Our Photo Diary at the start of a new decade is concentrating on the natural life that inhabits our valley at Bocombe. And we’ll have many questions to pose through the year!
Sleepy Hornets occasionally become trapped in our conservatories, even at this late stage in the summer. Large and fearsome they almost rattle around the glazing. They’re members of the wasp family, though, of course, much larger than a wasp, worker hornets are around an inch [25mm] long. They build papery nests in hollow trees and have sometimes been found in cavity walls and chimneys. Hornets can be seen in the garden and woodland from May to October; after October just the Queens survive the winter in hibernation.
This sleepy hornet strolled around one of our garden cushions for the best part of a sunny, autumn afternoon.
Two questions this month: I believe it’s a bee on the yellow flower, but what type of bee? And what species of flower? Both are around this month, though it’s getting late for these 5ft high daisy type flowers. We were given the un-named yellow flowering plants some years ago and they’ve now spread into a large clump...
The enormous caterpillars of the Elephant Hawk-moth measure around 90mm (3.5in) in length and are seen from July to September. We disturbed this one near our greenhouse in rough grass. In the garden they’re usually found on Fuchsia, or in the wild on Rose Bay Willow Herb and Bedstraw.
The Elephant Hawk-moth (Deilephila elpenor) adult is a medium-sized hawk-moth, mainly golden-olive with bright pink bars on the wings and body. It’s commonly found in parks and gardens, as well as woodland edges, rough grassland and sand dunes.
Help needed! We think this is a Wasp's nest. What do you think? It was found in a Camellia bush in full sunshine, and although we waited for ages no adults visited the nest. But what variety of Wasp?
The Peacock Butterfly (Inachis io) is common in woodlands and gardens throughout the UK, though rarer in Scotland. This specimen was snapped after being detained by a Velux window at Bocombe Mill Cottage! It’s big eye markings are used to deter predators...
Out at the wrong time of day! This local bat was found exhausted on our external conservatory wall, having flown or walked through some particularly entangling spiders’ webs. What type of bat is it?
A passing glance out of a window spied a small bird disappearing into a hole between stones in a large retaining wall at the rear of our house. Within seconds it re-appeared and flew off. I’d imagined that these well trodden holes in the stone wall were the homes of small rodents. But just how wrong I was! Long tailed tits (Aegithalos caudatus) are nesting within natural cavities of the wall, well out of the reach of most predators.
What’s been living in the dense shrubbery between out Yellow & Blue Garden and our Hot Garden? Through the winter quite a large area in the middle of the shrubs has been flattened. Often spotted in our Wild Meadow before disappearing into the local woods is a solitary Roe Deer Prickett. This young male deer is cast aside by its mother after 18 months or so to fend for itself…
Ice Bubbles! A fancy ice formation as water froze when tumbling from one of our ponds in the winter of 2017 / 18! It’s generally thought that a cold snap decreases the risk of pests and diseases overwintering. With such a mild winter (so far) this year get ready for an invasion of pests like greenfly! Here at Bocombe the birds have been singing their spring territorial tunes for a couple of weeks. Our Magnolias are almost in flower… All wildlife must have survived well during our current mild winter!
Our first question is “Who did this nest belong to?” Found in one of our many firewood stores late last autumn, this vacated nest must have belonged to a largish bird. Any guesses? A blackbird?
Photo diary 2019
What can possibly follow on from 2018’s Photo Diary of Exotic Flowers? This year we’ve a wide variety of plant structures that contain seeds. All grown at Bocombe.
Merry Xmas! Lots of Holly berries on our trees this year – it must have been a good summer!
Rows of small cones are produced regularly on our large Larch tree, Larix kaempferi. It was found as a self-set seedling some 25 years ago and transplanted to its current position. A deciduous conifer, of course, just like our famous stand of Dawn Redwoods, Metasequoia glyptostroboides, as featured in the RHS magazine The Garden.
Until this plant grew too big it thrived in the shelter of our house terrace. Prior to planting we should have explored more than one horticultural advice web site. Then we’d have found it is in hardiness group H5 and would grow anywhere at Bocombe.
Aralia cachemirica has maroon to black fruits from mid-September through to the first frosts.
It’s vigorous and tall and spreads easily. The leaves are dark green and pinate, being divided into ovate heart-shapes and then toothed! Said by most web sites to require moist but well drained soil, at Bocombe it grows, let’s not beat about the bush, in waterlogged soil.
These fruits started ripening early this year, probably due to the sunny, hot summer. We moved this Fig, Ficus ‘Brown Turkey’ (in its root restricting container) from one side of our Studio to the other around 12 years ago. In its new position it gains more light, and the end wall retains heat to help the figs ripen. If we could only keep the Blackbirds away!
It’s only August but our earliest apple tree, Reverend Wilks, already has a good crop of fruit. And tucked away inside are those brown apple pips - seeds, of course!
Chusan Palms (Trachycarpus fortunei) give an exotic flavour to our gardens. At around 20 years old these hardy palms fruit regularly!
We first saw Castor Oil plants (Ricinus communis) in India, growing luxuriantly tall on wasteland. These plants with glossy leaves, deeply lobed on long stalks, have been used in bedding out for many decades. They’re popular again in the red cultivars now available. For the past 10 years we’ve grown these (green) architectural plants. Whilst they’re perennials they’re also tender, so don’t survive in the UK. The seeds are contained in a shiny green to reddish spiny capsule, and whilst the seed (often called a bean, which it is not) is used to produce Castor Oil, the raw seed is highly poisonous!
The familiar seed head of a poppy. This group of poppies were grown from seed at Bocombe; with the ripening seed head are tight flower buds and a fully open flower.
A spectacular foliage plant that we always grow in our conservatories, Sauromatum venosum. Supposedly tender, one escaped into our Kitchen Garden some years ago and now grows there quite happily without any winter protection. Another of the “voodoo lily” group, this plant produces a foul-smelling spathe, followed by a single rounded leaf with many lance shaped segments. The bright fruits follow on as the plant retreats back into the soil for another year.
A further pine cone, this time with a two-year-old tree grown from this very cone here at Bocombe. Pine cones were collected in Cornwall. It’s the iconic Shelter Belt pine of Cornwall and Devon. A Monterey Pine (Pinus radiata). You can buy a two year old specimen when we open our garden for the NGS this year, all in aid of the NGS supported charities.
Now around 15 years old, our Stone Pine (Pinus pinea) has produced cones for the last couple of years. They’re famous, of course, as they produce Pine Nuts, that expensive Mediterranean ingredient. Situated on the sunniest and driest position we have, the tree is growing well and now producing copious fir cones.
From a peculiar source, this mis-named seed produced a very tall, evergreen, white Abutilon. A rare and unusual plant. And its own seed is contained in this typical, flat headed structure.
Photo diary 2018
“Exotic flowers grown at Bocombe” was the theme for our 2018 Photo Diary. Feast your eyes on our exotic blooms – and the rest of the landscape - when we open our Garden during May this year. Or stretch the seasons by bringing your group of ten or more from the start of March, with thousands of bulbs, to the end of July, with summer flowering shrubs and perennials!
A perennial climber from Chile grows (and flowers) almost all year round in the mild climate of South West England. We’ve encouraged the red flowering plants as oppose to the orange flowers that we think lack impact. Both seed readily. Known as the Chilean Glory Vine, or Chilean Vine, or Glory Vine. Eccremocarpus scaber.
In the grounds of the Bibi Ka Maqbara mausoleum at Aurangabad, India we enjoyed many garden features, including exotic tiled and sculptured pools. Here’s one of the many repeated flower motifs – a depiction of the lotus flower, Nelumbo nucifera.
Probably better known for its vegetative propagation techniques than its flowers, this succulent readily produces plantlets (epiphyllous buds) that root astonishingly easily, but with the right conditions will also flower. Bryophllum tuberosum.
Scrambling through a hedge or two is this delightful blue flower from China. The typical hood of Monks Hood, but a climber. Aconitum hemsleyanum.
A plant from the South Eastern American swamps with an array of exotic blooms. Next to the flower stalks you can just spot the pitchers that give this plant its common name, a Pitcher Plant, growing happily in our Frog Pool. Sarracenia flava.
Here’s a flower not often found in gardens. Firstly, it’s a vegetable. Secondly, if you want to harvest the root then don’t let this biennial flower! But a stunning addition to any border. Visitors to our garden are stumped by it. Salsify (Tragopogon porrifoliu).
This month’s flower looks like something from the "Little Shop of Horrors". First there’s the stupendous stench from the magnificent spathe. Latter, wonderfully divided foliage and a mottled stem. There are many, many "Voodoo Lilies" belonging to the Arum family! Most are not widely grown and are poorly recorded. Could this be Amorphophallus stipitatus or A. konjac?
We’ve grown this water meadow plant at Bocombe for well over a decade. It is rather particular about where it lives, and after numerous attempts at planting the bulbs we’ve at last established a few thriving colonies, mainly by seeding themselves to ground they like. The Snakes Head Fritillary, Fritillaria meleagris.
Many years ago we discovered this exotic conservatory plant from South Africa on a fruit and veg stall at Barnstaple’s Pannier Market. It’s easy to grow in well drained compost, and it produces many exotic flowering stems year after year. Keep it on the top shelf of the greenhouse once it dies back in the late spring. Leave the bulbs completely dry. When the very first green shoots appear just before Xmas feed and water well. The Cape Cowslip, Lachenalia tricolour.
A plain flower as modern Camellias go. But very early, in fact, with a very mild winter this year these white blooms began appearing during January. At their best in March when the temperature rises a little and frosts at Bocombe have abated. The exotic part is the en masse 10m long hedge all in flower together. Camellia japonica alba simplex.
Some years ago we enjoyed "A Day in China" – a garden visit and, after lunch, an illustrated talk. The garden, large and rambling with few formal paths, contained lots of interesting plants. At one point the owner took us aside to show us one of his more precious, rare specimens. On a damp, shady hillside were a few struggling plants, from China, of course. His pride and joy. 'Oh!' we said, 'it grows like fury at Bocombe Mill Cottage.' Chrysosplenium macrophyllum.
Growing flat on the ground, these saucer size, groups of flowers appear on bare earth in the middle of winter. We’ve a large area where they thrive in the moist, almost wet, ground at the edge of our main stream. In the spring massive leaves a metre across on long stalks a metre high appear. Petasites japonicus giganteus.