Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Barbastelle Bats, Prunus 'Kojo no mai', Coup de Grass and chocolate roulade?

Barbastelle Bat boxes.
 A few days  ago I went  along with bat enthusiasts and experts to a nearby wood  to help put up bat boxes in  the hope that they would provide roosting places for Barbastelle bats which in south Warwickshire are on the  northern most limit of their range in this country.
If you are wondering why they are called Barbastelle bats it is because of the white hairs sticking out from the lower lip  and body and if you recall any Latin you will know the  barba bit means beard and  the stella bit means  star so you get Star -Beard. The full scientific name is Barbastella  barbastellus so when it was originally named they  made sure you  knew it has a star beard  by stressing it twice. I was no Latin scholar but what I remember of Latin makes me think  can you have  two different endings i.e. 'a' and 'us' like that? 
What do you mean you didn't do Latin at school?  Just how young are you?  C'mon, Amo, amas, amat, amamus, amatis, amant - all you need is love. Tra la lala laa.
haven't seen a Barbastelle bat yet, in fact I haven't seen any bat close up but (and this is how to upset the bat men and women) don't they all look the same? Just funny noses and ears? Just kidding, all you chiroptologists.
The bats are being surveyed in South Warwickshire by listening out for the tell tale high pitched squeaks and pips which are only detectable with special gear (each species has a unique sound.)  and also by tracking the tiny transmitters attached to the bats. 
If you are local to Warwickshire and want to get involved  or just want to know more click 
here  and here. 

This design of box has been shown in other  locations to be the preferred  type for this  bat.  They like to roost in cosy, tight places such as behind loose bark or in damaged branches. The 'fins' are unequally spaced  so they can choose a gap size they prefer.   

Having crawled  up the gap they will roost in the cavity at the top. The lid is hinged for careful inspection by authorised people to see if there any bats roosting.  

Boxes are nailed  to trees at least three metres up and with aluminium nails so if the nail is still in the tree when it is felled and planked then minimal damage will be done to the chainsaw or sawmill. 
Boxes are fixed facing south so the bats benefits from the extra warmth  and positioned so that there is a  clear run in with no small  branches in the way. 

Prunus incisa 'Kojo no mai'
Here is a group of Prunus incisa  'Kojo no mai' in a rather insalubrious car park setting. They are a fabulous and frothy mass of  lively white and pink 

You know when you see a variety name like 'Kojo no mai' that it is Japanese and is usually an elegant and poetic description of the plant. Similarly many of the Wisteria varieties have evocative Japanese names.  I tried to find out what this name meant  and various references suggested something to do with butterflies but my Japanese dictionary suggested  something completely different and completely nonsensical. I had factory and  ruined castle  coming up  and that sure didn't sound  elegant.  I decided to enlist the help of a Japanese friend  and she sent me this lovely, detailed email below. 

'Somebody at work asked me the same question today - what a coincidence!

You were getting close, factory and ruined (ancient) castle - they are both spelled the same in alphabet but pronunciation is slightly different. Also they are given totally different Chinese characters...
I know you wouldn't go that far (Chinese characters) though!

Kojo 工場ーfactory
Kojo 古城ーancient castle

Kojo 湖上 no mai 舞
湖上 kojo ー on the lake / on the water
舞 mai ー traditional Japanese dance
'no' is a particle so I would translate, 'Dancing on the lake' - happy?'

Happy?  I couldn't be happier!
Thank you.

Death and decay.

There is a lot of colour in this picture and it is down to disease and decay.  There are  pink pustules of Coral Spot typically on already dead wood (It is more unusual  for it to infect  living tissue.)  and the reddish brown leaves of Cherry Laurel in the background suffering some sort of die back and gradually  turning red and dying. The sky is blue and healthy.

Coup de Grass
I have  always been unsure about  just what exactly you can get away with when it come to cutting back grasses. If you think it through logically with them being grasses an' all they are likely to get grazed by some creature or another at some time in their  life and evolution  must surely have given them the ability to survive a munching. So in theory they should survive a haircut at almost any time of the year but none the less I get nervous about cutting them back hard at all. Some of them eventually get so untidy that the bullet must be  bitten ( I want to say bited)  and the shears  brought out. 
This is a picture of Stipa  tenuissima  that had grown  scruffy  during the winter after two seasons of no treatment so come spring time I cut it down almost to the ground  and within  a week the results were  very encouraging. See below.  I shall be tempted  next year to cut  one or two of them back  a few weeks after  flowering  to see if I can avoid the myriad  of seedlings  that will inevitably  sprout up if I don't cut of the seedheads and  then see  if I still get a decent looking plant for the second part of the season.

The grass was cut back in mid April and this new growth appeared  after just one week. 


 I don't know if you have ever cut up, or down, a Laburnum tree but you will find  there is a delicious looking dark centre to the wood. This is not disease it is how it is. It was, maybe still is, used for  inlays called oysters in furniture  making. It seemed a sin to cut it down but it was leaning dangerously and Laburnums are not known for their  longevity at least not as a healthy tree. I think they can take a long time to die but bits fall off too regularly to  make  it a safe thing to leave.

 It is easy to imagine it as a confection - a thin slice of this  drizzled over with a blackurrant coulis. Yummee.

How not to cut down a tree. In this case it didn't matter because the whole thing was coming down  but it does show what can happen if you don't make the right cuts.

That's it for now.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Kabschia Sax, Sheep and their boots, Waterperry and a miracle?

Nice mixed bag this month, I hope you enjoy it. 

 Forget the Dancing Pony and Shrek's donkey and get down with this sheep.  A very nifty mover. Made from  iron and then galvanised, she makes a distinctive character grazing in the garden. This  one was supplied  by the Stour Gallery  in Shipston on Stour . 

Get Me!

Strutting it

Waterperry Gardens. 
I took a visit recently  to Waterperry Gardens  at Wheatley just south of Oxford towards the M40.
Waterperry has a long history since starting out first of all as a horticultural school for ladies which  produced  some  of our very best gardeners.Things have changed over time and rather than me tell you all about it here take a look at the link above. Take a particular look at the courses they offer, because  of the  strong connection with the art and crafts there is a  particularly wide range of  topics on offer. Waterperry is also home to Art in Action  and 25,000 people in four days obviously know something you don't if you have never been. Check out the link.
When I visited  some ten days ago the east winds were still blowing  and the weather  was still cold and not much had started to grow albeit we are well into April.

There was a lot that took my eye but this was one of the most impressive features.  It is a superbly trained rambling rose. It has always struck me as something of a self defeating exercise to train  roses, particularly climbing roses, over a pergola where the best view is had by the birds that fly over and not the person who walks under.The elaborate training of shoots in the picture below  gives the whole thing a new perspective. Sure you need some space but if you have it then this must be  one of the best ways to show off some of the more choice climbers and ramblers and it sure looks good at a time of year when roses otherwise look pretty awful.The long stems have been   splayed out and trained around, whirlpool style, to short posts in the ground.  .
Below are other examples of  careful tying in but this time to  hazel hoops  pushed into the ground. The story behind this  seems to be that after the felling  of a row of large trees the task of getting out the stumps was going to be too expensive so roses were grown over them. As time went on the stumps rotted way and  this elaborate but very effective style of pruning developed. Not so good if you don't like spiders.


The Gardens have  one of the best museums of garden tools   I have ever come across. It seems that  if there was a task to be carried out in the garden the Victorians had  made a gadget to  make it easier.

Some of the exhibits are of a more agricultural nature such as this  display of boots for sheep. I kid you not. As you can see they were  made by Dunlop and were  to help avoid foot rot. I cant see a Welsh hill farmer having much truck with this idea at nearly three shillings a pair.The real dandy little boots at bottom right were for goats and more for those on regimental  mascot duty rather than for everyday wear.They are in a glass case which gives odd reflections. 

You might be able to read the label on this instrument but if not see if you can guess what this and the  object in the picture below were used for. 

Answers at the bottom of the blog. 

In its heyday Waterperry exhibited at shows and one of its exhibits was the display of strawberries shown in the  photograph in this picture. The picture also show  lead labels with the plant names stamped into them. The  objects on the left and right I find the most intriguing. On the right is a  cane with a boxwood  head which was used for tapping  terracotta plant pots - no plastic in those days-  to see if they needed watering. If they gave out a dull  sound they were moist enough but  if they  gave out a ring then they were dry and needed watering. The long cane handle meant you could reach to the back of the bench.

The  curious bunch  of green painted  twigs had a very specific use. Gathered  through the winter they were selected  for evenness of thickness  and length  and each had to have a fork at the top. These were painted green and kept for the great strawberry display. They would be pushed discreetly under the strawberry plant and the  'trusses' of strawberries laid over the  forked end to show them off to their very best.    


Another treat tucked away in the garden is the national collection of Kabschia Saxifrages. This is a group of species whose name commemorates Willhelm  Kabsch  ( 1835 - 64) who unfortunately, at a young age, fell to his death  from a cliff while studying phytogeography (concerning the distribution of plants)  in the Alps.

 In their  native habitat plants from dry, high altitudes are designed to cope with  the cold but they  don't experience the cold wet weather we get here in the UK so to help them keep dry and so prevent them rotting they are grown under cover to keep off the rain.

The plants are displayed on raised beds with large pieces of  porous, free draining  tufa to help mimic their native terrain. Tufa is often though of as volcanic rock but is in fact not a rock at all and is formed by water containing a lot of  dissolved limestone which it deposits on  organic matter  and other debris in the water. deposits of limestone laid down on. Limestone coated  leaves can be seen  in the picture below. The limestone in the tufa matches the limestone conditions found in many parts of the Alps and Pyrenees.

Its no good hiding in the bushes behind the bench -  we can see you. 

First class molehills at Waterperry. 

Some very old  cordon apples at Waterperry. You would almost never mind if they never produced a  fruit they look so good.

We did lichen a couple of issues back  but I have since found a very useful site to help you identify some of them. It was particularly aimed at lichens found in old orchards but I am sure it has a  more general use. The site is at  OPAL which stands for OPen Air Laboratory and  is to encourage  everyone to  look out for and study  all things in their  local  natural world.  It is first rate.  

Box Root Pruning
 You may have bought Box plants, the shaped ones in  a pot some twelve inches or so across, expecting them to  be well established  and rooted into the compost  but having knocked  them out of their pots  you realise they are not rooted into the compost at all and in fact the bottom half of the pot is  new compost and the  root ball  is just sitting on it . This is something between a root balled, open ground plant and a containerised   one. When I first came across this  I was a bit miffed thinking that I had been done, a bit like  you do when you buy a potted rose plant in late winter  or early spring  and  tip it out of its pot  and all the compost falls off the two or there fangy roots because  it is a bare root plant that was  probably potted only  a fortnight before. However  don't despair with your  box plant  it is a  recognised way of  producing potted box and if left in the pot they will root into that fresh compost and if planted  in the ground they will root out just the same. Because they have been field grown  they are well nourished  and you  get a very good looking plant.  I have planted  very many and they  have all survived. That is not to say they have  all survived Box Blight and three I planted only last year came down with the blight and I had to dig them out and burn them. One of the things I noticed when I planted them was that to get them into their  pots some fairly  thick roots had been cut through which was a bit worrying.  But when I dug them up I was  surprised to see just how much  new root had been made on those  cut ends  and it gave me greater faith in recent research which showed with the species trialled that when planting plants where the roots are running round the pot rather  than trying to tease them out it is better to  cut into the roots with secateurs  which helps  produce new roots  from the cut ends which  then  grow out into the surrounding soil. You can see how much root is produced in just a season  from  the pictures of these box roots.

A  severed root the thickness of your forefinger had sprouted a healthy thicket of new roots  when dug up thirteen months after  planting 

 If you have to move a shrub in the garden mak sure any thick roots that have to be cut through are cut cleanly  to help prevent disease and die back and to encourage the formation of new roots.

Most of the roots that had to be cut originally to get the plant into the pot  produced masses of  new roots but the one at the  bottom of the picture  decided not to.  

A dead ringer?
We are told all our gardening life that if you strip the bark off a plant then you have removed all the tissue that conducts the sap around the plant and it will die.
So when I discovered this small Acer palmatum with  the damage you can see below I was  a bit worried. The bark had been nibbled of by some small creature and as you can see from both pictures it is right round the  trunk. You can also see where the  cambium has healed  the edge  that has been nibbled so this   has been damaged for some time  and ,  hand on heart, this plant lives quite happily like this  and apart from  the usual bit of dieback suffered by Acer palmatum varieties  it is  a healthy plant. I am confounded . Is it a blinkin' miracle ? Let me know.

It wasn't me who left the tree tie on too long , honest. 

Got it covered.

The covers of the  Winter and Spring  issues of Hortus show  before and after of one of my favourite  small tulip bulbs Tulip batalini 'Bronze Charm'. Glorious as  downy skinned , tufted bulbs  and  even  more glorious 
as    bronze tinted , soft yellow  flowers. I have found T. batalini to be very easy to grow, a very reliable  flowerer and utterly charming. Give it a go.

P.S. You can read  a piece by me in  both  issues.

Bits and Bobs
Yer godda laff!
We have all seen it. A road sign  modified  by some wag with a spray can; No Entry signs turned into to Ban the Bomb signs (Those were the days), thirty speed limits  made into eighty  speed limits,  the sign for a  bumpy road given nipples and letters of  place names sprayed out to turn them into something rude. Today I was driving  near  to Lower and Upper Slaughter in the Cotswolds when  I came across an adulterated sign that  made me chuckle as I drove by.  Part of the joy of it was that it had obviously been thought through  because this was no hastily squirted  aerosol  job  but a neatly cut piece of white adhesive  tape placed very neatly over the capital S on the sign to The Slaughters.

Another witty sign  was on the road outside a golf club  not too far from Devizes . It was in the the style of  those brown tourist  signs if I remember  right. It said  Golf Club 100 yds  and under the the 100 yds. was, in small writing, Par 3. Much better in the seeing than in the telling  but it was thoughtful of  someone on the Sign Committee to think to offer a little cheer to us passers by.

The top picture is of a device for bunching daffodils in bud and the picture below it is for bunching daffodils  in flower. Brill!

That's all folks.