Thursday, 27 September 2007

Newts, toads and dragonflies

There's lots of colour still in Chesters Walled Garden - tall stands of Michaelmas daisies, vivid pokeroot berries, great drifts of Verbena bonariensis and sedums, pretty grass seedheads and sumach turning brilliant red - so there is still work to do in the garden. On wet days, however, we work in the tunnels, cutting back perennials, tidying and top dressing and generally preparing the plants that are for sale for their winter rest. Picking up one of the pots I discovered this drowsy little newt underneath and took its photograph! We often find newts in the tunnels at this time of the year and the fact that no chemicals are used and the watering system comes on every now and then must make it an attractive and safe enviornment for them.

In the garden I found a lovely fat toad, snuggled sleepily down amongst geranium foliage where it had created a low hollow for itself. About the round pond, dragonflies are still restlessly darting, probing the bricks around the edge for places to lay eggs. There are now more butterflies than we have seen all year: red admirals, painted ladies, peacocks, small tortoiseshells. Having had such a poor summer for butterflies, it is a relief to see them in numbers. The robin is singing its thin autumn song and a scruffy blackbird follows me around, getting almost up to my feet in its search for worms and grubs that I disturb while cutting back.

Sunday, 16 September 2007

Poyntzfield Herb Nursery, Echinacea and butterflies

In my last post I wrote about the wonderful chives that originated at Poyntzfield Herb Nursery on the Black Isle not far from Inverness, and last week I was up there for a visit. This picture shows the garden in late summer glory with a mass of soapwort in the foreground. This useful but highly spreading herb can be used to make a mild cleanser, just the thing for fabrics that have been dyed with herbal dyestuffs. But remember it is almost worse than mint for being invasive! No wonder it easily spread from the laundries in America when it had been taken there by settlers for the washtubs.

I sat in the garden in glorious sunshine having a cup of purple sage tea with Duncan Ross who has run Poyntzfield for many years and built it up to have a huge catalogue of herbs available by post. Seeds were drying in boxes in a lean-to shed ready for next year's plants, labels were all stacked neatly in alphabetical order.

What amazed me in particular were the vast numbers of butterflies on all the plants -especially on the echinaceas, compact marjorams and this lovely Carline thistle. In common with reports I've heard from all over the country when visitors have come to Chesters Walled Garden, there has been a desperate drop in the butterfly population presumably due to the wet summer and Duncan said that their numbers were only up now in September - but it was a glorious sight, all the more so for being unusual this year.