Welsh botanical gardens

DSC_0290.JPG

Ok…in the interests of ‘transparency’ and ‘honesty’, this post comes with a disclaimer. Day 14 actually happened on Day 1 of 30 Days Wild (collective sharp intake of breath from readership). I know, I know, that’s cheating. But I have a gap in my posts. I don’t like gaps. I also really want to share my bioluminescence story. Therefore day 14, written on day 30, experienced on day 1, is about Fungi. And I suppose it’s not really cheating. I can put a spin on it…yes, Day 14: Reminiscing on a wild day out.

The National Botanical Gardens of Wales is a real gardeners delight. And for a cactus killing, not-green-fingered person like me it is still a treat.  It is fantastic for families (the new adventure playground has a trampoline!!!)  and those in need of easy access as most of the paths are flat.

The massive dome glasshouse (reminds me of the Eden project) at the top of the garden houses an impressive collection of Mediterranean plants. It is also home to the a touring exhibition (from Edinburgh) about Fungi.

Fungi are neither plants, nor animals. They belong to a whole separate kingdom, hence the title of the exhibit. Like plants they are stationary and have cell walls, but like animals they get energy from digesting matter.

 

The exhibition space is dark and had an earthy, damp soil smell to it. We were immediately confronted by a towering Toadstool. I felt as if we had become Alice and’gone down the rabbit hole’ to Wonderland.

DSC_0292.JPG

 

Behind the Toadstools something was giving off a faint green glow. We went in for a closer look and found tanks full of these bioluminescent fungi.

DSC_0296.JPG

 

This process occurs due to a chemical reaction (the oxidisation of Luciferin) creating energy which is converted to and emitted as light without causing any heat to be produced. It is a common phenomenon amongst marine life, but on land is restricted to Fungi and invertebrates.The resultant eerie glow may function to attract prey or warn off predators. Neat!DSC_0307

 

 

 

 

I love interactive exhibits. I can’t stand stuffy cases full of dusty objects that are virtually impossible to identify due to poor labelling or tiny writing. Boring. Fortunately this exhibit was all about putting the FUN into Fungi (yes, I really did just write that.). I enjoyed fiddling about with the light up ‘Russian roulette’ good and bad fungi exhibit, very helpful for anyone wishing to rustle up a mushroom based snack.

 

If you are thinking of doing a bit of ‘foraging’ make sure you follow this advice

DSC_0303.JPG

 

The exhibition space was not very big but the exhibitors have managed to cram in a lot of stuff. Quantity with no loss of quality, I hasten to add.Around the corner from this was a light box and stack of ‘x rays’ and CT scan images to explore. They had been taken from patients suffering from Aspergillosis, a respiratory disease caused by mould spores. The disease also affects other species, including dogs, chickens and parrots. Once I’d managed to figure out which way up the radiographs were supposed to hang (i’m a vet,not a medic…thankfully) it was interesting to see how the fungal spores affected humans.

 

I was being dragged about by my whirling dervish toddler (fortunately JoJo was having a snooze) so I didn’t manage to see everything. Some times I just grabbed a quick photo before moving on. I’m glad I did.

DSC_0302.JPG

 

I have walked past the sign for this exhibit on several previous visits,  always thinking that one day I will make it across the threshold to explore its offerings. I’m glad that participating in  30 Days Wild made me finally go in!

Day 19- A change of perspective

Age 5. It’s the early 90’s and I’m in the playground at primary school. We are looking for stones along the pavement beside the nursery. Something shiny catches my eye, caught between the cracks in the concrete slabs . I crouch down and carefully poke a stick into the crevice to retrieve my treasure. A gold bracelet. I scoop it up and run to the teacher, expecting praise for handing in my find. “Why do you spend so much time looking down?” she says, scornfully”Look up, look up at the world. Don’t you know how much you will miss if you spend all your time looking down?” Slightly ironic telling a 3 foot child to ‘look up at the world’ but never mind.

Despite her warning, looking at the ground is a habit that has stuck. Sometimes it is handy. As a very broke student I found a trail of £5 and £10 notes in the city centre that nobody else had spotted. All because I was looking down. Anyway, I digress. Todays random act of wildness challenged me to change my perspective for the day.

I decided to ‘look up’.

Up at the clouds.

DSC_0405.JPG

Up at a sycamore leaf

DSC_0285 (2)

Up at an oak leaf.

DSC_0283 (3)

Up at the roof.

DSC_0353.JPG

Up at the horizon.

DSC_0328 (2).JPG

I guess that teacher had a point.

Day 30- Au naturelle

DSC_0420 (2).JPGI can’t believe 30 days have passed. For the final day of 30 Days Wild we had a go at making natural dye, following the Wildlife Trusts instructions, which you can download here.

How to make a leaf or petal based dye:

Take one baby muslin, a handful of pansies, a posy of roses, a sting of nettles, a glass full of buttercups and a fistful of grass. Boil with some water…ta dah, natural dye! ok, ok so it is a little more technical than that.

  1. Fill a bowl with cold water.
  2. Add 1 cup vinegar to 4 of cold water.
  3. Immerse your chosen white fabric (I sacrificed one of the many, many white muslins we have. White is not a good colour for mopping up baby stains. I know this now).
  4. Leave for about 2 hours. If you want to be fancy, tie knots in it or tie string around it. This will create patterns when dyed.
  5. Add chosen leaves/petals to a pan, cover with cold water and simmer for an hour. Make sure to stir occasionally.
  6. Drain, retain liquid.
  7. Take fabric and rinse in cold water.
  8. Add to dye, completely submerging it.
  9. Leave overnight
  10. Air dry and admire!

For berry dyes (e.g.rosehip, elderberry) you will need to add salt in step one. See the Wildlife Trusts instructions for more info.

Fortunately the rain had stopped long enough for us to  wander round our very damp garden and collect a variety of materials. Initially I thought we could create a rainbow of dyes.One look at a very black clouds gathering on the horizon and I shelved our ambitious plans, choosing just 3 colours.

Green: Nettle and Grass.

Purple: Pansy and Hedge Rose. This mix produced my favourite dye. Not only did it smell divine (think Turkish delight, rose water, soft floral perfume) but the colour was quite impressive.

Yellow: Buttercup (This looked very pale when simmering so I cheated and added ginger.)

 

Having read blogs from people who do this sort of thing routinely, I expected the colours of dye to be rather muted colours. However the purple is really quite strong, sitting somewhere between lilac and buddleia on the colour wheel.

 

The green and yellow are unfortunately rather insipid! In fact, I think the green may turn out to be a rather ‘weak tea’ shade of brown. The yellow looks a bit like elderly cat pee. At least it smells nice, thanks to the ginger!

DSC_0421 (1).JPG

 

The next steps ,drying and turning it into bunting, will have to wait till tomorrow. Guess that means I’ll have to continue the random acts of wildness!

Day 29-Ladybird,Ladybird…

“…fly away home, your house is on fire, your children all gone”

Day 29 started much the same as all the 28 days that had come before. Get up, make children breakfast, feed cat, put washing on, make coffee, feed ladybirds…wait, feed Ladybirds?Ok, so that is a new addition to my morning routine. Let me explain.In the slump that followed the referendum result  I had turned to the internet for a bit of retail therapy. Butterfly houses were sold out, and not due back in stock any time soon.Ladybird kits ,however, were still available.

2 days ago my ‘delightful’ Postman (I hope the sarcasm is not lost in typing) threw my eagerly awaited post-brexit -Amazon-comfort purchase across the threshold of my porch. Yes, thats right, threw. My…I mean, OUR…Ladybird ‘ Viewarium’ had arrived. I danced across the kitchen exclaiming ‘its here,its here’ whilst F hastily finished his cornflakes to escape the ‘mad bug woman’ (i.e. me), muttering “what have you bought now?” as he pulled on his wellies.

DSC_0333 (2).JPG

 

1 day ago, my ‘cheerful’ postman (sarcasm ,again. ) threw my ladybird larvae across the doorstep. ‘There are live creatures in here’ I yelled at the reversing post van ‘it says so on the envelope’.

DSC_0334 (2).JPG

 

We…er, well, mostly I, set up the ‘viewarium’ and then went out to hunt in the garden for aphids. Nothing. Not a single one. I then had a brain wave. Check the veg patch. Just across the road from the farmhouse, F’s father has a ‘kitchen garden’ with all manner of fresh, seasonal veg. Broad bean plants are amongst the current crop and where there are beans, there are usually Black Bean aphids. Sure enough, I hit the jackpot.

DSC_0332 (2).JPG

The aphids weren’t alone .Several black ants were crawling over the aphids. Aphid and ants have a ‘symbiotic’ relationship. In return for guarding the aphids against predators (e.g. lacewing and ladybirds) the ants receive ‘honeydew’. This is a sticky substance secreted by the aphids, which feed on plant sap. In effect, the ants farm the aphids. In some instances, the ants actually ‘milk’ the aphids – eliciting honeydew let down by stroking the aphids with their antennae. Farming of insects, by insects!

I gently removed the ants from the stalk before settling it into the tank. I gingerly added the larvae, one by one, using tweezers to lift up the shreds of paper they were clinging too before placing them onto the leaves. I left the predator and prey to become ‘acquainted’ overnight.

 

This morning I checked on the tank in case there had been any escape attempts. My heart leapt into my mouth as I saw what I thought were all the larvae out of the tank, lying unmoving. I can’t have killed them all already, surely???Fortunately it turns out  that spilled Nyger seed looks remarkably like ladybird larvae. Phew.

DSC_0350 (2).JPG

 

Hopefully the girls will be a bit more interested in our houseguests when they become ladybirds. I’m very much looking forward to releasing them into the garden, and hope they will survive and breed as adults.

Day 28- Showcase on a nature table

During the whole month of June we have been collecting, sorting, storing and growing our treasure trove of nature finds.  The nature table takes pride of place in our little Montesori inspired corner of the kitchen.

 

The tally so far includes : Sensory box, wormery, Ladybird ‘viewarium’, Insect guides from the bug farm, Wildlife trust guides and our Go Find It cards (a fantastic nature based card game for families) .

DSC_0340 (2).JPG

Decoration includes our 30 Days wild poster, stickers (lots of stickers) and a cool Ladybird lamp that happened to be here already!

 

I couldn’t fit all of the childrens nature books on, so we’ve had to have a second nature table in the living room! I’ll post about this later.

I am enjoying watching the girls being able to explore and learn about nature at any point in their day. C enjoys pulling a chair over to check out the finds on top of the table and to see if anything new has been added. This morning I watched as she ran her hand along the top of the unit until her fingers bumped into the cold, hard snail shell. She stood, with her face turned away towards me, running her fingertips over her find, tracing the outline of the coiled carapace. A slow smile crossed her face. ‘Ooh, smooth’ she exclaimed, before skipping off to take an important phone call from the Teletubbies .

She has started to learn the names of garden birds, and yesterday flapped across the living room, pretending to be a Blue Tit. When I asked her what colour feathers she had, she looked at me with a mix of disgust and disbelief and said ‘ Blue of course, you can stroke them if you like.’ Gosh, how wonderful it would be to be two again!

 

Day 27 -Jumping in muddy puddles!

Me: ” What are you doing?”

C: “Jumping in muddy puddles”

DSC_0396 (1).JPG

 

Me “Right. Where are your wellies?”

C “I can’t see them anywhere.”

DSC_0373 (2).JPG

Me: “But you had them on your feet just a second ago.”

C: “No. Can’t see them. I cannot find them anywhere”.

Me: “They are there, right behind you.”

C: “Oh YEEEESSS.” She places a sponge that we used to clean the outdoor toys into the puddle. “Look, its a trampoliiiiiiiiine”

DSC_0368 (2)

 

 

Splash. Squelch.Splosh.

C “Look at meeeeeeee….”

Me, sighing:”Yes, I’m looking at yoooooouuuu”.

DSC_0410 (1)

 

 

 

 

 

 

C,noticing she is being watched by a four legged friend:”Oh, Hello Cow! How are you today?”

 

Day 26-Camera trap

DSC_0320 (2).jpgF and I have spent the last hour setting up our new ‘toy’-a wildlife camera. We picked it up as part of our fortnightly Aldi food shop-a fortuitous  find in the ‘special buy’ aisle!

I must be growing old as I actually bothered to read the instruction manual. Normally when I get a new ‘gadget’  I only give the paperwork a cursory glance before randomly pressing buttons to find out what everything does. Luckily enough everything was straightforward and well explained. The camera also came complete with memory card and batteries. Not bad for £70!

We had great fun setting it up, on a typical Pembrokeshire Summer evening (drizzling, grey, cold). F unleashed his inner Scout and figured out how to do up the strap and get the camera secured.  We did have a ‘heated debate’ over the best location for it (F wanted it about four feet up a tree, I thought closer to the ground might be better), but we finally settled on an old gate post beside the ‘meadow patch’. The camera is positioned to point back out towards the road and front garden.  Hopefully this means we will catch a glimpse of anything that uses our garden as a corridor between the farmland on both sides of the main road. Top of my wish list is a fox.The front garden had a strong foxy odour about it this morning, and a fresh pile of scat sat in the middle of the lawn. Fingers crossed!I am also hoping to catch sight of a hedgehog, or a badger, or an owl, or a rat…well, to get any footage would be great really! Hopefully it goes better than the  fiasco that was day (moth lure). I’ll post an update* tomorrow.

*We have captured lots on the camera! Has taken a while to experiment with location and height but we have managed to see 5 mammalian species in 72 hours!

 

Day 25- Mapping it out.

I have wanted to map out the fields for a while now.  I have only lived here for 3 years and have not yet become acquainted with the farm’s nooks and crannies. Today’s  Random Act of Wildness offered me the perfect chance to do just that. Not exactly OS standard of map drawing, and it is most definitely NOT to scale, but hey ho…it’ll do!

map2.jpg

F is always saying ‘I’m going to move the fence in such and such field’ and I nod along as if I know exactly where he is headed. In reality I only ever remember about 3 of the fields by name.

 

DSC_0230

The Cow Park is a great expanse (in my mind anyway) of relatively flat ground, which proves how plant life can still coexist with modern farming methods. On a quiet evening walk around the perimeter I have encountered Docks, nettles, bramble, clover, gorse, Chickweed, thistle, buttercup,Blackthorn, Hawthorn, ash, sycamore, Red Campion, Dandelion, vetch, speedwell…the list goes on.

The farmyard itself provides homes for many wild beast and fowl. We live on a farm….rodents are everywhere! Brown rat , field and house mice are often spotted dashing from hiding spot to hiding spot, trying not to be seen. Bats roost in the 200 year old barns and whizz around the yard at dusk, snapping up insects that multiply in the manure pile.  Pheasants stalk in the grass behind the heifer shed. A flock of wild pigeons settle down noisily each night on the roof of the cow shed. Occasionally a Sparrowhawk takes a pigeon , which is amusing to watch as they are much bigger than him!

DSC_0301.JPG

DSC_0294 (2).JPG

 

 

Summertime sees the Swallows return, the air filling with their clicking and whirring calls. Starlings arrive in late October, gorging themselves on the barley used to feed the cows. Buzzard and red kite are frequently seen soaring overhead, especially over winter months and after hay is cut.  Little owls during the Spring to screech outside the farmhouse in the small hours. We suspect they nest in the old ash trees that occupy the Meadow and Ox Park hedges. Barn owls are also seen later in the summer, hunting along the hedgerows and calling to each other across the fields. Their shrill cry sends a shiver down my spine.

map1.jpg

As I found out by doing the bioblitz that our garden and the sheds around the farmhouse are home to many creatures. We have seen great tits, blue tits, chaffinches, robin and sparrows on the feeders. Dunnock and wren fight over the spillage from the bird table. Collared doves are currently nesting in the hedge behind the immature oak.Thanks to our first attempt with the camera trap we know that there is a family of magpie, with two fledglings, here too.

 

Jackdaw are everywhere on the farm at the moment, the nest in the feathering loft has fledged at long last.

The log pile is our mini beast ‘Hilton hotel’. The meadow patch is wilder than ever at the moment, thanks to the recent wet and humid weather.

Business at the bee café is swift, and the ‘menu’ has expanded since the Scabious has finally flowered. Over the past month I have also become aware of (and showered curses upon) the large slug and snail populations residing in the garden.

Thanks to the 30 Days Wild project, I have finally had a chance to take stock of what coexists with us on the farm. It has also made me realise I know the farmland a lot less intimately than I would like to! Hopefully this will be the start of getting well acquainted with the rhythms of the wildlife that live on our patch of Wales.

DSC_0319 (1) - Copy

 

Day 24- Escapism.

Ever have one of those days when you want the world to stop rotating just long enough for you to escape the madness? Or when you wish Narnia was really at the back of your wardrobe so you could slip through the fur coats and stay there (the good time Narnia, not the Narnia that is always winter, that would suck.) Today was one of those days.

 

As neither of these two things are likely to happen anytime soon, I decided to take a walk along the cow track, down to the stream, just to escape the endless torent of political rhetoric coming from the radio, TV and internet. ‘Switch off and tune out’ said the #30DaysWild random act card. So I did.

DSC_0315 (2)

 

It would have been easier to ‘tune out’ if I didn’t have a 22 pound baby strapped to my back, pulling my hair, whilst a toddler swung off my wrist. We made our way slowly down the track, C moaning that she had mud on her wellies (yes, that is what wellies are for) and that the track was too ‘sloppy’ (This is word of the week, apparently). I paused to take a quick photo. Bramble blossoms have suddenly exploded out, along with Dog roses, both scrambling along the hedgerow adding a new layer of wildness. Flies droned about the hawthorn, which is still covered in pungent white flowers.  Bees buzzed passed us, as we meandered down to meet the stream.

Half way down, our path was blocked by this little creature. ‘Oh look, a beeeeuuuuatiful Caterpillar Mummy’, exclaimed C. And it really was. Orange and yellow speckles adorned a thick, black sausage shaped abdomen. Short orange fuzz covered its whole body, with tufts of white hairs between the legs (Or prolegs, if we are being anatomically correct).

DSC_0307 (2).JPG

 

I later discovered that it will eventually become one of these;

The Drinker Euthrix potatoria

The Drinker Euthrix potatoria

Drinker moth (Euthrix potatoria), photos from UK moths.org

We inspected the moth caterpillar before gently scooping it onto the jam jar lid and placing it safely in amongst the brambles, lest it got squashed under ‘muddy’ toddler wellies.

A few more steps down the track and I spied this beauty, dangling from a leaf.

DSC_0313 (2).JPG

Daring to pause to photograph said creature elicited much screaming, wailing and pulling of (my) hair by JoJo. Off we went again.

The stream nestles at the bottom of a small valley created by the farms ‘Near property’ field and the ‘Cow’s field’. The slope down is a gradual gradient, until the very last few metres when it drops sharply. C decide that this was the perfect spot to ‘Practice running Mummy’. Not ideal. Sure enough the inevitable toddler face plant soon followed, with more screaming and wailing.

I picked her up, dusted her down and we set off again. Now, finally we were at our destination. The stream bubbled along peacefully, washing away my worries from the mornings political turmoil. Sunlight dappled down upon us through the greenery. The water was crystal clear, though I expect this is not the case when the cows are traipsing through. In the soft silt around the water I noticed tracks. Distinctly Vulpine tracks.

DSC_0319 (2).JPG

 

C’s complaining had now reached fever pitch. She had become hysterical as her left boot was ‘full of mud and soaking’. This was entirely due to the fact that she had deliberately kicked it off, mid stream, and was now standing ankle deep in the water. Tears and snot were flowing liberally. I picked her up, hoicked her under my arm and set off back up the slope. You would think by now I would have twigged that suitable footwear should be worn at all times. Crocs are not suitable footwear when crossing fields full of cow manure. Especially not gates where the mud is calf deep (my calf, not a bovine calf, that would be serious.) . Most definitely when you are liable to loose said crocs when trying to unhook the electric fence, and end up going barefoot. Sigh. Ah well, it distracted me from Brexit for a bit anyway!

Day 23 – Mr Phes.

Down behind the cow shed, in amongst the tall grass and gorse bushes lives a pheasant and his mate. I have affectionately (and imaginatively) named them Mr and Mrs Phes.

Mr Phes is a loud and gaudy specimen. I have to admit, with a bright red wattle, bottle green head feathers and a white ‘collar’ he does look very fine. He struts and shouts across the fields, ‘chuck chucking’ and squawking as he patrols his territory. Mrs Phes is a much shyer creature, her subtle gold and brown plumage affording her excellent camouflage as she slinks amongst the grass.

 

Pheasants are quite common in the fields and woodland around us, and they are often to be found running along the country lanes, usually into the path of oncoming vehicles. I thought pheasants were a rather recent introduction to the UK, but it turns out that they came over with the Romans. Its ‘original’ homeland is 2000 miles away, in eastern Asia. Over the centuries they have spread across farmland and woodland habitats, becoming a ‘quintessential’ member of countryside fauna. Pheasants are also farmed for shoots, with necessary management practices playing a role in shaping the landscape.

Pheasant - male

Pheasant - female

The RSPB illustrations for male and female pheasant.

 

Despite all his showiness my Mr Phes is rather camera shy. If I dare to get too close with my camera he explodes into the air in a flurry of feathers, madly beating his wings and clucking angrily until he can reach the safety of a hedge. Tonight, however, would be different. I had a cunning plan.

I decided to take a wander down to the cow shed in the evening, just as dusk was settling over the farm. I had planned on making a ‘surprise visit’ to Mr Phes, via the ‘back entrance’ to his abode. However, the large flock of wild pigeons that roost in one of the barns had other ideas. As soon as they saw me coming they rose into the air as one , and flew laps over the yard. They passed so close I could hear the whirring of their wing beats.

DSC_0292 (2)

 

The heifers in the shed were pleased to see me, and bounded over to the fence in an expectant fashion. Human means food. Once they realised I had nothing on me except my camera they went back to snoozing and mooching about in the straw.

DSC_0301 (1).JPG

I sidled round the end of the shed, and paused, camera at the ready. Sure enough I could here a ‘chuck chuck chuck’ call  coming from the vegetation. Mr Phes had noticed me, and was trying to make a run for it. In pheasant terms, ‘making a run for it’ appears to mean ‘ walk as slowly as possible and pretend that everything is perfectly normal’.

DSC_0296 (2)

 

I followed Mr Phes at a respectful distance, as he retreated behind a trailer. He led me straight to his mate, who promptly shot into the undergrowth and disappeared from view. Mr Phes then continued his slow walk into the ‘Meadow’ field, where he stood crowing and beating his wings in a display of masculinity.  I decided to leave him to it. The dark was encroaching and the temperature was dropping, so I headed back into the farmhouse.