nourishment from its seed, produced two cotyledons and two true leaves but though the cotyledons are fading now there is no sign of any further development.
Some of the patches of green scum that appeared in late winter have now turned into very small tufts of moss and in the cool, damp weather so far this summer are developing quite quickly.
Insects continue to turn up from time to time and the latest was a larva of the shining sweep moth, Psyche casta, in its caddis-like case of dead plant stems and other bits and pieces (see picture above). These often remain in exactly the same place for months when the weather is cold, but this one which started at the southern edge of the eastern Wbx rim, had moved yesterday, about half a metre northwards, then disappeared. The males hatch out into proper little moths, but the wingless females remain in their cases.
Posted by Patrick Roper at 4:54 pm
Tuesday, May 30, 2006
This morning I noticed that the first seed head on the groundsel, Senecio vulgaris, the first plant to seed in Wbx, had opened like a star and spread its children upon the wind. Just a few reluctant starters were still waiting to jump. I had missed the shaving brush phase in all the recent rain and wind, but the plant seemed to have timed its moment perfectly on a breezy, sunny late May morning.
The rhythm of my title 'The groundsel has seeded' reminded me of something. Then I remembered: the line from the first voyage to the moon 'the Eagle has landed'.
Posted by Patrick Roper at 11:12 pm
Sunday, May 21, 2006
After the gales and heavy rain of the last two days, the surface soil of the windowbox is strewn with bits of leaf, flower buds and petals. None of the plants seems to have been damaged, however, and this vegetable detritus will, I suppose, in the fullness of time, create a sort of top-dressing.
I caught a fly too. A little muscid called Coenosia tricolor. I wonder where the third colour is supposed to be.
Posted by Patrick Roper at 8:14 pm
Thursday, May 18, 2006
The bird cherry shakes
in a summer gale and drifts
a snow of petals.
I find one floating on the dark waters of the Wbx pond. It reminds me of Ezra Pound's In a Station of the Metro:
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.
Reading this again after many, many years makes me wonder if I should write a haiku too. About a petal on a wet, black pool, but Pound's lovely, disembodied image, though maybe not a haiku, will long float in my mind far above anything I could manage.
Posted by Patrick Roper at 10:00 pm
Wednesday, May 17, 2006
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
The plant I thought was groundsel, Senecio vulgaris, has indeed proved to be so and, though still very small, has produced a flower.
Growing, as it is, in a rich compost, I am surprised that it is not much larger, but maybe it is aiming to get some seeds away as soon as possible. Groundsel is not common in our garden and I cannot remember seeing any for years so, as in the case of Surtsey island, it is not the closest plants that are the first colonists of the windowbox.
Posted by Patrick Roper at 3:41 pm
Sunday, May 07, 2006
The seedling that shows every sign of being a Japanese maple of some description has expanded its first two true leaves and they have arched backwards and crossed while their tips almost touch the soil. I thought the seedling might be from our old Japanese maple growing nearby, but this has different leaves so I shall have to let it develop a bit before attempting to identify it (though, as a seedling, I expect it will be a unique clone - Acer 'Windowbox')
Posted by Patrick Roper at 9:09 pm
Tuesday, May 02, 2006
I found a midge floating dead on the small Wbx pond today and it turned out to be a rather battered specimen of Bryophaenocladius xanthogyne. This is a terrestrial-breeding species which has a remarkable sexual dimorphism, the male being almost completely black and the female wholly yellow. It is not uncommon here at this time of year and the picture shows a pair I found a few years back.
Posted by Patrick Roper at 10:16 pm
Saturday, April 29, 2006
The large seedling is now starting to develop its first true leaves and they look very much like some form of Japanese maple. The seed possibly came from the tree in our garden that grows nearby, but maybe not and, if it did, I am not sure how it would have been buried. Anyway, it looks very healthy and may develop into something quite interesting.
Posted by Patrick Roper at 7:01 pm
Friday, April 28, 2006
Although it is only about one centimetre tall, the seedling that I think may be groundsel, has produced a flower bud. This is very fast work for something that only germinated on 1 February this year, 87 days ago. It remains to be seen whether the plant will grow taller or will call it a day once seed is set.
The black-tipped outer bracts are characteristic of groundsel, so it looks as though my early determination was right.
Posted by Patrick Roper at 9:36 pm
Wednesday, April 26, 2006
There were two halves of a hazel nut lying on WBX today split, I suppose, by a grey squirrel. I was reminded of Julian of Norwich's famous words:
"And so in this syght y sawe sothely that he ys alle thynge that ys goode as to myne undyrstandynge and in this he schewyd me alyttille thynge the qwantyte of A haselle Nutte lyggande in the palme of my hande & to my undyrstandynge that it was as rownde as any balle. I lokede þeropoun and thought whate maye this be and I was aunswerde generaly thus it is alle that ys made."
As the picture shows, my hazel shell is round and could pass, if not for Earth, then for some distant planet round a distant sun. It has an astronomical cast about it.
Posted by Patrick Roper at 10:37 pm
Sunday, April 23, 2006
The large seedling that I thought might be an ash tree appears to be something else, though it is still too early to tell what. The leaves are a rather olive green and the bud in the centre is red, not typical of an ash. I think it might be an exotic.
Seedlings appear almost every day now and by the end of the year I should have a fairly fully vegetated window box with a surprising variety of species - gardening by serendipity.
Posted by Patrick Roper at 10:36 pm
Monday, April 17, 2006
As the seedlings develop I begin to get some inkling of what they might be. The first to germinate last autumn (lowerpicture) has produced a trifoliate second true leaf and it reminds me of one of the trefoils or clovers. The second up has further slightly serrated leaves and may be groundsel.
More seedlings now appear almost every day and the large specimen spotted recently has now pulled its long cotyledons out of the earth and might be an ash tree - rather too large for a window box!
Posted by Patrick Roper at 6:53 pm
Saturday, April 15, 2006
A seedling larger than any I have yet seen is coming up to the south of the sallow log. There is another different seedling about the same distance to the north. So far there are at least five surviving plant species in WBX, though I have not yet been able to name any.
Yesterday morning a sallow woodfly, an Egle species, probably E. minuta was settled on North Rim. I can identify these without catching them because I am very familiar with them, though it is impossible to distinguish E. minuta from E. lyneborgi without dissection.
Posted by Patrick Roper at 5:46 pm
Saturday, April 08, 2006
Several minute seedlings have appeared behind and to the south of the sallow log, bringing the total number for WBX up to seven. I wonder if these newcomers might be heathers the seeds of which could have survived in the John Innes soil, or (more likely) pearlwort, Sagina procumbens.
It is cold again and nothing grows very quickly, so it will be some time before I find out.
Posted by Patrick Roper at 7:34 pm
Saturday, April 01, 2006
Friday, March 31, 2006
After a week of warmer, frost-free weather the two seedlings have started to grow more quickly but no new plants have appeared.
The more southerly of the two has small bumps, slight serrations, on the leaf edges reminiscent of some Hebes (see picture), but I don't think it is one of those. The other might be a sorrel or dock.
Posted by Patrick Roper at 7:59 pm
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
The first day of spring was cold and there was a frost overnight putting a thin skin of ice on the pond and freezing the soil surface. Despite this I spotted a tiny springtail, Entomobrya nivalis I think, making its way along the southern rim. As the name 'nivalis' (of the snow) implies, this species is not too troubled by cold.
A few strands of common feather-moss, Kindbergia praelonga, have appeared towards the north end of the windowbox, probably dropped by a bird gathering nest material. I shall have to wait and see if this takes root.
Birds also scuff about in the topsoil making small trenches and hollows which I normally leave as they are.
Posted by Patrick Roper at 10:14 am
Friday, March 17, 2006
Animal life for the first time in weeks, though it is still only just above freezing all day. This morning there was a robin perching on the edge of Wbx and, during one of my close scrutinies, I saw a very small black female non-biting midge, probably Limnophyes minima, though it flew off after a few seconds so I shall never know.
Posted by Patrick Roper at 9:27 pm
Monday, March 13, 2006
Sometimes after a frosty night a spike of ice appears like a shark's fin above the water in the windowbox pond. At other times the water just freezes flat in the normal way. I have no idea why this is, but wonder if it is to do with the speed at which the water freezes.
The long, chilly winter is holding things back. The only signs of life are the two tiny seedlings, both of which have minute green central blobs as true leaves start to form between the cotyledons. Constant freezing and thawing does not affect them at all.
Posted by Patrick Roper at 11:51 am
Tuesday, March 07, 2006
Warmer and wetter weather has moved in from the west. The soil in Wbx is no longer frozen, but a lump of ice still floats in the pond making it look like some black cocktail.
A curious moat-like impression about 1cm deep has appeared right round the pond. It seems improbable that this has been made by a bird or any other creature so I think it must be an effect of the recent frosts, though I do not understand what the mechanism could have been, or why it has only just shown up.
Posted by Patrick Roper at 9:32 pm
Monday, March 06, 2006
Sunday, March 05, 2006
For my second entry on this web log I have covered the history of the project to date.
On 4 November 2005 I bought a windowbox 63.5cm x 24cm, 0.1524 square metre (top inside dimensions) and two bags of John Innes No. 3 compost (the latter because it is 'ordinary' fertile soil, but sterilised ) at the Blackbrooks Garden Centre in Sedlescombe. These cost £11.97.
Helped by my grandson Jamie I set up the windowbox on some upturned wire crates so that the soil level was 65cm (26 inches) above the ground in a well-lit position to the west of the office shed in the garden. We filled it with the compost and put a dead elder branch in the centre, a pond made from a black plastic half litre mug to the left of this and a small rock of local sandstone to the right.
On 7 November 2005 I removed the elder branch (that did not last long) and replaced it with a 15cm mean diameter log of grey sallow, Salix cinerea, buried upside down in the soil so that about 17 cm of wood projected. This created a much more stable feature that will not fall over as it decays and is colonised by flora and fauna. The log was sawn from sallows being removed during the restoration of Oaklands Pond on the Pestalozzi Estate across the valley. The bark was left intact, but I hatcheted deep lines across the top of the log with a heavy bush knife to allow faster water penetration and therefore decay.
The first record from the windowbox was of a female non-biting midge, a brown and yellow Gymnometriocnemus brumalis found dead, floating on the surface of the pond. As this is a terrestrial breeding species, it would not have been attempting to lay eggs in the water.
It is very curious that this should be the first arrival as I have been interested in this species since 1959 and came across it on my parents' farm at Robertsbridge. I have seen it many times since and written odd bits and pieces about it for publication. If I had an insect talisman, or familiar, this would be it.
Birds come and sit on the sallow log and, although I have not yet seen one, there is ample evidence of their presence from the droppings they leave behind. Always too there is a scatter of leaves, mostly alder buckthorn as there is an old tree nearby, but also oak and hawthorn. Some have blown into the pond thereby started to enrich the water so that there will be some nourishment for the first colonists.
On 22 November 2005 there was a blackbird hopping about on the earth and the windowbox rim. Interestingly it pecked repeatedly at the earth as though there was something to eat there but, so far as I can see, it is absolutely bare apart from a few autumn leaves (currently being left where they lie).
The soil has been hard frozen during recent frosty nights and the pond covered with ice. The similarly sized pond in another project down the garden does not freeze like this unless the weather is much colder because it is buried in the ground and is in a sunnier position. This indicates that the microclimate in the windowbox is relatively harsh.
On 23 November the small psocied. Ectopsocus briggsi, was found on one of the fallen alder buckthorn leaves lying on the surface of Wbx's soil. An even smaller chalcid wasp was settled on the terracotta-coloured plastic rim of Wbx the following day - one of the difficult things to identify. The next day a robin perched on the sallow log in the morning, chirping and shaking its wings, pehaps because it was irritated by another robin somewhere. On 26 November there was one woodlouse under the sandrock. It proved to be the rather scarce Porcellionides cingendus, once a mainly western British species that has been spreading eastwards rapidly in recent years.
The foll,owing day I put a seedling wild service tree, Sorbus torminalis, into a small bonsai pot and buried this up to its rim in the front left hand corner of Wbx. This breaks my rule of no deliberate introductions, but I will not put it down as a record and, through being in a pot, it remains only semi-attached to the project and will not reproduce itself. My plan is to train it so that it casts a little shade over the sandrock and my other excuse is that I just like it there.
Yesterday's Porcellionides cingendus woodlouse was joined the next day by a couple of raw salmon coloured pigmy woodlice Trichoniscus pusillus. It is quite a climb for these small creatures and they must make their way up the wire cages that support Wbx like steel workers on skyscrapers. The Mohawks of the invertebrate world.
On 2 December a vine hopper, Empoasca vitis, settled like a small green seed on the south edge of the box. These are very common about the garden in winter, sheltering in evergreens and similar, but always active in milder weather. The following day another small chalcid wasp floated on the pond. I lifted it out on my fingertip and, after a few moments,it shook its wings and flew off. There was an owl fly too, a Psychoda species, standing on the meniscus of the pond. I left it there and when I returned, it had gone. Clearly they are able to walk on water.
On 16 January 2006 a tiny plant of moss was detected close to the eastern rim in the northern half of the windowbox. I suspect it had fallen off a bird, rather than grown from a spore. Nevertheless, it looks as though it may persist. Over the last few weeks the soil surface has been distrubed from time to time, probably by birds, leaving small hills and hollows which I have left as they are.
On 18 January 2006 the first seedling appeared, a tiny dicot in the northern section of the box near the eastern rim, but closer to the central log than the moss discovered two days ago. Then, on 1 February 2006, a second, even smaller, seedling appeared just in front of the sandstone rock. Eight days later I found and orange-scarlet berry lying on the earth near the pond. It was a fruit of stinking iris, Iris foetidissima, presumably dropped by a visiting bird. I do not expect it will remain there long and it raises the question of whether to record it for the species list. I think the answer is 'yes', on the basis that it is, unlike a fallen leaf, a complete, living organism with the capability of growing to maturity and reproducing itself.
On 10 February 2006 nearly half the water had disappeared from the pond when I looked at Wbx in the morning, so I topped it up with rainwatwer. There had been a hard frost overnight and some thirsty bird or birds might have found this as one of the few available drinking points if others were iced over, though the pond normally freezes when there are subzero temperatures.
I also spotted a small, bright green disc near the sallow log. This turned out to be a single plant of duckweed, probably lesser duckweed, Lemna minor, transported no doubt from the nearby pond by a bird. I broke, or bent, one of my own rules by moving the plant a few centimetres into the pond as it would have died on the bare earth. Let's call it conservation management. Again, as with the stinking iris seed, it was a good record as it was a whole organism capable of reproducing itself.
The iris berry had disappeared by 19 February and the duckweed plant was twice splashed out of the pond by heavy rain. The first time I returned it to the water, but I could not find it on the second occasion so the colonisation attempt has been unsuccessful. However, a third seedling has appeared to the north west of the sallow log. A small crescent of green too timid to unfold above the surface of the soil. The weather has turned cold again, so this is slowing growth, but the other two seedlings look in good shape and may be establishing root systems rather than developing overground.
The cold carried on until I set up this web log on 3 March 2006 and little happened in the interim, except for a day when quite a bit of the soil surface was disturbed by a visiting bird which almost destroyed the two surviving seedlings.
Posted by Patrick Roper at 10:11 am
Friday, March 03, 2006
Make or buy a windowbox and fill it with a sterile compost (in theory this should not contain weed seeds). Add a few features - a piece of wood, a stone, a small pond - then wait. Like Surtsey, the volcanic island that appeared from the sea off Iceland in 1963, animals and plants of various kinds will arrive of their own accord. Resist the temptation to plant anything, but feel free to manage whatever does grow in any way, to water the box when necessary and so on.
I have positioned my box on a stand half a metre off the ground, though you can put them anywhere they will fit out of doors. They are, however, probably less vulnerable if they are off the ground. They can even go on an outside window ledge,if you have one, or a roof.
Soon you will have a small wilderness, a mini nature reserve that will change over the years.
In this web log I plan to describe what happens in my window box in our garden near the village of Sedlescombe, East Sussex. It would be good if others did the same elsewhere so we could compare notes.
Posted by Patrick Roper at 9:33 pm