Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Iced smooth tare, Vicia tetrasperma

One of the newest arrivals in the windowbox is a plant of what is almost certainly smooth tare, a mini-vetch. It appeared in the autumn and has been growing steadily since.

For the last few days the weather has been very cold and frosty and the soil in the windowbox will, by now, be frozen right through. This makes it a much harsher microclimate than the garden round about where the roots of many plants will be below the level that frost can penetrate.

We will see what survives (the previous two winters have not been as cold as this).

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Long-legged fly (Tipula paludosa)

Today I found this female cranefly, Tipula paludosa, resting quietly in a cage of rushes. The Juncus in the windobox has grown large enough to serve this sort of purpose.

The insect dangled unmoving within the shelter of the plant and it reminded me, as craneflies always do of Yeats's poem:

That civilisation may not sink,
Its great battle lost,
Quiet the dog, tether the pony
To a distant post;
Our master Caesar is in the tent
Where the maps are spread,
His eyes fixed upon nothing,
A hand under his head.
Like a long-legged fly upon the stream
His mind moves upon silence.

Monday, September 03, 2007

First lichen (Lecanora campestris)

Since it was installed in the window box nearly two years ago the small sandstone rock in the top right corner has been developing a good skin of vegetation.

There are several mosses, as the picture shows, and the greenish white lichen with purple 'jam tarts' (Lecanora campestris) in the centre of the frame continues to expand. There is also a black encrustation on the rock - I will find out what that is one day. Maybe someone knows?

Saturday, July 14, 2007

At the village flower show

The window box was off on its travels again today, putting in a guest appearance at the Sedlescombe and District summer flower show in the village hall.

A wonderfully English event in which Wbx looked positively scruffy: a wild gipsy of an exhibit. However, people seemed genuinely interested.

Contemplating the battered edges of the box, it occured to me that, rather than trying to remove the contents, I should lower the rim. I will just have to find a suitable implement to do this. One of those little saws that cut off plaster casts would be ideal.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

The Poa burgeons

In the last ten days, since its return from Scotland, the one-grass-plant meadow has been doing very well (the rain has helped) and is now a fresh green tuft as shown above.

It will soon need cutting again.

On the other side of the sallow log I found there was a quite large conical excavation made, I suspect, either by a Scottish elf or an Islay rat. In deciding that I shall have to fill it with some of the original compost which I put in Wbx, I thought I could make little hillocks of earth here and there to compensate for some of the recent shrinkage without actually burying small plants.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

The box is back!

The window box has returned from its travels. It was taken by the BBC in mid-May, first to Bristol, then to Islay off the west coast of Scotland for use in the Springwatch TV programme, then back to Bristol before returning home.

Some of the plants look a bit battered and the plastic is now starting to get brittle and crack, but generally it has survived the experience. I suspect it was allowed to get quite dry and this has had the effect of causing the soil to shrink, so the top is much lower down the box than it originally was and there is a narrow gap all round the sides. I shall have to work out how to address this problem as, once shrunk, soil does not seem to return to its former volume.

I spent some time tidying the plants up and cut back the rough meadow grass (Poa trivialis), the only grass plant to appear so far. I thought this might make a one plant lawn but, as the picture shows, it is more like grass topiary (a new art form?).

While dealing with the grass I noticed a small plant of Cotoneaster visible above the Poa in the picture. The Japanese maple has died after being clobbered by late spring frost, so the Cotoneaster, another exotic, will go some way to compensate.

The southern half of Wbx is totally different to the northern with very few plants. Many of those that do grow also seem not to have a strong hold on life. Why this should be I do not know, but there are a number of seedlings in the empty southern spaces, so we shall have to see what happens.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Welcome to Springwatch viewers

If you saw the Windowbox on BBC TV Springwatch tonight, first in Sussex, then in Islay off the western coast of Scotland, welcome.

There is plenty of detail about the project if you follow the links to the right and I hope it shows that even people who don't have a garden can create tiny wildlife reserves that deliver fascinating results.

Something of this type does, of course, have to be managed to optimise biodiversity, but every plant and animal has arrived under its own steam, some being with the project only for a short time, while others are more persistant.

Every day when I walk down our garden I look at the space where the windowbox was and remember, with a real sense of separation, that it is in Islay. I am sure the BBC will take good care of it though and I look forward to its return so that reunited we can continue our dialogue.

With all these minireserve endeavours I get the strong feeling after a while that I am not just an outside observer, but part of the project itself. We are somehow enfolded into one another.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Windowbox on Springwatch

Postings have been few recently because the BBC TV programme Springwatch have borrowed the windowbox and taken it to Islay in Scotland for a holiday.

In late April they came to our Sussex home and filmed the project as the picture shows. They subsequently sent the box down to Bristol for onward travel to Scotland. Pity they didn't take me with it really, but they have promised to look after it.

I am not sure when it will be starring on the box, but I will post up the date and time when I find out

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Soldier beetle (Cantharis nigricans) on leaf

In the rain today I found a handsome soldier beetle on a leaf of herb robert (Geranium robertianum). The larvae are predatory and live under stones or at grass roots. Maybe they are resident in Wbx.
The darker marks on the beetle's elytra are raindrops.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Windowbox spring

After earlier rain and a spell of wonderfully warm weather, plants in Wbx are growing very quickly. The herb robert up against the sallow log will soon be in flower and I have had to finger pick the burgeoning white clover back to manageable proportions.

The solitary grass plant, despite much mildew, also grows quickly and threatens to swamp the southern end of Wbx. However, as soon as it has flowered and I have worked out what it is I shall cut it back thereby creating, no doubt, the world's only single plant hay meadow.

I found a beetle floating in the pond this afternoon, a Sitona clover weevil I think.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Dandelions and other things

The first dandelion has come into flower with the warm spring sunshine and it reminds of how often people say that if this was a rare plant it would be much sought after. In Wbx the two plants are certainly an asset, well behaved and small enough not to seem out of scale. They are, I suspect, Taraxacum undulatiflorum, but I will have to do some work with the BSBI dandelion book to be sure.

In the centre right of the picture is the small Japanese maple its leaves, as I predicted, damaged by a late frost. I think it will survive this year, but it will be struggling in colder winters than this.

On the far right there is one of the two tutsan plants (Hypericum androsaemum). This is supposed to be a woodland plant, but is not uncommon in our garden.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Maple crisis

Last night there was an air frost in the garden and a thin skin of ice in the morning on the Wbx pond. The Japanese maple leaves are expanding fast and I fear this sudden knee-jerk cold may well kill such tender shoots. They look okay at present, but this can be deceptive.

So, I have photographed them while they still look in good condition. An interesting feature is that these second year leaves are a different shape than those of the first year (see smaller picture) and much more like traditional Japanese maple leaves.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Pointed spear-moss (Calliergonella cuspidata)

Among the many species of moss, mostly unidentified, colonising Wbx, I noticed the one above today. It is pointed spear-moss (Calliergonella cuspidata), a species I have only just started noticing in the garden here.

Usually a moss of rather wet habitats, Wbx is maybe the equivalent of a dune slack in some respects and, in winter, quite water retentive.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Flower bug (Anthocoris nemorum) in action

I was looking at the expanding bud on the Japanese maple again today and noticed a flower bug, (Anthocoris nemorum) on the outside. Having taken a photo and enlarged it I discovered it was dining on a juicy aphid, thus ridding the maple of a destructive pest.

Southwood and Leston in their Land and Water Bugsof the British Isles say of this species that when they come out of hibernation they "feed on aphids, psyllids and other small animals and occasionally on leaves." Let's hope this bug doesn't become a vegetarian.

If you look carefully at a larger size of the photo you will see that the bug has its proboscis well thrust into the belly of the hapless aphid.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The maple stirs

The ornamental maple with the long-tailed leaves has survived both the summer and the winter and is stirring again with a slow expansion of its claw-like bud. (See 29 April 2006)

Once again, I would be grateful if anyone could suggest a name or knows of any other plants like it.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Corn mildew (Blumeria graminis)

Wbx's only grass plant (Poa annua I think) has much powdery mildew on the leaves.

There is only one mildew like this that found on grasses and this example must therefore be Blumeria graminis (formerly Erisyphe graminis). It prefers relatively cool and humid conditions and the recent weather must have been much to its liking. While I am sure that this is quite a common species in Sussex, there appear to be no earlier records for the county on the Sussex Biodiversity Record Centre's database. However, I am sure this is simply because people either have not looked for it, or have overlooked it.

Hopefully the grass will flower later in the spring and I will be able to name it with greater certainty.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Budding dandelion (Taraxacum sp.)

There is a bud in the heart of one of the two dandelion plants in Wbx but, overall, the plant does not look too healthy with several leaves afflicted by rusts and mildews. I thought how much these buds resemble a rolled pill millipede (Glomeris marginata) - see top picture.

The greater plantain looks good though as the new leaves appear. Some plantains retain their leaves overwinter and are therefore perhaps more susceptible to fungal and other infections.

By the sallow log there are male flowers of capillary thread-moss, Bryum cappilare and one of the sallows is starting to sprout.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

A bonnet toadstool (Mycena sp.)

This tiny, 2 mm, toadstool has appeared in a cushion of moss growing by the north west side of the sallow log. This is the first stalked fungus to have appeared since the project started.

It looks like Mycena pseudocorticola, but there are so many similar species that I would not go firm on this without a second opinion. Tiny though it is, it seems quite frost resistant and was unaffected by last night's subzero temperatures.

Friday, February 02, 2007

The snow springtail

One of the commonest arthropods in the British Isles is the springtail Entomobrya nivalis, found almost everywhere summer or winter. At only 2mm long it is not easy to photograph, especially as they are restless creatures.

They do, however, like a bit of sunshine and this one was running about on the plastic rim of Wbx in company with other springtails. The specific name 'nivalis' means 'of the snow' and does, I imagine, refer to the propensity of this species to turn up on snow fields. Apparently it can survive freezing conditions because its body contains thermal hysteresis proteins and a cocktail of other chemicals, but the trick is not well understood.

Identification of springtails is not easy, but there is a wonderful 260-page test key by the late Steve Hopkin that was issued by the Field Studies Council. Let's hope it is turned into a proper book one day.

Monday, January 01, 2007

New Year view

Wbx looks reasonably neat and tidy for the New Year. Almost (I tell myself) like a sink garden planted with precious and delicate alpines.

The large grass to the right of the sallow log has not been identified yet but, curiously, it is the only grass so far to appear. I thought such plants would quickly be dominant in the Wbx landscape.