Wednesday, March 03, 2021

Winter 2020/2021

The weather is milder now, but in mid-February there was a very cold, snowy spell with frost sufficient to penetrate the soil in the windowbox.

Over the winter several of the sallow bushes have died, though two or three, I think are still alive.  As I write in early March I can report that tutsan (Hypericum androsaemum) is doing well with plenty of new leaf buds.  There are many plants of herb robert (Geranium robertianum) scattered across the windowbox and it does particularly well here.  There is the solitary holly and several plants of hairy tare (Ervilla hirsuta) plus several moss species.

A couple of weeks back I coppiced the sallows and pruned back the tutsan.  I also put a plastic tub over the now very decayed sallow log in the centre of the windowbox as an emergence trap for any insects that might emerge from it.



Thursday, May 21, 2020

A return to the window box

For a variety of reasons I have been neglecting the window box for a number of years, but now I am back encouraged by people asking me about the project.

I took the photo below a couple of days ago on 19 May.


Much has disappeared due to neglect - mainly lack of watering in dry weather - but several sallows are still alive and there are tutsan, herb-robert, goosegrass all doing well.  The holly in the foreground has also survived but the sallow log is in a very decayed state but much appreciated by woodlice - a sort of woodlouse castle..

There is quite a thick covering of dead leaves over the whole surface and I shall leave these.  I have also cut back (coppiced) the tutsan as it was rather overwhelming the right hand end of the window box.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Another sallow flowers

This time some male catkins on what I identify as goat willow (Salix caprea).


Saturday, April 14, 2018

The sallows flower

Two of the self-sown sallows in WBX are carrying flowers (because if forgot, or omitted to coppice them last autumn).  I think this will do more good that harm, but I will try a rotational system in the future leaving some to grow up for two or three years before cutting back.

The female catkins in WBX below are, strictly, the grey willow (Salix cinerea).


Friday, November 06, 2015

Ten years and counting


4th November was the tenth anniversary of this window box wildlife project.  Generally speaking the box seems to have settled into a fairly stable state with many of the plants happily co-habiting.  And still there is no sign of falling fertility.

The picture above shows the top of the sallow log with its remarkable plant assemblage: various mosses, rushes (Juncus sp.), willowherb (Epilobium sp.), hairy tare, white clover, birch, hazel and yew.  I thought the latter had died, but it perked up in summer and produced some brownish new leaves (between the two clumps of rush).  Just off to the right is a leaf of ragwort.  There are several small plants of this, all relatively recent arrivals.


The picture above is of a berry of tutsan (Hypericum androsaemum), a plant that has been growing in the box for many years.  Most books say the berries are poisonous, but others that they are simply inedible: I suspect the latter is true as no evidence seems to be offered as to the nature of any toxicity.

The specific name of the plant androsaemum is from Classical Greek and means 'man's blood', andros aimon.  This is said to be because the berries, if squashed, produce a red, blood-like juice. They don't.  The named was coined by Dioscorides who was born in what is now Turkey, worked for the Roman army and wrote in Greek.  Perhaps he meant some other plant.

Another verbal curiosity is that as well as tutsan, the plant is known as 'park-leaves'.  Some books say, with impeccable logic, that this is because it grows in parks, but it is not especially prominent in this habitat.  I think a better conjecture, given in The Dictionary of Plant Lore, is that 'park' is a corruption of  Hypericum.  But why 'leaves' instead of  'leaf'?  There is possibly a clue in the Welsh term for the plant dail y beiblau meaning 'bible leaves' (because people used to use the pleasantly balsam scented leaves as page markers in their bibles).  Maybe park-leaves were used in the same way in England.

If anyone has noticed them, the yellow-orange spots on the park-leaves leaves are caused by the rust fungus Melampsora hypericorum, which seems to occur wherever the plant grows.



Friday, June 12, 2015

Fat caterpillar


Noticing that the taller sallow was looking a bit shredded with some sort of feeding damage, I quickly found the culprit was the fat caterpillar above.  It is a copper underwing, Amphipyra pyramidea.  It can be distinguished from its lookalike Svensson's copper underwing by the break in the white line on its side towards the front end (lower left in the picture) and the fact that it has a yellow rather than a red tip to its rear hump.

It is a new record for the window box and must have fed up very quickly as I have not noticed it until today.  The moth flies later in the year and the species overwinters as an egg, indicating that it must have survived in this condition in the window box for six or seven months.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Coppice time

In a brief spell of rather cold sunshine, I tackled the annual job of cutting back the sallows today.  Before and after pictures below.

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There has been a surprising amount of growth on the sallows during the year and I continue to wonder where they get the nourishment from as no fertiliser is ever applied to the box.  I suppose it must come down in the rain and, to some extent, through the nitrogen fixing abilities of the clover and vetch.

The stick at the rear on the left is a two-year old wand which I have allowed to grow to about half a metre as a sort of cordon or pollard

With a bit of tidying up the top of the box looks quite presentable and very varied.

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It does collect a lot of dead leaves in autumn though and I never know whether to leave them or tidy them away.  Perhaps I could put them into a neat leaf mould pile in some neglected corner.